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Crime and Punishment in Ancient Greece

Today, criminals are punished for their crimes by going to jail or prison or being on probation. But what was it like in Ancient Greece? After the Dark Ages, about 1200-900 BC, the Ancient Greeks had no official laws or punishments. Murders were settled by the victims family killing the murderer, but this was difficult if they were elderly or female. This often began endless blood feuds. It was not until the seventh century BC that the Greeks began to establish laws.

Around 620 BC, Draco wrote the first law for Greece.

This law said that exile was the penalty for murder and was the only one of Draco’s laws that Solon kept when he became law giver in 594 BC. Foreign slaves were often employed as police men and women in Ancient Greece. After somebody reported a crime, if somebody was arrested, an informant would receive half of fine charged to the criminal. In Athens, criminals were tried before a jury of 200 or more citizens picked at random.

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Going to prison was not an usual punishment for the people of Greece.

In cases involving rape, theft, adultery, and murder, the accused got a written summons that told them when they had to appear before the magistrate. Athenian law was divided into two things, public and private action. Public actions included the entire community. Private actions included an individual. In cases of murder, the victims family was required to prosecute the killer. Even though magistrates were at the trial, they weren’t judges.

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They neither gave advice nor did they convict the felon. They just supervised the hearing.

The jury in a trial was made up of 200-600 members over the age of thirty to make sure there was no risk or bribery. After the speeches had been delivered by the prosecution and the defense, the jurors voted without deliberation. In the 5th century BC, jurors cast their vote in secret. Each juror was provided with two tokens, one for conviction and the other for acquittal. The juror put one of these in a wooden urn whose tokens were disregarded, and the other in a bronze urn whose votes were counted. Judgement was passed on a majority verdict.

In the 5th century B. C. , a tie meant an acquittal. In the following century, old-numbered juries were the norm and that is the custom today. In Ancient Rome the slaves had no rights at all. They were thought of and treated like merchandise. However, slaves did cost money to buy so many of the punishments did not inflict lasting damage. The lash was the most common punishment. When slaves were beaten, they were suspended with a weight tied to their feet, so they wouldn’t be able to move them. Another punishment was to be branded in the forehead.

An alternative punishment included the slave being forced to carry a piece of wood around their necks wherever they went. This was called furca; and whichever slave had had been punish with this was called furcifer all the time after that. Slaves were also, by way of punishment, often kept in a work-house, or house of correction, where they had to turn a mill for grinding corn. When punished for any capital offense, they were commonly crucified; but this was eventually prohibited under the rule of the Emperor Constantine.

In Rome, the punishments for death are beheading, strangling in prison, throwing a criminal from the Tarpeian rock, crucifixion, burying a person alive, or throwing a criminal in the river (patricide). Throwing a criminal in the river was inflicted for killing your father. The criminal was immediately blindfolded as unworthy of the light, and in the next place the person were taken to the field of Mars outside Rome, stripped of everything then whipped with rods. He was then sewed up in a sack, and thrown into the sea.

Later in time, to add to the punishment for patricide, a serpent was put in the sack; and still later, an ape, a dog and a cock. The sack which held the criminal was called Culeus, on which account the punishment itself is often signified by the same name. There are eight kinds of punishments, fine, fetters, flogging, retaliation of kind, civil disgrace, banishment, slavery, and death. Punishments in Ancient Rome were very harsh and violent and they are unlike the laws today.

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Crime and Punishment in Ancient Greece. (2018, Oct 01). Retrieved from

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