Policing Athens: Social Control in the Attic Lawsuits, 420-320 B.C


From household gossip to public beatings, this social history explores the many channels through which Athenians maintained public order. Virginia Hunter draws mostly on Attic court proceedings, which allowed for a wide range of evidence, including common rumors about a defendant's character & testimony, obtained under torture, of slaves against their masters. She describes Athenian "policing" as a form of social control that took place across a range of private & public levels. Not only does policing appear to have been a collective enterprise, but its methods were embedded in a variety of social institutions, resulting in the blurring of the line between state & society. Hunter's inquiry into topics such as household authority, disputes among kin, the presence of slaves in the house, gossip in the home & neighborhood, & forms of public punishment reveals a continuum extending from self-regulation among kin to punitive actions enforced by the state. Recognizing the bias of legal documents toward the wealthy, Hunter concentrates on exposing the voices of the less powerful & less privileged members of society, including women & slaves. In so doing she is among the first to address systematically such important issues as the authority of women, self-help, & corporal punishment.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Princeton, NJ
Publication year:
  • 1994


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