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Summary.

Introduction:.

Ephialtes’ Family and Character.

→ The Areopagus Before the Reforms..

The Reforms.

Political Background to Ephialtes’ Reforms: Cimon and Themistocles.

Political Background to Ephialtes’ Reforms: the People.

The Reforms Themselves.

The Death of Ephialtes.

Secondary Works Cited.

Index of Citations

General Index

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Ephialtes 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 27, 2003

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· The Areopagus Before the Reforms. ·

The Council of the Areopagus (also called the Court of the Areopagus), its history, and its role in the Athenian democracy is described at length, with links to the ancient evidence, elsewhere (see Areopagus). What follows is a brief summary of its powers before Ephialtes’ reforms, to help put those reforms in context.

Read about the evidence
Aeschylus (Aesch. Eum.).
Aristotle (Aristot. Rh.).
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).
Isocrates (Isoc. 7).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
 
Plot on a Map
Athens.

The Court of the Areopagus 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 the Areopagus at Athens (Aesch. Eum.). Even under the democratic government of the 4th century BCE, after much of the power of government was in the hands of the People, this mythology could be invoked for rhetorical effect in the classical period, as when a certain Autocles arguing that a certain Mixidemides should stand trial before the Court of the Areopagus: “If the awful goddesses [i.e. the Furies— CWB] were content to stand their trial before the Areopagus, should not Mixidemides?” (Aristot. Rh. 1398b 25). The orator Demosthenes praises the institution and its history: “Concerning that Court of the Areopagus I could relate a greater number of noble stories, in part traditional and legendary, in part certified by our own personal testimony, than could be told of any other tribunal. It is worth your while to listen to one or two of them by way of illustration. First, then, in ancient times, as we are told by tradition, in this court alone the gods condescended both to render and to demand satisfaction for homicide, and to sit in judgement upon contending litigants—Poseidon, according to the legend, deigning to demand justice from Ares on behalf of his son Halirrothius, and the twelve gods to adjudicate between the Eumenides and Orestes. These are ancient stories; let us pass to a later date. This is the only tribunal which no despot, no oligarchy, no democracy, has ever dared to deprive of its jurisdiction in cases of murder, all men agreeing that in such cases no jurisprudence of their own devising could be more effective than that which has been devised in this court” (Dem. 23.65-66). Isocrates, another 4th century orator, claims that, once upon a time, the court had authority over the day to day behavior of the citizens: “For our forefathers placed such strong emphasis upon sobriety that they put the supervision of decorum in charge of the Council of the Areopagus—a body which was composed exclusively of men who were of noble birth and had exemplified in their lives exceptional virtue and sobriety, and which, therefore, naturally excelled all the other councils of Hellas” (Isoc. 7.37). 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 Arepagites [the members of the Court of the Areopagus— CWB], stating the law in contravention of which he was treated unjustly” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 4.4).

Read about the evidence
Isocrates (Isoc. 7).
Plutarch (Plut. Sol.).
Plutarch (Plut. Per.).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
 
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Athens.

The Court of the Areopagus was an aristocratic institution, composed of “men who were of noble birth” ( οῖς καλῶς γεγονόσι ) (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” ( Ἀρεοπαγίται ) held office for life, not only in pre-democratic Athens but also in the latter half of the 4th century (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6). According to Aristotle, before the time of the lawgiver Solon—the middle of the 6th century BCE (source: OCD3)—the Court of the Areopagus itself chose the men who would be archons, and thus future members of the Areopagus (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.1). “Selection of archons was by wealth and birth” ( γὰρ αἵρεσις τῶν ἀρχόντων ἀριστίνδην καὶ πλουτίνδην ἦν ) (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6), and so the Court of the Areopagus preserved itself as a body of the aristocrats of Athens.

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

Solon changed 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” ( ὥσπερ ὑπῆρχεν καὶ πρότερον ἐπίσκοπος οὖσα τῆς πολιτείας ); it could punish citizens, fine them, and spend money itself without answering to any other governing body; and it oversaw cases 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).

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
 
Plot on a Map
Salamis.
Peloponnese.
Athens.

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 480 BCE, the Council of the Areopagus took a leading role in organizing, and financing, the evacuation of all Athenians to Salamis and the Peloponnese, which raised the body’s status considerably (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 23.1). He goes on to say that the Council of the Areopagus enjoyed preeminence in Athens for almost two decades, until the time when Conon was archon, and Ephialtes brought about his reforms in 462 BCE (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 25.1; source for date: OCD3).

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