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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


IV. The Revolution

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter II - The Reform Movement and Tiberius Gracchus


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Page 12

Optimates and Populares

In the Rome of this epoch the two evils of a degenerate oligarchy and a democracy still undeveloped but already cankered in the bud were interwoven in a manner pregnant with fatal results. According to their party names, which were first heard during this period, the "Optimates" wished to give effect to the will of the best, the "Populares" to that of the community; but in fact there was in the Rome of that day neither a true aristocracy nor a truly self-determining community. Both parties contended alike for shadows, and numbered in their ranks none but enthusiasts or hypocrites. Both were equally affected by political corruption, and both were in fact equally worthless.

Both were necessarily tied down to the status quo, for neither on the one side nor on the other was there found any political idea--to say nothing of any political plan--reaching beyond the existing state of things; and accordingly the two parties were so entirely in agreement that they met at every step as respected both means and ends, and a change of party was a change of political tactics more than of political sentiments. The commonwealth would beyond doubt have been a gainer, if either the aristocracy had directly introduced a hereditary rotation instead of election by the burgesses, or the democracy had produced from within it a real demagogic government.

But these Optimates and these Populares of the beginning of the seventh century were far too indispensable for eachother to wage such internecine war; they not only could not destroy each other, but, even if they had been able to do so, they would not have been willing. Meanwhile the commonwealth was politically and morally more and more unhinged, and was verging towards utter disorganization.

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