Who Has The Right To Vote In Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome had a complex governmental system that allowed a limited number of citizens to participate in the election process. Despite various reforms that occurred over the centuries, only a small percentage of the population had the right to vote; this exclusive group was known as the ‘comitia centuriata’. Chosen for their high social status, the wealthy and elite families were the only ones permitted to take part in governing the republic.

Who could begrudge such privilege? It is said that the elites were the only people who had an interest in the long-term stability and prosperity of the state. To understand who had the right to vote in Ancient Rome, one must first look at the political structure within the Republic.

In the first place, voting rights in Ancient Rome were based on the possession of wealth and the level of magistracy to which a citizen could claim. There were several stratifications of magistrates, responsible for managing public policy, such as tribunes and censors, that would grant voting rights to those of a higher social level. Secondly, a limited number of citizens, known as the patricians, had the right to vote on laws. This class of people mainly consisted of old, wealthy families in Rome. The third tier of society was that of plebeians, who although lacking in power, still managed to hold some limited voting rights. Lastly, the last class of people in Ancient Rome were the slaves. Slaves were not permitted to exercise the right to vote, as they were considered property of their owners.

When voting, ancient Romans would cast their ‘tessarae’. These were small pieces of wood or stone that were totalled up at the end of the election to determine the majority. In addition, voting rights were restricted for criminal activities, such as tax evasion or bribery. To preserve the social order and prevent the misuse of power, laws were strict and those who dared break them would have their voting rights revoked.

In conclusion, it is clear that the right to vote in Ancient Rome was limited and reserved just for those of a higher status. While this system was based on social hierarchy, it enabled society to thrive in extraordinary ways and in ways that could have never have been imagined.

Benefits of Ancient Roman Voting System

Despite the fact that voting rights in Ancient Rome were only given to a select few, there were still several benefits to their system. Firstly, it enabled the aristocracy to create a stable political environment and maintain a certain level of law and order. Secondly, it allowed them to limit the number of people who were able to pass laws and regulations, preventing any one person or class from gaining too much power. Furthermore, it allowed the lower classes to slowly gain more political power over time, as the elites were always looking for new avenues for political growth.

In addition, Ancient Rome’s system of voting restricted participation to citizens who had an actual interest in the long-term stability and prosperity of the republic. This meant that the people who had the final say in decision-making were not just powerful elites with their own agenda, but those who sought to create a prosperous society and stable government. This is exemplified by the fact that, despite the fact that the patricians (though wealthy) held a greater number of votes than plebeians, few plebeians actually ran for office and those who did frequently won.

As a result, a number of important reforms were made during this time period. These included the institution of laws protecting the citizens’ rights, the incorporation of slavery laws and the creation of a criminal justice system. The voting system in Ancient Rome was instrumental in developing many of the subsequent systems of government in the modern world.

Drawbacks of Ancient Roman Voting System

Nevertheless, the Ancient Roman voting system was far from perfect. Firstly, it was incredibly exclusive and only a small portion of the population had the opportunity to cast their vote. Secondly, voting was based upon wealth, with those who had the most coins getting the most votes. Eventually this led to a situation where the wealthy were able to purchase votes and intimidate those of lesser means. Thirdly, those who did not have enough money to buy votes, often had no option but to participate in the political system by selling their votes to those who did have money. This led to a system of patronage and bribery, resulting in a less republican representation.

Furthermore, the Ancient Roman voting system did not account for women and those without the means to purchase the tessarae needed to cast a vote. Despite various reforms in the later days of the Republic, the voting system was based upon social hierarchy and privilege and did not truly represent the interests of all citizens. As a result, it likely encouraged a feeling of marginalization and alienation among those living in poverty and increased class inequality over time.

Impact of Ancient Roman Voting System on Society

The Ancient Roman voting system had a significant impact on the contemporary society. Firstly, it established a form of representative democracy, with a governing body elected by the eligible voting members. Secondly, it heavily influenced the subsequent forms of democracy that emerged in the West, such as popular ballots and voting. Thirdly, it created a primitive type of affirmative action which enabled those with limited resources to participate in the decision-making process. Finally, it developed a system of patronage and bribery that became the norm for many centuries.

In addition, it led to a lower level of social conflict and civil disorder, as those who had the power to make decisions were from the elite class and only looked out for their interests. This had a direct effect on the social and economic policies of Ancient Rome, which were influenced heavily by these privileged few. As a result, policies such as taxation and infrastructure were all shaped by the desires and ambitions of the patricians.

Modern Day Comparisons to Ancient Roman Voting System

Despite the differences between them, the Ancient Roman voting system is still somewhat relevant today. This is especially true in nations that still have a heavily stratified social structure. For example, in many countries where power and wealth are still concentrated among the elite few, the Ancient Roman voting system may still have a role to play, as it gives the most powerful members of society more say in the decision-making process.

It is also true that many governments still employ a form of bribery and patronage in their decision-making processes. This is often done through lobbying and other forms of influence, which are not always transparent to the public. Furthermore, many prominent democracies around the world still rely on private donations when funding campaigns, which allows those with the most money to have a say in the opinions that are expressed in the public sphere.

The Role of Technology in Voting Systems

The role of technology in voting systems has grown significantly over the years. In Ancient Rome, voting was largely a manual process, with the results being tabulated through tessera, wooden tablets or stones. Today, electronic voting machines and computer systems have become commonplace, allowing rapid and secure voting. Furthermore, the use of the internet and mobile technology has enabled remote voting, which is seen as a key component of modern democracy.

The introduction of these modern voting technologies has made the process of voting easier and more secure. This has allowed more people to become engaged in their governments and political systems, and has helped to ensure that their voices are heard in the public discourse. Furthermore, these technologies have helped to reduce cases of fraud and vote-buying and have made it easier to maintain an accurate record of results, which contributes to ensuring the legitimacy of elections.


In conclusion, the Ancient Roman voting system allowed a limited number of citizens to take part in the election process. It was exclusive and heavily dependent on social hierarchy, wealth, and privilege. Despite the drawbacks, it still enabled those of lower social status to gain more political power over time and helped shape the modern democracies of today. Moreover, technology has shifted the voting systems, allowing more people to take part in the decision-making process. Through understanding the ancient example, we can gain an insight into how democracy has evolved throughout the centuries.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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