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date: 05 February 2023



  • D. M. MacDowell


Sycophants (συκοφάνται), habitual prosecutors. In Athens there were, for most offences, no public prosecutors, but anyone (for some offences, any citizen) who wished was allowed to prosecute in a public action. Some individuals made a habit of bringing prosecutions, either to gain the financial rewards given to successful prosecutors in certain actions (notably phasis and apographē; see law and procedure, athenian), or to gain money by blackmailing a man who was willing to pay to avoid prosecution, or to earn payment from someone who had reasons for wanting a man to be prosecuted, or to make a political or oratorical reputation. Such persons came to be called sycophants (lit. ‘fig-revealers’; the origin of the usage is obscure). The word is often used as a term of disparagement or abuse in the Attic orators and in *Aristophanes (1), who shows sycophants in action in Acharnians.The Athenians wished to check sycophants, who prosecuted without good reason, but not to discourage public-spirited prosecutors. Therefore the rewards for successful prosecution were not abolished, but penalties were introduced in most public actions for a prosecutor who dropped a case after starting it, or whose case was so weak that he failed to obtain one-fifth of the jury's votes. In addition sycophancy was an offence for which a man could be prosecuted. Graphē, probolē, *eisangelia, apagogē, and endeixis are all said to have been possible methods of accusing sycophants (see law and procedure, athenian), but it is not known how the offence was defined; perhaps there was no legal definition.


  • Greek Law

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