1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Areopagus
AREOPAGUS (Ἄρειος Πάγος), a bare, rocky hill, 370 ft. high, immediately west of the northern rim of the acropolis of Athens. The ancients interpreted the name as “Hill of Ares.” Though accepted by some modern scholars, this derivation of the word is rendered improbable by the fact that Ares was not worshipped on the Areopagus. A more reasonable explanation connects the name with Arae, “Curses,” commonly known as Semnae, “Awful Goddesses,” whose shrine was a cave at the foot of the hill, of which they were the guardian deities (Aeschyl. Eumen. 417, 804; Schol. on Lucian, vol. iii. p. 68, ed. Jacobitz; Paus. i. 28. 6).
The Boulē, or Council, of the Areopagus (ἡ ἐν Ἀρείῳ Πἀγῳ βουλή), named after the hill, is to be compared in origin and fundamental character with the council of chiefs or elders which we find among the earliest Germans, Celts, Romans, and other primitive peoples. Under the kings of Athens it must have closely resembled the Boulē of elders described by Homer; and there can be no doubt that it was the chief factor in the work of transforming the kingship into an aristocracy, in which it was to be supreme. It was composed of ex-archons. Aristotle attributes to it for the period of aristocracy the appointment to all offices (Ath. Pol. viii. 2), the chief work of administration, and the right to fine or otherwise punish in cases, not only of violation of laws, but also of immorality (ibid. iii. 6; cf. Isoc. vii. 46; Androtion and Philochorus, in Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. i. 387. 17, 394 60). This evidence is corroborated by the remnants of political power left to it in later time, after its importance had been greatly curtailed, and by the designation Boulē, which in itself indicates that the body so termed was once a state council. In a passage bearing incidentally upon the early constitution of Athens, Thucydides (i. 126. 8) informs us that at the time of the Cylonian insurrection the Athenians, we may suppose in their assembly (Ἐκκλησία), commissioned the archons with absolute power to deal with the trouble at their discretion. From this passage, if we accept the Aristotelian view as to the early supremacy of the Areopagitic council, we must infer that a modification of the aristocracy in a popular direction had at that time already taken place.
In addition to its political functions, the council from the time of Draco, if not earlier, exercised jurisdiction in certain cases of homicide (see below, ad fin.). The assumption that in their criminal jurisdiction the Areopagites were called Ephetae till after the legislation of Draco (cf. Philoch. 58, in Müller, ibid. 394) would explain the otherwise obscure circumstances that, according to Plutarch (Sol. 19), Draco (q.v.) in his laws mentioned only the Ephetae, and that Pollux (viii. 125) included the Areopagus among the localities in which sat the Ephetae. The same assumption would supply a reason for the notion entertained by many writers of later time that the Areopagitic council was instituted by Solon (q.v.)—a notion partly explained also by the desire of political thinkers to ascribe to Solon the making of a complete constitution. Conformably with the view here presented we may suppose that the name “Boulē of the Areopagus” developed from the simple term “Boulē” in order to distinguish it from the new Boulē (q.v.), or Council of Four Hundred. The popular reforms of Solon (594 B.C.), so far as they were carried into effect, tended practically to limit the Council of the Areopagus, though constitutionally it retained all its earlier powers and functions, augmented by the right to try persons accused of conspiracy against the state (Arist. Ath. Pol. viii. 4). In the exercise of its duty as the protector of the laws it must have had power to inhibit in the Four Hundred, or in the Ecclesia, a measure which it judged unconstitutional or in any way prejudicial to the state, and in the levy of fines for violation of law or moral usage it remained irresponsible. As censor of the conduct of citizens it inquired into every man’s source of income and punished the idle (Plut. Sol. 22).
The tyrants (560–510 B.C.) left to the council its cognizance of murder cases (Demosth. xxiii. 66; Arist. Ath. Pol. xvi. 8) and probably the nominal enjoyment of all its prerogatives; but their method of filling the archonship with their own kinsmen and creatures gradually converted the Areopagites into willing supporters of tyranny. Though hostile, therefore, to the policy of Cleisthenes, their council seems to have suffered no direct abridgment of power from his reforms. After his legislation it gradually changed character and political sentiment by the annual admission of ex-archons who had held office under a popular constitution. In 487 B.C., however, the introduction of the lot as a part of the process of filling the archonship (see Archon) began to undermine its ability. This deterioration was necessarily slow; it could not have advanced far in 480 B.C., when on the eve of the battle of Salamis, as we are informed (Arist. Polit. viii. 4, p. 1304a, 17; Ath. Pol. xxiii. 25; Plut. Them. 10; Cic. Off. i. 22, 75), the council of the Areopagus succeeded in manning the fleet by providing pay for the seamen, thereby regaining the confidence and respect of the people. The patriotic action of the council and its attendant popularity enabled it to recover considerable administrative control, which it continued to exercise for the next eighteen years, although its deterioration in ability, becoming every year more noticeable, as well as the rapid rise of democratic ideas, prevented it from fully re-establishing the supremacy which Aristotle, with some exaggeration, attributes to it for this period. Its prestige was seriously undermined by the conduct of individual members, whose corrupt use of power was exposed and punished by Ephialtes, the democratic leader. Following up this advantage, Ephialtes (462 B.C.), and less prominently Archestratus and Pericles (q.v.), proposed and carried measures for the transfer of most of its functions to the Council of Five Hundred, the Ecclesia, and the popular courts of law (Arist. Ath. Pol. xxv. 2, xxvii. 1, xxxv. 2; Plut. Per. 9). Among these functions were probably jurisdiction in cases of impiety, the supervision of magistrates and the censorship of the morals of citizens, the inhibition of illegal and unconstitutional resolutions in the Five Hundred and the Ecclesia, the examination into the fitness of candidates for office, and the collection of rents from the sacred property (cf. Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, Arist. u. Ath. ii. 186-197; Busolt, Griech. Gesch. (2nd ed.) iii. 269-294; G. Gilbert, Const. Antiq. of Sparta and Athens, Eng. trans., 154 f.). It retained jurisdiction in cases of homicide and the care of sacred olive trees. From this time to the establishment of the Thirty (462–404 B.C.) the Areopagitic council, degraded still further by the opening of the archonship to the Zeugitae (457 B.C.) and by the absolute use of the lot in filling the office, was a political nullity. The first indication of a revival of its prestige is to be traced in the action attributed to it by Lysias during the siege of Athens (404 B.C.) (in Eratosth. 69: πραττούσης μὲν τῆς ἐν Ἀρείῳ Πάγῳ βουλῆς σωτηρία). After the surrender of Athens and the appointment of the Thirty, the repeal of the laws of Ephialtes and Archestratus prepared the way for the rehabilitation of the council as guardian of the constitution by the restored democracy (Arist. Ath. Pol. xxxv. 2; decree of Tisamenus, in Andoc. i. 84; cf. Din. i. 9). Although under the new conditions the Areopagites could not hope to recover their full supremacy, they did exercise considerable political influence, especially in crises. In the time of Demosthenes, accordingly, we find them annulling the election of individuals to offices for which they were unfit (Plut. Phoc. 16), exercising during a crisis a disciplinary power extending to life and death over all the Athenians “in conformity with ancestral law,” procuring the banishment of one, the racking of another, and the infliction of capital punishment on several of the citizens. This authority seems to have been delegated to them by the assembly with reference either to individual cases or temporarily to the whole body of Athenians (Din. i. 10, 62 f.; Aeschin. iii. 252; Lye. Leoc. 52; Demosth. xviii. 132 f.; Plut. Demosth. 14). Religion, too, was their care (Pseud. Demosth. lix. 80 f.). Lycurgus (ibid.) even goes so far as to claim chat by their action during the crisis after Chaeroneia they had saved the state. After the period of the great orators their influence continued to grow. Demetrius of Phalerum empowered them to assist the gynaeconomi in supervising festivals held in private houses (Philoch. in Müller, ibid. i. 408. 143). Under Roman supremacy in addition to earlier functions they had jurisdiction in cases of forgery, tampering with the standard measures, and probably other high crimes, the supervision of buildings, and the care of religion and of education (Cic. Fam. xiii. i; Att. v. 9; Tac. Ann. ii. 55; Plut. Cic. 24; C.I.G. i. 123. 9; C.I.A. ii. 476; iii. 703, 714, 716; Acts xvii. 19). Their council acquired, too, in conjunction with the assembly, with or without the cooperation of the Five Hundred (or Six Hundred), the right to pass decrees and to represent their city in foreign relations (C.I.A. iii. 10, 31, 40, 41, 454, 457, 458). From the overthrow of the Thirty to the end of their history they enjoyed a high reputation for ability and integrity (Isoc. vii.; Demosth. xxiii. 65 f.; Val. Max. viii. 1. Amb. 2; Gell. xii. 7; Lucian, Bis Acc. iv. 12. 14). About A.D. 400 their council came to an end (Theodoret, Curat. ix. 55).
With regard to the jurisdiction of the council in cases of homicide, the procedure, so far as it may be gathered from the orators and other sources, was as follows:—accusations were brought by relatives within the circle of brothers’ and sisters’ children, supported by the wider kin and the phratry (Demosth. xliii. 57). On receiving the accusation the king-archon by proclamation warned the accused to keep away from temples and other places forbidden to such persons. He made three investigations of the case in the three successive months, and brought it to trial in the fourth month. As he was forbidden to hand a case over to his successor, it resulted that in the last three months of the year no accusations of homicide could be brought (Ant. vi. 42). After the examination he assigned the case to the proper court, and presided over it during the trial, which took place in the open air, that the judges and the accuser might not be polluted by being brought under the same roof with the offender (Ant. v. 11). The accuser and the accused, standing on two white stones termed “Relentlessness” (Ἀναίδεια) and “Outrage” (Ὕβοις) respectively (Paus. i. 28. 5), bound themselves to the truth by most solemn oaths (Demosth. xxiii. 68). Each was allowed two speeches, and the trial lasted three days. After the first speech the accused, unless charged with parricide, was at liberty to withdraw into exile (Poll. viii. 117). If condemned, he lost his life, and his property was confiscated. A tie vote acquitted (Aeschyl. Eumen. 735; Ant. v. 51; Aeschin. iii. 252). See further Greek Law.
- Neither Herodotus nor Thucydides tells us anything as to its powers; but their silence on this point need not surprise us, as they had no especial occasion for referring to the subject, and in general it may be said that before the 4th century B.C. writers took little interest in the constitutional history of the remote past. The statement of Thucydides (i. 126. 8) that at the time of the Cylonian insurrection the nine archons attended to a great part of the business of government does not contradict the Aristotelian view, for their administration may well have been under Areopagitic supervision (see also Archon); and, as is stated in the text, the supremacy of the council may have already suffered considerable limitation. The Eumenides of Aeschylus is a glorification of the institution, though for obvious reasons it is there represented as an essentially judicial body.
- It is possible also to explain the alleged absence of reference to the Areopagitic council in the Draconian laws by the supposition that Solon, while leaving untouched the Draconian laws concerned with the cases of homicide which came before the Ephetae, substituted a law of his own regarding wilful murder, which fell within the jurisdiction of the Areopagites. This view finds strong support in the circumstance that the copy of the Draconian laws (C.I.A. i. 61), made in pursuance of a decree of the people of the year 409–408 B.C., does not contain the provision for cases of premeditated homicide; cf. G. de Sanctis, Ἀτθίς, 135. The relation of the Ephetae to the court of the Areopagus is obscure; cf. Philippi, Der Areopag und die Epheten (Berlin, 1874); Busolt, Griechische Geschichte (2nd ed.), ii. 138 ff.