Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Other Ways of Initiating Legislation.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003
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In addition to this regularly scheduled, annual, opportunity for legislation, there were other ways of initiation the process of making changes to the laws of Athens. Any citizen could, at any time, propose a change in the laws (Dem. 24.33). The Archons, specifically the Thesmothetae, were also charged with making an annual review of the existing laws and, if they found contradictory laws or redundant laws, they could arrange for a board of Nomothetae to change the laws (Aeschin. 3.38).
In the case of an individual citizen who wanted to change the laws, he could not propose repealing a law without suggesting a new law to take its place (Dem. 24.33; Dem. 20.89-94; Dem. 24.21). The Assembly would decide whether or not the proposal had sufficient merit to be brought before the Nomothetae (Dem. 24.21; Dem. 3.10-13; Aeschin. 3.39).
The Council had to be involved, too, because it was the Council that set the agenda for meetings of the Assembly. So once a citizen had posted a proposal for new legislation, the Council had to put the issue on the agenda for a meeting of the Assembly; this was done by means of a probouleuma (προβούλευμα) (Dem. 24.27; Dem. 24.48; Aeschin. 3.39). Dem. 24.27 contains a decree that orders “the Council to cooperate in the legislative process” (συννομοθετεῖν δὲ καὶ τὴν βουλήν) in the matter of convening the Nomothetae, which may mean only that the Council was to ensure that the business appeared on the agenda for the Assembly. The Council did, however, also have a special “legislative secretary” (γραμματεύς ἐπὶ τοὺς νόμους), who made copies of all laws, and attended all meetings of the Council; this suggests that the Council discussed proposals for legislation before sending them on to the Assembly (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 54.4; Agora XV 62.235-6).
The Thesmothetae were required to review all the laws of Athens every year. (There were nine Archons: the Archon, the King Archon, the Polemarch, and six Thesmothetae; see Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.1). Aeschines says: “[The lawgiver] has expressly laid upon the Thesmothetae the duty of making an annual revision of the laws in the presence of the people, prescribing sharp investigation and examination, in order to determine whether any law stands written which contradicts another law, or an invalid law stands among the valid, or whether more laws than one stand written to govern each action. And if they find such a thing, they are required to write it out and post it on bulletins in front of the Eponymous Heroes; and the Prytaneis are required to call a meeting of the Assembly, writing at the head of the call, ‘For Nomothetae’; and the chairman of the Proedroi must submit to vote the question of the removal of one set of laws and the retention of the other, in order that for each action there may be one law and no more” (Aeschin. 3.38-39).
Demosthenes also suggests that it would be possible for the Assembly to convene the Nomothetae for the sole purpose of repealing laws (Dem. 3.12). It was unlawful for an individual Athenian to suggest the repeal of a law without offering a replacement, but perhaps the Assembly was not limited in that way (Dem. 24.33; Dem. 20.89-94; Dem. 24.21).
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