Abstract | Democracy and Civic Participation in Greek Cities under Roman Imperial Rule: Political Practice and Culture in the Post-Classical Period

Cédric Brélaz

It has been assumed in scholarship for a long time that democracy was characteristic of 5th-century BCE Athens and that this kind of political regime did not survive the rise of Macedonian hegemony in the late 4th century BCE. In recent years, however, many studies have shown that democratic institutions were still to be found in Greek cities in the Hellenistic period. Yet, what was the situation during the Roman Imperial period, at a time when Greek cities definitively lost their independence? This paper will address the issue by raising the following questions: To what extent was Greek democracy affected by the constant support given to Greek aristocrats by Roman power and by the authoritarian nature of the Imperial regime? What was the actual involvement of the people in the civic life of the Greek cities during the Imperial period? Was there an interest in, or a concern for, the concept of democracy among the Greek political thinkers and orators at that time? While G.E.M de Ste Croix in his book The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (London, 1981) considered democratic features referred to in inscriptions to be just an empty and anachronistic vestige, this paper will argue on the contrary that the people continued to play a key role in the political life of Greek cities at that time, though not in the same way as in the Classical period. This alternative view, which is supported by a close examination of the way political institutions operated in Greek cities in the Roman Imperial period and by the evidence of contemporary Greek political thinkers, suggests that, despite a long-term evolution of Greek political practice and dramatic alterations, civic participation was still ongoing in Greek cities under Roman Imperial rule and this can probably be qualified a “form of democracy” (eidos demokratias), according to the categories established by Aristotle himself in his ‘Politics’.

We're trying out a new look. 🎉 Let us know what you think! Hide.