Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

[ link colors: Demos | External Source | Citation to Evidence| Word Tools ]

Demos Home

Summary.

General Principles.

Eligibility and Selection.

→ Scrutiny of Councilors.

The Bouleutic Oath.

Presidents and Chairman.

Rewards for Service.

Times and Places of Meetings.

Agenda for Meetings.

Procedure for Meetings.

Council Decrees.

Independent Action.

Introduction to Probouleumata.

Exceptional Decrees.

Probouleumata Voted Down.

Open and Closed Probouleumata.

Expiration of Probouleumata.

Legislation.

Jurisdiction.

Powers to Punish.

Administration of Attica.

Public Finance.

Foreign Policy.

Secondary Works Cited.

Index of Citations

General Index

Demos Home

The Council 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003

page 4 of 24

· Scrutiny of Councilors ·

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

Before taking their seats on the Council, newly selected Councilors had to undergo “scrutiny” ( δοκιμασία ), an audit of their fitness to serve (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 45.3).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 26).

Lysias makes the claim that the “law of scrutiny” was primarily intended to deny political office to men who had participated in one of the short-lived oligarchic coups of the 5th century BCE, or the Tyranny of the Thirty (these events are discussed below) (Lys. 26.9-10). But scrutiny was a broadly important institution in the Athenian democracy, and Lysias’ statement is probably too narrow to reflect strictly historical reality.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Lysias (Lys. 15).
Aeschines (Aeschin. 1).
Demosthenes (Dem. 44).
Lysias (Lys. 26).

The Nine Archons underwent scrutiny before taking office (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.2), as did the ten generals (Lys. 15.1-2), and priests, advocates, heralds, and ambassadors (Aeschin. 1.19-20). In fact, according to Aeschines, any citizen could call upon any other citizen to undergo scrutiny at any time, to determine whether he deserved the privilege of speaking before the Assembly (Aeschin. 1.32). Furthermore, every young Athenian man underwent a scrutiny before the members of his deme before he was enrolled in the list of citizens (Dem. 44.41; Lys. 26.21).

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Lysias (Lys. 31).
Lysias (Lys. 26).

The scrutiny of newly selected Councilors was managed by the Thesmothetae, the lower six of the nine archons (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 59.4), but it was the outgoing Council that decided whether each of the 500 new Councilors was eligible to take office (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 45.3). During this process, other citizens were invited to give testimony, under oath, before the Council (Lys. 31.1-2). Given the large number of Councilors who had to be scrutinized each year, it would be surprising if each candidate were given lengthy consideration, and in fact, a passage from Lysias admits that the scrutiny of a potential Councilor—who was one of 500 men serving for only one year—was ususally less strict than scrutiny of a candidate for the Areopagus, who would hold that office for life (Lys. 26.11-12).

This scrutiny took into account almost every aspect of a citizen’s life, public and private, and we can learn much about the values of the Athenian democracy from the questions asked during a scrutiny, and grounds for which a candidate could fail his scrutiny.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Xenophon (Xen. Mem.).

According to Aristotle, a candidate for the Council was asked, “Who is your father and to what deme does he belong, and who is your father’s father, and who is your mother, and who is her father and what is his deme? Then whether he has a Family Apollo and Homestead Zeus, and where these shrines are; then whether he has family tombs and where they are; then whether he treats his parents well, and whether he pays his taxes, and whether he has done his military service” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.3-4). According to Xenophon, they were also asked if they honored their family graves (Xen. Mem. 2.2.13).

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

After the candidate was asked the standard questions, the floor was open for any interested citizen to bring accusations against the candidate, and if anyone did so, the candidate could speak in his own defense (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.4).

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 1).

In Aeschines’ speech against Timarchus, in which the orator accuses Timarchus of having been a prostitute, he gives a long list of crimes and misdeeds that, according to the Law of Scrutiny of Public Speakers ( δοκιμασία ῥητόρων ), would make a man ineligible to address the Assembly; we can probably assume that the same offenses that would cause a citizen to lose that right would also cause him to lose the right to serve on the Council. Those ineligable to address the Assembly include, according to the orator, anyone “living a shameful life” ( αἰσχρῶς βεβιωκότας ), anyone who beats his father or mother or who has failed to support and provide a home for them, anyone failing to perform military service or who has thrown away his shield in battle, anyone who has prostituted himself, and anyone who has squandered his inheritance (Aeschin. 1.28-30).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 26).
Lysias (Lys. 31).

By the early 4th century, the Athenian democracy, barely one hundred years old, had experienced a period in which an oligarchy had taken power away from the People, and another period under the tyranny of the Thirty Tyrants (these events are discussed in the article on the history of the Council). It is not surprising, then, that in the time of Lysias—who lived from around 445 BCE until around 380 BCE—candidates for the Council were scrutinized for any sign that they had supported these anti-democratic governments (source for date: Perseus Encyclopedia, s.v. “Lysias”). Lysias even claims that this was the main purpose of scrutiny: “Reflect also on the fact that the author of the law concerning scrutinies had chiefly in view the magistrates of the oligarchy; for he thought it monstrous that the men responsible for the overthrow of the democracy should regain office under that very constitution, and get control over the laws and over the city of which they had formerly taken charge only to maim her with such shameful and terrible injuries” (Lys. 26.9). The orator continues to note, specifically, that if candidate were found to have served in the cavalry during the Tyranny of the Thirty, “you would reject him even without an accuser” (Lys. 26.10). In a speech that Lysias wrote against an Athenian named Philon, the speaker urges the Council to reject the man, not because he actively supported the Tyranny, but merely because he failed to oppose it actively (Lys. 31.12-14).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 31).
 
Plot on a Map
Athens.

Elsewhere in that same speech, we find the assertion that “only those have the right to sit in Council on our concerns who, besides holding the citizenship, have their hearts set upon it” (Lys. 31.5). It is possible that a candidate could fail his scrutiny merely for showing too little enthusiasm for the office, but this passage is probably nothing more than a rhetorical statement intended to show that the speaker holds Athens’ democratic institutions in the highest regard.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

After the candidate answered the questions, and any accusers had come forward, the Council voted by show of hands ( ἐπιχειροτονία ) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.4). According to Aristotle, originally the vote of the Council was the last word in a scrutiny, but in his time (the middle of the 4th century BCE) “there is an appeal to the Jury-court, and with this rests the final decision as to qualification” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.2).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 26).

A passage from a speech by Lysias confirms that a candidate who was rejected by the Council could appeal to a jury, while noting that this appeal could take time, and might result in the year beginning without a full body of magistrates in office (Lys. 26.6).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 16).

In addition to the evidence suggesting that Councilors would be rejected for various offenses, including having served in the cavalry during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants, there is evidence that these rules were not hard and fast. In the speech Lysias wrote for Mantitheus, who was defending himself in a scrutiny, he suggests that the Council, or a jury hearing an appeal, could take into account mitigating circumstances: “Besides, gentlemen if I had served [in the cavalry under the Thirty Tyrants— CWB], I should not deny it as though I had done something monstrous: I should merely claim, after showing that no citizen had suffered injury by my act, to pass the scrutiny. And I see that you also take this view, and that many of those who served then in the cavalry are on the Council, while many others have been elected generals and brigadiers” (Lys. 16.8). The speaker is suggesting that men who were technically ineligable for service on the Council could be, and were, approved if they could show that they had not harmed anyone.

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 31).

In the speech against Philon, Lysias suggests that crimes in a candidate’s past could be balanced by subsequent service to the Athenian democracy. Here he asks his audience to reject Philon’s candidacy, because of the man’s past crimes, until he has done good deeds sufficient to redeem himself: “What inducement, then, could you have for approving this man? Because he has committed no offence ? But he is guilty of the gravest crimes against his country. Or do you think he will reform? Then, I say, let him reform first in his bearing towards the city, and claim a seat on the Council later, when he has done her a service as signal as the wrong that he did her before” (Lys. 31.24).

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

After the scrutiny was completed, those who had passed were ceremonially sworn into service as Councilors for the year: “And when the matter has been checked in this way, they go to the stone on which are the victims cut up for sacrifice (the one on which Arbitrators also take oath before they issue their decisions, and persons summoned as witnesses swear that they have no evidence to give), and mounting on this stone they swear that they will govern justly and according to the laws, and will not take presents on account of their office, and that if they should take anything they will set up a golden statue. After taking oath they go from the stone to the Acropolis and take the same oath again there, and after that they enter on their office” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.5).

[ back to top ]

page 4 of 24