For those leaders of the Middle Republic who created the Roman war machine—those who devised the legionary system, who carved out space for talent in a regime hitherto reserved for patrician families, who drafted the sprawling alliances that bound Italian manpower to Rome’s military standards—there was no way to foresee how these impressive military capacities would produce such root and branch changes to the fatherland. From the moment those capacities were projected out of Italy in 264, to the moment that Caesar decided to turn them back on Rome itself in 49, there was a slew of religious developments, cultural revolutions, economic transformations, and demographic upheavals, few of which would have been conceivable without Rome’s astonishingly successful mode of imperialism. When it comes to public life, however, it is easy to underemphasize the degree to which imperialism forced change. After all, many of the families who began this process in the early years of the Republic were still preeminent at the end, and the constitution that so impressed Polybius in the second century had proved—and in many ways would remain—remarkably stable throughout the long road of expansion. The members of those grand families were not, however, automatons; nor did the constitution shape practices and decisions in unchanging ways over time. As individuals and as a group, leaders manipulated that constitution within a vast array of constraints and opportunities, and as Rome’s socioeconomic fabric was remade in light of its imperial success, the bargaining, the calculations, and the power of these various actors changed, even as the names—names of families, names of magistracies, names of laws—remained more or less the same....
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