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The Council 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003

page 5 of 24

· The Bouleutic Oath ·

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

Upon passing their scrutiny (δοκιμασία), the new Councilors swore the so-called “Bouleutic Oath.” According to Aristotle, this practice dated back to the eighth year after Cleisthenes established the democracy, or 501/500 BCE (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 22.2; source for date, Rhodes, Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia [Oxford, 1993] 262).

There is no single literary text or inscription that records the oath that the Councilors (βουλτεῦται) swore, but we can reconstruct it from scattered comments and references in different texts and inscriptions. It is important to remember, however, that these sources are from different dates, some from the 5th century (Lysias), some from the early 4th century (Xenophon), and some from the later 4th century BCE (Demosthenes). It is unlikely that the oath remained the same in wording and content over the course of 200 years. Nevertheless, the evidence we have does give us a picture of how the Athenians both empowered, and limited the power of, the Council.

Read about the evidence
Xenophon (Xen. Mem.).
Lysias (Lys. 31).
Lysias (Lys. 30).
Apollodorus (Dem. 59).

The Councilors swore “to advise according to the laws” (κατὰ τοὺς νόμους βουλεύσειν) (Xen. Mem. 1.1.18). According to two passages from Lysias, they swore “to advise what was best for the city” (τὰ βέλτιστα βουλεύσειν τῇ πόλει) (Lys. 31.2; Lys. 30.10). Demosthenes mentions Councilors swearing to advise “what was best for the People” (τὰ βέλτιστα βουλεύσειν τῷ δήμῳ Ἀθηναίων) (Dem. 59.4).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Demosthenes (Dem. 22).

According to Demosthenes, the Councilors included this clause in their oath: “Nor will I imprison any Athenian citizen who provides three people to guarantee his debt, guarantors who are in the same tax-bracket, except anyone found guilty of conspiring to betray the city or to subvert the democracy, or anyone who has contracted to collect taxes, or his guarantor, or his collector who is in default” (οὐδὲ δήσω Ἀθηναίων οὐδένα, ὃς ἂν ἐγγυητὰς τρεῖς καθιστῇ τὸ αὐτὸ τέλος τελοῦντας, πλὴν ἐάν τις ἐπὶ προδοσίᾳ τῆς πόλεως ἐπὶ καταλύσει τοῦ δήμου συνιὼν ἁλῷ, τέλος πριάμενος ἐγγυησάμενος ἐκλέγων μὴ καταβάλῃ) (Dem. 24.144). This clause would prevent a creditor from having an Athenian citizen arrested for debt, assuming that the citizen could provide three other citizens who would co-sign his debt; the exceptions are traitors, and “tax-farmers,” that is, men who had paid for the privilege of collecting taxes on behalf of the Athenian government. A few sentences later in the same speech, Demosthenes claims that Solon, the law-giver of the 6th century BCE, was responsible for this provision (Dem. 24.148).

Read about the evidence
Andocides (Andoc. 4).

A passage from a speech attributed to Andocides claims that the “oath of the People and the Council” (τῷ ὅρκῳ τοῦ δήμου καὶ τῆς βουλῆς) included a promise “not to exile, nor imprison, nor execute anyone without a trial” (μηδένα μήτε ἐξελᾶν μήτε δήσειν μήτε ἀποκτενεῖν ἄκριτον) (Andoc. 4.3).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 31).
Lysias (Lys. 26).

According to Lysias, Councilors swore an oath, “to let it be known if he knows of anyone who has been selected by lot but is not fit to serve on the Council” (ἀποφανεῖν εἴ τίς τινα οἶδε τῶν λαχόντων ἀνεπιτήδειον ὄντα βουλεύειν) (Lys. 31.2), and “to crown a man as worthy of public office only after scrutinizing him” (δοκιμάσαντες τὸν ἄξιον τῆς ἀρχῆς στεφανώσειν) (Lys. 26.8).

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Aristophanes (Aristoph. Pl.).

A fragmentary quotation from the ancient historian Philochorus adds to our list of clauses in the Bouleutic Oath: “And the Council at that time began for the first time to sit according to letters; and even now they swear to sit in the letter to which they have been randomly assigned” (καὶ βουλὴ κατὰ γράμμα τότε πρῶτον ἐκαθέζετο· καὶ ἔτι νῦν ὀμνῦσιν ἀπ’ ἐκείνου καθεδεῖσθαι ἐν τῶι γράμματι ὧι ἂν λάχωσιν) (Philoch. 328 F 140; quoted in a scholion, or marginal note, to Aristoph. Pl. 972). This “sitting by letters” seems to mean that Councilors were assigned seats for their meetings, and they swore to sit only in their assigned seats. This might have been intended to prevent factions from forming within the Council, as might happen if all of the Councilors from one deme sat together when the whole body met.

Plot on a Map

An inscription from 448 BCE records an addition to the Bouleutic Oath. The added clause commits the Council to ensuring that only Athenian money be used in the cities that pay tribute to Athens. The text of the inscription has had to be restored by modern scholars (as with virtually all inscriptions), but it has been reconstructed to read: “And the secretary of the Council is to add a clause to the Oath of the Council, to this effect: Should anyone mint coins of silver in the cities and not use Athenian coins, standard weights, or standard measures, but uses foreign coins, weights, and measures, we will punish him and fine him according to the earlier decree that Clearchus sponsored” (προσγράψαι δὲ πρὸς τὸν ὅρκον τὸν τῆς βολῆς τὸν γραμματέα τὸν τῆς βολῆς ταδί· ἐάν τις κόπτῆι νόμισμα ἀργυρίο ἐν τῆσι πόλεσι καὶ μὴ χρῆται νομίσμασι τοῖς Ἀθηναίων σταθμοῖς μέτροις ἀλλὰ ξενικοῖς νομίσμασιν καὶ μέτροις καὶ στάθμοις, τιμωρήσομαι καὶ ζημιώσω κατὰ τὸ πρότερον ψήφισμα Κλέαρχος εἶπεν) (IG I3 1453; source for date: P.J. Rhodes, The Athenian Boule [Oxford, 1972] 194).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Xenophon (Xen. Mem.).

A speech by Demosthenes quotes portions of a different oath, the one sworn by jurors in the People’s Court. These jurors swore, among other things, that “I am not less than thirty years old” (γέγονα οὐκ ἔλαττον τριάκοντα ἔτη) (Dem. 24.151). Since Xenophon tells us that Councilors also had to be at least thirty years old (Xen. Mem. 1.2.35), it is possible that Councilors likewise swore that they met the age requirement. On the other hand, as P.J. Rhodes has pointed out, such an oath might not have been necessary once each candidate for the Council had undergone scrutiny (see P.J. Rhodes, The Athenian Boule [Oxford, 1972] 195).

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