Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
AREOPAGUS. The origin of the Areopagus is of such remote antiquity that the ancients themselves did not know the precise period of its establishment. When Solon, in 595, undertook to give Athens a new constitution, he found in the Areopagus, a court of justice, whose jurisdiction he extended and modified, leaving it the right which it seems to have always possessed of trying the crimes of murder, mayhem, and treason. He made it in addition a kind of conservative senate and a court of appeal. Specially commissioned to oversee the city, the education of children, and the private life of citizens, to moderate luxury, to keep up the obligation to labor, the Areopagus became by degrees a tribunal of judgment on morals, whose power rested chiefly on public opinion. It would be difficult to define nicely what its authority was. Before the assembly of the people it demanded, and often obtained, the revision or repeal of laws, of judgments and even of simple decrees; but it would seem that this was done not by virtue of any recognized right. The creation of ten tribunals of heliasts, withdrew from its jurisdiction the cognizance of the greater part of ordinary crimes, and it is permissible to suppose that the repression of sacrilege and crimes against the state was at last its only prerogative. Like all the Athenian magistracies, the Areopagus was abolished by the democratic reforms of Clisthenes, Ephialtes, and Pericles. Beginning with 459, the censorship of morals which was its principal source of power was taken away from it by Ephialtes, in spite of the protests of the aristocracy. Thenceforth the Areopagus existed as an institution venerated by all but playing no active or useful part in the state.
—The members of the Areopagus (their number was not limited) were chosen from among the ex-archons. They were appointed for life, after a solemn examination. Presided over by the second archon they passed judgment in the night with ceremonies intended to impress the imagination. Their decisions were originally without appeal, but by virtue of a privilege which we find to have existed in Rome also, the accused could escape the sentence hanging over him by voluntary exile.
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