Lawyers In Ancient Greece
Authored by LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

Lawyers In Ancient Greece

Most legal systems generally go through a series of three stages:

  • Pre Legal Society - This type of society does not have an established way of dealing with society’s disputes. A society that is small in size may remain at this stage for a long period of time, but a more formal system is needed when there are too many people who do not know each other because of the point that the population density has reached.
  • Proto Legal Society - This type of society has rules and procedures for dispute resolution. There is no difference between rules and laws at this stage and this is the link between the pre-legal stage and the rigid legal stage.
  • Legal Society - The legal society is like that of ours, where certain undesirable acts warrant a punishment. Although the rules have not been given up, punishment is not the necessary result. Society normally must have developed some form of writing in order to link acts with punishment in this stage.

Early Laws

The Ancient Greeks had no official punishments or laws after the early Dark Ages. Typically the victim’s family members would kill the murderer, which often resulted in endless blood feuds. The Greeks did not begin to establish official laws until the middle portion of the seventh century BC. The first written law that was known of Ancient Greece was written by lawgiver, Draco, in 620 BC. According to this law, exile was the punishment for homicide and this law was the only one kept of Draco’s in 594 BC, when Solon became the appointed law giver. As the new law giver, Solon created a variety of laws that fit into the four Ancient Greek law categories.

1.) Tort Laws

When a person does harm to another person or that person’s property, it is referred to as a tort. The penalties for the crimes within this type of law were very specific and both Solon and Draco created many of the laws. Monetary penalties were the punishments for most of the crimes, except murder; for theft, the amount depended on the stolen amount and the penalty for rape was 100 drachmas. Mordern tort laws are based on these same principles.

2.) Family Laws

Many family laws were also created which regulated men's and women's social behavior. Laws were written by Solon on adoption and marriage as well as supporting the roles of parents and on inheritances. The penalties were not prescribed, but instead were enforced by the particular family’s head of the household. The role of women in law was limited to court appearances that were rare and consisted of evidence being presented or a woman being displayed with her family to arouse pity in the dispostion of the case. Today in the United States, family lawyers advocate for both genders, and all laws must be applied equally regardless of gender, race, national origin or age.

3.) Public Laws

Public functions and services were dictated under public laws and some of these laws were contributed by Solon. One of his requirements were that people who lived far from public wells were required to dig their own wells. Other than olive oil, agricultural goods were forbidden to be exported and the amount of land that a man was able to own was also restricted within these laws (women could own land).

4.) Procedural Laws

Judges were guided on how to use other laws by procedural laws, which gave step-by-step instructions on how to deal with the enforcement. Minute details were included, such as the number of witnesses that were required in order for someone to be found guilty for homicide. Modern civil procedural rules spring from the acient Greek's fascination for detail and protocol.

Law Givers

Law givers were officials who were appointed to write laws as their only job. Aristocratic middle class members comprised most of the lawgivers and they were considered political outsiders instead of part of the government.

Draco was one of the most famous lawgivers in Athens, Greece. After a failed attempt by Cylon to overthrow the government, Draco was then appointed lawgiver. He served as lawgiver until Solon succeeded him and was known as an extremely severe lawgiver who gave death as the punishment for all offenses. Afterwards, Solon was appointed due to the fact that he did not take sides. He had full support from a variety of political parties because he was known as a fair man.

Courts and Judicial System

The Ancient Greeks created a court system to have an official way to handle the trial, conviction and sentencing of guilty people. The officials of the court were amateurs and if they were paid, were paid very little. Most trials were completed in one day and there were no official attorneys or judges. Today, in America, we have four general court levels, Federal, State, and Local (superior and municipal).

Oratory Rhetoric

Forensic, deliberative and epideictic were the three divisions of oratory rhetoric. The law courts was where forensic was delivered; people in the general assembly were address by the deliberative; and all other orations consisted of the epideictic, otherwise known as the display oratory. Athens became a town that was provincial and oratory rhetoric languished while under Macedonian rule.

The Areiopagos

The Areiopagos has the reputation of being Greece’s most ancient court of homicide. It later began trying other types of cases, but began by only trying homicide cases. The preliminary hearing was conducted by court officials who had no power over the proceedings or the court itself. The Eleven was the name of the eleven members of the board and they were in charge of executions and prisoners. They had the power of arresting criminals who were denounced to them and, if caught in the act, could choose to execute them.