In ancient Greece, title of the chief magistrate in several city-states.
In Athens there were originally three archons: the archon basilieus, or king archon, the eponymous archon, and the polemarch. Their numbers were increased to nine in 683 BC: the extra six thesmothetae keeping a record of judgements. The king archon was the elected king and religious representative of the state; the eponymous archon, by whose personal name the administrative year was known in Athens, was the head of state and supreme judge; the polemarch was in charge of state security and commanded the army.
The emergence of the archons coincided with the decay of absolute and comprehensive power once belonging to the king.
At first the office was held for life, but this was reduced to a term of ten years from 752 BC until some time before 683 BC when the appointments became annual. Before 487 BC the archons were elected, but thereafter they were chosen at first partially and then wholly by lot. This measure greatly reduced the political importance of the office.
Under the rules of the legislator Solon, archons had to be chosen from among the members of the highest or two highest property classes. After 457 BC the third class of zeugitai (the hoplite class) became eligible, and in the 4th century even thetes (poorest class of free men) held the office.
Ex-archons automatically became life members of the Council of the Areopagus. A full account of their election and duties may be found in Aristotle's Athenian Constitution, 55-59; 63-66.
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