- See History of Parliamentarism
Since ancient times, when societies were tribal, there were councils or a headman whose decisions were assessed by village elders. This is called tribalism. Some scholars suggest that in ancient Mesopotamia there was a primitive democratic government where the kings were assessed by council. The same has been said about ancient India, where some form of deliberative assemblies existed, and therefore there was some form of democracy. However, these claims are not accepted by most scholars, who see these forms of government as oligarchies.
Ancient Athens was the cradle of democracy. The Athenian assembly (ἐκκλησία ekklesia) was the most important institution, and every citizen could take part in the discussions. However, Athenian democracy was not representative, but rather direct, and therefore the ekklesia was different from the parliamentary system.
The Roman republic had legislative assemblies, who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new statutes, the carrying out of capital punishment, the declaration of war and peace, and the creation (or dissolution) of alliances. The Roman Senate controlled money, administration, and the details of foreign policy.
Some Muslim scholars argue that the Islamic shura (a method of taking decisions in Islamic societies) is analogous to the parliament. However, many others disagree, highlighting some fundamental differences between the shura system and the parliamentary system.
In Anglo-Saxon England, the Witenagamot was an important political institution. The name derives from the Old English ƿitena ȝemōt, or witena gemōt, for "meeting of wise men". The first recorded act of a witenagemot was the law code issued by King Æthelberht of Kent ca. 600, the earliest document which survives in sustained Old English prose; however, the witan was certainly in existence long before this time. The Witan, along with the folkmoots(local assemblies), is an important ancestor of the modern English parliament.
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“The only justification for repressive institutions is material and cultural deficit. But such institutions, at certain stages of history, perpetuate and produce such a deficit, and even threaten human survival.”
—Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)