Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

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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

page 9 of 11

· Criticism of Athenian Legislation ·

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Aristotle (Aristot. Pol.).
 
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Athens.

Aristotle criticises direct democracy on the grounds that in democracy decrees ( ψήφισματα ) have more authority than laws ( νόμοι ) (Aristot. Pol. 1297a4-7). But this criticism does not seem to apply to the democracy of 4th century Athens.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
 
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Athens.

We find a more apt criticism in Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians (Aristot. Ath. Pol.), which says that in Athens everything is decided by “decrees and lawcourts” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 41.2); since the legislators, the Nomothetae, were chosen from the same pool as potential jurors, and swore the same oaths as jurors (Dem. 24.27; Dem. 24.149-151), this comment seems fairly accurate. Whether or not we should see this fact as a bad thing is, of course, a matter of opinion.

Read about the evidence
Isocrates (Isoc. 8).
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Demosthenes (Dem. 20).
 
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Athens.

We also find Athenians criticizing their city’s legislation. Both Isocrates and Demosthenes complain that Athens passes too many laws and fails to enforce them (Isoc. 8.50; Dem. 24.142). Demosthenes makes another criticism, accusing his fellow Athenians of legislating too frequently and in too much haste; he says that there are too many new laws that invalidate older decrees, but that those decrees are still in force—a confusing state of affairs (Dem. 20.91-92).

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