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The Reforms of Ephialtes

The humiliating rejection by Sparta of their help outraged the men of Athens1 and provoked hostile relations between the two states. The disgrace the rejection brought to Cimon carried over to his fellow aristocrats in general, thereby establishing a political climate ripe for further democratic reforms. An Athenian named Ephialtes promptly seized the moment in 461 B.C.2 and convinced the assembly to pass measures limiting the power of the Areopagus.3 More importantly, his reforms set up a judicial system of courts4 manned by male citizens over thirty years old chosen by lot for each case. The reforms made it virtually impossible to influence or bribe the citizen jurors because 1) all trials were concluded in one day, and 2) juries were large (from several hundred to several thousand). There was no judge to instruct the jurors, nor any lawyers to harangue them—only an official to keep fights from breaking out. Jurors made up their own minds after hearing speeches made by the plaintiffs and defendants, who spoke on their own behalf and sometimes called their friends and supporters to do so. The accuser and the accused, although they were required to speak for themselves, might pay someone else to compose their speech to the court, which they then delivered as if it consisted of their own words. A majority vote of the jurors ruled, and there was no appeal from the decision of the court.

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