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The Weakening of Rome by Marius and Sulla




The mention of Rome brings about images of armies, government, and strength. History shows that it was these very three things that not only made the Republic but also weakened it. Various men played roles in this action including that of Marius and Sulla who brought out reforms that made the Republic stronger and set the precedence for political intrigue and violence and the decline of the Republic.

Holding the position of counsel (six times), Gaius Marius was able to create an army that was open to all Roman citizens and was well-oiled and worked as one strong entity. The strengthening of the army was beneficial to the Republic. The reorganization of the military was a different story. Previously, the army was comprised of the wealthy Romans. Marius opened the doors for even those that were without property to join and become paid employees. Their loyalty switched from the Republic for which they fought and turned to their leader who made sure that they were paid and given the loot from victories. The Republic no longer had an army that protected and supported it. It only had leaders who owned the army. This led to a severe weakening of the Republic.

The Republic and Senate were further weakened by the actions of Marius and Sulla. Each had their own agendas and wanted the glory and power. It was their manipulation of the Senate that led to severe bloodshed and the misuse of power by inciting riots, overriding tradition, forcing legislative actions (passing of bills and banishments), capturing Rome, and execution of opponents. The Senate had virtually lost its power as these two men and their supporters used the Senate as a puppet to legitimize their illegal actions.

After becoming dictator, Sulla appeared to give the Senate back much of its power that had been stripped away by Marius and the dispute between Sulla and Marius as well as some extra powers that involved bills and voting. Called “a defender of the senatorial class” by many, Sulla was raising up the Senate in one hand as he was undermining it with the other. His reforms such as tightening the qualifications for Senate membership and clearly defining laws were received with delight, but all actions were also done to make sure that his followers were allowed more power and his influence was never diminished.

The Senate never quite had the power it did before Marius and Sulla. On the surface, the Senate rose up to reclaim its position, but the foundation had already been laid for future leaders such as Pompey and Caesar to look to the Senate as a means to an end instead of the rudder of the Roman Republic ship.


Sources:

Le Glay, Marcel, Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. (Malden: Blackwell, 2009).


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