archons [key] [Gr.,=leaders], in ancient Athens and other Greek cities, officers of state. Originally in Athens there were three archons: the archon eponymos (so called because the year was named after him), who was the chief officer of the state; the archon basileus, who was primarily connected with sacred rites; and the archon polemarchos (the polemarch, or military commander), who—theoretically, at least—had military leadership. Six more archons, the thesmothetae (thesmothetes), were later added; they were junior officers, generally in charge of the courts. The archons were elected, and after they had served and their records had been approved, they entered the Areopagus. Solon, Hippias, and Themistocles were archons. After 487 b.c. the archons were chosen by lot; the office, which had previously been limited to the two upper classes, was opened to the third class. Thereafter the archontate declined greatly in importance. The lists of eponymous archons kept after the 7th cent. b.c. are a valuable source of history.
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