Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, is retiring and will be replaced by some other intern accustomed to the House's arcane ways. This did not happen in the world's first and last real democracy.

In 5th-century sc Athens, the Assembly (all male citizens over 18) met roughly every nine days to make all the decisions that Parliament so beneficently makes for us today. The Assembly had its business prepared for it by a steering committee, the boule, consisting of 500 citizens over 30, appointed by lot to serve for one year. But even this was too large for everyday business, so the boule was split into yet smaller units of 50, each 50 serving for a tenth of a year (36 days).

These 50, the prutaneis, lived in a public building and were on call 24 hours a day. All new public business went first to them, then to the boule, and finally to the Assembly. …

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