On Dec. 14, Harvard Law School Professor Adriaan Lanni gave the annual Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Lecture on Aristotle and the Moderns at Columbia University. The title of the talk was “Reconciliation after Mass Atrocity: Lessons from Ancient Athens.”
Lanni discussed Athens’ successful approach to the aftermath of violence and civil war at the end of the 5th century, after an oligarchic coup resulted in the killing of between 5 to 10 percent of the citizenry.
Athens, she said, adopted amnesties—as have some countries recovering from recent civil war and mass atrocities—but it also provided for some accountability by permitting litigants’ actions during the war to be raised in unrelated court cases. Lanni argued that the airing of political crimes in the courts may have helped sustain the amnesties and promote reconciliation. She made connections to today’s transitional justice mechanisms, such as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Rwanda’s Gacaca courts.
An expert in ancient law and criminal law, Lanni is the author of “Law and Justice in the Courts of Classical Athens,” and a forthcoming book, “Law and Order in Ancient Athens.”
Lanni’s talk was part of a lecture series established in 2005 by Kyriakos Tsakopoulos that focuses on Aristotle’s relevance to contemporary debates. Previous speakers in the series include economist and Nobel Laureate Edmond Phelps and historian Mark Mazower.