XI.11 On the kings of the heroic times of the Greeks

Among the Greeks, in the heroic times, a sort of monar­chy came into exis­tence that did not sur­vive.1 Those who had inven­ted arts, waged war for the peo­ple, assem­bled men who were dis­per­sed, or given them lands, obtai­ned the king­dom for them­sel­ves, and pas­sed it on to their chil­dren. They were kings, priests, and jud­ges. This is one of the five kinds of monar­chy men­tio­ned by Aristotle,2 and it is the only one that can revive the idea of the monar­chi­cal cons­ti­tu­tion. But the struc­ture of that cons­ti­tu­tion is oppo­sed to that of our monar­chies of today.

The three powers were dis­tri­bu­ted in such a way that the peo­ple had the legis­la­tive autho­rity3 and the king the exe­cu­tive autho­rity along with the judi­cial autho­rity, whe­reas in the monar­chies fami­liar to us, the prince has the exe­cu­tive and legis­la­tive autho­rity, or at least part of the legis­la­tive, but does not judge.

In the govern­ment of the kings of heroic times, the three powers were poorly dis­tri­bu­ted. Those monar­chies could not last. For once, the peo­ple had the legis­la­tion : they could at the sligh­test whim eli­mi­nate royalty, as they did eve­ryw­here.

Among free peo­ple who had the legis­la­tive power, peo­ple enclo­sed in a city, where all that is most repu­gnant beco­mes even more so, the mas­ter­piece of legis­la­tion is to dis­cern the best pla­ce­ment of judi­cial autho­rity. But it could not be more poorly pla­ced than in the hands of the per­son who already held exe­cu­tive autho­rity. From that moment, the monarch became ter­ri­fying. But at the same time, as legis­la­tion was not his, he could not defend him­self against legis­la­tion ; he had too much power and not enough.

They had not yet dis­co­ve­red that the prince’s true func­tion was to esta­blish jud­ges, and not to judge him­self. The contrary policy made the govern­ment of one man alone unbea­ra­ble. All those kings were dri­ven out. The Greeks did not ima­gine the true dis­tri­bu­tion of the three powers in govern­ment by one man alone ; they only ima­gi­ned it in a govern­ment of seve­ral, and they cal­led that kind of cons­ti­tu­tion a pòlis.4

Aristotle, Politics, book III, ch. xiv.


See what Plutarch says, Life of Theseus. See also Thucidides, book I.

See Aristotle, Politics, book IV, ch. viii.