CLST 308 / HIST 240 / POLSCI 381 F14

Greek and Roman Law



Joshua D. Sosin (David Stifler, TA)

Coordinates: WF 1325-1440 | Physics 047

CLST | 229A Allen
OH: M 0900-1000, F1440-1530, and by appt
e: joshua.sosin AT duke/ david.stifler AT duke

Spiel: This course is an introduction to ancient Athenian law. We shall read real court speeches from real trials. Topics will range from homicide to commerce and banking, from citizenship to assault, from slavery to inheritance, from religion to sexuality, from literary representation to judicial torture. We shall explore, through in-class discussion, the theory and practice of Athenian law, aspects of social, economic, political, and cultural history as visible from the surviving court speeches, the relationship between Athenian law and Athenian democracy.

For the first two weeks we shall bulldoze our way through a slim textbook, learning basics, mastering facts. Then we'll take a straightforward short answer test (Data Dump). This will give us the freedom to have open and unscripted discussions throughout the rest of the semester. It is a great format.

Starting at week 4 you will have the opportunity to engage with the readings in very brief (375-word) papers. These are short, informal, meant to be raw. No detailed or developed arguments here; rather, an exercise in generation of ideas, a chance to try to think inside the box. These should be fun and should have the added benefit of generating ideas for classroom discussion.

The backbone of our work will be discussion. Read the court cases before class, and come to class ready to roll up your sleeves, offer observations, ask questions, have fun.

Week Wednesday Friday


08/27 - First day of class

08/29 - Intro pt1
READ: M. H. Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes (1991) ch3 27-43; 43-54 optional.

Athens (close) / Demes / Divisions / Mon of eponymous heroes /

some terms from the readings.


09/03 - Intro pt2
READ: MacDowell ch1-4

some terms from the readings.

Athens (close) / Divisions / Mon of eponymous heroes / Agora plan / as imagined / IG I^3 46 / Agora XVI 73 /

09/05 - Intro pt3
READ: MacDowell ch 5-6, 9

some terms from the readings.


09/10 - Intro pt4
READ: MacDowell ch 10-11, 13-14

some terms from the readings.

09/12 - Intro pt5
READ: MacDowell ch 15-16

some terms from the readings.

Data Dump - Take home - Due Monday 10am, 229A Allen Bldg

Directions will be: "Identify / define / describe / answer briefly ONLY N (will be ca.35) of the following N+ (will be ca. 40) questions. Partial credit will be awarded; each question is worth 3 pts. Do not answer more than N! Write as much as you know. No full sentences; phrases suffice. No notes, books, or any other helps. Take no more than 75 minutes. You are on your honor not to discuss with anyone else till after the due data/time."

Sample Q&A: "dike stupidou: private action against people who turn without using turn signal; attributed to Solon, but maybe invented 4th c.; penalty = double damages; MacDowell doubts it was used much (dike blabes more common)."


09/17 - Homicide
READ: MacDowell ch7
READ: Antiphon 1
READ: Antiphon 5
READ: Antiphon 6

Draco's homicide law on stone

09/19 - Sex and Violence
READ: MacDowell ch8
READ: Lysias 1

Dem. 23.53: "If someone kills unintentionally in athletic contests, or by overpowering him in the road, or unknowingly in war, or with a wife, or with a mother, or with a sister, or with a daughter, or with a concubine whom he keeps for the purpose of (creating) free children, he shall not stand trial on account of these things for killing." [ἐάν τις ἀποκτείνῃ ἐν ἄθλοις ἄκων, ἢ ἐν ὁδῷ καθελὼν ἢ ἐν πολέμῳ ἀγνοήσας, ἢ ἐπὶ δάμαρτι ἢ ἐπὶ μητρὶ ἢ ἐπ’ ἀδελφῇ ἢ ἐπὶ θυγατρί, ἢ ἐπὶ παλλακῇ ἣν ἂν ἐπ’ ἐλευθέροις παισὶν ἔχῃ, τούτων ἕνεκα μὴ φεύγειν κτείναντα]

leukôma α due


09/24 - Upheaval
READ: Lysias 12
READ: Lysias 13
READ: Lysias 31

09/26- Assault
READ: Lysias 3
READ: Lysias 4
READ: Demosthenes 54
READ: Isocrates 20

leukôma β due


10/01 - Sexuality
READ: Aeschines 1
OPTIONAL: A. Lanni, "The Expressive Effect of Athenian Prostitution Laws," ClAnt 29 (2010) 45-67.

10/03 - Banking, Business, Trade
READ: Demosthenes 52
READ: Isocrates 17
READ: Hypereides 3
READ: Demosthenes 56

leukôma γ due


10/08- Banking, Business, Trade
READ: Demosthenes 35
READ: Demosthenes 34
READ: Demosthenes 33

READ: Demosthenes 32
READ: Lysias22

10/10- Franchise
READ: Demosthenes 57
READ: Demosthenes 58

leukôma δ due


10/15 - Guest seminar leader Robin Osborne
READ: [Demosthenes] 59

Open session: Meet in Perkins 217

10/17 -
READ: [Demosthenes] 59

leukôma ε due


10/22 - Religion and Law
READ: Lysias 6
READ: Andocides 1

READ: MacDowell ch12

Open session (group 1): Meet in Perkins 217

10/24 - Religion and Law
READ: Lysias 7
READ: Lysias 30
READ: Hyperides 4

leukôma ϛ due


10/29 - Damages, Property, Property Damage
READ: Demosthenes 37
READ: Demosthenes 53
READ: Demosthenes 55

Open session (group 2): Meet in Perkins 217

10/31- Oh Brother
READ: Demosthenes 39
READ: Demosthenes 40

leukôma ζ due


11/05 - Duties
READ: Lysias 9
READ: Lysias 10-11
READ: Lysias 14-15
READ: Lysias 21
READ: Demosthenes 42

Open session (group 3): Meet in Perkins 217

11/07 - Inheritance
READ: Isaeus 3
READ: Isaeus 4
READ: Demosthenes 27

leukôma η due


11/12 - Inscriptions
: Selections from Rhodes-Osborne GHI 404-323 BC; NOTE: Read ONLY the translations of the inscriptions

Open session (group 4): Meet in Perkins 217

11/14 - Guest seminar leader Bob Connor
SEE: Assignment Sheet [NOTE: this is not a reading, but a set of fun activities to prepare ahead of class; we'll then use those as the foundation for discussion; the four "groups" correspond to the same 4 that we've used for our open sessions]

Open session: Regular Location

leukôma θ due


11/19 - Social Norms
Guest seminar leader Adriaan Lanni
READ: Demosthenes 47
READ: A. Lanni, "Social Norms in the Courts of Ancient Athens," JLA 1 (2009) 691-736


Open session

11/21 - Law in Literature
READ: Sophocles, Antigone
READ: Euripides, Hippolytus

leukôma ι due


11/26 - Thanksgiving recess

11/28 - Thanksgiving recess


12/03 - Socrates
READ: Plato, Apology
READ: Xenophon, Apology
READ: Hansen, The Trial of Sokrates

12/05 - last day of class
READ: Lysias 24
READ: Lysias 8


Leukômata: 40% of grade. You will write 10 leukômata, 375-word response papers; how long is 375 words? Roughly this long. We shall discuss the assignments in greater detail in class.

  1. leukôma α: Free Write: What was the most surprising thing that you learned about Athenian law from one or more of our readings so far (MacDowell, Antiphon 1, 5, 6, Lysias 1)? If your roommate asked you to give an account of the coolest, weirdest, most interesting, or boring, or shocking thing you've encountered so far, what would you say? Your writing must be intelligible, but it need not be formal. The only requirement is that you type and keep typing, without pause, for 30 minutes. Then, hand in whatever comes out! You do not need to cite anything (you can if you want); you don't need to refer to all of the readings. Use this as an easy opportunity to identify things that interest you, even a way to generate ideas or questions that you'd like to raise in discussion.
  2. leukôma β:You vs Text [Identify at least two things from our readings that have struck you as interesting, surprising, odd, difficult to understand--anything that really caught your interest for any reason (you must cite specific passages). This exercise asks what seems interesting, in one or more texts, in the light of what you think or know. Feel free to circle or otherwise highlight the sentence or clause that contains the crux of your observation.]
  3. leukôma γ: You vs Text
  4. leukôma δ:Text vs Text. [Read at least two readings or passages against each other. How does the one illuminate, contradict, agree with, flesh out, etc. the other? So, say one speech runs a particular legal (or extra-legal) argument with which another speech disagrees in some specific way. What do we learn from that? Base your observations on at least 2 specific passages (or phenomena). Feel free to circle or otherwise highlight the sentence or clause that contains the crux of your idea/observation. This exercise asks what seems interesting, in one or more texts, in the light of what one or more other texts say. You might observe, for example, that in one text a litigant casts tax obligations as a forced intrusion on freedom while elsewhere another frames them as voluntary and honor-bearing; you might, then, speculate how it is that we see this difference of opinion. In doing so you are in effect asserting that one passage speaks to another in an interesting way. You do not need to mount a full-bore argument; you do not need to 'discover' anything new. You simply need to have an honest thought born of careful attention to the texts that we read.]
  5. leukôma ε: Text vs Text
  6. leukôma ϛ: Text vs Text
  7. leukôma ζ:Text vs Context [Read this week's selections against the semester's readings and discussions. This exercise asks what seems interesting, in one or more texts, in the light of your increasingly evidence-based knowledge and understanding of Athenian law. Perhaps you have noticed a theme, rhetorical strategy, legal or procedural phenomenon that appears in multiple sources: here is your chance to string a few of those multiple observations together. So, you might observe, for example, that a number of texts speak in some particular way to an aspect of law regarding the family. In so doing you are in effect asserting that a number of passages speak to some larger issue, which might not even be an ancient category of thought.]
  8. leukôma η:Text vs Context
  9. leukôma θ:Text vs Context
  10. leukôma ι: Text vs Context

Assessing the leukômata. Each leukôma will be assessed on a five-point scale:

  • 11 points: On-time delivery of 375 words. Writing shows little engagement with the texts and/or is so unclearly written as to render assessment of such impossible. [ = words]
  • 12 points: Writing is clear, but it shows engagement only inasmuch as it recapitulates prior classroom discussion; it is clear but does not take ownership of any ideas. [ = words + alien thought]
  • 13 points: Writing is clear and contains a good, clear, interesting observation of your own; shows clear understanding of text. [ = words + solid observation]
  • 14 points: Writing is clear and contains one or more good, clear, interesting ideas based on observations; shows clear understanding of text and attempts critical engagement with it [ = words + observation + analysis]
  • 15 points: Writing is clear, compelling, well-crafted, and efficient, and shows ambitious or profound analysis of text [ = words clearly show excellent intellectual engagement]

This will generate not the grade, but a figure from which to calculate one; growth and improvement count.

Note: there is a simple way to raise the mark of any one leukôma by one point. First: have one of your classmates write a brief assessment of your leukôma; a few careful sentences will suffice. Then: add your own thoughts (again, a few careful sentences will do) in response to their response. Your classmate's job is to try to put him/herself in your shoes and try to appreciate what you are trying to say; your job is to put yourself in your classmate's shoes and try to appreciate their understanding. So, this is an exercise in imagining the mindset of your reader. If you both make an honest effort, the original author gets a point. Simple. If you trade (i.e. each reads the other's paper), you both get a point. Even better. This is purely optional.

In-Class Participation: 40% of grade; this is a seminar, a biggish one, but a seminar nevertheless; I provide framework, background, readings, occasional presentations and lectures, but you are responsible for discussion. On any given day your primary responsibility is to come prepared to attack the day's readings with questions, comments, problems, counter-arguments, parallels, etc.

  • See me: I am your biggest supporter. If for some reason you feel uncomfortable talking in class, come see me right away. We'll see what we can do to help you feel more at ease.
  • Primary sources: Primary sources assigned for this class are to be read in translation. But don't let me off the hook. You will develop an eye for the sorts of question that must be answered in full or part on consultation of the original language. When you have a question about this sort of thing, ask ask ask. I'll bring my laptop; we can look things up if it will help drive the discussion forward!
  • Discussion: I expect you to root your contributions in specific passages in the readings. Point to specifics: Author, speech number, paragraph number (e.g. Dem. 33.10). Be prepared to explain yourself with close reference to texts. I encourage you to bring up passages that you do not understand (chances are someone else, myself included, is similarly confused!), but I expect you to be able to describe the scope and dimension of your confusion: "The litigant's claim X at passage A seems to contradict his assertion Y at passage B in these 2 ways; I don't get it." On any given day our job is to bring these 2000-year-old texts to life in the light of the other texts we've read, ideas we've developed in our leukômata, thoughts we've floated in discussion, suggestions that others have made in discussion. We shall move forward by reading carefully and across the syllabus, by listening to each other, and by throwing as many ideas as we can against the wall and seeing how many stick. So long as we are reading carefully 'mistakes' are not bad; on the contrary, they are essential to the day's business. So, don't be shy about voicing ideas that you're not sure about.
  • Contribution: I value and reward hard work and careful thought. You do not need to know anything about ancient history or Greek or rhetoric or law to be a valuable contributor to this class. I expect you to work hard to master the materials that we cover, to think carefully about what we read, to listen carefully to your peers in discussion, and to have fun while doing so! Never let your fear that someone else might know more than you or that an idea might be somehow wrong keep you from speaking in class. In this setting, how you think will often mean more than what you know.
  • Leading: On a few Wednesdays, groups of students will be responsible for 'leading' discussion. We'll pick groups at random and you will have plenty of notice. Your group's job that day will be to lead discussion. How you do that is entirely up to you (power point, whiteboard, neither, as you like).
  • Assessment: After class each day I shall note your performance for the day and then give you a grade for each week of discussion:
    • 4 : you are on fire, offering a number of solid points or, possibly, one or a couple really great points
    • 3 : you are working up a sweat, offering a few points or, possibly, one quite strong one
    • 2 : you are warming up, offering 1 solid contribution to the discussion
    • 1 : you are on the bench, present but not contributing

This will generate not a grade, but a figure from which to calculate one; growth and improvement count. I shall drop the 2 lowest days; any absences, beyond 2, will be recorded as 0 in the daily note.

Data Dump: 20% of grade; there will be one test in this class. 1 hr.; closed book; take home. This test is designed simply to let you show that you have sufficiently mastered the basics, so that you will be able to have fun with the primary sources that we shall study throughout the rest of the semester. The test will cover Hansen, The Athenian Democracy ch3 and MacDowell, The Law in Classical Athens ch1-6, 10-11, 13-16. Format will be short answer / multiple choice. No tricks. The first five full days of class we shall walk through the assigned chapters very carefully so that we all build a solid foundation for further discussion. The logic of this exercise is to frontload the hard work of memorizing facts in the first few days of class, in order to allow scope for letting the discussion of primary sources take us wherever we like! I shall hand out the test in class Fri 12 Sept. You will be on your honor to: (1) leave the test in its envelope until you are ready to take it, (2) discuss the test with no one else after either of you has taken it (3), spend no more than 75 minutes taking the test; (4) use no books, notes, websites, or any other aids in the taking of the test; (5) hand it in Mon 15 Sept.

Open Court:

Guest Seminar Leaders: On three occasions we will be joined by distinguished visitors, who will lead discussion for the day. These class sessions will be open to other members of the Duke and area community (undergrads, grad students, faculty, whoever). This will not be your ordinary guest lecture, in which people file in, listen for an hour, ask a few questions of the luminary on the stage, and then file out. Instead, we'll invite others to participate in a discussion that you (the experts) will hold with our expert guests! There will also be a dinner or other informal occasion, so that you all have the chance to meet our guests in a more casual and less structured setting. Our visitors are:

Homegrown Seminar Leaders: on the days when you lead discussion, class will be similarly open! These sessions will likely draw fewer visitors, but the idea is the same. Ancient Athenian law is a only rarely featured in university curricula, so that by the time we are halfway through the semester you will know as much as anyone on this campus! These open sessions will offer an occasion for those who have an interest to drop by and join the experts for an hour. It should be fun.