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Title: The Rule of Law in Athenian Democracy. Reflections on the Judicial Oath
Authors: Harris, Edward M.
Keywords: rule of lawoathGreek democracy
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: The Rule of Law in Edward M. Harris, "Athenian Democracy. Reflections on the Judicial Oath", in: Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics, IX (2007) 1, pp. 55-74.
Series/Report no.: Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics
IX (2007) 1
This essay examines the terms of the Judicial Oath sworn by the judges in the Athenian courts
during the classical period. There is general agreement that the oath contained four basic
clauses: (1) to vote in accordance to the laws and decrees of the Athenian people, (2) to vote
about matters pertaining to the charge, (3) to listen to both the accuser(s) and defendant(s)
equally, and (4) to vote or judge (dikasein) with one’s most fair judgment (dikaiotatê gnômê).
Some scholars believe that the fourth clause gave judges the right to vote according to their conscience
and to ignore the law if they found it unjust. The first part of the essay shows that this
clause gave judges the right to make decisions solely on the basis of their most just judgment
only where the laws gave no clear guidance. It was a default clause invoked only twice in the extant
orations; it was never used as justification to ignore the written laws. The second part addresses
the view that the courts took political factors into account during trials. Although some
trials involved leading politicians, the courts were bound by their oath to decide whether the defendant
was guilty of the charge brought by the accuser. The only part of a trial where a defendant
might mention his political achievements or his public largesse was at during the assessment
of the penalty (timêsis) in a trial on a public charge (graphê).
Type: Article
ISSN: 1825-5167
Appears in Collections:Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics (2007) IX/1

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