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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.

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Powers to Punish.

Administration of Attica.

Public Finance.

Foreign Policy.

Secondary Works Cited.

Index of Citations

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The Council 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003

page 8 of 24

· Times and Places of Meetings ·

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

The Chairman ( ἐπιστάτης ) and one third of the Presidents ( πρυτάνεις ) of the Council were always on duty (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 44.1). These Presidents convened meetings of the council, “the Council, indeed, meeting every day, unless the day is exempt” ( τὴν μὲν οὖν βουλὴν ὅσαι ἡμέραι, πλὴν ἐάν τις ἀφέσιμος ) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 43.3).

We cannot examine all of the evidence regarding the Athenian calendar, to develop a full picture of what days during the year were “exempt” ( ἀφέσιμος ) from meetings of the Council—Jon D. Mikalson, The Sacred and Civil Calendar of the Athenian Year (Princeton, 1975) is the most complete presentation of that evidence. But we can see a few examples of occasions on which the Council did not meet.

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).

Demosthenes, for example, accuses a certain Timocrates of having taken unjust advantage of an “exempt” day: “The assembly at which your vote was taken fell on the eleventh of Hecatombaeon, and he introduced his law on the twelfth, the very next day, although it was a feast of Cronus and the Council therefore stood adjourned.” ( ἀλλὰ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, ἐν τοὺς νόμους ἐπεχειροτονήσατε, οὔσης ἑνδεκάτῃ τοῦ ἑκατομβαιῶνος μηνός, δωδεκάτῃ τὸν νόμον εἰσήνεγκεν, εὐθὺς τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ, καὶ ταῦτ’ ὄντων Κρονίων καὶ διὰ ταῦτ᾽ ἀφειμένης τῆς βουλῆς ) (Dem. 24.26).

According to Demosthenes, Timocrates conspired with a certain Epicrates to have a decree passed in the Council; the text of the decree ( ψήφισμα ) is reported in Demosthenes’ speech as follows:

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).

“During the first presidency, namely, that of the Tribe Pandionis, and on the eleventh day of that presidency, it was moved by Epicrates that, in order that the sacrifices may be offered, that provision may be adequate, and that any lack of funds for the Panathenian Festival may be made good, the Presidents of the Tribe Pandionis do tomorrow set up a Legislative Committee, and that such Legislative Committee do consist of one thousand and one citizens who have taken the oath, and that the Council co-operate therewith in legislative business.” (Dem. 24.27).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).

Since “tomorrow” was the feast of Cronus, a day on which the Council did not meet (Dem. 24.26), this decree created a board of Nomothetae without the consent of the full Council (for the Nomothetae, see the article on Legislation).

Read about the evidence
Athenaeus.

Athenaeus mentions a decree that gives the Council a holiday for the festival of the Apaturia: “So that the Council might celebrate the Apaturia with the rest of the Athenians, according to the traditional ways, it has been decreed by the Council that the Councilors be dismissed for those days that the other offices have off, that is, five days starting from the day on which the Protenthae celebrate the opening feast of the Apaturia” ( ὅπως ἂν βουλὴ ἄγῃ τὰ Ἀπατούρια μετὰ τῶν ἄλλων Ἀθηναίων κατὰ τὰ πάτρια, ἐψηφίσθαι τῇ βουλῇ ἀφεῖσθαι τοὺς βουλευτὰς τὰς ἡμέρας ἅσπερ καὶ αἱ ἄλλαι ἀρχαὶ αἱ ἀφεταὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ἡμέρας ἧς οἱ προτένθαι ἄγουσι πέντε ἡμέρας ) (Athen. 4.171e).

Read about the evidence
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Thes.).

An exchange between two characters in Aristophanes’ comedy, the Thesmophoriazousae, suggests that the Council did not meet during the Thesmophoria: “Euripides: This day will decide whether it is all over with Euripides or not. Mnesilochus: But how? Neither the tribunals nor the Council are sitting, for it is the third day of the Thesmophoria.” ( Εὐριπίδης· τῇδε θἠμέρᾳ κριθήσεται εἴτ’ ἔστ᾽ ἔτι ζῶν εἴτ᾽ ἀπόλωλ᾽ Εὐριπίδης. Μνησίλοχος· καὶ πῶς; ἐπεὶ νῦν γ᾽ οὔτε τὰ δικαστήρια μέλλει δικάζειν οὔτε βουλῆς ἐσθ᾽ ἕδρα, ἐπεὶ τρίτη ᾽στὶ Θεσμοφορίων μέση. ) (Aristoph. Thes. 77-81).

Read about the evidence
Plutarch (Plut. Alc.).

And Plutarch’s biography of Alcibiades describes the festival of the Plynteria, saying that “the Athenians regard this days as the unluckiest of all days for business of any sort” ( ὅθεν ἐν ταῖς μάλιστα τῶν ἀποφράδων τὴν ἡμέραν ταύτην ἄπρακτον Ἀθηναῖοι νομίζουσιν ) (Plut. Alc. 34.1).

So, without going into the complexities of the Athenian civic and religious calendar, we can get an idea of the occasions on which the Council would not meet.

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 1).

In addition to regular meetings of the Council, called by the Presidents every day except for “exempt days”, the Council seems to have met after each meeting of the Assembly. An anecdote from Aeschines suggests this. At a meeting of the Assembly, a man named Pamphilus, of the deme Acherdous, accused two men, Hegesandrus and Timarchus, of embezzling one thousand drachmas from the treasury of Athene (Aeschin. 1.110). Pamphillus then suggested that the matter be placed in the hands of the Council, but that should the Council fail to deal with the two men, the Assembly should consider witholding the Council’s honorarium ( δωρεά ) at the end of their year of service (Aeschin. 1.111). The account continues, “After this, when the Council had returned to the Council House, they expelled him on the preliminary ballot, but took him back on the final vote” (Aeschin. 1.112). The matter-of-fact way in which Aeschines reports this post-Assembly meeting of the Council suggests that it was not an extraordinary event, but a regular one.

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 1).
Xenophon (Xen. Hell.).
 
Plot on a Map
Piraeus.
Eleusis.

The Council could meet in various locations. Inscriptional evidence shows that the Council might meet near the naval docks in Piraeus, or by the harbor wall if it was discussing naval matters (IG I3 61.53); IG II2 1629.248). Andocides says that he and Cephisius were summoned to appear before the Council in the Temple of Demeter at Eleusis, the Eleusinium, “as it was there that the Council was to sit in conformity with a law of Solon’s, which lays down that a sitting shall be held in the Eleusinium on the day after the Mysteries” (Andoc. 1.111). Xenophon mentions one occasion on which, “The Council of the Athenians happened to be meeting on the Acropolis” ( τῶν δὲ Ἀθηναίων βουλὴ ἐτύγχανεν ἐν ἀκροπόλει καθημένη ) (Xen. Hell. 6.4.20).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 25).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

But normally the Council met in the Council House, the Bouleuterion ( βουλευτήριον ), in the Agora (Dem. 25.23; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 48.1; IG II2 330.30-31).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 13).
Antiphon (Antiph. 6).

Inside the Council House the Councilors were seated on benches, with special benches for the Presidents (Lys. 13.37). There was a raised platform for speakers, the “bema” ( βῆμα ) (Antiph. 6.40). Antiphon also says that, “In that very Council House was a shrine to Zeus the Councilor [Zeus Boulaios— CWB] and Athene the Councilor [Athene Boulaia— CWB]” ( ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ βουλευτηρίῳ Διὸς βουλαίου καὶ Ἀθηνᾶς βουλαίας ἱερόν ἐστι ) (Antiph. 6.45).

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 2).

There was also a hearth ( ἑστία ) sacred to Hestia of the Council, or Hestia Boulaia. We hear of Demosthenes affirming his praise for a returning embassy by swearing to this goddess in the Council House (Aeschin. 2.45). But the sacred hearth was more broadly useful. As an altar to a god, it provided protection to whomever stood on it.

Read about the evidence
Thucydides (Thuc.).
Plutarch (Plut. Alc.).
Andocides (Andoc. 1).
 
Plot on a Map
Athens.

Andocides describes one instance of this. The context is a speech related to a scandal in Athens in 415 BCE (source for date: OCD3); a number of Athenians, the general Alcibiades most prominent among them, were accused of performing a parody of the Eleusynian Mysteries in a private residence (the scandal and subsequent legal actions are described at: Thuc. 6.28; Thuc. 6.53; Plut. Alc. 18.3). The scandal provoked a crisis so great that the Council was granted special authority to conduct the investigation—Andocides says, of the Council at this time, “it had full powers” ( ἦν γὰρ αὐτοκράτωρ ) (Andoc. 1.15). During the investigation, Andocides tells us, a certain Diocles gave to the Council a list of forty-two Athenians whom he had seen at this mock ceremony: “and at the head of the forty-two appeared Mantitheus and Apsephion who were members of the Council and present at that very meeting. Peisander hereupon rose and moved that the decree passed in the archonship of Scamandrius be suspended and all whose names were on the list sent to the torture wheel, to ensure the discovery of everyone concerned before nightfall. The Council broke into shouts of approval. At that Mantitheus and Apsephion took sanctuary on the hearth, and appealed to be allowed to furnish guarantees and stand trial, instead of being tortured. They finally managed to gain their request; but no sooner had they provided their guarantees than they leapt on horseback and deserted to the enemy” (Andoc. 1.43-44). These two members of the Council invoked the protection of Hestia, to prevent their fellow Councilors from forcing them to submit to torture—the fact that the “all powerful” Council was willing to suspend the decree that prohibited torturing Athenian citizens shows how seriously they took this crisis. And the protection of Hestia worked, although Mantitheus and Apsephion did not live up to their promise to stand trial but fled the city.

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 2).

The Hearth in the Council-chamber saved the life of the speaker in another speech by Andocides, during a turbulent meeting of the Council: “I saw the uproar into which the meeting was breaking, and knew that I was lost; so I sprang at once to the hearth and laid hold of the sacred emblems. That act, and that alone, was my salvation at the time; for although I stood disgraced in the eyes of the gods, they, it seems, had more pity on me than did men; when men were desirous of putting to death, it was the gods who saved my life” (Andoc. 2.15).

Read about the evidence
Xenophon (Xen. Hell.).

Xenophon records how, during the Tyranny of the Thirty, Theramenes tried to invoke this protection in the Council House. Critias, one of the Thirty Tyrants, had moved to strike Theramenes from the roll of those enjoying citizen rights under the tyranny; Theramenes stood on the hearth in the Council House and called on the Councilors to protect his rights. He invoked the sanctity of the hearth to highlight the impiety of the tyrants: “To be sure, I know that this hearth will not help me, but I want to show that these Thirty are not only unjust toward men, but I want to show that they are are most impious toward the gods” (Xen. Hell. 2.3.53). As Theramenes predicted, the Thirty did not honor Hestia’s shrine, and Critias ordered that he be arrested: “When Critias had spoken these words, Satyrus dragged Theramenes away from the altar, and his servants lent their aid. And Theramenes, as was natural, called upon gods and men to witness what was going on. But the Councilors kept quiet…” (Xen. Hell. 2.3.55). Xenophon uses the tyrants’ failure to honor the sanctity of the Hearth to illustrate the depravity of the tyranny. Thus, even this negative example of the role played by Hestia Boulaia shows us the importance of the goddess and her Hearth for the functioning of the democratic Council.

This anecdote shows both the impiety of the Thirty Tyrants and the extent to which they had cowed the Council into submission, but also illustrates an important function of the Hestia Boulaia.

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