Court on a beach

When I was at school, one of the teachers who inspired me most was my Latin and later Greek teacher Nick Munday. I believe he is no longer teaching now.
At one stage he taught me Lysias, On the Murder of Eratosthenes, on which he was a bit of an expert.
I had a foggy recollection of his telling us about a Greek law that said that if a Greek man gets exiled, but later on (while he is out of Greece in exile) he is required as part of another court case – as defendant or witness – the problem of readmitting him to Athens while in exile was solved by holding the court case on a beach, and making the exiled man give his evidence from a ship moored just off shore.
It sounded rather impressive and amusing, and I have told students about it in my own teaching, but then I realised I had no idea whether it was true (or whether I misunderstood or got it muddled) and if so what evidence we had for it – was there a text of a case where it happened? And when?
Fortunately a brilliant ex-student of mine posted the answer on Facebook, from Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution chapter 57:

Trials for deliberate murder and wounding are held in the Areopagus, and for causing death by poison, and for arson; for these only are tried by the Council, whereas involuntary homicide and plotting to murder, and murder of a slave or resident alien or foreigner, come before the court at the Palladium; and one who admits homicide but declares it to have been legal (for instance when he has killed a man taken in adultery), or who in war has killed a fellow-citizen in ignorance, or in an athletic contest, is tried at the Delphinium; but if, when a man has taken refuge in exile after an offence that admits of satisfaction, he is charged with homicide or wounding, he is tried at the Precinct of Phreatus, and delivers his defence from a ship anchored near the shore.

Thank you Helena!
Andy (Keener / Mr Keen)

One thought on “Court on a beach

  1. The Ancient Greeks sure had a complex way to try people. I’m surprised Monty Python didn’t do a skit on this with confusion as to the correct location.


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