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Conquest and Crisis: the Roman Republic - 30 credits (HS3316)

Staff: Guy Bradley, Kate Gilliver, Louis Rawlings

“There can surely be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in less than 53 years in bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world” (Polybius). Rome’s aggressive imperialist policies in the early second century BC brought her into conflict with states and tribes in Greece, the East, Africa, Spain and Gaul, leading to the extraordinarily rapid creation of a Mediterranean-wide empire. But conquests and her expanding empire led to changes and major upheavals within Roman society. Tensions arose within the functioning of the Republican political system, leading to internal unrest, destructive civil wars, and eventually the fall of the Republic. This module examines the principal events of 202–31 BC; the motives for and methods of Rome’s expansion in the Mediterranean; the effects of empire on Roman political institutions, economy, religious and social values; the crises and conflicts of the late Republic involving land tenure, distribution of wealth, the army, the Senate, tribunes, urban discontent, and power struggles amongst the elite, leading to the domination of Julius Caesar and paving the way for the establishment of the Empire.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn and spring semesters in alternate years
Teaching: 30 lectures and 6 seminars
Assessment: one essay (35%); two class tests (15%); one 2-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • the main events of the period 202–31 BC
  • the development of the Roman political system and its weaknesses, the role of the senate, tribunes and people
  • Rome’s wars and territorial expansion; her establishment of alliances and use of diplomacy; Rome’s motives for war and overseas conquest
  • the effects of empire, increasing wealth and Hellenization on the Roman state, religion and Roman society
  • the growing tensions in the Roman state associated with land reform, the army, the extension of citizenship, and increasing urban unrest, and attempts by individuals to address them
  • the rise of powerful individuals in the late Republic and the senatorial response to them
  • the collapse of the Republican system of government, and theories of the collapse


  • To study the major historical issues and problems of the period from the end of the Second Punic War to the end of the Civil Wars and the collapse of the Republican system of government.
  • To study the progress of Roman expansion in the Mediterranean and the reasons for it, and the effects of overseas conquest and the increase in wealth on Roman politics and society, leading to the political crises of the late Republic.
  • To reveal the inter-related nature of the resultant strains on the state, involving land tenure, the army, urban discontents, the struggle for power among the elite, and the causes and consequences of civil wars.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the main events and changes in the Roman state from 202–31 BC and the causes of these changes.
  • a knowledge of the main literary sources for this period and an ability to compare the accounts of different ancient sources in relation to their aims and methods.
  • an awareness of differing modern views on and interpretations of these events (in particular on the nature of Roman imperialism, religious change, ‘democratic politics’ in Rome, and theories on the decline of the Republic).
  • an ability to discuss these issues in assessed work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Primary sources (to be bought)

Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire (Penguin, or online through Lacus Curtius)
Livy, Dawn of the Roman Empire. Books 31–40 (Oxford World's Classics)
Appian, The Civil Wars (Penguin, or online through Lacus Curtius)
Plutarch, Roman Lives (Oxford World's Classics)

Preliminary reading

M. Beard & M. Crawford, Rome in the Late Republic (2nd edition, 2000)
K. Bringmann, A History of the Roman Republic (2007)
P. A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (2nd edition, 1986)
M. H. Crawford, The Roman Republic (2nd ed., 1992)
H. Flower (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic (2004)
H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero (5th edition, 1982)
H. H. Scullard, A History of the Roman World 753–146 BC (1991)

More advanced:
P. A. Brunt, The Fall of the Roman Republic (1988)
Cambridge Ancient History vols VIII–IX, 2nd edition
E. S. Gruen, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic (1974)
W. V. Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome 327–70 BC (1979)
N. Rosenstein & R. Morstein-Marx (eds.), A Companion to the Roman Republic (2006)
D. L. Stockton, The Gracchi (1979)
R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939)
You can also check out the bibliography in Crawford 1992.

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3315 Kingdoms, Cities and Hellenisation

HS3317 Roman Imperial History 31 BC–AD 138

HS3331 Roman Religion

HS3333 Rome and Carthage

HS4358 Life in Ancient Rome

HS4364 The Etruscans

HS4367 The Roman Army