Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

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The Council 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003

page 16 of 24

· “Open” and “Closed” Probouleumata ·

Sometimes the Council would make a Preliminary Decree, a probouleuma, that gave the Assembly a real choice between several courses of action, an “open” probouleuma. At other times, the Council would make a specific recommendation to the Assembly, a “concrete” probouleuma.

Read about the evidence
Apollodorus (Dem. 59).
 
Plot on a Map
Euboea.
Olynthus.

For an example of an open probouleuma, in a speech to an Athenian jury, Demosthenes describes this Preliminary Decree that came before the Assembly: “You were at that time on the point of sending your entire army to Euboea and Olynthus, and Apollodorus, being a member of the Council, brought forward in the Council a bill, and carried it as a Preliminary Decree to the Assembly; the Preliminary Decree proposed that the People should decide whether the funds remaining over from the state’s expenditure should be used for military purposes or for public spectacles. For the laws prescribed that, when there was war, the funds remaining over from state expenditures should be devoted to military purposes, and Apollodorus believed that the people ought to have power to do what they pleased with their own.” (Dem. 59.4). Here the Council presented the Assembly with two choices, but did not recommend which choice the People should make.

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 18).
 
Plot on a Map
Macedon.
Elatea.

An even more dramatic example comes from 339 BCE, when Philip of Macedon had captured the city of Elatea. Demosthenes decribes what happened: “Evening had already fallen when a messenger arrived bringing to the presiding Councilors the news that Elatea had been taken. They were sitting at supper, but they instantly rose from their meal, cleared the booths in the marketplace of their occupants, and unfolded the hurdles, while others summoned the generals and ordered the trumpeter to come. The commotion spread through the whole city. At daybreak on the next day the Prytanes summoned the Council to the Council House, and the citizens flocked to the place of assembly. Before the Council could introduce the business and prepare the agenda, the whole body of citizens had taken their places on the hill. The Council arrived, the presiding Councilors formally reported the intelligence they had received, and the courier was introduced. As soon as he had told his tale, the marshal put the question, Who wishes to speak? No one came forward.” (Dem. 18.169-170).

On the morning that Demosthenes describes, then, the Council met quickly to pass a probouleuma. The orator does not tell us of its contents, but it certainly seems that the Council did not make any specific recommendations. Instead, it seems most likely that the probouleuma merely put the military crisis on the agenda of the special meeting of the Assembly, and that any citizen was welcomed to make a specific proposal (which none was ready to do, evidently).

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 3).
Demosthenes (Dem. 19).
 
Plot on a Map
Thermopylae.
Delphi.

A very clear example of a “concrete” Preliminary Decree comes from a speech by Aeschines about Demosthenes. According to Aeschines, Demosthenes moved a probouleuma in the Council, which was then sent along to the Assembly, that made a very specific recommendation: “‘The hieromnemon [an official envoy sent on embassies of a religous nature— CWB] of the Athenians,’ it says, ‘and the pylagori [another religious envoy— CWB] who are at the time in office, shall go to Thermopylae and Delphi at the times appointed by our fathers’” (Aeschin. 3.126). This was a specific proposal, for the Assembly either to accept or to reject. Other “concrete” probouleumata appear in the sources. Demosthenes mentions one that put the matter of selling naval equipment to Philip of Macedon; the probouleuma invited the Assembly either to make doing so a capital offense, or not (Dem. 19.286).

It may have been that even under a “concrete” Preliminary Decree, once the business was on the floor of the Assembly, citizens could propose alternative solutions to those suggested by the Council in the original probouleuma. A passage from a speech by Aeschines suggests this (the details of the historical situation are not important here):

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 2).

“Amyntor in support of Aeschines testifies that when the people were deliberating on the subject of the alliance with Philip, according to the decree of Demosthenes, in the second meeting of the Assembly, when no opportunity was given to address the people, but when the decrees concerning the peace and alliance were being put to vote, at that meeting Demosthenes was sitting by the side of the witness, and showed him a decree, over which the name of Demosthenes stood written; and that he consulted him as to whether he should hand it to the presiding officers to put to vote; this decree contained the terms on which Demosthenes moved that peace and alliance he made, and these terms were identical with the terms which Philocrates had moved.” (Aeschin. 2.167-168)

Plot on a Map
Macedon.

Here is what seems to be happening in this passage. There was a meeting of the Assembly. One item on the agenda (thus having been the subject of a Preliminary Decree from the Council) was a peace treaty with Philip of Macedon. Because Aeschines says that no one had the opportunity to address the People (that is, the Assembly), we can assume that this was a concrete probouleuma, one making a specific recommendation for the People either to approve or reject. But Demosthenes had already written another decree (a ψήφισμα , “something to be voted on by the Assembly”, not a probouleuma from the Council) and was debating whether to introduce it.

From this, it would seem that once a piece of business got to Assembly, the Athenian people could debate and vote on related suggestions made on the spot, not merely the course of action recommended by the Council.

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