Sunday, November 29, 2009

Athenian courts

Adriaan Lanni's book Law and Justice in the Courts of Classical Athens is not really an introductory survey of Athenian courts. She examines a specific feature of Athenian law: relevance in the courtroom. As a background to her argument, however, she provides the basic outline of the courts which existed in classical Athens.

Except for maritime cases, litigation in Athens was the privilege of male citizens, with few exceptions. There were two categories of procedure, private cases (δίκαι) in which the victim could bring suit, and public cases (γραφαί) which anyone could initiate. There was a measure to prevent the courts being used as public stages, whereby the prosecutor was penalized if he failed to win at least one-fifth of the votes, sometimes involving exile. Citizens could choose arbitration to avoid the courts. There was also a body called "the Eleven" in front of whom criminals were brought when caught red-handed; they were executed if they confessed, or sent to trial if they maintained innocence. If it came to trial, cases were heard by juries of Athenian citizens, usually numbering between 201 and 501 people, although there are claims of much larger juries in certain cases.

Homicide cases were a different matter. There were five homicide courts. The Areopagus is the most famous, and probably the oldest, and its foundation is mythologized in the Orestia of Aeschylus. The Palladion probably heard cases of unintentional homicide, although there is debate on its precise function (some think that it heard cases in which a person was involved in homicide but did not carry out the act with their own hands). The Delphinion heard cases in which the defendant admitted killing someone, but claimed that they they had acted within the law. The Prytaneion seems to have involved matters of religion and ritual, and the Phreatto heard cases in which "a defendant in exile for a prior offense was charged with homicide or wounding; he was not permitted to enter Attica but was obliged to deliver his defense to the court from a ship anchored off shore." But these last two courts are poorly attested. Much of the information for the operations and jurisdictions all of these courts comes from the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians.

Lanni sees a broad division in the court system between the popular courts, on one hand, and the homicide and maritime courts on the other. Her division is based on the standard of relevance of evidence introduced in the courtroom. The Athenians made a distinction between evidence that was to the point (εἰς τὸ πρᾶγμα) and evidence that was outside the point (ἔξω τοῦ πράγματος). Interestingly, however, they required speakers to stick to the point only in homicide and maritime cases, whereas in popular courts, which handled all other matters, speakers were not prevented, as any reader of the Greek orators knows, from introducing all sorts of information which had no bearing on guilt, such as the philanthropy or misanthropy of the defendant, or the possible effects of a guilty verdict on the defendant's family.

In designing a legal system, "all societies must address the inevitable tension between consistency and flexibility," and Lanni argues that the Athenian system represents a complex solution to that problem. She suggests that the Athenians deliberately allowed irrelevant information into the popular court proceedings in order to provide that each case was understood in its particulars, and was not judged blindly according to impersonal laws. In homicide cases, however, speakers were required to stick to the point at hand, and Lanni argues that this displays both the conservative nature of the homicide courts, and a desire to avoid the dangers of volatile emotion in deciding cases of the utmost seriousness. She argues that the flexible nature of the popular courts developed out of the most conservative homicide courts, and not the other way around, as is sometimes supposed. There were also special procedures for maritime cases, known as the δίκη ἐμπορική, which probably were heard in the popular courts, but which, like the homicide courts, required speakers to stick to the point, and suits could only be brought under this procedure when a contract was involved. Lanni argues that the stricter standards of relevance in these matters was meant to instill confidence in foreign investors and merchants that they could count on "consistency" when appealing to Athenian courts.

For the most part, Lanni makes her case strongly, and the book provides a good overview of the legal system, if not really an introduction to the subject. I think, however, that she too lightly dismisses the religious element of pollution in homicide cases. Perhaps the stricter standards of relevance in homicide cases reflects the situation that defendants were either polluted or not, they had either committed the act or not, and any other information was irrelevant to the proceedings. Robert Parker has argued that the pollution element in Greek religion has been exaggerated, and the homicide courts did in fact take intent into consideration, so maybe Lanni is right, but she dismisses this with only the briefest mention, and I wish she had addressed it at greater length.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The administration of Roman libraries

Until the time of Tiberius, that is to say in the three libraries which existed when Augustus died, the libraries seem to have been run independently. There is no evidence of a central administration, and Ovid, in Tristia 3.1, imagines a work of his written in exile approaching first the Palatine Library, then the Porticus Octaviae, and then that in the Atrium Libertatis, only to be rejected each time. This suggests that around AD 10, at least, there wasn’t one person in charge of all of the libraries.

We know the names of about two dozen lower-level slave and freedman personnel from epigraphic sources (all save one dating from the Julio-Claudian period). Of 26 men, 5 are certainly freedmen, 11 certainly slaves, and the other 10 probably slaves. Six of the slaves are called uilicus, which probably means they had some administrative or supervisory duties. Five of the slaves are assigned to the Palatine Library, and five to the Porticus Octaviae; no other libraries are named. Nine of the slaves and four of the freedmen belonged to the familia Caesaris, and at least two were public slaves, both of whom worked in the Porticus Octaviae. The men associated with particular libraries were assigned either to the Greek or Latin section. There is no indication that the slaves were specialized in any way, except for the title uilicus already mentioned for some of them. The assignment to one of the two libraries was presumably made based on language skills, since the main duties would have been organization, perhaps retrieval, and likely a great deal of copying both of new acquisitions and to replace damaged copies.

We know of 13 freeborn men who were involved with the libraries of Rome. Six of these men seem to have been commissioners who were in charge of the libraries at Rome. There doesn’t seem to have been such a position under Augustus. The first is Tiberius Julius Pappus who was appointed by the emperor Tiberius. Dionysius of Alexandria comes from Egypt to Rome in the second half of the first-century. Early in the second-century we find Roman equestrian commissioners, among whom was the biographer Suetonius. This seems to fit with a pattern that took place under Trajan and Hadrian to appoint equestrians to administrative posts instead of freedmen. Fergus Millar (1977) suggests that it is not so much a transition from freedmen to equestrians as it is from Greek to Roman intellectuals, which fits the pattern as we can reconstruct it from the few inscriptions. George Houston (2002) suggests that the commissioners were in the first place assistants to the emperor, rather than administrators, that is to say, that the uilici would have supervised the day-to-day operations of the library, while the commissioner dealt with matters affecting the emperor.

For those interested in the commissioners, see Lorne Bruce (1983) "The procurator bibliothecarum at Rome." Journal of Library History 18: 143-162. For more on the epigraphic evidence, see George Houston (2002) "The Slave and Freedman Personnel of Public Libraries in Ancient Rome." TAPA, v.132, n.1/2: 139-176. For a reappraisal of the role of Tiberius, see Houston's recent article (2008) "Tiberius and Libraries: Public Book Collections and Library Buildings in the Early Roman Empire." Libraries & the Cultural Record, v.43, n.3: 247-269