A period of tyranny came to an end in Athens in 510 BC when the tyrant Hippias was expelled. The last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, was overthrown in 509 BC and the Roman Republic was born. What strikes me as odd is that these very similar — albeit not identical — events transpired almost simultaneously in Athens and Rome.

Was this simultaneity observed in antiquity? If yes, what did people think about it? I can well imagine that (1) the simultaneity was not known, possibly due to dating differences, (2) it was considered faith or divine intervention that the events were so simultaneous, or that (3) someone considered Roman history to have been "adjusted" so that the more mythological past coincides better with Greek history.

I realize that this a history question to a large extent, but I am mainly asking for ancient views on the matter attested in extant literature. I am not opposed to the sharing of any historical insights, but I want to keep the main discussion on-topic. I know that the two systems were not exactly alike, but the two events did bear some similarity in meaning.

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    I think it's important to keep in mind any date given by Roman historians that predates ~390 BCE, when Brennus destroyed most of Rome's historical records, is likely to be made up by Varro.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 13:20
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    @Cairnarvon Good point! And years weren't named with global and consistent numbers like today, so it might be hard to observe any simultaneity. Perhaps we should have a separate question: "What is the earliest pair of events (that are not causally connected) in the ancient world whose simultaneity was observed by the ancient Romans or Greeks?"
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


It has to be noted that Republic (Res publica / Public affair), and Democracy (Δημοκρατία, Δῆμος + Κράτος / People Power) are not the same thing.

A republic can be an oligarchy (or anything else) and still cater for public affairs, but a democracy is a system that is controlled and exercised by the people themselves. In fact the ancient Greek word equivalent to Republic is Πολιτεία (related to Πόλις / City and closely related to the meaning of Civitas as in the rights of a citizen). As such, although there may have been discussion on the similarities and differences of one to the other, these were never regarded to be the same concept.

Of the ancients, Plato (Plato's Republic) and Aristotle (Politics and Constitution of the Athenians) are the two main important Greek figures examining these issues, Plato on the ideal republic, and Aristotle on a cross comparison of all types of goverment. From Romans, Cicero is the one that translated Πολιτεία to Res Publica (in De re publica) also examined the differences of the Roman state to the concepts discussed by Plato and Aristotle.

The meaning of republic as it is today, comes from the Rennaisance Italian states of Venice and Genoa where although they based their states on the Roman Res Publica, the meaning gradually shifted to signify a non-oligarchical/monarchical state (Republica leading to today's Republic, a type of 'representative democracy' of sorts).


In case it's not made clear, there was no simultaineity of democracy in Athens and Rome, hence there was no simultaneity of democracy observed in antiquity. There was a coincidental removal of a king in Rome and a tyrant in Athens by a difference of 1 year but these were different events that ended up with different outcomes, and the abolishment of monarchy does not constitute democracy, there isn't a one person one vote system in place as Paul Cartledge eloquently describes in https://classicsforall.org.uk/reading-room/ad-familiares/democracy-ancient-vs-modern. The impression that both of these were democracies is based on an understanding of Res Publica as a modern Republic (and even a modern Republic is not the same as what the Athenian democracy was), something which is false (e.g. even the Roman Empire was being called Res Publica and certainly having an emperor does not qualify as having a democracy).

If there are similarities to look at these would be between Sparta and Rome, e.g. 2 kings and 2 consuls, gerousia and a senate, ephors and the magistrates, but this goes beyond the scope of the question.

  • Thanks! This is a useful remark, but the question was about simultaneity. Can you comment on that too?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 6:22
  • The question is titled The simultaneity of democracy in Athens and Rome; in the answer I explain why there is no such thing, democracy was purely an Athenian phaenomenon. I've updated my answer to make it clearer, plus added a brief lead to Sparta if one is to look for similarities (of Res Publica, not democracy).
    – gts
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 8:50
  • I know that the two systems of government were different. My point was that Rome and Athens experienced major events of similar nature at almost the same time. The title of the question had to be simplified (and I hope you read below it too), and the main question is not about comparing the two systems but: Was the simultaneity of the two events observed in antiquity?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 10:11
  • Right, I see... I did read the main body of your question as well and not just the title, that is why I spent some time to reply to it. But when speaking of simultaneity and have a question titled about the simultaneity of democracy in Athens and Rome then I don't how else simultaneity can be meant as per your question and why you would expect something different, even more so especially as you say that you know what the difference is as per your above comment. If it wasn't what you're looking for, perhaps it will be for other people reading so all is not for nothing.
    – gts
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 11:13
  • I believe that the problem still remains even after editing your question latin.stackexchange.com/posts/4869/revisions along with your latest comment on whether the body of your question is being read.
    – gts
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 11:18

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