Collective Sanctions in Classical Athens
Kehoe & McGinn, Ancient Law, Ancient Society (Forthcoming)
Posted: 5 Feb 2016 Last revised: 16 Mar 2016
Date Written: June 5, 2015
This paper examines the use of collective sanctions in classical Athens. Collective sanctions have been interpreted in two very different ways: for some they reflect a distinctively primitive conception of collective guilt and responsibility; for others collective sanctions are an instrumental method of promoting deterrence. The paper argues that the Athenians understood collective sanctions primarily in instrumental terms. While the long pedigree of collective sanctions in Greek literature and culture made these punishments less morally repugnant to the Athenians than they are to moderns, the relatively rare uses of collective sanctions in classical Athens do not support a cultural account. At the same time, modern functional accounts only explain a small subset of Athenian collective punishments. Most functional accounts describe ancient collective liability as a form of indirect, delegated deterrence which encourages group members to monitor, prevent, and punish individual wrongdoers within the group. I argue that while this model applies to one form of collective punishment in Athens — group punishment of boards of magistrates — in most cases Athenian collective sanctions were aimed at direct, rather than indirect, deterrence.
Keywords: Athens, Legal History, Punishment, Sanctions
JEL Classification: K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation