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The Areopagus, the 'Rock of Ares', north-west of the Acropolis, is the most ancient court of law, a place most respected in ancient times. Here was the seat of the first aristocratic parliament of ancient Athens. Ares was supposed to have been tried here by the gods for the murder of Poseidon's son Alirrothios. In The Eumenides of Aeschylus (458 BC), the Areopagus is the site of the trial of Orestes for killing his mother (Clytemnestra) and her lover (Aegisthus).

In time this parliament started to lose its political power and from the second half of the 5th century BC it had only judicial responsibility and particularly that of trying murderers. It was from this spot, as we learn from the bronze tablet at the base of the rock, that Saint Paul delivered the famous speech, "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." (Acts 17:24)

The origin of its name is not clear. In Greek pagos means big piece of rock. Areios could have come from Ares or from the Erinyes, as on its foot was erected a temple dedicated to the Erinyes where murderers used to find shelter so as not to face the consequences of their actions. Later, the Romans referred to the rocky hill as "Mars Hill," after Mars, the Roman God of War. Near the Areopagus was also constructed the basilica of Dionysius Areopagites.