The hill of Mars, the seat of the ancient and venerable supreme court of Athens, called the Areopagites, Ac 17:19-34. It was composed entirely of ex-archons, of grave and blameless character, and their wise and just decisions made it famous far beyond the bounds of Greece. Their numbers and authority varied greatly from age to age. They held their sessions by night. They took cognizance of murders, impieties, and immoralities; punished vices of all kinds, idleness included; rewarded or assisted the virtuous; and were peculiarly attentive to blasphemies against the gods, and to the performance of the sacred mysteries. The case of Paul, therefore, would naturally come before them, for he sought to subvert their whole system of idolatry, and establish Christianity in its place. The Bible narrative, however, rather describes an informal popular movement. Having heard Paul discoursing from day to day in the market place, the philosophic and inquisitive Athenians took him one day up into the adjacent hill, for a more full and quiet exposition of his doctrine. The stone seats of the Areopagus lay open to the sky; in the court stood Epicureans, Stoics, etc.; around them spread the city, full of idolaters and their temples; and little south-east rose the steep height of the Acropolis, on whose level summit were crowded more and richer idolatrous structures than on any other equal space in the world. Amid this scene, Paul exhibited the sin and folly of idol-worship with such boldness and power, that none could refute him, and some were converted.
the Latin form of the Greek word rendered "Mars' hill." But it denotes also the council or court of justice which met in the open air on the hill. It was a rocky height to the west of the Acropolis at Athens, on the south-east summit of which the council was held which was constituted by Solon, and consisted of nine archons or chief magistrates who were then in office, and the ex-archons of blameless life.
On this hill of Mars (Gr. Ares) Paul delivered his memorable address to the "men of Athens" (Ac 17:22-31).
Illustration: Mars' Hill
("Mars' Hill".) A rocky eminence in Athens, separated from the W. of the Acropolis by a raised valley, above which it rises sixty feet. Mythology made it the scene of the god Mars' trim before the gods, at Poseidon's accusation, for murdering the son of the latter, Halirrhotius. The most venerable of all the Athenian courts, consisting of all exarchons of blameless life. It was the Upper Council, to distinguish it from the five hundred, who met in the valley below. It met on the S.E. top of the rock. Sixteen stone steps in the rock still exist, leading from below to Mars' hill, and directly above is a bench of stones cut in the rock facing S., and forming three sides of a quadrangle. Here the judges sat, in criminal and religious cases, in the open air.
The accuser and accused had two rude blocks, still to be seen, one on the E., the other on the W. side, assigned them. Paul, "daily disputing" in the market (agora), which lay between the Areopagus, the Acropolis, the Pnyx (the place of political assemblies), and the Museum, attracted the notice of "certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics." They brought him up from below, probably by the steps already described, and, seated on the benches, heard from him the memorable address, so happily adapted in its uncompromising faithfulness, as well as scholarlike allusions, to the learned auditory, recorded in Acts 17. Paul's intense earnestness strikingly contrasts with their frivolous dilettantism.
With the temple of Mars near, the Parthenon of Minerva facing him, and the sanctuary of the Eumenides just below him, the beautiful temple of Theseus, the national hero (still remaining) in view, what divine power he needed to nerve him to declare, "God that made the world ... dwelleth not in temples made with hands"; and again in the midst of the exquisitely chiseled statues in front, crowning the Acropolis, Minerva in bronze as the armed champion of Athens, and on every side a succession of lesser images, to reason, "Forasmuch as we are the offspring of God" (which he confirms by quoting his fellow countryman Aratus' poem, 'We are His offspring'), we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art or man's device."
Yet he does not begin by attacking their national worship, but draws them gently away from their ignorant worship of the Deity under many idols to the one true God, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." In opposition to the Greek boast of a distinct origin from that of the barbarians; he says, "God hath made of one blood all nations to dwell on all the face of the earth"; and ends with announcing the coming judgment by the Lord Jesus.
This is a compound name, which means 'Hill of Ares,' that is, Hill sacred to (or connected with) Ares, the Greek god of war, who corresponded to the Latin Mars. The hill referred to is a bare, shapeless mass of rock in Athens, about 380 feet high. It is due west of the Acropolis, and separated from it only by a ridge. From the earliest times known to us this hill was associated with murder trials, and a court known as the 'Council from the Areopagus' met on or near it to try such cases. In the account in Acts (Ac 17:19,22) it is not the hill, but the 'Council' itself that is referred to, the name of the hill being often used for the Council which met there. In Roman times the Council had power to appoint lecturers at Athens, and St. Paul appears before them to have his aptitude tested. The proceedings were audible to the surrounding crowd. St. Paul's claim was rejected, and only one member of the Council, Dionysius 'the Areopagite' (Ac 17:34), was convinced by his teaching.
See Mars Hill
AREOPAGUS, the high court at Athens, famed for the justice of its decisions; and so called, because it sat on a hill of the same name, or in the suburbs of the city, dedicated to Mars, the god of war, as the city was to Minerva, his sister. St. Paul, Ac 17:19, &c, having preached at Athens, was carried before the Areopagites, as "a setter forth of strange gods." On this occasion he delivered that fine sermon which is in substance recorded in Acts 17. Dionysius, one of the judges, was converted; and the Apostle was dismissed without any farther trouble.