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The Council of the Areopagus 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003

page 18 of 21

· A Rock in Times of Trouble ·

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Diodorus (Diod.).
Aeschines (Aeschin. 3).
Lycurgus (Lyc. 1).
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We have already seen that the Areopagus played an important role in evacuating Athens during the Persian Invasion at the beginning of the 5th century BCE, both by using its authority to organize the evacuation, and by using its members’ wealth to help pay for the evacuation (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 23.1). In the 4th century, we see the Areopagus acting decisively in another time of national crisis. In 338 BCE, the Athenians and the Thebans, with some other allied states, tried to oppose Philip of Macedon’s growing power; the climactic battle was fought at Chaeronea in Boeotia, and was a terrible defeat for Athens (the battle is narrated by Diodorus Siculus, beginning at Diod. 16.84; source for date, OHCW). The orators Aeschines and Lycurgus describe how, in the aftermath of that battle, the Areopagus prosecuted people for fleeing Athens during this crisis. Aeschines says, “There came—it pains me to call it to mind repeatedly—there came a certain disaster to the city. At that time a certain private citizen who merely undertook to sail to Samos was on the same day punished with death by the Council of the Areopagus, as a traitor to his country. Another private citizen, who sailed away to Rhodes, was only the other day prosecuted, because he was a coward in the face of danger.” (Aeschin. 3.252). When Lycurgus mentions these events in his prosecution of Leocrates, he pauses to assure his audience that he means no criticism of the Areopagus; in this passage, the orator is arguing that since some other Athenians were punished for fleeing the city, Leocrates ought to be punished as well: “You should bear in mind, gentlemen, that it is not even in your power, unless you go beyond your rights, to acquit this man Leocrates, since his offence has had judgement passed upon it and a vote of condemnation too. For the council of the Areopagus—No one need interrupt me. That council was, in my opinion, the greatest bulwark of the city at the time—seized and executed men who then had fled from their country and abandoned it to the enemy. You must not think, gentlemen, that these councillors who are so scrupulous in trying other men for homicide would themselves have taken the life of any citizen unlawfully. Moreover you condemned Autolycus and punished him because, though he himself had faced the dangers, he was charged with secretly sending his wife and sons away. Yet if you punished him when his only crime was that he had sent away persons useless for war, what should your verdict be on one who, though a man, did not pay his country the price of his nurture? The people also, who looked with horror upon what was taking place, decreed that those who were evading the danger which their country’s defence involved were liable for treason, meriting in their belief the extreme penalty” (Lyc. 1.52-53; for the trial of Autolycus, see Lyc. Fr. 9).

Read about the evidence
Lycurgus (Lyc. 1).
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As it did when the Persians invaded, it seems that after the defeat at Chaeronea, the Areopagus was acting to preserve the strength of Athens in a time of crisis. And so Lycurgus calls the Areopagus “the greatest salvation of the city at the time” (μεγίστην τότε γενέσθαι τῇ πόλει σωτηρίαν) (Lyc. 1.52).

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page 18 of 21