chapter  III
19 Pages

OLIGARCHICAL INSTITUTIONS

In oligarchies where the rich were relatively numerous, the very nature of the system demanded tha t the less rich should abandon the direction of affairs to the richest, tha t is to say to the Council, to a limited Assembly, or to the magistrates. There were several ways of achieving this end. Sometimes the Assembly was allowed to discuss only motions initiated from above, so tha t it was given a deliberative voice while being deprived of the power to alter the constitution; sometimes it was given the right of sanctioning but not of rejecting decisions made outside itself; sometimes it was

conceded only a consultative voice, while the right of decision resided in the magistrates alone. 1 In the towns of Crete although the citizens of the hetaireiai might come in their thousands to the agora they could only give formal ratification, by show of hands or ballot, to the proposals which the Council and the kosmoi brought before them; 2 and for the rest they were the passive and silent witnesses of certain official acts such as the choice or the reception of foreign ambassadors. 3

It was found to be much more convenient not to convoke all the citizens at one time. In the Boeotian cities of the fifth century the people included in the property census were divided into four sections, each of which in turn acted as Council and introduced measures into the plenary assembly for its final and purely formal ratification. 4 By this means, of the approximately 3,000 citizens of Thebes only about 750 at a time had an effective voice in government. This system was copied by the Athenian theorists who formulated the constitution of the Five Thousand. The Five Thousand likewise were to be divided into four sections: in each section those over thir ty formed a Council, and each of these Councils was to sit in turn for a year. The Council in office was, therefore, composed of from 800 to 900 members. In grave crises the Council might be doubled: each councillor might in this case choose for himself a colleague from citizens with the requisite age qualification. Sessions of the Council were held normally every five days. The executive consisted of five proedroi chosen by lot, and every day one of them was elected by lot as president or epistatos. If a councillor failed to be present at the opening of the session he had to pay a fine of a drachma, unless he had obtained permission to absent himself.6 This constitution remained a dead letter so long as the leaders of the extreme oligarchy of the Four Hundred wielded revolutionary power: they were authorized to convoke the Five Thousand when they deemed it necessary; not once did they do i t . 6 But it existed in reality for

some months when Theramenes' constitution retarded the re-establishment of democracy: an official writ gives us details of a commission of proedroi with its president. 1

In place of splitting up the Assembly into sections in this manner oligarchy sometimes preferred to interpose between it and the Council a smaller and more reliable Assembly. This is what happened at Sparta. 2 In principle, all Spartiates over thir ty who were enrolled in the tribes and obai, and had been through the course of public instruction and were admitted to the common meals, had the right of sitting in the Apella. Originally we are told they numbered nine thousand. They gathered in a plain near the banks of the Eurotas, between the Babyca bridge and the Knakion, and deliberated in the open air, the kings and the gerontes on special seats, the others massed on benches or on the ground. An ordinary assembly was held at least once a month at the time of the full moon; but extraordinary sessions were frequent. Until the middle of the eighth century the Apella exercised wide powers. It possessed the right of amendment, though not the right of initiative, declared war, superintended operations, concluded treaties of alliance and of peace, nominated the elders and the magistrates and settled questions of succession to the throne. It voted by acclamation, and, in case of doubt, by discession. Thus the Apella possessed at tha t time " sovereignty and power."