Deliberation and Involvement in the Roman Republic: An Oligarchy Disguised as Democracy

Special Report: Participating in History
By Dominique Hiebel

Notions of participatory and deliberative democracy were unknown to the Romans. However, the Roman republican elite paid great attention to the question of popular participation. They were also able to create mechanisms echoing the solutions currently proposed as remedies to the crisis of the representative system. Rome also devoted space to discussing public affairs: a popular assembly, the contio, constituted a place exclusively consecrated to formal debate. Through the study of institutionalized procedures of communication that took place in contione, we might question how Roman institutions functioned in light of contemporary notions of participatory and deliberative democracy. We will try to determine whether the contio was actually a place of open debate, in order to see if citizens were dynamic actors in the political game, or, on the contrary, whether such a view is too optimistic.


  • participatory democracy deliberation
  • Roman republican institutions
  • contio
  • decision
  • popular assemblies
Go to the article on