Western Civilization II
12 December 2012
The Roman republic and Athenian polis were two great experiments in political philosophy in the ancient world. These two distinctly different methods of running a nation in both Athens and Rome have one similarity – that they were founded on the intent to give common law and justice to the people. That aside both of the nations, which will be discussed in this essay, was culturally, economically and historically quite different and approached the issue of statecraft in a very different and sometimes contradictory manner. Both of these republics – the Roman and Athenian were regarded to be in their time two of the most powerful nations in the world – the Roman republic after the 2nd Punic war and the Athenian republic at the age of its most famous ruler Pericles. But how did these two nations, so different in their approach to life and philosophy itself, fall ultimately by their own system, which had served them for so long? They fell to the oligarchies that they were built and inte The Roman and Athenian republican both had a loathing (perhaps the Roman more so) for kingship and oligarchy in any of its forms. The republic fell to the whims of dictators such as the Triumvirs, Caesar and Sulla who abused its system, and Athens fell prey to tyrants using the turmoil after the Peloponnesian war to their advantage. One major similarity between the two nations is that they both had a growing degree of imperialism late in their republican period. The Athenian, abusing the rewards of the Delian league built to defend the common interest of Greece against the Persian empire, ended up with an empire which its’ small and inefficient form of statecraft was not equipped to manage. The Roman also found the same issue, which arose, like the Athenians, initially from a need for simple, honest self-defense. The two quotes below indicate the troubled and desperate issues that lead to the creation of these two states: "By this blood - most pure before the outrage wrought by the king's son - I swear, and you, O gods, I call to witness that I will drive hence Lucius Tarquinius , together with his cursed wife and his whole brood, with fire and sword and every means in my power, and I will not suffer them or anyone else to reign in Rome." - The speech of Lucius Junius Brutus, Livy 1.6
“The Athenians thought that the mythological hero Theseus was their first king, and they attributed to him the birth of the Athenian state. Before Theseus, the peninsula of Attica was home to various, independent towns and villages, with Athens being the largest. Theseus, when he had gained power in Athens, abolished the local governments in the towns; the people kept their property, but all were governed from a single political center at Athens. The Greeks called this process of bringing many settlements together into a political unity symbol” needed to repress. The issues that the sources above indicate are, in the first source, the collapse of the Kingdom of Rome in 509 BC and the declaration of republican democracy. The tyranny of the last Roman king, Tarquin , and his crimes against the people caused for such a measure to be implemented. This is more obviously an act of defense against tyranny on the part of the Roman republic. On the Athenian side, however, we are not so sure what exactly happened. According to Athenian myth, the Hero Thesus united the many tiny struggling states in Attica under one banner at the Mycenaean city of Athens. Naturally, this is myth and it has no real evidence to back it up, but whoever this statesman was, or what the exact conditions to cause such a drastic political change were, remain unknown. What is important, though, is not if the legend of Thesus is true or not, or who this statesman was, but the conditions for Greece proper at the time. The Dorian invasion had caused many Greeks to flee to Ionia and start up cities on the Western seaboard there...
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