Ancient Greek Law

The Athenian law is the most well-known example of Greek law and ancient Greek legal systems. The multiple autonomous republics that made up the Hellenic world shared a number of fundamental approaches to solving legal issues, techniques for bringing about legal results, and a common vocabulary in the legal field. Individual legal systems, however, vary in terms of thoroughness and depth, reflecting both tribal and historical contexts as well as shifting social, economic, political, and intellectual circumstances.

What is the meaning of Ancient Greek Law?

The laws and judicial systems of ancient Greece are collectively referred to as “Ancient Greek Laws”.

The practise of using external arbitration to resolve a dispute between two Greek states or between constituents of a single state suggests the presence of some universal legal norms. The inheritance and adoption rules, the contract laws, and the consistent publicity afforded to legal transactions are where the overall unification of Greek law is most evident.

Sources of Ancient Greek Law

The following are the sources of ancient Greek law −

  • The oldest ideas about Greek law come from Homeric literature

  • There is no formal collection of Greek laws.

  • A few parts of Theophrastus' treatise On the Laws, which summarised the legal systems of numerous barbarian and Grecian kingdoms, are still in existence.

  • The oldest Greek laws were composed by Draco and Solon, two persons who had a significant influence on early Greek law.

Characteristics of Ancient Greek Law

Major characteristics of Ancient Greek Law are −


Most historians credit the prominent thinkers of Ancient Greece with developing the civilization's progressive legal system. For instance, Plato published a book named Laws that served as the foundation for developing dialogue. Later, philosophers such as Aristotle offered refutations and critiques of Plato's rudimentary concepts. Throughout the history of law, such development has never occurred.

Citizens Run Court

Ancient Greece maintained its democratic politics by having a commoner-run court system. The use of a third-party jury to decide each court case in the contemporary era was inspired by this system. In actuality, Ancient Greek court cases were frequently open proceedings that were conducted without any type of authority. The determining aspect was always the public's perception.

Nonetheless, for every trial in ancient Greece, there were typically hundreds of jurors. More than 500 jury members may decide cases where large sums of money were at stake based on a well publicised entertainment event. In the middle of the day, people on the street would pause to watch the activity.

Draconian Constitution

A text written by the Greek philosopher Draco in 620 BC helped to determine how justice will be administered in the future. Before the publication of Draco's constitution, laws were made on a case-by-case basis by many civilizations. The legal system lacked uniformity, and the ruling elite misused its judicial authority. The first recorded collection of written rules that any citizen may study and follow was introduced by Draco's code.

Draco's code was specifically created to oppose the customs of spoken law inside the Athenian judicial system. Draco discovered that conflicting standards were too frequently used while making judicial decisions, even among simple people. The Draconian constitution is thus considered to be one of the major political texts that has influenced several political movements throughout history. In the end, the democratic judicial system and the adoption of written laws were the two most significant contributions of Ancient Greek law. These are the fundamental principles of justice in the modern world, even though each notion required further elaboration.

Establishment of Courts under Ancient Greek Law

The Athenians established a democratic judicial system to judge and condemn the guilty. The majority of trials were concluded on the same day back then since there were no professional attorneys. In the court case, one party argued that an illegal act had occurred, while the other party presented his defence. There were 201 jurors on the smallest jury, while there were 501 on the average. The purpose of having so many jurors was to guard against bribery of the jury. To prevent a tie vote, there was always an odd number of jurors.

The following are the elements of the courts of Ancient Greek Law −


Jurors had to be at least 30 years old and could not be women or males above the age of 18. The jury panel for each day was chosen by lot, and the jurors were pledged by the gods Demeter, Apollo, and Zeus to be unbiased and vote according to the law.

People’s Court

The courts were frequently quite disorganised since they were managed by amateurs. As the people presenting the cases weren't qualified attorneys, they occasionally attempted to influence the jury's emotions rather than the details of the law. Juries frequently got out of hand. Those who were presenting their cases were frequently yelled at or insulted by members of the jury.

Decision of Court

The jury members then voted their ballots following the presentation of both sides' cases. For each side of the enclosure, they had a separate disc. The panellists didn't engage in any conversation. Each juror placed his or her disc into the designated urn for the individual they wanted to get their vote. The case was decided by whoever earned the most votes.

If a person was found guilty of a crime, the jury then deliberated on the suggested penalty during a second phase of the trial. The jury's ruling was final. At the court of ancient Athens, appeals were not allowed.

Laws Establish under Ancient Greek Law

About 594 B.C., the Athenian politician Solon was chosen to be the official lawmaker. Many of the laws that were used in Athens' courts were written by E. Solon. The major categories of legislation that existed are −

Family Laws

Solon created a number of family laws that set rules for how men, women, and their relationships should be. He drafted legislation on inheritance, adoption, and marriage. The family patriarch decided the penalty for these laws; they were not predetermined. In Greek law, women played a relatively minor role. Kyrios, the recognised guardian of women, was in charge. A girl's Kyrios was either her spouse or her father. Women did occasionally attend court to provide testimony in a murder trial or to try to elicit sympathy from the jurors

Public Laws

Public laws created standards for how public services and functions should be provided. For instance, these regulations would specify what may be exported and imported, as well as how much land an individual might hold.

Procedural law

Judges and juries were instructed on how to apply other laws through procedural legislation. A procedural law could specify how many witnesses a murder trial needs, for instance.

Tort Laws

Tort laws applied in instances when someone injured a person or something that belonged to them. For each distinct sort of crime, Draco and Solon established appropriate sanctions. For the majority of offences, part of the sentence was paying the victim's compensation. For instance, the punishment for a theft varied according on the initial sum that was taken. If your dog bit a neighbour, you can be requested to surrender your pet while it is wearing a wooden security collar. Solon also drafted regulations regarding the location of buildings, ditches, and water wells in addition to these kinds of harm rules. Even the arrangement of trees and bee hives was governed by legislation.


The first lawmaker in Ancient Athens, Draco, replaced these family disputes with a written rule that was intended to be upheld by a court of law. Draco's first rule mandated banishment from the country as the punishment for murder. About 594 B.C., the Athenians' Solon elected himself official lawmaker. Several of the laws employed in Athens' courts were authored by E. Solon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1.What are sacred laws (of Greek)?

Ans. Modern researches on Greek religion have collected inscriptions that in various ways govern cult conduct under the heading of "sacred laws."

Q2.Who is the father of Greek law?

Ans. It is believed that Draco was the first official who attempted to create Athens law in antiquity. He established the Draconian constitution, a written rule that could only be enforced by a court of law, to replace the existing system of oral law and blood feuds.

Q3.How were the Greek laws made?

Ans. The procedure for passing laws was known as nomothesia, which is Greek for "legislation." The Assembly convened annually to discuss the existing set of laws. Any person might submit a law change, however they could only repeal a law provided they also proposed a new law to take its place.

Updated on: 13-Apr-2023


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