The First Athenian Law Against Bribery

58 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2013 Last revised: 3 Apr 2013

Date Written: March 11, 2013


This paper develops a new approach for understanding the explosion of laws regulating politics in archaic Greece. Typically, scholars in this area have adopted a functionalist approach that explains, at best, why certain types of substantive law would have been desirable. By contrast, my approach focuses on procedural design to examine what drove specific design choices about a law's substance, penalty, and procedure.

I use Athens' first bribery law - a Solonian law prohibiting compensatory gifts (bribes) to archons - to illustrate how norms and existing institutions shape a law's design. I show how the substance, procedure, and penalty of Solon's law reflected a nascent idea of bribery as a kind of elite rent-seeking. Solon chose legal process - prosecution before the Areopagus - because it was best-suited to inculcate among elites more civic-oriented norms on rent-seeking. Though likely ineffective, his law helped establish that elites should channel rent-seeking into a public sphere regulated by law.

Keywords: bribery, corruption, Athens, archaic Greece, democracy, Solon, Pierson, legal functionalism, legal history, democratization, politics, procedural design, substance and procedure

Suggested Citation

Conover, Kellam, The First Athenian Law Against Bribery (March 11, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Kellam Conover (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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