The ancient Greek city-states were tremendously successful for several hundred years, but they were eventually conquered by the new kid on the block: Rome. The Romans had learned from the Greeks. They took the best of their systems and invented a hybrid called Res Publica (Latin: “the people’s affair”). In modern language, we call it the republic.
Athens was the largest and most successful of the Greek city-states. Most of the famous Greek philosophers that we know of today came from Athens, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Athens was the place of artists and poets, philosophers, and thinkers. They created a system of government called democracy. A democracy holds elections among its citizens, and the majority decides what will be done.
There is only one trouble with the system: The minority has no rights. Therefore, democracy has also been called majority tyranny. For instance, the majority put Socrates to death for his teachings simply because they disagreed with him.
Under democracy, Athens created many policies that weakened its defense and made it an easy target for invaders. One of these invaders was Sparta.
Sparta’s Military Rule
Sparta had two kings but also a class of judges who ruled in criminal cases. It also had different classes of people, with the Spartiates being citizens with full citizenship. In addition to slaves, Sparta also had free people who did not have the right to vote. In modern language, we call such people residents or legal immigrants.
Their hierarchy of groups and order provided security and structure that made Sparta the mightiest military power in Greece. But they also were rigid and unable to change, adapt, and learn from new ideas. Therefore, they too lost their control after a few centuries.
The Roman Republic
Athenian democracy on its own was too weak and arbitrary, while Spartan militarism and class society were too rigid. Therefore, Rome took elements from both cities and created a hybrid system. It had citizenship and elections, but it also had an independent military and judicial system.
The citizens elected representatives in the Senate, where they created laws by majority rule. However, it was up to the judges to interpret the laws and pass judgment in criminal cases.
The United States
This system later became known as checks and balances and the division of power. It may sound familiar to you because the United States was deliberately founded as a republic, imitating and improving the Roman model.