Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.07.18

P. Fröhlich, Les Cités grecques et le contrôle des magistrats (IVe-Ier siècle avant J.-C.). École pratique des Hautes Études. Hautes Études du monde gréco-romain, 33.   Geneva and Paris:  Droz, 2004.  Pp. xii, 634.  ISBN 2-600-00956-6.  CHF 148.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Edward M. Harris, American School of Classical Studies/City University of New York (
Word count: 3141 words

The idea that no magistrate is above the law was a major tenet of Greek political theory and practice. One way to ensure that magistrates obeyed the law was to hold them accountable and to subject their conduct to a formal process of review. The procedure of euthynai at Athens in the Classical period has been well studied by scholars like M. Piérart and P. J. Rhodes, but the methods of controlling magistrates in other Greek city-states have not previously received much attention.1 In this study Pierre Froehlich (henceforth F.) has undertaken the ambitious task of collecting and analyzing the evidence (most of it epigraphical) for the procedures to ensure accountability in the Greek world during the Classical and Hellenistic periods (with a glance at developments under the Roman Empire). F. is especially interested in the methods of achieving "transparency" in public finances but extends his study to cover the control of other types of official misconduct.2

In the Prolegomenon (15-76) F. begins by studying what Herodotus (15-20), Plato (21-32), and Aristotle (33-52) have to say about the control of magistrates and the procedure of euthynai. Herodotus (3.80) mentions accountability only briefly in the debate about the constitutions, where the procedure is one of the key elements that distinguish democracy from tyranny. This passage and the mention of euthynai in Plato's Protagoras (326a), which F. believes reflects the views of Protagoras himself, show that the procedure was already widespread by the middle of the fifth century, despite its rare appearance in the epigraphical record of that period. Plato accepts the importance of the institution but satirizes the Athenian method of placing the control of magistrates in the hands of the people. His own solution is to select the most responsible members of Magnesia and grant them the power to oversee officials. Aristotle by contrast believes that the power to discipline magistrates should belong to the people. This gives the people a share of government, serves as a check on leaders, and helps to prevent tyranny. What is most important for F.'s thesis, however, is that both Plato and Aristotle imply that euthynai are not a procedure found exclusively in democratic regimes, but one present in many types of constitution.

Chapter 4 of the Prolegomenon examines the Greek terms used for procedures to keep magistrates accountable. The most common term is the verb euthynein: in Attic inscriptions of the fifth century this word often means "to punish" or "to inflict a fine", but later it acquires the broader meaning "to exercise control over officials" and in some decrees from Mylasa it means "to bring a legal action." At Athens the noun euthynai normally refers to the procedure of rendering accounts in the narrow legal sense, but it is rarely found outside of Attica (56-59). The adjective hypeuthynos may indicate that an official is required to render accounts, but it may also simply mean "subject to legal action" and is sometimes equivalent to hypodikos (e.g. IG IX.2.1109 = Sylloge 3rd ed. no. 1157, lines 59-64). In a similar way the adjective anypeuthynos can have a narrow meaning ("not required to present accounts") or a more general sense ("not liable to a penalty" or even "not subject to challenge"). F. next studies the verbal phrases that express the notion of rendering accounts (68-71). In Athens, the formula logon didonai refers to the procedure before the logistai, while euthynas didonai refers to the entire process of review. Similar phrases can be found in other Greek poleis but not same division of duties. Two important conclusions follow from this survey of terms. First, the formulae used to designate the same kind of procedure vary from place to place. Second, one cannot infer the existence of a certain kind of procedure to keep magistrates accountable from the mere occurrence of a certain term: the word euthynai found in an inscription from a city in Asia Minor need not betoken the existence of a procedure similar to the one referred to by that name in Athens (73-74).

Part I (77-252) contains an inventory of all magistrates who exercised supervision over other officials and is the longest section of the book. Instead of proceeding polis by polis, F. chooses to organize his inventory by terms, starting with the three named by Aristotle in the Politics ( logistai, euthynoi, and exetastai. Although logistai are attested in several cities, their functions differ considerably from place to place. In Athens two separate boards carry this title, one examining accounts of officials during their terms of office, the other those rendered after leaving office (79-80). In other localities, logistai have a broader jurisdiction and can hear cases brought against private individuals as well as magistrates (81-92). In some cases logistai appear simply to keep account and do not exercise control over other officials. Only the logistai at Delos seem to offer a close parallel to those of Athens. F. believes that the logistai attested at Eretria are similar to those found in Athens, but the single piece of evidence may indicate only that they were given reports of expenditures and maintained accounts (81). There is a similar variation in the use of the term euthynoi: at Athens they receive charges made against officials (103-16), but elsewhere they can impose fines on private individuals (e.g. Teos, Magnesia, Miletus).

In comparison, exestastai are found in more cities, a total of twenty-one from around the Aegean (117-67). In fourth-century Athens, the exetastai are a college of officials who supervise payments to soldiers (Aeschines 3.113); later they are found as a committee of the Council instructed to inspect buildings (162-63). A single exetastes figures in several inscriptions under the tyranny of Lachares, but F. rightly criticizes the views of B. Dreyer, who attributes wide powers to this official in the third century BCE (157-64). Elsewhere in the Greek world exetastai are often in charge of public documents such as laws, decrees, lists of citizens and financial records. F. admits that there is hardly evidence linking exetastai to procedures to ensure accountability but argues that they must have intervened in this process because of their supervision of public records.

The next five chapters study officials who may have exercised control over magistrates but whose titles are not mentioned by Aristotle in the Politics: katoptai (Chapter IV), mastroi (Chapter V), apologoi (Chapter VI), eklogistai (Chapter VII), and synegoroi and various other officials (Chapter VIII). But few of these officials exercise powers similar to those held by the logistai and euthynoi at Athens. Eklogistai, for example, are almost invariably financial officials; only at Mesembria do they appear to have inspected the account of magistrates. Most of the others have a wider jurisdiction and can proceed against anyone, both those in government and those outside. The picture that emerges from this survey is one of considerable diversity. Athens stands out from the rest of Greece by having three different boards checking the conduct of officials (logistai, synegoroi, euthynai). In general the Greek cities did not entrust this task to a single official but to boards of up to ten members.3 This type of official is found throughout the Greek world, especially in third and second centuries BCE, but they virtually disappear from inscriptions under the Roman Empire. The sources report that the members of the boards supervising the conduct of officials at Athens were chosen by lot. The evidence from other communities does not indicate their method of appointment. F., however, believes that sortition was the method generally used, but his evidence consists of a single passage from Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras, which relates only to Croton in the sixth century BCE.

While Part I collects the evidence for officials who exercised control, Parts II and III examine the procedures used to hold magistrates accountable. The second part goes over some of the same evidence that was studied in the first part but examines the procedures for maintaining control over magistrates during their terms of office (253-329). Many kinds of magistrates were subject to this kind of control, but those involved in financial matters underwent the most scrutiny (253-57). In several poleis magistrates could not receive or make payments except in the presence of other officials or with their approval; the strict controls in Temnos described by Cicero (pro Flacco 44) were not atypical (257-64). At Athens the logistai examined the accounts of magistrates every prytany (Ath. Pol. 48.3), and in this case Athens was not unusual: F. shows that in at least five other cities (Myania, Hypnia, Delos, Gambreion, and Teos) officials were required to provide records of their transactions every month (264-76). There were also procedures requiring supervision of decisions made by officials and punishments for officials who acted in violation of the law or proposed illegal measures (276-87). The latter were aimed less at keeping magistrates accountable than at maintaining the rule of law, but the two objectives went hand in hand. Here one misses a reference to David Lewis' essay on entrenchment clauses in Athens, now reprinted in his Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History (Cambridge 1997) 136-49, and the list of similar clauses in other Greek poleis in P. J. Rhodes with D. M. Lewis, The Decrees of the Greek States, Oxford (1997) 524-25.

This of course gives rise to the question: "qui contrôle les contrôleurs?" In some cases it is the Council and Assembly, in others the succeeding board of officials (285-86). A common procedure for punishing officials was to inflict a fine or to authorize the seizure of their property. F. believes that in general the officials who imposed fines or authorized confiscation were not the same as those who collected the fines or seized property (287-91). It is possible that officials condemned to a fine were permitted to appeal the decision to a court, but the only certain evidence for such appeals is found in the Gymnasiarch Law from Beroia (293-94). Procedures against official misconduct could be initiated by private individuals as well as by other officials (294-302). F. thinks that the involvement of average citizens was a mark of democracy, but the practice appears to have been widespread (297. Cf. 303).

The other chapter in Part II examines the role of citizens in holding magistrates accountable. In Athens, some magistrates had to carry out certain duties in front of the Council, but this practice is rarely attested elsewhere. There are more examples, but not many, of rules requiring payments to be made in the presence of the Assembly (306-11). There were numerous ways of proceeding against officials, either by denunciation to the Council and Assembly or by prosecution in court (312-18).

Part III covers the rendering of accounts by magistrates after completing their term of office. F. begins again with the procedure at Athens, for which there is the most detailed evidence. According to Aeschines (3.14-5, 17-20), all officials had to undergo this procedure, and the inscriptions confirm what he says: honorary decrees indicate that many kinds of officials had passed their euthynai before receiving crowns (331-35). The practice continued well into the Hellenistic period (335-45) and was also adopted by the subdivisions of the polis (tribes, demes) as well as by some private associations (346-55). In the second century BCE, the Athenians brought the procedure to Delos after the Romans gave the island to them (356-62). What is especially striking is the continuity between the Classical and Hellenistic periods (361-62).

The next chapter extends the study of the procedure to poleis outside Athens. F. begins with several honorary decrees for officials who are said to have passed their audits but then tries to infer the existence of a procedure of euthynai in several poleis from decrees where officials are praised for performing their duties justly and honestly. F. believes that they could have received such a commendation only if they had undergone a procedure similar to euthynai at Athens, but this goes far beyond the evidence (366-73). The remainder of the chapter (373-96) collects direct evidence for the practice of rendering account in poleis from various regions (Peloponnese, Ionian islands, Boeotia, Central Greece, Northern Greece, Thrace and the Black Sea area). The evidence for some regions is sparse, forcing F. to generalize on the basis of a few examples and to rely on arguments from probability (380: "Selon toute vraisemblance," 382: "Il est vraisemblable que ..." 384: "la reddition de comptes dans un thiase laisse supposer ..." 395: "... rend probable ..."). In some cases one wonders if F. is reading too much into single words and phrases. For instance, several laws and decrees merely require officials to report expenditures and to post for public inspection the amounts of money spent, which is not equivalent to a thorough inspection of accounts (e.g. the decree from Hermias discussed on p. 392). But the evidence collected by F. shows that the practice of rendering accounts was widespread even if we can never know if it was universal or not. What the epigraphic record does show is that all kinds of officials were obliged to turn over their records: not only financial officials, but also military officers, various overseers, and secretaries (397-401). Particularly striking is the fact that priests and religious officials were subject to public control, which reveals that one cannot separate the realm of religion and that of politics and law in the Greek polis; the separation of church and state is a modern development. 4

The final chapter in Part III looks at the actual procedures for examining the accounts of officials. Officials were required to hand over accounts before a certain deadline and to justify all payments. The main aim was to prevent theft of public funds, but there was some interest in measuring revenues (409-14). At Athens in the fourth century officials could not receive honors until their accounts had been checked and approved (Aeschin. 3.21), but there is no evidence for such a rule elsewhere (414-16). Those who failed to submit to the procedure were subject to fines or more serious penalties (416-8). In many poleis special officials had the power to carry out the procedure; the Council or the Assembly is rarely involved (419-30). At Athens charges against officials had to be brought before a court, and there are parallels for such an arrangement in Corcyra and Messenia (430-36).

The first three parts take a synchronic approach and treat the four hundred years covered in the book as a single period. The fourth part adopts a diachronic approach and looks at "continuités et ruptures." F. traces the origins of the procedures for controlling magistrates to the sixth century BCE (443-46). By the early Hellenistic period it is very widespread (447-50). In the second and first centuries BCE the evidence for these procedures diminishes, but F. wisely refrains from concluding that it disappeared or became much more rare since the epigraphic record is less abundant in this period (450-52). The second and third chapters examine developments in two places, Athens and Boeotia. The evidence for accountability in Athens in the first century BCE consists of one decree (IG ii, 2nd ed. no. 1028), which F. discusses in some detail (453-63).5 The evidence from Boeotia is more plentiful. Here the katoptai, who checked accounts in earlier periods, are no longer attested at the federal level after 150 BCE and rarely appear in the Boeotian cities. This does not mean that there was no longer any supervision of magistrates since the use of the word apologia in several inscriptions indicates that officials were still required to provide accounts. In some cases, it was left to the succeeding official to review the financial management of his predecessor (465-508).

Chapter 4 seeks to determine whether there was a general evolution in the procedures for controlling magistrates. Although the control of magistrates was occasionally entrusted to foreign judges (e.g. at Phalanna in Thessaly around 150-30 BCE) or temporarily suspended, most poleis continued to follow the same procedures through the Hellenistic period. The report of Cicero (Att. 6.2.5) about peculation in Cilicia in 50 BCE should not therefore be taken as evidence for a general relaxation of control and widespread corruption in Greece at the time (509-16). The only development that F. can discern is the increasing role of the Council at the expense of other bodies (516-19). The ideal of holding magistrates accountable appears to have persisted under the Roman Empire although the officials earlier assigned to perform this function seem to disappear gradually; this is a topic that would repay further study (519-25). F. admits that new discoveries could alter the picture sketched in this chapter (527-28).

The book concludes with three appendices on chronology and the interpretation of inscriptions from Erythrae and Magnesia, Addenda, four very useful indices (sources, places, Greek words, and a general topics), and seven maps.

The book derives from a thèse defended in December of 1997 at the Sorbonne and still bears the traces of its origin as a dissertation: it is sometimes repetitive, and in places there is lengthy criticism of implausible suggestions made by other scholars. Some of the detailed discussion of individual inscriptions should have been placed in footnotes or in appendices (e.g. the analysis of the Boeotian inscriptions at 465-508). Occasionally F. presses the evidence too far or makes a general statement on the basis of a few examples. On the whole, however, this is an impressive work: F. surveys a large amount of material, organizes his analysis of the evidence in a logical way, and discusses the main issues clearly and sensibly. It is one of the most significant contributions to the study of Greek political institutions in recent years.

F.'s study also has broader implications for our study of the Greek polis. It demonstrates once again that the history of the polis did not end after the battle of Chaeronea. Although Philip's victory had major implications, it did not alter many of the basic structures of the city-state, and F. shows that much remained the same despite the conquests of Alexander and the rise of the Hellenistic kingdoms. This book also helps us to see what is unusual about Athenian democracy and what features it shared with other states, both democratic and aristocratic. Finally, it reveals how hostility to tyranny and respect for the rule of law spread to all corners of the Greek world. Holding those in power accountable was a major way of preventing tyranny and making officials abide by the law. This was one of the most distinctive features of political institutions in ancient Greece. By transcending the differences between democratic and aristocratic regimes, this ideology provided the Greeks with a shared set of values that helped to shape their common identity. F.'s work is thus not only a contribution to epigraphy and the study of political institutions but also to our understanding of Greek cultural values.6


1.   The only earlier general study of accountability in the Greek world is a short book by E. Hoyer published at Karlsbad in 1928. On this book see F.'s comments (9-10).
2.   F. does not cover the procedure of dokimasia, which will be the object of a study by Chr. Feyel.
3.   This is true not only of offices that examine official conduct but of most offices in the Greek poleis: see the appendix to E. M. Harris, "Solon and the Spirit of Early Greek Law" forthcoming in Solon: New Perspectives, ed. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Leiden).
4.   On this topic see the first three essays in The Law and the Courts in Ancient Greece, ed. E. M. Harris and L. Rubinstein (London, 2004).
5.   F. thinks that the kosmetes honored in this decree rendered his accounts only to the Council (line 89-91), not to the logistai and euthynai, since the procedure before the latter is not explicitly mentioned. But the phrase "he conducted his (term of) office according to the laws and decrees of the people" (line 77) could mean that he had inter alia submitted to his euthynai.
6.   For the importance of the ideal of the rule of law in Greek identity see E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian, Oxford, 1989, 198-200. In J. Hall, Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture Cambridge, 2002, one can find no discussion of the role played by this ideal in the formation of Greek cultural identity.

Read Latest
Index for 2005
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:30:11, Friday, 03 April 2009