Kübellos in the canton of Glarus: A unique experience of sortition in politics

2. The medieval world and the modern world
By Antoine Chollet, Aurèle Dupuis

From the seventeenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century sortition was used in various forms in the cities and territories that would later constitute Switzerland. One can identify at least four main loci for these uses: in oligarchic city-states (the foremost examples being Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen), in “democratic” cantons (especially Glarus and Schwyz), in order to allocate goods and resources in Alpine communities, and finally in the institutions of the Helvetic Republic (from 1798 to 1803). We will mainly deal here with the case of Glarus, where sortition was widespread from 1640 to 1836 in order to select various magistrates. Among European sovereign polities, Glarus was perhaps the last one to make such an extensive use of sortition. This persistence explains why it is an extremely interesting case to study, which could shed some new light on the discussion about the still partly unexplained disappearance of sortition in politics. Moreover, it constitutes one of the very few historical examples of sortition in a more or less formally democratic political community, along with classical Athens, putting aside obvious differences between the two. In Glarus as in Athens, the supreme body of the community was an assembly of all citizens, which gathered regularly and was vested with some power. With its highly original procedures for selecting magistrates, most notably a double lottery introduced in 1791, in which all citizens took part, the historical example of Glarus thus deserves special attention.


  • random recruitment
  • Switzerland
  • Glarus
  • Ancien régime
  • citizens’ assembly
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