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Work Tablet Depicting an Athenian Heliast

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Tablet Depicting an Athenian Heliast

© 2009 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This bronze tablet, dating from the fourth century BC, is an official document linked to the functioning of the legal system in Athens. It bears the name of a heliast, Eirenoklees, of the deme of Aphidna - one of the six thousand judges, drawn at random each year from citizens aged thirty or over, who made up the people's court, the Heliaea. The tablet is stamped with the public seal of the city, an owl seen face-on surrounded by a crown of olive branches, and with the letters ATH for Athens.

Evidence of civic life in Athens

This bronze tablet is an official document, dating from the fourth century BC, which shows how the legal system in Athens was organized in antiquity. Justice was meted out by a people's court, the Heliaea, which was made up of six thousand judges (heliasts) drawn each year at random from among citizens aged thirty or over, on the basis of six hundred members for each tribe. The heliasts each received a bronze tablet (or legal tessera) engraved with their name, which enabled them to provide proof of their function. Many tesserae have been found in a funerary context, in the tombs of their owners. Judging by the shape of the letters and the way the names are written, they were used from the early fourth century BC and then replaced by wooden tablets around 330 BC.

Athenian legal tesserae

Heliasts' tablets always present the same appearance: they are small, rectangular strips of metal on which were written the heliast's name (sometimes accompanied by his father's name), the name of the deme (the township or unit of local government in ancient Attica) from which he came, and a letter of the Greek alphabet indicating the court in which he sat. The Louvre tablet conforms to this pattern and bears the name of Eirenoklees, of the deme of Aphidna, but there is no mention of a patronym. The tablet is marked on the left with an "êta" (H), a serial letter with a numerical value indicating the section to which the heliast belonged. There are also official stamps and various symbols of Athens, including the public seal of the city, an owl seen from the front, surrounded by a crown of olive branches and accompanied by the letters AOH, the initials of the name of Athens. On one side of the inscription is a Gorgon's head in a circular stamp, and, on the opposite side, a double owl with a single head flanked by two As.

A pierced and engraved inscription

The most distinctive feature of this tablet is the way the name of the owner and his demotic have been inscribed - the letters are formed by small holes pierced right through and linked by tiny incisions. Only a very small number of tesserae from Attica have a similar appearance to this one.

Technical description

  • Tablet Depicting an Athenian Heliast

    Fourth century BC

    Attica (Greece)

    Athens (Greece)

  • Planished and engraved bronze

    H. 2 cm.; W. 10.8 cm

  • Purchased 1908

    Br 4070

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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Additional information about the work

Inscribed in Greek: "Eirenoklees of the deme of Aphidna"