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Ancient Democracies

One of the earliest foundations for democracy can be found in the Jewish religion. Although the ancient Jews were ruled by kings, their religion taught (and teaches today) that every person has worth. This belief is a basic principle of democracy.

Centuries later, in the 400s b.c., the Greek city-state of Athens created the world's first democracy. All free men over 18 were considered citizens. They could take part in the Athens assembly. This was a gathering at which any citizen had the right to speak. Its decisions were carried out by a council of 500 members. This council governed Athens. Citizens took turns serving on the council. Since this required taking time off from work, council members were paid for their service.

This system, in which the people govern themselves, is called direct democracy. It was possible in Athens because the city-state was small. In places with large populations, direct democracy is not practical. In such places, people choose leaders to govern for them. This form of democracy is called representative democracy. A government based on representative democracy is called a republic. The United States is a republic.

As the ancient Greeks were creating democracy, the ancient Romans were creating the world's first republic. In 509 b.c. the Romans overthrew their king. Government was put in the hands of a senate. Members of this body were chosen from among Rome's wealthy upper class, called patricians. The senators elected two members, called consuls, to lead the government. Both consuls had to agree. Each consul had the power to block the actions of the other by saying veto, meaning "I forbid!"

Rome's common citizens, called plebeians, soon tired of the rule of the patricians. A long struggle followed. The plebeians finally gained political equality in 287 b.c.

Rome continued as a republic until General Julius Caesar took control around 50 b.c. After his death, monarchs called emperors ruled Rome and its empire for more than 500 years.


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Q: What are 2 acient democracies that help shape the system of government you have today?
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What two ancient democracies help shape the system of government we have today?

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