Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Part 1.4.
Edward M. Harris, edition of March 22, 2003
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Plot on a Map
Some scholars believe that the enforcement of the law in Classical Athens lay primarily in the hand of private citizens, but it is hard to square this view with the ancient evidence for the administration of law in the agora. In the law of Nicophon the primary responsibility for enforcing the law lies in the hands of a public slave, the Tester, the Syllogeis who supervise him, the Sitophylakes, and the Council, which supervises all these officials. Private individuals can provide information to these officials and receive rewards, but it is the officials who confiscate counterfeit coins and the goods of merchants who do not accept good coins. In the law about weights and measures there is also some role for private initiative in reporting offenses, but the most important tasks in overseeing these regulations lie in the hands of the Metronomoi, public slaves, and the Areopagus. The growth of market transactions in the Athenian agora grew to the extent that strict regulations were needed to ensure fairness and order, and the enforcement of these regulations was primarily in the hands of public officials.
Plot on a Map
Extensive specialization of labor and the development of market-relations also created a need for several types of contracts. The laws of Athens contained a general provision that all agreements which the parties entered into willingly and which did not violate the law were binding, that is, the courts would enforce them if one party refused to abide by the terms of the contract. There was also a rule against fraud, which invalidated contracts where one party acted deceitfully. There were various types of contracts for hire (misthosis); like the Roman contract of
The Athenians also knew the practice of providing earnest money (arrhabon). When two parties agreed to a sale, but the buyer could not pay the full purchase price, he could give the seller earnest money until he could come up with the rest of the cash. If he failed to make the full payment, the seller could keep the earnest money as a penalty. On the other hand, if the seller refused to accept full payment and convey the item to be sold, the law allowed the buyer to sue him for a certain amount. Theophrastus states that the laws of Thurii permitted the buyer to bring an action for the full amount of the sale price, and the laws of Athens probably contained a similar provision. There were also contracts for deposit (parakatatheke), which were similar to the Roman contract of
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