restricted access Crime and Criminals in Plato’s Laws

Book 9 of Plato’s Laws represents a nascent criminal code embedded within a larger code which addressed itself to social, economic, domestic, and religious issues. It begins by defining “the most serious offences” open to prosecution (in effect crimes) as difficult or impossible to cure, offensive in the eyes of the gods, and destructive of the community. It then sets out in a logical and systematic fashion a series of crimes, the court designated to try each, and the penalty imposed on the guilty. For the most part, they are punished in the name of the community or here the polis (state). In both respects, definition and punishment, Plato’s most serious offenses fit the classic definition of crime. It is thus no exaggeration to claim that, with this code, Plato formulated the first systematic classification of crime in Greek legal and philosophical thought. In addition, Plato’s inclusion of many private suits among the most serious offences helps us to reconceptualize the distinction between public and private in Athenian law.