The King and His People


Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and 

Medieval Traditions As They Shaped Europe Coming out of the Dark Ages, several cultures began to shape Western Europe. Greece, Rome, and Byzantium helped shape the traditions of medieval Europe. Each culture developed different political systems that defined the source of the ruler's authority and the role of the "citizen". From city-states to tyrant controlling feudal empires, the Western tradition developed a concept of political sovereignty. In Greece there was a different kind of development taking place from the resource rich valley and plain civilizations. Because of the mountain chains, Greece was divided into pockets of agricultural regions. There was no center of farming so consequently there was no looking to a central political stronghold. The people settled into isolated villages, called pollises, that proved to be fiercely independent. As society became land dependent, classes emerged. Those owning the most land were the nobles. Status also depended on the constant wars between the pollises, or city-states. A warrior had to supply his own needs. The armies were made up of calvery; therefore the soldier had to have enough land to support a horse. There was a need for constant military leadership, so the nobles elected a magistrate to rule for as long it was needed. Greece was so small; it was quickly over populated. Sailors and colonists moved to the Mediterranean and changed the economy with trade and the exchange of new cultural traditions. Another major change was the switch from a solely horse carried army to one made up of foot soldiers, called hoplites. This gave some of the noble power to the farmers who could arm themselves without the need for a horse. They became citizens. The combination of these economic and military changes really reshaped the government of Greece. When the upper class held all the power the government was considered an aristocratic oligarchy. With the expansion of the economy and the spreading of power some regions fell under the reign of dictators. Greek governments were often split between the democratic ideal of the common man, the citizen, and the military need for a strong leader. During the decline of Greece there was a rise in the dictatorships and the common citizens lost more and more say in gov! ernment. Popular sovereignty gave way to tyranny and finally Greece gave way to Rome. Greece ignored the rising power of Rome and soon fell into their powerful republic. Rome was founded as a city-state that compared to the Greeks before them. There was a king that held sovereign power, restrained only by the council of aristocrats and a popular assembly that had power to approve or disapprove legislation. Then the monarchy was abolished, and the patricians became the dominant element in society. The difference was that Greece was a direct democracy and Rome was a representative one. The common people, plebeians, elected someone to vote for them. The Assembly was made up of the common representatives and the Senate was of the patricians. A tribune was elected by the Assembly to assure that the Senate still acted for the good of the commoners. The consul was the king-like figure elected by the Senate to rule by popular sovereignty. This period in Roman history was known as the Republic. The democratic traditions of the Republic began to fade as a military leader was needed to control a larger a larger country. The government kept the same structure in name, but there was an increasing amount of power granted to the consul. Eventually he became the king who ruled the Empire of Rome. With the introduction of the "Pontifix Maximus", kings were leaders of the church and state. They were seen as divine rulers, even gods, that were granted their power from above. Constantine is the first Christian emperor and it is after his reign that Rome begins to decline. The factors that influenced the fall of Rome were the impossible task of keeping such a huge empire centralized, the economy begins to fail, and foreign invasions complete the destruction from without what was weakened from within. Byzantium was founded as an empire and remained such for the 1,000 years of its existence. It was protected by land and by sea and held out during the foreign invasions that destroyed Rome. Although the size of the Byzantine Empire was reduced, it remained strong under their kings and very homogeneous. It had lost the diverse racial, cultural, and religious elements of the eastern and western provinces, and the remaining culture was Greek. The power of the Emperor was seen as equal to that of the apostles. They elected the patriarch, or church leader. The leaders in the church (Christian) had to agree that the candidate patriarch was worthy of the post. In the installation ceremony the patriarch was chosen "by will of God and the Emperor." In conclusion, Byzantium during these centuries was stable, powerful, wealthy, self-satisfying, and inward-looking. Finally there was the dawn of the Medieval ages. In the High Middle Ages the Roman Empire has collapsed and the weak monarchs looked to the church for guidance. The Pope centralized the power under the feudal system. The king separated the land into fiefs for the noble lords as payment for military power. These lords gave fiefs to vassals who fought and raised crops through the slavery of serfs. During this period, the church has gained much power and wealth through the taxation on papal lands and their cathedrals show this. A new pointed arch and the use of flying buttresses enables them to expand in awesome wonder. After the 1300s, this all falls apart. The power of the church declines with the power of the state rising. The rebirth of popular sovereignty is apparent with the signing of the Magna Carta in England. This "Great Charter" was an early constitution that granted nobles certain rights. One new idea was the institution of the Parliament. With the Great Schism, there is an establishment of three Papacies in Europe. This originates in the issue of taxation of church property, and one king kicking the Roman Pope out and establishing a papacy in Avignon. By the beginning of the Renaissance, the church is nearly powerless and the desolving of feudalism causes political tension. With the "rebirth" of a new age many changes will sweep Europe and the war between church, king, and people will continue to rage. 

Quotes: Search by Author