Ancient Greeks and Romans Contributed Ideas on Government The first societies to experiment with ideas on government that would later influence Americans were Ancient Greece and Rome. The Ancient Greeks and Romans developed the ideas of democracy and representative government more than 2,000 years ago. A Democracy in Ancient Greece. The cities of Ancient Greece were organized into city-states, or small independent nations. Athens was one such city-state. For many years, Athens was ruled by a small group of wealthy and powerful men known as the Great Council.
Members of the Council passed laws that favored wealthy people like themselves. Between 750 B. C. and 550 B. C. , however, this system of rule began to change. Poorer Athenians, such as farmers and small merchants, protested the great power of the Council. They believed that the laws made by the Council harmed the interests of the middleclass and poor. Many Greeks wanted to participate directly in making laws affecting their lives. Greeks used the word “demos kratia”, to explain what they wanted.
The equivalent word in English is democracy, which means government by the people. Gradually, Athenian leaders agreed that more Greeks should be allowed to participate in the Great Council’s decision-making process. They developed a political system now known as a direct democracy. In a direct democracy, people not only vote for leaders, but actually serve in the government. In order to decide who should be allowed to serve in the Great Council, Greek leaders developed the idea of citizenship.
Those Athenians who were citizens had the right to participate directly in government. But how was citizenship determined? Greek leaders decided that only men who owned large plots of land were citizens. Women, slaves, and people with little or no property were not given the rights and responsibilities of Athenian citizenship. While the Ancient Greeks restricted democratic rights to a small portion of the population, the idea of democracy was born. A Republic in Ancient Rome. Ancient Rome was the first nation to create a republic.
A republic is a form of government in which people elect representatives to govern them. Between 750 B. C. and 350 B. C. , the Romans established a republic. At first, only patricians – members of the Roman upper-class were allowed to vote or serve as representatives. Over several centuries, however, the right to vote was extended to plebeians – the lower class. As more Romans gained the right to vote, they used their new power to bring about other changes in the political system. About 450 B. C.
Roman citizens demanded that laws governing their lives be written down. They wanted to know what the laws were and that laws could not be changed any time their leaders wanted to. Many Romans believed that codified, or written, laws would prevent Roman leaders from abusing their power. They called this the Twelve Tables and it was posted in the Roman Forum for all of Rome’s citizens to see. Ancient Greek and Roman ideas and practices concerning government eventually spread to Europe and to the United States.