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Summary.

Terms.

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.

Praise for Athenian Legislation.

Secondary Works Cited.

Index of Citations

General Index

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Nomothesia (Legislation) 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003

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

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Thucydides (Thuc.).
Lysias (Lys. 30).

In 411 BCE, a group of Athenians overturned the democracy and installed an oligarchic government; during this crisis, both the oligarchs and the democrats claimed to be supporting the “ancestral constitution” ( τοὺς πατρίους νόμους ), the laws established in the 6th century by Solon, and after him, those by Cleisthenes (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 29.3; Thuc. 8.97.6; source for date: Hansen, Athenian Democracy, 162). The next year, 410 BCE, when the oligarchy was overthrown, the restored democratic government immediately set up a body of “Law Publishers” ( ἀναγραφεῖς τῶν νόμων ) to publish all of the laws, especially those of Draco and Solon (IG I3 104.5-6; Lys. 30.2; Lys. 30.25; source for date: Hansen, Athenian Democracy, 162-3). That this was one of the first actions of the newly restored democracy suggests the importance Athenians placed on public knowledge of the laws. Nicomachus was in charge of this board, as “Commissioner of Laws” ( τῶν νόμων ἀναγραφεὺς ), and was originally supposed to complete publication in four months (Lys. 30.2). The board spent six years, however, compiling and publishing Solon’s body of laws (Lys. 30.2-3). The published laws, which included the homicide law of Draco and laws regarding the powers of the Council (M&L 86; IG I3 105) were inscribed on the wall of the Stoa Basileios in the Agora (Lys. 30.2-3).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 30).
 
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Sparta.
Athens.

In 404 BCE, when Athens surrended to Sparta, the government of the Thirty Tyrants, imposed on Athens by the Spartans, removed these published laws from the Stoa Basileios (Lys. 30.2-3). Nicomachus, the head of the “Law Publishers” was later put on trial, accused of manipulating the laws he published and helping the Thirty Tyrants consolidate their power (Lys. 30.1-3).

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 1).
 
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Athens.

Like the Oligarchy of 411, the tyranny of the Thirty lasted only one year, and after it was overthrown and the city returned to democratic rule, Athens once again compiled and codified its old laws: “On the motion of Teisamenos the People decreed that Athens be governed as of old, in accordance with the laws of Solon, his weights and his measures, and in accordance with the statutes of Draco, which we used in times past. Such further laws as may be necessary shall be inscribed upon tables by the Nomothetae elected by the Council and named hereafter, exposed before the Tribal Statues for all to see, and handed over to the magistrates during the present month. The laws thus handed over, however, shall be submitted beforehand to the scrutiny of the Council and the five hundred Nomothetae elected by the Demes, when they have taken their oath. Further, any private citizen who so desires may come before the Council and suggest improvements in the laws. When the laws have been ratified, they shall be placed under the guardianship of the Council of the Areopagus, to the end that only such laws as have been ratified may be applied by magistrates. Those laws which are approved shall be inscribed upon the wall, where they were inscribed aforetime, for all to see” (Andoc. 1.83-84).

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 1).

To affirm a principle of democratic rule, Teisamenos’ decree was followed by another law that said, “In no circumstance shall magistrates enforce a law which has not been inscribed [that is, written down and published in a public place— CWB]” (Andoc. 1.85).

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 1).
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Lysias (Lys. 30).
 
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Athens.

After inscribing the old laws of Solon and Draco, which Andocides says were to be used temporarily while the democracy codified new laws (Andoc. 1.81), the Athenians appointed a board of “law givers” or nomothetae ( νομοθέται ) to conduct a “scrutiny” ( δοκιμασία ) of all the laws, in other words, to examine the laws and vote on whether each law should remain in effect (Andoc. 1.84). According to Andocides, this revision of the laws happened quickly (Andoc. 1.85). The nomothetae dealt with the laws of Draco and Solon, and to other laws as well (Andoc. 1.96-98; Dem. 24.42), including a codification of all the sacrifices that Athens had to carry out during the course of a year (Lys. 30.17).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).
Demosthenes (Dem. 43).
Demosthenes (Dem. 44).
Apollodorus (Dem. 46).

Even after this revision, Athenians continued to refer to the “laws of Draco and Solon” (see Dem. 23.51; Dem. 24.42). It does seem that in the 4th century homicide was still governed by Draco’s homicide law (Dem. 23.37; Dem. 43.57; IG I3 104), and the laws of inheritance were closely based on Solon’s laws (Dem. 44.67-68; Dem. 46.14).

Read about the evidence
Apollodorus (Dem. 59).
Demosthenes (Dem. 25).
Lycurgus (Lyc. 1).

After Andocides, there is no 4th century reference to laws being published at the Stoa Basileios; orators mention laws published on pillars ( στῆλαι ) (Dem. 59.75-76) or in the Metroon (Dem. 25.99; Lyc. 1.66). Mogens Hansen suggests that in the 4th century there were simply too many laws to put them all on stone, so they were written on papyrus and kept in the public archives at the Metroon (Hansen, Athenian Democracy, 164-165).

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