Who Were the Police in Ancient Greece?

The police force as we know it today did not exist in ancient Greece. However, there were various individuals and institutions responsible for maintaining law and order within the city-states. Let’s take a closer look at who these individuals were and what their roles entailed.


The primary responsibility for enforcing laws in ancient Greece fell upon the magistrates. These were elected officials who served as judges, administrators, and law enforcement officers. They were responsible for investigating crimes, conducting trials, and imposing penalties.


One prominent group of magistrates was the hieromnemons. These individuals were responsible for maintaining religious law and order. They ensured that religious ceremonies were conducted appropriately and intervened when necessary to prevent impiety or sacrilege.


The agoranomoi were magistrates tasked with overseeing commercial activities in the marketplace (agora). They enforced regulations related to trade, resolved disputes between merchants, and ensured fair practices among sellers.


In addition to magistrates, hoplites also played a role in maintaining peace and security within ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were citizen-soldiers who served as professional warriors during times of conflict but also acted as a police force during peacetime.


Hoplite patrols would roam the streets of cities to deter crime and maintain order. They would respond to disturbances, break up fights, and apprehend criminals. Their presence alone often served as a deterrent against potential wrongdoers.

Citizen Participation

Public safety was not solely entrusted to magistrates or hoplites; it was also the responsibility of every citizen. Greek cities had a strong sense of civic duty, and citizens were expected to actively participate in maintaining law and order. This included reporting crimes, providing witness testimony, and assisting authorities when needed.


While ancient Greece did not have a dedicated police force as we do today, the responsibility for maintaining law and order was shared among various individuals and institutions. Magistrates held judicial powers, while hoplites acted as a visible presence on the streets. Additionally, citizen participation played a crucial role in ensuring public safety.

Understanding the mechanisms of law enforcement in ancient Greece helps us appreciate how societies have evolved over time and how different cultures approached the concept of policing.