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The Council 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003

page 11 of 24

· Council Decrees ·

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 13).
Demosthenes (Dem. 19).
Andocides (Andoc. 1).

The Council and the Assembly could both issue decrees (ψηφίσματα, in the plural; ψήφισμα in the singular). Lysias refers to “decrees of the Council and of the People” (τὰ ψηφίσματα τὰ ἐκ τῆς βουλῆς καὶ τοῦ δήμου) to refer to both kinds of decrees collectively (Lys. 13.50). Demosthenes refers to “the decrees of the People and of the Council of 500” (τὰ ψηφίσματα τὰ τοῦ δήμου καὶ τῆς βουλῆς τῶν πεντακοσίων) (Dem. 19.179). Many decrees were the work of both the Council and the “People” (that is, the Assembly); the texts of these would begin with the phrase, “It seemed best to the Council and the People…” (ἔδοξε τῇ βουλῇ καὶ τῷ δήμῳ) (see, for example, Andoc. 1.96).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).
Andocides (Andoc. 1).

When Athenian citizens were selected to serve as jurors, before taking their places in the court, they swore an oath to abide by “the laws and decrees of the People of Athens and of the Council of 500” (ψηφιοῦμαι κατὰ τοὺς νόμους καὶ τὰ ψηφίσματα τοῦ δήμου τοῦ Ἀθηναίων καὶ τῆς βουλῆς τῶν πεντακοσίων) (Dem. 24.149). But it is important to note that decrees, whether of the People in the Assembly or of the Council, were not the same as laws. The orators make frequent reference to the legal principle that “no decree, either of the Council or of the Assembly, shall have authority superior to a law” (Dem. 23.87; see also Andoc. 1.87, Andoc. 1.89, where the principle is repeated almost word-for-word).

The process by which the Athenian democracy made laws is discussed in the article on Legislation, and the Council’s role in that process is discussed below, in the section on “The Council and the Nomothetae.” But while the laws (νόμοι) had authority over decrees (ψηφίσματα), much of the business of the Athenian democracy was conducted by means of decrees.

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page 11 of 24