Ancient Greek law

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Ancient Greek law consists of the laws and legal institutions of Ancient Greece.

Scholars in the discipline of comparative law have compared Greek law with both Roman law and with the primitive institutions of the Germanic nations. It may now be studied in its earlier stages in the laws of Gortyn; its influence may be traced in legal documents preserved in Egyptian papyri; and it may be recognized as a consistent whole in its ultimate relations to Roman law in the eastern provinces of the Roman empire.

The existence of certain general principles of law is implied by the custom of settling a difference between two Greek states, or between members of a single state, by resorting to external arbitration. The general unity of Greek law shows mainly in the laws of inheritance and adoption, in laws of commerce and contract, and in the publicity uniformly given to legal agreement.

No systematic collection of Greek laws has come down to us. Our knowledge of some of the earliest notions of the subject is derived from the Homeric poems. For the details of Attic law we have to depend on ex parte statements in the speeches of the Attic orators, and we are sometimes able to check those statements by the trustworthy, but often imperfect, aid of inscriptions. Incidental illustrations of the laws of Athens may be found in the Laws of Plato, who deals with the theory of the subject without exercising any influence on actual practice. The Laws of Plato are criticized in the Politics of Aristotle, who, besides discussing laws in their relation to constitutions, reviews the work of certain early Greek lawgivers. The treatise on the Constitution of Athens includes an account of the jurisdiction of the various public officials and of the machinery of the law courts, and thus enables us to dispense with the second-hand testimony of grammarians and scholiasts who derived their information from that treatise (see Constitution of Athens). The works of Theophrastus On the Laws, which included a recapitulation of the laws of various barbaric as well as Grecian states, are now represented by only a few fragments (Nos. 97-106, ed. Winner).

Procedural Laws[edit]

In general, historians consider that Athenian law was broadly procedural (i.e. concerned with the administration of justice) rather than substantive (i.e. concerned with rights, obligations, and offences).[1] Athenian laws are typically written in the form "if someone does A, then B is to result",[2] and are more concerned with the legal actions which should be undertaken by the prosecutor, rather than strictly defining which acts are prosecutable.[3] Often, this would have resulted in juries having to decide whether the offence said to have been committed was in fact a violation of the law in question.[4]

Development of Athenian Law[edit]

One of the earliest datable events in Athenian history is the creation of the Draconian law code, probably in 621-620 BC.[5] We know little about Draco and his code, with his homicide law, which survived the Solonian reforms, being the best understood part of his code.[5] It seems to have distinguished between premeditated and involuntary homicide, and provided for the reconciliation of the killer with the family of the dead man.[6] The homicide law of Draco was still in force in the fourth century.[6] Though the rest of Draco's code does not survive, it was by Athenian tradition thought to have been very harsh.[6]

The Athenian law codes set forth by Draco were completely reformed by Solon, who was the archon for the year 594-593 BC. Solon's reforms included the cancellation of debts and reforms to land ownership, as well as the abolition of slavery for those who were born Athenian.[7] However, attributing specific legal innovations and reforms to Solon and his successors is notoriously difficult because there was a tendency in ancient Athens "to ascribe laws to Solon irrespective of the date of enactment".[8]

Courts and Judicial System[edit]

Ancient Greek courts were cheap and run by laypeople. Court officials were paid little, if anything, and most trials were completed in the same day, private cases even more quickly. There were no "professional" court officials, no lawyers, and no official judges. A normal case consisted of two litigants, one arguing that an unlawful act had been committed, and the other arguing either that it had not been unlawful, or that it had not happened. The jury would decide both whether the accused was guilty, and, in the case that they were, what the punishment should be. In Athenian courts, the jury tended to be made up of the mass of the common people, whereas litigants came mostly from the elites of society.[9]

In the Athenian legal system, the courts have been seen as a system for settling disputes and resolving arguments, rather than enforcing "a coherent system of rules, rights and obligations".[10] One court, the Prytaneion, was responsible for trying unknown people, animals, and inanimate objects for homicide, probably in order to ensure that Athens was free of blood-guilt for the crime.[10]

The Athenian court system was dominated by men. The jury was all-male,[11] and as Simon Goldhill has argued, "The Athenian court seems to have been remarkably unnwilling to allow any female presence in the civic space of the lawcourt itself".[12]

Along with the official enforcement of the law in the courts, in Ancient Athens – and other Ancient Greek cities – justice and social cohesion were collectively enforced by society at large.[13] Informal collective justice was often targeted at elite offenders.[14]


Public and Private Cases[edit]

In Ancient Athens, there were two types of lawsuit. Public prosecutions, or graphai, were heard by juries of 501 or more, increasing in increments of 500 jurors, while private suits, or dikai, were heard by 201 or 401 jurors, depending on the amount of money at stake.[15] Juries were made up of men selected from a panel of 6,000 volunteers, who were selected annually and were required to be full citizens, aged over 30.[16] Juries were paid a small fee from the time of Pericles, which may have led to disproportionate numbers of poor and elderly citizens working on juries.[17]

Oratory[edit]

Michael Gagarin has argued that the "rhetorical and performative features" evident in surviving Classical Athenian law court speeches are evidence that Athenian trials were "essentially rhetorical struggles" which were "generally unconcerned with the strict applicability of the law".[18] According to Gagarin, orators constructing stories played a much more significant role in Athenian court cases than those of the modern day, due to the lack of modern forensic and investigatory techniques which might provide other sources of evidence in the Athenian courtroom.[19]

In the Athenian legal system, there were no professional lawyers, though well-known speechwriters such as Demosthenes composed speeches which were delivered by (or, as in the case of Against Leptines, on the behalf of) others. These speechwriters have been described as being "as near the function of a modern lawyer as the Athenian legal system would permit".[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Carey, Christopher (1998). "The Shape of Athenian Laws". The Classical Quarterly 48 (1): 93. 
  2. ^ Carey, Christopher (1998). "The Shape of Athenian Laws". The Classical Quarterly 48 (1): 95. 
  3. ^ Carey, Christopher (1998). "The Shape of Athenian Laws". The Classical Quarterly 48 (1): 96. 
  4. ^ Carey, Christopher (1998). "The Shape of Athenian Laws". The Classical Quarterly 48 (1): 99. 
  5. ^ a b Andrewes, A. "The Growth of the Athenian State". In Boardman, John; Hammond, N.G.L. The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C. p. 370. ISBN 0-521-23447-6. 
  6. ^ a b c Andrewes, A. "The Growth of the Athenian State". In Boardman, John; Hammond, N.G.L. The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C. p. 371. ISBN 0-521-23447-6. 
  7. ^ Andrewes, A. "The Growth of the Athenian State". In Boardman, John; Hammond, N.G.L. The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C. pp. 381–382. ISBN 0-521-23447-6. 
  8. ^ Carey, Christopher (1998). "The Shape of Athenian Laws". The Classical Quarterly 48 (1): 106. 
  9. ^ Forsdyke, Sara (2008). "Street Theatre and Popular Justice in Ancient Greece: Shaming, Stoning, and Starving Offenders Inside and Outside the Courts". Past and Present 201: 7. 
  10. ^ a b Davidson, James (1994). "Review of The Shape of Athenian Law by S.C. Todd". The Cambridge Law Journal 53 (2): 384–385. 
  11. ^ Gagarin, Michael (2003). "Telling Stories in Athenian Law". Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974–) 133 (2): 204. 
  12. ^ Goldhill, Simon (1994). "Representing Democracy: Women at the Great Dionysia". In Osborne, Robin; Hornblower, Simon. Ritual, Finance, Politics: Athenian Democratic Accounts Presented to David Lewis. Wotton-under-Edge: Clarendon Press. p. 360. 
  13. ^ Forsdyke, Sara (2008). "Street Theatre and Popular Justice in Ancient Greece: Shaming, Stoning, and Starving Offenders Inside and Outside the Courts". Past and Present 201: 6. 
  14. ^ Forsdyke, Sara (2008). "Street Theatre and Popular Justice in Ancient Greece: Shaming, Stoning, and Starving Offenders Inside and Outside the Courts". Past and Present 201: 7. 
  15. ^ Hamel, Debra (2003). Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. pp. 141–142. 
  16. ^ Hamel, Debra (2003). Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. p. 142. 
  17. ^ Hamel, Debra (2003). Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. p. 143. 
  18. ^ Gagarin, Michael (2003). "Telling Stories in Athenian Law". Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974–) 133 (2): 198–199. 
  19. ^ Gagarin, Michael (2003). "Telling Stories in Athenian Law". Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974–) 133 (2): 206. 
  20. ^ Cronin, James F. (1939). "Review of J.H. Vince "Demosthenes Against Meidias, Androtion, Aristocrates, Timocrates, Aristogeiton"". The Classical Journal 34 (8): 491–492.