Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

[ link colors: Demos | External Source | Citation to Evidence| Word Tools ]

Demos Home

Summary.

Introduction.

The 4th c..

Composition in the 4th c..

Meeting Places in the 4th c..

→ Procedure in the 4th c..

The 4th c.: Intentional Homicide.

The 4th c.: Impiety and Olives.

The 4th c.: Other Powers.

History: Myth.

History: Before the 5th c..

History: Reforms of the early 5th c..

History: Cimon and Themistocles.

History: Areopagus and the Demos.

History: Ephialtes’ Reforms.

History: The Later 5th c..

History: After the Thirty Tyrants.

A Rock in Times of Trouble.

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

Investigations.

Secondary Works Cited.

Index of Citations

General Index

Demos Home

The Council of the Areopagus 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003

page 6 of 21

· Procedure in the 4th c. ·

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).

The Areopagus, functioning as a court of law during the 4th century, had a reputation for following unimpeachable procedures. In his speech against Aristocrates, Demosthenes describes this procedure at some length, and begins his description with the claim that “no convicted defendant and no defeated prosecutor has ever made good any complaint against the justice of the verdict given.” (Dem. 23.66). Anyone who brought an accusation of homicide before the court had to swear an oath “invoking destruction upon himself, his kindred, and his household” ( πρῶτον μὲν διομεῖται κατ’ ἐξωλείας αὑτοῦ καὶ γένους καὶ οἰκίας τιν᾽ αἰτιώμενος εἰργάσθαι τι τοιοῦτον ) (Dem. 23.67). The swearing of this oath was unique: a boar, a ram, and a bull were to be sacrificed by certain people and on certain days (Demosthenes does not say which people or which days), “so that in respect both of the time and of the functionaries every requirement of solemnity has been satisfied” ( ὥστε καὶ ἐκ τοῦ χρόνου καὶ ἐκ τῶν μεταχειριζομένων ἅπαν, ὅσον ἔσθ’ ὅσιον, πεπρᾶχθαι ); the accuser then stood over the entrails of the sacrificed animals and swore his oath. Demosthenes is careful to add that, even with this “tremendous oath” ( τὸν τοιοῦτον ὅρκον ), the accuser was not automatically believed, and that if he should be proved to have lied, not only would he bear “the stain of perjury” ( τὴν ἐπιορκίαν ) himself, but his children and relatives would as well (Dem. 23.68).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).
Dinarchus (Din. 1).
Apollodorus (Dem. 59).

In this speech and elsewhere, Demosthenes emphasizes the extent to which the rights of the accused were protected by law and procedure. If the accuser won his case, and the accused was convicted, the accuser had no power of punishment: “only the laws and the appointed officer have power over the man for punishment. The prosecutor is permitted to see him suffering the penalty awarded by law, and that is all.” (Dem. 23.69). If the Areopagus found a defendant guilty in a case of homicide, the court seems to have had the authority to hand him straight over to the executioner (Din. 1.62; although this passage refers to powers given to the Areopagus by a particular decree in the late 4th century). In other matters, though the Areopagus’ power of punishment was not unlimited. Speaking of a case of impiety, Apollodorus says that the court “does not have the power to punish any of the Athenians as they see fit.” (Dem. 59.80).

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).
 
Plot on a Map
Athens.

Defendants swore the same oath as accusers, but Demosthenes says that they had an important additional right: “it is permitted to them to depart after giving his first speech, and neither the prosecutor, nor the jurors, nor any other man is authorized to prevent it” ( τὸν πρότερον δ’ ἔξεστιν εἰπόντα λόγον μεταστῆναι, καὶ οὔθ᾽ διώκων οὔθ᾽ οἱ δικάζοντες οὔτ᾽ ἄλλος ἀνθρώπων οὐδεὶς κύριος κωλῦσαι ) (Dem. 23.69). We may suppose (although Demosthenes does not make this clear) that the defendant would have to leave Athens after withdrawing from the trial.

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

The trial would proceed with each side giving one or more speeches (see Din. 1.1, where he says that he does not have to give all the details of the case because a fellow-prosecutor, Stratocles, has already given his speech). Aeschines, speaking in praise of the Areopagus, says that this court was different from the other courts of Athens in that Areopagites were less likely than other jurors to be swayed by skillful speaking alone: “I myself have before now seen many men convicted before this tribunal, though they spoke most eloquently, and presented witnesses; and I know that before now certain men have won their case, although they spoke most feebly, and although no witnesses testified for them. For it is not on the strength of the pleading alone, nor of the testimony alone, that the members of the court give their verdict, but on the strength of their own knowledge and their own investigations. And this is the reason why that tribunal maintains its high repute in the city.” ( πολλοὺς γὰρ ἤδη ἔγωγε τεθεώρηκα ἐν τῷ βουλευτηρίῳ τούτῳ εὖ πάνυ εἰπόντας καὶ μάρτυρας πορισαμένους ἁλόντας· ἤδη δέ τινας κακῶς πάνυ διαλεχθέντας καὶ πρᾶγμα ἀμάρτυρον ἔχοντας οἶδα νικήσαντας. οὐ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ λόγου μόνον οὐδ’ ἐκ τῶν μαρτυριῶν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐξ ὧν αὐτοὶ συνίσασι καὶ ἐξητάκασι, τὴν ψῆφον φέρουσι. τοιγάρτοι διατελεῖ τοῦτο τὸ συνέδριον εὐδοκιμοῦν ἐν τῇ πόλει. ) (Aeschin. 1.92).

Read about the evidence
Plutarch (Plut. Sol.).
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Lysias (Lys. 26).
 
Plot on a Map
Athens.

The Archon Basileus served as the “introducing official” ( εἰσάγουσα ἀρχη ), but it seems that he did not actually participate in deciding the case; only the actual members of the Areopagus voted (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 57.4). Because members of the Areopagus had all served as archons (Plut. Sol. 19.1; Dem. 24.22; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 60.3), and because, as archons, they would each have had experience presiding over the various courts of Athens (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 56.6-7, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 57.2-4, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 58.2, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 59.2-6), and because they served on the Areopagus for life (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6; Lys. 26.11), they must have had much more experience than the juries of the other courts.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Rh.).
 
Plot on a Map
Athens.

According to Aristotle, the Areopagus did not allow speakers, either defendants or prosecutors, to introduce irrelevant information into their speeches; in this, he says, the Areopagus is different from the other courts at Athens (Aristot. Rh. 1354a 20).

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

If a speaker were to be accused of perjury ( ψευδομαρτυρία ) before the Areopagus, he would not be prosecuted by the Areopagus itself, but by the Thesmothetae (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 59.6).

[ back to top ]

page 6 of 21