Info Tech of Ancient Democracy

This is from a site that contains, among other things: idiosyncratic, vernacular reviews of “Dead Media”. In this case, the technology surrounding Athenian use of sortition. The author does so via a tour of the Agora Museum in Athens.

Typical of the 17-pages’ tone, early on:

(… this seems the proper place for a DISCLAIMER. To wit: I am neither a classicist nor an archaeologist, nor do I play one on television. Any speculations or flights of theorizing contained herein are worth approximately the scrap value of the electrons that convey them, and should not be cited in support of any statements more authoritative than dinner-party chatter. Assertions of fact, however, have to the best of my ability been checked against the documentary sources listed above, and may be taken as gospel.)

14 Responses

  1. A couple of the claims here seem odd to me. First, “When a citizen sought jury duty (which paid only slightly better than modern jury duty, so don’t ask me why they sought it, but apparently they did)…” My understanding was always that jury duty paid well enough that one could eek out a modest living from it. This is why, if you were poor and (especially) elderly, it was a popular option. Has the scholarly consensus on this changed? I would tend to doubt it.

    Second, “the ropes, dipped in red paint, that were swung at citizens hanging out down in the Agora when everybody was supposed to be up in the Assembly.” I don’t get it. Attendance at the Ekklesia was never mandatory, and for good reasons–the assembly area could never have held the entire adult male citizenry at once. I thought that perhaps 20% or so of the citizenry would have been in attendance, if that, and so there would have been plenty of absent citizens in the agora on any given assembly day.

    Otherwise, a good read.


  2. How much does modern jury duty pay? Maybe you can eek out a living on that as well? The difference, I think, is that in Athens the demand for jurors relative to the population size (or, more accurately, relative to the size of the jury pool) was high enough that you could hope to spend a significant number of days a year being a juror.


  3. Regarding the rope painted red, I believe this technique was used to assemble a quorum before pay for attendance was instituted. Once attendance in the Assembly became paid, there was an overflow crowd regularly.

    This should be kept in mind by all those who tell us that Ancient democracy was based on citizenry that was more politically minded than modern citizenry is.


  4. Jury duty pay:
    U.S. Federal maxes at $50/day. See

    The states are all different. I don’t find a compilation. Checking a few, I see a range from $15-$40/day.


  5. Shameful wages. The message is quite clear: you are not important, you are not in charge.


  6. Payment for jury service: When I did it in 1994 payment was low, about average wage (£80 per day today). The stingiest aspect was that travel expenses were bus fares only! (No parking, or mileage). However, I was not out of pocket, because my employer (the University) had a ‘good citizen’ policy to cover my pay. This also extended to those who served as magistrates.


  7. BTW I contacted the originator of this article, Julian Dibbell many years ago. His interest is IT, and he writes for Wired magazine. His piece on Athenian democracy was intended to show how those super-clever ancients admirably solved the identity and randomisation problems by simple yet effective technology — using the ‘pinaka’ (id tag) and the klerotrion.

    Dibbell was surprised to find that the Athenian sortitionist ideas were still being considered!


  8. Yoram:

    >Shameful [average] wages. The message is quite clear: you are not important, you are not in charge.

    How do you reconcile this comment with your critique of the above-average remuneration of elected officials?

    Bear in mind that elected representatives have additional responsibilities — in particular to remonstrate to government over the grievances of individual constituents — and that this is their career (rather than a short career break). Added to this it’s a 24/7 job, their private lives are subject to constant media scrutiny (e.g. President Hollande) and they are widely deprecated as pariahs rather than public servants (especially on this forum). So your complaint over the salaries of elected politicians is even more puzzling. For a defence of parties and elected politicians see Nancy L. Rosenblum, On the Side of the Angels.

    Note that this is a question, rather than a comment and politeness would suggest the need to answer it.


  9. Keith,

    You seem to have a misconception about what “average” means. Try to find out what the average US daily wage is and compare it to the numbers David quoted.

    Once you manage to inform yourself on this simple matter of fact, maybe we would be able to proceed to the issue of elected officials setting their own salaries at unpopular levels that seems to have captured your attention.


  10. My reference, as usual is to British experience — the word “average” was taken from Conall’s post. He complained that the jury wage was “low, about average” and you described that as “shameful”. Given that British MPs, while being paid more than the average wage, are poorly paid by comparison to similar professions, you are applying entirely different standards, depending on the balloting method employed. This is puzzling, for the reasons that I have just given. The UK parliamentary salary is set by an independent body and party leaders are opposing the increases recently proposed to bring them up to average levels for comparable professions. This is because, in the light of the recent expenses scandal, MPs are acutely conscious of the need for “popularity”.


  11. > He complained that the jury wage was “low, about average” and you described that as “shameful”.

    You seem to have trouble with the concepts of “before”, “after” and causality, then.

    On this blog, if comment A (mine) appears above comment B (Conall’s) then that means that comment A was written before comment B. (In fact, looking at the timestamps, it appears that Conall’s comment was written more than two days after my comment.) This in turn implies that comment A could not have been as a response to comment B.


  12. Oops, my mistake, but if you had the courtesy to reply to my original question on your post, the confusion would not have arisen. It remains the case that, wrt British experience you are applying different standards to the remuneration of elected and allotted representatives.


  13. When establishing the most immediate facts, like which of two comments appears above the other, takes a lengthy back-and-forth then any hope of being able to fruitfully discuss less trivial matters must be abandoned.


  14. That’s a feeble excuse not to answer the question! I take your silence to indicate that you are pleading the Fifth Amendment.


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