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The Tragedy of Rome's Reformers

By 264 B.C. Rome had subdued Italy, and its peoples became her allies. Then followed a century of foreign conquest (264-I46 B.C.), during which Rome became mistress of the Mediterranean.

While Rome ,was struggling with Carthage, she had not only to fight in the West and on the sea, but also to hold her own in the East. The King of Macedon had allied himself with Hannibal, and now Rome conquered Macedon (198 B.C.). The same year that Rome rooted out Carthage, her great trade rival in the West, she also destroyed Corinth, the commercial capital of Greece in the East (146 B.C.). And soon, by diplomacy and war, she made herself mistress of the old empire of Alexander. Thus, the once little city on the Tiber had increased its power till it had become the capital of a mighty empire, embracing the ancient East and the newer West.

Now these succeeding wars brought, like most wars, great evils in their train, and they almost destroyed the fine old Roman character. The wars were followed by a revolution which ended the republic of Rome, and left in its place an empire ruled by one man.

The constant wars had almost ruined the free citizens, who used to work their own farms; and such citizens, like Cincinnatus of old, had been the glory and strength of early Rome. The little farms gradually disappeared, and their place was taken by large estates, worked by slaves and owned by men who had grown wealthy and greedy in the spoils of war.

Outside Rome, the allies in Italy were dissatisfied. Though they had been fairly well treated, they had never been made full citizens of Rome, nor could they hold office. Outside Italy, large "provinces," like Sicily and Spain, were added, like great estates, to the city of Rome, and these were badly governed. And outside the Empire were the "barbarians," who were now threatening to crush the Roman-Greek civilization, just as the earliest Greeks had crushed the more civilized AEgean cities.

The Roman senate itself, which had been so magnificent after Cannae, was now composed of selfish and greedy men, struggling for wealth and power. And after the conquest of Carthage there arose an unseemly quarrel between the senate and the people of Rome. Thus began a century of murders, mob rule, and civil war (133-31 B.C.).

The people found leaders in two brothers, Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, grandsons of Scipio, the conqueror of Carthage. The brothers hoped to restore the free farmers. Tiberius was elected the people's tribune (133 B.C.), and he roused them to a sense of their wrongs. But he was soon slain by a mob of furious senators, fighting for their privileges and wealth. Then his brother Caius tried to gave the vote to the Italian cities, but he also was killed in a riot.

The people now turned to a soldier, Marius. With him begins that struggle for power between generals and their armies, which at last destroyed the republic of free citizens, and created a one-man rule. By this time German and Gallic barbarians were beginning to cross the frontiers of the Empire, and it was Marius who defeated them (102 B.C.). But he also failed to bring reform.

There followed a war between Rome and her allies in Italy (90-88 B.C.), who at last won the vote. But of course it was almost impossible for the peoples of Italy to get to Rome to take part in the government. In fact, the Empire was now too large to be ruled by the citizens of Rome in the old way.

Another general, Sulla, defeated the people's army and made himself Dictator. On his death one of his officers, Pompey, who had married the daughter of another soldier, Julius Caesar, gained the chief power (70 B.C.). Pompey did a great work in destroying the numerous pirates who infested the seas and hid in the mountains of Asia Minor. This done, he captured Jerusalem (63 B.C.), conquered every foe as far as the Euphrates, and founded cities as Alexander had done before him.

“Do all thou doest as unto Christ, as immediately dealing with Christ Jesus, as if he were looking on thee, and though on him, and fetch all thy strength from him.”
–Thomas Wilcox, A Choice Drop of Honey