When we investigate how the law and also the court of classical Greece worked, the legislation of old Athens provides most the our resource material. This overview will thus focus top top Athenian legislation in the fifth and also fourth centuries, BCE.

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<1> prior to that time, conflicts were adjudicated by officials dubbed archons. The archons may have heard testimony from parties and also witnesses, may have actually questioned them, and perhaps the parties were allowed to question each other.<2> However, by the 5th century BCE., Athens had written statues and also a formal court system.<3>

Cases and Courts

Athenian courts heard two varieties of cases—private <dikai> or public <graphai>. There were no attorneys or prosecutors. Complaints can only be lugged by individuals: our modern concept the a “legal” however not “natural” “person”, such together a copy, group or partnership, apparently did not exist. Further, there to be no prosecutors, no skilled lawyers, and also no crime-investigating police. What policing existed to be done by non-Athenians, such together the Scythian archers, who hailed indigenous what is currently Southern Russia, and also they mainly kept order at public ceremonies.<4>

In personal cases, only a human with a an individual interest in the case (such as a person who had been harmed, or, in the case of a homicide, the family of the deceased) could bring complaints. Public situations were additionally brought by individuals, but, because they were considered to it is in of attention to the public, they might be lugged by any type of citizen, the is, any free-born Athenian male over the period of eighteen.

In a exclusive case, litigants were charged court fees, and could clear up the case without penalty. However, if the private instance went come trial and the plaintiff obtained less than a 5th of the votes, he would pay a good of one thousand drachmas and also would have to refrain from similar lawsuits in the future. In a publicly trial, due to the fact that the state had an interest in punishing a wrongdoer, the parties can not settle without being fined 100 drachmas, however were no charged court fees.<5>

These situations were heard in three species of courts. The very first category of courts, hear the vast bulk of cases, to be the popular courts <dikasterai>, which addressed complaints not involving a death or wounding.<6> well-known courts met at various locations, generally near the Agora.<7>

Figure 1: The ruins of the ancient Athenian Agora, with the Stoa of Attalos and the Acropolis in the background

Homicide and wounding situations were heard prior to the second kind of court, and also employed more formal steps than the well-known courts. For example, the homicide courts prohibited declaration “outside the point,” that is, statements which today’s rules of evidence can classify as irrelevant, while well-known courts were much more lenient about what statements to be acceptable.<8> The homicide courts did not rely on jurors, but on panels that fifty-one elders who offered life terms.<9>

Interestingly, homicide cases were brought as dikai, no graphai.<10> However, the public interest in homicide instances is prove by the fact that if no perpetrator that a homicide might be discovered or convicted, the killing weapon or animal was found guilty and also banished or killed to remove the ritual contamination of the killing.<11>

The most well-known homicide court is the Areopagus, the Hill that Ares, close to the Acropolis. Various other homicide courts included the Palladion, the Dephinion, and also the Prythaneion. While the Areopagus was scheduled for situations of intentional homicide, the Palladion was booked for situations of unintended homicide (today we can classify such a situation as the crime the involuntary manslaughter or the tort of wrongful death.) Where a defendant feeling he to be justified in committing a homicide (as when he uncovered his wife in flagrante delicto with another man) he would certainly be make the efforts in the Delphinion. Because that homicides involving animals, meaningless objects, or unknown persons, the instance was lugged in the Prytaneion.<12>

Figure 2: A see of the Areopagus from the Acropolis in Athens

Third to be the marine courts, i m sorry may have actually been renowned courts use the exact same juries, yet with a different set of procedures and rules. The score of the maritime courts was to carry out predictable outcomes to facilitate commerce. The naval courts’ cases often associated non-Athenian traders or metics (non-citizens life in Athens). The conflicts had to be over written contracts, as opposed to disputes over oral agreements. The marine courts, favor the homicide courts, work a preeminence prohibiting statements outside the problem of the case.<13>

Pre-Trial Proceedings

The events before the yes, really trial resemble what many litigants suffer today. As in modern times, a instance was initiated by a plaintiff bringing a complaint. The plaintiff to be responsible because that serving the complain on the defendant in the visibility of witnesses.<14> The complain was climate brought before a magistrate, that was a citizen chosen by lot, who then hosted a preliminary hear <anakrisis>. In an answer to the complaint, a defendant could deny the allegations, deny and also raise a paragraphē, or refuse there was a cause of action.<15> At these preliminary hearings, the parties can question each other, and also had come disclose the evidence they plan to present at trial, including documents and testimony of witnesses.<16> adhering to the preliminary hearing, the magistrate generally sent a private instance not involving homicide to an arbitrator, and a public instance directly come the well-known court.

Arbitrators were citizens end the period of sixty, likewise chosen by lot, and also their suggest verdicts were no binding; if the next did not accept the arbitrator’s decision, they can seek to have the matter lugged to trial. Due to the fact that arbitration forced the next to submit all the records they would use at trial, and also those files would be sealed in a container <echinos>, arbitration additionally served the objective of pretrial preparation.<17>

Juries in the renowned Courts

Citizens over the period of thirty without a criminal record were standard to serve as dikastai. Scholars disagree as to whether the dikastai have to be called jurors or judges, due to the fact that their duty was essentially both roles. For purposes of simplicity, the hatchet “jurors” is supplied here. Six thousand such citizens were selected by lot each year.<18> Jurors got a tiny fee, three obols, for each day invested hearing cases. This was much less than a man can earn because that a day’s work, so numerous juries were composed of men too old come work, as described in Aristophanes’ comedy, Wasps.<19> Jurors were not assigned days to work, however simply appeared when they to be willing come serve. It has been approximated each court job required between fifteen hundreds to two thousand jurors. On every trial day, juries were selected by lot, and the courts where they were assigned were likewise selected by lot. Juries in private situations could number between two and four hundred, when public cases could have between five hundred to one thousand jurors.<20>


As in modern proceedings, the plaintiff speak first, adhered to by the defendant, and the parties to be timed through a water clock <klepsydra>.<21>

Figure 3: Klepsydra, reconstruction of a clay original from Athenian Agora

Each party was expected to argue his own case before the court. As soon as witness testimony or law were review to the jurors, the water clock to be stopped, to be restarted when the speaker continued his speech.<22> As component of his presentation, a party could carry in witness testimony, either to be check out from a paper or later, come be provided in person. However, no cross-examination was allowed.<23> If the witness was a slave, his testimony would just be admitted after ~ he had been tortured, since it was believed a slave would not give accurate testimony in the lack of fear.<24>

Often, litigants rental speech writers (logographai), who detailed speeches because that the parties to deliver. Some of the most famed of this logographai were Antiphon, Lysias, and Demosthenes. The surviving speeches the such males constitute a significant source for our knowledge of Athenian law.<25> However, litigants never suggested they were delivering prepared speeches, rather pretending they were speaking extemporaneously, demonstrating their skill at what we now would contact rhetoric, through the score of persuading the jury.<26> many statements were enabled in the popular courts which today would accomplish evidentiary difficulties such as hearsay and relevance. For example, juries regularly heard arguments pertaining come the litigant’s vault actions, his connection to rather in the community, and the possible adverse effects of a guilty decision upon his family.<27>

The magistrate conducting the trial had actually no function other 보다 to preside. The did not make evidentiary rulings, allow objections, or offer instruction come the jury.<28> at the conclusion the the parties’ presentations, the jurors poll immediately and secretly, and a simple majority decided the case, differing from modern American criminal juries, which should be unanimous. There were no jury deliberations as in contemporary courts. In the case of a tie, the accused was found not guilty.<29> However, the later addition of one extra juror to produce an weird number prevented this.<30>

Jurors’ ballots were two discs with rods with the centers—a solid rod because that the defendant, and also a hole rod because that the plaintiff. The jurors dropped ballots to be counted in one container and ballots no to it is in counted in an additional container, spanning the rods so your votes stayed unknown come others. Then the votes to be counted and the verdict announced.<31>

" data-image-caption="" data-medium-file="https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot-300x129.jpg" data-large-file="https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot-1024x439.jpg" loading="lazy" class="wp-image-40613 " src="https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot.jpg" alt="Disks offered for batllots" width="1001" height="429" srcset="https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot.jpg 2084w, https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot-300x129.jpg 300w, https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot-768x329.jpg 768w, https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot-1024x439.jpg 1024w, https://moment-g.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Athenian_Secret_Ballot-150x64.jpg 150w" sizes="(max-width: 1001px) 100vw, 1001px" />Figure 3: old Athenian Jurors’ BallotsSome laws listed a set penalty for a conviction, but, if not, the parties might propose penalties and also a second vote would be take away to determine which would be imposed.<32> There was no appeal from the decision of the jurors. A shedding party could try to carry an activity against the winner on various other grounds, however that to be his just recourse.<33>

The attempt was additionally a windy event, and also it was typical that those who had not been liked as jurors, or males in town for the job on other business, would invest time in ~ the courts, city hall the proceedings. It was being required to such proceedings by his tutor that inspired the young Demosthenes to end up being a logographos.<34>

In summary, if us were to carry legal proceedings in old Athens, we would find many of the procedures and also customs foreign and confusing. Contemporary attorneys could experience particular difficulty confining us to a one-day trial. However, the simple principles that the presentation of pleadings and evidence, the best to have one’s side of the story heard, and also decisions make by one’s other citizens, would function two thousand five hundred years earlier just as they execute today.


<1> Gagarin, M. 2005. “The unity of Greek Law” in The Cambridge Companion to ancient Greek Law, ed. M. Gagarin and D. Cohen, 35. Cambridge, U.K. Cambridge university Press. See also Wolff. H. 1975. “Commentary: Greek legit History—Its Functions and also Potentialities.” 1975 Washington University legislation Quarterly 395:397.

<2> Chroust, A. 1954. “The Legal profession in ancient Athens.” 29 Notre Dame law Review 339: 342.

<3> Hornblower, S. And also A. Spawforth, eds. 1998. The Oxford Companion to timeless Civilization. 221. Oxford, U.K. 221.

<4> Bers, Victor, and Adriaan Lanni. 2003. “An introduction to the Athenian legal System.” 3. Http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_intro_legal_system?page=3&greekEncoding=UnicodeC.

<5> Panezi, M. 2017. “Update: A summary of the framework of the Hellenic Republic, the Greek legal System, and also Legal Research.” accessible at http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Greece1.html

<6> Lanni, A. 2004. “Verdict most Just: The settings of timeless Athenian Justice.” 16 Yale journal of Law and also Humanities 277, 281.

<7> Freeman, K. 1963. The murder of Herodes and also Other Trials indigenous the Athenian regulation Courts. 18. New York.

<8> Lanni, 2004. 279-281.

<9> Lanni, 2004. 287.

<10> Wolpert, A. And Kapparis, K., eds. And trans. 2011. Legal Speeches of autonomous Athens. Xiii. Indianapolis.

<11> Freeman, 1963. 16—17.

<12> Freeman, 1963. 16.

<13> Lanni, 2004. 287, 312—318.

<14> Bers and also Lanni, 2003. 4.

<15> Chroust, 343. A paragraphē could be explained as a “counter indictment,” denote the situation brought against the defendant was not proper, and asserting the plaintiff remained in the wrong. The denial of the visibility of a reason of action, there is no an accompanying complaint against the plaintiff, shows up to have worked somewhat favor a contemporary motion come dismiss for fail to state a reason of action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. Ascendancy 12(b)(6), permitting the defense of failure to state a insurance claim to be brought by motion, and Rule 13, addressing counterclaims. For a advantageous list the terms supplied in old Greek law, check out “A navard of Athenian legit Terms.” http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_law_glossary.

<16> Thur, G. 2018. “The Future of classical Oratory.” in Ancient Greek law in the 21st Century, ed. P. Perlman 197. Austin, TX.

<17> Thur, G. 2005. “The function of the witness in Athenian Law.” in The Cambridge Companion to ancient Greek Law. 156-157. Cambridge, U.K.

<18> Hornblower, S. And also A. Spawforth, eds. 1998. The Oxford Companion to classic Civilization. 221. Oxford, U.K. 221.

<19> Hornblower and also Spawforth. 1998. 394.

<20> Wolpert and also Kapparis, 2011. Xiii-xx.

<21> Wolpert and Kapparis, 2011. Xix—xx. For this reason how could one defend versus if one was in exile and could no come earlier into Athens? In together cases, the defendant was standing on a watercraft offshore in ~ a place called Phreatto, if the jury listened indigenous the beach. Freeman. 1963. 16.

<22> Freeman. 1963. 27.

<23> Hornblower and also Spawforth. 1998. 396.

<24> Hornblower and also Spawforth. 1998. 396.; Freeman. 1963. 27.

<25> Freeman. 1963. 33-39.

<26> Lanni. 2004. 285.

<27> Lanni, A. 2005. “Relevance in Athenian Courts.” in The Cambridge Companion to ancient Greek Law. 112-128. Cambridge, U.K.

<28> Bers and Lanni. 2003. 5.

<29> Hornblower and also Spawforth. 1998. 396.

<30> Bers and also Lanni. 2003. 6.

<31> Bers and Lanni. 2003. 6.

<32> Hornblower and Spawforth. 1998. 396.

<33> Hornblower and also Spawforth. 1998. 396.

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<34> Lanni, A. 1997. “Spectator sports or significant Politics? oi periesthkotes and the Athenian Lawcourts.” 117 The journal of Hellenic Studies, 183-189.

Image credits

Figure 1: Agora. Native Wikimedia Commons. Photograph William Neuheisel. An imaginative Commons CC-BY-2.0

Figure 2: Blick auf den Areopag in Athen. Wikimedia Commons. Photograph Fingalo. Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0-DE

Figure 3: Klepsydra – Water Clock: repair of a clay initial of the late fifth century BCE, old Agora Museum in Athens. Wikimedia Commons. Photograph Marsyas. Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Figure 4: Athenian mystery Ballot. From Wikimedia Commons. Photo Sharon Mollerus. Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0