The reforms of the Gracchus brothers angered the senate, which saw them as a threat to its power. The brothers and thousands of their followers were killed in waves of street violence set off by senators and their hired thugs.

The Roman Republic Declines

A century of turmoil and civil wars engulfed Rome after the murders of the Gracchus brothers, whose attempts to bring reforms had failed. At issue was who should hold power—the senate, which wanted to govern as it had in the past, or popular political leaders, who wanted to weaken the senate and enact reforms.

The turmoil sparked slave uprisings at home and revolts among Rome's allies. Meanwhile, the old legions of Roman citizen-soldiers became professional armies whose first loyalty was to their commanders. Once rival commanders had their own armies, they could march into Rome to advance their ambitions. Power struggles among ambitious generals would help weaken the republic and lead to its overthrow.

Bronze busts of two men in togas holding a piece of paper, with eroded Latin inscription at the base.

The brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus tried to reform Rome's government.

Caesar's Bid for Power

Out of this chaos emerged Julius Caesar, an ambitious military commander. For a time, Caesar and another brilliant general, Pompey, dominated Roman politics.

In 58 B.C., Caesar set out with his army to make new conquests. After nine years of fighting, he completed the conquest of Gaul—the area that is now France and Belgium. Jealous and fearful of Caesar's success, Pompey persuaded the senate to order Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome. Caesar defied the order. Acting swiftly and secretly, he led his army across the Rubicon River into northern Italy and headed toward Rome. Once again, Rome was plunged into civil war.

Caesar crushed Pompey and his supporters. He then swept around the Mediterranean, suppressing rebellions. “Veni, vidi, vici”—“I came, I saw, I conquered”—he announced after one victory. Later, returning to Rome, he forced the senate to make him dictator. Although he maintained the senate and other features of the republic, he was in fact the absolute ruler of Rome.

Painting of a man in a white toga and a crown of laurels, seated and dictating to several scribes as soldiers look on. Outside a window, soldiers fight.

Caesar dictated his commentaries on war to scribes who recorded his words.

Caesar's Reforms

Between 48 B.C. and 44 B.C., Caesar pushed through a number of reforms intended to deal with Rome's many problems.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments