Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens

Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens

Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens

Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens


In this book, James Sickinger explores the use and preservation of public records in the ancient Athenian democracy of the archaic and classical periods.

Athenian public records are most familiar from the survival of inscribed stelai, slabs of marble on which were published decrees, treaties, financial accounts, and other state documents. Working largely from evidence supplied by such inscriptions, Sickinger demonstrates that their texts actually represented only a small part of Athenian record keeping. More numerous and more widely used, he says, were archival texts written on wooden tablets or papyri that were made, and often kept for extended periods of time, by Athenian officials.

Beginning with the legislation of Drakon in the seventh century B. C., Sickinger traces the growing use of written records by the Athenian state over the next three centuries, concluding with an examination of the Metroon, the state archive of Athens, during the fourth century. Challenging assumptions about ancient Athenian literacy, democracy, and society, Sickinger argues that the practical use and preservation of laws, decrees, and other state documents were hallmarks of Athenian public life from the earliest times.


This study of written records and archives in ancient Athens has its origins in a dissertation on the Metroon and fourth-century Athenian archives submitted to the Department of Classics at Brown University in 1992. My interests in Athenian record keeping stemmed from the use of documents by the fourth-century Attic orators and in works such as the Athēnaiōn Politeia. But although these issues have been the subject of considerable scholarly debate, a comprehensive study of the Metroon's archives and Athenian record keeping in general has not appeared since that of C. Curtius, Das Metroon als Staatsarchiv in Athen, published in 1868. So a new study seemed in order. Chapters that formed part of the dissertation have been completely revised for the present book, and several new chapters have been added that consider the keeping of written records by the Athenian people and their magistrates down to the end of the fifth century. Most writing and revisions were completed in December 1996, and I have incorporated references to only a limited number of works that reached me after that date.

Quotations in Greek have been confined to the notes in the attempt to keep my discussion accessible to Greekless readers, but I have not discovered a wholly satisfactory or consistent method of rendering Greek into English in the text itself. My practice has been to retain latinate or anglicized forms for commonly known Greek authors and terms, but I have generally transliterated less familiar words directly from Greek into English.

Completion of this book would not have been possible without the assistance of numerous institutions and individuals. Financial support from the United States Educational Foundation in Greece and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens allowed me to visit Greece and complete most of my dissertation there. I would like to thank Professor W. D. E. Coulson, former director of the American School, and Dr. Nancy Winter, librarian of the Blegen Library, for allowing me access to the school's facilities and for creating a congenial atmosphere in which to carry out my work. Work on the book itself was largely completed while I

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