In Augustus’ day, there were still many people who longed for a revival of the traditional Republican system, and for that reason, Augustus had to be careful to cover his absolute rule with a fig-leaf of Republicanism.
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.
Perhaps, had events played out differently, it might have been possible to revive the Republic in 41 AD, but it’s doubtful.
By 41 AD, there was no one alive who had any experience with the genuine Republican system; a few ancient men and women might have remembered the Republic’s final collapse under Caesar and Octavian, but even that is unlikely.
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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.
By the time Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, the Roman political system was in a state of near-total collapse, and it fell to Caesar’s adopted son Octavian (more commonly known as Augustus) to create a new system on the ruins of the old one, as I discussed in a previous post.
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.
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.