The Roman Empire. Or Republic. Or…Which Was It?: Crash Course World History #10

The Roman Empire. Or Republic. Or…Which Was It?: Crash Course World History #10


Hi, I’m John Green; this is Crash Course
World History and today we’re going to learn about the Roman Empire, which of course began
when two totally nonfictional twins, Romulus and Remus, who’d been raised by wolves,
founded a city on seven hills. Mr Green, Mr Green, what… what does SPQR
stand for? It means shut pie hole quickly, rapscallion.
No, it means Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, one of the mottos of the Roman Republic. So today we’re going to do some old school
Great Man History and focus on Julius Caesar while trying to answer a question: When, if
ever, is it OK to stab someone 23 times? [Theme Music] Shakespeare answers that question by saying
that Roman senators killed Caesar because he was going to destroy the Roman republic, but
even if that’s true, we still have to answer whether: a. The Roman Republic was worth preserving,
and b. whether Caesar actually destroyed it. One of the things that made the Roman republic
endure, both in reality and in imagination was its balance. According to the Greek historian
Polybius, “THE THREE kinds of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, were
all found united in Rome. And… it was no easy thing to determine with assurance, whether the entire
state was an aristocracy, a democracy, or a monarchy.” At the heart of this blended system was the
Senate, a body of legislators chosen from a group of elite families. (Rome was divided
into two broad classes: the Patricians – the small group of aristocratic families and the
Plebeians, basically everybody else. The Senators were drawn from the Patricians.) The Senate
was a sort of a mixture of legislature and giant advisory council. Their main job was
to set the policy for the Consuls. Each year the Senate would choose from among
its ranks 2 co-Consuls to serve as sort of the chief executives of Rome. There needed
to be two so they could check each other’s ambition, and also so that one could, you
know, take care of Rome domestically, while the other was off fighting wars, and conquering
new territory. There were two additional checks on power:
First, the one-year term. I mean, how much trouble could you really do in a year, right?
Unless you’re the CEO of Netflix, I mean he destroyed that company in like two weeks. And secondly, once a senator had served as
consul, he was forbidden to serve as consul again for at least 10 years. Although that
went a little bit like you say you’re only going to eat one Chipotle burrito per week,
and then there are a few exceptions, and then all of a sudden you’re there every day, and YES,
I know guacamole is more, JUST GIVE IT TO ME! But right, we were talking about the Romans.
The Romans also had a position of dictator, a person who would who’d take over in the
event the Republic was in imminent danger. The paradigm for this selfless Roman ruler
was Cincinnatus, a general who came out of comfortable retirement at his plantation,
took command of an army, defeated whatever enemy he was battling, and then laid down
his command and returned to his farm, safe in the knowledge that one day the second largest
city in Ohio would be named for him. If that model of leadership sounds familiar
to Americans by the way, it’s because George Washington was heavily influenced by Cincinnatus
when he invented the idea of a two term president. So along comes Caesar. Gaius Ju- Gay-us? No
it’s Gaius, I know from Battlestar Galactica. Gaius Julius Caesar was born around 100 BCE
to one of Rome’s leading families. His birth was somewhat miraculous, requiring a surgical
procedure that we know as Caesarian section. Coming as he did from the senatorial class,
it was natural that Caesar would serve in both the army and the Senate, which he did.
He rose through the ranks, and after some top-notch generalling, and a gig as the governor
of Spain, he decided to run for consul. In order to win, Caesar needed financial help,
which he got from Crassus, one of Rome’s richest men. Crassus ran a private fire company
whose business model was essentially, “Hey, I notice your house is on fire. Give me some
money and I’ll help you out with that.” Caesar succeeded in becoming consul in 59
BCE and thereafter sought to dominate Roman politics by allying himself with Crassus and
also with Rome’s other most powerful man, the general Pompey. You’ll no doubt remember
Pompey from his fascination with Alexander the Great. Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar were
the so-called first triumvirate, and the alliance worked out super well, for Caesar. Not so
well for the other two. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. After a year as consul that included getting
the senate to pass laws largely because of intimidation by Pompey’s troops, Caesar
landed the governorship of Gaul, at least the southern part of Gaul that Rome controlled.
He quickly conquered the rest of Gaul and his four loyal armies — or legions, as the
Romans called them — became his source of power. Caesar continued his conquests, invading Britain
and waging another successful war against the Gauls. While he was away, Crassus died in battle
with the Parthians and Pompey, who had become Caesar’s rival and enemy, was elected Consul.
Pompey and the Senate decided to try to strip Caesar of his command and recall him to Rome.
If he returned to Rome without an army, Caesar would have been prosecuted for corrupt consuling
and also probably exceeding his authority as governor, so instead he returned with the
13th Legion. He crossed the Rubicon River, famously saying,
“The die is cast” or possibly, “Let the die be cast.” Sorry, Thought Bubble,
sources disagree. Basically, Caesar was invading his own hometown. Pompey was in charge of
Rome’s army but like a boss fled the city, and by 48 BCE Caesar was in total command
of all of Rome’s holdings, having been named both dictator and consul. Caesar set out to Egypt to track down Pompey
only to learn that he’d already been assassinated by agents of the Pharaoh Ptolemy. Egypt had
its own civil war at the time, between the Pharaoh and his sister/wife Cleopatra. Ptolemy
was trying to curry favor with Caesar by killing his enemy, but Caesar was mad in that the-only-person-who-gets-to-tease-my-little-brother-is-me
kind of way, except with murder instead of teasing. So Caesar sided with — and skoodilypooped
with — Cleopatra. Thank you, Thought Bubble. Cleopatra went on to become the last Pharaoh
of Ancient Egypt and bet on Marc “I am the Wrong Horse” Antony instead of Emperor “There
is a Baby Attached to My Leg” Augustus. But before all that, Caesar made his way back
from Egypt to Rome, stopping off to defeat a few kings in the east, and was declared
dictator again. That position that was later extended for ten years, and then for life. He was elected consul in 46 BCE and then again
in 45 BCE, this last time without a co-consul. By 45 BCE Caesar was the undisputed master
of Rome and he pursued reforms that strengthened his own power. He provided land pensions for
his soldiers, restructured the debts of a huge percentage of Rome’s debtors, and also
changed the calendar to make it look more like the one we use today. But by 44 BCE, many Senators had decided that
Caesar controlled too much of the power in Rome, and so they stabbed him 23 times on
the floor of the Roman senate. Caesar was duly surprised about this and everything,
but he never said, “Et Tu, Brute” when he realized Brutus was one of the co-conspirators.
That was an invention of Shakespeare. The conspirators thought that the death of
Caesar would bring about the restoration of the Republic, and they were wrong. For one
thing, Caesar’s reforms were really popular with the Rome’s people, who were quick to
hail his adopted son Octavian, as well as his second-in-command Mark “I am the Wrong
Horse” Antony and a dude named Lepidus, as a second triumvirate. This triumvirate was an awesome failure, degenerating
into a second civil war. Octavian and Antony fought it out. Antony, being the wrong horse,
lost. Octavian won, changed his name to Caesar Augustus, became sole ruler of Rome, attached
a baby to his leg, adopted the title Emperor, and started printing coins identifying himself
as Divini Filius: The Son of God. More on that next week. Although Augustus tried to pretend that the
forms of the Roman republic were still intact, the truth was that he made the laws and the
Senate had become nothing more than a rubber stamp. Which reminds me, it’s time for the
open letter. Movie magic! An open letter to the Roman Senate.
Oh, but first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment. Ah, it’s a harmonica!
Stan, do you want me to play some old, Roman folk songs? Very well. Stan, I just want to thank
you for doing such a good job of overdubbing there. Dear Roman Senate, Whether you were rubber
stamping the laws of Emperor Augustus, or stabbing Caesar on the floor of your sacred
hall, you were always doing something! I don’t want to sound nostalgic for a time when people
lived to be 30, a tiny minority of adults could vote, and the best fashion choice was
bed-sheets, but oh my god, at least you did something! Your senate was chosen from among the Patrician
class. Our senate here in the United States is chosen from among the obstructionist class.
But don’t get me wrong, Roman senate, you were terrible. Best wishes, John Green. So did Caesar destroy the Republic? Well,
he started a series of civil wars, he seized power for himself, he subverted the ideas
of the republic, he changed the constitution, but he’s only really to blame if he was
the first one to do that. And he wasn’t. Take the general Marius, for instance, who
rose to power on the strength of his generalship and on his willingness to open up the army
to the poor, who were loyal to him personally, and not to Rome, and whom he promised land
in exchange for their good service in the army. This of course required the Romans to
keep conquering new land so they could keep giving it to new legionnaires. Marius also
was consul 5 times in a row, 60 years before Caesar. Or look at the general Sulla who, like Marius,
ensured that his armies would be more loyal to him personally than to Rome, but who marched
against Rome itself, and then became its dictator, executing thousands of people in 81 BCE, 30
years before Caesar entered the scene. There is another way of looking at this question
altogether if we dispense with great man history. Maybe Rome became an empire before it had
an emperor. Like, remember the Persian Empire? You’ll recall that empire had some characteristics
that made it, imperial. Like a unified system of government, continual military expansion,
and a diversity of subject peoples. The Roman empire had all three of those characteristics
long before it became The Roman Empire. Like Rome started out as a city, and then it became
a city state, then a kingdom, and then a Republic, but that entire time, it was basically comprised
of the area around Rome. By the 4th century BCE, Rome started to incorporate
its neighbors like the Latins and the Etruscans, and pretty soon they had all of Italy under
their control, but that’s not really diversity of subject peoples. I mean, nothing personal,
Italians, but you have a lot of things in common, like the constant gesticulations. If you want to talk about real expansion and
diversity, you’ve got to talk about the Punic Wars. These were the wars that I remember,
primarily because they involved Hannibal crossing the Alps with freaking war-elephants, which was probably
the last time that the elephants could have risen up, and formed their awesome secret elephant
society with elephant planes and elephant cars. In the First Punic War, Rome wanted Sicily,
which was controlled by the Carthaginians. Rome won, which made Carthage cranky, so they
started the second Punic war. In 219 BCE, Hannibal attacked a Roman town and then led
an army across Spain, and then crossed the freaking Alps with elephants. Hannibal and his elephant army almost won,
but alas, they didn’t, and as a result the Romans got Spain. People in Spain are definitely
NOT Romans (despite Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator), which means that by 201 BCE
Rome was definitely an empire. The third Punic War was a formality – Rome
found some excuse to attack Carthage and then destroyed it so completely that these days
you can’t even find it on a map. Eventually this whole area, and a lot more, would be
incorporated into a system of provinces and millions of people would be ruled by the Roman
Empire. And it’s ridiculous to say that Rome was
a Republic until Augustus became Rome’s first official emperor, because by the time
he did that, Rome had been an empire for almost 200 years. There’s a reason I’m arguing that
the death of the Republic came long before Caesar and probably around the time that Rome
became an Empire. If anything destroyed the idea of Republican
Rome, it was the concentration of power into the hands of one man. And this man was always
a general. I mean, you can’t march on Rome without an army, after all. Why were there
such powerful generals? Because Rome had decided to become an Empire, and empires need to expand
militarily. Particularly, the Roman empire needed to expand militarily because it always
needed new land to give its retired legionnaires. That expansion created the all-powerful general
and the incorporation of diverse peoples made it easier for them to be loyal to him, rather
than to some abstract idea of the Republic. Julius Caesar didn’t create emperors: Empire
created them. Next week we’ll be discussing Christianity,
so that shouldn’t be controversial. Until then, thanks for watching. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Last week’s Phrase of the Week was “Pre-Distressed
Designer Jeans” If you want to guess at this week’s Phrase of the Week or suggest future
ones, you can do so in Comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video
which our team of historians will endeavor to answer. Thanks for watching Crash Course, and as we
say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome. Whoah… Geez! Yikes! Everything is fine!

100 Comments on "The Roman Empire. Or Republic. Or…Which Was It?: Crash Course World History #10"


  1. Hello good friends this is my last message before the 2019 AP test kills me tomorrow, but I hope everyone does well and oh dear god I’m not gonna make it

    Reply

  2. Wow, I didn't realise Ireland was already partitioned when Caesar was conquering Gaul.

    Reply

  3. Those snarky comments about John's Netflix reference did not age well.
    I come from the future.

    Reply

  4. Julius Caesar was most certainly not born via a caesarian. The etymology of the word lies in “caeso” which means “to cut”. “Ab utero caeso” means “to cut from the womb.”

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  5. Actually the video gets it backwards- Crassus did indeed own the fire brigade but he didn't extort money to put out the fire; he'd offer to buy the still-burning building on the cheap, put out the fire, rebuild it (using slaves), and then rent it out. He also grabbed up a lot of property when prior proto-dictators (in the modern sense) like Sulla had people executed through proscriptions.

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  6. i had my history final today and last night i was on a full out Crash Course World History cram session haha btw i got an A so thanks so much!!

    Reply

  7. i have strong sympathies for this channel. still, that was pretty weak. factually and also intellectually.

    Reply

  8. can you please make a vid about how the policy affected the Roman empire? ps: I love your vids

    Reply

  9. 9:23 Rome owes its power to Greece, it spread thanks to the vacume of power left after Alexanders death, mostly all of modern western culture owes its shape to Philip the 2nd and the late bronze age colapse wich allowed for the kind of titanic economic and cultural shift that led to the Grecco Hellenic tradition of mostly fighting it out instead of seizing stuff, for over 800 years up untill father and son developed and took a giant part of the east.

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  10. Caesar didnt conquer Britain, he attacked it and abandoned it.
    Caesar had 7 Legions not 4
    Pompey did not threaten anyone with legionaries, Roman Soldiers could not enter Rome or cross into Italy at all unless the senate let them.

    people lived way longer than 30 in Roman times, people lived to around 70-80 and people only started dying at 30 after the collapse of rome, when there was no rome to upkeep the citizenry and the rome that did exist in Constantinople was embroiled by the plague

    Italy was extremely diverse back in the time of the early republic, Gauls in the north, Latins in the center, Greeks in Sicily and southern Italy and Phonecian decendents in Sicily as well.

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  11. "Caesar did not utter a sound after Casca's blow had drawn a groan from him, though some say that when he saw Marcus Brutus about to deliver a blow he reproached him in Greek with 'You too, my son?'." (Suetonius 82) Caesar did have multiple affairs with Brutus mother, Servilia, however Brutus would have been born when Caesar was around the age of 15. There's a chance he may have seen Brutus as a child of his or an afopted child, however there's no evidence that a legal adoption ever took place.
    Though he may have not said anything on his assassination, people of Rome or witnesses of the Death have said that he uttered "You too, my son" in Greek., though it may be mamy rumors Suetonius made notice to. Suetonius wrote his work during the reign of Hadrian, roughly 180-200 years after Caesar.

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  12. Ok one thing I need to point out that crash course said incorrectly. Yes, the average life span was 30ish years. No, very very few people died at 30. In fact, almost everyone who survived military service and into adulthood lives well into their 70s, 80s, and sometimes 90s and further. There are two reasons the average life span was 30: 1) a grossly high child mortality rate due to not knowing what STDs were, and 2) death in the military, although 90% of it is due to #1. If you were under 10, you had a very high likelihood of dying, but if you were able to live past 10, you were pretty much golden

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  13. According to Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, whose great-grandfather was at the assassination, this is what Suetonius wrote: "And so it was that he [Caesar] was stabbed twenty-three times, saying nothing, merely letting out a groan at the first blow… though some people relate that when Marcus Brutus came at him he said, in Greek, 'You too, my son?'" Who would you believe, Shakespeare, who wrote the play more than 1600 years after Caesar died, or someone who actually saw it?

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  14. The wife of Gaius Octavius was the niece of Julius Caesar, so that made Octavian Caesar's great-nephew.

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  15. In 27 BCE, Octavian became Imperator Octavianus Octavius Caesar Divini Filius Augustus, first Roman Emperor.

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  16. John, I don't know where you got the line about not being able to find Carthage on a map, but we know exactly where Carthage was. It's on the outskirts of Tunis. Carthage and Tunis are basically the same city. You can still see the harbor where are the carthaginians protected their ships. It's a settled area.

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  17. You forgot to mention a how Cesar committed genocide in gual According to modern day standards not Roman standards. He butchered a million guals and enslaved even more.

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  18. Emperor "there is a baby attached to my leg" Augustus still makes me laugh all these years later.

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  19. Sorry, Juiius Caesar never conquered Britain up to Hadrian's Wall (hint: Hadrian came later) unlike what the bubble showed. He failed to even get across to Britain on his first attempt and barely penetrated the island the second time before scarpering. Plus, since the building housing the Roman Senate had burned down, Caesar was stabbed not on the floor of the Senate but at the entrance of the Theater of Pompey that was being used by the Senate until the Curia Julia was finished in the Fora Romana. The Theater of Pompey was located right next to the current Largo di Torre Argentina.

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  20. "When, if ever, is it ok to stab someone 23 times?"
    oh, 23 times is a crime. No, you should stab someone 28 TIMES

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  21. Not sure your "destroyed Netflix in two weeks" statement 7 years ago stood the test of time very well!

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  22. "People lived to 30".

    A perennial misunderstanding which is impervious to correction because it spoils a good story. While the life expectancy may have been 30 that does not mean that most people dropped dead at that age or soon after. What it means is that Rome had a high infant mortality weighing down the average age of death to a low level. Survive to adulthood and an adult in Rome could reasonably expect to live to 40, 50, 60 or more and there were plenty of such Roman citizens.

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  23. Please make a video on importance of Fire and how the old people preserve it when match sticks were not invented

    Reply

  24. Antifa Beat up my friend he is old and did nothing but walk in Portland while white So I learned all about them. Your Sticker is a Joke and The Antifa you support are Fascists that will not allow free speech or diverse Opinion . You seem educated maybe get the Facts?

    Reply

  25. Hey, actually pretty smart dude, Washington did not "invent" a 2 term president..That came after FDR was elected 4 times…sorry to nit pick, well done

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  26. its funny how all the biggest empires and most important/influential civilizations(slash "troublemakers") in the world have become a "nothing" in todays world…greece,italy,portugal,mongolia,turkey,iran…

    Reply

  27. I would like to speak on behalf of most your viewers. We are hugely grateful for these videos. You do a great job concising vast chunks of information into the essentials, and stuff that grabs our attention. But… the humor. Please, just, cut it out. Maybe you feel like you need to be funny to keep our attention, but that is not the case. We're here to learn more than we are here to be entertained! (at least I hope so). The material is already so interesting we don't need to be coaxed. I promise. So please… just stop the bull.

    Reply

  28. "And so it was that he was stabbed twenty-three times, saying nothing, merely letting out a groan at the first blow… though some people relate that when Marcus Brutus came at him, he said in Greek, 'You too, my son?'" This comes from Suetonius, whose grandfather actually saw the assassination of Caesar with his own eyes. Who would you believe, an eyewitness, or Shakespeare, who wrote his play 1600 years later?

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  29. Caesar never acknowledged that Ptolemy Caesarion was his son, even though he knew it. He left nothing to Caesarion, making Octavian his heir. Caesarion was dangerous, able to make a claim to the imperial seat of Rome, and that's why Octavian had him executed.

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  30. Why are they playing the Imperial March when they talk about the Roman Empire? There was no Darth Vader back then!

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  31. He assumes that the people living in Italy 2400 years ago are just as homogenous as modern italians. There were Etruscans, who spoke a different language and had a different culture. There were also Greek colonies in the south.

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  32. Think you missed the responsibility of slavery and the concentration of power in the Senate. There were many poor Romans because the Senate over time monopolized land, evicted Roman citizens and worked that land with slaves from conquest. That's why the Roman generals had so much power, it was retaliation towards the senate

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  33. I assume it's been pointed out already, but 03:00 is wrong. It's called a caeserian-section because caesare means cut.
    There is however a source that says that the cognomen Caesar comes from one of Gaius' ancestors being born by something like a c-section. That is however most likely a lie to somehow make Gaius look worse.

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  34. Ceaser being born via Ceaserian section is a myth. in those days that procedure was sometimes done to save the child, however the mother would never survive, and Ceasers mother was alive into his 40s. I imagine the myth emerged around the time Octavian (Ceaser Augustus) used Halleys comet as a representation of Ceasers soul passing to the afterlife in a bid to give his own claim to rule the empire Divine status.

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  35. So, was it a republic? An Empire? Both? What do you make of the trajectory of Roman history? What about the motives of those that governed?

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  36. THIS IS A MOCKERY OF HISTORY… Kids wont take history seriously if you waste time talking about burritos cmon

    Reply

  37. I love your videos but guacamole is pronounces : Gua Kah Moh L eh

    im mexican, i just had to say it

    Reply

  38. I think this is weird! So much information there is about the romans, why and who made the descssion of all this information when other imformation from the same era istotally lost! I might believe the Cesar and the whole romans is norhing but a fairytail…? A big FAT LIE! It dosent add up!

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  39. It’s ironic that the moment historians dubbed Rome an empire (Augustus’ period) , Rome, with a few exceptions, actually stopped expanding its borders

    Reply

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