Key Roman Institution Was Citizenship for All

(p. C5) . . . , early in the fourth century B.C., everything changes. Somehow Rome’s wars began to escalate in scale, their victories turned into conquests, their victims into allies, and Roman expansion became a bow wave rolling across Italy. Exactly how this “great leap forward” was achieved remains unclear. There are fragments of laws, a tradition of civil conflict leading to political reform, and the tombs of the first generation of great military leaders. But, as Ms. Beard says, “the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle become hard to fit together.”
The best we can say is that, sometime in the early fourth century, consuls, senators and people emerge rapidly from the shadows, carrying all before them. By the time this was noticed by the other great powers of the day–Phoenician Carthage in what is now Tunisia and the Macedonian kings who had ruled everything east of the Adriatic since Alexander the Great–it was too late to stop Rome. Roman institutions did not drive this expansion, as Polybius had thought. In fact they played desperate catch-up for the rest of the Republic, trying to create ways of governing an empire that was not exactly accidental but certainly not planned. The one institution that Ms. Beard leaves in place as a motor of expansion rather than a response to it was Rome’s unusual capacity to absorb the defeated and redirect their arms and resources to its own ends. “SPQR” ends with the logical culmination of that process, the extension of full citizenship to almost every one of Rome’s 60 million subjects in A.D. 212.

For the full review, see:
GREG WOOLF. “Dawn of the Eternal City.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C5-C6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.

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