Marco Linares: Grand Tour Redux

Background

I am an aspiring lawyer who is pursuing dual bachelor degrees in Political Science and International Relations from Florida International University. During the Grand Tour Redux, I thoroughly enjoyed and was likewise fascinated by the masterpieces we saw and the cultures we interacted with – so much so that I am definitely taking courses in art history and appreciation in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the fine arts. Nevertheless, I felt drawn to analyzing most – but not all – of my experiences in the grand tour via a political lense. Some of the approaches to the cities are definitely a result of this perspective – the rest are simply observations and reflection on general life as I saw it through my indescribable perspective.

Ultimately, this project allows me to reflect on the past and connect it to the present, which is what I will attempt to do by drawing parallels as well as distinctions between the places we saw and the United States today.

Roma

From lamp posts and trash cans to ornate buildings, paintings, and sculptures – SPQR adorns it all. Senātus Populusque Rōmānus is an eerie reminder of what once was the greatest empire known to man and no longer is.

From greatness to downfall. Nothing makes this contrast from greatness to mediocrity than the Roman forum. From it, power exuded, the vast region that Romans amassed over years of war was ruled from this single spot. Crammed between the Capitoline and Palatine hills were the most powerful men of antiquity. The exuberant palace atop the Palatine hill, the myriad of temples all adorned with the finest marble to worship all gods, the imposing basilica of Maxentius, the Senate all were forgotten suddenly after the collapse of the Roman empire. So forgotten that the only reason we know about it today is because it was deemed so unimportant that cows were allowed to graze there, atop the dirt that covered it all.

One cannot ignore the resemblance that the United States bears to Roma. Their history is practically the same: both rebelled against the monarchy and established a radical form of government hoping to never be ruled by an individual with unlimited power. Slowly both expanded their territories by brute force – either conquering, decimating people or driving them off their land. Similarly, the executive gradually grew more powerful and its power had fewer checks in what it could do. Culturally they are also very similar. Roma was the melting pot of Europe with citizens from all over as well as their respective religions, foods, and unique perspectives. The United States is likewise home to people from all over the globe, a country of immigrants as its very own founders migrated from Europe to seek greater freedoms; this all results in a myriad of languages, ethnicities, and most importantly perspectives to be present in it. They even share the way they project their power: always leading with soft power while having the military to back any action. If one simply described Roma and the United States they could often be mistaken for one another.

The main difference between the United States and the Roman Empire is that the former has only been around for around 250 years, a mere fourth of what the empire lasted. Another notable difference is that they have existed in very different time periods: Roma in antiquity and the United States in the age of interconnectivity and globalization.

This all leaves one to wonder, will Washington D.C. be nothing more than a cow pasture in 800 years?

This is a question that has been debated by nearly every historian, and there seems to be no clear consensus. Most scholars agree, however, that the study of history aids us in predicting outcomes of similar situations as well as to avoid negative ones. The case of the United States is precisely that one with regards to Roma. The Roman Empire fell because of a couple of factors agreed upon by scholars; namely overextension and wealth disparity. Looking at the United States today one may fear for the same outcome given that the upper class keeps getting wealthier whereas the middle class is disappearing or merging with the lower class which has not improved in decades. Another sign of worry is the overextension of military and diplomatic envoys all over the world. With the rise of China and the United States endlessly trying to counter it they are attempting to have a say in every country’s foreign policies while keeping stable relations as well – something that is impossibly difficult if not impossible.

These two factors are dangerously similar to those that were seen in ancient Roma, so is history going to repeat itself? I fear it might unless some drastic measures are taken to rectify what was explained above. The United States has enjoyed the hegemony for quite some time and though it may pain it and its politicians, they may have to learn to live in a world that does not bend at their will – literally like every other nation in the world. With regards to the wealth inequality, laws and policies can be pursued that will focus on the people rather than on the businesses. Greater safety nets, higher minimum wages, more apt unions, higher taxes on the uber-wealthy, these are all measures that can be done to slowly raise the lower classes without irreparably damaging the upper ones. Otherwise the United States may not last half as long as Roma.

Firenze

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo DaVinci, Dante Alighieri, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, Giotto… all masters of their craft, all changed the world, all Florentines. One wonders what was in the water that made all of these people so brilliant? There were artists from all over the world, why were these so much better than the rest? Why are these the masters?

There are a myriad of reasons that explain this. Some may argue that they were simply better genetically suited at whatever is required to be an artist. That may explain one or two of them, but certainly not all. Others will more accurately argue that it was their environment that allowed them to truly explore what they needed to in order to be great artists – this may explain it better. Firenze was the perfect place for artists: the Medici, the political motives driving art, the sexual freedom, the lack of religious restrictions – it all combined to make Firenze the birthplace of the Renaissance.

This all makes one ponder upon a couple of things: for once, how many artists could have been great that never were, simply because they were not in the right environment? Secondly, and most importantly, it allows one to think about social restrictions and their effect on people.

States must regulate private conduct to the degree that it affects others and government, but when is that regulation too much? Until relatively recently in the United States contraceptives in the marital bedroom were banned, is that too much restriction? Is restricting a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term something that should be restricted? These questions and many more were the ones that passed through my head as I experienced Firenze. I was astonished by this utopia – a society in which people were free to do as they wished free from social constraints, free from over-restriction.

Is it right for governments to control the lives of its people? Some may argue it is a necessary evil, whereas other zealously oppose it. I could only think of Orwell’s 1984 where the government controlled everything and people would grudgingly bear it. That would be one end of it, the other would be utter anarchy. Firenze is so special because it reached the perfect balance between freedom and restriction – it seems fitting that the Renaissance’s perfect balance was born here.

Though government and the restrictions that come along with it are necessary, they must certainly have a limit that allows enough civil liberties for society to function. What is this limit has been a hard-fought debate for nearly all of recorded human history. In the United States for instance, at first only land-owning white males had full rights, then it slowly expanded to the state it is in today. The same process happened with nearly every right Americans have – abortion, free speech, bear arms, and the list can go on. Even today there is no agreement on how much restrictions is too much. I personally think that liberties are extremely necessary and the only way to safeguard them is to have an efficient and unbiased judicial branch. If this is not followed and achieved soon we may face a notable reduction in our rights and liberties as Americans. The United States – and any government for that matter – should emulate Firenze in that aspect, allowing the people to have freedoms without burdening them – maybe that way we will see another phenomenon like the one of all the Florentine masters.

Cinque Terre

What happens when the world stands still? That is a question that poses a great deal of difficulty: for starters the laws of physics say it is impossible unless one travels at the speed of light – which is definitely not happening in the Cinque Terre – but somehow it seems as though in the Cinque Terre time stands still. It is no surprise then that those who went on the Grand Tour before me would go to the Cinque Terre to reflect on what they had experienced before continuing on – a way to be able to digest the amazement and astonishment they had for the masterpieces they just saw. We used the Cinque Terre in a similar manner, a way to allow us to reflect and truly realize how amazing what we had experienced was – in the span of three weeks we had seen works by all of the great masters and those who came after them, we had seen more of the world than most people see in a lifetime.

In Cinque Terre I also came to a realization, one that I think is important and will guide my life from now on. I realized that no matter how fast life moves, how busy one gets, or how overwhelming life becomes, one must find their Cinque Terre, their place to reflect and relax, their place where time stands still and they are happy.

The United States often prides itself on having Protestant work ethic and allowing its people to chase the American dream – this simply means that one works too much and is never truly happy with their life, always seeking to have more things and reach the unattainable goal of being happy.

Without somewhere like the Cinque Terre in everyone’s lives, the world continues being driven by stress and thoughtlessness, but with the Cinque Terre it all improves. As idealistic as it may sound, the world could be substantially better for all if people were able to devote some time reflecting and relaxing, be it in a room in their home, in a park nearby, or anywhere else that allows the individual to break with society’s fast pace and slow things down enough to reflect.

Do not misunderstand what I mean when I say that everything works slower in the Cinque Terre; everyone works as much if not more than Americans, it is the way they do it that makes their lives and those of all around them different. Unlike in the United States, in the Cinque Terre people genuinely smile and chat with one another, they enjoy their lives thoroughly and it must be at least partly because of the atmosphere in this place. I could not help but think of Albee’s Death of a Salesman – the retrace to make the most and fulfill the capitalist dream is not something that matters in the Cinque Terre, people are happy with whatever little or lot they have and they work to live, not the other way around.

I believe that they have it right, we in the United States have a skewed concept of this. Working is only a part of living, it is not however, life. This is an important concept that everyone should at least be aware of so that they can live a happier a fuller life, detached from material possessions.

Venezia

Since 1648 people have no longer been able to be stateless, the place one is born is forever with them. We not only receive a first name and a family name but also a nationality. We all effectively belong to a country and some to two. But why does this exist? Does an agreed upon imaginary line truly make people different from one another?

Nationalism emerged shortly after nation states emerged, it resulted in people with a heightened sense of patriotism who were willing to do what was good and right for their nation – that in itself is a very subjective idea. Recently in the world we have seen a rise in nationalism. Whether it be in Europe, Asia, or in the Americas there is one thing in common: people are giving substantially larger importance to the imaginary lines of states. This is not the first time we have seen this happen and is likely not going to be the last. Napoleon was one of the early adopters of nationalism in order to enlist thousands of people into his army, claiming the greater purpose to help France. Some other famous adopters of this powerful movement who were able to harness it were Hitler, Mussolini, and recently Trump as well as many politicians alongside him. In Venezia it is possible to see early nationalism at work.

Venetians were and still are a proud people, they became the most powerful city in the world, and as such they were willing to defend their number one spot against all threats. This is eerily similar to the United States today.

Venetians stole, lied, and fought wars to improve Venezia. The main attraction in Venezia is proof of that: St. Mark’s body was stolen from Alexandria, taken to Rome and placed in the cathedral there. The cathedral itself is adorned with stolen horses from Venezia’s then ally Constantinople and with a myriad of columns and sculptures from all corners of the earth. For Venezia, Venetians would do anything. Today’s is rise in nationalism is worrisome because the different nationalities are vying for power and seeking what is best for their own country, other countries will be upset by it and conflict could ensue. Unlike Venetians who fell because their nationalism made them expand over their capacity into the mainland, citizens of today must be aware and reflect on their country’s actions – they must not be led astray by nationalism. It is our duty, one that is often neglected or clouded by nationalism, to know the good and bad things our countries do and to see issues from the multiple perspectives that are always involved. Doing this allows us to judge current and last issues from the least biased perspective. Ignorance is the worst thing that can happen to a society, and it is up to each of us to stop turning a blind eye on the questionable actions of our countries.

Marco Linares: Italia as Text 2019

“Ruins, Beauty, and Water” by Marco A. Linares at Tivoli, Italy. 13 May 2019.

Tivoli has proven to be one of Italy’s most amazing places. Unlike in hectic Rome, the people are calm and proud, the air is clean, and serenity fills every void – after experiencing it, there is no doubt why Hadrian chose Tivoli as the perfect escape from Rome.

In his villa, Hadrian showed me that pleasure and knowledge can (and should) go together. His lavish baths, his towering libraries, and his expansive grounds make him akin to a deity, but at the same time, his temple idolizing his deceased lover and the idea of closing himself off to the world – in essence being antisocial – to study and learn humanize him. Hadrian’s villa makes you feel like you can understand one of the greatest emperors that ever lived, making you wonder whether your perception of any great leader is correct or simply biased by their status.

Afterwards, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este perplexed me with his lavish villa and made me rethink water and its function. I realized that it is not simply a necessary fluid – as I naively believed – but also something that can be harnessed and turned into art that calls you and makes you wonder if it is the most beautiful thing in the word. If I had been one of the cardinals being brought out there and showed those dramatic views, d’Este would have gained my vote and would have become Pope – there is a reason I am not a cardinal.

Lastly, the hike down into the valley of hell tests one physically and mentally. 100 meters down surrounded by nothing but pristine nature and cascading water. The absolute beauty numbs your senses and even a while after returning to civilization everything does not live up to the natural beauty of this valley. If that is what the descent into hell looks like I would not mind going there after all.

Tivoli is a must see place for all those seeking to truly understand Italy. Off the beaten path, it allows one to realize that though all roads lead to Rome, there is a lot of beauty to see on the way.

Unanswered Questions” by Marco A. Linares of FIU at Pompeii, Italy. 15 May 2019.

Pompeii was a lively Roman town, bustling with trade due to its proximity to the sea. In 79 BCE it was covered and abandoned as a result of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and forgotten for nearly 1500 years. Once the King of Naples decided to begin excavating it, it proved to be the best preserved Roman town ever discovered, shaping our idea of how Roman life was like no other.

Technology and advancements in techniques have made exploring Pompeii easier and more efficient. We are able to reconstruct buildings, create renderings, and scan the ground before breaking into it. Every once in a while, news break out about another section of Pompeii being excavated and new information being unearthed. Every discovery allows experts to zero in on what life was really like, but despite every new discovery some questions shall remain unanswered for eternity.

Who were these people? What were their names? What did they like? What were their dreams? What was their favorite food? They were homo sapiens – that we know – but what made them human? That we will never know.

Pompeii is an incredibly important archeological find, but it is also a town of thousands of humans who were never able to live life fully and were ultimately forgotten by society, so forgotten that now archeologists are forced to rename everything in the town using nothing more than what they find near it.

Pompeii is a draining experience, one that leaves you with more questions than answers. Casts of the dead are everywhere, waiting to be cataloged and displayed. Some are merely shaped like humans, others have gruesome facial expressions and body language that show how much pain they endured in their final moments, making one wonder, who were you? How can I remember you?

“Are they different after all?” by Marco A. Linares of FIU at Rome, Italy. 15 May 2019.

Melting pot of civilization – that is the most apt description of Rome.

Ancient Romans romanticized about the Greeks. Their art and knowledge was something that astonished Romans and led to them to claim being Greek descendants. Furthermore, as they idolized them so, Romans appropriated their culture in an attempt to be more like the ideal society that was Greece. Romans took heir columns, their gods, and their civic structures. All borrowed and adapted to fit their needs.

Romans were also amazing politicians and masters at public relations. No matter what, Romans always managed to bring the conquered under the Roman banner in the most unique ways, eventually leading to the pax Romana, something unheard of since then. Was religion a dividing issue? Bring your own gods and worship them in your temple. Was Roman citizenship an issue? Come become a citizen. Feel like you are too far from Rome? Come to the capital free of the constraints of an immigration policy. No matter the problem, the Romans had a practical solution. But Rome eventually fell, and its position as the hegemon of antiquity was filled by the church.Christianity added to the melting pot of culture that is Rome, creating an incredibly unique mix of devotion, power, and unrivaled leadership. It must be noted how much the church took from Rome in matters of practices as well as structure. Everywhere in Rome one can find the holy see adorning facades of churches and a variety of other buildings. Much like the Romans, the church took over old temples and repurposed them as catholic churches (often destroying the temple and building atop it), the church took Roman basilicas and replaced the judge’s seat with the cross – implying that the judge was now God, it even took some pagan structures and statues and preserved them by bringing them into the catholic fold – though a large number were destroyed. For a while, and for some to this day, the catholic church has been the most powerful institution on the world, commanding armies, waging war, and certainly enjoying the spoils.

In recent times the church has moved away from its aggressive practices and history, but the question remains, is the Papacy that different from the Emperors of ancient Rome?Christianity added to the melting pot of culture that is Rome, creating an incredibly unique mix of devotion, power, and unrivaled leadership. It must be noted how much the church took from Rome in matters of practices as well as structure. Everywhere in Rome one can find the holy see adorning facades of churches and a variety of other buildings. Much like the Romans, the church took over old temples and repurposed them as catholic churches (often destroying the temple and building atop it), the church took Roman basilicas and replaced the judge’s seat with the cross – implying that the judge was now God, it even took some pagan structures and statues and preserved them by bringing them into the catholic fold – though a large number were destroyed. For a while, and for some to this day, the catholic church has been the most powerful institution on the world, commanding armies, waging war, and certainly enjoying the spoils.In recent times the church has moved away from its aggressive practices and history, but the question remains, is the Papacy that different from the Emperors of ancient Rome?

“Realization” by Marco A. Linares of FIU Honors College at Firenze, Italy. 27 May 2019.

Inactively active. Inanimately animate. Inhumanely human. Michelangelo’s David is all this and much more, inviting reflection and eventual realization of social truths.

David’s story is the epitome of humanity. Upon hearing the insults his people are subject to, he first wonders about the rewards to be had for defeating this insulting giant; then he bravely volunteers to fight him, despite having never fought before. David masks his actions under religious zealotry, but this act is driven by nothing more than pride and greed.

Life is an insurmountable and endless obstacle course – a gauntlet no human has ever survived. David, like all of us, confidently faces it unarmed, inexperienced, and alone – all under the promise of a better life with fewer obstacles in the future, regardless of the danger it poses.

Michelangelo embodies us all as we go through life like nobody else in his famous David. Somehow the solid marble captures how we jump at the opportunity for betterment, disregard all threats, and proudly step into the field naked and unarmed. What is even more impressive is that it also manages to capture how, on sight of the challenge ahead of us, at least for a second, we are afraid and hesitant; for a bit we realize that our future may not be as we expected it, and we doubt ourselves and every decision we made up to that point.

This duality is perfectly captured by Michelangelo and his chisel. When looked from his front, David is brave and ready to face the challenge that lies ahead without any regard for the consequences. However, when looked from his left, as he sees what he is about to face, the doubt and hesitation becomes prominent in his perched eyebrows and worried gaze.

Michelangelo’s colossal David may have been made out of a block of marble, but it is a perfect reflection of humanity and maybe even of the author himself when he took on this project. Intentionally or not, Michelangelo’s David comments on society at an incredibly intricate level. Lastly, I think Vasari put it best when he stated when referring to the David that “whoever has seen this work need not trouble to see any other work executed in sculpture, either in our own or in other times.”

“A city made for people, not cars.” By Marco A. Linares of FIU Honors College at Siena, Italy. 27 May 2019.

Long winding roads, open plazas scattered at random, and people – people everywhere, walking on the streets, naturally, in their city.

Siena was the first European city to ban cars from its historic center – a bold step to take – but definitely one in the right direction. Cars pollute with their exhausts, lowering the life expectancy of all those who inhabit the city. Emissions from cars also damage artwork and structures, wearing away at them and gradually reducing our cultural heritage. Cars are also the worst enemies of architecture because the vibrations they produce can permanently damage and sometimes destroy unique and essential buildings in learning about our history. By banning cars from its historic centers, the Sienese became the first to avoid all of these negative effects of cars in an extremely progressive way. Aside from this all, Siena’s regulation allows the people full access to the streets and plazas. This is essential for a society to become interconnected and properly coexist. People walk and stop to greet one another or to walk into a shop, they sit in groups in plazas for lunch, and people seem substantially happier.

Across the ocean, however, there is the land of the free and the home of the brave. So free that they are entirely dependent on cars to go about their daily lives. So free that when they want to enter a store or greet a friend they must first find parking and then walk to their destination. So free that they cannot go to work if their car breaks down. Streets are expanded and constructed constantly in America, but never considering the pedestrian, only the automobiles. Money is poured into infrastructure to accommodate more cars and further drive a wedge between people.

One is a city made for people, the other for cars. One fosters human connections, the other servers them before they can be created. One allows true freedoms, the other one restricts them.

The land of the free and the home of the brave has quite a bit to learn from Siena, lodged far from large cities, this cozy hill town knows what it needs to do to keep society functioning. Hopefully the United States looks to Siena as a model to follow before irreparably changing the way that its society operates.

“Refuge” by Marco A. Linares of FIU Honors College at Cinque Terre, Italy. 29 May 2019.

How can one describe the Cinque Terre? Some will simply say they are a tourist destination. Others will say that they are the most picturesque places in all of Italy. Others will say they are small, quaint, and colorful villages in the Italian hillside that have resisted the forces of capitalism and remained as original as possible. Though these are not entirely wrong, I disagree with these definitions because they fail to include the essence of the Cinque Terre.

Hidden amidst mountains, these villages could easily be missed if not for their colorfully painted buildings. Fishermen once were and can still be seen as the backbone of these societies as every city has a port and a myriad of fishing boats anchored there. Aside from this, one can see how resistant these towns have been to global capitalism, not a single McDonald’s or any other giant chain store is present in any town. Their terraces allow them to be as self-sustainable as possible, allowing for small, family owned businesses to thrive. The people are so proud of their originality that they made it a UNESCO world heritage site so that the towns would remain the same way for generations to come.

Knowing these facts surely makes one more aware of the history and importance of the Cinque Terre, but it is not until one truly experiences and immerses into them that the essence becomes revealed.

Compared to Roma, Firenze, Venezia, Siena, Pisa, or Assisi, the Cinque Terre are distinct. It is difficult to put into words how a sense of serenity is accompanied by the utter beauty of the landscapes and overwhelms its visitors, offering a refuge from the world. Laying on its cliffside beaches, trekking through its trails, or simply sitting in one of its cafes feels surreal – almost like one has left everything one knows behind. There is nothing in the Cinque Terre that reminds one of the troubles of life – quiet and peace fill this refuge. Out of all the places in the world, this one must be one of the most peaceful ones in existence. The Cinque Terre allow and almost prompt reflection; no person can experience them without leaving a changed person.

Per Venezia, qualsiasi cosa” by Marco A. Linares of the FIU Honors College at Venezia, Italy. 8 June 2019.

Venezia is an astonishing city. It is the embodiment of human willpower and determination. After countless barbarian raids, a group of us were fed up and made the bold move to erect a city in the middle of a lagoon. From the sea this city rose atop istrian pine and stone – growing beyond the wildest imagination of any man. Slowly we grew to be masters of the sea and became the only bridge between East and West – the bridge through which all trade must pass. Venezia became the birthplace of modern day capitalism.

I am a Venetian and as such I will lay my life down for Venezia if I need to. What does it need? A body so it can cash in on the pilgrimage of thousands of Christians? I shall steal the body of St. Mark from under the noses of Muslims and bring it back. Does it need priceless pieces of art so that it can grow in opulence and display its power? I shall attack our allies and pillage their city, and I shall bring back countless pieces of art and treasures unbeknownst to man. Does it need to maintain the monopoly over glass blowing? We shall build a town to contain our master glass blowers and keep them there with their secrets. Does it need sailors to fill its merchant ships? I shall go and enlist hundreds of drunkards at the local pubs and make sure they are manning the boats by dawn. Per Venezia, qualsiasi cosa!

Italia-America: Legislative Structures

In today’s fast paced world, it is easy to get lost in the moment, forget about the past, and neglect the future. This post aims to do the exact opposite by creating a connection between the Roman Republic and the United States – two of the greatest civilizations to have ever existed. This post will place special focus on the legislative systems of each great society, allowing the reader to understand the roots of the concepts and institutions often taken for granted.

The Roman Republic’s and the United States’ legislative systems, though hundreds of years apart, bear considerable similarities while being discernibly different. Both consist of a multi-tier legislative system with some form of executive overseeing it all. The Roman system consisted of the Assemblies, the Senate, and the Consuls and other magistrates with veto power.[i] The American system consists of the House,[ii] the Senate,[iii] and the President[iv] and his cabinet. Unlike the Roman system in which any one of the institutions could create and pass laws,[v] the American system has a hierarchy in which laws start in the House of Representatives, move to the Senate, and then are approved by the President.[vi] Needless to say, the United States took a myriad of the concepts first used by Romans in their government and applied them in theirs.

To fully understand how any legislative system works, it is crucial to understand how each position is filled and who is responsible for filling it. Therefore, it is best to explain it from the grassroots to the elite, from elected officials to appointed ones, from the Assemblies to the Senate.

Roman Assemblies & American House of Representatives

The Assemblies in Classic Rome were made up of the people, they indirectly elected the magistrates, accepted or rejected laws, administered justice, and declared war.[vii] It is important to understand that for the Romans, at least initially, this was the most important branch of the legislative, as they selected a number of officials with substantial veto power. When discussing the role of these assemblies in the legislative structure of Rome there are three that must be discussed: the Centuriate Assembly, the Tribal Assembly, and the Plebian Council. Each of these had a key role in the creation and adoption of laws and was composed of different sections of the populace.

One of the most powerful institutions of Rome was the Centuriate Assembly (Comitia Centuriata). This committee, as its name suggests, was originally composed of all Roman citizens, which at the time were soldiers, divided into groups of 100. To reach a decision, each group of 100 would vote within itself and the decision from each group would be recorded, each group received 1 vote and whenever a side received a majority of the vote the matter was settled, and voting was no longer necessary. The Centuriate Assembly was so powerful because it was the one that selected and empowered the highest-ranking Roman Magistrates, including: Consuls, Praetors, and Censors, who were crucial in the legislating process.[viii] After a while, the groups were no longer divided into 100 Roman citizens but rather they were divided by social status and wealth, meaning that those in the upper rungs of society had a disproportionate effect on the outcome of elections.[ix]

Another important Assembly was the Tribal Assembly (Comitia Populi Tribute). This committee worked very similarly to the Centuriate Assembly when voting on legislative issues. It was composed of all Roman citizens divided into Tribes, each one of the 35 tribes would vote within itself and then report the majority of the vote; each tribe had one vote and whenever one side of the matter received a majority of the votes it was no longer necessary to continue. The Tribal Assembly was noticeably weaker than the Centuriate Assembly because it did not elect any Magistrates and its decisions could easily be vetoed by a number of other actors. [x]

Lastly, the Plebeian Council (Concilium Plebis) must certainly be discussed when talking about Rome’s legislative structure. Unlike any of the other Assemblies listed above, the Plebeian Council was composed exclusively of the commoners also referred to as plebeians. This Council was originally not very powerful, but slowly grew to be one of the most powerful institutions in Rome. It could adopt laws which applied only to Plebeians at first, but later to all Roman citizens, it elected a number of key magistrates with veto power, and could try specific judicial cases.[xi]

As explained earlier, the American system employs a number of ideas from Roman times. A very clear example of this is the multi-tier legislative system. Like the Roman Assemblies which divided the people into sections, asked them vote within those sections, and report the majority votes to decide the outcome of several decisions. The American founding fathers employed this very same system as the basis for the American voting system and later on the election of House of Representative members.[xii] Like in Roman times, American voters are divided into equal groups based on censuses done every 10 years; each group gets to vote for a representative in the House of Representatives.[xiii] This way – one could argue – the people are indirectly choosing which legislation they support and which one they oppose by voting for someone with similar ideals to theirs. Separately, and very similarly to Roman Assemblies when electing Magistrates, [xiv] these sections of voters play an essential role in legislating by electing who will run the executive and have veto power on a series of matters.[xv] Unlike Romans, who selected each Magistrate separately, Americans select only the President, who then has leeway to choose his Cabinet.[xvi]

Roman Magistrates & American Executive

Now let’s move to analyze the Magistrates of Rome and their role within the policymaking structure. Generally, Magistrates in Rome were elected by the citizens of Rome to rule in their name and held a series of powers over certain religious roles, the military, the judicial system, and could call assemblies to vote and preside over them.[xvii] Some of them played a very important role in the legislating structure of Rome, namely the Consuls, the Censors, the Plebeian Tribunes, and in extreme situations the Dictators. These offices, except that of the Censors, are essential in legislating because of the veto power they hold. This means that unless they agree with a proposed law being passed, the law will never come into force. Among these, special attention must be brought to the Plebeian Tribunes who were elected by the Plebeian Council and whose role was to protect the interests of the plebeians by vetoing any legislation that was likely to be negative for them.[xviii] Lastly, the Censors had a special role in legislating. Aside from conducting the censuses and censoring public behavior, the Censor’s role included appointing the members of the Senate in the early Republic – this role was then overtaken by the Consuls. The power of appointing Senators allowed the people to indirectly select who would be part of the Senate and implicitly what the future of Rome would look like.[xix]

The American system’s counterpart to the Magistrates would be the Executive, but like in Rome, the powers that these elected officials hold is substantially limited. For starters, only one actor – the President – is elected and has veto power over legislation, and this power is not absolute as that of Roman Magistrates as it can be undone with a supermajority of the Senate or by Judicial decisions.[xx] This branch of government definitely shares most of the roles and powers that Roman Magistrates had, but with regards to policymaking its power has become more limited.

Roman Senate & American Senate


Lastly, the most important and most powerful institution in the Roman Republic was the Senate. This institution evolved, as did all others, from being composed entirely of patricians to being composed of plebeians as well.[xxi] Senators were appointed for life, first by the Censors and then by the Consuls, and in theory they could only advise the Magistrates and indirectly propose legislation. However, the Senate’s advice was followed, making them the de-facto leaders of Rome. Separately, the Senators controlled the finances and foreign policies of Rome, allowing them the most control over the lives of Romans. Furthermore, the Senate had the exclusive right to appoint a Dictator for a short period of time and could suspend civil government and rule Rome by itself.[xxii]  

The American system has its own Senate, but it is definitely different than the one seen in Rome. First of all, American Senators are elected, though they do serve long terms in office in what seems to be a lifetime position, they can be removed if the people will it so. Secondly, the American Senate has a larger influence in legislating since they are one of the two chambers of Congress that need to approve every law by having a majority vote in favor. Lastly, American Senators alone do not control the finances or have power to elect a dictator, though they can vote to remove a sitting president from office and must agree, alongside with the House of Representatives and the President, on the country’s budget.[xxiii]

Roots of the Systems

Both systems have the same underlying root of anti-monarchical sentiment but have adapted to remain practical. Romans had overthrown the last king of the Roman Monarchy and were determined to never have another totalitarian ruler;[xxiv] this is the reason they had such a strong and effective checks and balances system.[xxv] Separately, Romans used a rough idea of what would later be known as federalism when they conquered new lands and allowed them to maintain fragments of their own culture and often many laws.[xxvi] Nonetheless, they realized that a system of checks and balances would be impractical when dealing with war and other urgent matters – this is the reason why the Romans created a way to consolidate power into one individual, a Dictator, to effectively deal with the situation at hand.[xxvii] Romans also realized that the prestige, wealth, and power of its elite families could be used for the benefit of Rome and therefore allowed them to wield influence over policymaking and foreign policy by being part of the Roman Senate.[xxviii] Lastly, to combat monarchy, Romans created the Assemblies in which the people indirectly voted on laws and elected Magistrates as describes above. It is in this way that the Roman legislative structure took the best from monarchies, oligarchies, and democracies in order to work efficiently.

Similarly, Americans had declared their independence from the British Monarchy and won their Revolutionary War. Like the Romans, the founding fathers sought to never have the United States ruled by a monarch and they did so by instituting very similar checks and balances to that of the Romans and used the principle of federalism in which each state could have its own set of freedoms which included choosing a religion and enacting its own laws.[xxix] Similarly to the Roman system, the American one sought to be democratic with a concealed oligarchy by restricting who could vote and be part of government.[xxx] Nonetheless, as the system has evolved, it has become markedly more democratic and liberal.

Functional Checks and Balances

Ancient Romans and Americans both discovered that the best way to prevent tyranny and totalitarianism was to distribute power to prevent any one person or branch of government from becoming too powerful. Both systems achieved this through a complex system of checks and balances. The Roman system had twelve veto players: any of the ten Plebeian Tribunes could veto legislation unfavorable to the Plebeian class[xxxi]  and the two Consuls could veto any legislation as well.[xxxii] The power was balanced among the institutions named above in which each was responsible for a section of any process, ensuring that no institution grew too powerful.[xxxiii] An example of this can be seen within the legislating process: the Senate can only advice Magistrates on what legislation they believe should be passed, these in turn take that advice to the Assemblies and call for a vote, then a number of other minor Magistrates must enforce it if it is within their scope of power.

The founding fathers faced a similar concern, they feared that if they did not establish a sound system with effective checks and balances they would soon be back to monarchical rule.[xxxiv] Loosely basing the system on Rome’s, the founding fathers balanced the system by dividing it into three branches (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial) with equal power and different roles in every government action. They also gave these branches veto power, allowing them to veto any legislation they thought was in violation of the Constitution.[xxxv] Another distinction between the systems is that of the Judicial branch; unlike in ancient Rome where either the people via Assemblies or Magistrates were in charge of administering justice, the founding fathers created a separate Judiciary to ensure that laws were applied to all equally.[xxxvi]

Something that makes both systems stand out in very similar ways is the practicality of its legislative systems. Early on both realized that the effective checks and balances would likely yield the best laws and policies for the people and the state but failed to work efficiently in times of crises. For this reason, both Romans and Americans were very pragmatic and had a solution in place for this very problem. The Roman Senate could appoint a Dictator – the highest office in Ancient Rome – until his task was complete or for 6 months, whichever came first. This individual would be given 24 fasces which meant he had supreme authority over all matters regarding the problem he was assigned to solve (usually it was war) – including capital punishment without trial – and all other legislative institutions were only allowed to veto his actions in very extreme cases.[xxxvii] The American system has something similar in place, whenever the country has found itself in times of war or economic troubles, the executive has been given almost unchecked power in order to solve the issue with the legislative bodies cooperating and rarely vetoing the President’s actions. This is evident when the roles of the American President are analyzed: the office holds the power over all foreign policy and can deploy a limited number of troops anywhere in the world without Congressional approval.[xxxviii]

This individual would be given 24 fasces which meant he had supreme authority over all matters regarding the problem he was assigned to solve (usually it was war) – including capital punishment without trial – and all other legislative institutions were only allowed to veto his actions in very extreme cases.[xxxvii] The American system has something similar in place, whenever the country has found itself in times of war or economic troubles, the executive has been given almost unchecked power in order to solve the issue with the legislative bodies cooperating and rarely vetoing the President’s actions. This is evident when the roles of the American President are analyzed: the office holds the power over all foreign policy and can deploy a limited number of troops anywhere in the world without Congressional approval.[xxxviii]

Social Status

Another similarity that both systems have is the social statuses of each position. In the Roman system, like the American one, each position in the legislative structure brought with it an implied status. In both systems there was an implied idea that the legislative system, as well as the political one, was akin to a ladder with each position being a rung which would allow the individual to climb socially and politically.

In the Roman system, Senators were definitely the ones with the highest status: they were appointed for life, were usually rich or became rich via their position, and usually their families were part of the elite or became a part of the elite after their appointment as senators. Senators were usually chosen from previous consuls, who in turn had been Praetors, Aediles, and Tribunes before having the position. It was rare to see someone being appointed Senator without either a family history of Senators or a long history of public service as elected Magistrate.[xxxix]

Similarly, in the American system, there is a generally agreed upon norm where people climb up the metaphorical ladder. Like in ancient Rome, Senators are the most respected ones and tend to either be wealthy or become wealthy during their tenure in office. These usually come from the House of Representatives or from high state offices such as Governor. The system is quite similar within each state with the slight difference that it is seen as the beginning of a politician’s career rather than its climax. However, unlike in Rome, the highest office is arguably that of President. Past Presidents have historically climbed up the ladder and been elected public servants or military generals before being elected into office.[xl]

The Evolution of the Systems:

The government and especially the legislative structures of Rome evolved like those of no other civilization before it. They overthrew the monarchy and established what can only be classified as an early Republic, guaranteeing great liberties, protection, and civic participation to its citizens.[xli] By today’s standards it was by no means democratic or liberal but at its time it was incredibly forward thinking. Rome was the hegemon of its time, a civilization all other civilizations have studied and will continue to study for millennia to come. That is not to say that they were a flawless civilization. The Roman Republic was plagued by issues which became evident as it evolved. The most noticeable one was the disproportionate amount of power the aristocracy had. Whether it was because they were the original members of the Senate or because nothing was ever done without them knowing about it, one thing is certain – they were simply too powerful. This issue came to its climax when Julius Caesar declared himself dictator for life and effectively ended the Republic and though most legislative institutions continued to exist they were only a façade to keep the people from overthrowing another king.

If looked at in a timeline, the Roman Republic existed for 464 years according to most historians, and once it morphed into the Roman Empire it lasted an additional 430 years ruled by emperors. The United States has existed for less than 250 years. This begs a series of questions, where is America headed? Will the United States give in to authoritarianism? Will its carefully designed system of institutions persevere and keep democracy alive forever? What is the future of American democracy? As similar as the United States is to Rome and as many great empires have fallen in the past foreshadowing a very ominous future for the United States, I believe that the home of the free and the land of the brave will never stop functioning in such a democratic way, if anything, its slow and gridlock-prone legislative system will build a better future for all in ways we are currently unable to imagine.


  • [i] Wasson, Donald L. “Roman Government.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 29 Nov. 2015, https://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Government/.
  • [ii] U.S. Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 2.
  • [iii] U.S. Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 3.
  • [iv] U.S. Constitution. Art. II, Sec. 1.
  • [v] Bringmann, Klaus. “Rome and Italy: The constitution of the classical Republic.” A History of the Roman Republic, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2007, pp. 37-48.
  • [vi] Schoolhouse Rock! “I’m Just a Bill.” YouTube, written by David Frishberg, 27 Mar. 1976, https://youtu.be/FFroMQlKiag?t=15.
  • [vii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. V: The Assemblies.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 40-65.
  • [viii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. V: The Assemblies.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 49-61.
  • [ix] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. V: The Assemblies.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 61-63.
  • [x] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. V: The Assemblies.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 49-65.
  • [xi] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. V: The Assemblies.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 49-65.
  • [xii] U.S. Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 4-5.
  • [xiii] U.S. Constitution. Amend. XVII.
  • [xiv] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 94-105.
  • [xv] U.S. Constitution. Art. II, Sec. 1.
  • [xvi] U.S. Constitution. Art. II, Sec. 1.
  • [xvii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 94-105.
  • [xviii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VIII: Tribunes, Aediles, and Minor Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 121-129.
  • [xix] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VI: The Senate.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 65-72.
  • [xx] U.S. Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 7.
  • [xxi] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VI: The Senate.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 65-72.
  • [xxii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VI: The Senate.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 86-89.
  • [xxiii] U.S. Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 1-3.
  • [xxiv] Cornell, Tim J. “Ch. 9: The Beginnings of the Roman Republic.” The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000 – 264 BC). Oxford: Routledge, 1995, pp. 215-236.
  • [xxv] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. XI: The Balance of the Constitution.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 191-214.
  • [xxvi] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 104-121.
  • [xxvii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 109-113.
  • [xxviii] Byrd, Robert C. “Ch. 8: Erosion of Senate Authority,” The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995, pp. 93-105.
  • [xxix] Hamilton, Alexander, or Madison, James. Federalist No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments. New York Packet, 8, Feb. 1788.
  • [xxx] Crews, Ed. “Voting in Early America.” The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Spring 2007, https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/spring07/elections.cfm.
  • [xxxi] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VIII: Tribunes, Aediles, and Minor Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 121-129.
  • [xxxii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VII: The Higher Magistrates and Pro-Magistrates.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 104-121.
  • [xxxiii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. XI: The Balance of the Constitution.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 191-214.
  • [xxxiv] Hamilton, Alexander, or Madison, James. Federalist No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments. New York Packet, 8, Feb. 1788.
  • [xxxv] U.S. Constitution. Art. I, II, III.
  • [xxxvi] Madison, James. Federalist No. 47: The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts. New York Packet, 1, Feb. 1788.
  • [xxxvii] Lintott, Andrew. “Ch. VI: The Senate.” The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 86-89.
  • [xxxviii] Edelson, Chris. “Exploring the Limits of Presidential Power.” American Constitution Society. 2, Dec. 2013, https://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/exploring-the-limits-of-presidential-power/
  • [xxxix] “Roman social and political structures.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, 27, Dec. 2016, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/roman-empire/v/roman-social-and-political-structures.
  • [xl] Makse, Todd. “Foundation of American Democracy.” Florida International University, POS 2041, 21-28 Aug. 2017.
  • [xli] Cornell, Tim J. “Ch. 9: The Beginnings of the Roman Republic.” The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000 – 264 BC). Oxford: Routledge, 1995, pp. 215-236.