When the Greek general Pyrrhus encountered the Roman Republic for the first time, he was deeply confused. Having served with Alexander the Great, and used to the ways of the Eastern Mediterranean, he had never seen anything like Rome. Confused, he legendarily said,”I do not know what barbarians these are.” Far from being the “primitive society” that Pyrrhus expected, the Roman Republic was resilient, and implacable in its resistance to external attack—either on the battlefield or from Pyrrhus’ attempts at bribery.
My guest today is Edward J. Watts, Professor & Alkiviadis Vassiliadis Endowed Chair in Byzantine Greek History at the University of California San Diego. The author of numerous books, his most recent is Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny. We discuss the origins of the republic, and I spend a lot of time trying to get my head around its complex structure. Then we sweep through the wars with Carthage, and end with the attempts of the Gracchi brothers to introduce change through violence. We also discuss Watts’ important thesis: that republics last as long as their citizens want them to last; that decline is therefore a choice, or the choice not to make a choice.
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