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Article

Edward Harris

The Athenians strongly believed in the rule of law and attempted to implement this ideal in their legal procedures. Every year there were six thousand judges, who swore an oath to vote according to the laws and decrees of the Athenian people and to vote only about the charges in the indictment. There was a distinction between private cases (dikai), which could be brought only by the person who was wronged, and public cases (graphai), which could be brought by any citizen and in some cases by metics and foreigners. All cases were tried in one day. There were certain special public procedures for specific types of cases.

The Athenians of the Classical period strongly believed in the rule of law. In his Funeral Oration delivered in 322bce, Hyperides (Epitaphios 25) declares:

For men to be happy they must be ruled by the voice of law, not the threats of a man; free men must not be frightened by accusation, only by proof of guilt; and the safety of our citizens must not depend on men who flatter their master and slander our citizens but on our confidence in the law (trans. Cooper).

Article

David M. Lewis

Crete provides historians with a rich fund of legal inscriptions from the Archaic and Classical periods. Although legal inscriptions have survived from several poleis (Axos, Datala, Dreros, Gortyn, Eltynia, Lyktos, Eleutherna, Prinias, Phaistos, and Cnossus), it is Gortyn that has produced the most spectacular finds and in the greatest quantities. These laws provide detailed provisions on various aspects of life, but in particular they deal with property and the family, as well as legal status. Rules on marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance all aim to guarantee the stability of families over the long term, whilst numerous laws on debt aim to prevent citizen households from falling below the subsistence margin. Taken as a whole, Crete’s laws provide much evidence for the priorities of male citizens living across the island and the various challenges that they faced.Ancient literary traditions strongly associated Crete with lawgiving through legendary figures such as Minos.

Article

Those who owned property in the Greek world enjoyed all the basic rights and duties recognized in all legal systems. They had the right to security against arbitrary confiscation and theft, the right to enjoy the fruits, the right to alienate, the right to manage, and the right to pass on their property to their heirs. Their property could also be seized by the state as a penalty or to pay for fines or by private lenders in satisfaction of debts or other obligations. Property could be owned by private individuals, by private groups, by the state or by subdivisions of the state. In certain cases women had the right to own property, but their rights might be restricted by law. Most Greek communities only allowed citizens to own land unless they obtained permission to acquire land from the Assembly.

Secure property rights are crucial for economic prosperity.1 If owners of land cannot rest assured that their control over their property will not be threatened, they will have no incentive to build or make improvements. If they fear that someone may take their land at any moment, there will be no reason to invest in crops such as olives that will not produce immediate returns. If their title to the land is not secure, lenders will not be willing to accept the farm as security for a loan. If the threat of arbitrary confiscation hangs over owners, it becomes impossible to make any plans for the future. Finally, if the state does not protect the rights of owners, it is very difficult for individuals to buy and sell movable and immovable property in ways that lead to a better allocation of resources.

Article

Edward Harris

Homicide was considered the most important crime in Athenian law because the killer attempted to usurp the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence. To express the special nature of homicide, the laws of Athens created special courts and procedures. The person accused of murder was considered polluted and was banned from agora and shrines. There were four basic categories of homicide: intentional homicide tried at the Areopagus, involuntary homicide and planning a homicide tried at the Palladion, and just homicide according to the laws tried at the Delphinium. Similar rules and procedures were found in other Greek communities. In the Laws, Plato proposed certain reforms for Athenian homicide law.According to Demosthenes (20.157–158), the most important goal of the Athenian legal system was to prevent men from killing one another. Draco, the author of most of the laws on homicide, therefore made the act of killing an object of fear and terror. Because homicide was the most serious offense, the laws, oaths, sacrifices, proclamations and procedures were very different from those for other offenses; it was so heinous that it was considered a crime against both gods and men (.

Article

rape  

Sharon James

Only the rape of citizens was taken seriously by law. Sexual assaults on non-citizens were lesser matters. Rape of enslaved persons, a daily reality, was a crime only if committed by someone other than their owner. Rape of citizen males damaged their reputations; rape of citizen females could render them ineligible for marriage. Ancient myth features almost countless stories of rape, usually of human females by divine males. These tales were common subjects in ancient art and literature. Overwhelmingly, the victims are unmarried girls, who may suffer brutal treatment afterward and frequently bear miraculous offspring, some of whom establish cities (e.g., Romulus and Remus). Rape by human men is rarer in myth; rape of a wife causes massive militarized response (e.g., Helen of Troy, Lucretia). War-rape and post-war rape were standard practice around the Mediterranean.

Rape in antiquity was a matter of social and civic class. As a crime, it was understood as happening only to citizens: sexual assault of non-citizens was not a concern of law. The law took rape of citizens very seriously. Rape of citizen girls and women was a violation against the men who were responsible for them—father, husband, brother, guardian—but female victims would have experienced it as a personal violation first, rather than damage to their guardian’s ownership of their sexuality.

Article

From the end of the Archaic era to the end of the Hellenistic period, all officials of Greek cities were required to render their accounts (euthynai) through procedures, which varied according to political regimes and times. Most of the time a board of controlling officials examined the accounts. This examination would take place at the end of the officials’ terms of office, but sometimes a partial examination took place during the terms. The controlling magistrates could initiate prosecutions against officials. In democracies, ordinary citizens could also sue magistrates in court. The procedure for holding officials accountable is called euthynai (correction) in the ancient sources. Many literary texts and epigraphic sources show the importance of the practice, particularly during the Classical and the Hellenistic periods. It was one of the most important features of civic institutions. From the End of the Archaic Period onwards, the Greek cities took a series of measures to prevent abuses of power by officials: accountability was only one of these measures. In fact, in Greek political thought, tyrannical power is characterised as aneuthynos (e.g., Herodotus 3.80.3), which broadly means “not subject to legal proceedings” or “uncontrolled.” Officials had to render their accounts (mostly logon apodidonai or tas euthynas didonai in Greek), at the end of their time in office as well as while in office. In most poleis, a separate body of magistrates was tasked with examining these accounts. At these moments, a set of procedures (which varied from city to city) enabled ordinary citizens to bring charges against officials before the courts.

Article

David M. Lewis and Sara Zanovello

In the Greek world, manumission, which spelt the end of an individual’s life in slavery, was achieved in a variety of ways, but it often entailed legal obligations to remain (paramenein) as a free servant for a fixed period of time. In some cases, freedmen and freedwomen subject to paramone obligations were able to “buy out” of this condition (apolysis). Manumission documents, which have been found in many parts of the Greek world, particularly in northern Greece (especially Delphi), reveal the legal position of slaves and how it differed from the legal position of freedpersons. Unlike in Rome, freedpersons in the Greek world did not automatically become citizens of their ex-owner’s polis (although some freed slaves did manage to achieve naturalization in return for benefactions bestowed on the community). In Athens, they held a legal position almost identical to that of resident foreigners (metoikoi), with some minor differences. Manumission was usually a private act, but in some cases the polis manumitted privately owned slaves, and in Sparta, helots could only be manumitted by the state. The frequency of manumission in the Greek world remains a debated topic, but recent work has raised the possibility that its use as an incentive for slaves was probably targeted mainly at slaves working in skilled, “care-intensive” roles, and also for slaves (including hetairai) with whom individuals conceived sexual attachments.

Article

Mirko Canevaro

From the earliest stages, the Greeks understood the distinction between legislation and day-to-day administration. They gave laws a special status and often created specific, separate procedures to enact them. In the Archaic period, specially appointed lawgivers were normally in charge of giving laws to the polis; these laws were intended to be immutable, and their stability secured through entrenchment clauses. Making laws was not considered to be among the normal tasks of the government of the polis, and there were no standard procedures to change the laws once these had been given. Assemblies in Greek city-states often enacted rules that had the force of law, but the legislative changes were not institutionally acknowledged, and the laws enacted by the lawgivers could not be changed. This gave rise to significant problems of legitimacy, and it introduced inconsistencies in the legal system of the polis, a problem that we can observe in 5th-century bce Athens.

Article

Arnold Wycombe Gomme and P. J. Rhodes

Archontes (‘rulers’), the general Greek term for all holders of office in a state. But the word was frequently used as the title of a particular office, originally at least the highest office of the state. Archontes are found in most states of central Greece, including *Athens, and in states dependent on or influenced by Athens.In Athens by the 6th cent. bce there were nine annually appointed archons. The powers of the original hereditary king (basileus) came to be shared among three officials: the basileus, who retained particularly the religious duties; the archōn, who became the civilian head of state; and the *polemarchos (‘war-ruler’), who commanded the army. (The Athenians believed that there had been a gradual transition from kings through life archons and ten-year archons to annual archons; annual archons allegedly began c.683/2 bce.) Six *thesmothetai (‘statute-setters’), judicial officials, were added to the original three; and in the 5th or 4th cent. the board was made up to ten with the addition of the secretary to the thesmothetai, so that one could be appointed from each of *Cleisthenes (2)'s ten tribes (*phylai).

Article

Edward Harris

The Areopagus council was the most respected court in Classical Athens. It had jurisdiction in trials for intentional homicide, intentional wounding, poisoning, and arson. The Areopagus could launch investigations into crimes on its own initiative or at the command of the assembly and exercised surveillance over religious matters. The assembly might also delegate specific tasks to the Areopagus. There is no reason to think that the Areopagus acquired additional powers during the Persian Wars later removed by the reforms of Ephialtes. During the Roman period, the Areopagus was the leading political body alongside the council and assembly, and the herald of the Areopagus one of the most prestigious offices.The Areopagus was the most respected political institution in Classical Athens and retained its prestige down to the Roman Empire. Lycurgus(Leoc. 12) called it the finest example of justice in all of Greece. Demosthenes(23.65) claims that “in this tribunal alone no defendant who has been convicted or accuser who has lost has even proved that his case was wrongly decided.” .