As the Roman state conquered new territory, instead of revising the system to keep up with new demands of running a large state (for example by adding more levels of elected officials), the conservative Romans just kept jury-rigging this city government.For example, they decided that conquered provinces would be administered by former consuls appointed by the Senate.
In 41 AD, when a conspiracy by Cassius Chaera led to the assassination of Gaius Caligula, there were calls for the re-establishment of the Republic.
But this doesn’t seem to have been the main motive for the assassination; rather, Chaerea seems to have been primarily motivated by Caligula’s constant ridicule of him.
Thus the film’s plot is driven by Marcus’ idea of restoring the Republic. Senator Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) and Senator Gaius (John Shrapnel) both want to see Rome returned to a Republic as well.
They plot with Maximus and with Commodus’ sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) to foment a rebellion that will overthrow Commodus and put Maximus in control, so that he can empower the Senate to rule Rome again. The Roman Republic, which was founded around the year 510 BC (at least according to Roman tradition), entered its decline in the late 2 century BC.
While Marcus Aurelius could have been an idealistic dreamer who fantasized about restoring the Republic (although there’s little evidence of that), there is no way it could possibly have accomplished, any more than Barack Obama could plausibly expect the United States to revert to the Articles of Confederation.
So the idea that a serious conspiracy could be hatched to accomplish this pipe dream is pretty silly.So the idea that the Republic could be restored in 41 AD was little more than a transient fantasy.If the Republic was moldering in its grave by 41 AD, the corpse had long since been reduced to nothing by 180 AD. Ridley Scott), Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) tells Maximus (Russell Crowe) that he wants to “return Rome to the people” and re-establish the Roman Republic.He feels that Maximus has the moral qualities that will enable him to accomplish this feat, while Commodus lacks those virtues, and thus Marcus makes the choice to declare Maximus his successor, although Commodus murders him before he can announce the decision.So while the memorable part of the film is the conflict between Commodus and Maximus, the actual plot of the film is an attempt to end the entire system of the Principate (as modern scholars term the rule of the emperors in this period) and re-establish the system of the Republic. This period, termed the Late Republic, is generally taken to have begun with the disputed election of 133 BC, during which the supporters of the populist tribune Tiberius Gracchus (note his (high priest), rioted and massacred Tiberius and around 300 of his supporters in the street.This combination of political violence and disregard for the electoral processes became one of the chief characteristics of the Late Republic, as politics increasingly became a matter of force.The only way we can really make this story make sense is to assume that Gracchus’ true aim is to make himself emperor.If that’s the case, Maximus is simply a puppet in a failed political coup.Again, I suppose we could make more sense of the plot by saying that after 200 years, no one understood that the Republic was actually an oligarchy, and instead that they somehow actually want modern democracy, but that’s pretty dubious.The biggest problem with the film’s plot is that it can’t make up its mind who actually represents ‘the people’.