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The Council 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 23, 2003

page 3 of 24

· Eligibility and Selection ·

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Plot on a Map

The 500 members of the Council, each one called a βουλευτής, or “Councilor,” were chosen by lot; each of the ten tribes (φυλαί) of Athens contributed 50 Councilors (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 43.2).

Read about the evidence
Xenophon (Xen. Mem.).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Plot on a Map

A citizen had to be 30 years old to serve on the Council (Xen. Mem. 1.2.35), an age-limit that may have dated back to the time of Draco (the semi-mythological first lawgiver of Athens) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 4.3). Some Athenians certainly seem to have thought that this age was the traditional limit for service as a Councilor—or thought that making such a claim would sound reasonable—since during the oligarchic coup of 411 BCE, when the democracy was temporarily overthrown, the first act of the oligarchic revolutionaries was to “set up a Council of 400, according to the ways of the ancestors” (βουλεύειν μὲν τετρακοσίους κατὰ τὰ πάτρια) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 31.1; source for date: OCD3), the oligarchic Council was limited to men over thirty years old (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 30.2; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 31.1).

Read about the evidence
Lysias (Lys. 31).
Isocrates (Isoc. 15).

Citizens probably had to volunteer to serve on the Council, rather than be appointed or drafted into service; in a speech by Lysias, the speaker says, “What I say is that only those have the right to sit in Council on our concerns who, besides holding the citizenship, have their hearts set upon it” (ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ ἄλλους τινάς φημι δίκαιον εἶναι βουλεύειν περὶ ἡμῶν, τοὺς πρὸς τῷ εἶναι πολίτας καὶ ἐπιθυμοῦντας τούτου) (Lys. 31.5; see also Lys. 31.32-33; Isoc. 15.149).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 39).

Selection by lot (κλήρωσις) involved bronze tablets (χαλκοῦς) (Dem. 39.10). It is not clear whether all 500 Councilors were chosen at once, in a central location, or whether they were chosen in the various demes. Demosthenes refers to “the city selecting [Councilors — CWB] by lot” ( πόλις κληροῖ) (Dem. 39.10), which would suggest a centrally managed process. But Aristotle says this:

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

“The officials elected by lot were formerly those elected from the whole tribe together with the Nine Archons and those now elected in the Temple of Theseus who used to be divided among the demes; but since the demes began to sell their offices, the latter also are elected by lot from the whole tribe, excepting members of the Council and Guards; these they entrust to the demes” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 62.1).

This might mean that selection for the Council took place in the individual demes. It is more likely to mean that selection took place centrally, in the Theseum, the Temple of Theseus, and that the 500 places on the Council were divided up not only into 50 for each of the ten tribes, but further within each tribe, so that each deme had a certain number of Councilors on the Council.

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 3).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

The “Thesmothetae” conducted the selection in the Theseum (Aeschin. 3.13); “thesmothete” (θεσμοθέτης) was the name given to six of the Nine Archons, with the other three being the “Archon” (ἄρχων), the “King Archon” (βασιλεύς), and the “Warlord” (πολέμαρχος) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55.1).

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

Unlike other political offices in the Athenian democracy, a citizen was not limited to one term of service on the Council, but could serve twice (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 62.3).

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 3).

We also hear of substitute Councilors, chosen in addition to the 500 Councilors. Aeschines says, speaking against Demosthenes: “Now Demosthenes came in as Councilor, not drawn by the lot either as a member of the senate or as a substitute, but through intrigue and bribery” (ἐνταῦθ’ εἰσέρχεται βουλευτὴς Δημοσθένης, οὔτε λαχὼν οὔτ᾽ ἐπιλαχών, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ παρασκευῆς πριάμενος) (Aeschin. 3.62). A fragment from a comic play by the comic poet Plato (not Plato the philosopher), suggests that each Councilor chosen by lot (λαχών) had a corresponding substitute (ἐπιλαχών) assigned to replace him if he proved ineligable for the office:

Speaker A: “…you are lucky, Master.”
Speaker B: “How?”
Speaker A: “You were almost chosen to be a Councilor, but although you were not chosen, nevertheless you were chosen, if you get my meaning.”
Speaker B: “How can I get your meaning?”
Speaker A: “I mean that you were chosen as a substitute for an evil man, a foreigner, who is not even yet a free man.”
Speaker B: “Get out of here! Indeed, I will explain it to you, the audience: I was chosen as a substitute Councilor for Hyperbolus.”

A: ...εὐτυχεῖς, δέσποτα.
B: τί δ’ ἔστι; A: βουλεύειν ὀλίγου ’λαχες πάνυ.
ἀτὰρ οὐ λαχὼν ὅμως ἔλαχες, ἢν νοῦν ἔχῃς.
B: πῶς ἢν ἔχω νοῦν; A: ὅτι πονηρῷ καὶ ξένῳ
ἐπέλαχες ἀνδρί, οὐδέπω γὰρ ἐλευθέρῳ.
B: ἄπερρ’· ἐγὼ δ᾽ ὑμῖν τὸ πρᾶγμα δὴ φράσω·
Ὑπερβόλῳ βουλῆς γάρ, ἄνδρες, ἐπέλαχον.

(Plato Comicus, Hyperbolos, fragments 166-167)

In this fragmentary excerpt from a comic play, an Athenian citizen seems to be having a conversation with his slave (who calls him “master”). According to the slave, the citizen has not been chosen by lot to serve on the Council, but will nevertheless get to serve. The citizen is slow to catch on, but eventually realizes the slave’s meaning: because the citizens has been “chosen as a substitute Councilor” (βουλῆς ἐπέλαχον) for Hyperbolus, he will almost certainly get to serve on the Council after all, because Hyperbolus is such an evil man that he will inevitably get expelled. This passage is obviously a joke at the expense of Hyperbolus, but it probably reflects a reality of the Council: not only were substitute Councilors (ἐπιλαχόντες) chosen, but each one was chosen as a substitute for a specific Councilor. If a Councilor chosen by lot should be expelled from the body, then the ἐπιλαχών chosen for him would take his seat.

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