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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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I

The absence from ancient Greek, as from English, of
a single word—and thus of a concept—to express that
body of legal principles which the Romans termed ius
as distinct from lex (cf. French droit: loi, German Recht:


674

Gesetz) constitutes only one feature which makes a
discussion of Greek concepts of “law” difficult. A sec-
ond problem arises from the scanty source material.
We can speak of Greek concepts only for the early
archaic period (ca. 750-ca. 600 B.C.0 for which the
Homeric poems provide approximately the same kind
of evidence for Greek Asia Minor as Hesiod provides
for the mainland. For the rise of independent city-
states, each with its own legal system, militated against
the development of one concept of law, valid for the
entire Greek world; moreover, since our evidence for
the later archaic (ca. 600-ca. 500 B.C.) and for the
classical periods (ca. 500-323 B.C.) comes almost ex-
clusively from Athens, we have reliable access only to
Athenian concepts of law for these periods. This is less
of a loss than it might seem, because it was Athens
which bequeathed her concept of nomos to the
Hellenistic world in the wake of the conquests of
Alexander the Great. It is to these three periods, then,
that our attention will be confined.

A third factor, while presenting a further difficulty,
also provides a methodological key toward an under-
standing of the variety of concepts of “law” found in
Greek antiquity. None of the Greek expressions for
“law” either originated or is found in exclusively legal
contexts, but in addition to their legal connotations
they all played important parts also in such spheres
as cosmology, religion, politics, personal conduct, and
philosophy, and often in such a way that our compart-
mentalized concepts cannot exhaust their meanings.
Therefore, an examination of the range of usage of each
relevant concept will enable us to discover a basic idea
inherent in it and thus to differentiate the various
concepts from one another.