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Areopagus, the ‘Hill of Ares’ (Ἄρειος πάγος‎) at Athens, north-west of the Acropolis, and the ancient council associated with it. There are no substantial remains on the hill; the council's meeting-place may have been on a terrace on the north-east side rather than on the summit. Probably the council was called simply boulē (‘council’) at first, and was named after the hill when a second council from which it had to be distinguished was created, probably by Solon.

In early Athens the membership of the council will have been aristocratic. By the time of Solon, if not earlier, it came to comprise all ex-archons (see archontes), who entered it at the end of their year of office and remained members for the rest of their lives. The annual entry of nine new members in middle life maintained a strength of about 150. Changes in recruitment depended on changes in the recruitment of the archons: based on wealth rather than family from the time of Solon; including the zeugitai, the third property class, from 457/6 bce; and no longer attracting the men with the highest political ambitions from the first half of the 5th cent., when the archonships became routine offices.

It is likely that the council began as a body advising first the king and later the archons (though this view has been challenged); and it certainly had acquired some jurisdiction, in homicide cases inter alia, before the time of Solon. Descriptions of it as guardian of the state or of the laws gave expression to its powerful position in early Athens, and may have been exploited as a basis for exercising new powers not formally conferred on it. Solon gave it or confirmed for it the right to try eisangeliai, charges of major offences against the state, but his creation of a new council to prepare business for the assembly began the decline in the powers of the Areopagus.

There may have been no further formal change in its powers until the reform of Ephialtes (4) in 462/1. By this time the archons were appointed by lot from an elected short list, to an office which was overshadowed by the generalship (see stratēgoi), so a powerful Areopagus was coming to seem an anachronism; and practice in participating in Cleisthenes (2)'s political machinery was giving the Athenian citizens the taste for controlling their own destiny. That Athens was dominated by the Areopagus after the Persian Wars may be an invention of later writers to explain why reform of the Areopagus was necessary, but if the Areopagus had been exercising its judicial powers to the advantage of Cimon that may have provoked Cimon's opponents to attack it.

Ephialtes is said to have taken away the judicial powers which gave the Areopagus its guardianship of the state: these probably included the trial of eisangeliai (if they had not been taken away earlier), and procedures which enabled it to control the magistrates, such as dokimasia, the vetting before they entered office, and euthynai, the examination of their conduct when they left office. The Areopagus retained the right to try cases of homicide, wounding, and arson (and the ephetai, ‘referees’, who tried some categories of homicide cases were probably members of the Areopagus), and also some religious cases. The reform was contentious—Cimon was ostracized (see ostracism), Ephialtes was murdered, the Areopagus as a homicide court was featured in Aeschylus' Eumenides of 458—but it held, and for a time the council ceased to be a politically important body.

A proposal to make the council guardian of the revised code of laws in 403/2 seems to have been ineffective; but it enjoyed a resurgence in the middle of the 4th cent. Isocrates in his Areopagiticus of c.355 focused on a powerful Areopagus as a feature of Athens' more glorious past; from the 340s in judicial and in other matters it was able to submit a report (apophasis) to the assembly on the assembly's initiative or its own, and this could lead to action by the assembly or a trial in a jury-court; after the battle of Chaeronea it was enabled to act as a court to try men accused of deserting the Athenian cause. Many of its decisions were to the advantage of Demosthenes (2), and probably Demosthenes' opponents were responsible for a law of 337/6 threatening the Areopagus with suspension if the democracy were overthrown (RO no. 79); but it retained its enhanced position, and reported against Demosthenes when it enquired into the affair of Harpalus in 323.

Under Demetrius (3) of Phalerum (317–307) the Areopagus may have been given new powers in the area of morals (Philochorus, FGrH 328 F 65). In 305/4 and perhaps again in 230/29 it was involved in raising money for resistance to Macedon (IG 22. 1492B, 7. 2405/6); in the late 2nd cent. its judicial powers included cases concerning weights and measures (IG 22. 1013). In the Hellenistic period it again became common for ambitious men to serve as archons, and afterwards to join the Areopagus, and the prestige of its members will have added to the prestige of the council. Possibly after Sulla's capture of Athens the Areopagus seems to have been involved in a codification of the laws (Agora 16. 333). Under the Roman Principate it ranked with the boulē and the assembly (ekklēsia) as one of the major corporations of Athens, and its herald became one of the state's major officials: it probably still comprised all living former holders of any of the archonships. In the 2nd cent. ce it acquired a panhellenic stature with its honours for Greek men of culture (e.g. IGRom. 3. 733; J. Crampa, Labraunda 3. 2 (1972), no. 66). It still existed in the 4th cent. ce, when it seems to have been primarily a judicial body.


Athenaion politeia 3. 6; 8. 4; 25; 27. 1; 35. 2; 57.Find this resource:

    D. M. MacDowell, Athenian Homicide Law in the Age of the Orators (1963).Find this resource:

      D. J. Geagan, The Athenian Constitution after Sulla, Hesperia: Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens Suppl. 12 (1967).Find this resource:

        R. W. Wallace, The Areopagos Council, to 307 BC (1989).Find this resource:

          M. H. Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes (1991), chs. 3, 12.Find this resource:

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