That other Tribunician assasination:The death of Livius Drusus and the fall of the Republic.


The blogging at long last tentatively resumes………..long thought Livius Drusus (ancestor of THAT Livia) got unfairly overshadowed by the perhaps overhyped Grachii in the assasinated tribune sweepstakes and it’s not like the masters of Rome series could bias me here, that’d be ridiculous……….

I would hereby like to float the idea that the most important assasination for the downfall of the Roman Republic and just in general the one that caused the most insanity, chaos and devastation was perhaps not that of Caesar (though he certainly comes close on the insanity, chaos and devastation bit)nor not the Grachii. But a lesser known tribune by the name of Livius Drusus who is best known for attempting to extend citizenship to the Soccii: Rome’s Italian allies (minus those with the latin status) and was mysteriusly knifed for his efforts. an assasination that (to draw terrible modern comparisons) is one part Martin Luther king Jr, one part JFK conspracy stuff (in that unlike Caesar and the Grachii we don’t actually know who killed him) and one part Franz Ferdinand in that it sent the world straight to hell.

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were killed with hundreds (in Gaius case more than a thousand I think) of their supporters with something of a purge following afterwards but no war. Drusus died the lone victim to an unknown assailent/s in a matter far more clandestine but less dramatic. His death however triggered the social war: that being the revolt of the Socii, Rome’s aforementioned Italian allies en masse. The social war led pretty directly to Sulla and Marius’s civil wars and itself only truly came to an end with the battle of the Colline gate near the end of the civil wars in Italy.

The Sertorian war in Spain was itself merely a last front in these first civil wars that itself helped to encourage Mithridates to start the third Mithridatic war, just as the social and civil wars had perhaps prevented total victory in the first one. Simultaneously the Spartacus rebbellion broke out and if you don’t believe the near constant war and/or political strife in Italy since the assasination of Drusus had a major hand to play in its outbreak and success then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Fun fact: in 72BC (or so wiki assures me) the Roman Republic was at war with pirates and cretans on Crete (and obviusly elsewhere) in the Balkans against the Bessi, in Turkey against Mithridates of Pontus, in Spain against Sertorius and his supporters and in Italy against Spartacus. That, particularly considering it hadn’t been long since Sulla’s invasian of Italy is freaking nuts. That the government in Rome won all these wars and returned however breifly to relative stability is perhaps more nuts.

Yet they would never recover from the damage to their political equilibrium. Cicero, Caesar, Pompey and the other members of the “last generation of the Roman Republic” (copyright Erich Gruen) came to maturity and/or entered public life in this period must have affected them profoundly. A full appreciation of how screwed things had been for so long helps explain the senate’s willingness to give extroardinary commands to Gnaeus “the teenage butcher” Pompeius because he could provide his own private army much better than looking at the Sertorian war in a bubble. A private army he and his father were able to build and maintain due to the chaos of the social and civil wars in Italy.

The extra constitutional political domination of this baby faced warlord, the precedents of Sulla & Marius and the scars and demographic upheavel caused or exacerbated by this extended and eventually mediterranean wide political crisis would all of course factor into the following and final rounds of civil war and political upheavel that would give birth to the Roman principate (empire). The role the social war played is all the more damning because begining in earnest in the midst of that very conflict the Romans rapidly granted the citizenship to all freeborn men in the penninsula (excluding what was then Cisalpine Gaul) making the conflict from a Roman perspective largely pointless: All triggered by the murder of one tribune. Gracchi eat your heart out.

Note: Of course the Social war may very well have broken out anyway especially as it seemed that Drusus had thus far failed to secure their enfranchisement and resistance which was always significant was strengthening. The importance of Drusus assasination may very well be principally in determining when it broke out but even if so when most definitly matters.

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