This term refers both to the “Hill of Ares” located northwest of the Acropolis in Athens and to the Council that met on the hill until the fourth century CE. During the seventh century BCE, the Council probably watched over the laws of the city; in 462/461 BCE, the Areopagus lost its guardianship of the laws. According to the author of the Athenian Constitution, it retained the power to hear cases of deliberate wounding, homicide, poisoning that resulted in death, arson, and digging up or cutting down of the sacred olive trees of Athena. During the late fourth century BCE, the Council investigated allegations of treasonable offenses.
The judicial functions of the Council were extended during the Roman imperial period. In Acts 17.16–21, Paul is reported to have been brought to the Hill of Ares by some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers because he was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection; there he delivered his speech about the altar of the unknown god (17.22–32). The scene of Paul on the Areopagus constructed by the author of Acts does not reflect an official judicial procedure or inquiry. Rather, the author of Acts has created an idealized scene of Athenian life, based upon stock motifs of Athenian topography, culture, and history, intended especially to recall the trial of Socrates. In this scene, Paul has been cast as a latter‐day Socrates who discloses the true identity and plans of the unknown god to the listening gentiles.