What Is a Jury in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the concept of a jury was significantly different from what we understand today. Unlike modern juries that are selected randomly from the public to decide on legal cases, the ancient Greek juries were composed of Athenian citizens who volunteered for this duty. In this article, we’ll explore more about what a jury was in ancient Greece and how it functioned.

What was a jury in ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, a jury was known as a dikastai, which means ‘judges’ in English. The dikastai were chosen by lot from among the Athenian citizenry and were responsible for deciding on cases that ranged from minor disputes to serious criminal offenses. The number of dikastai serving on a particular case could vary depending on its severity.

The role of dikastai

The primary function of the dikastai was to listen to evidence presented by both parties and make a decision based on this evidence. The process would start with an indictment made against someone who had allegedly committed an offense. The accused would then have the opportunity to respond and put forward their defense before the trial commenced.

Once the trial began, both sides would present their arguments and call witnesses if necessary. The dikastai would then retire to consider their verdict and return to deliver it publicly. A simple majority vote was enough to reach a verdict, except in cases where the punishment could be death or banishment when at least 201 out of 501 jurors had to be in favor.

The importance of juries in ancient Greece

Juries played a vital role in Athenian democracy because they allowed ordinary citizens to participate directly in legal proceedings. This system helped prevent corruption or bias among judges who might have been appointed by those in power rather than being chosen randomly from among the people.

Moreover, jurors received payment for their services – something that allowed poorer citizens to participate in the legal system and earn some income at the same time.


In conclusion, the jury system in ancient Greece was unique, with its own set of rules and procedures. The dikastai were not professional judges but citizens who volunteered for this duty.

Nevertheless, the system worked well and provided an essential safeguard against corruption and bias in the legal system. It also allowed ordinary citizens to participate actively in democracy and earn some income while doing so.