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The Council of the Areopagus 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003

page 16 of 21

· History: The Later 5th c. ·

Read about the evidence
Xenophon (Xen. Hell.).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Plot on a Map

The next watershed in the history of the Areopagus was the period of the Thirty Tyrants. In 404 BCE, when Athens had been defeated by Sparta after twenty seven years of war, the democracy at Athens was temporarily overthrown and a new, oligarchic government took its place (Xen. Hell. 2.3.1). This government was to last only a year (Xen. Hell. 2.4.39), but marks an important break in the development of the Athenian democracy. According to Xenophon, the government was to consist of Thirty Tyrants, “who would collect the ancestral laws and govern according to them” (οἳ τοὺς πατρίους νόμους συγγράψουσι, καθ’ οὓς πολιτεύσουσι) (Xen. Hell. 2.3.1). This had an immediate effect on the institution of the Areopagus: “At first they were moderate towards the citizens and pretended to be administering the ancestral form of constitution, and they removed from the Areopagus the laws of Ephialtes and Archestratus about the Areopagites” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 35.2; we should note that this Archestratus is not mentioned by any other source). With the reforms of the early 5th century annulled, the Areopagus would presumably return to being the powerful and aristocratic body it has once been.

Read about the evidence
Xenophon (Xen. Hell.).
Andocides (Andoc. 1).

The tyranny of the Thirty was overthrown in the next year (Xen. Hell. 2.4.39), and the democracy was restored. It is interesting to note, however, that the prestige of the Areopagus was undiminished, despite the body’s having been one focus of the tyrants’ government. The orator Andocides describes how the tyranny was overthrown and how the Athenians drew up a temporary constitution to govern the city during the time of confusion (Andoc. 1). Included in this speech is a decree, supposedly passed by the Assembly in 403. In this decree, it is obvious how intently the Athenians were returning to democratic principles, and it is also obvious that they still regarded the Areopagus as a vital part of their government; the decree lists various laws and provisions, and concludes: “The laws thus handed over, however, shall be submitted beforehand to the scrutiny of the Council and the five hundred Nomothetae elected by the Demes, when they have taken their oath. Further, any private citizen who so desires may come before the Council and suggest improvements in the laws. When the laws have been ratified, they shall be placed under the guardianship of the Council of the Areopagus, to the end that only such laws as have been ratified may be applied by magistrates” (Andoc. 1.84; source for date, OCD3). According to this decree, the People (in the form of the Council, the Nomothetae, and the Demes) enacted laws, and any private citizen individually could suggest emendations, but the Areopagus was to guard the laws. Notice also, that the decree is careful to note that the “magistrates” (αἰ ἀρξαί) can enact only those laws that have been approved by this democratic process.

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page 16 of 21