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Greek: Areios Pagos; literally, Ares' Rock. Low hill in central Athens to the north-west of the Acropolis, peak elevation 113m/370ft. In antiquity, site of a temple to the god Ares.

According to the most common account the hill was named the Areopagus for being the site of the first, fictional or not, recorded murder trial where the god Ares stood accused of the revenge killing of Halirrhothius, son of Poseidon, for the attempted rape of his daughter Alcippe or her mother Aglaurus (the person varies in different versions of the myth, though the former is more frequently mentioned as the victim) which had happened on the same spot. Ares was acquitted in the first verdict of justifiable homicide. Another legend records the hill as the site where the warlike Amazons sacrificed to Ares during their raids on Athens.

Again in mythology, as related in Aeschylus' play Eumenides and in another tale of revenge killing, Orestes takes refuge from the Furies in Athens and, following the testimony of the god Apollo, is acquitted of his mother Clytemnestra's murder in a trial on the Areopagus, with Athena casting the swing vote. The goddess subsequently declares it a site of justice and the court which convenes there is given sole jurisdiction over murder cases whereas other unnatural deaths fell under the jurisdiction of other courts.

The hill was a public meeting place from very early on in Athenian history and the place where the decision was made to grant Athena and not Poseidon the patronage of the city. The Rock of Ares gave its name to the administrative and judicial body which convened there and became an important institution of ancient Athens with broad discretion over justice, education and public morality under Solon's constitution.


  • ca 900-700BCE: The Areopagus, originally an advisory council to the king made up of former leaders and lawmakers, evolves into a de facto oligarchy.
  • 632 BCE: With the abolition of the monarchy, the Areopagus becomes the sole governing body.
  • 621 BCE: Dracon's code reduces the Areopagus' capacity of arbitrary rule by literally setting the law in stone.
  • 594 BCE: The legislator Solon makes the Areopagus the foremost court of Athens but delegates much of its executive power to other bodies.
  • 462 BCE: Ephialtes' and Pericles' reforms strip the Areopagus of most of its political power.
  • 300 BCE: Agnodike of Athens becomes the first licenced female medical practitioner, after demonstrations by women in her support sway the court in a scene probably reminiscent of civil rights movements in more recent times.
  • 51 CE: St. Paul expounds his religious views to the Athenians on the Areopagus and is met largely with indifference but gains a convert in Dionysius, first bishop of Athens. (Acts 17:16-34)

The modern day function and significance of the hill is practically nil, though the supreme civil and criminal court of modern Greece is still known as the Areopagus.

Ar`e*op"a*gus, n. [L., fr. Gr. , and , hill of Ares (Mars' Hill).]

The highest judicial court at Athens. Its sessions were held on Mars' Hill. Hence, any high court or tribunal


© Webster 1913.

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