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At the beginning of this volume readers were offered a brief survey of opinions down the ages about the causes of the fall of the Republic; now, with the facts before them, they will have formed opinions of their own. However, they may still, reasonably, expect the editors of the volume to state theirs: how should this tumultuous period be summed up, and, especially, are there any integrating concepts to link the political and military narrative of the first part with the subsequent chapters about law and society, economics, religion and ideas?
Some parallel may here be perceived to the debates about the fall of the Roman Empire. In that case the simplistic question, ‘did it decline or was it assassinated?’, though requiring to be reformulated and answered with considerable subtlety, remains not a bad starting-point. So: did the political order that we know as the Roman Republic decline, or was it assassinated? Did it contain the dialectic of its own collapse, or could it, but for the ambitions of certain dynasts (above all, Pompey and Caesar, Antony and Octavian), have survived the changes taking place in Roman society?
Both the experience of another twenty centuries and the refinements of modern historical explanation make it out of the question for us to be content with the standard answer given by the Romans themselves, that the political order was destroyed by moral decline resulting from wealth, greed and luxury. Change was occurring in moral conceptions, as in everything else, but that is true of all periods and is not necessarily a symptom of morbidity in the body politic.
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