Can you save
the Roman Republic?

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Lesson Plan for Ancient Rome
Critical Thinking Skills/Government
6th-grade Social Studies


  • Students have already studied Rome, and have some background.

  • Students understand that when Rome conquers other territories, they bring back captives to serve as slaves for Roman citizens.

  • Students know that criminals and debtors are used in the arenas as gladiators, and typically die.

  • The Roman Republic suffered governmental problems that ultimately led to the end of the Republic. The Romans did attempt reforms. However, they were unsuccessful.

  • Now, let's see if students can do better than the Romans did to generate reforms, to correct some of Rome's major problems during the Roman Republic and save the Republic!


Directions: Students will imagine themselves to be a Roman consul. They have some power, but they are not gods. They must obey the will of the people, keep the rich happy, and still save Rome from self-destruction. As elected consuls, leaders of government, your (the student's) job is to discuss and solve three major problems facing the Republic.

Orally Presented Example Problem: Slaves are brought back from each conquered land. These slaves are assigned jobs in the factories and on the farms, working for much less than any free Roman can. These slaves are putting free citizens, who are laborers and small farmers, out of work. Poor Romans are starving to death. What can we do?

Orally presented solution: The Romans never permanently solved this problem. At various times, they tried land reform (giving land to poor Romans), freeing the slaves (they would then conquer another territory and get more slaves), and price controls. They even had a welfare program. Nothing worked for long.

Transition: Let's see if we can do better than the Romans did to generate reforms to correct some of Rome's major problems during the Roman Republic!

Worksheet:Hand each student a worksheet that lists three problems. Direct students to write down brief ideas including information needed to address this problem and possible solutions to the problem in general, to prepare for class discussion.


Under the Republic

Problem 1 Rome needs tax money to run the Republic.
Problem 2 Elected officials are using their positions to get rich.
Problem 3 Rome does not have a police force.


Prior to class discussion of each problem, read,
or have a student read, each specific problem, including the expanded
background information included in the first paragraph of each "problem" below.

Problem 1. Rome needs tax money.

The government needs to pay the legions, build roads, sewers, aqueducts, arenas, and pay for the welfare program in Rome. To get this tax money, Rome uses tax farmers. Tax farmers are Romans who pay a flat fee to the Roman Republic for the privilege of collecting taxes from a territory. To recoup these monies, tax farmers then levy a tax against every citizen in their territory. Tax collectors expect to make a profit, as they are in the business of tax collection. This is understood. However, under this system, there are many abuses, as the government can not control how each tax farmer runs their individual business. How can we stop the abuses while still continuing to get the tax money we need to run the Republic?

Set the Stage: First, explain why this job was called a "tax farmer". When a farmer plants a seed, that farmer expects a large return from just one seed. Such was true of the position and goals of the tax "farmer". Each tax farmer paid an amount to the Republic, and expected a large return from their investment.

Then, assign one student per class the job of tax farmer. Tell this student that they just paid the equivalent of $10,000 into the government, and are now allowed to collect taxes from the rest of the class, to pay themselves back and make a profit. As tax collector, you have soldiers to help you collect from the rest of the class, and you can decide how much to tax each person in the class.

Student Discussion: Each of my classes was very equitable at first, deciding to tax all students the same. The class was then informed that their tax money was paying for a new road in Gaul (far from Rome), and a new Temple in the city of Rome itself. When asked, several students stated that they would not pay the tax. This led to a spirited discussion as to how the taxes could be collected if people would not pay. Tax collectors brought up the fact that debtors could be seized and sold as slaves to pay their bills. I then told the tax collector that they should now act greedy. They immediately doubled taxes. Every tax collector asked if they could let their friends off. I told them they could do what they wanted since they had paid their fee. It was up to them to get their money back. Soon, the tax collectors in each class were quite happy to not tax some people and to tax others so ridiculously high that they knew it could not be paid. The people that couldn't pay were to be seized, sold as slaves, and their property confiscated.

Student Solutions: I then asked the students how they had solved this problem on their worksheets. Most students came up with the same answers, such as have the government collect taxes instead of having tax farmers. Some very original ideas did appear, however. Some of these solutions included abolishing the tax system and instating a sales tax. Another idea was to use the money from the sale of slaves to pay the tax, and a third idea was to tax all non-Roman citizens and to not tax citizens at all. We briefly discussed these ideas, amongst the class, to see if they thought any of these ideas might work.

Close Discussion with the actual solution under the Republic: This problem was not solved while the Republic existed. Under the Empire however, the emperors solved this problem by not allowing tax collectors to make a profit. The emperors taxed the rich and merchant classes, while giving to the poorer Romans.

Problem 2. Under the Republic, elected officials use their positions to get rich.

To get elected, some people are buying votes. The poor are quite happy to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Under this system, many people are elected who are poor governors. Graft and corruption are rampant. How can we ensure good government for Rome?

Set the Stage: This time, I gave the kids some additional background. I appointed two students as construction contractors. Their companies built bridges. Only one person could be elected to office. The individual who is elected has the opportunity to pass a law requiring that all Roman bridges be rebuilt and that their own company would get all the contracts.

Student Discussion: In each class, at least one of the students, who had been assigned the role of construction contractor, quickly suggested that they buy the votes of the rest of the class. The second contractor then doubled the amount they would pay for votes, and so on. After the rest of the class was reminded that they were very poor Romans, they were quite happy to sell their vote to the highest bidder. I then selected one of the contractors to become the highest bidder. Then, I brought back in the tax farmer, from Problem #1. I informed my newly elected official that the tax farmer had made a lot of money from taxes, and one of the duties of the newly elected official is to appoint tax collectors. Immediately, my new official wanted a "cut" of the profits (introducing graft and corruption into the government.) As self appointed mentor of my newly elected official, I then pointed out that one of the students has a new trading business. Again, graft ran rampant. My official immediately wanted to know which student, because my newly elected official wanted a "cut" of that business as well. Thus showing the students, quite easily, that the richest person does not necessarily make the best governor.

Student Solutions: We then looked at students responses on their worksheets. Most students came up with the idea of passing laws, making it illegal to buy or sell votes.

Close Discussion 2 with the actual solution under the Republic: This problem was not solved while the Republic existed. When the Empire began, voting became unimportant and soon vanished.

Problem 3. Under the Republic, Rome did not have a police force.

Wealthy Romans hired guards, and even built private armies. During elections, these private armies often clash, which is creating havoc on the streets and unsafe conditions for innocent bystanders. At all times, Rome's streets are not safe for citizens after dark. How can we solve this problem?

Set the Stage: No stage set, other than reading this question out loud, myself. If you have time, you could play with this one, but typically, at this point, your time will be getting short. I simply asked the question.

Student Discussion & Solutions as listed on their worksheet: In response to this question, most students came up with the same ideas, to outlaw private armies and to create a police force. How they would create this change varied slightly from class to class, but the same basic ideas always surfaced.

Close Discussion 3 with the actual solution under the Republic: This problem was not solved under the Republic. When the Empire began, the emperors banned private armies, and incorporated these armies into the legion. A police force was created to stop crime. Rome's streets became much safer, but never safe enough to travel alone.

CLOSE CLASS: Thank the consuls for their commitment to solving the very serious problems of....(quick review)...which face our beloved Republic.

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