Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Administration of Attica.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003
page 21 of 24
Plot on a Map
Because the Council represented the largest institution of the Athenian democracy that existed on a full-time basis, with groups of fifty Councilors serving for an “administrative month,” or “prytany,” at a time, it made sense for this body to play a large role in the administration of Athens. The Council was responsible for making the city work properly.
We have already seen that the Council was responsible for inspecting members of the cavalry and their horses (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 49.1-2). The Council had additional responsibilities toward the military defenses of Attica as well. Demosthenes mentions a law that required the Council to oversee the building of new warships; the law specified that the Councilors would not get their end-of-year bonus (
A decree of the Assembly survives on an inscription that is very specific about the Council’s responsibility toward the outfitting of the naval fleet. The decree orders certain individual citizens to take charge of the outfitting and dispatch of the fleet—these citizens were called “Trierarchs” (
“Should anyone, whether he be an official or a private citizen, not do any of the things he has been assigned by this Decree, let him owe ten thousand drachmas to the Treasury of Athene, and let the Auditor and the Assessor mark down this obligation, or owe the fine themselves. And it is necessary for the Council to punish those of the Trierarchs who were responsible for the fleet but who shirked their duty. And the Prytaneis must make a session of the Council concerning the fleet, and it should meet continuously until the fleet is ready. And the People will choose ten men out of all the Athenians to be Naval Constructors, to take responsibility for the fleet, according to the instructions of the Council. And if the Council and the Prytaneis are responsible for the fleet, they will be crowned by the People from the [some text missing— CWB] drachmas. And if this Decree has left anything out concerning the fleet, the Council has the authority to make other decrees, as long as it does not undo any of the Decrees of the People.” (IG II2 1629.233-266)
Plot on a Map
This law not only shows the Council’s authority over the construction and dispatch of Athens’ navy, but also illustrates, again, the separation of powers under the Athenian Democracy: the Assembly here delegates authority to the Council, but in the end it is the Assembly of the People that have the final word.
The Council was also responsible for keeping the harbor and naval yards in good repair (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 46.1), and indeed for all of the defenses of the Piraeus (the harbor), the Long Walls (that connected the harbor to the city), and “all the rest of the stone walls” (
Beyond the administration of military matters, the Council had to inspect all public buildings (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 49.3), and it controlled the religious sanctuaries in the city of Athens and the whole territory of Attica (IG II2 244).
In short, as Aristotle says, “The Council shares in, if I may say so, the administration of the greatest number of the duties” (
page 21 of 24