— Theodor Mommsen
, Context: For a whole generation after the battle of Pydna the Roman state enjoyed a profound calm, scarcely varied by a ripple here and there on the surface. Its dominion extended over three continents; the lustre of the Roman power and the glory of the Roman name were constantly on the increase; all eyes rested on Italy, all talents and all riches flowed thither; it seemed as if a golden age of peaceful prosperity and intellectual enjoyment of life had there begun. The Orientals of this period told each other with astonishment of the might republic of the West,'which subdued kingdoms far and near, so that everyone who heard its name trembled; but which kept good faith with its friends and clients. Such was the glory of the Romans, and yet no one usurped the crown and no one glittered in purple dress; but they obeyed whomsoever from year to year they made their master, and there was among them neither envy nor discord.'So it seemed at a distance; matters wore a different aspect on a closer view. The government of the aristocracy was in full train to destroy its own work. Not that the sons and grandsons of the vanquished at Cannae and Zama had so utterly degenerated from their fathers and grandfathers; the difference was not so much in the men who now sat in the Senate as in the times. Where a limited number of old families of established wealth and hereditary political importance conducts the government, it will display in seasons of danger an incomparable tenacity of purpose and power of heroic self-sacrifice, just as in seasons of tranquility it will be short-sighted, selfish, and negligent; the germs of both results are essentially involved in its hereditary and collegiate character. The morbid matter had been long in existence, but it needed the sun of prosperity to develop it. There was a profound meaning in the question of Cato, "What was to become of Rome, when she should no longer have any state to fear?" that point had now been reached. Every neighbor whom she might have feared was politically annihilated; and of the men, who had been reared under the older order of things in the severe school of the Hannibalic War, and whose words still sounded as echoes of that mighty epoch so long as they survived, death called on after another away, till at length the voice of the last of them, the Veteran Cato, ceased to be heard in the Senate-house and in the Forum. A younger generation came to the helm, and their policy was a sorry answer to that of the question of the veteran patriot. We have already spoken the shape which the government of the subjects and external policy of rome assumed in their hands. In internal affairs they were, if possible, still more disposed to let the ship drive before the wind: if we understand by internal government more than the transaction of current business, there was at this period no government in Rome at all. The single leading thought of the governing corporation was the maintenance and, if possible, the increase of their usurped privileges. It was not the state that had a title to get the right and the best man for its supreme magistracy; but every member of the coterie had an inborn title to the highest office of the state - a title not to be prejudiced by the unfair rivalry of his peers or by the encroachments of the excluded. Accordingly the clique proposed to itself as its most important political aim, the restriction of reelection to the consulship and the exclusion of "new men;" and in fact succeeded in obtaining the legal prohibition of the former about (165) and contented itself with a government of aristocratic nobodies. Even the inaction of the government in its outward relations was doubtless connected with this policy of the nobility, exclusive towards commoners, and distrustful towards the individual members of their own order. By no surer means could they keep commoners, whose deeds were their patent of nobility, aloof from the pure circles of the aristocracy than by giving no opportunity to any one to perform deeds at all...
Vol 3, Pg 71-73, Translated by W.P. Dickson
On the Roman government before the Ghracci brothers and the spread of decay within it.