Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of March 26, 2003
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Aristotle says that payment for attendance was instituted specifically to “get people to come to vote by show of hands” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 41.3). Even the most serious of matters were often decided by show of hands, such as the impeachment and condemnation of generals (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 34.1) and the approval of formal laws (νόμοι) (Dem. 24.20) (laws were more significant than decrees; see below and on Legislation). This method of voting limited the business of the Assembly to daylight hours, as this anecdote from Xenophon shows: “it was decided, however, that the matter should be postponed to another meeting of the Assembly (for by that time it was late in the day and they could not have distinguished the hands in the voting).” (ἔδοξε δὲ ἀναβαλέσθαι εἰς ἑτέραν ἐκκλησίαν, τότε γὰρ ὀψὲ ἦν καὶ τὰς χεῖρας οὐκ ἂν καθεώρων) (Xen. Hell. 1.7.7). Under certain circumstances, the Assembly would vote by “ballot”, literally “pebble” (ψῆφος); this was organized by Tribes (φυλαί), with two urns, serving as ballot-boxes, for each Tribe (Xen. Hell. 1.7.9). Voting by ballot was limited to issues which had to be decided by a quorum of 6000 citizens (Dem. 59.89 - Dem. 59.90).
Once the Assembly had approved something, the decree, its date, and the names of the officials who put the matter to the vote, were recorded and preserved as a public record of the proceedings of government (Aeschin. 2.89; Aeschin. 2.58; Aeschin. 3.75). Thus Aeschines could refer to a decree (ψήφισμα) “as originally written” (ὡς ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἐγράφη) (Aeschin. 2.66). When Aeschines officially declined to serve as an ambassador when selected by the Assembly, his affidavit refusing that office was preserved with the original decree in the Metroon, the Temple of Demeter (Dem. 19.129).
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