(δεσμωτήριον). A prison.

Imprisonment was seldom used among the Greeks as a legal punishment for offences. Among the Athenians, with whom we are chiefly concerned, it was practically unknown in the sense of confinement for a definite period after conviction. They had neither the appliances in the shape of walls and bars, nor were they willing to incur the expense; and they preferred either banishment or the death penalty. Capital punishment was inflicted without hesitation for comparatively trifling offences, but by more humane methods than those of modern Europe until quite recent times.

Imprisonment before trial, on the other hand, was common enough, though bail was freely accepted in cases other than capital; the terror of exile was in general thought sufficient to keep a man to his bail (ἐγγύη). The farmers of the taxes and lessees of other revenues (τελῶναι, μισθούμενοι), as well as their sureties (οἱ ἐγγυώμενοι), were liable to imprisonment if the duties were not paid by a specified time; and in cases where default was to be feared, they might even be imprisoned at the discretion of the Senate or law-courts. This was the great safeguard to insure regularity of payment. Again, persons who had been mulcted in penalties might be confined till they paid them, not only in criminal cases, but in some civil actions instituted for damages as well. Certain of the ἄτιμοι also, if they exercised the rights of citizenship, were subject to the same consequences (Demosth. c. Timocr. p. 732. 103). We read, moreover, of δεσμός as a public stigma put upon disgraceful offences, such as theft; but this was a προστίμημα or additional penalty, the infliction of which was at the option of the court; and the δεσμός itself was not so much an imprisonment as a public exposure in the ποδοκάκκη or stocks, for five days and nights—called also ἐν ξύλῳ δεδέσθαι (Demosth. loc. cit., p. 700. 2; pp. 732-733. 103, 105; p. 736.114). One more description of imprisonment remains to be noticed, that in the interval between condemnation and execution. In this last case, owing to the insecurity of the building, the prisoner was chained, and was under the special custody of the Eleven, who were also responsible for the execution itself. See Hendeka.

There are several passages from which we might infer the existence at Athens of imprisonment as a punishment by itself—e. g. Plato, Apol.37 C; Laws, ix. 864E, 880 B, and especially x. 908. But such vague allusions prove nothing against the persistent silence of the historians and orators. “Of imprisonment as a punishment by itself,” Schömann argues, “we have no certain example”; and this remark in his text is supported by a good note (Antiq. i. 489, Eng. trans.). The opposite and less probable opinion has, however, been maintained by K. F. Hermann (Staatsalterth. 139) and Caillemer (ap. Daremberg and Saglio).

The prison at Athens is frequently mentioned in the orators, both by its usual name, δεσμωτήριον, and the euphemistic equivalent οἴκημα. But the plural δεσμωτήρια does not seem to occur in any Attic writer, though there are passages where, if a plurality of prisons existed at Athens, we should almost certainly find them mentioned. This argument seems almost decisive in favour of the opinion of J. H. Lipsius (Att. Process, p. 73 n.), that there was only one. The authority of Hesychius and the Etymologicum Magnum is insufficient to prove, in the face of probability, that there was an Athenian prison called Θησεῖον; and there is no proof that the other names for prisons recorded by the grammarians are to be referred to Athens. Among these local names was ἀναγκαῖον or ἀνάκαιον in Boeotia, κέραμος in Cyprus, κῶς at Corinth; and among the Ionians γοργύρη, as at Samos ( Herod.iii. 145); βάλαικες or βαλαίκακες, σιρός, all mentioned by Hesychius. The appearance of the Latin carcer in the Sicilian Greek κάρκαρον, and conversely of the Greek λατομίαι in the Latin lautumiae, is noticed by Mommsen as a proof of the early intercourse between the Romans and Sicily (R. H. i. 167, Eng. trans.). Some of the above names may be slang or nicknames, such as are often applied to prisons in our own day: thus γοργύρα is explained to mean “a sewer”; ἴψον may be connected with ἶπος, “a mouse-trap.” The gate through which criminals were led to execution was called χαρώνειον or θύρα χαρώνειος ( Poll.viii. 102), a grim joke which can hardly have arisen at Athens, where executions were private.

The Attic expression for imprisonment was δεῖν, a word which by no means implies the use of chains or fetters. The phrase in the oath of the βουλευταί, or senators, οὐδὲ δήσω Ἀθηναίων οὐδένα, is explained by Demosthenes (c. Timocr. p. 746. 147) as a security against arbitrary imprisonment by the executive government without trial. It was, in fact, the habeas corpus of the Athenian constitution. But he is careful to add ( 151) that no such words occur in the oath of the Heliastae or dicasts; the law-courts had absolute power over men's lives, liberties, and fortunes. We have also the phrase ἄδεσμος φυλακή (as in Thuc.iii. 34), like the libera custodia of the Romans, signifying that a person was under strict surveillance and guard, though not confined within the walls of a prison.

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