Through historical events, we can be taught that the power structure of the western civilization changed according to the needs of the people and the nation at that specific point of time and place. In the course of western civilization, there have been many forms of governments, rulers, and ruling systems such as democracy, monarchy, and feudalism, just to name a few. Historical specificity of power structures is evident in places like Ancient Athens, Pre-Augustan and Augustan Rome, and the Medieval Europe. Athens developed their political and institutional unit called polis, which started as an oligarchy hidden behind nominal democracy but was then taken over by short-lived tyranny. In 31B.C. to 14 A.D., Augustus formed a constitutional monarchy, promulgated to deal with civil wars and to the dissatisfaction of the people at that time. During his reign, this type of ruling system helped him established a strong and expanding Roman Empire. Furthermore, around 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D. in Medieval Europe, feudalism first appeared. It was first thought of that feudalism was the answer to the decentralization of the power in the state. However, feudalism made the nation vulnerable against invasions from Vikings and Magyars. In the essence, the power structures were the responses to the needs at the time.
In Athens during the late seventh century B.C. was a time of turmoil for the Athenians. Although the first law code embodied the idea of what democracy is, which meant that the law belongs to the citizens, unfortunately in reality was not so. Athens was mostly governed by aristocrats, and that meant these aristocrats got the best lands, interpreted imposed the laws, and met in assemblies to govern the polis. This caused economic mayhem for the poor peasants. These deprived peasants had to borrow money, and they had to put up their land or pledge himself or his family members as collaterals. In many times, due to the exorbitant fees pressed on these peasants, they end up unable to pay back the loan hence they were sold off as slaves. Furthermore, their land was confiscated and their annual yield was taken in for larger in percentages. The economic and social condition worsened by the Aristocrats rules therefore change was necessary.
In 546 B.C., Pisistratus who was an exiled aristocrat returned to Greece and became a tyrant in the Athenian polis. During Pisistratus’s rule, power of aristocrats declined since he showed supported and brought forth reforms the common people. Although a tyrant by name, Pisistratus actually promoted the idea of equality among Athenian men. By this change in structure of power, the polis prospered and became the beauty that was Greece before, but then threats were just looming around. After Pisistratus death, Hippias took over. Hippias was the emblem of a typical tyrant, who ruled harshly and extravagantly. Change was needed once again. Hippias was overthrown and in 508 B.C., an aristocrat named Cleisthenes came along with an idea that all Athenian citizens have voice and proper representation in the government. This was then was true democracy meant, and in it, he instituted ostracism, which is a system of public voting where a person who receives the most votes went into exile. The goal of it was to get rid of potentially dangerous politicians, such as Hippias. The form of government, the “Democracy” that Cleisthenes formed and its institution of ostracism were the keys in solving problem similar to that of menace posed by a tyrant like Hippias. A tyrant does not only abuse the economic and financial power of a country but it also divest it citizens of their pride and dignity. Athens certainly succeeded in its changes in power structure to fit its needs at the time, but not everyone has the same problem to solve. (McKay, 69-70).
In Rome, before Augustus came to power, there were serious political issues that had to be solved. The republic constitution met the needs of a simple city-state, but it was inadequate for the expanding Rome Empire. New administration had to be established and its growth had to be kept under control. A constitution set a series of checks and balances and ensures distinct separation of powers. In their political system, the most important magistrates were the two consuls, who together exercised executive authority in the form of an “imperium” or more popularly termed as “military command”. These consuls had to work with the senate, which was initially an advisory council of the ranking nobility, but grew in size and power over time. Also, war proceeds, mercantilism in the new provinces, and tax farming created new economic opportunities for the wealthy thus, forming a new class of merchants who were the equestrians. Senators became rich and greedy, repeatedly blocking land reforms and controlled violent gangs that intimidated the electorate through violence. On the other hand, Roman soldiers who were initially small-scale farmers and are away from home long enough to maintain their land, started to rely on slaves. This method therefore increases the need for slaves and at the same time brought about higher purchasing powers by these soldiers who earn from both their farms and at the same time as soldiers in war. This also encourages more free trade which unfortunately includes slaves.
As time passed; these soldiers and the general public at that became dissatisfied and discontented with the system. The military reforms of Gaius Marius resulted in soldiers often having more loyalty to their commander than to the city and to the State itself, therefore a powerful military general could take over the city through a coup d’état and hold the Senate in ransom. The Roman army was controlled by the willing and powerful general at the late republic and they were loyal to the general. Rome had to be kept under control
Before Augustus, the loyalty of the Roman legions was more on the generals that led them rather than on the State. Gaius Marius, whose most influential changes in the Roman Army was called the Marian Reforms. After being elected as a consul, he directed massive army reforms in order to attract more to join the army. He did this in order to assure protection of the Romans against ant barbaric invasions. Marius loosened up the recruitment policy and the provision of numerous benefits to the soldiers. Soldiers were drawn to it since it allowed a partition of the land that they were able to conquer, wherein they can start their permanent settlements. This not only encouraged the soldiers of the Roman Army but also this played a very important role in Romanizing nearby areas yet to be under the Roman rule, therefore lessening the chance of further revolts. Most importantly, the growing number of Roman Army ensured success in battles. The luxury and benefits provided by the Marian Reforms in the Roman tightened up the loyalty of the legion to whoever that was who handled them and led them to battle. The developed a mentality that the General who piloted them towards numerous victory and have provided pieces of lands to them deserved to be followed and rather than the State. Thus the conflict begins here. Any strong General who manages to bring forth victory and more territories to the State and allot lands for the soldiers can easily take over the whole Roman Empire. Therefore it was not surprising that following Gaius Marius the next prominent person to rise into power was a tough general and commander who directed conquests, Julius Caesar.
Civil wars were serious issue as well, and even though Julius Caesar held complete control during his reign, he gained massive dissatisfaction from the people for his tyrannical nature. The accumulation of discontent eventually ended up with Caesar’s assassination, and this created yet another civil conflict. Plunged in chaos and massive discontent, Rome needed someone who could solve all these problems and bring forth tangible and possible lasting changes and Augustus was the one. Augustus’s reign marked the era of the historic Pax Romana, which meant period of security, expanding economy, and order. He not only held control over the vast territory, but he expanded Rome into a Roman Empire. He ended civil war and brought peace to the people. Horace wrote, “As long as Caesar is the guardian of the state, neither civil dissension nor violence shall banish peace, nor wrath that forges swords and brings discord and misery to cities (Horace, 84).” The peace also “brought back fertile crops to the fields (Horace, 84).” In Horace’s citation, it is clear that the people of Rome were supportive of the power structure in which a Caesar or an Emperor is given the power to rule over the whole Roman Empire. In this case, Augustus ruled under Constitutional monarchy, wherein he hid his true intentions of tyranny under title princeps, and by writing an autobiography stating that he was elected or people united agreed upon his positions in government and that he was not self selecting (Augustus, 88). In the end, all the social, economic, and political turmoil called for the change in the power structure, and Augustus was the man to deliver it to his people. He restored peace after 100 years of civil war, maintained an honest government and extended the Roman Empire. The unification of Rome brought prosperity back to its cities. Augustus’ great influence to Rome started a lineage of monarchy in which the emperor assumes almost absolute power, retaining only a pretense of the Republican form of government.
During the Pax Romana, after Augustus’s death, things weren’t how it used to be. Except for the five good emperors, all other emperors caused civil wars, dissatisfaction from people, barbaric invasions, economic downfall, complete monarchy, and the breakdown of the empire. Tacitus who lived after Augustus’s reign complained how the “constitution had been transformed, and that there was nothing at all left of the good old way of life [the republic life] (Tacitus, 87). He also complained that it was complete a monarchy and that people were fools for not being courageous enough to stand up against him. Tacitus’s complaint can be looked upon as the reflection of his time’s instability. Even though this may counter my argument of change in the power structure due to the needs of the time, it may not be so. Every state goes through problems and change occurs to fix those problems. The cases I have covered showed how each generations and political system solved the problems rather quickly, but also in these cases, the problems last for two centuries with an exception of five good emperors. We can interpret this as the transition from instability to stability wherein it just took Roman Empire longer time to change to fit the needs of the time.
Even though, Roman Empire seemed to have settled to its stable state, it did not last forever. After the division of the Roman Empire, Medieval period came along with Charlemagne, the king of France in the 8th century. He reunited Western Europe for the first time after the Roman reign but he had complete control over the empire. The problem was created when Charlemagne left his throne to Louis the Pious, who also passed away soon after. After which, the three sons of Louis agreed to the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the empire into three parts. Civil conflicts rose from this division of land, and that made the state vulnerable to invasions from the Vikings and the Magyars. These invasions in return made the state’s power decentralized at the local level. From this, the system called feudalism came to being. Feudalism is both an agricultural and a political system where vassals swore his loyalty to the lord and in return for the vassal’s loyalty, aid, and military assistance are thus given, aside from that the lord promised him protection and material support. Along with feudalism came manorialism in the rural area. Manorialism was a simpler system where farmers got protection from invasions by the soldier-lords and in return these lords were provided with manual labor by the farmers. These two systems worked together effectively since farmers’ labors created wealth for the lords, who then used that money to support their vassals. Looking at the locations of the castles built during reign of William the Conqueror, these castles were built around the borders of the country to protect themselves from the invasions and it proves that powers were localized at the time (Source 4, 133). In addition, view of the Harlech Castle built by Edward it shows us that it was built not as fancy architecture, but as a means of protection from invasions (Source3, 132). Feudalism solved common communal problems at the time, but feudalism itself created new predicaments.
Feudalism became a struggle for power between the nobles and the knights who were fighting among themselves. Furthermore, additional problems came with progenitor, where only the first son received inheritance. This left all the other sons in the streets with nothing but themselves. These sons then became scoundrels and thieves, and more often brought more disagreements among them.
This birth of feudalism in the eighth century France offered the richer landowners security even in the absence of laws and specific order. Through concession, proprietors who were then mostly soldiers gained substantial government power to rule over their lands under the basis of legal arrangements with other local landowners thus forming militias used for defense of their territory. In its basic cases, feudalism swathed the monarchy gaining political support and protection through these feuds run by soldiers themselves. Feudalism developed a certain code of laws, and this system of governance broadens throughout Europe and played a very dominant role in its history.
With the emergence of a new civil divergence together with outside incursion, another power structure must be adapted to solve this problem, and it came from Pope Urban II. The eastern parts of Europe have been conquered by invading Turks and Muslims. This situation called for an order by Pope Urban II to create a crusade of men that will aid in recapturing the Christian lands. He had secular power along with religious powers and influence, and he created a military campaign named Crusade. Crusade began as a military campaign to reclaim the Christian lands especially the holy land, to support other Christians, and to eliminate Muslim presence from Western Europe. Pope Urban II stated that “On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends.” Therefore, almost all men, whether rich or poor, become knights of the Crusade. In return, he offered indulgence, which was free ticket to salvation. Furthermore “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.” He not only removed all the trouble makers out of the state, the crusade in later campaigns proved to be economically successful. France succeeded in its changes in power structures as well due to the needs of the time. Through my evidence, I have shown that every problem is solved in later time, and we can conclude that at the time of long struggle, it is just a transition state wherein rulers must constantly seek answers and study every situation and put forth a strong plan for the State
Conclusively, from evidences through historical events, there have always been shifts in power structures that have been adapted to the needs of the time. Athens changed its governing system to solve the problems of oligarchy and tyranny. Augustus solved its problems by Constitutional monarchy, and last of all, France solved its first invasion problem through feudalism and manorialism, and then solved problems created by these systems through entrance of Pope’s power with his Crusade. Some states might take longer time to make that change and some take shorter time, but in the end, needs and distinct situations of the time cause changes in the power structures and applications.