Athenian Homicide Law
Transcript Athenian Homicide Law
Athenian Homicide Law
The Laws of the Greek Cities
Until the time of Alexander (336 BC), the Greek world was
fragmented into city states. Each of them was independent,
and had its own government, political institutions and legal
The legal systems of the Greek city-states could be quite
different (although sometimes they did have things in
The legal system of Gortyn (Crete) is preserved in an
inscription, while the legal system of Athens is fairly well
known to us from a large number of sources, including
inscriptions, the Attic Orators, the Aristotelian Athenian
Constitution and other literary sources.
Homicide laws differ from mainstream legislation in that they are
linked to a religious dis a crime against the gods, as much as it is a
The religious dimension sets apart homicide laws and law-courts,
and is responsible for several striking peculiarities in Athenian
imension. Homicide legal procedure
Homicide cases were not tried in regular courts by regular jurors,
but are tried in special courts. There were five different homicide
Link to A. Boegehold: The Law Courts of Athens
The Areopagos Council
The most ancient and venerable court in Athens, according to
myth established by Athena during the trial of Orestes for the
murder of his mother Clytaimestra (Aeschylus, Eumenides).
In reality, this was the old Council of Athens, in early times an
aristocratic body with extensive responsibilities in public life.
Most of its authority was transferred to more democratic bodies
after 462, but it kept is responsibility as a homicide court.
It consisted of former magistrates (archons), after their year in
office came to an end, who served in the Council for life\
It tried cases of deliberate homicide and only imposed the death
penalty upon the guilty. As a court it had a formidable reputation
for fairness and justice.
The Palladium (51 ephetai) tried accidental homicide cases, or
murders of aliens and slaves. It could impose exile or a fine as a
The Delphinium (51 ephetai) tried cases of justified homicide, and
could impose the death penalty, if the defendant was found guilty
Phreatto (51 ephetai) tried cases by the seaside for individuals
accused of murder who wanted to return to Attica
Prytaneion (four tribal kings): tried inanimate objects who killed
someone, and cast them out of Attica to avoid religious pollution.
Peculiarities of Athenian
Religious dimension included oaths and curses
Litigants were asked to stay close to the point (but this has been recently
disputed by A. Wolpert).
Each side delivered two speeches. The defendant could walk away into exile
after the first set of speeches.
The process began with 3 proclamations by the king-archon (basileus), asking
the suspected killer to refrain from public places and temples, so that he
would not pollute those who shared the same roof with him.
Homicide courts tried cases in the open air.
Dropping a homicide case after an out-of-court settlement between the two
parties involved, ended the religious pollution too.