Our democracy, its origins and its tasks

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Our Eroding Norms

This freedom to speak was not absolute or without regulation. Aeschines tells us, for example, that in the early democracy before the 5th century citizens over 50 years of age could speak first, and only after those had their say could younger men speak Aeschin. Other formal restrictions could apply, such as decrees limiting discussion of certain topics to certain meetings of the Assembly Aeschin. Other, less legitimate but perhaps more effective limits could be imposed: the crowd might raise a clamor and refuse to listen to a speaker advocate an unpopular proposal Dem.

Individual citizens could lose the right to participate in the Assembly by committing various offenses Aeschin. Demosthenes mentions legal penalties for people who attend a meeting of the Assembly while owing a debt to the public treasury Dem. Also prohibited from participating were: anyone convicted of prostituting himself Aeschin.

Read about the evidence Aristotle Aristot. Citizens were paid for attending the Assembly , to ensure that even the poor could afford to take time from their work to participate in their own government. Aristotle recognized that inclusion of all citizens and freedom to speak are not the only hallmarks of a democratic constitution, but that the most democratic states pay their citizens for attending the Assembly.

In the 4th century , when Timocrates had proposed that the Athenians loosen enforcement of penalties against those who owe debts to the state, Demosthenes claimed that there would be no money left in the treasury to pay for attendance at the Assembly , and he went on to equate that outcome with an end to Democracy Dem.

Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Read about the evidence Thucydides Thuc. The traditional meeting-place for the Assembly was the open space on top of the hill of the Pnyx Thuc. The Pnyx was open to the sky, and thus meetings of the Assembly must have been influenced by the weather; the laws that mandated good weather omens before the election of military officers Aristot. In each prytany, there were three regular assemblies in addition to the Sovereign Assembly ; these were simply called Assemblies Aristot.

It seems likely that in the 5th century only the Sovereign Assemblies were regularly scheduled, because Thucydides mentions a period of 40 days in the year in which there was no Assembly Thuc. Apart from the Sovereign Assembly , one of the remaining three was an occasion for any citizen who wished to present a suppliant-branch and address his fellow citizens about any public or private matter that concerned him Aristot.

The ability of citizens to voice complaints in this public forum may have deterred certain bad behavior, or at least made the perpetrators think twice. Aeschines recounts how on one occasion some men assaulted a man named Pittalacus. On the next day when Pittalacus was in the marketplace, his attackers came up to him and tried to assuage him; they were afraid that their crime would be published to the whole city, since there was to be an Assembly that day Aeschin.

The other two regularly scheduled meetings in each prytany were concerned, according to Aristotle , with other things Aristot. Some of this other business was scheduled to happen at particular assemblies during the year. At an Assembly held on the 11th day of the first prytany, the people voted on whether or not to hold an review of all the laws Dem. In the 6th prytany, there was discussion of whether or not to hold an ostracism, discussion of any information against people charged with being informers—in this category, no more than three citizens and three resident foreigners—and discussion of people accused of failing to perform some assigned public service Aristot.

A meeting during the 6th prytany was also the occasion for election of military officers Aristot. Read about the evidence Apollodorus Dem. At least until the middle of the 4th century the Assembly occasionally met to conduct a trial, most often an impeachment Dem. Assemblies do not seem to have taken place on fixed days during each prytany, but they did not happen on days when the law-courts were in session Dem.

They seem also to have been scheduled around other important events, such as religious festivals. Aeschines is highly critical of an Assembly that was called on the 8th day of the month Elaphobolion, a day of sacrifices to Asclepius the orator says that this was unprecedented in memory Aeschin. Sometimes our sources seem to use it to refer to extra meetings, in addition to the normal four that happened in each prytany. But at other times the term seems to indicate an Assembly called at short notice, but not necessarily an extra Assembly.

Officials of the Council called together a meeting of the Assembly , which opened with various religious rituals before the citizens were invited to speak and vote on matters of public business. If the Assembly was to vote on some matter by ballot, the Prytaneis distribute the ballots Dem.

its origins and its tasks

Read about the evidence Xenophon Xen. In the 5th century , the Prytaneis actually managed the conduct of a meeting of the Assembly Xen. These Proedroi managed the conduct of the Assembly ; deciding when to put a question to the vote Aeschin.

The People did, on occasion, override the will of the officials conducting the meetings, as when, in the late 5th century , the Prytaneis were unwilling to allow a vote, the People overrode them with menacing shouts Xen. The selection or appointment of Proedroi was potentially subject to corruption, which Aeschines hints at on two occasions Aeschin. The opening of a meeting of the Assembly was marked by rituals. A sacrifice was made and carried around the area, and there was a prayer, both of these intended to purify the proceedings Aeschin. The heralds offered the prayer Aeschin. Xenophon Xen.

Even the most serious of matters were often decided by show of hands, such as the impeachment and condemnation of generals Aristot. Under certain circumstances, the Assembly would vote by ballot psephos Xen.

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Voting by ballot was limited to issues which had to be decided by a quorum of citizens Dem. Once the Assembly had approved something, the decree, its date, and the names of the officials who put the matter to the vote, were recorded and preserved as a public record of the proceedings of government Aeschin. The Council of represented the full-time government of Athens. It consisted of citizens, 50 from each of the ten tribes, who served for one year.

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The Council could issue decrees on its own, regarding certain matters, but its main function was to prepare the agenda for meetings of the Assembly. Andocides Andoc. Aristotle lists service on the Council among those offices chosen by lot Aristot.

He elsewhere says that in a democratic city, the Council was the most important board of magistrates Aristot. Through most of the 5th and 4th centures BCE, citizens were paid for their participation in the Council Aristot. Before taking their seats on the Council , newly selected Councilors had to undergo scrutiny dokimasia , an audit of their fitness to serve Aristot.

Read about the evidence Lysias Lys. Lysias makes the claim that the law of scrutiny was primarily intended to deny political office to men who had participated in one of the short-lived oligarchic coups of the 5th century BCE, or the Tyranny of the Thirty these events are discussed above Lys.

Lysias Lys. The Nine Archons underwent scrutiny before taking office Aristot. In fact, according to Aeschines , any citizen could call upon any other citizen to undergo scrutiny at any time, to determine whether he deserved the privilege of speaking before the Assembly Aeschin. Furthermore, every young Athenian man underwent a scrutiny before the members of his deme before he was enrolled in the list of citizens Dem.

The scrutiny of newly selected Councilors was managed by the Thesmothetae, the lower six of the nine archons Aristot. According to Xenophon , they were also asked if they honored their family graves Xen. After the candidate answered the questions, and any accusers had come forward, the Council voted by show of hands Aristot. A passage from a speech by Lysias confirms that a candidate who was rejected by the Council could appeal to a jury , while noting that this appeal could take time, and might result in the year beginning without a full body of magistrates in office Lys.

The newly appointed Councilors swore an oath, the terms of which are preserved by passing mentions in various sources.


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Five hundred Councilors served on the Council for the year, but practical concerns required that they be divided into smaller groups. The order in which the Councilors from each tribe served as presidents was random, determined by lot Aristot. The random determination seems to have taken place at the end of each prytany rather than all at once at the beginning of the year , so no one could predict which tribe would serve next.

When the decree was written, the Councilors from the tribe of Oineis were serving as prytanes, or presidents; the decree needed to refer to the next group of presidents, but that group was clearly not known. So, we can infer from this that the selection must have happened toward the end of a prytany.

Obviously, during the ninth prytany of the year, it would be obvious that whichever tribe had not yet served would hold the presidency for the final prytany.

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This elaborate randomization of the presidency was probably intended to limit possibilities for corruption. No one could plan to introduce business to the Council when a particular tribe held the presidency, and no Councilor could know in advance when he would serve as a president.

This chairman kept the keys to the treasuries and archives of Athens , as well as the state seal Aristot. In addition to a daily meeting of all the presidents, the chairman and one third of the presidents were required to be on hand in the Tholos constantly Aristot. These men, on-call in the Tholos , represented the whole government of Athens in a time of crisis, at least until the full Council or Assembly could be convened. Heralds and envoys from other states came to the presidents in the Tholos first, as did messenger bearing official letters Aristot.

Plot on a Map Macedon. Demosthenes describes a dramatic scene, that shows clearly the function of the presidents and the chairman. Demosthenes describes what happened when news of this threat came to Athens :. Plot on a Map Elateia. They were sitting at supper, but they instantly rose from table, cleared the booths in the marketplace of their occupants, and unfolded the hurdles, while others summoned the commanders and ordered the attendance of the trumpeter.