What Were Juries Like in Ancient Greece?

In Ancient Greece, the concept of a jury was quite different from what we are familiar with today. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of ancient Greek juries and explore their structure, function, and significance.

The Athenian Jury System

One of the most well-known jury systems in Ancient Greece was that of Athens. In Athens, juries were an integral part of the democratic system and played a vital role in the administration of justice. The Athenian jury system had its roots in the reforms implemented by Cleisthenes in 508 BCE.

Selection Process

The selection process for juries in ancient Greece was quite unique. Instead of being randomly selected or appointed, jurors were chosen through a lottery system.

Each year, 6,000 citizens were selected to form a panel of potential jurors called the “Heliaea.” From this pool, 500 jurors were randomly chosen for each trial.

Function and Responsibilities

The primary function of ancient Greek juries was to decide on matters related to both civil and criminal cases. Jurors had to listen to arguments presented by both sides and then come to a collective decision by voting. Unlike modern juries that consist of 12 members, ancient Greek juries could include hundreds or even thousands of jurors.

It is important to note that there were no lawyers or judges as we understand them today. The responsibility for presenting arguments and evidence rested solely on the parties involved in the case.

The Power of Juries

Ancient Greek juries held significant power in their hands. Their decisions were final and had no possibility for appeal. Additionally, jurors could also impose penalties on those found guilty, including fines or exile from the city-state.

The Role of Rhetoric

Rhetoric played a vital role in ancient Greek trials. Both the prosecution and the defense had to present persuasive arguments to sway the jury in their favor. This emphasis on rhetoric led to the rise of influential public speakers known as “logographers” who specialized in crafting speeches for litigants.


Ancient Greek juries were an essential part of the democratic system, providing citizens with a voice in legal matters. Through a unique selection process and reliance on persuasive rhetoric, these juries played a crucial role in the administration of justice. Their influence and power shaped the course of legal proceedings and contributed to the development of democratic principles that continue to impact our modern judicial systems.