The Roman Republic was established in 509 B.C., after Roman nobles overthrew the king. The new government kept many features of the earlier system, including the Senate and citizen assemblies. Two elected officials called consuls headed the government. The consuls shared power, but either consul could veto the actions of the other. A consul served for only a year.
The Senate was the most powerful government body of the Roman Republic. The Senate conducted foreign policy, passed decrees, and handled the government's finances. Senators, unlike consuls, served for life. At first, all senators were patricians. Patricians were members of Rome's oldest and richest families. Patricians controlled not only the Senate but also the assembly that elected the consuls and other important officials. All the rest of Rome's citizens, who were called plebeians, had little political influence.
To obtain political rights, plebeians formed their own assembly, the Concilium Plebis, and elected leaders called tribunes.
Largely through the work of the tribunes, plebeians gradually gained the same political rights as the patricians. In time, a new and larger assembly, the Comitia Tributa, developed. It represented both patricians and plebeians, but plebeians largely controlled the assembly.
Expansion overseas made Rome a mighty kingdom during the 200's and 100's B.C. Rome came into conflict first with Carthage, a sea power and trading center on the coast of northern Africa. Rome and Carthage fought for mastery of the Mediterranean Sea in three struggles called the Punic Wars. In the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.), Rome conquered Sicily, an island off the tip of Italy, and made it the first Roman province. Rome also seized two other Mediterranean islands--Sardinia and Corsica. In the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.), the brilliant Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca led his army over the Alps into Italy. He won several key...