Ancient Greek law consists of the laws and legal institutions of Ancient Greece.
Scholars in the discipline of comparative law have compared Greek law with both Roman law and with the primitive institutions of the Germanic nations. It may now be studied in its earlier stages in the laws of Gortyn; its influence may be traced in legal documents preserved in Egyptian papyri; and it may be recognized as a consistent whole in its ultimate relations to Roman law in the eastern provinces of the Roman empire.
The existence of certain general principles of law is implied by the custom of settling a difference between two Greek states, or between members of a single state, by resorting to external arbitration. The general unity of Greek law shows mainly in the laws of inheritance and adoption, in laws of commerce and contract, and in the publicity uniformly given to legal agreements.
No systematic collection of Greek laws has come down to us. Our knowledge of some of the earliest notions of the subject is derived from the Homeric poems. For the details of Attic law we have to depend on ex parte statements in the speeches of the Attic orators, and we are sometimes able to check those statements by the trustworthy, but often imperfect, aid of inscriptions. Incidental illustrations of the laws of Athens may be found in the Laws of Plato, who deals with the theory of the subject without exercising any influence on actual practice. The Laws of Plato are criticized in the Politics of Aristotle, who, besides discussing laws in their relation to constitutions, reviews the work of certain early Greek lawgivers. The treatise on the Constitution of Athens includes an account of the jurisdiction of the various public officials and of the machinery of the law courts, and thus enables us to dispense with the second-hand testimony of grammarians and scholiasts who derived their information from that treatise (see Constitution of Athens). The works of Theophrastus On the Laws, which included a recapitulation of the laws of various barbaric as well as Grecian states, are now represented by only a few fragments (Nos. 97-106, ed. Winner).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.