BOULĒ (Gr. βουλή, literally “will,” “advice”; hence a “council”), the general term in ancient Greece for an advisory council. In the loose Homeric state, as in all primitive societies, there was a council of this kind, probably composed of the heads of families, i.e. of the leading princes or nobles, who met usually on the summons of the king for the purpose of consultation. Sometimes, however, it met on its own initiative, and laid suggestions before the king. It formed a means of communication between the king and the freemen assembled in the Agora. In Dorian states this aristocratic form of government was retained (for the Spartan Council of Elders see Gerousia). In Athens the ancient council was called the Boule until the institution of a democratic council, or committee of the Ecclesia, when, for purposes of distinction, it was described as “the Boulē on the Areopagus,” or, more shortly, “the Areopagus” (q.v.). It must be clearly understood that the second, or Solonian Boule, was entirely different from the Areopagus which represented the Homeric Council of the King throughout Athenian history, even after the “mutilation” carried out by Ephialtes. Further, it is, as will appear below, a profound mistake to call the second Boule a “senate.” There is no real analogy between the Roman senate and the Athenian council of Five Hundred.
Before describing the Athenian Boule, the only one of its kind of which we have even fairly detailed information, it is necessary to mention that councils existed in other Greek states also, both oligarchic and democratic. A Boulē was in the first place a necessary part of a Greek oligarchy; the transition from monarchy to oligarchy was nominally begun by the gradual transference of the powers of the monarch to the Boule of nobles. Further, in the Greek democracy, the larger democratic Boule was equally essential. The general assembly of the people was utterly unsuited to the proper management of state affairs in all their minutiae. We therefore find councils of both kinds in almost all the states of Greece. (1) At Corinth we learn that there was an oligarchic council of unknown numbers presided over by eight leaders (Nicol. Damasc. Frag. 60). It was probably like the old Homeric council, except that its constitution did not depend on a birth qualification, but on a high census. This was natural in Corinth where, according to Herodotus (ii. 167), mercantile pursuits bore no stigma. (2) From an inscription we learn that the Athenians, in imposing a constitution on Erythrae (about 450 B.C.), included a council analogous to their own. (3) In Elis (Thuc. v. 47) there was an aristocratic council of ninety, which was superseded by a popular council of six hundred (471). (4) Similarly in Argos there were an aristocratic council of eighty and later a popular council of much larger size (Thuc. v. 47). Councils are also found at (5) Rhodes, (6) Megalopolis (democratic), (7) Corcyra (democratic), (Thuc. iii. 70). Of these seven the most instructive is that of Erythrae, which proves that in the 5th century the Council of Five Hundred was so efficient in Athens that a similar body was imposed at Erythrae (and probably in the other tributary cities).
The Boulē at Athens. History.—The origin of the second Boulē, or Council of Four Hundred, at Athens is involved in obscurity. In the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens (c. 4), it is stated that Draco established a council of 401, and that he transferred to it some of the functions of the Council of Areopagus (q.v.). It is, however, generally held (see Draco) that this statement is untrue, and that it was Solon who first established the council as a part of the constitution. Thirdly, it has been held that the council was not invented either by Draco or by Solon, but was of older and unknown origin. Fourthly, it has also been maintained by some recent writers that no Boulē existed before Cleisthenes. The principal evidence for this view is the omission of any reference to the Boulē in one of the earliest Athenian inscriptions, that relating to Salamis (Hicks and Hill, No. 4), where in place of the customary formula of a later age, ἔδοξε τῇ βουλῇ καὶ τῷ δήμῳ, we have the formula ἔδοχσεν τῷ δήμῳ. This argument is far from conclusive, and it is clear from the Constitution (c. 20) that the resistance of the Boulē to Cleomenes and Isagoras was anterior to the legislation of Cleisthenes (i.e. that the Boulē in question was the Solonian and not the Cleisthenian). On the whole it is reasonable to conclude that it was Solon who invented the Boulē to act as a semi-democratic check upon the democracy, whose power he was increasing at the expense of the oligarchs by giving new powers to the people in the Ecclesia and the Dicasteries. Practically nothing is known of the operations of this council until the struggle between Isagoras and Cleisthenes (Herod, v. 72). Solon’s council had been based on the four Ionic tribes. When Cleisthenes created the new ten tribes in order to destroy the local influence of dominant families and to give the country demes a share in government, he changed the Solonian council into a body of 500 members, 50 from each tribe. This new body (see below) was the keystone of the Cleisthenean democracy, and may be said in a sense to have embodied the principle of local representation. After Cleisthenes, the council remained unaltered till 306 B.C., when, on the addition of two new tribes named after Antigonus and his son, Demetrius Poliorcetes, its numbers were increased to 600. In A.D. 126–127 the old number of 500 was restored. A council of 750 members is mentioned in an inscription of the early 3rd century A.D., and about A.D. 400 the number of councillors had fallen to 300.
Constitution and Functions.—(a) Under Solon the council consisted of 400 members, 100 from each of the four Ionic tribes. It is certain that all classes were eligible except the Thētes, but the method of appointment is not known. Three suggestions have been made, (1) that each tribeSolon’s council. chose its representatives, (2) that they were chosen by lot from qualified citizens in rotation, (3) that the combined method of selection by lot from a larger number of elected candidates was employed. According to the passage in Plutarch’s Solon the functions of this body were from the first probouleutic (i.e. it prepared the business for the Ecclesia). Others hold that this function was not assigned to it until the Cleisthenean reforms. When we consider, however, the double danger of leaving the Ecclesia in full power, and yet under the presidency of the aristocratic archons, it seems probable that the probouleutic functions were devised by Solon as a method of maintaining the balance. On this hypothesis the Solonian Boulē was from the first what it certainly was later, a committee of the Ecclesia, i.e. not a “senate.” It may be regarded as certain Cleisthenes’ council.that the system of Prytaneis was the invention of Cleisthenes, not of Solon. (b) Under Cleisthenes the council reached its full development as a democratic representative body. Its actual organization is still uncertain, but it may be inferred that it became gradually a more strictly self-existent body than the Solonian council. Every full citizen of thirty years of age was eligible, and, unlike other civil offices, it was permissible to serve twice, but not more than twice (Ath. Pol. c. 62). It may be regarded as certain, although our evidence is derived from inscriptions which date from the 3rd century B.C., that from the first the Bouleutae were appointed by the demes, in numbers proportionate to the size of the deme, and that from the first also the method of sortition was employed. For each councillor chosen by lot, a substitute was chosen in case of death or disgrace. After nomination each had to pass before the old council an examination in which the whole of his private life was scrutinized. After this, the councillors had to take an oath that they (1) would act according to the laws, (2) would give the best advice in their power, and (3) would carry out the examination of their successors in an impartial spirit. As symbols of office they wore wreaths; they received payment originally at the rate of one drachma a day, at the end of the 4th century of five obols a day. At the end of the year of office each councillor had to render an account of his work, and if the council had done well the people voted crowns of honour. Within its own sphere the council exercised disciplinary control over its members by the device known as Ecphyllophoria; it could provisionally suspend a member, pending a formal trial before the whole council assembled ad hoc. The council had further a complete system of scribes or secretaries (grammateis), private treasury officials, and a paid herald who summoned the Boule and the Ecclesia. The meetings took place generally in the council hall (Bouleuterion), but on special occasions in the theatre, the stadium, the dockyards, the Acropolis or the Theseum. They were normally public, the audience being separated by a barrier, but on occasions of peculiar importance the public was excluded.
The Ecclesia, owing to its size and constitution, was unable to meet more than three or four times a month; the council, on the other hand, was in continuous session, except on feast days. It was impossible that the Five Hundred Prytaneis. should all sit every day, and, therefore, to facilitate the despatch of business, the system of Prytaneis was introduced, probably by Cleisthenes. By this system the year was divided into ten equal periods. During each of these periods the council was represented by the fifty councillors of one of the ten tribes, who acted as a committee for carrying on business for a tenth of the year. Each of these committees was led by a president (Epistates), who acted as chairman of the Boule and the Ecclesia also, and a third of its numbers lived permanently during their period of office in the Tholos (Dome) or Skias, a round building where they (with certain other officials and honoured citizens) dined at the public expense. In 378–377 B.C. (or perhaps in the archonship of Eucleides, 403) the presidency of the Ecclesia was transferred to the Epistates of the Proedri, the Proedri being a body of nine chosen by lot by the Epistates of the Prytaneis from the remaining nine tribes. It was the duty of the Boule (i.e. the Prytany which was for the time in session) to prepare all business for the consideration of the Ecclesia. Their recommendation (προβούλευμα) was presented to the popular assembly (for procedure, see Ecclesia), which either passed it as it stood or made amendments subject to certain conditions. It must be clearly understood that the recommendation of the council had no intrinsic force until by the votes of the Ecclesia it passed into law as a psephism. But in addition to this function, the Council of the Five Hundred had large administrative and judicial control. (1) It was before the council that the Poletae arranged the farming of public revenues, the receipt of tenders for public works and the sale of confiscated property; further, it dealt with defaulting collectors (ἑκλόγεις), exacted the debts of private persons to the state, and probably drew up annual estimates. (2) It supervised the treasury payments of the Apodectae (“Receivers”) and the “Treasurers of the God.” (3) From Demosthenes (In Androt.) it is clear that it had to arrange for the provision of so many triremes per annum and the award of the trierarchic crown. (4) It arranged for the maintenance of the cavalry and the special levies from the demes. (5) It heard certain cases of eisangelia (impeachment) and had the right to fine up to 500 drachmas, or hand the case over to the Heliaea. The cases which it tried were mainly prosecutions for crimes against the state (e.g. treason, conspiracy, bribery). In later times it acted mainly as a court of first instance. Subsequently (Ath. Pol. c. 45) its powers were limited and an appeal was allowed to the popular courts. (6) The council presided over the dokimasia (consideration of fitness) of the magistrates; this examination, which was originally concerned with a candidate’s moral and physical fitness, degenerated into a mere inquiry into his politics. (7) In foreign affairs the council as the only body in permanent session naturally received foreign envoys and introduced them to the Ecclesia. Further, the Boulē;, with the Strategi (“Generals”), took treaty oaths, after the Ecclesia had decided on the terms. The Xenophontic Politeia states that the council of the 5th century was “concerned with war,” but in the 4th century it chiefly supervised the docks and the fleet. On two occasions at least the council was specially endowed with full powers; Demosthenes (De Fals. Leg. p. 389) states that the people gave it full powers to send ambassadors to Philip, and Andocides (De Myst. 14 foil.) states that it had full power to investigate the affair of the mutilation of the Hermae on the night before the sailing of the Sicilian Expedition.
It will be seen that this democratic council was absolutely essential to the working of the Athenian state. Without having any final legislative authority, it was a necessary part of the legislative machinery, and it may be regarded as certain that a large proportion of its recommendations were passed without alteration or even discussion by the Ecclesia. The Boulē was, therefore, in the strict sense a committee of the Ecclesia, and was immediately connected with a system of sub-committees which exercised executive functions.
Bibliography.—With this article compare Ecclesia, Strategus, Archon, Draco, Solon, Cleisthenes, where collateral information is given. Besides the chief histories of Greece (Grote, ed. 1907, Meyer &c.), see Gilbert, Constitutional Antiquities (Eng. trans. by E. J. Brooks and T. Nicklin, 1895); J. B. Bury, History of Greece (1900); A. H. J. Greenidge Handbook of Greek Constitutional History (1896); J. E. Sandys’ edition of the Constitution of Athens; Boeckh, Die Staatshaushaltung der Athener (1886); Schumann, Griechische Altertümer (1897–1902); Busolt, Die griechischen Staats- und Rechtsaltertümer (1902). See also H. Swoboda, Die griechischen Volksbeschlüsse (1890); Szanto, Das griechische Bürgerrecht (1892); Perrot, Essai sur le droit public d’Athènes (1869). It should be observed that all works published before 1891 are so far useless that they are without the information contained in the Constitution of Athens (q.v.). See also Greek Law. (J. M. M.)
- The institution of pay for the councillors may safely be ascribed to Pericles although we have no direct evidence of it before 411 B.C. (Thuc. viii. 69; see Pericles).