Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Disorderly Conduct, Corruption, and Manipulation.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of March 26, 2003
page 21 of 23
Meetings of the Assembly were not always orderly affairs. Orators seem to have resorted to theatrics from time to time, such as in the 5th century when Cleophon came forward, drunk, wearing armor, and threatening anyone who wished to make an arrangement with Sparta (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 34.1). According to Aeschines, Demosthenes once threatened to drag away, by the hair, anyone who advocated peace with Philip (Aeschines explicitly compares this incident to Cleophon’s antics many years before) (Aeschin. 3.150). Aeschines also mentions Timarchus throwing off his clothes and leaping around “like a gymnast” to punctuate some point (Aeschin. 1.26). Aristotle blames the late 5th century politician Cleon for this sort of behavior, saying that he was the first to use “unseemly shouting and coarse abuse on the platform” (ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος ἀνέκραγε καὶ ἐλοιδορήσατο, καὶ περιζωσάμενος ἐδημηγόρησε), and to hitch up his cloak (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 28.3). In addition to the antics of speakers, the assembled crowd could get rowdy. Demosthenes laments that many citizens would come to the Assembly for “diversion” (παρέργως) rather than for serious deliberation (Dem. 17.13). When Philocrates tried to speak in favor of an unpopular motion, according to Demosthenes, the assembly “raised a clamor” and refused to listen to him, forcing him to step down (θορυβούντων ὑμῶν καὶ οὐκ ἐθελόντων ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ, καταβαίνων ἀπὸ τοῦ βήματος) (Dem. 19.111).
There were laws against such behavior. Aeschines quotes a law that if anyone who spoke off subject, failed to speak on each proposition separately, spoke twice on the same subject on the same day, spoke abusively, interrupted, shouted disapproval, or laid hands on the Presiding Officials (πρόεδροι), then that person could be fined up to 50 drachmas for each offence, and under certain circumstances, the Council could vote to fine him even more (Aeschin. 1.35). But, as the evidence suggests, this law was not uniformly or consistently enforced, a fact that Aeschines laments (Aeschin. 3.2).
Misbehavior of a more serious kind was possible, as well, and was the subject of debate in the Assembly. Aeschines mentioned a decree, proposed by one Demophilus, that was to set certain punishments for attempts to bribe member of the Assembly (Aeschin. 1.86). Aeschines accuses Demosthenes of bribing “hirelings” (μισθοφόροι) to attend meetings of the Assembly and vote a certain way (Aeschin. 2.72). And Aeschines elsewhere complains of corruption deeper than specific instances of bribery, claiming that the Presiding Officials (πρόεδροι) are not chosen fairly, but by a corrupt process (Aeschin. 3.3).
Short of bribery, but equally subject to accusations, complaints and condemnations by the orators, were efforts to manipulate the normal workings of the Assembly and the government generally. For example, Aeschines argues that Demosthenes proposed a decree sending ambassadors to Thermopylae and Delphi “the times appointed by our fathers” (ἐν τοῖς τεταγμένοις χρόνοις ὑπὸ τῶν προγόνων); this decree was a ruse, Aeschines claims, to prevent those ambassadors from being at Thermopylae for an important meeting of the Amphictyonic Council, the body that governed the sanctuaries at Delphi (Aeschin. 3.127). In another passage, Aeschines makes a complicated argument that Demosthenes manipulated the Council into passing a certain probouleuma for consideration by the Assembly (Aeschin. 3.125). And again, Aeschines criticizes Callias for delivering, as his own words, a speech that Demosthenes had written for him (Aeschin. 3.95). In his turn, Demosthenes claimed that a cabal was formed against him (συστάντων), that set in motion all sorts of indictments, audits, and impeachments (γραφάς, εὐθύνας, εἰσαγγελίας). Aeschines claims that impeachment (εἰσαγγελία) was often used when a prosecutor preferred to argue a case before the Assembly, thinking that it would not be successful if argued before a jury (Aeschin. 3.4).
page 21 of 23