Honors Ancient Civilization p.5
25 February 2014
DBQ: Ancient Greece and Rome; Democracies or Democratic Ideals?
A democracy is defined as, “ government by the people; especially : rule of the majority”
(Webster, Merriam). While no one actually has a first hand account of the government in ancient
Rome or Greece, examining primary documents such as speeches, laws, inscriptions, etc. can give a closer eye to the true political system. Only by examining the fundamental origins of each empire’s government can the whole picture be determined of how they ran. Our government, like many others, has been sculpted to try to create the perfect combination of previous empires.
Many credit the Greeks for the first democracy and Rome for the first republic. The people, but only a few, ruled the Greek government. Rome was a government that developed into checks and balances close to the Greek government.
The Roman government was initially a monarchy, ruled by a king, but in 509 BCE the
reign was overthrown and the republic was established. In the very beginning, the empire was controlled by only the richest families, the patricians, who aspired to retain authority and jurisdiction only within their class. This scheme survived because of the patronage system, or basically the wealthy gaining control through bribes of financial, legal, and social support to the lower classes to retain loyalty. Being angered by their liberty being taken away yet again, the
Plebeians, or common people, demanded to have weight in the society. After refusal of the privileges requested, the Plebeians created a plan to overpower the Patricians. Eventually the opportunity came when Rome was threatened with invasion in 494 BCE, allowing the many
Plebeians leverage to refuse to defend their city unless they received protection against their rights being denied. The Plebeian Council was formed and instituted for the sole purpose of overseeing the protection of Plebeian affairs. From this came the power of elected officials,
Tributes, to protect rights and ban laws that were simply unjust.
In 450 BCE the Plebeians forced the Patricians to write all the laws down in the town
square, eventually named the 12 Tablets. This forced the Patrician judges to be
unable to make decisions based on their own whims or secret laws. Soon the Patricians and
Plebeians created a constitution ensuring their power and equality and establishing three branches of government: Senate, Assembly, and Magistrates. The Senate, a body of 300, advised officials and controlled the public finances and foreign relations; the Assembly, where all citizens were able to vote on laws and elected officials; the Magistrates, which put laws into practice and governed the Senate and people, all used checks and balances to keep order. The citizens of Rome, including all residents except for slaves, were allowed to vote, marry, file court cases, make contracts, take part in the Assembly, and couldn’t be tortured or sentenced to death.
It is shown that, “the power possessed by the people…would be a …clear case of democracy”
(document 5). Flawless societies of perfect equality will never exist, but for being such an ancient society, the Roman government came as close to a true democracy that societies today even struggle with.
Around 590 BCE Solon took control after Draco’s harsh rule over the Greek people.
Draco, the previous ruler, had used punishment to try to keep order between the disputes of the rich and poor that had only led to conflict. Solon revised the laws in place: adding juries, trials, wealthy men able to vote, and no slavery. In 541 BCE Peisistratus took over power and rose to substantial jurisdiction and popularity. He was, however, a tyrant who seized power by force and claimed to rule over the people. Eventually a new ruler