The ancient Greek city-states were very successful for several hundred years, but they were eventually conquered by a new power: 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.
Sparta’s Military Rule
We know far less about Sparta than we do about Athens, but we know that it valued military strength above all. The city divided its society into a hierarchy.
Sparta had two kings but also a class of judges who ruled in criminal cases. It also had different classes of people. Their hierarchy of groups and order provided security and structure that made Sparta the strongest military power in Greece. But they also were rigid and unable to change, adapt, and learn from new ideas. So they also 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. So, 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.