Monarchy: Early Rejection

Though monarchy had been very common in premodern large-scale societies, there are a few that had rejected monarchy, notably the classical-Greek city-states and the Roman Republic.

Greece first became literate in its Mycenaean period, but all the writing was bookkeeping records without much on their society’s politics. Its writing was lost with the destruction of the Mycenaean palace society around 1200 BCE, and Greece became literate again some centuries later around 750 BCE. This is about when the Classical period starts, and Greece was some independent city-states with a shared culture. Monarchy often faded in them, and politics often featured tumultuous contests between ordinary citizens, aristocrats, and strongmen.

But in the middle of the 4th cy. BCE, Philip of Macedon conquered Greece, establishing an overall monarchy, and over the next few centuries, his successors strengthened their control against revolts and the like.

Turning to Rome, it is rather difficult to tell when our sources’ history becomes reliable. Its supposed founder, Romulus, was described as the son of a god and a virgin (where have we heard that before?). The Roman Republic was described as starting from the overthrow of a bad king in 509 BCE. It had two consuls as its supreme leaders; they were elected for terms of one year. It also had various councils and officials, notably the Senate (Latin, “the elders”). As in Greece, it had lots of conflicts between aristocrats (patricians) and common people (plebeians). But as the Roman Republic conquered more and more territory, it suffered from various social stresses, and in its last century, it suffered lots of strife and civil war. Near its end, Julius Caesar, a successful general, returned to Rome with his army in 49 BCE, setting himself up as strongman. He had rather successful rule, but some opponents assassinated him on 15 March 44 BCE. This led to more civil war, and it ended with general Octavian becoming unchallenged leader in 4 January 27 BCE, ending the Republic.

Centuries later, the Greek and Roman experience would inspire many Europeans pushing for democracy and republican government, including in Britain’s rebellious North American colonies. When the rebels won and wrote a Constitution for themselves, they named their upper legislative house the Senate. Advocates of that Constitution wrote their Federalist Papers with the pen name Publius, after a Roman-Republic politician, and their opponents wrote under pen names Cato and Brutus, other Roman-Republic politicians.

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