The ancient Roman and Greek civilizations had well-organized political processes that greatly influenced the manner in which later governments were structured in Europe and the United States. The system of political parties, the establishment of divisions in government -- even political words such as democracy, monarchy and tyranny -- originated in ancient Rome and Greece. Although Rome drew many of its political principles from the Greeks, and as a result, developed a government similar to that of Greece, there were several differences between the two.
The political structures of Greece and Rome were based on a city-state model. However, the vastly different topographies of Greece and Rome influenced their political development. Greece is a mountainous peninsula with a sharply fluctuating coastline and also includes several small islands. Interaction between the Greek city-states was limited, causing each city-state to develop independently of one another. The aristocracy of each city-state defended its independence and discouraged any efforts to form a monarchy. Rome is centrally located on a plain bordered by mountains to the east and the sea to the west. This formation caused Rome to develop as one large city-state that absorbed migrating populations and invaders from the north and south. Certain members of the conquered peoples and immigrant groups were offered Roman citizenship.
The Party System
Rome's political structure provided for representation by two political parties in the Senate. The patricians represented the aristocracy, or nobles, while the plebeians represented the middle-class and wealthy merchants. The Greek government did not have political parties. However, the Greeks realized that allowing public officials to be elected by popular vote would nearly always result in the wealthiest, most educated and most well-known citizens being elected. In order to make the government representative, Greek officials allowed election to some public offices -- those not requiring particular qualifications, such as military experience -- to be decided by a lottery system to which any citizen could submit their name.
The Romans and the Greeks had political procedures for removing a government official not adequately performing his role. In Rome, two chief consuls served a limited term of one year. If a chief consul's approval rating fell, voters had the satisfaction of knowing they wouldn't have to put up with him much longer. Greece also held elections once a year for political positions not filled by the lottery. Athens had a second method for dealing with unpopular elected, allotted and unofficial political leaders. In a practice known as "ostracism," citizens gathered in the public arena and marked a shard of pottery with the name of a political leader they wanted ostracized. The shards were counted and the politician with the most votes was banned from Athens for 10 years.
The Role of Women
There were different classifications of citizenship in the Roman Republic. Women and men over the age of 15 who had descended from Rome's original tribes were considered citizens. Full male citizens were allowed to cast votes for political candidates and proposed legislation. Other male citizens were allowed to cast votes, but could not hold office. Women were not permitted to vote or hold political offices. However, women of the upper classes could influence their husbands on politics and could, by arranging marriages, put one of their children in a politically influential position. Women in Greece did not possess any rights as citizens. The highest regard they could attain was being the wife of a citizen. (See References 7, 8 and 9)
- Scholastic.com: The Origins and Functions of Political Parties
- BBC: History: The Democratic Experiment
- PBS.org: Why Did Greece Develop City-States?
- History & Policy: Ostracism: Selection and De-Selection in Ancient Greece
- History Learning Site: How Was Rome Governed
- VRoma: Notes on Roman Politics
- USHistory.org: Ancient Civilizations: The Roman Republic
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Women in Classical Greece