Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 31.

Mogens Herman Hansen (tr. J.A. Crook), The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles and Ideology. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1999[2]. Pp. xvi + 447. ISBN 1-85399-585-1. UKú9.95.

John Atkinson
University of Cape Town

This book represents a summation of twenty-five years work in the study of Athenian democracy, which began with a trilogy on the workings of the People's Court[[1]] and proceeded with an outpouring of articles, chapters in books, collections of essays, and books. Hansen has made it his business to respond to challenges and to defend and, where necessary, to revise his own published ideas. In this vein he has used this reedition to respond to reviews of the first edition (first published in 1991) and to pick up on material published since 1991. To the original work Hansen has added Chapter 14, entitled `One Hundred and Sixty Theses about Athenian Democracy' (pp. 321-58). This is a very useful section, summarising in schematic form his investigations over two decades, providing an index to this book and his earlier work and identifying the key publications of other scholars where they either support or run counter to Hansen's ideas.

Hansen has not been persuaded by what has been written since 1991 to downplay the extent to which the Athenian democracy after its restoration in 403 developed away from the Periclean model. There were too many points of significant difference. In any case, Hansen is surely right to balance a short diachronic account of the history of Athenian institutions down to 403 with a synchronic account focused on the period 355-322, as being the period for which we have the most detailed information (pp. 322f.). The extent to which the end of the Peloponnesian war and the restoration of democracy marked a turning point in Athenian social, economic and constitutional history remains a matter of dispute.

One such issue concerns demography and the impact of the Peloponnesian War, the plague and the power struggle between oligarchs and democrats on the population statistics. Hansen argues for a much reduced citizen body in the fourth century and a low reconstitution rate: from 60 000 adult male citizens in c. 430 down to some 30 000 adult male citizens living in Attica in the first half of the fourth century, and a reconstitution rate of only half a percent (pp. 327f.). The medical and demographic reasons for the low reconstitution rate would be strengthened by reference to Sallares' work,[[2]] which is missing from Hansen's bibliography.

Another issue concerns the distribution of wealth in the fourth century, and the perennial question relates to the number of liturgists with property worth at least three talents. Hansen argues that some 1200 Athenians in the mid-fourth century were in this heady area of extreme wealth (pp. 112-15), and thus he sides with inter alios P. J. Rhodes against the case of J. K. Davies for a circle of only 300 worth three talents or more.[[3]] Hansen is sure enough about this issue not to include it in his list of theses. Nevertheless the evidence is not unequivocal. All liturgists were also liable for eisphora, but not all payers of eisphora were wealthy enough to be liable for liturgies, and only the wealthiest liturgists would be asked to serve as trierarchs (Dem. 20.28). To qualify for a trierarchic liturgy one had to have property worth at least three talents, as Demosthenes (27.64) in 363 B.C. implies. Isocrates (15.145) says that the number of citizens liable for eisphora and liturgies was 1200. Hansen (p. 113) takes Isocrates here to mean all liturgies, and thus concludes that some 1200 held property worth at least three talents. But Isocrates does not specifically include trierarchic liturgists, nor directly limit his total to those liable for the highest liturgy. Between Demosthenes' statement of 363 about the threshold of three talents and Isocrates' count of 1200 for the number of liturgists fell the law of Periander of 358/7, which gave responsibility for trierarchic liturgies to the 1200 wealthiest citizens, now organised into 20 symmories.[[4]] It is not necessary to conclude that all 1200 met the earlier requirement of property worth at least three talents.

Hansen defiantly stands by his case that from c. 355 the number of meetings of the Assembly was fixed at three per prytany and that it was raised to four per prytany (i.e. 40 per year) within a decade. Hansen rejects the common view that the expression ekklesia synkletos referred to any additional meeting: in his view the number of meetings was strictly limited and the only flexibility allowed was the rescheduling of a meeting to a date other than the one provided for in the law (p. 332). Hansen agrees to differ with E. M. Harris, who argues from the pattern of recorded actual dates of meetings that the scholiast on Demosthenes (19.123) was right to refer to synkletoi ekklesiai as additional meetings.[[5]]

On the quorum rules for the Assembly and actual attendance figures Hansen repeats his case for a quorum of 6000 required, and regularly achieved, for all meetings of the Assembly (pp. 330f.). With regard to the physical evidence on the meeting place of the Assembly Hansen elaborates on the fourth century redesign of the Pnyx. On a minor detail he has retracted his earlier view that Pnyx III was a project of the era of Hadrian, as there is fresh archaeological evidence. But on the substantive issue of the quorum rule repetition may not be enough to silence dissent. Hansen notes that the first attestation of a quorum rule of 6000 occurs in IG ii2 103 of 369/8, but that must depend upon a supplement different from the IG reading, which is Exe[kestos ...]. Since the inscription records a proposal to honour a foreigner with the award of citizenship, Hansen rightly links with it Demosthenes (59.89f.), which shows that the procedure in such a case involved two stages: first a decision by the Assembly to have a motion presented at a second meeting, and then the presentation of the proposal at the second meeting, when a quorum of 6000 voting by secret ballot was required. It may well be that the quorum rule dates back at least to 369/8, but the text of IG ii2 103 as it stands does not directly attest it. Furthermore it is not clear why Hansen should assume that 6000 was the quorum rule for every meeting of the Assembly. As the Athenians jealously policed the boundaries of citizenship,[[6]] it is understandable that the procedure for making awards of citizenship should have been carefully defined and designed to discourage undeserving cases. Demosthenes mentions the requirement of 6000 votes because grants of citizenship were special cases,[[7]] and his comment does not therefore mean that 6000 was the quorum rule for all meetings of the Assembly. Demosthenes does not suggest that 6000 votes were required at the Assembly meeting when the initial motion was put. Voting by secret ballot was itself a special procedure and more formal than the vote by show of hands (p. 147). Thus it seems unlikely that a vote by show of hands depended on a strict count and insistence on a quorum of at least 6000.

If a quorum of 6000 was required for every meeting of the Assembly, then there was the risk that citizens who turned up in good time and collected their tokens which entitled them to remuneration for attendance might be sent away without pay because the Assembly was found to be inquorate. Hansen argues that the pay for attendance was sufficient to attract the requisite number, and he imagines that after the construction of Pnyx II, with its limited seating capacity, those who turned up after every seat was taken might be sent away (p. 330f.), and certainly were not paid.[[8]] For the principal meeting of the Assembly each prytany, the Ekklesia Kyria, those attending were paid nine obols, as opposed to the usual six obols (Aristotle Ath. Pol. 62.2). This may suggest that the full quorum was needed for the principal meeting while a lower figure was acceptable for the following meetings. Differential quorum rules may also be indicated by analogy with the constitutions of demes. Thus, for example, in the case of the deme Myrrhinous a quorum of 30 was required by the euthyne procedure (IG ii2 1183), and by implication that was not the requirement for all meetings; and the same can be argued in the case of Lower Paiania (IG i3 250).[[9]]

Hansen's view that pay for attendance ensured that there was no problem in achieving a quorum of 6000 at each Assembly meeting seems overly optimistic. In this I agree with S. Podes (not included in Hansen's bibliography).[[10]] Furthermore a quorum rule would have tended to immobilize the Assembly whenever Athens had troops or triremes abroad.

For me a gap in Hansen's book is proper recognition of the operation of democracy at levels lower than the polis. The 160 theses do not include headings for demes, trittyes[[11]] and, perhaps less surprisingly, phratries.[[12]] At least some demes and presumably all phratries had properly structured institutions and well-defined decision making, juridical, financial and cultic procedures. Trittyes too must have had some constitutional provision for elections. The evidence of deme and phratry records suggests that they played an important role in preparing their members for active participation in politics at the level of the polis, and that they reinforced the democratic ethos.

On the position of women as citizens Hansen has not exhausted the subject. At p. 201 Hansen states that `women had no entry to the courts at all'. But M. Dreher in his review of the first edition[[13]] drew attention to the trial of Phryne, about which Athenaeus comments in Deipnosophistae (13.590d-591f.). This does not help, since Athenaeus identifies the prosecution and defence speakers as Aristogeiton and Hypereides. Women could be prosecuted, but would not speak in their own defence. A woman might give evidence in a case via her kyrios, and there is debate about whether an exception was made in the case of homicide to allow a woman to present evidence orally.[[14]] Of course as a female teenager might be a wife, or even a widow, age may have been no less a factor than gender.

On many issues Hansen might feel disappointed that he has not settled the debate, but such is his lively style and combative spirit that he will no doubt take pleasure from the way he has kept the debate alive. We should be grateful to him for providing this synthesis of his contributions to the study of Athenian democracy.


[[1]] Hansen p. 178 explains his use of the singular form 'Court' for the usual Greek plural form dikasteria. The first book was his The Sovereignty of the People's Court in Athens in the Fourth Century B.C. and the Public Action against Unconstitutional Proposals (Odense 1974).

[[2]] R. Sallares, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (London 1991).

[[3]] P. J. Rhodes, 'Problems in Athenian Eisphora and Liturgies, AJAH 7 (1982) 1-19, who takes issue with J. K. Davies, Wealth and the Power of Wealth in Classical Athens (New York 1981).

[[4]] In 354 Demosthenes proposed an extension of the system created by Periander (Demosthenes 14.16f.).

[[5]] Harris analyses the epigraphic evidence in `When did the Athenian Assembly meet?' AJP 112 (1991) 325-41; Hansen The Athenian Ecclesia (Copenhagen 1983), chap. 3 tackles the material rather differently.

[[6]] I acknowledge a borrowing here of phraseology used in a lecture by J. K. Davies.

[[7]] 6000 was, according to tradition, the quorum set for the suspension of citizen rights by ostracism: references in C.W. Fornara, Translated Documents of Greece and Rome, Vol. 1: Archaic Times to the End of the Peloponnesian War (Baltimore 1977[2]) no. 41.

[[8]] Cf. Aristophanes Ecclesiazousai 282-84.

[[9]] Cf. D. Whitehead, The Demes of Attica 508/7- ca. 250 B.C. (Princeton 1986) esp. 94f.

[[10]] S. Podes, 'Ekklesiastikon and Participation in Public Service in Classical Athens,' AJAH 12.2 (1987) 167- 88.

[[11]] The publishers have decided to retain the term 'riding' as John Crook's translation of the Greek term trittys. For trittyes as electoral bodies see Aeschines 3.30.

[[12]] On phratries see S. D. Lambert, The Phratries of Attica (Ann Arbor 1993).

[[13]] Gnomon 65 (1993) 677-81, at p. 681.

[[14]] The debate is reviewed by R. Just, Women in Athenian law and life (London 1989) 26-39.