LAST Tuesday, I was lured into a glittering
shop in the Plaka by a modern ancient Greek
sign in the window promising me 200 million
drachmas. Inside, I bought a lottery ticket
for 150 drachmas and left knowing that in a
couple of days I would be incredibly wealthy.
This is nothing new; it turns out that the
lottery has been played in
for over 2.5 millennia.
Emerging from major democratic reforms
, firstly by Solon, Archon and Mediator, in
the first decade of the 6th century BC, and
later by Kleisthenes at the close of that
century, a new system came into play. This was
the ancient Athenian lottery referred to since
then as the "Tzoker"... Well, not
Prizes for winning the lottery were not
cash-in-hand, but instead came in the form of
a seat, for one year, on the Athenian
Boule (Vouli), the governing
council. This was made up of 400 male citizens
over 30 years of age from the ten tribes
and its environs. Later, Kleisthenes added
another 100 members, for murky reasons,
probably closely linked to rich people being
perilously sore about not winning.
In itself, the post of Bouleuai (or
parliamentarian) might have been a nice little
earner, especially in times of prosperity or
successful foreign expeditions such as the
transfer of the treasury of the Delian League
in the middle of the 5th century BC
. Those on the Boule chosen by lot were also
paid a token amount since this job was a full
time responsibility - ie as many modern
ancient Greeks do, sitting around the
agora sipping wine and discussing
political intrigue and hot favourites in the
future Olympic Games.
Among the 500 men (50 from each of the ten
tribes), there was an add-on lotto, much like
the Proto. One man would be drawn by lot each
day to be the president of the proceedings
. His job involved being Epistate at the
meetings of the Boule and the chairman of any
meetings of the assembly, the Ekklesia.
He would be given the keys to the
The interesting thing is that if one won the
lottery and served on the Boule, one was in
charge of receiving foreign ambassadors, and
undertaking the day-to-day affairs of the
state such as leasing of temple lands and
controlling the public till. I leave this to
At that time in
, there were 30,000 eligible men for the post
of Bouleftis. So, the chance of getting
in was 1:60. Not bad odds.
Today your lottery-winning chances are much
slimmer. Of course that doesn't stop me from
trying to make it. The part of the money that
doesn't go to the lucky winner is spent by the
government on various "institutions and
charities". But remember, this is a poor man's
tax, a way for the modern ancient
Bouleftes to raise more government
The system of lottery for Boule
positions lasted well into the Roman period,
going on into the 1st century AD. I don't know
why this fashion fizzled out. Maybe they ran
out of pure-blooded Athenians.
Of course, there's always a connection between
money and politics, in any civilisation.
Today, winning that kind of money means you
could become like many ancient modern Greeks
who turn their wealth into a political career.
And, in this way, extend their influence and
expand their wealth.