The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

The shape of Athenian laws

Christopher Careya1

a1 Royal Holloway, University of London

The title is unashamedly plagiarized from Stephen Todd's excellent book, The Shape of Athenian Law. The plagiarism is slightly misleading, however, since my interest is in law as enactment (Gesetz) while Todd's title expresses his interest in law as system (Recht). The issue I wish to address is the formulation of written laws in Athens during the late archaic and classical period, specifically the balance between procedural and substantive law. Substantive law deals with rights, obligations, offences, etc. Its role is to define behaviour which is required, allowed, or prohibited. These are what Hart terms ‘primary rules’. Procedural law, on the other hand, deals, as the name suggests, with the administration of justice, that is with jurisdiction, process, etc. Hart's term for these is ‘secondary rules’. The two cannot be separated quite as neatly as I have suggested, of course. A procedural law can scarcely avoid mentioning the offences or rights whose punishment or protection it regulates, while a substantive law may need to address issues such as jurisdiction. This is therefore an issue of orientation, not a simple binary division. However, as a broad basis for classification it is of value.