Friday, January 11, 2008

Granite Athens

This "Hey, Martha" story is titled "Vermont deputies round up would-be jurors on post office sidewalk"

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. — Faced with a shrunken jury pool, a judge resorted to some sidewalk justice in hopes of filling it out. It worked.

Judge Harold Eaton Jr., discouraged when a 34-person pool of potential jurors for a sex case was reduced to 20 people, sent sheriff's deputies into the street Wednesday to summon people to join them.

Caledonia County Sheriff Michael Bergeron and three uniformed deputies stopped people on a sidewalk in front of the post office, asking if they lived in the county. Those who did and were 18 or older were given a summons to report to the courthouse.

Except shouldn't that be "Vermont deputies round up would-be non-jurors?"

Whether it's legal or not, the tactic is an unconscious borrowing from ancient Athens. And for better or worse, we've become the modern equivalent of that state, so it's worth examining how they did things.

Athens didn't have a police force, but it kept a troop of Scythian archers as public slaves to work for the state and keep the peace (Scythian bows were far better than anything the Greeks used, even the Cretans).

Actually, most of the bureaucracy of Athens were "city slaves" (Demosioi) as William Stearns Davis described in "A Day In Old Athens" (1910):

The clerks in the treasury office, and the checking officers at the public assemblies are slaves; so too are the less reputable public executioners and torturers; in the city mint there is another corps of slave workers, busy coining "Athena's owls"--the silver drachmas and four-drachma pieces. But chiefest of all, THE CITY OWNS ITS PUBLIC POLICE FORCE. The "Scythians" they are called from their usual land of origin, or the "bowmen," from their special weapon, which incidentally makes a convenient cudgel in a street brawl. There are 1200 of them, always at the disposal of the city magistrates. They patrol the town at night, arrest evil-doers, sustain law and order in the Agora, and especially enforce decorum, if the public assemblies or the jury courts become tumultuous.

They have a special cantonment on the hill of Areopagus near the Acropolis. "Slaves" they are of course in name, and under a kind of military discipline; but they are highly privileged slaves. The security of the city may depend upon their loyal zeal. In times of war they are auxiliaries. Life in this police force cannot therefore be burdensome, and their position is envied by all the factory workers and the house servants.

Public service, such as jury duty, was a time-consuming burden then as now, and citizens avoided it if they could. In Athens, there was a great deal more of it than we face, since all citizens of Athens were supposed to be part of the ekklesia, where important decisions were voted on. It met on the low hill called the Pnyx, in the southwest end of the city.

But since a great many citizens were out in the hills or on their farms, the duty usually fell to the people living in the city. Not until the 4th century (B.C.) did anyone get paid for attending this work, and city-dwellers thought their time was as important as country folk's, so they apparently tried to dodge service. According to Aristophanes and some others, the city solved this by dragooning citizen-leaders from the public market, where Athenians typically spent much of the day.

If a legislature was required, and not enough people answered the flag that announced it from the Pnyx, the Scythian archers were sent out to sweep through the market with a rope soak in red dye or chalk. Advancing from the north, they herded people toward the Pnyx. Any citizen who didn't get away fast enough ended up with red on his clothes, and if he was caught so stained, he incurred a fine.

Ah, democracy.