Have other nations copied the Roman legion?

Did the Romans "copy" their political system from the Greeks?

The Greco-Roman world is a unique example of intertwined cultures. The geographical and historical proximity of the two civilizations is so great that it is often impossible to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. In the broadest sense, it would not be inaccurate to say that the Roman political system was heavily influenced by the various political systems of the Greek world, after all, the peak of the Greek world is earlier than the peak of the Romans, it is only natural that the Romans would benefit from the political philosophy of the Greeks.

Livy's story may very well be apocryphal, separated by four centuries from the events he describes, and states in the foreword to Ab Urbe Condita:

I do not wish to confirm or refute such traditions, which date back to before the city was founded, or rather should be founded now, and which are adorned with poetic legends rather than based on trustworthy historical evidence. It is the privilege of antiquity to mix divine things with human beings and thus give dignity to the beginnings of cities; and if a people should be allowed to consecrate their origins and to refer them to a divine source, so great is the military glory of the Roman people that if they profess that their father and the father of their founder are none other when Mars was, the nations of the earth can submit to it with as good grace as they submit to Rome's rule.

Source: The History of Rome, Book 1, Foreword, translated by Benjamin Oliver Foster

Still, Livy is not the only historian to claim Greek influences on the Roman political system. Both Polybius' stories and CicerosDe re publica, our main sources for the Roman constitution, contain numerous references to Greek influences. Polybius, an Arcadian who spent part of his life in Rome, is a much earlier source than Cicero and Livius, who were close to contemporaries. Book IV of his stories is an examination of the Roman constitution with direct comparisons to various Greek constitutions, and in it we find an assertion that the Roman constitution was very similar to the Spartan:

However, Lycurgus established his constitution without the discipline of adversity, because in the light of reason he could foresee the course of events and the source from which they came. Although the Romans came to the same conclusion in shaping their community, they did so not through abstract reasoning, but through many struggles and difficulties, and through the continuous adoption of reforms from knowledge gained in a disaster. The result was a constitution like that of Lycurgus and the best of all that existed in my time ...

Source: Histories 6.10, Polybius, translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburg.

Cicero goes one step further:

Lycurgus in Sparta, formed under the name of Geronts or Senators, a small council of only twenty-eight members; to these he assigned the highest legislative power, while the king held the highest dominant authority. Our Romans, who followed his example and translated his terms, titled those whom he had called Geronts senators, which, as we have said, was done by Romulus in relation to the chosen patricians. In this constitution, however, the power, influence, and name of the king will continue to be paramount. While you can hand out a show of force to the people, you kindle them with a thirst for freedom by allowing them even the slightest taste of their sweetness, and yet their hearts will be alarmed lest their king not, as it often should become unfair. The prosperity of the people can therefore hardly be better than fragile when placed at the disposal of an absolute monarch and subjected to his will and whims.

Source: The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Consisting of his Treatise on the Commonwealth;and his treatise on the laws.Translated by Francis Barham.

De re publica is excellent read. I strongly recommend that you read the full text. For the sake of completeness, here's another quote that I think is a nice answer to your question:

On the contrary, our Roman constitution did not spring from the genius of one individual but of many; and it was not founded in a person's lifetime, but over centuries and centuries. Because (he added) there has never been a genius so great and comprehensive that it could not escape his attention, and all the geniuses of the world united in a single mind could never be within the confines of a single life exercise a gene foresight sufficiently extensive to encompass and harmonize all without the aid of experience and practice.

Ironically, the fact that the Romans were open to integrating ideas from other cultures is also one of the distinguishing features that separate them from the politics of classical Greece. The Roman policy of acculturation, integration, and assimilation was an extremely important factor in maintaining their diverse empire, which was not really necessary for the Greek city-states. We can only speculate, but I think you will agree that someone who lived in the 5th century B.C. Proposed to offer citizenship to political allies in the Athens Assembly would, at best, be laughed at.

Back to Livy: There are three notable flaws in his story of a Roman delegation in Athens:

  1. The similarities between the Law of the Twelve Tables and the Solonic Constitution are limited and inconclusive.
  2. The Roman delegation of Athenian writers is not mentioned.
  3. A Roman visitor to Athens in 451 BC. BCE would have found Athens amid a wave of political reform led by Pericles. Solon's constitution was nearly a century and a half old at the time and was undergoing its third major reform. Had the Romans actually visited Athens, they would have witnessed much more complicated proceedings than the Solonic Constitution.

A far more likely story is that through their contact with the Greek colonies in Magna Graecia, the Romans learned of Solon's laws and the various other political systems of Greece. The Greek presence in Italy predated the founding of Rome, and legend has it that the fifth king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, was of Corinthian descent. According to Livy, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus made significant changes to the Senate and doubled its membership to include the "smaller families":

Ancus ruled for four and twenty years, a king who was inferior to any of his predecessors in the arts of peace and war and in the reputation they conferred. At this point his sons were almost all grown up. Tarquinius therefore urged all the more urgently that the comitia should be held immediately in order to elect a king. When the meeting was called and the day drew near, he sent the boys on a hunting trip. Tarcuinius was the first to win votes for royalty and deliver a speech to win the favor of the Commons. He pointed out that it was; was nothing new he was looking for; He was not the first outsider to seek sovereignty in Rome - something that may have caused outrage and astonishment - but the third. Indeed, Tatius was not just an alien but an enemy when he was made king. while Numa was a stranger in the city, far from seeking kingship, he had indeed been invited to come and take it. He had hardly become his own master when he moved to Rome with his wife and all his belongings. For most of this period of men serving the state, he had lived in Rome, not the city of his birth. In both civil life and in war he had had no common instructor - King Ancus himself had taught him Roman laws and Roman rites. In submission and respect for the king he fought with all his listeners, he said; In generosity to his subjects, he had imitated the king himself. When the people heard him make these not unjustified claims, he named him king with a striking unanimity. The result was that the man so admirable in every other way, even after he had gained sovereignty, continued to manifest the same spirit of intrigue that had ruled him in his quest; and anxious no less to strengthen his own power than to enlarge the state, he added a hundred members to the Senate, who were henceforth known as the fathers of the "smaller families," and formed a party of unwavering loyalty to it King to whom they owed their admission to the Curia.

Source: The History of Rome, Book 1, Chapter 35, translated by Benjamin Oliver Foster

All that has been said, and while influences from the political systems of Greece are evident and reasonable throughout the history of Rome, it is extremely imprecise to say that the Romans derived their political system from the Greeks copied to have. At the core of Roman politics there is a unique dichotomy, the Senate and the people, exemplified by the Latin phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus, which became the symbol of Rome.

The phrase may be much later, but the political dichotomy has existed since the beginning of the Roman Republic and is incompatible with the direct democracy of the Athenians. In the broadest sense, the Roman political system sits somewhere between the Spartan oligarchy and Athenian democracy, influenced to some extent by both, but neither directly copied.

Felix Goldberg

Okay, but how do you envision this process in practice? The Senate was supposedly founded by Romulus in the 8th century BC. Founded in BC. That's a bit older than Lycurgus, I think. So did the Romans have a native blueprint and later improved it?

Felix Goldberg

Of course, I am aware that Romulus and Lycurgus are both somewhat mythical characters and may not have existed at all. Even so, the standard dates make sense for up to a century, don't they?


@FelixGoldberg I can't find any indication that the Senate is formed by Romulus, and even if he did, the Senate of a Kingdom would be very different from the Senate of a Republic. In any case, I'm in the process of expanding the answer. I was interrupted yesterday (network problems). I'll call you when I can post the full answer.

Felix Goldberg

Here is a note: "When he was satisfied with his strength, his next step was to see that that strength was wisely directed. He created a hundred senators; either because that number was appropriate or because there were only a hundred houses, In any case, they were called "fathers" because of their rank, and their descendants were called "patricians". "Section 1.8 in Livy, Book 1 (etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/) ...)