In the Athenian law-courts, wealthy, educated, and powerful elites fought one another to prevail as leaders and advisors of the masses. Regulated by the masses’ ideals of a good society, elite competition pushed Athens toward stability, prosperity and cultural immortality. Or did it? This article puts pressure on the mass and elite model of Athenian litigation (M&E). According to the M&E model, litigation is a game played by elite litigants and mass audiences; elite litigants seek to win over their opponents as a means to gain honor; and the masses constitute a monolithic body with identical preferences. This model, we suggest, does not adequately explain the dynamics of law- and policy-making in the Athenian courts. Combining findings from two separate bodies of literature in classics and political science, we build a new model of Athenian litigation that modifies the M&E model in two fundamental respects: first, jurors’ preferences are meaningfully pluralistic, therefore litigants (who are not only elites) face uncertainty as to the precise position of the median juror; and second, litigants want to win, but they also have preferences over policy/legal outcomes. Our model identifies the mechanisms that enabled diverse interests to be advanced and negotiated in ways that fostered both stability and innovation in Athenian law- and policy-making.And with Josiah Ober, Stanford University, he has posted The Sparta Game: Violence, Proportionality, Austerity, Collapse, which is forthcoming in How to Do Things with History, ed.
Paul Millett (Oxford University Press):
This paper suggests that contemporary versions of Adam Smith’s informal equilibrium theory in Book III of the Wealth of Nations (Smith, 1776) can explain Sparta’s regime stability, along with distinctive features of the social system of ancient Sparta, namely the coordinated social uses of systematic violence, the public façade of material equality among the citizen population, the maintenance of a self-enforcing regime of austerity by an extensive body of citizens. In addition, it uses a dynamic element to explain the severe demographic decline that led to Sparta’s eventual loss of standing in the Greek world.