The democratic legal system created by the Athenians was completely controlled by ordinary citizens, with no judges, lawyers, or jurists involved. It placed great importance on the litigants’ rhetorical performances. Did this make it nothing more than a rhetorical contest judged by largely uneducated citizens that had nothing to do with law, a criticism that some, including Plato, have made?
Michael Gagarin argues to the contrary, contending that the Athenians both controlled litigants’ performances and incorporated many other unusual features into their legal system, including rules for interrogating slaves and swearing an oath. The Athenians, Gagarin shows, adhered to the law as they understood it, which was a set of principles more flexible than our current understanding allows. The Athenians also insisted that their legal system serve the ends of justice and benefit the city and its people. In this way, the law ultimately satisfied most Athenians and probably produced just results as often as modern legal systems do. Comprehensive and wide-ranging, Democratic Law in Classical Athens offers a new perspective for viewing a legal system that was democratic in a way only the Athenians could achieve.
Michael Gagarin is the James R. Dougherty, Jr. Centennial Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. His books include, most recently, The Laws of Ancient Crete, c. 650–400 BCE (with Paula Perlman).
Backed by many years of research in the field of Greek law, the author systematically demonstrates the many ways in which the Athenians ensured that their legal system upheld both the rule of law and democratic ideals and shows clearly that the Athenian legal system was one that achieved its aims and worked as intended in the context in which it developed...Gagarin’s latest work is, as always, accessible and coherent while remaining precise and incisive. It will be a valuable introduction to the Athenian legal system for many and a useful addition to the libraries of scholars and students working on the Athenian democracy.
[Democratic Law in Classical Athens] is a discerning overview of the workings of the Athenian judicial system with a crucial emphasis on the context of ancient democracy and culture. The writing is lucid, thorough, meticulously footnoted, well illustrated with copious ancient examples and informative for scholars of all levels...We must always remember that the ancients were regular people with a culture, world view and practice of self-government far different from our own. In constructing this rich and dynamic social setting Gagarin shines.
Gagarin's description of the way Athenian democracy worked and how thoroughly law and democracy were entwined is sharpened by constant and interesting comparisons to US democracy and law. His gift here is a clear discernment of differences between the two systems and a clear perception of similarities, helped a great deal by an extensive familiarity with US law bibliography evident throughout the book.
[Democratic Law in Classical Athens] does a very good and interesting job of exploring the Athenian judicial system in its wider civic context.
"Gagarin’s argument is characteristically nuanced and persuasive, grounded in the sources and in a deep understanding of the operation of law both in Classical Athens and more widely in Archaic and Classical Greece. The book’s thoughtful discussion will make it a valuable addition to the collections of scholars and students of Athenian law and democracy, and it is likely to serve as a clear and accessible introduction to the subject for many."
~Journal of Hellenic Studies
Apart from being well-written and easily comprehended, Gagarin’s latest work is worth reading above all for his courage in tackling the much-debated issue of the effectiveness of the Athenian legal system. The author’s intelligent employment of comparisons between legal practices in Athens and in modern states, which helps him demonstrate the high degree of efficiency of the Athenian legal system, brings studies on Athenian law closer to comparative legal studies and, thus, to a readership not limited only to classicists...readers who are open to discovering a new perspective on Athenian law will be made to feel at ease by the clarity of his thought.
~Bryn Mawr Classical Review
[Democratic Law in Classical Athens] provides an excellent overview of the relationship between law and democracy in Athens and serves as a testament to the great care and judgment with which Gagarin has studied the subject over many years.
~Mouseion: Journal of the Classical Association of Canada
Chapter 1. Democracy
Chapter 2. Performance
Chapter 3. Negotiation
Chapter 4. Rhetoric
Chapter 5. Rules and Relevance
Chapter 6. Justice
Chapter 7. Public Interest
Chapter 8. The Rule of Law
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