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Athens Vs Rome And Western Civilization History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The United States political process is well developed and advanced, yet sometimes overlooked. However, we have the power to pick our own leaders and to vote on our own laws, a power some societies do not have. The founding fathers used ideas from the Greek and Roman Governments and incorporated them into the United States Constitution. In this paper, after giving a brief history of the Athenian and Roman governments, I will compare and contrast them with each other and the United States Government.

In the 5th Century BC, the Athenians experimented with a form of democracy in which people had the opportunity to propose, vote on, and pass their own laws. This was called a Direct Democracy. For their democracy to be successful, two conditions needed to exist. First, the population needed to be small enough so that people could participate in politics. Second, people needed to have enough free time so that they may participate in government. The first condition was met by allowing only white, males of Athenian descent that were over the age of 18 to vote. This group totaled about 50,000 people or about 20% of the country’s population. The Athenians solved the second condition by using slaves to do the work, while the townspeople participated in the political process (http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ac42).

The Athenian political system of government was formed in the words of the first Athenian constitution, which was written by Aristotle in 350 BC. The constitution outlined how the checks? and balances system worked, and described the different positions in the government. One of the major differences between the Athenian Government and the United States Government was that the Athenians did not elect politicians, but rather proposed, debated, and passed or rejected laws (http://www.greektexts.com/library/Aristotle/The_Athenian_Constitution/eng/index.html).

The first political pioneer of Athens was Solon, a dictator chosen by the people when Athens was in chaos (http://languages.siuc.edu/classics/Johnson/HTML/L10.html). Solon immediately erased all personal debts, freed prisoners, and brought back Athenians who had been sold into slavery from overseas, because they had not repaid their debts. He also started Athenian Agriculture by teaching the people how to grow wheat and grapes, which later became their staple crops


Solon also reformed government by dividing Athenian society into four classes based on wealth. The wealthiest classes could serve on the Aeropagus. The Aeropagus consisted of the city’s nobles, and was named for the hill on which they met. The Aeropagus controlled the city and dictated its laws and customs, just like the dictators that would appear a few thousand years later (http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ATHENS.HTM).

The third class served on a council of 400 people. This council was made up of the four Athenian tribes; each tribe could elect 100 representatives to participate in this class. This council served as the Aeropagus’s system of checks and balances. The fourth class participated in an assembly, which voted on laws brought to it by the council of 400. This class also participated in a new court, which took cases from the Aeropagus (http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ATHENS.HTM).

Solon seemed to be a good leader who held the city together because, during his lifetime, Athens prospered. After Solon died, Athens was plunged into chaos again. However, Peisistratus took over and tried once again to restore order to the city. He rebuilt Athens up from the inside out, by bringing in poets and artists to make it a more vibrant city. He also increased the assembly’s power so that it could better serve the needs of the poor. He also made sure elections were held and that Solon’s reforms were followed. In addition, Peisistratus reformed the government by doing away with the Aeropagus and adding three new government bodies (http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ATHENS.HTM).

All of these bodies existed together in the Athenian polis or city-state. The first of these was the assembly, which was made up of the first 5000 citizens to get to the hillside where they held their meetings. They congregated about 40 times a year, and made the laws. The heart of the Assembly was the Council or boule. The council was consisted of 50 white males who did the bulk of the work, a new set of 50 were chosen every year (http://campus.queens.edu/depts/core/Core110/athenian_social_and_political_st.htm).

The second group was the Council of 500, this group consisted of 500 citizens chosen at random for one-year terms. You could only be chosen for this council twice in your lifetime. This council helped prepare the agenda for the assembly meetings. Each month 50 different members of this council were called upon to prepare the agenda (http://campus.queens.edu/depts/core/Core110/athenian_social_and_political_st.htm).

The third group was the jury courts.  The courts enforced the assembly’s laws.  There were 6000 jurors, picked at random from volunteers, and a judge and jury were picked from these volunteers when a case came up. Their decisions were final as the accused had no appeals. (http://campus.queens.edu/depts/core/Core110/athenian_social_and_political_st.htm).

In addition, Magistrates were chosen at random for a one-year term. They collected port taxes, organized tragedy and comedy performances, and festivals. There were 1400 magistrates, half-serving Athens and half serving overseas. In addition, every year 10 admirals were elected to oversee the safety of the city (http://campus.queens.edu/depts/core/Core110/athenian_social_and_political_st.htm).

Every Athenian held a position in the government because there were thousands of positions available. Most of these positions were not full time, and did not involve passing laws but by doing it this way, it allowed both rich and poor to participate in the government. People were chosen randomly for these positions; this ensured that everyone had a chance for every job (http://languages.siuc.edu/classics/Johnson/HTML/L10.html).

Even the word democracy is Greek; it comes from the words demos (people) and kratos (power), forming demokratos (people with power). Every Athenian was required to know the laws, and worldly happenings. In addition, anyone could attend the assembly, and speak, or introduce a new law (http://campus.queens.edu/depts/core/Core110/athenian_social_and_political_st.htm).

We learned a lot politically from the Greeks. We learned the concept of democracy, that people could vote on laws and who is elected to public officeAssembly, that people could come together and voice the opinions on laws that were being passed. The Assembly in Athens was the model for the town hall meetings here in the United States. In the Athenian Assembly, the people “were” the law making body. In American Assemblies, the people just discuss laws and candidates.

Tle the Greeks built the basis for the modern democracy, the Romans built the base for the modern republic. A republic is a government ruled by a body of people (the Roman Senate), rather than a king. The Roman Republic was also a Representative Democracy, which differs from a Direct Democracy in that the people elect leaders who will hopefully work in their best interests when voting (http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch15.htm).

It all started in 509 BC, when Roman nobles drove out the Etruscan king Tarquin, thus ending the Etruscans control over the Romans. When the King was forced out his power was shifted to the Roman Senate (http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch15.htm).

The Roman Senate was part of the much larger Roman political structure. This structure included the senate and the many magistrates’ positions. The first of these positions were the two consuls or chief magistrates, who convened and presided over the Senate, and served as generals. When their term of office ended, they usually governed a province as a proconsul (http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/romangvt.html).

Next, there were eight praetors, who served as judges. When their term ended, they often governed provinces as propraetors. Next, there were three censors, who were elected every 5 years for one and a half years; they counted citizens, senators, and property for tax collection and granted contracts. Next, there were the four aediles who managed public games, and the grain supply in Rome; two were plebeians, and the others, who were called curule aediles, could be from any class (http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/romangvt.html).

There were also 10 tribunes, whose job was to protect plebeians from judges, thus they could annul any judge’s ruling. They were sacrosanct, meaning that anyone who attacked them could be killed. Next, were the 20 quaestors, who served other provincial jobs (http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/romangvt.html).

The Roman Senate or the council of Elders was the chief Roman political authority. The Senate as a whole was made up of 600 roman men from wealthy families, ages 25 years or older. Senators were chosen by birth and rank or elected by consuls. They usually had served in politics before. Senators could not own anything, except land. The Senate was the most powerful force in Rome, and imposed laws until 300 AD


The Senate welcomed ambassadors to Rome, and sent ambassadors to other cities on behalf of Rome. It also elected town governors, and authorized going to war, peace. The Senate also appointed legates and controlled religious practices in Rome. It could also impose martial law, which made the two consuls dictators in times of crisis. (http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php).

Two elected consuls who served as directors ran the Senate. One of the consuls was the Princeps Senatus. He was elected for a five-year term and controlled everything about the Senate from the agendas of the meetings to the speaking order. The other Consul was the Princeps Senatus’s assistant (http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php).

The Roman Senate put no limit on speaking terms, but they did have an order for who could speak first. They also pioneered the filibuster, which is when one person speaks for a long time in order to delay passage of a bill. (http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php).

The last branch of the Roman political system was the Roman Assemblies places where people could discuss the laws that were brought up. There were four main assemblies. The first was the comitia curiata, which acted as the “people’s assembly”. It was made up of representatives of the three tribes of the city of Rome. Its role was to ‘confirm’ magistrates, after the senate had confirmed them; it did not have any political power. It also served as an appeals court for death sentences, when a case was given to them. The minimum age for the representative for a curia was fifty years and his term was until his death (http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php).

The second was the comitia centuriata. The comitia centuriata elected the consuls, praetors, and censors. It also officially declared war, and peace, as the United States Congress does today. It also was the court of appeals for executions. The third was the comitia tributa or the tribal assembly. It elected curule aediles, quaestors and other officials (http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php).

The last assembly was the Plebeian Assembly or concilium plebis. The Tribune of the People or tribuni plebis could call it to session. It was the same as the comitia tributa; however, the nobles could not participate. Before 287 BC, the laws passed by the assembly could only affect Plebians. However, after 287 BC, the laws affected everyone (http://www.unrv.com/empire/struggle-of-the-orders.php).

We adopted the idea for our United States Senate and many of the terms and positions within it, such as senate President, and filibuster. We also adpoted the representative democracy or the electing of politicians that will vote according to the beliefs of the people, which is the basis for United States Politics today.

One major difference between the Roman and Greek political systems and the United States System is the role of women. In Greece and Rome, Women were never allowed to engage, or advise in any type of politics. Women were not allowed to vote in the US until 1920 (http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/).

I believe that there were many similarities and differences between the Greek and Roman Systems of Government. One of the similarities was that everyone received a say in the government weather it was directly through the Greek assembly, or indirectly through the representatives of the Roman Senate. This gave people a chance to voice their opinions and gave them the idea that their opinions mattered. Thus, these governments were not dictatorships or monarchies.

Another similarity was that both these governments controlled everything in their respective areas; no laws were given to separate states. The Athenian Assembly and the Roman Senate controlled religious practices, what people could and could not do, and how people should act. There were differences, however. One of the major differences was the way that people participated in the political process. The Greeks actually “were” the government, by participating in the assembly as they proposed, voted on and accepted new laws. The Roman method, which the United States later adopted, was to elect politicians to propose and vote on laws. These politicians would carry the views and opinions of the townspeople when they voted, thus laws would be passed that would hopefully reflect the sentiment of the people

Another difference between these two systems is how politicians are elected, in Greece they are chosen at random, in Rome, they are usually former politicians who are the best at their position, and are usually chosen buy their follow politicians with help from the people on the committees. In the United States, politicians are elected randomly, however their party nominates them, and the party usually consists of former politicians.

The Roman and Greek systems of Governments were the most advanced of their time. They were giants of political power, and although they had many similarities and differences, their ideas eventually helped form the system of government we enjoy in the United States today.

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