The Roman Republic is the ancient prequel to the United States.
All you need to know is that Rome became a Republic. The whole 'it was a monarchy first' bit is boring for two reasons:
What do we mean by Republic? In much the same way as we mean it today, that is, a form of government that looks kinda democratic but is actually a way of all the richest and most pimpingest families (Patricians) to stay in charge while the rest (Plebians) periodically gets to choose which family they like best.
The Republican political system was possibly the most relentlessly competetive form of government ever devised. This meant that only the meanest, smartest and most ruthless badasses ever got to the top job (Consul) and even then, there was two of them. The competitivness was built into the Constitution. For every tier of public office you advanced, the amount of positions available dropped dramatically. Everytime you wanted a promotion, it was like going for a job interview where there was 50 other applicants. And these applicants all knew each other and were friends. And they couldn't NOT get the job because below them, there was another 100 people edging for their job, and their job was only secure if they could get the votes that were secured by all the other applicants. A few generations of this and it's easy to see why it would end in civil war or, at the very least, gay orgies.
No way are we googling "gay orgy"
Most people studying the Romans choose to focus on the post-Republic era. This is for a few reasons:
It is true, the Republic can get kind of complicated, so we're just going to stick to the important bits.
For most of the time, the Roman Empire kept itself to itself. It was the understanding amongst the Romans that they were basically rulers of the world and people would come round to realizing that eventually. If, however a country decided that in fact no, they were the rulers of the world, the Romans would roll up their sleeves, grab them by the collar and start bitch slapping them into submission. This is how the Roman Republic started its Empire. This is how Greece , North Africa and Sicily became provinces. Spain also became a province, but that was simply because the Romans happened to march through it on their way to Africa. Whatever the Romans saw, sooner or later, belonged to them.
This Imperial attitude, combined with the inbuilt competitivness of the Republic in the end contrived to bring about the fall of the Republic. Because it was so difficult to remain top dog in the Republic, men of ambition had to resort to more and more startling acts of megalomania and glory-seeking. The greatest honour that a Roman citizen could ever be bestowed, was to have a Triumph. This was basically a fucking great party held in your name, where everyone in Rome was invited - there was free food, public games, slaves galore and people holding signs with John 3:16 written on. The only way to earn a Triumph was a win a war. You can see where this is going. War begats war, and eventually it was the Roman national past time.
As you would expect, there are some characters in the history of the Roman Republic whom Samuel L Jackson would be proud to portray on film. Here are some of them.
Scipio Africanus (The name that's shouted before the battle reenactment in Gladiator)
Scipio Africanus is to the Roman Republic what Teddy Rossevelt is to Cracked. When it came to boner-inducing acts of brilliance and bravado, he was the king fluffer (in a good way). He joined the army aged 17 during a time when the Romans were getting beaten in the Punic Wars against Carthage (approximately one fifth of all men of fighting age had perished during the fight against Hannibal). By the time he was 25, he was in charge. After that point, the Romans never lost another battle. So confident was he of Roman victory when he got wind that some of the stilus-pushing politicians back in Rome were thinking of surrendering, he burst into their meeting and at the point of his sword made them all swear undying allegience to Rome. They did.
Something like this, maybe
Later, when he became Consul aged 31, the jealous Senate refused to grant him an army and take the war to Africa. Instead they sent him to Sicily to keep an eye on Hannibal. Fuck this, he thought and raised a volunteer army. When the Senate investigated, they found him leading a well trained army (plus cavalry and a NAVAL FLEET). Still, he asked them permission to cross into Africa and finally beat the Carthaginians. In the end, this was achieved.
The Gracchi family were an awkward cross between whiny Democrats and bat-shit insane Libertarians. On one hand they were all for a bit of land redistribution, taking bits away from the Patricians and giving it to the plebs. On the other hand, the reforms that they attempted to impliment took nearly all power away from a central government and gave absolute control to a temporary popular majority. The law did go through incidentally, but Tiberius Gracchus, the man responsible was murdered soon after, so look out Ron Paul.
Tiberius' brother Gaius, not heeding the warning, also attempted to weaken the power of the Senate by outlawing certain loopholes the Senate used to push through unpopular laws and decrees. Again, when he stood for re-election, he was murdered. So look out Obama.
Cracked does not indulge in cheap cropped picture jokes
These guys are important because they highlighted, to those willing to use it, the power of the Plebs. This in turn passed more and more power to the Roman Army (and its generals). It's all a bit complicated, so we won't dwell on it too much.
Cicero is the guy who politicians like to mould themselves on. This is due to the fact that while he is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest orators (public speakers) ever, opinion is still divided over whether the man was a great hero and man of principle, or a massive douche. This 'greyness' is coveted by politicians as, while Cicero was alive he was generally thought of as the former. He was most prominent during the final years of the Republic, constantly having to choose sides between those who looked like they were on top, and those who looked like they were about to be stuffed in a sack and thrown into the Tiber. In the end, such was his popularity with the people, he was deemed to much of a hot potato by the rival generals so his head and hands were cut off, killing him dead.
His greatest achievement, it should be noted, was to turn up to a high stakes debate in the Senate wearing a breast plate. This was to make the public think his rival was a murdering thug and goes down as one of the greatest dick-moves ever used in politics.
Not only is Julius Caesar the inventor of the most famous salad ever, he was also played a critical role in the destruction of the Roman Republic and the founding of the Principate (the Empire). These achievements give him the significant honour of having his very own sub-heading within a Cracked topic.
"Call that a salad? I'll show you a frickin' salad."
Ever since ol' JC took the hell over the Roman Empire, every Emperor since borrowed his title 'Caesar', meaning 'Bad-Ass' in Latin. And even after the Roman Empire fell (which had nothing to do with JC), the copy-cat empires that arose afterwards still used that title - Kaiser in Germany, Czar in Russia and Chicken Caesar in Greece.
You may say that the destruction of the Roman Republic is nothing to be proud of. Yep, destroying a semi-democratic constitution that had successfully governed for the best part of 500 years might seem a bit immature, but in reality, he ended 100 years of Civil War within the Republic, smashed the warring factions and ensured they answered to him only (except at the time they were stabbing him with knives).
Conquering Gaul (France)
No, this is not the same French we know and pity today, these guys were tough. Celts, the original hairy-ass, axe-throwing, bearskin-wearing Celts who pretty much invented thumping and, incidentally the tradition of wearing a fuck-off ridiculous moustache in order to intimidate their enemies.
No no, French, not Mexican
Caesar managed to conquer them. It took some time, and cost a lot of lives (half of all Gaulish men actually) but finally at the Battle of Alesia Caesar conquered the hell out of them. Their chief Vercingetorix submitted to Caesar and was taken to Rome. He sat in prison for five years until someone would approve Caesar's coming home party, when he could finally, triumphantly, be strangled in front of a baying crowd. Yeah, strangled. Sorry about that, sometimes the Romans got a bit over-excited.
Ending the Civil War
Okay, we have to come clean about this one. He did end the civil war in Rome, but he also kinda started it too. But the other guys were total douchebags and deserved it, they were all like "waaah, Rome... people" and JC was all like "Don't make me come down there," and in the end he had to come down there and take some names.
He took names, specifically Pompey (a rival general who was a little less awesome) and the rest of the Senate. In the end, the Senate recognised his amazingness and kept bestowing on him the title Dictator, which does exactly what it says on the tin. During this time he also took as his mistress the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra and by 46BC he won the GQ Man of the Year Award for life.
Apart from this particular job having one of the most triumphant titles in history, it also came with some rather grand responsibilities. Pontifex Maximus put you as the head authority of Rome's religion, a job Julius Caesar took on with pimpalicious aplomb, as he did with most things, such as re-settling the calender so that each year had 365 days and a leap year every four years. That's right; Julius Caesar could control the heavenly spheres.
Even though Julius seemed to be doing an alright job of ruling, expanding and consolidating the Rome and its provinces all at the same time (while boning Cleopatra a bona fide babe), people were getting jealous. Not normal, everyday people like you and the guy looking at you, no: people who thought "you know what? Peace sucks ass." So they stabbed him to death one day while he was on the way to the Senate house. Apparently 60 men participated in his murder, yet he was only stabbed 23 times which makes it sound like there were loads of them being totally lame and just filming it on their camera phones.
You can tall they were douchebags cos one is wearing socks under his friggin sandals
As we shall see, the participants were later hunted down by Julius' adopted son Octavian as a way of being a really good son.