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Greek Oligarchy, and the pre-Solonian Areopagos Council in [Aristotle] Ath. Pol. 2.2-8.4

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

Unlike the Senate of Republican Rome, this essay argues that councils were not the dominant or governing power in Greek oligarchies. Together with powerful officials and other powerful individuals, citizen assemblies mainly governed oligarchies, but admission to oligarchic assemblies was restricted by wealth. Before Solon, did the Areopagos Council govern oligarchic Athens? The principal source for this claim, [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 2-8, at least assigns the early Areopagos a broad judicial competence. Where did Ath. Pol.’s notion come from, and what is it worth? Although ‘some people’ (Aristotle) or ‘most people’ (Plutarch) believed that Solon established the Areopagos Council, Ath. Pol. (and also Aristotle and Plutarch) rejected that notion, possibly because along with others, Ath. Pol. and Aristotle thought that Solon founded Athens’ democracy, while for fourth century conservatives the early Areopagos was non-democratic. In part the competence of Ath. Pol.’s pre-Solonian Areopagos derives from and expanded its Solonian competence in Ath. Pol. 8.4, so that for Ath. Pol. democratic Solon will have reduced the Areopagos’ powers. In part it derives from fourth century conservative propaganda. This evidence is inadequate to claim that the Areopagos Council governed oligarchic Athens.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Classics, Northwestern University1860 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL


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