Athenian democracy

Athenian democracy developed around the sixth century BC in the Greek city-state (known as a polis) of Athens, comprising the city of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, and is often described as the first known democracy in the world. Other Greek cities set up democracies, most following the Athenian model, but none are as well documented as Athens'.

Athens practiced a political system of legislation and executive bills. Participation was not open to all residents, but was instead limited to adult, male citizens (i.e., not a foreign resident, a slave, or a woman), who "were probably no more than 30 percent of the total adult population".[1]

Solon (594 BC), Cleisthenes (508/7 BC), and Ephialtes (462 BC) contributed to the development of Athenian democracy. Cleisthenes broke up the power of the nobility by organizing citizens into ten groups based on where they lived, rather than on their wealth. The longest-lasting democratic leader was Pericles. After his death, Athenian democracy was twice briefly interrupted by oligarchic revolutions towards the end of the Peloponnesian War. It was modified somewhat after it was restored under Eucleides; the most detailed accounts of the system are of this fourth-century modification, rather than the Periclean system. Democracy was suppressed by the Macedonians in 322 BC. The Athenian institutions were later revived, but how close they were to a real democracy is debatable.

Discurso funebre pericles
Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly.
Demos embodiment being crowned by Democracy. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens
The relief representation depicts the personified Demos being crowned by Democracy. About 336 BC. Ancient Agora Museum.

Etymology

The word "democracy" (Greek: δημοκρατία) combines the elements dêmos (δῆμος, which means "people") and krátos (κράτος, which means "force" or "power"), and thus means literally "people power". In the words "monarchy" and "oligarchy", the second element comes from archē (ἀρχή), meaning "beginning (that which comes first)", and hence also "first place or power", "sovereignty". One might expect the term "demarchy" to have been adopted, by analogy, for the new form of government introduced by Athenian democrats. However, the word "demarchy" (δημαρχία) had already been taken and meant "mayoralty", the office or rank of a high municipal magistrate. (In present-day use, the term "demarchy" has acquired a new meaning.)

It is unknown whether the word "democracy" was in existence when systems that came to be called democratic were first instituted. The word is attested in the works of Herodotus (Histories 6.43), who wrote some of the earliest surviving Greek prose, but this might not have been before 440 or 430 BC. Around 460 BC an individual is known with the name of Democrates,[2] a name possibly coined as a gesture of democratic loyalty; the name can also be found in Aeolian Temnus.[3]

History

Development

Athens was not the only polis in Ancient Greece that instituted a democratic regime. Aristotle points to other cities that adopted governments in the democratic style. However, accounts of the rise of democratic institutions are in reference to Athens, since only this city-state had sufficient historical records to speculate on the rise and nature of Greek democracy.[4]

Before the first attempt at democratic government, Athens was ruled by a series of archons or chief magistrates, and the Areopagus, made up of ex-archons. The members of these institutions were generally aristocrats who ruled the polis for their own advantage. In 621 BC, Draco codified a set of notoriously harsh laws designed to reinforce aristocratic power over the populace.[5] Still, a growing problem of aristocratic families feuding among themselves to obtain as much power as possible led to a point where most Athenians were subject to harsh treatment and enslavement by the rich and powerful. In the 6th century BC, the Athenian laboring class convinced Plato's ancestor Solon, premier archon at the time, to liberate them and halt the feuding of the aristocracy. What soon followed was a system of chattel slavery involving foreign slaves.[6] Solon then issued reforms that defined citizenship in a way that gave each free resident of Attica a political function: Athenian citizens had the right to participate in assembly meetings. By granting the formerly aristocratic role to every free citizen of Athens who owned property, Solon reshaped the social framework of the city-state. Under these reforms, a council of 400 members (with 100 citizens from each of Athens's four tribes) called the boule ran daily affairs and set the political agenda.[5] The Areopagus, which formerly took on this role, remained but subsequently carried on the role of "guardianship of the laws".[7] Another major contribution to democracy was Solon's setting up of an Ecclesia or Assembly, which was open to all male citizens.

Not long afterwards, the nascent democracy was overthrown by the tyrant Peisistratos, but was reinstated after the expulsion of his son, Hippias, in 510. Cleisthenes issued reforms in 508 and 507 BC that undermined the domination of the aristocratic families and connected every Athenian to the city's rule. Cleisthenes formally identified free inhabitants of Attica as citizens of Athens, which gave them power and a role in a sense of civic solidarity.[8] He did this by making the traditional tribes politically irrelevant and instituting ten new tribes, each made up of about three treaties, each consisting of several demes. Every male citizen over 18 had to be registered in his deme.[9]

The third set of reforms was instigated by Ephialtes in 462/1. While Ephialtes's opponents were away attempting to assist the Spartans, he persuaded the Assembly to reduce the powers of the Areopagus to a criminal court for cases of homicide and sacrilege. At the same time or soon afterwards, the membership of the Areopagus was extended to the lower level of the propertied citizenship.[10]

In the wake of Athens's disastrous defeat in the Sicilian campaign in 413 BC, a group of citizens took steps to limit the radical democracy they thought was leading the city to ruin. Their efforts, initially conducted through constitutional channels, culminated in the establishment of an oligarchy, the Council of 400, in the Athenian coup of 411 BC. The oligarchy endured for only four months before it was replaced by a more democratic government. Democratic regimes governed until Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404 BC, when government was placed in the hands of the so-called Thirty Tyrants, who were pro-Spartan oligarchs.[11] After a year pro-democracy elements regained control, and democratic forms persisted until the Macedonian army of Phillip II conquered Athens in 338 BC.[12]

Aftermath

Alexander the Great had led a coalition of the Greek states to war with Persia in 336 BC, but his Greek soldiers were hostages for the behavior of their states as much as allies. His relations with Athens were already strained when he returned to Babylon in 324 BC; after his death, Athens and Sparta led several Greek states to war with Macedon and lost.[13]

This led to the Hellenistic control of Athens, with the Macedonian king appointing a local agent as political governor in Athens. However, the governors, like Demetrius of Phalerum, appointed by Cassander, kept some of the traditional institutions in formal existence, although the Athenian public would consider them to be nothing more than Macedonian puppet dictators. Once Demetrius Poliorcetes ended Cassander's rule over Athens, Demetrius of Phalerum went into exile and the democracy was restored in 307 BC. However, by now Athens had become "politically impotent".[14] An example of this was that, in 307, in order to curry favour with Macedonia and Egypt, three new tribes were created, two in honour of the Macedonian king and his son, and the other in honour of the Egyptian king.

However, when Rome fought Macedonia in 200, the Athenians abolished the first two new tribes and created a twelfth tribe in honour of the Pergamene king. The Athenians declared for Rome, and in 146 BC Athens became an autonomous civitas foederata, able to manage internal affairs. This allowed Athens to practice the forms of democracy, though Rome ensured that the constitution strengthened the city's aristocracy.[15]

Under Roman rule, the archons ranked as the highest officials. They were elected, and even foreigners such as Domitian and Hadrian held the office as a mark of honour. Four presided over the judicial administration. The Council (whose numbers varied at different times from 300 to 750) was appointed by lot. It was superseded in importance by the Areopagus, which, recruited from the elected archons, had an aristocratic character and was entrusted with wide powers. From the time of Hadrian, an imperial curator superintended the finances. The shadow of the old constitution lingered on and Archons and Areopagus survived the fall of the Roman Empire.[15]

In 88 BC, there was a revolution under the philosopher Athenion, who, as tyrant, forced the Assembly to agree to elect whomever he might ask to office. Athenion allied with Mithridates of Pontus and went to war with Rome; he was killed during the war and was replaced by Aristion. The victorious Roman general, Publius Cornelius Sulla, left the Athenians their lives and did not sell them into slavery; he also restored the previous government, in 86 BC.[16]

After Rome became an Empire under Augustus, the nominal independence of Athens dissolved and its government converged to the normal type for a Roman municipality, with a Senate of decuriones.[17]

Participation and exclusion

Size and make-up of the Athenian population

Estimates of the population of ancient Athens vary. During the 4th century BC, there might well have been some 250,000–300,000 people in Attica.[1] Citizen families could have amounted to 100,000 people and out of these some 30,000 would have been the adult male citizens entitled to vote in the assembly. In the mid-5th century the number of adult male citizens was perhaps as high as 60,000, but this number fell precipitously during the Peloponnesian War.[18] This slump was permanent, due to the introduction of a stricter definition of citizen described below. From a modern perspective these figures may seem small, but among Greek city-states Athens was huge: most of the thousand or so Greek cities could only muster 1000–1500 adult male citizens each; and Corinth, a major power, had at most 15,000.[19]

The non-citizen component of the population was made up of resident foreigners (metics) and slaves, with the latter perhaps somewhat more numerous. Around 338 BC the orator Hyperides (fragment 13) claimed that there were 150,000 slaves in Attica, but this figure is probably no more than an impression: slaves outnumbered those of citizen stock but did not swamp them.[20]

Citizenship in Athens

Only adult male Athenian citizens who had completed their military training as ephebes had the right to vote in Athens. The percentage of the population that actually participated in the government was 10% to 20% of the total number of inhabitants, but this varied from the fifth to the fourth century BC.[18] This excluded a majority of the population: slaves, freed slaves, children, women and metics (foreigners resident in Athens).[21] The women had limited rights and privileges, had restricted movement in public, and were very segregated from the men.[22]

Also excluded from voting were citizens whose rights were under suspension (typically for failure to pay a debt to the city: see atimia); for some Athenians this amounted to permanent (and in fact inheritable) disqualification. Given the exclusive and ancestral concept of citizenship held by Greek city-states, a relatively large portion of the population took part in the government of Athens and of other radical democracies like it, compared to oligarchies and aristocracies.[18]

Some Athenian citizens were far more active than others, but the vast numbers required for the system to work testify to a breadth of direct participation among those eligible that greatly surpassed any present-day democracy.[18] Athenian citizens had to be descended from citizens; after the reforms of Pericles and Cimon in 450 BC, only those descended from two Athenian parents could claim citizenship.[23] Although the legislation was not retrospective, five years later, when a free gift of grain had arrived from the Egyptian king to be distributed among all citizens, many "illegitimate" citizens were removed from the registers.[24]

Citizenship applied to both individuals and their descendants. It could also be granted by the assembly and was sometimes given to large groups (e.g. Plateans in 427 BC and Samians in 405 BC). However, by the 4th century, citizenship was given only to individuals and by a special vote with a quorum of 6000. This was generally done as a reward for some service to the state. In the course of a century, the number of citizenships so granted was in the hundreds rather than thousands.[25]

Main bodies of governance

Constitution-of-the-Athenians-in-the-4th-century-BC
Constitution of the Athenians, 4th century BC

There were three political bodies where citizens gathered in numbers running into the hundreds or thousands. These are the assembly (in some cases with a quorum of 6000), the council of 500 (boule), and the courts (a minimum of 200 people, on some occasions up to 6,000). Of these three bodies, the assembly and the courts were the true sites of power – although courts, unlike the assembly, were never simply called the demos ('the people'), as they were manned by just those citizens over thirty. Crucially, citizens voting in both were not subject to review and prosecution, as were council members and all other officeholders.

In the 5th century BC there is often record of the assembly sitting as a court of judgment itself for trials of political importance and it is not a coincidence that 6,000 is the number both for the full quorum for the assembly and for the annual pool from which jurors were picked for particular trials. By the mid-4th century, however, the assembly's judicial functions were largely curtailed, though it always kept a role in the initiation of various kinds of political trial.

Ecclesia

The central events of the Athenian democracy were the meetings of the assembly (ἐκκλησία, ekklesía). Unlike a parliament, the assembly's members were not elected, but attended by right when they chose. Greek democracy created at Athens was direct, rather than representative: any adult male citizen over the age of 20 could take part,[26] and it was a duty to do so. The officials of the democracy were in part elected by the Assembly and in large part chosen by lottery in a process called sortition.

The assembly had four main functions: it made executive pronouncements (decrees, such as deciding to go to war or granting citizenship to a foreigner), elected some officials, legislated, and tried political crimes. As the system evolved, the last function was shifted to the law courts. The standard format was that of speakers making speeches for and against a position, followed by a general vote (usually by show of hands) of yes or no.

Though there might be blocs of opinion, sometimes enduring, on important matters, there were no political parties and likewise no government or opposition (as in the Westminster system). Voting was by simple majority. In the 5th century at least, there were scarcely any limits on the power exercised by the assembly. If the assembly broke the law, the only thing that might happen is that it would punish those who had made the proposal that it had agreed to. If a mistake had been made, from the assembly's viewpoint it could only be because it had been misled.[27]

As usual in ancient democracies, one had to physically attend a gathering in order to vote. Military service or simple distance prevented the exercise of citizenship. Voting was usually by show of hands (χειροτονία, kheirotonia, 'arm stretching') with officials judging the outcome by sight. This could cause problems when it became too dark to see properly. However, any member could demand that officials issue a recount.[28] For a small category of votes, a quorum of 6,000 was required, principally grants of citizenship, and here small coloured stones were used, white for yes and black for no. At the end of the session, each voter tossed one of these into a large clay jar which was afterwards cracked open for the counting of the ballots. Ostracism required the voters to scratch names onto pieces of broken pottery (ὄστρακα, ostraka), though this did not occur within the assembly as such.

Pnyx-berg2
The Pnyx with the speaker's platform, the meeting place of the people of Athens.

In the 5th century BC, there were 10 fixed assembly meetings per year, one in each of the ten state months, with other meetings called as needed. In the following century, the meetings were set to forty a year, with four in each state month. One of these was now called the main meeting, kyria ekklesia. Additional meetings might still be called, especially as up until 355 BC there were still political trials that were conducted in the assembly, rather than in court. The assembly meetings did not occur at fixed intervals, as they had to avoid clashing with the annual festivals that followed the lunar calendar. There was also a tendency for the four meetings to be aggregated toward the end of each state month.[29]

Attendance at the assembly was not always voluntary. In the 5th century, public slaves forming a cordon with a red-stained rope herded citizens from the agora into the assembly meeting place (Pnyx), with a fine being imposed on those who got the red on their clothes.[30] After the restoration of the democracy in 403 BC, pay for assembly attendance was introduced. This promoted a new enthusiasm for assembly meetings. Only the first 6,000 to arrive were admitted and paid, with the red rope now used to keep latecomers at bay.[31]

The Boule

In 594 BC, Solon is said to have created a boule of 400 to guide the work of the assembly.[32] After the reforms of Cleisthenes, the Athenian Boule was expanded to 500 and was elected by lot every year. Each of Cleisthenes's 10 tribes provided 50 councillors who were at least 30 years old. The Boule's roles in public affairs included finance, maintaining the military's cavalry and fleet of ships, advising the generals, approving of newly elected magistrates, and receiving ambassadors. Most importantly, the Boule would draft probouleumata, or deliberations for the Ecclessia to discuss and approve on. During emergencies, the Ecclesia would also grant special temporary powers to the Boule.[33]

Cleisthenes restricted the Boule's membership to those of zeugitai status (and above), presumably because these classes' financial interests gave them an incentive towards effective governance. A member had to be approved by his deme, each of which would have an incentive to select those with experience in local politics and the greatest likelihood at effective participation in government.[34]

The members from each of the ten tribes in the Boule took it in turns to act as a standing committee (the prytaneis) of the Boule for a period of thirty-six days. All fifty members of the prytaneis on duty were housed and fed in the tholos of the Prytaneion, a building adjacent to the bouleuterion, where the boule met. A chairman for each tribe was chosen by lot each day, who was required to stay in the tholos for the next 24 hours, presiding over meetings of the Boule and Assembly.[35]

The boule also served as an executive committee for the assembly, and oversaw the activities of certain other magistrates. The boule coordinated the activities of the various boards and magistrates that carried out the administrative functions of Athens and provided from its own membership randomly selected boards of ten responsible for areas ranging from naval affairs to religious observances.[36] Altogether, the boule was responsible for a great portion of the administration of the state, but was granted relatively little latitude for initiative; the boule's control over policy was executed in its probouleutic, rather than its executive function; in the former, it prepared measures for deliberation by the assembly, in the latter, it merely executed the wishes of the assembly.[37]

Courts

Athens had an elaborate legal system centered on full citizen rights (see atimia). The age limit of 30 or older, the same as that for office holders but ten years older than that required for participation in the assembly, gave the courts a certain standing in relation to the assembly. Jurors were required to be under oath, which was not required for attendance at the assembly. The authority exercised by the courts had the same basis as that of the assembly: both were regarded as expressing the direct will of the people. Unlike office holders (magistrates), who could be impeached and prosecuted for misconduct, the jurors could not be censured, for they, in effect, were the people and no authority could be higher than that. A corollary of this was that, at least acclaimed by defendants, if a court had made an unjust decision, it must have been because it had been misled by a litigant.[38]

Essentially there were two grades of suit, a smaller kind known as dike (δίκη) or private suit, and a larger kind known as graphe or public suit. For private suits the minimum jury size was 200 (increased to 401 if a sum of over 1000 drachmas was at issue), for public suits 501. Under Cleisthenes's reforms, juries were selected by lot from a panel of 600 jurors, there being 600 jurors from each of the ten tribes of Athens, making a jury pool of 6000 in total.[39] For particularly important public suits the jury could be increased by adding in extra allotments of 500. 1000 and 1500 are regularly encountered as jury sizes and on at least one occasion, the first time a new kind of case was brought to court (see graphē paranómōn), all 6,000 members of the jury pool may have attended to one case.[40]

Water Clock in Ancient Agora of Athens
Water Clock in the Ancient Agora of Athens.

The cases were put by the litigants themselves in the form of an exchange of single speeches timed by a water clock or clepsydra, first prosecutor then defendant. In a public suit the litigants each had three hours to speak, much less in private suits (though here it was in proportion to the amount of money at stake). Decisions were made by voting without any time set aside for deliberation. Jurors did talk informally amongst themselves during the voting procedure and juries could be rowdy, shouting out their disapproval or disbelief of things said by the litigants. This may have had some role in building a consensus. The jury could only cast a 'yes' or 'no' vote as to the guilt and sentence of the defendant. For private suits only the victims or their families could prosecute, while for public suits anyone (ho boulomenos, 'whoever wants to' i.e. any citizen with full citizen rights) could bring a case since the issues in these major suits were regarded as affecting the community as a whole.

Justice was rapid: a case could last no longer than one day and had to be completed by the time the sun set.[41] Some convictions triggered an automatic penalty, but where this was not the case the two litigants each proposed a penalty for the convicted defendant and the jury chose between them in a further vote.[42] No appeal was possible. There was however a mechanism for prosecuting the witnesses of a successful prosecutor, which it appears could lead to the undoing of the earlier verdict.

Payment for jurors was introduced around 462 BC and is ascribed to Pericles, a feature described by Aristotle as fundamental to radical democracy (Politics 1294a37). Pay was raised from 2 to 3 obols by Cleon early in the Peloponnesian war and there it stayed; the original amount is not known. Notably, this was introduced more than fifty years before payment for attendance at assembly meetings. Running the courts was one of the major expenses of the Athenian state and there were moments of financial crisis in the 4th century when the courts, at least for private suits, had to be suspended.[43]

The system showed a marked anti-professionalism. No judges presided over the courts, nor did anyone give legal direction to the jurors. Magistrates had only an administrative function and were laymen. Most of the annual magistracies in Athens could only be held once in a lifetime. There were no lawyers as such; litigants acted solely in their capacity as citizens. Whatever professionalism there was tended to disguise itself; it was possible to pay for the services of a speechwriter or logographer (logographos), but this may not have been advertised in court. Jurors would likely be more impressed if it seemed as though litigants were speaking for themselves.[44]

Shifting balance between assembly and courts

As the system evolved, the courts (that is, citizens under another guise) intruded upon the power of the assembly. Starting in 355 BC, political trials were no longer held in the assembly, but only in a court. In 416 BC, the graphē paranómōn ('indictment against measures contrary to the laws') was introduced. Under this, anything passed or proposed by the assembly could be put on hold for review before a jury – which might annul it and perhaps punish the proposer as well.

Remarkably, it seems that blocking and then successfully reviewing a measure was enough to validate it without needing the assembly to vote on it. For example, two men have clashed in the assembly about a proposal put by one of them; it passes, and now the two of them go to court with the loser in the assembly prosecuting both the law and its proposer. The quantity of these suits was enormous. The courts became in effect a kind of upper house.

In the 5th century, there were no procedural differences between an executive decree and a law. They were both simply passed by the assembly. However, beginning in 403 BC, they were set sharply apart. Henceforth, laws were made not in the assembly, but by special panels of citizens drawn from the annual jury pool of 6,000. These were known as the nomothetai (νομοθέται, 'the lawmakers').[45]

Citizen-initiator

The institutions sketched above – assembly, officeholders, council, courts – are incomplete without the figure that drove the whole system, Ho boulomenos ('he who wishes', or 'anyone who wishes'). This expression encapsulated the right of citizens to take the initiative to stand to speak in the assembly, to initiate a public lawsuit (that is, one held to affect the political community as a whole), to propose a law before the lawmakers, or to approach the council with suggestions. Unlike officeholders, the citizen initiator was not voted on before taking up office or automatically reviewed after stepping down; these institutions had, after all, no set tenure and might be an action lasting only a moment. However, any stepping forward into the democratic limelight was risky. If another citizen initiator chose, a public figure could be called to account for their actions and punished. In situations involving a public figure, the initiator was referred to as a kategoros ('accuser'), a term also used in cases involving homicide, rather than ho diokon ('the one who pursues').[46]

Pericles, according to Thucydides, characterized the Athenians as being very well-informed on politics:

We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.[47]

The word idiot originally simply meant "private citizen"; in combination with its more recent meaning of "foolish person", this is sometimes used by modern commentators to demonstrate that the ancient Athenians considered those who did not participate in politics as foolish.[48][49][50] But the sense history of the word does not support this interpretation.[51][52]

Although, voters under Athenian democracy were allowed the same opportunity to voice their opinion and to sway the discussion, they were not always successful, and, often, the minority was forced to vote in favor of a motion that they did not agree with.[53]

Archons and the Areopagus

Just before the reforms of Solon in the 7th century BC, Athens was governed by a few archons (three, then later nine) and the council of the Areopagus, which was composed of members powerful noble families. While there seems to have also been a type of citizen assembly (presumably of the hoplite class), the archons and the body of the Areopagus ran the state and the mass of people had no say in government at all before these reforms.[54]

Solon's reforms allowed the archons to come from some of the higher propertied classes and not only from the aristocratic families. Since the Areopagus was made up of ex-archons, this would eventually mean the weakening of the hold of the nobles there as well. However, even with Solon's creation of the citizen's assembly, the Archons and Areopagus still wielded a great deal of power.[55]

The reforms of Cleisthenes meant that the archons were elected by the Assembly, but were still selected from the upper classes.[56] The Areopagus kept its power as 'Guardian of the Laws', which meant that it could veto actions it deemed unconstitutional, however this worked in practice.[57]

Ephialtes, and later Pericles, stripped the Areopagus of its role in supervising and controlling the other institutions, dramatically reducing its power. In the play The Eumenides, performed in 458, Aeschylus, himself a noble, portrays the Areopagus as a court established by Athena herself, an apparent attempt to preserve the dignity of the Areopagus in the face of its disempowerment.[10]

Officeholders

Approximately 1100 citizens (including the members of the council of 500) held office each year. They were mostly chosen by lot, with a much smaller (and more prestigious) group of about 100 elected. Neither was compulsory; individuals had to nominate themselves for both selection methods. In particular, those chosen by lot were citizens acting without particular expertise. This was almost inevitable since, with the notable exception of the generals (strategoi), each office had restrictive term limits. For example, a citizen could only be a member of the Boule in two non-consecutive years in their life.[58] In addition, there were some limitations on who could hold office. Age restrictions were in place with thirty years as a minimum, rendering about a third of the adult citizen body ineligible at any one time. An unknown proportion of citizens were also subject to disenfranchisement (atimia), excluding some of them permanently and others temporarily (depending on the type). Furthermore, all citizens selected were reviewed before taking up office (dokimasia) at which time they might be disqualified.

While citizens voting in the assembly were free of review or punishment, those same citizens when holding an office served the people and could be punished very severely. In addition to being subject to review prior to holding office, officeholders were also subject to an examination after leaving office (euthunai, 'straightenings' or 'submission of accounts') to review their performance. Both of these processes were in most cases brief and formulaic, but they opened up the possibility of a contest before a jury court if some citizen wanted to take a matter up.[59] In the case of scrutiny going to trial, there was the risk for the former officeholder of suffering severe penalties. Even during his period of office, any officeholder could be impeached and removed from office by the assembly. In each of the ten "main meetings" (kuriai ekklesiai) a year, the question was explicitly raised in the assembly agenda: were the office holders carrying out their duties correctly?

Citizens active as officeholders served in a quite different capacity from when they voted in the assembly or served as jurors. By and large, the power exercised by these officials was routine administration and quite limited. These officeholders were the agents of the people, not their representatives, so their role was that of administration, rather than governing.The powers of officials were precisely defined and their capacity for initiative limited. When it came to penal sanctions, no officeholder could impose a fine over fifty drachmas. Anything higher had to go before a court. Competence does not seem to have been the main issue, but rather, at least in the 4th century BC, whether they were loyal democrats or had oligarchic tendencies. Part of the ethos of democracy, rather, was the building of general competence by ongoing involvement. In the 5th century setup, the ten annually elected generals were often very prominent, but for those who had power, it lay primarily in their frequent speeches and in the respect accorded them in the assembly, rather than their vested powers.

Selection by lot

The allotment of an individual was based on citizenship, rather than merit or any form of personal popularity which could be bought. Allotment therefore was seen as a means to prevent the corrupt purchase of votes and it gave citizens political equality, as all had an equal chance of obtaining government office. This also acted as a check against demagoguery, though this check was imperfect and did not prevent elections from involving pandering to voters.[60]

The random assignment of responsibility to individuals who may or may not be competent has obvious risks, but the system included features meant to mitigate possible problems. Athenians selected for office served as teams (boards, panels). In a group, one person is more likely to know the right way to do things and those that do not may learn from those that do. During the period of holding a particular office, everyone on the team would be observing everybody else as a sort of check. However, there were officials, such as the nine archons, who while seemingly a board carried out very different functions from each other.

No office appointed by lot could be held twice by the same individual. The only exception was the boule or council of 500. In this case, simply by demographic necessity, an individual could serve twice in a lifetime. This principle extended down to the secretaries and undersecretaries who served as assistants to magistrates such as the archons. To the Athenians, it seems what had to be guarded against was not incompetence but any tendency to use office as a way of accumulating ongoing power.[61]

Election

Pericles Pio-Clementino Inv269 n5
Bust of Pericles, marble Roman copy after a Greek original from c. 430 BC

During an Athenian election, approximately one hundred officials out of a thousand were elected rather than chosen by lot. There were two main categories in this group: those required to handle large sums of money, and the 10 generals, the strategoi. One reason that financial officials were elected was that any money embezzled could be recovered from their estates; election in general strongly favoured the rich, but in this case wealth was virtually a prerequisite.

Generals were elected not only because their role required expert knowledge, but also because they needed to be people with experience and contacts in the wider Greek world where wars were fought. In the 5th century BC, principally as seen through the figure of Pericles, the generals could be among the most powerful people in the polis. Yet in the case of Pericles, it is wrong to see his power as coming from his long series of annual generalships (each year along with nine others). His officeholding was rather an expression and a result of the influence he wielded. That influence was based on his relation with the assembly, a relation that in the first instance lay simply in the right of any citizen to stand and speak before the people. Under the 4th century version of democracy, the roles of general and of key political speaker in the assembly tended to be filled by different persons. In part, this was a consequence of the increasingly specialized forms of warfare practiced in the later period.

Elected officials, too, were subject to review before holding office and scrutiny after office. And they could also be removed from office at any time that the assembly met. There was even a death penalty for "inadequate performance" while in office.[62]

Criticism

Athenian democracy has had many critics, both ancient and modern. Ancient Greek critics of Athenian democracy include Thucydides the general and historian, Aristophanes the playwright, Plato the pupil of Socrates, Aristotle the pupil of Plato, and a writer known as the Old Oligarch. While modern critics are more likely to find fault with the restrictive qualifications for political involvement, these ancients viewed democracy as being too inclusive. For them, the common people were not necessarily the right people to rule and were likely to make huge mistakes. According to Samons:

The modern desire to look to Athens for lessons or encouragement for modern thought, government, or society must confront this strange paradox: the people that gave rise to and practiced ancient democracy left us almost nothing but criticism of this form of regime (on a philosophical or theoretical level). And what is more, the actual history of Athens in the period of its democratic government is marked by numerous failures, mistakes, and misdeeds—most infamously, the execution of Socrates—that would seem to discredit the ubiquitous modern idea that democracy leads to good government.[63]

Thucydides, from his aristocratic and historical viewpoint, reasoned that a serious flaw in democratic government was that the common people were often much too credulous about even contemporary facts to rule justly, in contrast to his own critical-historical approach to history. For example, he points to errors regarding Sparta; Athenians erroneously believed that Sparta's kings each had two votes in their ruling council and that there existed a Spartan battalion called Pitanate lochos. To Thucydides, this carelessness was due to common peoples' "preference for ready-made accounts".[64]

Similarly, Plato and Aristotle criticized democratic rule as the numerically preponderant poor tyrannizing the rich. Instead of seeing it as a fair system under which everyone has equal rights, they regarded it as manifestly unjust. In Aristotle's works, this is categorized as the difference between 'arithmetic' and 'geometric' (i.e. proportional) equality.[65]

To its ancient detractors, rule by the demos was also reckless and arbitrary. Two examples demonstrate this:

  • In 406 BC, after years of defeats in the wake of the annihilation of their vast invasion force in Sicily, the Athenians at last won a naval victory at Arginusae over the Spartans. After the battle, a storm arose and the generals in command failed to collect survivors. The Athenians tried and sentenced six of the eight generals to death. Technically, it was illegal, as the generals were tried and sentenced together, rather than one by one as Athenian law required. Socrates happened to be the citizen presiding over the assembly that day and refused to cooperate (though to little effect) and stood against the idea that it was outrageous for the people to be unable to do whatever they wanted. In addition to this unlawful injustice, the demos later on regretted the decision and decided that they had been misled. Those charged with misleading the demos were put on trial, including the author of the motion to try the generals together.[66]
  • In 399 BC, Socrates himself was put on trial and executed for "corrupting the young and believing in strange gods". His death gave Europe one of the first intellectual martyrs still recorded, but guaranteed the democracy an eternity of bad press at the hands of his disciple and enemy to democracy, Plato. From Socrates's arguments at his trial, Loren Samons writes, "It follows, of course, that any majority—including the majority of jurors—is unlikely to choose rightly." However, "some might argue, Athens is the only state that can claim to have produced a Socrates. Surely, some might continue, we may simply write off events such as Socrates' execution as examples of the Athenians' failure to realize fully the meaning and potential of their own democracy."[67]

While Plato blamed democracy for killing Socrates, his criticisms of the rule of the demos were much more extensive. Much of his writings were about his alternatives to democracy. His The Republic, The Statesman, and Laws contained many arguments against democratic rule and in favour of a much narrower form of government: "The organization of the city must be confided to those who possess knowledge, who alone can enable their fellow-citizens to attain virtue, and therefore excellence, by means of education."[68]

Whether the democratic failures should be seen as systemic, or as a product of the extreme conditions of the Peloponnesian war, there does seem to have been a move toward correction. A new version of democracy was established in 403 BC, but it can be linked with both earlier and subsequent reforms (graphē paranómōn 416 BC; end of assembly trials 355 BC). For instance, the system of nomothesia was introduced. In this:

A new law might be proposed by any citizen. Any proposal to modify an existing law had to be accompanied by a proposed replacement law. The citizen making the proposal had to publish it [in] advance: publication consisted of writing the proposal on a whitened board located next to the statues of the Eponymous Heroes in the agora. The proposal would be considered by the Council, and would be placed on the agenda of the Assembly in the form of a motion. If the Assembly voted in favor of the proposed change, the proposal would be referred for further consideration by a group of citizens called nomothetai (literally "establishers of the law").[18]

Increasingly, responsibility was shifted from the assembly to the courts, with laws being made by jurors and all assembly decisions becoming reviewable by courts. That is to say, the mass meeting of all citizens lost some ground to gatherings of a thousand or so which were under oath, and with more time to focus on just one matter (though never more than a day). One downside to this change was that the new democracy was less capable of responding quickly in times where quick, decisive action was needed.

Another tack of criticism is to notice the disquieting links between democracy and a number of less than appealing features of Athenian life. Although democracy predated Athenian imperialism by over thirty years, they are sometimes associated with each other. For much of the 5th century at least, democracy fed off an empire of subject states. Thucydides the son of Milesias (not the historian), an aristocrat, stood in opposition to these policies, for which he was ostracised in 443 BC.

At times the imperialist democracy acted with extreme brutality, as in the decision to execute the entire male population of Melos and sell off its women and children simply for refusing to become subjects of Athens. The common people were numerically dominant in the navy, which they used to pursue their own interests in the form of work as rowers and in the hundreds of overseas administrative positions. Furthermore, they used the income from empire to fund payment for officeholding. This is the position set out by the anti-democratic pamphlet known whose anonymous author is often called the Old Oligarch. This writer (also called pseudo-Xenophon) produced several comments critical of democracy, such as:[69]

  1. Democratic rule acts in the benefit of smaller self-interested factions, rather than the entire polis.
  2. Collectivizing political responsibility lends itself to both dishonest practices and scapegoating individuals when measures become unpopular.
  3. By being inclusive, opponents to the system become naturally included within the democratic framework, meaning democracy itself will generate few opponents, despite its flaws.
  4. A democratic Athens with an imperial policy will spread the desire for democracy outside of the polis.
  5. The democratic government depends on the control of resources, which requires military power and material exploitation.
  6. The values of freedom of equality include non-citizens more than it should.
  7. By blurring the distinction between the natural and political world, democracy leads the powerful to act immorally and outside their own best interest.

Aristotle also wrote about what he considered to be a better form of government than democracy. Rather than any citizen partaking with equal share in the rule, he thought that those who were more virtuous should have greater power in governance.[70]

A case can be made that discriminatory lines came to be drawn more sharply under Athenian democracy than before or elsewhere, in particular in relation to women and slaves, as well as in the line between citizens and non-citizens. By so strongly validating one role, that of the male citizen, it has been argued that democracy compromised the status of those who did not share it.

  • Originally, a male would be a citizen if his father was a citizen, Under Pericles, in 450 BC, restrictions were tightened so that a citizen had to be born to an Athenian father and an Athenian mother. So Metroxenoi, those with foreign mothers, were now to be excluded. These mixed marriages were also heavily penalized by the time of Demosthenes. Many Athenians prominent earlier in the century would have lost citizenship had this law applied to them: Cleisthenes, the founder of democracy, had a non-Athenian mother, and the mothers of Cimon and Themistocles were not Greek at all, but Thracian.[71]
  • Likewise the status of women seems lower in Athens than in many Greek cities. In Sparta, women competed in public exercise – so in Aristophanes's Lysistrata the Athenian women admire the tanned, muscular bodies of their Spartan counterparts – and women could own property in their own right, as they could not at Athens. Misogyny was by no means an Athenian invention, but it has been claimed that Athens had worse misogyny than other states at the time.[72]
  • Slavery was more widespread at Athens than in other Greek cities. Indeed, the extensive use of imported non-Greeks ("barbarians") as chattel slaves seems to have been an Athenian development. This triggers the paradoxical question: Was democracy "based on" slavery? It does seem clear that possession of slaves allowed even poorer Athenians — owning a few slaves was by no means equated with wealth — to devote more of their time to political life.[73] But whether democracy depended on this extra time is impossible to say. The breadth of slave ownership also meant that the leisure of the rich (the small minority who were actually free of the need to work) rested less than it would have on the exploitation of their less well-off fellow citizens. Working for wages was clearly regarded as subjection to the will of another, but at least debt servitude had been abolished at Athens (under the reforms of Solon at the start of the 6th century BC). Allowing a new kind of equality among citizens opened the way to democracy, which in turn called for a new means, chattel slavery, to at least partially equalise the availability of leisure between rich and poor. In the absence of reliable statistics, all these connections remain speculative. However, as Cornelius Castoriadis pointed out, other societies also kept slaves but did not develop democracy. Even with respect to slavery, it is speculated that Athenian fathers had originally been able to register offspring conceived with slave women for citizenship.[71]

Since the 19th century, the Athenian version of democracy has been seen by one group as a goal yet to be achieved by modern societies. They want representative democracy to be added to or even replaced by direct democracy in the Athenian way, perhaps by utilizing electronic democracy. Another group, on the other hand, considers that, since many Athenians were not allowed to participate in its government, Athenian democracy was not a democracy at all. "[C]omparisons with Athens will continue to be made as long as societies keep striving to realize democracy under modern conditions and their successes and failures are discussed."[74]

Greek philosopher and activist Takis Fotopoulos has argued that “the final failure, of Athenian democracy was not due, as it is usually asserted by its critics, to the innate contradictions of democracy itself but, on the contrary, to the fact that the Athenian democracy never matured to become an inclusive democracy. This cannot be adequately explained by simply referring to the immature ‘objective’ conditions, the low development of productive forces and so on—important as may be—because the same objective conditions prevailed at that time in many other places all over the Mediterranean, let alone the rest of Greece, but democracy flourished only in Athens” .[75]

Legacy

Since the middle of the 20th century, most countries have claimed to be a democracy, regardless of the actual makeup of its government. Yet, after the demise of Athenian democracy, few looked upon it as a good form of government. This was because no legitimation of that rule was formulated to counter the negative accounts of Plato and Aristotle. They saw it as the rule of the poor that plundered the rich, and so democracy was viewed as a sort of "collective tyranny". "Well into the 18th century democracy was consistently condemned." Sometimes, mixed constitutions evolved with a democratic element, but "it definitely did not mean self-rule by citizens."[76]

In the age of Cicero and Caesar, Rome was a republic, but not a democracy. Furthermore, it would be misleading to say that the tradition of Athenian democracy was an important part of the 18th-century revolutionaries' intellectual background. The classical example that inspired the American and French revolutionaries as well as the English radicals was Rome rather than Greece. Thus, the Founding Fathers who met in Philadelphia in 1787, did not set up a Council of the Areopagos, but a Senate, that, eventually, met on the Capitol.[77] Following Rousseau (1712–1778), "democracy came to be associated with popular sovereignty instead of popular participation in the exercise of power."

Several German philosophers and poets took delight in the fullness of life in Athens, and not long afterwards "the English liberals put forward a new argument in favor of the Athenians". In opposition, thinkers such as Samuel Johnson were worried about the ignorance of a democratic decision-making body. However, "Macaulay and John Stuart Mill and George Grote saw the great strength of the Athenian democracy in the high level of cultivation that citizens enjoyed and called for improvements in the educational system of Britain that would make possible a shared civic consciousness parallel to that achieved by the ancient Athenians."[78]

Therefore, it was George Grote, in his History of Greece (1846–1856), who would claim that "Athenian democracy was neither the tyranny of the poor, nor the rule of the mob." He argued that only by giving every citizen the vote would people ensure that the state would be run in the general interest. Later, to the end of World War Il, democracy became dissociated from its ancient frame of reference. It was not anymore only one of the many possible ways in which political rule could be organised in a polity: it became the only possible political system in an egalitarian society. [79]

References and sources

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External links

Alcmaeonidae

The Alcmaeonidae or Alcmaeonids (Ἀλκμαιωνίδαι) were a powerful noble family of ancient Athens, a branch of the Neleides who claimed descent from the mythological Alcmaeon, the great-grandson of Nestor.The first notable Alcmaeonid was Megacles, who was the Archon Eponymous of Athens in the 7th century BC. He was responsible for killing the followers of Cylon of Athens during the attempted coup of 632 BC, as Cylon had taken refuge as a suppliant at the temple of Athena. As a result of their actions, Megacles and his Alcmaeonid followers were the subject of an ongoing curse and were exiled from the city. Even the bodies of buried Alcmaeonidae were dug up and removed from the city limits.

The Alcmaeonids were allowed back into the city in 594 BC, during the archonship of Solon. During the tyranny of Pisistratus, the Alcmaeonid Megacles married his daughter to Pisistratus, but when the tyrant refused to have children with her, Megacles banished him. Later the Alcmaeonids would claim to have been exiled following Pisistratus' return in 546 BC so as to distance themselves from possible accusations of complicity, but epigraphic evidence in fact proves that Cleisthenes was archon for the year 525-4. Megacles was able to marry (for a second or third time) Agarista, the daughter of the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon. They had two sons, Hippocrates and Cleisthenes, the reformer of the Athenian democracy. Hippocrates' daughter was Agariste, the mother of Pericles.

This Cleisthenes overthrew Hippias, the son and successor of Pisistratus, in 508 BC. He had bribed the oracle at Delphi (which the Alcmaeonidae had helped to build while they were in exile) to convince the Spartans to help him, which they reluctantly did. Cleisthenes was, at first, opposed by some who felt the curse made the Alcmaeonidae ineligible to rule; the Spartan king Cleomenes I even turned against Cleisthenes and the latter was briefly exiled once more. However, the citizens called for Cleisthenes to return, and the restored Alcmaeonids were responsible for laying the foundations of Athenian democracy.

The Alcmaeonidae were said to have negotiated for an alliance with the Persians during the Persian Wars, despite the fact that Athens was leading the resistance to the Persian invasion. Pericles and Alcibiades also belonged to the Alcmaeonidae, and during the Peloponnesian War the Spartans referred to the family's curse in an attempt to discredit Pericles. Alcibiades, as the previous generation of Alcmaeonidae had done, tried to ally with the Persians after he was accused of impiety. The family disappeared after Athens's defeat in the Peloponnesian War.

Atimia

Atimia was a form of disenfranchisement used under classical Athenian democracy.

Under democracy in ancient Greece, only free adult Greek males were enfranchised as full citizens. Women, foreigners, children and slaves were not full citizens; they could not vote or hold public office, and they had to have adult males act as guardians of their property and other interests. A man who was made atimos, literally meaning without honour or value, was likewise disenfranchised and disempowered, making him unable to carry out the political functions of a citizen. He could not attend assembly meetings, serve as a juror in Heliaia or bring actions before the courts.

Being barred from assembly would effectively end a citizen's political ambition. Not being able to use the courts to defend oneself against enemies could be socially crippling. It also meant the loss of the small income that jury service and attendance at the assembly provided, which could be significant for poor people unable to work.

Atimia could be inflicted as a penalty by the courts for crimes such as bribery, embezzlement, false witness, and breach of duty as a public officer. A temporary form of atimia was automatically imposed if a debt to the state was unpaid after a certain time, for instance if someone was unable to pay a fine. There was no upper limit on the fines courts could impose and they could well be larger than a person's entire estate. Just as this debt was inheritable, so was the status.Failure to abide by atimia was seen as an attack on the power of the people, represented by the courts that had imposed it. Failing to comply with atimia could lead to the death penalty.

Boule (ancient Greece)

In cities of ancient Greece, the boule (Greek: βουλή, boulē; plural βουλαί, boulai) was a council of over 500 citizens (βουλευταί, bouleutai) appointed to run daily affairs of the city. Originally a council of nobles advising a king, boulai evolved according to the constitution of the city: In oligarchies boule positions might have been hereditary, while in democracies members were typically chosen by lot (→ Sortition), and served for one year. Little is known about the workings of many boulai, except in the case of Athens, for which extensive material has survived.

Classical Athens

The city of Athens (Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athênai [a.tʰɛ̂ː.nai̯]; Modern Greek: Αθήναι Athine [a.ˈθi.ne̞] or, more commonly and in singular, Αθήνα Athina [a.'θi.na]) during the classical period of Ancient Greece (480–323 BC) was the major urban center of the notable polis (city-state) of the same name, located in Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Isagoras. This system remained remarkably stable, and with a few brief interruptions remained in place for 180 years, until 322 BC (aftermath of Lamian War). The peak of Athenian hegemony was achieved in the 440s to 430s BC, known as the Age of Pericles.

In the classical period, Athens was a center for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Akademia and Aristotle's Lyceum, Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Plato, Pericles, Aristophanes, Sophocles, and many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization, and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then-known European continent.

Cleisthenes

Cleisthenes (; Greek: Κλεισθένης, Kleisthénēs) was an ancient Athenian lawgiver credited with reforming the constitution of ancient Athens and setting it on a democratic footing in 508 BCE. For these accomplishments, historians refer to him as "the father of Athenian democracy." He was a member of the aristocratic Alcmaeonid clan. He was the younger son of Megacles and Aragiste making him the maternal grandson of the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon. He was also credited with increasing the power of the Athenian citizens' assembly and for reducing the power of the nobility over Athenian politics.In 510 BCE, Spartan troops helped the Athenians overthrow their king, the tyrant Hippias, son of Peisistratos. Cleomenes I, king of Sparta, put in place a pro-Spartan oligarchy headed by Isagoras. But his rival Cleisthenes, with the support of the middle class and aided by democrats, took over. Cleomenes intervened in 508 and 506 BCE, but could not stop Cleisthenes, now supported by the Athenians. Through Cleisthenes' reforms, the people of Athens endowed their city with isonomic institutions—equal rights for all citizens (though only men were citizens)—and established ostracism.

Constitution of the Athenians (Aristotle)

The Constitution of the Athenians, also called the Athenian Constitution (Greek: Ἀθηναίων πολιτεία, Athenaion Politeia; Latin: Atheniensium Respublica), is a work by Aristotle or one of his students. It was preserved on two leaves of a papyrus codex discovered at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt in 1879.

Constitution of the Athenians (Pseudo-Xenophon)

The "Constitution of the Athenians" (Greek: Ἀθηναίων πολιτεία, Athenaion Politeia), also known as "On the Athenian State", is a short treatise on the government and society of classical Athens. It was preserved amongst the minor works of Xenophon, though the scholarly consensus is that he did not write it. Its date and authorship have been the subject of much dispute.

Ecclesia (ancient Athens)

The ecclesia or ekklesia (Greek: ἐκκλησία) was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens. It was the popular assembly, open to all male citizens as soon as they qualified for citizenship. In 594 BC, Solon allowed all Athenian citizens to participate, regardless of class, even the thetes. The assembly was responsible for declaring war, military strategy and electing the strategoi and other officials. It was responsible for nominating and electing magistrates, thus indirectly electing the members of the Areopagus. It had the final say on legislation and the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office. A typical meeting of the Assembly probably contained around 6000 people, out of a total citizen population of 30,000–60,000. It would have been difficult, however, for non-wealthy people outside the urban center of Athens to attend until payments for attendance were introduced in the 390s. It originally met once every month, but later met three or four times per month. The agenda for the ekklesia was established by the Boule, the popular council. Votes were taken by a show of hands, counting of stones and voting using broken pottery.

A quorum of 6,000 members was required sometimes to do business. The ecclesia elected by lot annually the Boule. Some of their power under Solon was delegated to the Court by Pericles in his reforms.

In ancient Greece an ekklesiasterion was a building specifically built for the purpose of holding the supreme meetings of the ecclesia. Like many other cities Athens did not have an ekklesiasterion. Instead, the regular meetings of the assembly were held on the Pnyx and two annual meetings took place in the Theater of Dionysus. Around 300 BC the meetings of the ekklesia were moved to the theater. The meetings of the assembly could attract large audiences: 6,000 citizens might have attended in Athens during the fifth century BC.A police force of 300 Scythian slaves carried red ochre-stained ropes to induce the citizens who loitered in the agora of Athens to attend the meetings of the assembly. Anyone with red-stained clothes who was not in the meeting was liable to a penalty.

Graphe paranomon

The graphē paranómōn (Ancient Greek: γραφὴ παρανόμων), was a form of legal action believed to have been introduced at Athens under the democracy somewhere around the year 415 BC; it has been seen as a replacement for ostracism which fell into disuse around the same time, although this view is not held by David Whitehead, who points out that the graphe paranomon was a legal procedure with legal ramifications, including shame, and the convicted had officially committed a crime, whereas the ostrakismos was not shameful in the least.

The name means "suit against (bills) contrary to the laws." The suit could be brought against laws or decrees that had already been passed, or earlier when they were merely proposals. Once someone announced under oath that he intended to bring such a suit, the legislation or decree in question was suspended until the matter was resolved. The thinking was that, as there was no mechanism in Athens for unmaking a law, any new law should not be in contradiction with the already existing laws.

The suit served a double function. Firstly, it provided a means of reviewing and perhaps rescinding decrees and legislation passed by the assembly. In this it seems to resemble a court of review such as the modern U.S. Supreme Court. However, the judges (who in English are usually referred to as jurors) of the judicial formations of the Athenian court of Heliaia were, like those attending assembly, ordinary citizens and not legal experts, just as the court used was a general one and not a panel devoted to legislative matters. (Jurors, it is true, had a slightly higher status, as they had to be over thirty, not twenty as for the assembly, and they were under oath.) The mechanism can be compared to the upper houses found in many modern democracies. However, in Athens this review was not automatic, but had to be initiated by a citizen. Unlike both an upper house or a specially established court, the review was not framed as an impartial and objective re-examination, but was couched as a prosecution to be defended by a defendant who stood to suffer a penalty in the event of conviction.

In this lies its second function: it provided a weapon with which rival Athenian politicians could damage or eliminate each other, or from another perspective, a means by which the Athenian demos could favor or punish the leaders who served it. The suit was brought against the speaker who had proposed the motion in the assembly: he was regarded as having misled the people and corrupted the laws of the state, since the assembly itself was not accountable to anyone and by a kind of structural fiction (see legal fiction) could do no wrong. The liability of the proposer expired after one year; after that the law itself could still be attacked and rescinded, but the proposer would not suffer any penalty. After five years the law itself was no longer subject to a suit.The penalty for conviction was usually a fine, sometimes small but sometimes so large it could not be paid. In this case disenfranchisement (atimia) would result, effectively ending a political career. Because of this, active politicians began recruiting surrogates to propose bills that they themselves had authored. Penalties would then fall on the surrogate rather than on the politician himself.

Very many of the known prosecutions concern not substantive legislation but honorary decrees, seemingly of little importance from a modern viewpoint. These did however allow discussion of a wide range of questions and issues. A signal example is the pair of speeches surviving from a graphē paranómōn from 333 BC, Demosthenes' On the Crown in response to Aeschines' Against Ctesiphon.

Heliaia

Heliaia or Heliaea (Ancient Greek: Ἡλιαία; Doric: Ἁλία Halia) was the supreme court of ancient Athens. Τhe view generally held among scholars is that the court drew its name from the ancient Greek verb ἡλιάζεσθαι, which means συναθροίζεσθαι, namely congregate. Another version is that the court took its name from the fact that the hearings were taking place outdoors, under the sun. Initially, this was the name of the place where the hearings were convoked, but later this appellation included the court as well.

The judges were called heliasts (ἡλιασταί) or dikasts (δικασταί, ὀμωμοκότες = those who have sworn, namely the jurors). The operation of judging was called ἡλιάζεσθαι (δικάζειν).

Idiot

Idiot was formerly a legal and psychiatric category of profound intellectual disability in which a person's mental age is two years or less, and he or she cannot guard against common dangers. Along with terms like moron, imbecile, and cretin, the term is now archaic and offensive, and was replaced by the term "profound mental retardation" (which has itself since been replaced by other terms).Nowadays, "idiot" is a derogatory term for a stupid or foolish person.

Kleroterion

A kleroterion (Ancient Greek: κληρωτήριον) was a randomization device used by the Athenian polis during the period of democracy to select citizens to the boule, to most state offices, to the nomothetai, and to court juries.

The kleroterion was a slab of stone incised with rows of slots and with an attached tube. Citizens' tokens—pinakia—were placed randomly in the slots so that every member of each of the tribes of Athens had their tokens placed in the same column. There was a pipe attached to the stone which could then be fed dice that were coloured differently (assumed to be black and white) and could be released individually by a mechanism that has not survived to posterity (but is speculated to be by two nails; one used to block the open end and another to separate the next die to fall from the rest of the dice above it). When a die was released, a complete row of tokens (so, one citizen from each of the tribes of Athens) was either selected if the die was coloured one colour, or discarded if it was the alternate colour. This process continued until the requisite number of citizens was selected.

List of kings of Athens

Before the Athenian democracy, the tyrants, and the Archons, the city-state of Athens was ruled by kings. Most of these are probably mythical or only semi-historical.

Mogens Herman Hansen

Mogens Herman Hansen FBA (born 20 August 1940, Frederiksberg) is a Danish classical philologist and classical demographer who is one of the leading scholars in Athenian Democracy and the Polis.

He finished his masters at University of Copenhagen in 1967. The following year he was engaged to work at the same university. He has written many books about the Athenian Democracy. From 1993 to 2005 he was the director of the Copenhagen Polis Centre.Hansen was visiting fellow at the University of Melbourne, University of British Columbia, Wolfson College (University of Cambridge), Princeton University, and Churchill College (Cambridge). Hansen is a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, by Deutsches Archäologisches Institut and the British Academy.

In June 2010, Hansen retired after 40 years at Copenhagen University.

Ostracism

Ostracism (Greek: ὀστρακισμός, ostrakismos) was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. It has been called an "honourable exile" by scholar P. J. Rhodes. The word "ostracism" continues to be used for various cases of social shunning.

Phyle Campaign

The Phyle Campaign was the civil war that resulted from the Spartan imposition of a narrow oligarchy on Athens (see Thirty Tyrants) and resulted in the restoration of Athenian democracy.

Pnyx

The Pnyx (; Ancient Greek: Πνύξ; Greek: Πνύκα, Pnyka) is a hill in central Athens, the capital of Greece. Beginning as early as 507 BC (Fifth-century Athens), the Athenians gathered on the Pnyx to host their popular assemblies, thus making the hill one of the earliest and most important sites in the creation of democracy.

The Pnyx is located less than 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) west of the Acropolis and 1.6 km south-west of the centre of Athens, Syntagma Square.

Prytaneis

The Prytaneis (πρυτάνεις; sing.: πρύτανις prytanis) were the executives of the boule of ancient Athens.

Thrasybulus

Thrasybulus (; Greek: Θρασύβουλος, Thrasyboulos; "brave-willed"; c. 440 – 388 BC) was an Athenian general and democratic leader. In 411 BC, in the wake of an oligarchic coup at Athens, the pro-democracy sailors at Samos elected him as a general, making him a primary leader of the successful democratic resistance to that coup. As general, he was responsible for recalling the controversial nobleman Alcibiades from exile, and the two worked together extensively over the next several years. In 411 and 410, Thrasybulus commanded along with Alcibiades and others at several critical Athenian naval victories.

After Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War, Thrasybulus led the democratic resistance to the new oligarchic government, known as the Thirty Tyrants, which the victorious Spartans imposed on Athens. In 404 BC, he commanded a small force of exiles that invaded the Spartan-ruled Attica and, in successive battles, defeated first a Spartan garrison and then the forces of the oligarchy. In the wake of these victories, democracy was re-established at Athens. As a leader of this revived democracy in the 4th century BC, Thrasybulus advocated a policy of resistance to Sparta and sought to restore Athens' imperial power. He was killed in 388 BC while leading an Athenian naval force during the Corinthian War.

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