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Areopagus(ărēŏp`əgəs) [Gr.,=hill of Ares], rocky hill, 370 ft (113 m) high, NW of the Acropolis of Athens, famous as the sacred meeting place of the prime council of Athens. This council, also called the Areopagus, represented the ancient council of elders, which usually combined judicial and legislative functions from the beginning. The Areopagus represented in the 5th and 6th cent. B.C. the stronghold of aristocracy. Jurisdiction in murder cases had probably been given to it by Draco; Solon gave it various censorial powers over the officers of the state. The change in the method of choosing the archons in 487 B.C. caused the beginning of the decline of the Areopagus. In 480 B.C. the Areopagus enabled the manning of the fleet for the battle of Salamis, and it recovered much of its influence in the war years. But c.462 B.C. a series of attacks began and eventually the august council was reduced to the status of a court of homicide only, although it maintained its religious character. Pericles was a leader in this democratizing movement; Aeschylus was an opponent, and he brought his trilogy of dramas to a close (in The Eumenides) with an appeal for the preservation of the ancient traditions of the Areopagus.
organ of power in ancient Athens, named after the place where it held its sessions, on the Hill of Ares, near the Acropolis. The Areopagus came into being during the epoch of the tribal-clan system as a council of elders. Its members held office for life, and from the eighth century B.C. it was constituted entirely of former archons, who were nominated and elected by the Areopagus. It possessed broad political, juridical, supervisory, and religious powers. The Areopagus was a bulwark of the aristocracy and later of the oligarchy. Limitation of the Areopagus’ power began with the growth of the Athenian slaveholding democracy. The first attempts at limitation were made by Solon (sixth century B.C.); the reform of Ephialtes (462 B.C.) eliminated the political power and influence of the Areopagus, preserving only its functions as a court for trying certain criminal offenses and religious transgressions.