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  • Calvin Cho

Historical Origins of Politics

With the current state of COVID-19, primary elections have been delayed, postponed, altered, and adjusted. No one knows for sure what will happen with even the presidential election, set in November of this year. Compared to the 2016 presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, the media seemed to exclusively focus on politics, but this year’s election coverage seems to be quite low. In this current time of relatively lessened political activity, perhaps now is the time to take a short break and look back at how politics first originated.

The basic foundations of Western politics were first developed by the Socratic political philosophers in Greece and further sharpened by the Ancient Romans. Although the political history of Greece and Rome ended long ago, the effects it has on modern culture are colossal as the theologies that were introduced still affect societies today.

During the ancient Greek times, four main political ideologies: democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, and tyranny were either developed or refined. The principles of democracy originated and developed in the city of Athens. Any male citizen who was at least 18 years old and had the ability to speak had the right to vote in governmental issues. Democracy at this level was unprecedented. The idea of monarchy and tyranny had existed before the Ancient Greek times but was further defined by the Greeks. The main difference between monarchs and tyrants was that monarchs were dictators who worked for the good of people while tyrants were dictators who worked for their own benefit. Oligarchy also developed during this time and is very close to representative democracy as it is when a small group of people run a state. Overall, within the political history of Greece, very different and distinct political systems coexisted and advanced together.

The next significant development in the history of politics occurred in the Ancient Roman Civilization. Unlike the political history of Greece, the political history of Rome is more of a timeline of stories rather than a comparison of different political ideals that were developed. Rome went through two major political changes before its fall. Rome was first established as the Roman kingdom, in which a monarch ruled. They soon developed into the Roman republic, in which the Senate held onto the central political authority. Finally, the republic evolved into the Roman Empire, in which an emperor ruled.

The Roman Kingdom is the earliest period of Ancient Rome. The monarchy settled in following the establishment of Ancient Rome. During this time, the monarchy had all central authority and power was in the hands of the king. The Senate had already been formed under the first king, Romulus, but it was more like an advisory group of nobles for the King. Eventually though, the Roman Kingdom would come to a stop as the seventh king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, got involved in a series of scandals including use of violence and intimidation to showcase power, disrespecting the Senate, and having his son get into a serious scandal with a noble’s daughter. The King of Rome was overthrown and the monarchy was replaced with a republic.

During the time of the Roman Republic, politics greatly developed. The Senate evolved from being an advisory council to becoming the ultimate authority in Rome. The common people of Rome would elect two consuls (the senate’s leading chair) and the consuls would then appoint the senators. These senators would then run all the governmental work and vote to pass legislation and treaties. The Roman Republic has a lasting effect on the world. For example, foundations of American politics were borrowed from the Roman political system. Eventually though, Augustus, a Roman statesman and general, would take control of the Republic in 27 BC and the Roman Republic was replaced by the Roman Empire.

During the time of the Roman Empire, the power was in the hands of the emperor of Rome. Despite being mostly an authoritarian dictatorship on the inside, the imperial rulers tried to display the government as constitutional, distorting the senate to benefit the emperor. For example, the Praetorian Guard was formed, and this gave military power to Roman emperors as troops weren’t previously allowed in the capital city. Overall, during the time of the Roman Empire, the central emperor would hold all the governmental power and the common people had much less power.

Conclusively, the Greeks introduced political ideals through different types of government and the political history of Rome is very vibrant and colorful as it went from being a monarchy to a representative democracy to another monarchy in a span of almost two millenniums. As previously stated, whether it be on a small level, such as a school club election, or on a global level, such as an international political disagreement, politics constantly affect life. Moreover, politics constantly pushes people with different beliefs to argue adding to its significance. With such significance, it is important to be aware of politics's origins and history.

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