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History of Republics: The Rise of Rome

Rome’s republic structure succeeded where military rule and pure democracy both failed.

By:  |  May 18, 2021  |    439 Words

(Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

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’ Democracy

ancient greece athens

Ancient Athens (Getty Images)

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. But 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

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.

ancient greece sparta

Sparta (Getty Images)

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

The city-state of Rome was founded 753 B.C. as a kingdom, but in 509 B.C., it was transformed into a republic. Romans really liked Greek culture, and they decided that both Sparta and Athens had ideas from which they could learn.

ancient rome

(Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

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.

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