Law Enforcement in Ancient Greece

It is interesting to note how different countries enforce laws and order. And, as one shall see later on in this essay, Greece was
quite unique.

In Brazil, for example, if you are in an automobile accident the smart thing to is to leave the scene of the accident as soon as possible. If you are not apprehended within 24 hours you couldn't be charged with any crime.

There is a famous case in Ri de Janeiro when two trains collided. One of the

By Christopher Xenopoulos Janus
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engineers left the scene of the accident and was free. The other engineer who was injured and who could not leave was charged and tried. The engineer who fled, having immunity, actually appeared in court on behalf of the charged engineer yet everybody in the court knew he was in the accident.

In France when you are charged with a crime, you are guilty until you have proof of your innocence. In the United States when a person is charged with a crime, no matter how serious, you are innocent until you are proven guilty.

Following is the story in Greece: After the Dark Ages about 1200 - 900BC and beginning at about 900 BC, the Ancient Greeks had no official laws or punishment. Murders were settled by members of the victim's family who would then go and kill the murderer. This often began endless blood feuds. It was not until the middle of the seventh century BC that the Greeks first began to establish official laws.

Around 620 BC Draco, the, lawgiver, wrote the first known law of Ancient Greece. This law established exile as the penalty for homicide and was the only of the of Draco's laws that Solon kept when he was appointed law giver in bout 594 BC. Solon kept many new laws that fit into the four basic categories of Ancient Greek law.

Foreign slaves were often employed to police the cities of Ancient Greece. Greeks found it uncomfortable to have citizens policing their own fellows citizens. Often Greeks relied on citizens to report crimes. After reporting a crime, if an arrest was made, an informant would receive half of the fine charged to the criminal.

In Athens; criminals were tried before a jury of 200 or more citizens picked at random. Criminals were punished by fines, their right to vote taken away, exile or death. Imprisonment was not typically a punishment.

A Greek community had no police force in the modern sense of the term.

The Skythian archers whom Athens possessed had the primary task of keeping the peace. In the absence of any state-run means of law enforcement, it was up to the injured party to bring him (or her) before the magistrates. This must have been extremely difficult in the case of violent crime, especially if they happened to be elderly or female. If the injured party was incapable of arresting the criminal, he could summon the magistrate, arrest, and a fine of 1,000 drachmae was imposed.

Other than in cases involving theft, murder, rape and adultery, the accused received a written summons naming the day that he or she was required to appear before a magistrate.

Athenian law was divided into public and private actions. Public actions involved the community as a whole, whereas private actions concerned individuals. There was no public prosecutor. Though in practice many cases would have been that "anyone who wishes" was free to initiate prosecution in a public action or graphe. In the case of a private action, it was the responsibility of the injured party to bring the action. In cases of homicide, the relatives of the victim were required to prosecute the killer.

A preliminary hearing called an anaikrisis took place before a magistrate. Oaths were exchanged by the plaintiff and the defendant, the former swearing that his accusation was genuine, the latter admitting guilt or swearing that he was innocent. The defendant was free at this time to enter a counter plea. The case was then assigned to a particular court on a particular date. All trials, irrespective of the severity of the charges, were confined in scope to the space of a single day. Only a limited amount of cross examination took place. The testimony of slaves could be obtained only under torture.

Though magistrates presided over trials, they did not serve as judges in the modern sense of the term. They gave neither advice nor did they sentence those who were found guilty. They merely supervised proceedings in a general way.

Juries composed of citizens over thirty years of age, were often extremely large because it was believed that this reduced the likelihood of bribery. Exceptionally the jury might even include 600 members.

After the speeches had been delivered by the prosecution and the defense, the jurors voted without deliberation. In the 5th century B.C., jurors cast their vote in secret.

Each juror was provided with two tokens, one for conviction and the other for acquittal. The juror deposited one of these in a wooden urn whose tokens were disregarded, and the other in a bronze urn whose votes were counted.

Judgement was passed on a majority verdict. In the 5th century B.C., a tie meant an acquittal In the following century, old-numbered juries were the norm and that is the cusotm today.

[Editors' Note: On 18 October 2006, William Shrubb emailed HCS to submit a correction to the information about French law: "In Article 9 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a French constitutional document, it states clearly that: 'every man is supposed innocent until having been declared guilty.' Similarly, the preliminary article of the criminal procedure states: 'any suspected or prosecuted person is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been established.' The juror's oath reiterates this assertion. ]

(Posting date 14 August 2006)

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