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

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

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

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.


As an author I have a number of debts to acknowledge. Let me do so here. First to come to mind are the students in my ancient history seminar (History 4120) during the years 1985–86 and 1987–88. They listened patiently to my ideas long before the present study had crystallized. Many of them even shared my enthusiasm for the Attic lawsuits. the project that emerged from that seminar, entitled “Kin, Community, and Marginality,” was fortunate to win the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and, with it, a research grant with full leave for the years 1988–90. During that time I brought the present work close to completion. For this generous assistance, I remain grateful to the sshrc.

As the manuscript took shape, colleagues both at York and elsewhere undertook to read and criticize successive drafts. They include Libby Cohen, Cheryl Cox, Jonathan Edmondson, Marc Egnal, Brian Lavelle, David Mirhady, Judith Rosner-Siegal, Adrian Shubert, and Barry Strauss. Their opinions were always most welcome and very helpful. I thank them all. in addition, two colleagues took on the more onerous task of reading the manuscript in its entirety: Mark Golden read a first draft and Paul Cartledge, the penultimate version. Both gave unstintingly of their time and generously of their advice, for which I cannot thank them enough. I have also profited from the advice of Princeton University Press's two anonymous readers. Finally, I owe thanks to John Traill of the University of Toronto for searching his computer for information on individual Athenians.

In addition, I have acknowledgments of a different order. Let me thank the editor of Phoenix, for allowing me to reprint “Gossip and the Politics of Reputation” in its present altered version; Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen, Netherlands, for permission to reprint Figure 1a; Croom Helm Publishers, for Figure 2; the editor of tapa, for Figure 3; and the British Museum, for the illustration on the jacket.

The translations of Greek texts throughout this study are my own, with one exception. I was so delighted with Norma Miller's version of Menander's comedies that I did not attempt to improve on it—indeed, I have also adopted the English titles she has given the plays. (In the notes I revert to the original Greek titles.) . . .

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