The city-state of Athens was prosperous until, in 508 B.C., it became a democracy. With the change to democratic rule, the majority of the people had all the decision-making power, with the minority being left with no influence whatsoever.
As a result, the majority became a ruling oligarchy whose disastrous decisions brought about Athens’ end. Athens was forced into a series of wars, including that with Persia, and the Peloponnesian Wars.
The oligarchy having made too many poor decisions, class warfare made its way onto the scene. The poor fought to steal the wealth from the rich. Division due to class warfare, and the overall lack of support and confidence in the ruling government, made it easy for Alexander the Great to defeat Athens in 338 B.C., thereby ending their democracy. 1
“Rome established a republic in 509 B.C.” 1 Under this new system, the Senators were elected by popular vote. However, limits were placed on their power, as a sort of check-and-balance system. This was a safeguard that left the people free, and under this freedom they prospered.
Factors which contributed to the expansion of the Roman Empire included superior methods of warfare, superior building and architectural capabilities that linked the empire, and money enough to support and maintain a large army to conquer, and then defend, the newly gained territories. 2 The land was the means by which the money was earned for the empire.
Though the Romans did not have the advantage of superior weaponry, or anything different from their enemies for that matter, they were capable of beating armies much larger than themselves. As the empire expanded, roads and aqueducts were constructed that allowed the empire to be united despite the large territory. In fact, some of these original roadways are still in use today. 2
As the Roman Empire continued to expand through additional conquered lands, they were able to maintain the stronghold by having adequate military on the boundaries of the empire, thus holding back the Barbarians who sought to encroach upon the empire. The Germans were always looking for a “way in.”
Another factor that contributed to the success of the Roman Empire were the “ideas of justice” they initiated. These ideas of justice had already been formed into basic laws, which governed the entire empire, by 451 B.C. These laws lay “down what one could and could not do.” 2 These self-same laws were written on 12 plates of bronze. Today they are known as the Twelve Tables, and are the “first examples of written law.”
The demise of the Roman Empire was greatly impacted by the greed, excessive spending, and over-taxation of the people by some of the latter emperors. By the time that Commodus was assassinated, the imperial coffers were empty. Other emperors, such as Caligula, wasted vast amounts of money on parties for the wealthy where food and drink was consumed to the point of vomiting.