Ancient Greek and Roman Republic Political Developments
Ancient Greek and Roman Republic Political Developments
Throughout history there have been countless individuals who have etched their experiences and depictions of events during their lifetime. The legendary Greek poet, Homer, is a perfect example of an individual who encompassed his culture into his writing. In the Iliad Homer unknowingly stated, “A generation of men is like a generation of leaves; the wind scatters some leaves upon the ground, while others the burgeoning wood brings forth- and the season of spring comes on. So of men one generation springs forth and another ceases”. This powerful statement shows the influence a generation of men could make.
Similar to the leaves scattered upon the ground, the Ancient Greek and Roman Republic imprinted their political ideals for generations to come. Like spring, new precedents have been established with the intention of preserving and advancing those statutes that the ancient world has instilled in history. Both Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic have made countless political developments, especially in division of power, legislation and execution of power. To begin, both the Ancient Greek and Roman Republic have made several political developments in the division of power.
Both the Roman Republic and Ancient Greece had a domestic strife over who should possess the power of its’ respected commonwealth. Despite experiencing comparable internal turmoil, both civilizations divergently developed solutions to end the power struggle. Initially, Ancient Greece had several forms of government. During the Mycenaean period (2000-1200BC) the majority of Greece consisted of monarchies. A monarchy is a form of government in which a king or queen has absolute power. Therefore all political power was held by one individual.
Unfortunately, the city Mycenae was burned down, and there was a vast influx new invaders into Greece, the Mycenaean period reached its demise. Around the 8th century, poleis began to flourish in Greece. The polis according to Spielvogel, was a “community of citizens where all political, economic, social, cultural, and religious activities were focused”. Eventually more colonies began to establish their own independent poleis. As a result, each polis formed their own ideal of politics and government. Following the conclusion of monarchies, many oligarchies were established.
Oligarchies were mainly aristocratic governments that held complete authority. The best example of an oligarchy is Sparta. As Spielvogel describes, Sparta was governed by two kings from two different families. In addition to the two kings there was a council of twenty-eight elders who were called, “gerousia”. Plus, there was an assembly of men, “apaella” and 5 “ephors” who were like judges. All 4 components were essential to divide the ruling power of Sparta. Unfortunately, oligarchies were neither as popular nor successful in other parts of Greece. Many citizens were disenchanted with oligarchies and tyrants began to try and take power.
According to Spielvogel, tyranny in Ancient Greece was referred, to “rulers who seized power by force and who were not subject to law. ” However, tyranny did not last because it began to resemble a monarchy. Again, the community did not want one individual to hold all of the power. As Theognis of Megora proposed: Their utter disregard of right or wrong, or truth or nonour-out of such a throng. Never imagine you can choose a just or steady friend, or faithful in his trust. But Change your habits! Let them go their way! One example would be the Cleisthenes who overthrew the tyrant Hippas. Cleisthenes reformed Athens pave the way for democracy.
Just like the end of Hippias tyranny, many other regions experienced the new opportunity for more citizen participation in community affairs. Thus, tyranny opened the doors for democracy. By establishing the end of the reign of tyranny the opportunity to seize political power was manifested. As a result, a new model of government was erected, democracy. Democracy is a form of government run by the people or elected representatives. The first democratic government was created in Athens, in 510BC. Spielvogel explains that after the tyrannical reign of Hippias, the reform of Cleisthenes established the basis for Athenian Democracy.
Spielvogel further describes the division of power in the nation. Cleisthenes made the demes, villages, and townships of Attic the basic units of political life. From there, ten tribes chose fifty members to form The Council of Five Hundred. The Council of Five Hundred controlled foreign and financial affairs and prepared the business for the assembly. Finally, the assembly consisted of male citizens who had the authority to pass laws after an open debate. By giving the citizens the power to make decisions, democracy was formed. Like Ancient Greece, The Roman Republic began as a monarchy.
Many believed that many nobles overthrew the reign of Servius Tulius to maintain their position of power. After the demise of the monarchy, the Roman Republic developed an aristocratic republic which was run by an assembly of adult males who were controlled by the wealthiest citizens. Spielvogel proclaims that the wealthiest citizens elected the officials. The Senate then advised these officials. Therefore all political power was retained by wealthy men. As Sallust stated, “As soon as wealth came to be a mark of distinction and an easy way to renown, military commands and political power, virtue began to decline. This exemplifies that all the political power was held by those who were wealthy rather than those who encompassed the right qualities and values to represent the public. As a result, Rome was divided into two groups; patricians and plebeians. Both groups were citizens and able to vote. However only patricians could hold governmental offices. To distribute the power within the plebeians, the Tribunes of the Plebs and the Council of the Plebs were created. Furthermore after the establishment of the Hortenson Law, both divisions could hold governmental offices.
Spielvogel pronounced not only were positions created to control the sovereignty but roles were developed to maintain the right relationship between the state and the gods, “pantiffs”. All important acts of the state had to be approved by the gods. According to Spielvogel, around the 2nd century the senate was the dominate governing body of the Roman Republic. The senate was controlled by individuals in a high social class. As a result there was political turmoil over the rights and political power amongst the populares, opitimates, and equestrians. Spielvogel explains that around 133 BC the reform of Tiberius Gracchus began.
He sought to help the small farmer. Unfortunately he was murdered, and his brother Gaius Gracchus took over. Gaius disrupted the dynamic of the senate by replacing some senators with equites. This strategic move allowed the equites to have more political power. According to Spielvogel a member of the nobiles, Sulla, decided to “eliminate most of the powers of the popular assemblies and the tribunes of the plebs and restore the senators to the jury of the courts”. In the last 50 years of the republic many leaders came along changing the division of power for the nation.
For instance, after Sulla, Crassus and Pompey restored the power of the tribunes and allowed equites back on the jury courts. This allowed the populares to have more political power. By the populares maintaining political power, they tried to distribute more political pull that benefitted the urban plebs. This demonstrates the need for more political power for the common citizen by using representatives. Afterwards there were several political leaders such as Caesar who used the senate and state as marionettes to manipulate the political system to favor their supporting party.
But ultimately it was Octavius who ended the Roman republic by becoming Emperor. Next, Ancient Greece made political developments in legislation. As Spielvogel explains, Sparta underwent a legal reform when Lycurgus created a code of laws. From the very beginning of a Spartan’s life it was a legal requirement for the state to inspect the child. The unfit children were left for dead while others were forced into military preparation and then duty when they became of age. This was one of the first noted developments in legislation which promoted a stance for the support of the military.
Laws were even established regarding clothing to promote resilience in warlike conditions. According to Xenephon Instead of making them effeminate with a variety of clothes his rule was to habituate them to a single garment the whole year through, thinking that so they would be better prepared to withstand the variations of heat and cold Another big development was the Reform of Solon. Solon changed political legislation when he eliminated birth as being a qualifier to hold office. He then created a class system based upon wealth. As Solon claimed, “I gave o the mass of the people such rank as befitted their need. ” He did not allow the poorest class to hold any political office. As Spielvogel states, Solon made it possible for male citizens to bring court charges against any magistrate suspected of a crime. These were big political legislation developments because it promoted citizen involvement in public affairs. Another reform that strengthened citizen participation was Cleisthenes’ reform. This was a major step in political legislation because it allowed for the assembly to have the final say in passing laws.
This new law set the groundwork for democracy. The Roman Republic also made many strives in legislation. According to Spielvogel in 450 B. C. the Twelve Tables of Law which included the procedures for going to court; provisions on family, women, and divorce, regulations concerning private property, rules governing relationships and injuries to others; and the provision prohibiting intermarriage between patricians an plebeians This was very important because it created uproar from the plebeians and caused a clash between the social orders.
In response to this, the Hortensian law was established. This crucial law forced both social orders to follow all plebiscitas and allowed plebeians to hold office. This was an important development because it allowed for change in office and binded the community together. The Plebeians and patricians were now allowed to interact together in politics to strengthen society. According to Spielvogel, in response for the need of special laws the ius gentium was created. These laws applied to both foreigners and natives.
Furthermore ius natural was established which formed the Roman law according to basic principles. Another major legislation that changed politics was Tiberius’s land reform bill. This bill redistributed the land and gave it to the landless. This shift allowed for more power for the equites. The legislative developments in the ancient world created a legal system and created order in a land full of diverse citizens. By establishing lawfulness and creating positions societies have been able to build upon this outline.
For instance as Polybius stated The people then are the only court to decide matters of life and death; and even in cases where the penalty is money, if the sum to be assessed is sufficiently serious, and especially when the accused have held the higher magistracies In addition, Ancient Greece made political developments in execution of power. Execution of power is referred to the individual or group of individuals who influence the state. The military executed the power in Sparta. The military controlled every aspect of life in Sparta.
A male citizen was forced to be in the military and was bred to die for their country. This was an important development because it was the first example of forced military participation. After years of kings and tyrants having sole command of the public, a swarm of reforms rumbled through the cities which tried to reclaim the power from the exclusive leader. Finally, around 500BC, Athens decided to transition the main executer of power to its people. The male citizens had the final word in passing laws. This was important and became a blue print for future nations. The Roman republic also made developments.
In the beginning of the Republic it was the aristocrats who had control of the republic. For instance, the patricians held all political offices; as a result they decided to execute their power to favor the wealthy. Unhappy with the decisions made by the patricians, the Plebeians tried to execute their power and established the Twelve Tables of Law. Following this more laws were created, and Plebeians finally made it on the senate in order to gain authority and make judgments that would aid their social class. After the second century BC, two types of leaders came to power and tried to execute their ideals.
The optimates fought to maintain nobile control domination of the senate, while the populares tried to distinguish the reign of the aristocrats. Eventually, equites finally received power and distributed the land to the landless. All of these struggles to execute power demonstrated how the public and the wealth influence political stances and government. Ultimately, Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic have made an impact in political developments including the division of power, legislation, and execution of power. The efforts of these former societies did not happen overnight or in vein.
Like the famous proverb, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and neither were early political developments. Political developments in both of these ancient worlds had a snowball effect, where new advancements spread like wild fires to neighboring nations. As Homer said, “Captive Greece took captive her rude conqueror”. This exemplifies that even when a new society is formed it builds upon the structure of its precursor and makes advancements. These ancient developments are the framework for politics today. Without these developments, today’s world would be a very different place.
Subject: Ancient Rome,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 October 2016
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