I was recently reading Plutarch’s Lives and I recalled that there were no cops or any real military presence in the city during the Republic.
External security was routinely handled by the consuls at the head of the army. However, even quite late, when the conflict between the populist gangs and the aristocrats was at its worst, there was no professional force to intervene. The Romans loved the idea of a society that believed in the law to govern the people over the use of force. Paramilitary or permanent police forces were considered regressive and elements of a monarchy.
The murder of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC was one of the first examples of open political violence within the city since the foundation of the Republic four centuries before. In response, Tiberius’ brother became tribune. He passed several controversial reforms in his first term as tribune, and an emergency decree similar to martial law was enacted by the senate. This emergency decree effectively suspended the prohibition against military arms in the city.
Lucius Opimius, the consul at the time, then used mercenary Cretan archers to attack political enemies. Most of the fighting, though, was still done by the senators and their citizen supporters.
Until this time and even for decades afterward, except for sporadic events, the web of personal relationships and traditional mores allowed Rome to be a self-policing society. Our community here is similarly self-regulated.
I can’t help but wonder if a return to those ideals would be the best. To have a society self-regulated by its members and directly accountable to the community without any intermediary. Or maybe have police reserved for only exceptional circumstances? Why were Romans able to keep order in Rome, but we cannot keep order without paramilitaries on the streets today?