What Was the Ecclesia?:
Ecclesia (Ekklesia) is the term used for the assembly in Greek city-states (poleis), including Athens. The ecclesia was a meeting place where the citizens could speak their minds and try to influence one another in the political process.
Where was the Ecclesia?:
Normally at Athens, the Ecclesia assembled at the pnyx (an open-air auditorium west of the Acropolis with a retaining wall, orator's stand, and an altar), but it was one of the jobs of the boule's prytaneis (leaders) to post the agenda and location of the next meeting of the Assembly. On the pandia ('All Zeus' festival) the Assembly met in the Theatre of Dionysus.
Membership in the Ecclesia (Assembly):
At 18, young Athenian males were enrolled in their demes' citizen lists, and then served for two years in the military. Afterwards, they could be in the Assembly, unless otherwise restricted.
They might be disallowed while owing a debt to the public treasury or for having been removed from the deme's roster of citizens. Someone convicted of prostituting himself or of beating/failing to support his family may have been denied membership in the Assembly.
The Schedule of the Ecclesia (Assembly):
In the 4th century, the boule scheduled 4 meetings during each prytany. Since a prytany was about 1/10 of a year, this means there were 40 Assembly meetings each year. One of the 4 meetings was a kyria ecclesia 'Sovereign Assembly'. There were also 3 regular Assemblies. At one of these, private citizen-suppliants could present any concern. There may have been additional synkletoi ecclesiai 'Called-together Assemblies' summoned at short notice, as for emergencies.
Leaders of the Ecclesia (assembly):
By the mid-4th century, 9 members of the boule who were not serving as prytaneis (leaders) were chosen to run the Assembly as proedroi. They would decide when to cut off discussion and put matters to a vote.
Freedom of Speech:
Freedom of speech was essential to the idea of the Assembly. Regardless of his status, a citizen could speak; however, those over 50 could speak first. The herald ascertained who wished to speak.
Pay of the Ecclesia:
In 411, when oligarchy was temporarily established in Athens, a law was passed prohibiting pay for political activity, but in the 4th century, members of the Assembly received pay in order to ensure the poor could participate. Pay changed over time, going from 1 obol/meeting -- not enough to persuade people to go to the Assembly -- to 3 obols, which could have been high enough to pack the Assembly.
Acts of the Ecclesia:
What the Assembly decreed was preserved and made public, recording the decree, its date, and the names of the officials who held the vote.
Sources on the Ecclesia:
Christopher W. Blackwell, “The Assembly,” in C.W. Blackwell, ed., Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy (A. Mahoney and R. Scaife, edd., The Stoa: a consortium for electronic publication in the humanities [www.stoa.org]) edition of March 26, 2003.
- Aristotle (Ath. Pol.)