Archaeological Finds Associated with the Lawcourts
Jury service was restricted to male citizens at least thirty years old, and was never mandatory. At the beginning of each year, a jury panel of 6000 was selected — we do not know how — and sworn in. On any of the 150 to 200 days of the year that the courts were in session, anyone on the jury panel who wanted to serve (and collect jury pay) could report to the lawcourts. The process of assigning jurors to cases differed in various periods. For a detailed description of jury selection and court procedures in three periods of Athenian history, see Alan Boegehold’s Three Court Days.
Speaking time was divided evenly between the parties and measured by a water-clock (klepsydra).
Near the end of the fifth century, a public archive was established that held copies of the laws, though the extent to which the archive was sufficiently organized to serve as a "user-friendly" source of law for potential disputants is unclear. Presumably speechwriters (logographoi see Glossary) assisted in researching and collecting laws relevant to the case.
Verdicts were determined by a simple majority vote. In the fifth century, jurors filed past two urns, one of which held votes for a conviction, the other those for acquittal. Each juror dropped a ballot (psephos) into one of the urns. The literal meaning of psephos is "pebble," and jurballots in this period may in fact have been common pebbles. Objects from the fifth century voting procedure do not survive, but Aristophanes describes the process in his comedy The Wasps.
For example, the Odeion, a structure built for musical entertainments (ode= "song"), served as a court.
A number of locations in the agora have been identified as possible law court sites. The stone benches preserved on the west side of the agora in front of the temple of Hephaestus may have functioned as court. These benches would have served as seats for jurors.
We know that spectators sometimes observed trials. This court's location in one of the busiest areas of the agora makes it likely that this court often drew a crowd.
Foundations of a number of buildings that may have served as law courts have been found underneath the Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos. See a brief description of these buildings and links to photos at the Athenian Agora Excavations web site.
Some scholars have identified a building on the south side of the agora dating from the sixth century B.C. as an early law court based on its prominent location, large size, and open ground plan with space for a large meeting of people.
See a brief description of the "Heliaia" and links to further photos at the Athenian Agora Excavations web site.
Unlike most Athenian courts, the homicide courts were not located in the agora. Homicide trials were tried in the open air so that those in the court would not be polluted by being under the same roof as a killer. Some types of homicide were tried on the Areopagus, literally the "Hill of Ares," not far from the acropolis.
Pausanias tells us that the prosecutor delivered his speech from a natural stone ledge called the "rock of unforgivingness (anaideias)," while the defendant spoke from the "rock of hubris." The location of the other four homicide courts is less certain. Although we cannot identify a precise location, the court at Phreatto was apparently somewhere on the coast.
This court was charged with judging a somewhat unlikely scenario: if a defendant in exile for a prior offense was charged with intentional homicide, he was not permitted to set foot on Athenian soil, but was obliged to deliver his defense to the court while standing on a boat anchored off shore.