2 Following


Currently reading

Middlemarch: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews and Criticism (A Norton Critical Edition)
Bert G. Hornback, George Eliot
The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann, John E. Woods
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez

The Law in Classical Athens

The Law in Classical Athens - Douglas M. MacDowell Purports to be an introduction, probably succeeds.

Author is a classicist, not an attorney, and apologizes that lawyers may find it unsophisticated (9). That's not really true, for my part; there's a few instances of what would be misused terminology these days, such as "infringement" of a contract (we'd normally say "breach" now), but hell if I know whether the Athenians drew a distinction between breach and infringement and used the latter rather than the former for cases sounding in contract. In these instances, the sense is always manifest, even if technically inaccurate.

What's striking about the Athenian system is that there is no civil/criminal division. This means that a jury in a particular case could award damages, fines, punishments, whatever it thought, unless a specific statute controlled the remedy. Officials of the state could bring cases in some instances, but for the most part Athenian judicial process was initiated by private persons. The main distinction was the type of action available: dike demosia, a case that anyone might file, and dike idia, a case that only a victim or other directly aggrieved person might file (57-58).

No discussion of Athenian constitution--it is focused well on the types of actions available to litigants in particular constellations of substantive law, and lays out briefly the Athenian rules for property, persons, tort, contract, family, and so on (not always using those terms, which are more anglo-american), with attention to jurisdiction and other procedural items. Nice discussions on the law applicable to the military, trade, religion, political offenses.

Some items are genuinely alien, looking back. No attorneys, for instance, means that litigants represented themselves, but could hire speechwriters to assist them; but "to speak in court for a fee, like a modern lawyer, was not merely disreputable but an offence, for which a prosecution by graphe could be brought" (251). So, that's one way to tamp down ambulance chasers. The penalty for the seducer was much more severe than the penalty for the rapist. The testimony of the tortured slave was considered the most reliable evidence, which means that the Bush regime sits on authority of impeccable pedigree of 2,500 years duration. Who knew? No sales on credit, though there was law for promissory notes and suretyship. Rich persons were obligated to perform services to the state, leitourgos, which is translated as "liturgy," which could be supporting a trireme, managing a festival, and so on. Seems like a useful item, to impose upon the rich some measure of public service. Of course, there were ways to weasel out of public service. The best procedure is the antidosis whereat the rich person could name another guy who is allegedly richer and therefore more suitable to bear the burden of the leitourgos, and other guy could disclaim this, offering to swap property with the first one as proof. Apparently, these exchanges actually occurred. WTF?

Good stuff. Lists of different types of actions available are great (though author is careful to distinguish that these are not forms of action or causes of action as the Romans or English common law barristers know them). Lot more of interest than I'm willing to vomit up here.