The Areiopagus (Ἄρειος πάγος,
in native authors and inscriptions always
without the article), or hill of Ares, at Athens, was a rocky eminence,
lying to the west of and not far from the Acropolis. To account for the
name, various stories were told. Thus, some said that it was so called from
the Amazons, the daughters of Ares, having encamped there when they attacked
Athens; others again, as Aeschylus, from the sacrifices there offered by
them to that god; while the more received opinion connected the name with
the legend of Ares having been brought to trial there by Poseidon, for the
murder of his son Halirrhothius. (Dem. c. Aristocr.
641.66; Aeschyl. Eum.
688.) To none, however,
of these legends did the place owe its fame, but rather to the council
(ἡ ἐν Ἀρείῳ πάγῳ βουλή
held its sittings there, and was sometimes called ἡ
to distinguish it from the Solonian senate of
Four Hundred, or the later Cleisthenean senate of Five Hundred (Plut. Sol. 19
). That it was a body of very
remote antiquity, acting as a criminal tribunal, was evidently believed by
the Athenians themselves. In proof of this, we may refer to the express
assertions of the orators, and the legend of Orestes having been tried
before the council for the murder of his mother--a trial which took place
before Athena, and which Aeschylus represents as the origin of the court
itself. Again, we find that even before the first Messenian war (B.C. 743)
began, the Messenians offered to refer the points in dispute to the Argive
Amphictyony, or the Athenian Areiopagus (Paus.
; Thirlwall, H. G.,
1.345), because this body was
believed to have had jurisdiction in cases of manslaughter (δίκας φονικάς
), “from of old.”
There is sufficient proof, then, that the Areiopagus existed before the time
of Solon; though Plutarch tells us that most of his authorities believed
Solon to have been the founder, arguing from the silence of Draco, in whose
laws the name Areiopagus did not occur. To this he replies that, in the
on which the Solonian laws were
recorded, the Areiopagus is expressly coupled with the phrase πρὶν ἢ Σόλωνα ἄρξαι
); and Grote further points out that as before Solon's time
there was no other βουλή,
Draco had no
occasion to mention it. He concludes, therefore, “that the senate of
Areiopagus is a primordial institution, of immemorial antiquity, though
its constitution as well as its functions underwent many changes
;” and for the earliest period accepts the suggestion, first thrown
out by Meier and Schömann, that it seems to represent the Homeric
council of old men (Grote, ch. 10.2.281; Att. Process,
Introd. p. 10). We hear of the Areiopagus chiefly as a judicial tribunal,
because it acted in this character constantly throughout Athenian history,
and it is in this capacity that the orators have most frequent occasion to
allude to it. But in its original form it existed permanently as the highest
deliberative authority, usually combined, in primitive institutions, with
the functions of a supreme court of justice. Thus, to borrow an illustration
from English history, a single curia regis
the germ from which the House of Lords, the Privy Council, and the High
Courts of Justice were all developed. In pre-Solonian Athens, the functions
of this ancient council had been so far specialised that it had become only
a criminal court, trying cases “of wilful murder and wounding, of
arson and poisoning” (Lex ap. Dem. c. Aristocr.
627.22; Pollux, 8.117). These powers were abridged by Draco, who transferred
to the Ephetae the cognisance of all cases of homicide. (The details of this
change, and the question whether the name Ephetae existed before Draco, are
discussed under EPHETAE
arrangement did not last long. The legislation of Solon restored to the
Areiopagus all the more important powers connected with the δίκαι φονικαὶ,
leaving to the Ephetae little
more than a ceremonial purification of blood-guiltiness; [p. 1.176]
and, thus limited, the latter body soon withered and became a
mere survival. The Areiopagus, on the contrary, acquired fresh powers in
addition to those now restored, and entered upon its most brilliant period.
It was invested by Solon with the general supervision of the state; in
particular, it watched over the conduct of the magistrates in office; it
controlled the proceedings of the popular assembly, with the right of
stopping unconstitutional legislation ; and it possessed a censorial power
of maintaining public discipline, and of bringing private persons to account
for their behaviour (Schömann, Antiq.
pp. 326, 332,
E. T.). Under his new scheme, the nine archons, if they had discharged their
duties without blame, “went up” to the Areiopagus, and became
members of it for life, unless expelled for misconduct (Argum.
Dem. c. Androt.
p. 589; Lex ap. Dem.
p. 707.22; Deinarch. c.
§ 56; Plut. Sol.c.
The council, then, after Solon's time, while it became timocratic in
constitution, remained aristocratic in spirit. In fact, he is said to have
formed the two councils, the senate and the Areiopagus, to be a check on the
democracy; that, as he himself expressed it, “the state, riding upon
them as anchors, might be less tossed by storms.” Nay, even after
the archons were no longer elected by suffrage but by lot, and the office
was thrown open by Aristides to all the Athenian citizens, the “upper
council” still retained its former tone of feeling.
Various details are given of the censorial and political powers entrusted by
Solon to the body thus re-organised. Thus we learn that he made the council
an “overseer of everything, and the guardian of the laws,”
empowering it to inquire how anyone got his living, and to punish the idle
(Plut. Sol. 100.22
§ § 42, 43). We learn from
other authorities that the Areiopagites were “superintendents of good
order and decency,” --terms rather unlimited and undefined, as it
is not improbable Solon wished to leave their authority. There are, however,
recorded some particular instances of its exercise, even in the later days
of Athenian history. Thus we find that they called persons to account for
extravagant and dissolute living, and, on the other hand, occasionally
rewarded remarkable cases of industry. In company with certain officers
they made domiciliary
visits at private entertainments, to see that the number of guests was not
too large, and for other purposes (Athen. iv. pp. 167 c--168 b, vi. p. 245
c; Pollux, 8.112). It is stated on the authority of Aristotle (Plut.
100.10; cf. Boeckh, P. E.
that at the time of the advance of Xerxes on Athens, when there was no money
in the public treasury, the Areiopagus succeeded in raising the sum of eight
drachmas for every man on board the fleet. This does not prove that they had
a treasury of their own, or any control of the public finances, as some have
inferred; there is no evidence of either in ancient writers, and it is
enough to suppose with Grote (3.455) that the council, then composed in
large proportion of men from the wealthier classes, put forth all its public
authority as well as its private contributions as an example to others.
Again, we are told (Lycurg. c. Leocr.
§ 52), that at
the time of the battle of Chaeroneia they seized and put to death those who
deserted their country, and that they were thought by some to have been the
chief preservers of the city.
It is probable that public opinion supported them in acts of this kind,
without the aid of which they must have been powerless for any such objects.
In connexion with this point, we may add that when heinous crimes had
notoriously been committed, but the guilty parties were not known, or no
accuser appeared, the Areiopagus inquired into the subject, and reported
) to the Demos. The report
or information was called ἀπόφασις.
was a duty which they sometimes undertook on their own responsibility and in
the exercise of an old-established right, and sometimes on the order of the
Demos. (Deinarch. c. Dem.
§ § 54-56;
p. 224.) Nay, to such an
extent did they carry this power, that on one occasion they arrested a man
(Antiphon) who had been acquitted by the general assembly, and again brought
him to a trial, which ended in his condemnation and death. (Dem. de Cor.
p. 271.133; Deinarch. c. Dem.
§ 63.) Again, we find them revoking an appointment of the people
whereby Aeschines was made the advocate of Athens before the Amphictyonic
council, and substituting Hyperides in his room. In these two cases also,
they were most probably supported by public opinion, or by a strong party in
the state. (Dem. l.c.
They also had duties connected with religion, one of which was to superintend
the sacred olives growing about Athens, and try those who were charged with
destroying them. (Lysias, Περὶ τοῦ
§ 22.) We read, too, that in the discharge of
their duty as religious censors, they on one occasion examined whether the
wife of the king archon was, as required by law, an Athenian; and, finding
she was not, imposed a fine upon her husband. (Dem. c. Neaer.
p. 1372.80 ff.) We learn from the same passage, that it was their office
generally to punish the impious and irreligious. Again we are told, though
rather in a rhetorical way, that they relieved the needy from the resources
of the rich, controlled the studies and education of the young, and
interfered with and punished public characters as such. (Isocr.
§ 55.) In another passage ( §
38) Isocrates tells us that the worst men, on becoming Areiopagites,
restrained their vicious propensities under the influence of the dignified
and decorous atmosphere of the court. His pamphlet, written to urge the
restoration of the censorial powers of the Areiopagus after they had long
been lost (probably about B.C. 355-353), must of course be received with
caution ; but it is at least evidence that this tribunal, though shorn of
its glories by the reforms of Ephialtes, had not forfeited the public
Independently, then, of its jurisdiction as a criminal court in cases of
wilful murder, which Solon continued to the Areiopagus, its influence must
have been sufficiently great to have been a considerable obstacle to the
aggrandisement of the democracy at the expense of the other parties in the
state. In fact, Plutarch (Plut. Sol.
) expressly states that Solon had this object in view in its
reconstruction; and accordingly we find that Pericles, who never was an
archon or [p. 1.177]
Areiopagite, and who was opposed to the
aristocracy for many reasons, resolved to diminish its power and
circumscribe its sphere of action. His coadjutor in this work was Ephialtes,
a statesman of inflexible integrity, and also a military commander. (Plut. Cim. 10
They experienced much opposition in their attempts, not only in the
assembly, but also on the stage, where Aeschylus produced his tragedy of the
Eumenides, the object of which was to impress upon the Athenians the
dignity, the sacredness, and constitutional worth of the institution which
Pericles and Ephialtes wished to reform. He reminds the Athenians that it
was a tribunal instituted by their patron goddess Athena, and puts into her
mouth a popular harangue full of warnings against innovations, and
admonishing them to leave the Areiopagus in possession of its old and
well-grounded rights, that under its watchful guardianship they might sleep
in security. (Müller, Eum.
35.) Still the opposition failed: a decree was carried, about B.C. 458, by
which, as Aristotle says, the Areiopagus was “mutilated,” and
many of its hereditary rights abolished. (Arist. Pol.
2.12.4; Cic. de Rep.
, § 43.) Plutarch (Plut.
) tells us that the people deprived the Areiopagus of
nearly all its judicial authority (τὰς κρίσεις τλὴν
), establishing an unmixed democracy, and
making themselves supreme in the courts of justice, as if there had formerly
been a superior tribunal. But we infer from another passage, that the
council lost considerable authority in matters of state; for we learn that
Athens then entered upon a career of conquest and aggrandisement to which
she had previously been a stranger; that, “like a rampant horse, she
would not obey the reins, but snapped at Euboea, and leaped upon the
neighbouring islands.” (Comicus, ap. Plut. Cim. 10
.) These accounts in themselves, and as compared
with others, are sufficiently vague and inconsistent to perplex and
embarrass; accordingly, there has been much discussion as to the precise
nature of the alterations which Pericles effected. In particular K. O.
§ 37) argued
that he deprived the Areiopagus of their old jurisdiction in cases of wilful
murder; and one of his chief arguments is that it was evidently the design
of Aeschylus to support them in this prerogative, which therefore must have
been assailed. This was also the view of Boeckh in a dissertation de Areopago,
and of Meier and Schömann in
But on the appearance of Forch-hammer's
Disputatio de Areopago non privato per Ephialtem homicidii
Kiel, 1828, Schömann at once modified his
view and subsequently abandoned it altogether (Att. Process,
p. 143, with Lipsius's notes in the new edition; Antiq.
342, E. T.); and since then it has been generally agreed by scholars and
historians that the Areiopagus did not lose the δίκαι
(God frey Hermann, Opusc.
4.299 ff. ;
K. F. Hermann, Staatsalterth.
§ 109, 6; Thirlwall,
3.24; Grote, ch. xlvi., 4.104-112; Curtius, 2.382
, E. T.; Westermann, in Pauly; Caillemer, in Daremberg and
Saglio). The main argument on the other side rests on an expression of
Lysias (de Caede Eratosth.
§ 30): τῷ δικαστηρίῳ τῷ ἐξ Ἀρείου πάγου ῷ καὶ
πάτριόν ἐστι καὶ ἐφ̓ ῾ημῶν ἀποδέδοται τοῦ φόνου τὰς δίκας
This was held to mean that the δίκαι φονικαί,
lost in the time of Ephialtes,
were only restored in the archonship of Eucleides, B.C. 403. But the
language of Demosthenes is equally explicit, that neither tyrant nor
democracy had dared to take away this jurisdiction from the Areiopagus
p. 641.66). As G. Hermann pointed out
in Lysias may easily mean competit,
“is within its competence,” not “has been
restored:” and even if the latter sense be retained, it is enough to
say that under the Thirty all laws had been trampled upon, and with the
restoration of democracy things resumed their natural course (Grote, l.c.
p. 112 n.). It may be further remarked that the
consequences ascribed to the innovation do not indicate that the Areiopagus
lost its authority as a criminal tribunal, but rather that it was shorn of
its power as superintending the morals and conduct of the citizens, both in
civil and religious matters, and as exercising some control over their
decisions. This supervision had extended to the proceedings of the Ecclesia,
taking care that the latter did not infringe the established laws or the
existing balance of the constitution. These powers were vast and undefined,
not derived from any formal grant of the people, but having their source in
immemorial antiquity, and sustained by general awe and reverence. Such
powers, as Grote remarks, were pretty certain to be abused; and if we grant
that personal corruption was rare in an assembly spoken of with so much
respect even by its political opponents, we must admit that such powers
would be habitually exercised in a conservative sense, and one suitable only
to a passive and stationary people. The expansion of Athens, during the
twenty years which followed the battle of Plataea, would be cramped and
hindered by them; and in this we must see (with Grote) the justification of
the measures of Pericles and Ephialtes. The separation of judicial from
executive functions was not, as Aristotle called it, a dissolution of all
governmental authority (ὥστε καταλύονται πᾶσαι αἱ
4.5.6), but conformable to the best modern
notions; and Pericles cannot be censured for having effected this
separation, whatever we may think of the dicasteries and the irresponsible
assembly between whom the powers taken from the Areiopagus were now divided.
It was at this time, probably, that the Areiopagus, like the Senate of Five
Hundred, became accountable to the Demos, as, indeed, we know they
afterwards were. (Aeschin. c. Ctes.
§ 20; Boeckh,
The general power of supervision, now taken from the Areiopagus, became
vested in seven new magistrates called νομοφύλακες
[NOMOPHYLAKES], who were
in their turn abolished when, in the archonship of Eucleides, the Areiopagus
received back a part of its former controlling authority. The decree of
Tisamenus on this occasion is preserved by Andocides: the laws were first to
be revised by special νομοθέται,
and then the Areiopagus
was to watch over their enforcement (ἐπειδὰν δὲ
τεθῶσιν οἱ ϝόμοι, ἐπιμελεἰσθω ἡ βουλὴ ἡ ἐξ Ἁρείου τάγου
τῶν νόμων, ὅπως ἂν αἱ ἀρχαὶ τοῖς κειμένοις νόμοις
ap. Andoc. de Myst.
§ 84). It
must be admitted, with Grote and Schömann, that neither the
Nomophylakes, while they lasted, nor the Areiopagus in its renewed [p. 1.178]
vitality, were able to exercise any real check
upon the irresponsible Demos. In the last century of Athenian liberty, the
every other form of control over constitutional changes. (Grote, ch. xlvi.,
4.115; Schömann, Antiq.
p. 346, E. T.)
But, though thus brought under the democratic rule of accountability in all
the officers of the state, no subserviency in judicial matters is imputed to
the Areiopagus. Their tribunal, on the contrary, is always spoken of as most
just and holy; Demosthenes goes so far as to say that not even the condemned
criminal or baffled prosecutor whispered an insinuation against the
righteousness of their verdicts (c. Aristocr.
p. 642.66 f.).
Indeed, the proceedings before them in cases of murder were by their
solemnity and fairness well calculated to insure just decisions. The process
was as follows :--The king archon (Pollux, 8.90) brought the case into
court, and sat as one of the judges, who were assembled in the open air,
probably to guard against any contamination from the criminal. (Antiphon,
de Caede Herod.
§ 11; Pollux, 8.33.) The
accuser, who was said εἰς Ἄρειον τάγον
first came forward to make a solemn oath
) that his accusation was
true, standing over the slaughtered victims, and imprecating extirpation
upon himself and his whole family, were it not so. The accused then denied
the charge with the same solemnity and form of oath. Each party then stated
his case with all possible plainness, keeping strictly to the subject, and
not being allowed to appeal in any way to the feelings or passions of the
judges (προοιμιάζεσθαι οὐκ ἐξῆν οὐδὲ
Aristot. Rh. 1.1
; Pollux, 8.117). The
speakers were mounted upon two unhewn stones (ἀργοὶ
), still visible on the spot; that of the accused was
called λίθος ὕβρεως,
that of the
prosecutor λίθος ἀναιδείας
). The latter is wrongly rendered
by Cicero (de
2.11.28); it is really unforgivingness or implacability. After
the first speech (μετὰ τὸν πρότερον
), a criminal accused of murder might remove from Athens,
and thus avoid the capital punishment fixed by Draco's θεσμοί,
which on this point were still in force. Except in
cases of parricide, neither the accuser nor the court had power to prevent
this; but the party who thus evaded the extreme punishment was not allowed
to return home (φεμ́γει ἀειφυγίαν
when any decree was passed at Athens to legalise the return of exiles, an
exception was always made against those who had thus left their country
(οἱ ἐξ Ἀρείου πάγου φεύγοντες
See Plat. Leges,
The reputation of the Areiopagus as a criminal court was of long continuance,
as we may learn from an anecdote of Aulus Gellius, who tells us (12.7) that
C. Dolabella, proconsul of the Roman province of Asia, referred a case which
perplexed himself and his council to the Areiopagus (ut
ad judices graviores exercitatio-resque
); they ingeniously
settled the matter by ordering the parties to appear that day 100 years
(centesimo anno adesse
). They existed in
name, indeed, till a very late period. Thus we find Cicero mentions the
council in his letters (ad Fam.
13.1; ad Att.
1.14, 5.11); and under the emperors Gratian and Theodosius (A.D. 380),
is called proconsul
of Greece, and an Areiopagite. (Meursius, Areiop.
Of the respectability and moral worth of the council, and the respect that
was paid to it, we have abundant proof in the writings of the Athenian
orators, where, indeed, it would be difficult to find it mentioned except in
terms of praise. Thus Lysias speaks of it as most righteous and venerable
§ 14); and so great was the respect paid
to its members, that it was considered rude in the people laughing in their
presence, while one of them was making an address to the assembly on a
subject they had been deputed to investigate (Aeschin. c.
§ 84). This respect might, of course, facilitate
the resumption of some of their lost power, more especially as they were
sometimes intrusted with inquiries on behalf of the state, as on the
occasion to which we have just alluded, when they were made a sort of
commissioners, to inquire into the state of the buildings about the Pnyx,
and decide upon the adoption or rejection of some proposed alterations.
Isocrates, indeed, even in his time, when the previous inquiry or δοκιμασία
had fallen into disuse, speaks well of
their moral influence; but shortly after the age of Demetrius Phalereus, a
change had taken place ; they had lost much of their respectability, and
were but ill fitted to enforce a conduct in others which they did not
observe themselves. (Ath. 4.167
, e, f.)
The case of St. Paul (Acts 17.22) is generally quoted as an instance of their
authority in religious matters; but the words of the sacred historian do not
necessarily imply that he was brought before the council. It may, however,
be remarked, that they certainly took cognisance of the introduction of new
and unauthorized forms of religious worship, called ἐπίθετα ἱερά,
in contradistinction to the πάτρια
or older rites of the state. (Harpocrat.
p. 286, transl.)
With respect to the number of the Areiopagus in its original form, a point of
no great moment, we are altogether in the dark; but it is plain that there
could have been no fixed number when the archons became members of this body
at the expiration of their year of office. Lysias, indeed, speaks of them
Περὶ τοῦ Σηκοῦ,
§ 22; but
Dem. c. Androt.
589) as forming a part of the Areiopagus even during that time; a statement
which can only be reconciled with the general opinion on the subject, by
supposing that they formed a part of the council during their year of
office, but were not permanent members till the end of that time, and after
passing a satisfactory examination. [R.W
. Our account, in all
its main features, is thoroughly confirmed by the Ἀθ. πολ.
The Areiopagus unquestionably existed isted before
the time of Draco, and till then, it would seem, was the only council; in
those times it appointed the archons, who already, after their year of
office, were called up into it. It was thus a close corporation of
Eupatrids, then the only depositaries of real political power. Draco, whose
legislative changes went much further than has hitherto been supposed, was
the first to constitute a second βουλή
below, App. under BOULÉ); he also gave
additional importance to the ecclesia, which had previously existed only in
a rudimentary and uninfluential form, and assigned to it the election of
The conduct of the Areiopagites at the time of the battle of Salamis (Vol. I.
p. 176 a
) was rewarded by a greatly increased
respect for their authority; and for the first sixteen years of Athenian
naval supremacy (B.C. 478-462) they once more became the ruling power in the
state (Ἀθ. πολ.
cc. 23, 41). The
personality of Ephialtes, who put an end to this state of things, and the
precise date of his reforms, now come out more clearly. It was in the
archonship of Conon, B.C. 462, that he overthrew the Areiopagus; he was at
this time the leader of the democratical party, not Pericles, whose advent
to power must be dated some years later. As has been already said (Vol. I.
p. 177 b
), the curtailment of the powers of the
Areiopagus was necessary to the expansion of Athens, and must be pronounced
justifiable; it was not, however, carried out by constitutional methods:
Ephialtes put many Areiopagites to death, and was himself assassinated