The Ancient City Pompeii
‘How democratic was Pompeian politics?’;
In order to answer the above question, it is first necessary to consider the exact meaning of the term ‘democracy’;. Whilst it is difficult to give an exact definition of the word, it is certainly possible to create a list of the implications of democratic government for a society and its citizens. Perhaps the most obvious of these implications, certainly when considered from a modern standpoint, would be that every full member of a society would be considered as being equal, and thus would have an equal say in the running and appointing of a government. Secondly, truly democratic government would also imply that every member of society would have an equal opportunity to be elected to a governmental position. Such an opportunity should at least, in theory anyway, not be reliant on social class or position, nor financial support. Finally, the existence of a truly democratic system of government would also imply that governments be periodically elected, and during any given term of government, politicians would be fully employed by the state in the running of the country.
Given such implications of democracy, Pompeian politics would appear at first appraisal to hardly be democratic at all. Certainly, it can be said that the politics of Pompeii in particular and by extension the politics of Roman society as a whole do not meet the modern, Western ideas of a relatively liberal, democratic society. However, such a modern, Western idea of democracy was one that was entirely alien to the citizens of Pompeii and to the citizens of many ancient civilizations. Therefore, the nature of Pompeian politics must be considered not only from a modern political standpoint, but also from a standpoint more relative to the political ideals of Pompeian society and the Roman Empire, where a very different form of democracy was in existence. Whilst such a form of democracy is very different to that of today, it is certainly accurate to say that there was at least some element of democracy in Pompeian politics. Without such an element of democracy, however small, Pompeii would have been run almost entirely by dictatorship, which would have resulted in an entirely autocratic system of government, or alternatively the reverse situation might have arisen with the arrival of anarchy. Since Pompeii was never entirely run by one individual autocrat or dictator, and never descended into complete anarchy, it must be true to say that in Pompeian politics there was always some small element of democracy, even if such democracy bares hardly any resemblance to today’s ideas of democracy.