Rethinking Mass and Elite: Decision-Making in the Athenian Law-Courts
38 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2016 Last revised: 19 Jan 2017
Date Written: December 6, 2016
In the Athenian law-courts, wealthy, educated, and powerful elites fought one another to prevail as leaders and advisors of the masses. Regulated by the masses’ ideals of a good society, elite competition pushed Athens toward stability, prosperity and cultural immortality. Or did it? This article puts pressure on the mass and elite model of Athenian litigation (M&E). According to the M&E model, litigation is a game played by elite litigants and mass audiences; elite litigants seek to win over their opponents as a means to gain honor; and the masses constitute a monolithic body with identical preferences. This model, we suggest, does not adequately explain the dynamics of law- and policy-making in the Athenian courts. Combining findings from two separate bodies of literature in classics and political science, we build a new model of Athenian litigation that modifies the M&E model in two fundamental respects: first, jurors’ preferences are meaningfully pluralistic, therefore litigants (who are not only elites) face uncertainty as to the precise position of the median juror; and second, litigants want to win, but they also have preferences over policy/legal outcomes. Our model identifies the mechanisms that enabled diverse interests to be advanced and negotiated in ways that fostered both stability and innovation in Athenian law- and policy-making.
Keywords: Law, Courts, Ancient Athens, Mass and Elite Politics
JEL Classification: D72, D78, H11, K00, K40, N43
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation