Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ General Principles.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003
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The Athenian democracy rested on three institutions: the courts (the People’s Court and the Council of the Areopagus), the Assembly, and the Council (βουλή) (Dem. 20.100). At Athens, the Council was formally called the Council of the 500 (ἡ βουλή οἱ πεντακόσιοι), to distinguish it from the Council of the Areopagus (see, for example, Dem. 19.179; SEG 19 133).
Aristotle lists service the council among those offices chosen by lot (αἱ κληρωταὶ ἀρχαί) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 62.1). He elsewhere says that in a democratic polis (πόλις), the Council was the most important board of magistrates (Aristot. Pol. 1322b).
Through most of the
Although participation in the Council was paid, and considered an “office” (ἀρχή), it also seems to have been considered an unexceptional part of a citizen’s life, rather than a part of a political career. In Plato’s Apology of Socrates (an account, perhaps largely fictional, of the speech Socrates gave when on trial for impiety), Socrates says that he served on the council (Plat. Apol. 32a-b), but also says that he never participated in politics (Plat. Apol. 31c-d). So, in Plato’s account, it seems that service on the Council did not indicate political ambition, or even any special interest in politics.
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