Judiciary and Lawcourts

The lawcourts of Athens, a city notorious throughout Greece for the litigiousness of her citizens, were both numerous and large. Several of these lawcourts were in the immediate vicinity of the Agora, including the Square Peristyle (23), which in the fourth century replaced a similar but less regular structure of the fifth century.

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23. Lawcourt (Square Peristyle) at the northeast corner of the Agora, ca. 300 B.C.

In one of the small rooms of this predecessor was found a curious container (24): two up-ended water channel tiles fixed in the floor. Inside were found one small bronze ball probably used in the kleroterion, a device for the allotment of jurors to courts, and six jurors’ ballots (25). Each is inscribed “official ballot”; on some a letter in relief seems to designate the jury-section. The hub of the ballot indicated the verdict (solid for acquittal, hollow for condemnation), so that each juror, holding one ballot in each hand with the thumb and forefinger covering and concealing the ends of the hub, could deposit the one which represented his vote in the official receptacle and put the other in the discard bin.

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24. “Ballot box” found un-der the Stoa of Attalos, late fifth century B.C.
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25. Inscribed jurors’ ballots, fourth century B.C.

The possibility of corruption presented a problem that constantly exercised the Athenians and which they attempted to solve in a variety of ways, chief of which were the large size of the juries and the last-minute allotment of jurors. Each citizen-juror had a bronze or wooden ticket (26) on which were inscribed his name and a letter indicating to which of the 10 jury-sections he belonged. He went at dawn to the kleroteria (27) of his tribe where he deposited his ticket in a box labeled with his section letter. When the tickets of all those seeking jury-duty had been deposited in the 10 boxes, they were pulled out at random and filed in the slots of the two kleroteria (28), each of five columns, with one column being devoted to each section-letter.

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26. Bronze juror’s identification ticket (pinakion), inscribed with name, patronymic, and deme, fourth century B.C.
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27. Allotment machine (kleroterion), third century B.C.
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28. Restored drawing of allotment machines.

The archon in charge, having learned how many courts were to be filled and wishing to fill his tribe’s quota of the total number of jurors, put into the funnels at the top of the kleroteria as many balls (white for the number to be allotted and the remainder black for those to be dismissed) as there were tickets in the shortest column. Everyone below that point was immediately excluded. The balls, having passed down the tube, were then let out at the bottom. The first ball determined the lot of the first row across all five columns: if it was white, the citizens became jurors for the day; if it was black, they were dismissed.

The lot of each succeeding row was determined by the color of the next ball. The tickets of the allotted jurors were given to the archon in charge, who, having identified each man, allowed him to draw from a box a bronze ball inscribed with a letter indicating the court to which he was assigned. The archon then placed his ticket in the box destined to go to that court, so that the juror could receive his pay and reclaim his ticket only in the court to which he had been allotted.

The kleroterion illustrated in 27 has 11 columns and was probably used not in the courts but in the Council House (in the period when there were 12 tribes) for the selection of committees representing all tribes except that holding the presidency. The slots for the tickets are clear; on the left side can be seen the attachments for the tube. There would have been some simple mechanical contrivance at the lower end of the tube for letting the balls out one at a time.

Once the jury was assembled in a particular court, cases were presented. Plaintiff and defendant both made their own pleas and were limited in time in accordance with the amount of money involved or the seriousness of the offense. Time was measured by a klepsydra, or water clock (29).

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29. Water clock (klepsydra), fifth century B.C.

These clay vessels, which were made in a variety of sizes to measure various lengths of time, could be filled only up to the overflow hole just below the rim. When the speech began, a slave appointed to this task pulled the plug from the small bronze tube in the base. As the klepsydra emptied (30) and the pressure decreased, the jet of water declined somewhat so that the speaker could with practice estimate the time left to him.

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30. Model of a klepsydra in action.

The klepsydra illustrated in 30 is marked with the name of a tribe, Antiochis, and was probably used in the Council House when that tribe was presiding in the Council. The two XX (chi’s) stand for two choes (about six quarts), the amount of water that the vessel holds. Two choes time (about six minutes) was allowed for the rebuttal speech in cases involving less than 5,000 drachmas. One of the speechwriters, Isokrates, makes his client speak as follows: “Now about the other men he has plotted against, and the suits he has brought and the charges he has made, and the men with whom he has conspired and those against whom he has sworn falsely, not twice the amount of water would be sufficient to describe all these.”

Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).