Public Decision-Making in Herodotus

  • P. J. Rhodes (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


This paper explores the language Herodotus uses and the information he gives on public decision-making in various states. He focuses normally on the body with the final right of decision, and his terminology does not always match that used by the state in question. The state about which he is most informative is Sparta, with various references to the ephors, gerousia (council of elders), the (not clearly distinguished) Spartiates (full citizens) and Lakedaimonioi, and to the Kings. From c. 506 Sparta consulted its allies before committing them to action; in the war against Xerxes there are early mentions of councils of the loyalist Greeks, and then ad hoc councils of war. Many Athenian decisions are mentioned: particularly worthy of discussion are the status of Miltiades’ family in the Chersonese and judicial decisions of the early fifth century. Of particular interest in Miletus are the nature of the tyranny, the status of Aristagoras during the Ionian Revolt, and Histiaeus and attitudes towards him. In Samos there was a series of tyrants, a division of opinion in the Ionian Revolt and dealings with the loyalist Greeks in 479. Herodotus also writes of Persian decisions, where the King was an autocrat but consulted courtiers, including exiled Greeks.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Ancient History
councils, assemblies, tyrants, magistrates, Athens, Sparta, Samos, Miletus, Persia