Athenian democracy and legal change

Melissa Schwartzberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    The ancient Athenians regarded their ability to modify their laws as a fundamentally democratic trait; indeed, the faculty of "pragmatic innovation" was well known throughout the Greek world and was widely viewed as a key advantage that Athens had over its rival, Sparta. The Athenian commitment to legal change endured despite disastrous consequences at the end of the fifth century, a comprehensive revision of the laws, and the complication of legal procedure in the fourth century. In an apparent paradox, however, the Athenians also used "entrenchment clauses" to make certain laws immutable. Through analysis of entrenched laws and decrees, it is shown that the innovativeness that made Athens enviable also made it a difficult ally; entrenchment enabled the Athenians to make its commitments more credible. Although today entrenchment is typically used to protect crucial constitutional provisions, such as rights, in the ancient world it served a strategic purpose.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)311-325
    Number of pages15
    JournalAmerican Political Science Review
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - May 2004

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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