One of the most enduring legacies of ancient Rome is the city-state’s government structure. With a monarchy, an oligarchy, the Roman Senate, and a government-controlled judiciary, ancient Rome provided a model of governance that countless cities and civilizations since have attempted to replicate. But what explains why the system was so complex? Why was the Roman government, at its core, divided in the first place? Through an examination of these various aspects of ancient Rome and an analysis of the relevant historical evidence, this article will answer the question of why the government of ancient Rome was so divided.
There are a few key elements that must be examined to understand why the government of ancient Rome developed into a divided body. The first is the Roman people’s longing for autonomy and democracy, which was triggered by the oppressive rule of a monarchy in the 7th century BCE. Under the monarchy, a single person held complete control over all political and military decisions, often with devastating consequences for the Roman people. This led to an uprising by plebeians (commoners) and the formation of an oligarchy that would give the people more power and agency. This division between monarchy and oligarchy became an enduring feature of the Roman government.
The second factor that explains Roman government division is the Senate. In the 5th century BCE, the Senate was established as an independent body to make laws and resolutions. While the Senate was initially made up of patricians (elite families), it was eventually expanded to include plebeians, further strengthening the separation between government branches. As the Senate became more influential, it began to wield power equal to that of the monarchy and the oligarchy.
The third element in the division of the Roman government was the establishment of a judiciary. The judiciary was responsible for interpreting the laws of the Senate and allowed Roman citizens to appeal decisions made by its own members or the Senate in court. This ensured that the decisions of the Senate would be checked and enforced, helping to create a balance of power between the government branches.
There were also economic factors that played a role in the division of the government of ancient Rome. The plebeians, for example, had been denied a role in the government but were finally able to assert their will through the formation of the oligarchy. This strengthened the lower classes and attracted the attention of wealthy patricians who saw the potential for economic and political gain. The resulting political and economic ties between the two classes helped to create a more balanced three-way division between the monarchy, oligarchy, and Senate.
With the formation of the oligarchy and Senate, the Romans were able to create a more representative form of government. The Senate was able to make decisions that were more closely aligned with the will of the people, and the oligarchy was able to create laws that supported economic stability. By creating a balanced three-way division, the Romans were able to create a system of government that was more equitable and balanced.
The culture of ancient Rome also contributed to its divided government. For centuries, the Roman people had been ruled by a single monarchy, and there was strong resistance to any additional forms of government. The formation of the Senate, and later the oligarchy, helped to satisfy the people’s desire for a more balanced form of government and provided a check on the power of the monarchy.
The Roman people had also developed a deep reverence for tradition. Ruled by a monarchy for centuries, they saw any break from this single ruler as a threat to the stability and safety of their society. The creation of the Senate and oligarchy represented a break from the traditional government structure, but it also allowed for the preservation of their cultural traditions through the separation of powers. This ensured that the ancient Roman government was divided, yet still able to maintain its cultural traditions.
The final element in the division of Roman government was military power. Under the monarchy, the military had been used to enforce the decrees of the ruler, but with the creation of the Senate and the oligarchy, the military was divided between the two branches. This allowed the government to maintain a balance between the monarchy and the Senate and protected Rome from potential abuses of power by the monarchy.
The creation of the Roman republic also played a role in the division of Roman government. As the republic grew in power, it began to challenge and eventually supplant the monopolistic rule of the monarchy. With the weakening of the monarchy and the advancement of the republic, the Roman people were now represented by the oligarchy and the Senate, further structuring the government into a more divided form.
The development of Roman law also contributed to the divided government. In the 6th century BCE, the Twelve Tables of legal codes were written, establishing the basis for Roman law. This gave the people of Rome a sense of legal rights and enshrined many of their freedoms into law. This was a revolutionary step in the creation of a more balanced Roman government and a cornerstone of why the Roman government was so divided.
Another important legal document was the Lex Hortensia of 287 BCE. This law gave the Senate full power over all laws and decrees, even those of the monarchy. This further weakened the monarchy’s hold on the government and gave more power to the Senate and the people. This two-way system of government that the Lex Hortensia created was eventually adopted by many other civilizations and has formed the basis of modern governments.
The government of ancient Rome was divided for a variety of reasons, from the longing for autonomy by the plebeians to the economic gain of the patricians, from the development of Roman law to the rise of the Roman Republic. The resulting structure of the Roman government was a complex mixture of diverse elements, each contributing to the overall balanced system of government that has stood the test of time. For thousands of years, the legacy of this divided government structure has endured, inspiring countless civilizations and informing modern democracies across the world.