Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Rewards for Service.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003
page 7 of 24
Service on the Council was a privilege, but also a responsibility, a responsibility often difficult for an Athenian citizen to fulfill. The territory of Attica was large, and any Councilor who lived outside of the city of Athens would have faced a long walk before and after every meeting. A passage from Demosthenes confirms what common sense would suggest: that there were always Councilors who were not active participants in the business of the Council, and who did not even attend all of the meetings. In this passage, Demosthenes is asking, rhetorically, whether every member of the Council will suffer if the Assembly fails to award the Councilors a crown in honor of their service. [the business of awarding crown to the Council is described below. — CWB] Demosthenes asks, “If the Council does not receive a crown, does the disgrace fall on the one who is silent, and proposes no decree, and perhaps does not even enter the Council House most of the time? Surely it does not.” (τῷ γάρ ἐστιν ὄνειδος, εἰ σιωπῶντος αὐτοῦ καὶ μηδὲν γράφοντος, ἴσως δ’ οὐδὲ τὰ πόλλ᾽ εἰς τὸ βουλευτήριον εἰσιόντος, μὴ λάβοι ἡ βουλὴ τὸν στέφανον; οὐδενὶ δήπουθεν) (Dem. 22.36).
Demosthenes’ rhetorical question would not have been particularly meaningful or effective if his audience did not know that at least some Councilors skipped meetings. So what incentives induced Councilors to attend? We have already seen that the Presidents (πρυτάνεις)—who had daily duty during their month of service—had their meals provided in the Tholos (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 43.3). It would make sense that they simply lived in the city of Athens during that month. In Plato’s philophical dialogue, the Laws, one of the characters is “the Athenian”, and this character says that in a properly organized state the Councilors in general can live in the countryside during the year, but the Presidents of the Council should remain in Athens while they serve their term (Plat. Laws 758b-d). This work is not history, but philosophy, and the characters are discussing an ideal state, but it is quite possible that “the Athenian” here is describing actual practice in Athens.
Councilors were paid to attend meetings of the Council. In the
Councilors were exempt from military service during their year in office (Lyc. 1.37). They also got to wear a crown (στέφανος) to mark their status (Lyc. 1.122). A certain section of seat in the Theater of Dionysus was called the Council Section (βουλευτικός), which suggests that Councilors enjoyed preferred seating (Aristoph. Birds 794; Suda beta,430).
It seems that the Council had to request that award, specifically from the Assembly, and put the request on the agenda for a meeting of the Assembly, as the end of the year approached. Aristotle tells us that, if the Council had not fulfilled its reponsibilities toward the Athenian navy, it was not eligible to receive its honorarium (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 46.1). Demosthenes also mentions the “the law that specifically denies to the Council the right to request an honorarium if they have not built the warships” (τοῦ νόμου τοῦ διαρρήδην οὐκ ἐῶντος ἐξεῖναι μὴ ποιησαμένῃ τῇ βουλῇ τὰς τριήρεις αἰτῆσαι τὴν δωρειάν) (Dem. 22.8). This passage confirms what Aristotle says—that the honorarium was not automatic, but depended on the Council’s fulfilling its responsibilities. It also informs us that, even if the Council did fulfill its responsibilties, it did not have the right to an honorium, but the right to request one (αἰτῆσαι τὴν δωρειάν).
Aeschines mentions one occasion on which the Assembly withheld the honorarium from the Council, due to the Council’s failure to punish two men suspected of embezzling funds from the treasury of Athene (Aeschin. 1.110-113).
Individual Councilors could be honored for exceptional service as well. An inscription from the
So, while we have seen evidence that not all Councilors took an active role, or even attended all the meetings, the Athenian democracy paid every Councilor for his daily service, afforded all Councilors certain privileges, could award the Council as a whole for having done good service, and could single out individual citizens whose service was exceptional.
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