Reporting for Jury Duty in Ancient Greece | Canberra time


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For anyone who has ever been inconvenienced attending jury duty in Australia, rest assured that your experience was probably not as harrowing as being appointed to jury duty in ancient Athens. One of the smaller bronze objects in our latest exhibition, Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes, provides insight into a year of jurorship in the ancient Greek world. It is a pinakion, or personal identification tag for a juror, which has been broken into two pieces and is only 10 centimeters long in total. The surface is stamped with an owl perched on an olive branch and a gorgon’s head, representing Athens and the court to which the juror was attached. You can see the name of the owner of the pinakion roughly punched in the Greek alphabet: Thucydides of the deme of Upper Lamptrae, one of the 10 regional tribes of Athens. Ancient Athens was famous for its courthouse. The playwright Aristophanes ravaged them in his comedy The Wasps, a play centered on the age-old chasm of political beliefs between a son and his father, the son a young man longing for a new political order and the father a vexatious old man addicted to service. jurors. The play pokes fun at the city’s judicial system, in which 6,000 Athenians—at least, those who were male, free-born, and over the age of 30—could register as jurors each year. These juries formed the stinging “wasps” of Aristophanes’ play. Compared to most trials in Australia, Athenian juries were huge. They could include 200, 500, 1000 or 1500 people, and sometimes even the full complement of the 6000 registered jurors. Each potential juror received one of these bronze tags which confirmed their identity and were used to assign them to trials. On the day of a trial, prospective jurors appeared before a jury-selecting magistrate and participated in the following process, described by Aristotle in The Athenian Constitution. They inserted their tags into a selection device known as a kleroterion, after which black and white balls were drawn from a tube. The black balls rejected the first row of candidates and the whites selected them for service. This continued until the full conviction of the jurors was selected. This practice of drawing lots was intended to constitute an impartial jury, while their size was supposed to prevent corruption. It was also an important part of Athenian democracy, ensuring that all citizens who presented themselves for this service had an equal chance of active service. Once the full jury was appointed, these identification tags were then returned to the constituted jurors to grant them a few obols to buy a modest lunch. Thousands of these bronze dog tags were once produced, although only a few survive today. As official administrative objects, they had to be returned at the end of each year. Many have been discovered during excavations in the agora of Athens where the courthouses were located, often with evidence of reuse. In such cases, the identity of one juror has been erased and replaced with that of another. However, identification tags have also been found in the burials. This particular tag is in such a good state of preservation, with no evidence of reuse, that it was probably discovered at a burial as well – although unfortunately we have no information about its discovery and archaeological context. After all, Thucydides had good reason to be so proud of this pinakion that he wanted to take it with him on his journey to the afterlife. Made of bronze, it was a valuable object that declared his status as a citizen and recognized his service to the state. The tendency to retain these labels rather than return them at the end of a year of service probably explains why they were replaced by wooden versions in the mid-4th century BCE. This change in material is only recorded by literary evidence and no wooden labels have survived in the archaeological record. The British Museum purchased Thucydides’ pinakion in 1895 from Jean P Lambros, a dealer in Athens who advertised himself in contemporary auction guides and manuals as “the oldest coin and antiquities dealer and the most reliable in Greece” and which sold widely to museums across Europe. . You can find it on display in Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes.



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