“POWER TO THE PEOPLE”
THE FIRST DEMOCRACY
2560 years ago (550 BC)
|The Roman republic was founded in 2509 years ago (509 BC). Soon after its founding, the Roman assembly was formed. This is a painting representing the Roman Senate in session (by Cesare Maccari, 1840-1919). It is currently housed at the Palazzo Madama in Rome, Italy.
Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The word democracy in Greek means “people” (demos) and “rule” (kratia). Democracy refers to a form of government in which governing is done by the people, either directly or through representatives that they elect. During the Classic period of ancient Greece the Athenians of the city-state of Athens developed a way of governing based on a majority vote of eligible citizens, rather than just the dictate of some monarch. This ancient democracy was far from egalitarian, however: only Athenian adult men could vote; women, foreigners, minors, and slaves could not. This early experiment in democracy was not very long-lasting: Athens was finally defeated by the more war-like Spartans in 404 BC after a 27 year-long Peloponnesian War.
Much of subsequent history since that time is of societies that are ruled by kings or queens, but the rise of parliamentary bodies in Europe beginning in the 1200’s was a big step towards democracies again. In the 1700’s, America declared independence from England and developed a democratic system of elected representatives inspired by the ancient Greeks, and the concept has spread to many countries since then. The majority of the countries in the world today have some form of electoral democracy (about 120 of 192 countries represented in the United Nations).
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
The concept of democracy was re-invented in the United States during the Revolutionary War with England. Our present political system and those of many countries in the world today are some form of democracy, directly or indirectly inspired by those of the Classical world. This is a major departure from the more centralized and sometimes despotic rule that developed and became established during the time of emerging civilizations and lasted until fairly recent times in many parts of the world.
This webpage provides a good overview of the rise of democracy.
This is Democracy for Kids – The rise of democracy in ancient Greece.
This is a Wikipedia article about the rise of democracy.