The Boule - Development and Spread of a Greek Institution in Ancient Times

The Boule, a basic institution of the ancient city-state in historical times, consisted of the citizens' representatives who assembled in order to confer and decide about public affairs. In the cities of Ionia it was called "Boule", "Gerousia", or "Synedrio", whereas in the Dorian cities it was called "Alia", "Apella", or "Aliaia".

The first archaelogical finds of buildings serving this purpose date back to the 6th century BC, although already in prehistorical times certain open spaces or buildings were used as places of assembly by the members of a particular community.

The first reference to the term "Boule" is found in Homer's epics, where it means the council of noblemen attending the king and assisting him in the exercise of the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers. The decisions of this aristocratic body were announced at the assembly of the active citizens, which consisted of the warriors and was called initially "Agora" and later "Ekklesia".

The "Boule" and "Ekklesia" of historical times were government bodies of varying size, social constitution and political role in different cities and periods, and thus defined the democratic or oligarchical character of the government of each city-state. As they developed historically from the archaic to the classical period, these bodies were expanded and represented wider strata of the population to a different degree in different cities. At the same time the common citizens participated more actively in public affairs, as a result of the expanded responsibilities of the "Ekklesia of Demos" (Assembly of the People). This development culminated in the democratic regime of Athens in the middle of the 5th century BC.

The Boule of Athens, consisting of 500 members, i.e., 50 members from each of the ten tribes, was invested with considerable consultative, legislative and judiciary powers. It drew up laws and proposals, the so-called "provouleumata", on political, economic and administrative matters, and submitted them for voting to the "Ekklesia of Demos", the general assembly of the citizens. The executive authority at the highest level was exercised by the "Prytany", consisting of the 50 representatives of each tribe who held office alternately for one tenth of the year.

The Hellenistic and Roman periods were characterised by interference in the cities' internal affairs on the part of Hellenistic monarchs and Rome. Through increasing subjugation to them the city gradually lost its political autonomy, and the political role of the Boule, as a symbol of local self-government, was limited. These developments took place both in the Greek mainland and the Greek colonies, since the institution of the Boule spread along with the Greek colonial expeditions, mainly to Asia Minor as well as to Lower Italy and Sicily.