Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: The Emperors of Brussels

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: The Emperors of Brussels

Article excerpt

As both sides of the great EU debate line up their forces, it is worth reflecting on the implications of the collapse of the Roman republic in the 1st century bc and its transformation into an imperial system under the first emperor Augustus.

Romans dated the start of the collapse to 133 bc. Up till then, they felt that relations between the senate, the traditional, if de facto , ruling authority, and the Plebeian assembly, with its tribunes who could veto senatorial proposals, had worked pretty well, without any serious clashes. This all changed when the ambitious aristocrat Tiberius Gracchus got himself elected tribune in order to use the Plebeian assembly to introduce legislation without senatorial agreement. This was within the law, but the issue -- the redistribution among the poor of technically illegal land-holdings of the wealthy -- was highly contentious. That passed, but an associated proposal ended in a bloody riot, started by senators, and Tiberius was murdered. His brother Gaius suffered the same fate ten years later. …

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