Order and Disorder: Law and society in the Greek world

Course Material 2024/25

This is Paper C3

What manifestations of disorder and injustice (social, sexual, religious, political) were the Greeks especially worried about? What kinds of disorder did they think it was for the city to address? What kinds the gods or private citizens? What were Greek laws for, whom did they try to regulate, and in what ways did they reflect or contest social stratifications (between men and women, slave and free, citizens and foreigner)? In the absence of a developed state apparatus, how did the Greeks attempt to exert control through such varied means as, not only laws and judicial action, but also such paralegal measures as curses and other appeals to divine agency, gossip, and mob action? In this course, we will explore these and such questions through a wealth of both epigraphic and literary texts from across the Greek world.

We will begin by examining Greek discourses of cosmic and social order and disorder and the ways in which they formed the backdrop for civic mechanisms designed to govern and control the population, exploring evidence ranging from archaic poetry to the lawgiver traditions that proliferated in classical and later sources. We will then turn to two major case studies chosen for the richness of the available material: Gortyn with its wealth of inscribed law, and Athens where a unique additional perspective is provided by judicial speeches. Supplementary material will be drawn from the many surviving laws from across Greece to highlight points of contact and difference and enrich our appreciation of the diversity of law throughout the Greek world. One major point of discussion will be the validity of comparative and panhellenic approaches to answering the questions set out above. Another will be whether Greek legal systems deserve their old reputation as a poor relation to the grand systems of Roman law and whether, conversely, a more upbeat appraisal of Greek legal and paralegal approaches to law and order might be warranted and illuminating.

Section notice

This material is intended for current students but will be interesting to prospective students. It is indicative only.