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Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science$
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Mirko Canevaro, Andrew Erskine, Benjamin Gray, and Josiah Ober

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474421775

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474421775.001.0001

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Rethinking Mass and Elite: Decision-Making in the Athenian Law-Courts

Rethinking Mass and Elite: Decision-Making in the Athenian Law-Courts

(p.157) 5 Rethinking Mass and Elite: Decision-Making in the Athenian Law-Courts
Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science

Federica Carugati

Barry R. Weingast

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter puts pressure on the ‘mass and elite model’ of Athenian litigation introduced by Ober. According to this framework, litigation is a game played by elite litigants and mass audiences; the ‘masses’ constitute a monolithic body with identical preferences; the ‘elites’ are thoroughly aware of, and willingly play by, the rules set by the masses. Moving from a different interpretation of Athenian political sociology, this chapter builds a new model of Athenian litigation that modifies Ober’s in three important respects: first, the jurors’ preferences are not the product of a monolithic and static ‘mass’ ideology; second, litigants (not only elites) can reasonably predict the location of the median juror; and third, litigants’ arguments are the product of a cost‐benefit analysis that depends a) on the relative expected position of their opponent; b) on the expected position of the median juror; and c) on the policy/legal agenda they are pursuing. The model proposed here suggests that repeated interactions in the law‐courts allowed diverse interests to be advanced and negotiated, which helped the Athenians collectively define the boundaries of their social relations while responding to the new challenges that a post‐imperial, highly fragmented Greek ecology posed to Athens’ stability and prosperity.

Keywords:   Athenian litigation, mass and elite, ideology

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