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Ancient Greek and Roman Governments

The governments of Ancient Greece and Rome had similarities and differences alike. It becomes clear if one compares the High Roman Empire with Athens at the peak of their might. Both governments conquered foreign for economic purposes and used religion to justify their regimes, but Athens remained a democracy, while the Roman Empire became a monarchy.

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Both Rome and Greek poleis had numerous governments throughout the centuries, but it would be logical to compare the ones they had at the peak of their might. This approach requires looking at Athens after the Persian Wars and before the Peloponnesian War and the Roman Empire of the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. The obvious difference is that Athens, after a period of tyranny in the 6th century BC, remained a democracy, and citizens chose officials for limited terms by voting (Ober 160).

Rome, on the other hand, became a monarchy, and the emperor – even though dubbed “princeps” of “the first citizen” – ruled alone with the help of an aristocratic Senate (Garney et al. 10). Thus, Roman and Athenian governments differed significantly from an organizational standpoint.

Still, they were remarkably similar in their relation to military conquest. Athens used military forces to maintain their overseas empire and gather taxes from their “allied” poleis (Ober 216). Roman government was also mainly concerned with military conquests to increase the tax base of the empire (Garney et al. 35). The fact that both were slaveholding societies made military campaigns a necessity as well since war prisoners became a cheap labor force. Thus, foreign military campaigns were necessary for both governments to support economic stability at home.

Religion also played a notable role in both governments. In Athens, it was an instrument of consolidating citizens into one political body and conferring legitimacy upon its decisions (Oder 175). Rome took this further: the emperor was literally deified and had a cult of his own (Garney et al. 188). Thus, both governments relied on religion to support their authority.

To summarize, Ancient Greek and Roman governments differed organizationally but were similar in many other aspects. While classical Athens was a democracy – in the Ancient rather than modern sense – the High Roman Empire was already a monarchy. Still, both governments frequently resorted to foreign conquest for economic gains and used religion to acquire legitimacy.

Works Cited

Garney, Peter, et al. The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture. 2nd ed., University of California Press, 2015.

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Ober, Josiah. The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. Princeton UP, 2015.

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