Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Rule of Law in Action in Democratic Athens$

Edward M. Harris

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199899166

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199899166.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 23 February 2017

(p.349) Appendix 1 Hunter on Citizens Enforcing the Law

(p.349) Appendix 1 Hunter on Citizens Enforcing the Law

The Rule of Law in Action in Democratic Athens
Oxford University Press

None of the passages discussed by Hunter show that very often arguments were settled, violence quelled, and miscreants apprehended without the intervention of the authorities at all.1 The first passage is the narrative from Lysias’ speech Against Simon, where two incidents involving violence are described. The defendant has been charged with intentional wounding (trauma ek pronoias). In his narrative of events, the defendant tells the court how he desired Theodotus, a boy from Plataea, and brought him to his house (Lysias 3.5). Simon too was in love with the boy and broke into the defendant’s house and entered the women’s quarters in an attempt to find him (6). Simon next asked the defendant to step outside the room where he was dining and, once outside, began to strike him (7). After the defendant pushed him away, Simon started to throw stones at him. He missed the defendant but hit one of his own comrades names Aristocritus (8). Instead of seizing Simon or bringing an action against him, the defendant decided to live abroad (9–10). It is difficult to see any attempt to enforce the law in this incident. Despite Simon’s alleged violation of his rights, the defendant does not seize him or denounce him to a magistrate. Aside from pushing him away, the defendant does not use force against Simon.

In the second incident, Simon and some friends attacked the defendant and Theodotus in the Piraeus as they were leaving the house of Lysimachus (12). With the help of some friends, they tried to seize Theodotus, who succeeded in running away (12). Once again the defendant did not use force against Simon. In fact, he avoided him by turning down another street (13). Next Simon and his comrades dragged Theodotus out of the fuller’s shop where he was hiding and started to beat him (15–16). When the defendant pulled Theodotus away, they began to strike him too (17). This developed into a brawl with both sides hitting each other, and everyone ended up with their heads battered (18). Once more one could not describe this (p.350) melee as ‘law enforcement’: no one is arrested, and no official is summoned. There is no ‘violence quelled’ or ‘miscreant apprehended’: the incident ends when the two sides stop throwing punches.

For her second example of self-help, Hunter cites Nicomedes’ arrest of Pancleon in Lysias’ speech Against Pancleon (23.9–11), but this passage is not relevant to her point. Pancleon is thought to be a slave, and Nicomedes is simply enforcing his rights of ownership in seizing him (Nικομήδους, ὃς ἐμαρτύρησεν αὐτοῦ δεσπότης εἶναι). This is not a case of a citizen using force against another citizen or foreigner who is breaking the law. In similar fashion Hunter claims that Phrynion’s abduction of Neaera is another example of a private citizen enforcing the law ([D.] 59.37–40), but Phrynion too claims that Neaera is his slave. In Classical Athens, as in all slave societies, masters had the power to recover slaves who ran away. In this regard they were acting no differently from a farmer who led back an animal who had wandered off his property.

For her final example, Hunter claims that the trierarch who tried to recover naval equipment from Theophemus resorted to self-help ([D.] 47.18–38).2 This incident hardly qualifies as a case of self-help or enforcement of the law by a private citizen. A trierarch was a magistrate and required to render accounts after his term of office (Aeschin. 3.13–15) and acting under the orders of the Council. He was also a supervisor of his symmory, an official post ([D.] 47.21). Finally, he was not acting on his own initiative but on the orders of a decree passed in the Council by Chaeredemus and by the terms of Periander’s law about symmories ([D.] 47.20–21). This example actually contradicts Hunter’s thesis, for here we encounter an official who is enforcing the law on the instructions of the Council.

In short, none of the evidence provided by Hunter proves her point about the role played by ordinary citizens in policing Athens.


(1) . Hunter (1994) 120–24.

(2) . Hunter (1994) 123–24.