Archon (Gr. αρχων, pl. αρχοντες) is a Greek word that means "ruler" or the like, though it is frequently encountered as the title of some specific public office. In form the word is simply the masculine participle of the verb stem αρχο-, derived from the same root that appears in words such as monarch and hierarchy.
In the early literary period of ancient Greece the chief magistrates of various Greek city states were called Archons. The term was also used throughout Greek history in a more general sense, ranging from "club leader" to "Roman governor" to "Satan" (as the ruler of the Cosmos).
In Athens a system of three concurrent Archons evolved, the three office holders being known as the Archon Eponymous, the Polemarch, and the Archon Basileus. Originally these offices were filled from the aristocracy by elections every ten years. During this period Archon Eponymous was the chief magistrate, the Polemarch was the head of the armed forces, and the Archon Basileus was responsible for the civic religious arrangements. After 683 BCE the offices were held for only a single year, and the year was named after the Archon Eponymous. (Many ancient calendar systems did not number their years consecutively as we do.) After 487 BCE the archonships were assigned by lot to any citizen and the Polemarch's military duties were taken over by a new class of generals known as strategoi. The Polemarch thereafter had only minor religious duties. The Archon Eponymous remained the titular head of state even under the democracy, though of much reduced political importance. After 457 BCE ex-archons were automatically enrolled as life members of the Areopagus, though that assembly was no longer extremely important politically at that time. (See Archons of Athens.)
Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
From time to time, laity of the Orthodox Church in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople have been granted the title of Archon to honor their service to Church administration. In 1966, Archons were organized into a service society dedicated to Saint Andrew. This Archon status is not part of the Church hierarchy and is purely honorary.
In late antiquity some variants of Gnosticism used the term Archon to refer to several servants of the Demiurge, the "creator god" that stood between the human race and a transcendent God that could only be reached through gnosis. In this context they have the role of the angels and demons of the Old Testament. The most well-known Archon is probably Abraxas.
The term now appears fairly frequently as the title of rulers in English language stories, shows, and games of the science fiction and fantasy genres. (The Invisibles, for example.) It is also a common title in collegiate fraternity and sorority organizations.
Last updated: 09-02-2005 16:52:30