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→ The 4th c.: Other Powers.

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A Rock in Times of Trouble.

A Check on the Assembly in the 4th c..


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The Council of the Areopagus 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003

page 9 of 21

· The 4th c.: Other Powers ·

Read about the evidence
Aeschines (Aeschin. 1).
Plot on a Map

In the latter part of the 4th century, the Areopagus exercised other powers beyond its traditional role as a court. The Areopagus could be called on, by the Council or the Assembly, to investigate certain public matters and issue a report to the People. In one case that we hear of, Timarchus passed a motion in the Assembly to have the Areopagus investigate and report on some dwellings that had been erected on the hill of the Pnyx (Aeschin. 1.81). A member of the Areopagus, Autolycus, gave the body’s report to the Assembly, and in doing so reminded the assembled people that “We Areopagites do not, men of Athens, either accuse or defend, for that is not our tradition” (ἡμεῖς μέντοι, ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, οἱ Ἀρεοπαγῖται οὔτε κατηγοροῦμεν οὔτε ἀπολογούμεθα, οὐ γὰρ ἡμῖν πάτριόν ἐστιν) (Aeschin. 1.83).

Read about the evidence
Herodotus (Hdt.).
Lysias (Lys. 12).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Lycurgus (Lyc. 1).
Plot on a Map

In the 340s BCE and later, during a series of crises between Athens and Macedonia, the Areopagus seems to have been given additional powers. Mogens Herman Hansen points out a pattern in the ancient evidence for the powers of the Areopagus: in times of crisis the Areopagus gained more authority over Athenian governance (Hansen, p.295). We find the Areopagus gaining influence in 508 BCE during the first Persian invasion (Hdt. 5.72), in 480 during the second Persian invastion (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 23.1), in 405 after a brief oligarchic coup and near the end of the Peloponnesian War (Lys. 12.69), in 404 when the Spartans defeated Athens (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 35.2), and in 338 when Philip of Macedon defeated the Athenians and their allies as the Battle of Chaeronea (Lyc. 1.52) (Source for dates: Hansen, p. 295).

So to understand the role that the Areopagus played in the development of Athenian democracy, we should look at the sources for the history of the Areopagus from the mythology surrounding its earliest functions to the late 4th century BCE.

After surveying those historical sources, we will return to look at evidence for the Areopagus’ powers after 338.

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page 9 of 21