The Democratic Significance of the Classical Athenian Courts

22 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2012 Last revised: 7 Dec 2016

Date Written: September 21, 2016


Towards the end of the fifth century, the Athenians formally increased the political powers of their courts at the expense of those of the assembly. The significance of this move has been disputed, but it is agreed the aim was democratic self-restraint. This article questions that interpretation. There is no evidence the Athenians conceived judicial activity as a restraint on the dêmos. To the contrary, numerous sources cast the courts as the most demotic organ in the political system, and an examination of the respective compositions, procedures and functions of the assembly and courts finds several possible reasons why. The reconceptualization of Athenian democracy this invites poses a considerable challenge to our understanding of democracy both ancient and modern.

Keywords: Athenian assembly, Athenian courts, era of legal reform, demos, democracy

Suggested Citation

Cammack, Daniela, The Democratic Significance of the Classical Athenian Courts (September 21, 2016). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Daniela Cammack (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

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