Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ The 4th c.: Intentional Homicide.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 26, 2003
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Elsewhere, Demosthenes describes the mythological origins of this function of the Court of the Areopagus, claiming that once upon a time the god Ares was put on trial for the murder of Halirrothius, the son of Poseidon; the hill was named after this event—the “Hill of Ares”—and the council that met on that hill enjoyed jurisdiction over homicide ever since (Dem. 23.66; see below for more sources for the mythological history of the Areopagus).
The Areopagus also heard cases of assault and wounding (τραῦμα) (Dem. 40.32; Dem. 23.22; Aeschin. 2.93; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 57.3). The Areopagus did not merely punish the assailants themselves, but also had the power to punish accessories. Demosthenes mentions a case of assault where the Areopagus exiled a man for encouraging the assailant; the defendant in this case was the father of the priestess of Artemis at Brauron, and therefore an important Athenian, but punished as an accessory nevertheless (Dem. 54.25).
According to Demosthenes, not only did the Areopagus permit (δίδωσε) Athenians to bring cases of homicide before it for judgement, but actually required it (κελεύει) (Dem. 23.67). Demosthenes himself was fined by the Areopagus, according to Aeschines, for failing to pursue a charge of assault (τραῦμα) against his cousin Demomeles (Aeschin. 2.93). Aeschines goes on to claim that Demosthenes had actually wounded himself and falsely accused his cousin (Aeschin. 3.15; Aeschin. 2.93), but regardless of that complication, Aeschines’ comment suggests that once there was an accusation of a crime over which the Areopagus had jurisdiction, the accuser was obliged to bring the matter to court. Demosthenes also describes how a certain Theocrines, whose brother was murdered, threatened to bring the case before the Areopagus, but dropped the matter when the murderer paid him money (Dem. 58.29)—the fact that Theocrines did this proves, according to Demosthenes, that he is a “wretch and false accuser” (πονερὸς καὶ συκοφάντης) (Dem. 58.27).
The members of the Areopagus, the Areopagites, also seem to have investigated murders and assaults personally. In a speech prosecuting Conon, Demosthenes says that it was possible for members of the Areopagus to come to the bedside of a victim of assault, because if the victim should eventually die, they would have to try the case of his murder (Dem. 54.28).
It was a very serious matter to be charged with a crime before the Areopagus. In a speech written by Demosthenes for a client the speaker describes how his enemies plotted against him: “ When they have thus openly laid a plot, and got up a charge against me before the Areopagus, do you suppose there is any poisoning or any other such villainy from which they would abstain?” (Dem. 40.57). This passage compares being charged before the Areopagus with being poisoned, and gives us an idea of how serious such a charge was. Elsewhere in that same speech, the speaker explains that his enemies hoped that by charging him before the Areopagus, he would go into exile rather than risk conviction (Dem. 40.32).
According to the rules of procedure, a defendant charged before the Areopagus had the option of leaving the city rather than see the trial to its conclusion (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 23.69). If the defendant left, then his property was sold off by the “Venders” (οἱ πωληταί), after the Nine Archons gave their approval for the sale (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 47.2).
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