Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

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Written vs. Unwritten Laws.

A History of Legislation in Athens in the late 5th and early 4th centuries BCE.

The Process of Making Laws: the Nomothetae.

Legislation Initiated by the Assembly.

Other Ways of Initiating Legislation.

Scrutiny of Laws.

Criticism of Athenian Legislation.

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Nomothesia (Legislation) 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003

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· Summary ·

Athenians in the 4th century were governed by laws ( νόμοι , or νόμος in the singular) and decrees ( ψήφισματα , or ψήφισμα in the singular). Decrees were passed by a vote of the Assembly, of the Council, or both. Laws came into being by a more complicated process. Laws took precedence over Decrees. Anyone who proposed a decree in the Assembly that contradicted an existing law was subject to prosecution on a charge of “Illegal Proposal” ( γραφὴ παρανόμων ). Laws were passed through a process called nomothesia ( νομοθεσία ) or “legislation.” Each year the Assembly met to discuss the current body of laws. Any citizen could propose a change in the laws, but could only propose the repeal of a law if he suggested another law to replace the repealed law. If the Assembly decided to change the laws, a board of Nomothetai ( νομοθέται ) or “legislators” was selected to review and revise the laws. The process of legislation was like a trial, with advocates speaking in defense of the existing laws, and others speaking against the existing laws. The Nomothetai would vote on changes, and any changes that passed were published on inscriptions near the statues of the Eponymous Heroes and read aloud at the next meeting of the Assembly. The Nomothetai also undertook an annual review of all existing laws, to make sure that none contradicted others, and that none were redundant.

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