Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Procedure in the 4th c..
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003
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The Areopagus, functioning as a court of law during the
In this speech and elsewhere, Demosthenes emphasizes the extent to which the rights of the accused were protected by law and procedure. If the accuser won his case, and the accused was convicted, the accuser had no power of punishment: “only the laws and the appointed officer have power over the man for punishment. The prosecutor is permitted to see him suffering the penalty awarded by law, and that is all.” (Dem. 23.69). If the Areopagus found a defendant guilty in a case of homicide, the court seems to have had the authority to hand him straight over to the executioner (Din. 1.62; although this passage refers to powers given to the Areopagus by a particular decree in the
Defendants swore the same oath as accusers, but Demosthenes says that they had an important additional right: “it is permitted to them to depart after giving his first speech, and neither the prosecutor, nor the jurors, nor any other man is authorized to prevent it” (τὸν πρότερον δ’ ἔξεστιν εἰπόντα λόγον μεταστῆναι, καὶ οὔθ᾽ ὁ διώκων οὔθ᾽ οἱ δικάζοντες οὔτ᾽ ἄλλος ἀνθρώπων οὐδεὶς κύριος κωλῦσαι) (Dem. 23.69). We may suppose (although Demosthenes does not make this clear) that the defendant would have to leave Athens after withdrawing from the trial.
The trial would proceed with each side giving one or more speeches (see Din. 1.1, where he says that he does not have to give all the details of the case because a fellow-prosecutor, Stratocles, has already given his speech). Aeschines, speaking in praise of the Areopagus, says that this court was different from the other courts of Athens in that Areopagites were less likely than other jurors to be swayed by skillful speaking alone: “I myself have before now seen many men convicted before this tribunal, though they spoke most eloquently, and presented witnesses; and I know that before now certain men have won their case, although they spoke most feebly, and although no witnesses testified for them. For it is not on the strength of the pleading alone, nor of the testimony alone, that the members of the court give their verdict, but on the strength of their own knowledge and their own investigations. And this is the reason why that tribunal maintains its high repute in the city.” (πολλοὺς γὰρ ἤδη ἔγωγε τεθεώρηκα ἐν τῷ βουλευτηρίῳ τούτῳ εὖ πάνυ εἰπόντας καὶ μάρτυρας πορισαμένους ἁλόντας· ἤδη δέ τινας κακῶς πάνυ διαλεχθέντας καὶ πρᾶγμα ἀμάρτυρον ἔχοντας οἶδα νικήσαντας. οὐ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ λόγου μόνον οὐδ’ ἐκ τῶν μαρτυριῶν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐξ ὧν αὐτοὶ συνίσασι καὶ ἐξητάκασι, τὴν ψῆφον φέρουσι. τοιγάρτοι διατελεῖ τοῦτο τὸ συνέδριον εὐδοκιμοῦν ἐν τῇ πόλει.) (Aeschin. 1.92).
The Archon Basileus served as the “introducing official” (εἰσάγουσα ἀρχη), but it seems that he did not actually participate in deciding the case; only the actual members of the Areopagus voted (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 57.4). Because members of the Areopagus had all served as archons (Plut. Sol. 19.1; Dem. 24.22; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 60.3), and because, as archons, they would each have had experience presiding over the various courts of Athens (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 56.6-7, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 57.2-4, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 58.2, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 59.2-6), and because they served on the Areopagus for life (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6; Lys. 26.11), they must have had much more experience than the juries of the other courts.
According to Aristotle, the Areopagus did not allow speakers, either defendants or prosecutors, to introduce irrelevant information into their speeches; in this, he says, the Areopagus is different from the other courts at Athens (Aristot. Rh. 1354a 20).
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