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Graphe paranomon (a public action brought against the proposer of an ‘illegal’ decree) has been seen as one of the fundamental public actions which aimed not only to check hasty legislation but also το check the political power of the politicians in Athens (e.g.Yunis 1988). Graphe paranomon has been also seen as a means of tempering the radical democracy and retaining the rule of law (e.g. Sundahl 2003). Although scholars underline the crucial role of this procedure in the Athenian democracy and its political effects, modern scholarship has paid little attention to a crucial point in regard to graphe paranomon, the time limit, the prothesmia related to this legal action.

There is a wide range of areas in the Athenian litigation where we find the existence of a statutory limitation on the right to bring a case into the court after the passage of a specific time period from the alleged offence (prothesmia); in the majority of the cases this was five years (e.g. inheritance cases, Dem. 36, 38, Isae. 3.58). There was no such limit in other types of prosecution (such as homicide), while in certain types of graphai, e.g. graphe nomon me epitedeion theinai, although the law could be annulled at any time, the defendant was liable to punishment only if the action was brought within a year.

In modern scholarship there is a lack of consensus in regard to the existence of time-limit in graphe paranomon: some scholars recognize its existence (Hansen 1974, Carey 1992 and Kapparis 1999), others doubt it (Carawan 2007), while others take a “middle”, agnostic position by suggesting that is not known whether prescription did exist (MacDowell, 1978, 2009). What they all share is a cursory treatment. The lack of consensus in modern accounts in combination with the lack of a systematic treatment of the issue per se leaves room for a fresh discussion of the evidence.

Therefore, in this paper, I firstly intend to revisit the evidence and to establish that our sources do support the existence of the one-year time limit in graphe paranomon. Secondly, I shall be arguing that the proposer of a decree was liable to punishment only if the charge was brought within a year from the time of the voting of his decree by the Boule as well as from either its formal introduction or its passage by the Ekklesia. However, it was not necessary to hold the trial within a year; it was sufficient for a prosecutor to set the graphe paranomon in motion with the hypomosia in this time frame (e.g. Dem. 18). Finally, I will attempt to explain the rationale behind the one-year prescription in paranomon cases―a tight time-limit compared to the typical five-year in the most of the other cases and examine the implications of prothesmia for the Athenian legal system in general.


  • Carawan (2007) “The Trial of the Arginousai Generals and the Dawn of Judicial Review”, Dike 10,
  • Carey C. (1992) Appolodoros Against Neaira [Demosthenes] 59, Warminster.
  • Kapparis C. (1999) Apollodoros ‘Against Neaira’ [Dem. 59]. Edited with Introduction, Translation and Commentary, Berlin/ N.Y..
  • Hansen M. H. (1974) The Sovereignty of the People’s Court in Athens in the Fourth Century B.C. and the Public Action against Unconstitutional Proposals, Odense.
  • MacDowell D. M. (1978) The Law in Classical Athens, London.
  • —— (2009) Demosthenes the Orator, Oxford.
  • Sundahl, M. (2003) “The Rule of Law and the Nature of Fourth-Century Athenian Democracy”, C&M 54, 127-156.
  • Yunis H. (1988) “Law, Politics and the Graphe Paranomon in the Fourth-Century Athens”, GRBS 29, 361-82.

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