Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ One Last Step to Democracy.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003
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Plot on a Map
One final major reform to the Athenian constitution remained before the government of Athens took the shape it would hold, more or less, for the next 150 years. In
The Court of the Areopagus, named after the Hill of Ares in Athens, was an ancient institution. It features in the mythological history of Athens, as portrayed in Aeschylus’ tragedy Eumenides, in which the goddess Athene puts the Eumenides, or Furies, on trial on this Hill of Ares at Athens (Aesch. Eum.). Aristotle says that in the time of Draco, the legendary first lawgiver of Athens, “The Council of the Areopagus was guardian of the laws, and kept a watch on the magistrates to make them govern in accordance with the laws. A person unjustly treated might lay a complaint before the Council of the Areopagites [the members of the Areopagus], stating the law in contravention of which he was treated unjustly” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 4.4). The Areopagus was an aristocratic institution, composed of men who were of noble birth (Isoc. 7.37). It was composed of men who had held the office of archon (Plut. Sol. 19.1; Plut. Per. 9.3). Members of the Court of the Areopagus, the Areopagites (Areopagitai) held office for life (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6). According to Aristotle, before the time of the lawgiver Solon—the
Solon changed the method by which Athenians became archons—forty candidates were elected, and from these forty, nine archons were picked by lot (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.1). Under the laws of Solon, the Court of the Areopagus retained its role as overseer of the constitution; it could punish citizens, fine them, and spend money itself without answering to any other governing body; and it oversaw cases of impeachment (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.4). Aristotle describes the government of Athens under Solon as a blend of elements—the courts were democratic, the elected archons were aristocratic, and the Court of the Areopagus was oligarchic (Aristot. Pol. 1273b).
The Court of the Areopagus seems to have enjoyed a return to its former glory immediately after the Persian Wars. Aristotle tells the story of how, during the chaos of the Persian invasion in
According to Aristotle, Ephialtes brought about a reform of the Court of the Areopagus by denouncing the Court before the Council and the Assembly (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 25.4). So the reform was not, finally, the work of Ephialtes alone, but an act of legislation by two of the more democratic institutions in Athens. Aristotle connects this event to a newfound feeling of power among the common people of Athens following the Persian Wars, when the less wealthy citizens by serving in the navy had saved the city. He makes the connection between naval victories and the reform of the Court of the Areopagus explicitly in his Politics (Aristot. Pol. 1274a), and the Constitution of the Athenians that survives under Aristotle’s name strongly suggests the connection as well (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 27.1).
By means of Ephialtes’ reforms, according to Aristotle, the Council of the Areopagus was “deprived of the superintendence of affairs” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 26.1). When Aristotle describes the Council of the Areopagus as it was in the
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