The Roman influence on the progression of democratic thought and government remains evident in many modern governmental bodies and processes. Subsequent democratic governments would divert substantially from the Roman models. However, the influence of Roman ideas on the advancement of democratic theory and governmental bodies remains apparent.
A Model for Republics
Many people refer to republics as democracies; however, there are notable differences between the two, and the Roman ideas greatly influenced the development of future republics. The creators of the Roman government built public participation around the election of representatives who would in turn participate in votes and policy decisions. Wealthy individuals exercised the greatest power in the early stages of the Roman republic with this aristocratic class voting to select the members of the government counsel. The plebeians eventually gained more power and worked to create a more equal republican model that has more in common with modern Western governments.
The Concept of Citizenship
Post-Roman-Republic democratic governments featured models for citizenship that resembled the Roman governmental system that granted citizenship by birth and naturalization. Citizens enjoyed the right of participating in the governmental process by casting votes in elections. The structure and implementation of Roman elections meant that those who lived outside of the city remained unlikely to participate in the voting process and unable to give their input on the governmental proceedings.
Separation of Powers
The Roman republican democracy featured a division of powers that separated political bodies representing the commoners and the aristocracy. The Roman Senate consisted of the nobility, while the Roman Assembly consisted of the commoners. The idea of having distinct and autonomous political bodies became a feature of future democratic republics and helped to shape the development of Western political thought(4). However, not all future democracies divided representation along class lines. Romans like Cicero argued for the concept of fundamental human rights and government through the will of the people(3).
Roman Ideas Too Complex to Emulate
The Roman Republic eventually evolved into the Roman Empire. The government grew in size and complexity and eventually adopted complex structures that future democracies largely ignored. The later Roman governmental makeup featured four assemblies in addition to the Senate. These assemblies consisted of further subdivisions that broke down along lines based on tribal membership, class hierarchy and military membership. The aristocrats in the Senate remained the most powerful and influential participants in Roman government, although their roles and means of appointment shifted as the governmental structure changed.
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