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The Rule of Law in the Athenian Demokratia:  Origins, History, and Oratory

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posted on 2021-11-05, 01:32 authored by Laracy, Bede

According to Aristotle, demokratia is an invalid form of constitution unless it operates in conjunction with the rule of law. Historically, the idea of the rule of law was connected with wealthy elites in Athens. However, after a series of upheavals between the Athenian mass and elites, the demos accepted the rule of law as a valid check on demotic power. Rule of law required legal codification, which outlined a framework within which democratic law functioned. The Athenian law court became the arena for enforcing the law, thereby ridding the city of negative socio/political influences. Hybris, political corruption, and general questions of legality all came under the power of the democratic courts of law, which exerted the legitimate power of the combined community. Nevertheless, tradition maintained a strong influence on law, especially in the law courts. Bound up in legal arguments were ideas of Athenian identity and it became accepted that the juries would assess the character of the accused against the character of the Athenian demos in the course of making its decision. Athenian elites who previously continued feuds extra-legally submitted to the law courts, which offered an arena for dispute resolution. Ultimately, the rule of law in the Athenian demokratia upheld Athenian law, created a legal framework, and allowed personal and political disputes to be settled before they dissolved into stasis, offering the Athenian demokratia its most successful mechanism for creating social, political, and legal, stability.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Classical Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Rosenbloom, David