The Popular Courts in Athenian Democracy
23 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020
Date Written: March 20, 2020
Accounts of Athenian democracy often emphasize the composition, procedures, and functions of the assembly: openness to all citizens, the right of each citizen to speak publicly, and the power of ordinary citizens to decide policy. Yet a series of legal reforms that enhanced the powers of judges at the end of the fifth century BC suggests that the Athenians perceived their popular courts as their most “demotic” institution, that is, the institution most likely to support the interests of ordinary citizens against the political elite and thus most crucial to democracy. Key features of the courts, such as greater numbers of poorer and older citizens, random selection, restrictions on speech, the secret ballot, and the power of ordinary citizens to decide justice, were more important to the idea and practice of democracy in Athens than has been recognized, with significant implications for understanding its differences from democracy today.
Keywords: Athenian democracy, Athenian assembly, Athenian courts, random selection, legal reform, demos
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