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579 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1939
Whether the Princeps made atonement for the crime and violence of his earlier career is a question vain and irrelevant, cheerfully to be abandoned to the moralist or the casuist. The present inquiry will attempt to discover the resources and devices by which a revolutionary leader arose in civil strife, usurped the power for himself and his faction, transformed a faction into a national party, and a torn and distracted land into a nation, with a stable and enduring government.As Syme sees it, the core and perduring element of the power structure in the Roman Republic was an oligarchy, comprised of the nobiles, Patrician and Plebeian consulars who jealousy guarded access to the consulate and, hence, to their ruling Senatorial clique. While the Patriciate dominated the ranks of the nobiles, those elevated from the Plebs had forged powerful lineages of their own—and such was the state at the time of the reorganization of Sulla, Roman Dictator in 81 BC and the paradigm of the ruthless political adventurer for those who competed for supremacy in the decades following his abdication from power; especially in his usage of Novi Homines, New Men, upstarts and non-entities whom he rewarded for service by admission to the Senate. However, Sulla, of the aristocratic Cornelii, also strived to strengthen the Senate by diminishing the power of the tribunes and legislating constitutional changes. The following decades would see a fierce competition between this Sullan aristocratic element, the Optimates, and those who, in emulation of Marius, played to the emotions and for the support of the masses, the Populares. Indeed, as Syme views it, this conflict, with its burgeoning factionalism, corruption, manipulation, and violence, progressively undermined the stability and structure of the Roman Republic as powerful and charismatic individuals vied to become the First Man (Princeps) in Rome, with its attendant enhancement of their dignitas and auctoritas. A part of the conflict lay in what constituted a citizen's modus operandi: the old nobility maintained a tradition of service to the state, transcending material interests and containing high ideals—a concept wholly absent from that of the equite financiers.