Was Ancient Rome or Athens a better form of government?  

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I assume that you are referring to the governments of Rome during its period as a republic and of Athens during its period as a democracy. The answer to your question really depends on what we consider defines a "best" form of government.

Athenian democracy in the 5th Century BCE...

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I assume that you are referring to the governments of Rome during its period as a republic and of Athens during its period as a democracy. The answer to your question really depends on what we consider defines a "best" form of government.

Athenian democracy in the 5th Century BCE was a form of direct democracy. It should be noted that only adult, male, free-borne, Athenian citizens who had completed military training were entitled to take part in civic participation. Eligible citizens voted directly in affairs of the city-state. They also took turns serving in public posts through a lottery system. This all ensured that a strong sense of civic duty existed in Athens.

The Roman Republic was governed by elected officials who voted on decisions supposedly on behalf of their electorate, not too dissimilar from the current system in the United States. As a result, decisions were made by a more informed governing body than existed in Athens. In fact, one major criticism of Athenian democracy was that the voters were often too uninformed and easily manipulated to make the best decisions. However, Roman politicians, like politicians in every time and place, often had ulterior motives that did not best serve the people they represented.

The Athenian system of direct democracy would not have worked in Rome. At its height, there were only about 30,000 voting citizens in Athens. The Roman population was significantly larger and to have citizens vote directly on all issues would have been chaotic, if not impossible. However, given Athens' relatively small population, it was a manageable system.

So it is hard to say if one system was better than the other. The Roman Republic lasted over four hundred years, while Athenian democracy lasted only a generation. If we consider "best" in terms of longevity, then Rome had a more robust system. However, if we look at its ability to resist corruption and involve its citizens more directly in state affairs, then Athens' government might be considered better. All that said, the government of each city was built to support the specific needs of its people and likely would not have worked in the other city.

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The Roman system of government was a republic, which meant that citizens could vote for who would represent them in government. The Athenian system of government was a direct democracy, which meant that the entire body of citizens voted for virtually everything that was decided by the government. Both systems limited citizenship, but it was easier to acquire citizenship in Rome than in Athens.

The Roman system of government was more complex, but offered a more flexible and efficient form of government than in Athens. Since it was more efficient and allowed for greater flexibility, I believe it was the better form of political organization. Athens was often criticized by other city-states as being dictated by "mob" rule. In other words, the political climate changed often at the mood of the people. In Rome, greater stability existed and military and political officers were granted more power and influence as a result. The consequence of having powerful and influential leaders is that more can be achieved because political leaders can make decisions for the good of the state without fear of being replaced at the whims of the populace. For this reason, the Roman system of government can be considered superior to Athens.

 

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