In this continuing series of essays seeking to understand the Measure of Acceptability, this essay provides some limited information to build a more complete concept of the Greek and Roman mindset. These concepts help us understand the letters Paul sent to the newly formed churches.
The Greeks were a loose federation of city/states, each with a great deal of sovereignty over their respective regions. As throughout all history of all humankind, there were many wars between the various city/states.
But there was some commonality in approach.
Most were some variation of democracy, but usually far from the “1 person = 1 vote” quesitum that is bandied about in modern era. For example: slavery was ubiquitous, there were lots of slaves, and they were not allowed a “vote”.
Trial by jury was common, but with some interesting variations from most modern governmental systems.
It appears that the right and wrong of the accused’s actions were decided in addition to assessing the guilt of the accused person. Meaning that the jury would decide not only if you did a certain action, but also if that action was truly a punishable offense.
One record we have indicates the minimum jury size was 501 jurors. If a case merited more attention, the jury would be increased in blocks of 500 jurors.
From these facts we can see that the persons arguing the case needed intense public speaking skills, the Greek discipline of Rhetoric, with the supporting disciplines of logic and grammar. If you were the accused you would hope to be able to afford great talent to either argue your innocence of committing the action, or the intrinsic innocence of the action.
Also, the jury would be probably exclusively high caste persons: lower caste “freeborn” people could not afford to be without income during the duration. Slaves and other non-freeborn people were not generally allowed in the proceedings anyway. The jury, at least in some of the city-states, was probably formed from the current government office holders.
One can see the fact that “justice” depends on group opinion. In this aspect, the ancient Greek courts did not differ from almost any court in history, including all modern instances.
The Roman courts differed somewhat, but primarily in matters of form. The number of jurors was substantially less than the Greek – apparently slightly less than 50.
One pertinent difference is location. Rome was a very centralized society: the city Rome was clearly the center of all things, especially court. If you were able to and wished to demand a full Roman trial, you had to travel to Rome. Alternately, you could seek a local Roman authority and trust that authority as a mediator (non-jury trial). Or just be subject to the local regional systems, which the Romans left somewhat in place. So an option was to use the Greek Law system in your Greek city, assuming jurisdictional issues allowed it.
This would mean the law system at Corinth was likely more Greek than Roman for jury trials, but solely decided by a Roman regional authority otherwise. We see a Jewish parallel in the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Jesus was given a very flawed Jewish trial before the Jewish system because the events were in Judea. Then Pilate, the Roman authority, ultimately decided his fate (and ours).
One of the facts we should add to our concepts of life in the Greek culture is that the courts did commonly kill people for religious offenses, offenses that in the middle to current language of Christianity would be called heresy. Which the authorities based in Christianity have also done in large numbers. This fact, with the parallel, help us keep in our concepts the religious integration in all aspects of Greco-Roman life.