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date: 20 March 2023



  • Victor Ehrenberg
  •  and Simon Hornblower


Sortition (klērōsis), election by lot, a method of appointing officials in Greek city-states, especially in democracies (see democracy, both entries). It was based on the idea of equality and reduced outside influence. Little is known of its use except at Athens. It remains uncertain when sortition was introduced there, perhaps as early as *Solon. From 487/6 bce the archons (see archontes) were appointed by lot out of nominated candidates (prokritoi, the process being prokrisis, and the whole two-stage process being klērōsis ek prokritōn); later, this became a double sortition. From the time when the archons began to be elected by lot, they lost political leadership. But all ordinary magistrates, a few excepted, were thus appointed; also the *boulē (a prytany of fifty from each phylē; see phylai; prytaneis) and the juries (by a very complicated procedure; see law and procedure, athenian, § 2). Lot decided very many questions in political and social life. Politically, sortition, combined with the prohibition or at least severe restriction of re-election, enabled rotation in office, and electoral contests were avoided by its use; moreover, the power of magistrates was reduced, and thus the sovereignty of the popular assembly guaranteed. Sortition was practicable, as almost every citizen had a minimum of political experience, and nobody could be elected without having presented himself. Certain precautions were always taken (see dokimasia), and military and some technical (especially financial) officials were appointed by vote.


  • Greek Law

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