The Areopagus (//) is the composite form of the Greek name Areios Pagos, translated "Ares Rock" (Ancient Greek: Ἄρειος Πάγος). It is north-west of the Acropolis in Athens. In classical times, it functioned as the high Court of Appeal for criminal and civil cases. Ares was supposed to have been tried here by the gods for the murder of Poseidon's son Alirrothios (a typical example of an aetiological myth).
The origin of its name is not clear. In Ancient Greek, πάγος pagos means "big piece of rock". Areios could have come from Ares or from the Erinyes, as on its foot was erected a temple dedicated to the Erinyes where murderers used to find shelter so as not to face the consequences of their actions. Later, the Romans referred to the rocky hill as "Mars Hill", after Mars, the Roman God of War. Near the Areopagus was also constructed the basilica of Dionysius Areopagites.
In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate. Like the Senate, its membership was restricted to those who had held high public office, in this case that of Archon. In 594 BC, the Areopagus agreed to hand over its functions to Solon for reform. He instituted democratic reforms, reconstituted its membership and returned control to the organization.
Phryne, the hetaera from 4th century BC Greece and famed for her beauty, appeared before the Areopagus accused of profaning the Eleusinian mysteries. One story has her letting her cloak drop, so impressing the judges with her almost divine form that she was summarily acquitted.
In an unusual development, the Areopagus acquired a new function in the 4th century BC, investigating corruption, although conviction powers remained with the Ecclesia.
The Areopagus, like most city-state institutions, continued to function in Roman times, and it was from this location, drawing from the potential significance of the Athenian altar to the Unknown God, that the Apostle Paul is said to have delivered the famous speech, "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." (Acts 17:24)
- The English poet John Milton titled his defence of freedom of the press "Areopagitica," arguing that the censors of ancient Athens, based at the Areopagus, had not practiced the kind of prior restraint of publication being called for in the English Parliament of Milton's time.
- Modern writers (C. Wachsmuth, Die Stadt Athen, 1. p. 428 note 2; G. Gilbert, Griech. Staatsalterthiimer,2 1. p. 425 note 4) have suggested that Areopagus (Areios pagos) means 'the hill of cursing,' the first part of the name being derived from ara 'a curse' and the reference being to the Furies who had a sanctuary on the side of the hill, and were sometimes known as Arai, i.e. 'the curses' (Aeschylus, Eumenides, 417)
- Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians §3
- Ancient Greece:Athens
- (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, XIII.590)
- The Constitutional Antiquities of Sparta and Athens by Gustav Gilbert
- Pantologia by John Mason Good, Olinthus Gregory, Newton Bosworth. p. 565
- The London Encyclopaedia, Volume 2. Edited by Thomas Curtis. p. 647
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- Acts 17:16-34 – A Biblical account of St. Paul discussing with the Areopagus the nature of the Christian God. Also referred to is the story concerning the altar to "The Unknown God."
- Athens Photo Guide