Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

light on the importance of external exigencies in shaping the political order of the city-state. Caesar's oration, as cited by Tacitus, deals also with internal relations, which are clearly marked by the growing participation of the periphery in the political center, and with the crucial development of the Roman political system which facilitated its transformation into an imperial one.

In the second section, several modern historical and sociological analyses of various political systems of different city-states and of processes of change in them are presented. Schachermeyr, in "The Genesis of the Greek Polis," describes the development of Greek society from its early beginnings as a tribal association to its formation of the polis. He shows how ecological concentration enhanced the tendencies of social equality in the social and political spheres. The whole process is analyzed in relation to external events during the formative centuries.

The selections from Aymard give a brief description of the major institutional spheres in the classical Greek city. Gomme's essay on "The Working of the Athenian Democracy" analyzes in detail the structure of the Greek political system and compares it to the Roman one. His article indicates that in Athens there developed relatively differentiated political institutions (the assembly, the archons, and others) with but little differentiation between center and periphery. For a long time the assembly had broad influences on the political decision making. In Athens, therefore, the development of specialized political roles was limited. Truly enough, the reforms of Solon and Keistenes tried to establish an effective representative council which would maintain the political rights of the citizens. But this council never developed into a full-fledged professional political executive. The frequent circulation of the incumbents' political roles prevented such a development and contributed to the weakness of Athenian democracy.

Becker's article on Florence covering the years 1282-1382 represents an analysis of the medieval city-state which formed an autonomous political system. In these cities there was a clear differentiation between the ruling oligarchy and the periphery. Yet, there was a constant impingement of the periphery on the center in the form of petitions. Becker shows also how the centralistic orientations were enhanced by external exigencies.

The selections from Vernadsky's History of Russia analyze the developments in early medieval Russia.


∥ a. THE CITY-STATES AS SEEN BY THEIR OWN HISTORIANS

21
From The Histories

Polybius


On the Forms of States

3. In the case of those Greek states which have often risen to greatness and have often experienced a complete change of fortune, it is an easy matter

both to describe their past and to pronounce as to their future. For there is no difficulty in reporting the known facts, and it is not hard to foretell the future by inference from the past. But about the Roman state it is neither at all easy to explain the present situation owing to the complicated character of the constitution, nor to foretell the future owing to our ignorance of the peculiar features of public and private life at Rome in the past. Particular attention

____________________
Reprinted from Polybius, The Histories, trans. W. R. Paton (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, n.d.), Book VI, Part II, pp. 271-293. Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Loeb Classical Library.

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