Constitution of Athens
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Constitution of Athens Pt. I: The Historical Constitution
One of 150 constitutions Aristotle and his school collected; Part of their project of comparative political analysis; How do we know they did this? Diogenes Laërtius (3d cent. CE), who reports works of ancient authors in Lives, Teachings, and Sayings of Famous Philosophers; Long thought lost; recovered in nineteenth century.
Narrative of the development of the Athenian democracy, the first in Greece; Shows the growth in the power and influence of the people over 250 years; Tensions between tyrannical or oligarchical rule and popular rule; Demonstrates the importance of institutional change, evolution of the rule of law, and checks on corruption.
Ancient Constitution (ca. 7th cent.)
Discord (recall Plato’s “two cities”); Slavery of people to a few families; Oligarchy (rule of the few rich) Eligibility for office on basis of birth and wealth; Tenure of office for life, then amended to ten years (check on concentration of power in hands of one or a very few).
Draco (“draconian” = severe)
Introduced new laws; Political power in hands of those who had own armour (armour was expensive); Could serve as lesser magistrates; Elected nine Archons and Treasurers from those with income of not less than ten minae per year; Strategi (generals) and cavalry commanders had to have at least one hundred minae, and legitimate children by citizen wives.
Draco’s new institutions
Euthuna: examination of an official’s conduct at the
end of his term of office (an important check on corruption); Prytanies (one-tenth of a year) “had to receive sureties for [strategi and cavalry commanders]…the sureties being four citizens from the same class”; Boule: council of 401 members; fine for failure to attend this body or the Ekklesia (citizen assembly) Those over thirty cast lots (lottery) for offices; In what way is this a new practice and why is it more democratic?
Ancient Offices (ca. 7th cent.)
King Archon: originally elected military leader with ceremonial role; Polemarch: military office created to offset Kings’ incompetence in war! Archon: most recent of the three; All three offices became more ceremonial and less important; later selected by lot (“sortition”) 5th cent.; Thesmothetae: presided over jury trials: Nine archons altogether: Council of Aeropagus: retired archons with strong judicial powers of absolute decision and punishment.
Solon, 630?-560? BCE
Of noble birth, but not extremely rich; Elected archon at time of great strife between rich and poor: “When the strife was severe, and the opposition of long standing, both sides agreed to give power to Solon as mediator” (CA, v); S. advised rich to restrain their greed: “satisfy your pride with what is moderate”; “He [S.] always attaches the overall blame for the strife to the rich.”
Freed people “both then and for the future by making loans on the security of a person’s freedom illegal”; Cancelled debts (this enraged the rich); Wrote new laws, to apply to all; “laws were inscribed on kurbeis [wooden tables] set up in the portico of the King Archon, and all swore to observe them” (note importance of transparency of laws, ceremony and oath to accept them).
Solon’s Property Classes
Divided population into FOUR property classes:
Pentacosiomedimni: wealthiest; 500 dry or liquid measures (class from which highest official such as generals and archons would be drawn); Hippeis: name refers to horseman, e.g. cavalry fighter, so wealthy enough to own and outfit a horse for battle; Zeugitae: 200 dry or liquid measures; Thetes: everyone else, the poorest.
Solon’s key reforms
“allot[ed] offices to various classes in accordance with their property qualification” (e.g. strategoi came from highest class); Permitted thetes to sit in the Ekklesia (assembly) and on dikasteria (juries; dike = justice); Pol. 7.3 says thetes were allowed to vote in the assembly, but historians unsure; “[I]nstituted selection by lot in accordance with property classes”.
Summary of Solon’s reforms
Neither side was pleased; Poor wanted land equalization; Rich wanted to be able collect on the loans they had made; Aristotle considers Solona true mediator; had he wanted to be become a tyrant, he would have curried favor with one side (vi); He brought back exiles, freed citizens from slavery; Instituted rule of law for all; Gave each class a political role, laying the foundation for future developments.
Strife among rival factions, discontent with Solon’s constitution, and with loss of loans; Ten archons: five from aristocrats, two from artisans, three form the country (farmers); Peisistratus seized power thirty-two years after Solon’s legislation; Solon (now old) opposed him; Peisistratus seized the Acropolis; Expelled twice before he consolidated power; ruled for a total of nineteen years over thirty-three; Benevolent tyrant with broad support who ruled constitutionally.
Consider the quote on page 217: "After the reform of the constitution which has been described above, Solon…said it was not right for him to stay to interpret the laws but that everyone should follow them as they were drafted."
If the person who wrote the laws does not have the right to interpret the laws, who may interpret them? Should the right of interpreting and even rewriting the laws be given to the citizens? Further, I am concerned about the explanation of HKSAR basic law by the central government (who wrote the laws).