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Research Papers on the Economy of the Roman Republic

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Roman Republic Economy research papers discuss the economic basis of the Roman Republic before the collapse of the Roman Empire. It also reports that the basis of the Roman Republic’s economy was agriculture, as it was the basis of every polity of the time. However, by the second century (BC), there remained very few farmsteads actually practicing family farming. The expansion of the Roman territory to encompass much of the Italian peninsula and southern Gaul along the Riviera (now called Provence, from provincia, “the conquered area”) and with it significant hostile populations, generated a requirement for a large, standing army, regularly stationed far from Rome. 

In 367 BCE, the most famous of the agrarian laws, Licinian Rogations, strictly limited the amount of land a citizen could hold and the number of cattle pastured. As time progressed, the need for more reform caused Gracchus to sponsor agrarian reforms, thus restoring the class of small independent farmers on which the Roman economy and military depended. The proposed Sempronian Law of 133 BCE did the following:

  1. Reenacted the provisions of the Licinian Rogations
  2. The occupants were to be given full title to the land they retained
Although a commission was appointed to enact the law, many Senators used obstructionist tactics to undermine and weaken the commission. Octavius vetoed the law and Tiberius immediately held an unconstitutional referendum and deposed him. Tiberius’s fate was met when he attempted to apply the Sempronian Law to the bequested estate of Attalus III, whereby capital would be provided for the poor who were to settle the lands. This did not settle well with the Senate; in addition, Tiberius re-nominated himself for election and was subsequently declared illegal by the Senate. This touched off a great riot the following day and Tiberius was killed (132 BCE). However, his reforms were continued by his brother, Gaius, as he attempted to expand the laws to all the colonies in Italy.

Roman Republic Economy

Since most recruits remained farm boys–the young men who would otherwise have taken over farmstead operations, it was only a matter of a few generations before most such farmsteads had fallen into disuse. Many were purchased by wealthy landowners and converted to vineyards and cattle pasture, since these food end-products were not price regulated by the state, as was grain.  Rome had not only become a huge city, by the end of the second century it had upwards of a million inhabitants, most of them capite censi, or “headcount,” the lowest grade of citizen, too poor to be eligible to vote or serve in the army but, in their numbers, a potential threat to political stability and, indeed, civil order.  In order to placate this potential mob, the senate established a no-cost grain allowance for every city inhabitant, the grain coming from conquered territory, the major granaries being Sicily and Egypt. Thus, the conquered non-citizens in Roman territory ended up feeding the citizens, a permanently volatile situation.  In addition, in the last years of the republic, it had become almost de rigueur for candidates for public office to appeal to the lowest class of voting citizens (fourth class) by offering major public displays (games, spectacles), hence the expression “bread and circuses.”

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