Where did the Greeks or the Romans find the idea of a "Republic"? What was the source of the idea? Did the idea come from philosophers, or citizens, etc.?

  • 5
    The Greeks had a Democracy, not a Republic. Similar, yet different. – American Luke Aug 30 '12 at 22:12
  • 3
    There are three questions here which could be asked separately. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Aug 31 '12 at 6:58
  • 2
    @Luke - I would disagree. Strictly speaking, Democracy is not opposed to Republic in the latter's broader definition. You can have a Republic that is either Demorcatically goverened (direct democracy) or a representative one. The main ideas (populous owning the state as opposed to the ruler doing so, and having elections) exist in both cases. – DVK Sep 1 '12 at 22:00
  • 2
    @Luke lol, do you know that in Greek there is not word "republic"? Greeks call all republican governments "demokratia". Anyway the ancient Greeks had very broad kinds of government ranging from olagarchic republic to direct democracy. The Romans with no doubt borrowed the idea from Greeks. – Anixx Nov 11 '12 at 19:48
  • 1
    @Nemanja Trifunovic I think your deleted answer is correct and the comments are ingnorant. Actially Athens were a republic (in modern meaning). And the Romans evidently modeled their state after Greek ones. – Anixx Nov 11 '12 at 19:54

In ancient world many peoples employed the idea of collective government. In most tribes there was a tribe's council which usually elected the military commander (whom we would call "king" or "prince"). Sometimes a tribe was divided into several genses which had their own leadership so in the tribal council only the leadership of the genses participated.

This basic organization can be seen among Germanic, Slavic, Semitic and other peoples as well. You also can see it in Iliad.

Even more the most ancient Indo-European word for king, o̯rēĝs (from which Roman rex originated) meant somebody who gives straight direction, the word director being a cognate. So the king in ancient IE society was a public position rather than a hereditary title.

  • 1
    I've seen some anthropologists categorize the size of societies by their governmental structures: In general the larger it is, the more hierarchal and stratified. – T.E.D. Nov 12 '12 at 14:11
  • +1: excellent answer – Mozibur Ullah Oct 28 '17 at 22:28

During the early days of the Republic, the franchise was only limited to members of certain families (aka: Patricians). This made their "Republic" very hard to discern from your typical ancient big-city Oligarchy, except that the size of their voting body was a bit bigger than is typical (in the three digits rather than two).

The fact that the franchise was so limited explains why successful generals could make a plausible claim to hold popular support rather than the elected assemblies, which is partly why the Republic eventually acquired Emperors and just became another empire.

  • 4
    This noway answer my question. – user806 Aug 31 '12 at 4:02
  • 1
    Well, obviously I disagree, or I wouldn't have bothered writing it. The point here is that what they called a "Republic" was really just a slight tweak on the age-old Oligarchial system other big cities were run on, not some huge new innovation in government. – T.E.D. Aug 31 '12 at 14:16
  • 1
    @T.E.D. - I think what he was aiming to ask was, the idea of a Republic as a concept (e.g. that the country is not the property of the ruler/monarch; and elected leaders) did NOT exist in earlier societies and came into existence as an idea (whether properly implemented or not) around Greek/Roman era. How did that idea originate? – DVK Sep 1 '12 at 21:56
  • 1
    It is a mistake to consider Roman state after the revolution a form of government sufficiently different from the previous regime. In fact Roman state under rex also was called "res publica". – Anixx Nov 11 '12 at 19:52
  • 1
    @jwenting this varied, but the most of emperor's power came from the position of popular tribune, which allowed to veto any senate's ruling. – Anixx Feb 27 '14 at 12:26

If we take the English etymological translation of the Latin word, "Republic", it means, "The public/people's entity"-("Res"= entity and Publica = "The people"). The earliest known "Republic" in Western History-(and perhaps World History), was Rome; from about 500 BC/BCE, until 26 BC/BCE).

The Greeks, specifically, the Greco-Athenians, established the world's 1st Democracy. If we take the English etymological translation of the Greek word, "Democracy", it means, "The rule/power of the people"-("Demos" = people and Cracy/Kratia = "Rule/Power"). Greek Democracy's origins could be traced to its earliest known Statesmen, Solon-(circa 600 BC/BCE), until the arrival and conquest of King Philip of Macedon around the 340's BC/BCE.

Plato's, "Republic", is an interesting English translation, because his actual Greek title of "The Republic", was "The Polity" or "The State". Plato wrote "The Republic" around the 380's BC/BCE-(approximately 100 plus years after the founding of Rome's actual "Republic").

If one was to compare or contrast-(from an English linguistic context), Rome's actual "Republic" to Plato's written "Republic", they are two very different Republics.

The Roman Republic was relatively democratic, though placed a great emphasis on what we would today call, "Representative Government" whereby The Senate wielded a great deal of power-(The U.S. Constitution's "Articles", essentially structured and modeled the early American Government after Rome's Republic, whereby the Congress, and not the Executive branch, wielded and controlled most of the Powers of Governance).

However, Plato's "Republic"-(or "Polity/State"), though similar in meaning to the Latin, "Republic", was far different both conceptually and pragmatically. Plato's "Republic" vested the Power of the State with The Philosopher-King. Plato's "Philosopher-King" concept was absolutely inimical to Greco-Athenian Democracy and very distant from the notion that a group of Senators should be the Primary Stewards of the State-(i.e. The Roman Republic).

So, as you can see, the same word, "Republic", had different etymological meanings and in turn, produced very different historical results.

(A side historical note: Plato, in his younger years, attempted to overthrow the Tyrant of Siracusa in Eastern Sicily on more than occasion. For Plato, the city of Siracusa was the perfect place for installing and implementing his Philosopher-King vision. His plans failed miserably and he barely escaped assassinations ordered by the Tyrant of Siracusa. In other words, Plato's "Republic", was and continues to remain, a concept, an idea, as well as a failed attempt towards Statehood; whereas the Roman "Republic", was a strong and very pragmatical political system which lasted for nearly 500 consecutive years).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy