Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Open and Closed Probouleumata.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003
page 16 of 24
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.
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.
An even more dramatic example comes from
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).
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):
“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
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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