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PHYLOBASILEIS (φυλοβασιλεῖς). The origin and functions of the Athenian officials called “tribe-kings” are involved in great [p. 2.389]obscurity. Unfortunately the data are exceedingly scanty; all that we know about the office being drawn from the four or five meagre references here given. Our oldest notice is that contained in Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 19), who quotes the words of the Thirteenth Axon of Solon, ἐπιτίμους εἶναι πλὴν ὅσοι ἐξ Ἀρείου Πάγου ὅσοι ἐκ τῶν Ἐφετῶν ἐκ Πρυτανείου καταδικασθέντες ὑπὸ τῶν βασιλέων ἐπὶ φόνῳ ἐπὶ σφαγαῖσιν ἐπὶ τυραννίδι ἔφυγον. Next comes the ψήφισμα of Patrocleides, quoted by Andocides (de Myst. § 11), the wording of which is evidently framed after the Solonian law, ἐξ Ἀρείου Πάγου τῶν Ἐφετῶν ἐκ Πρυτανείου Δελφινίου ἐδικάσθη ὑπὸ τῶν βασιλέων, ἐπὶ φόνῳ τίς ἐστι φυγή, θάνατος κατεγνώσθη, σφαγεῦσιν τυράννοις. There can be no doubt that the βασιλεῖς mentioned in these two passages cannot refer to the Archon Basileus; for in the same passage Plutarch calls them by the name πρύτανεις: and in the decree of Patrocleides, when reference is made to the ἄρχων βασιλεύς, he is called in the singular βασιλεύς. That these βασιλεῖς are the same functionaries as the φυλοβασιλεῖς will be made clear by Pollux, 8.111, οἱ δὲ φυλοβασιλεῖς, ἐξ εὐπατριδῶν ὄντες, μάλιστα τῶν ἱερῶν ἐπεμελοῦντο, συνεδρεύοντες ἐν τῷ βασιλείῳ τῷ παρὰ τὸ βουκολεῖον: and further (8.120), τὸ ἐπὶ Πρυτανείῳ δικάζει περὶ τῶν ἀποκτεινάντων, κἂν ὦσιν ἀφανεῖς, καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀψύχων τῶν ἐμπεσόντων καὶ ἀποκτεινάντων. προειστήκεσαν δὲ τούτου τοῦ δικαστηρίου φυλοβασιλεῖς, οὓς ἔδει τὸ ἐμπεσὸν ἄψυχον ὑπερορίσαι. Finally, Hesychius says, φυλοβασιλεῖς: ἐκ τῶν φυλῶν αἱρετοί, οἱ τὰς θυσίας ἐπιτελοῦντες.

The connexion between the βασιλεῖς of Solon and the φυλοβασιλεῖς of Pollux is proved by the connexion of the βασιλεῖς in the one case, and that of the φυλοβασιλεῖς in the other, with the Prytaneion. We have no information as regards their number; but as they existed before the time of Cleisthenes and were elected from the tribes, and as the name itself implies that there was only one for each tribe, it is not unreasonable to infer that they were four in number. As regards their functions, we may gather something from the lex of Solon and the decree of Patrocleides. In the former three distinct tribunals are mentioned--Areopagus, Ephetae, and Basileis; and also three distinct crimes--murder, manslaughter, and aiming at sovereignty. As the Areopagus tried murder cases, and the Ephetae (in the courts called Delphinion and Palladion) cases of manslaughter, it would seem that the crime which specially fell under the jurisdiction of the βασιλεὺς was that of attempting to become a despot. The same three tribunals and the same three crimes are mentioned in the same order in the decree of Patrocleides. Solon had left to the Ephetae the duty of sitting as judges in certain ancient courts,--the Delphinion, the Palladion, the Court at Phreatto, and the Prytaneion. In the Prytaneion the Ephetae solemnly tried inanimate objects which had taken a human life, and over the Ephetae in this court the Phylobasileis presided; and if the object was found guilty, it was their duty to convey the polluted object beyond the frontier. This, of course, was much more a religious than a legal function. Similarly, too, they acted as assessors to the Archon Basileus, sitting along with him in the Basileion. Now, as the Archon Basileus dealt with all cases of blood-guiltiness, whether murder or homicide, it is evident that the functions of his assessors would be priestly rather than judicial. The fact that the Phylobasileis were Eupatrids is of importance, when we recollect that in cases of death by violence members of certain Eupatrid families were consulted as ἐξηγηταί (cf. Plato, Euthyphro, p. 4, D). From the priestly nature of their functions it was natural that they were left untouched, both by the reforms of Solon and of Cleisthenes. Whether their number was increased to ten by Cleisthenes when he made his ten new tribes, we cannot now tell. Hesychius seems to refer merely to their office of offering sacrifices on behalf of their tribes. That such sacrifices were offered on behalf of the tribe (just as they were offered for the phratry and genos) is very probable. With reference to their origin we may suggest that just as the Archon Basileus [cf. REX SACRORUM] represented the religious functions of the ancient king of united Attica, so these “tribe-kings” represented the priestly functions of the ancient chieftains of the several separate tribes which were ultimately fused into a single community. In Homer the title βασιλεὺς seems given to the chief of a tribe or clan; so, for instance, Antinous and Eurymachus and other suitors are called βασιλῆες (Od. 1.394). Many traces of these ancient chieftains can be found elsewhere in Greece as well as in Athens. For example, at Elis, there were magistrates called βασιλᾶες (I. G. A. 112), who had plainly judicial functions. So also at Cyme there was a body called βασιλεῖς under the aesymnetes with judicial functions. Similar bodies likewise existed in the islands of Mitylene and Siphnos, but as regards their numbers we have no information.


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.394
    • Plutarch, Solon, 19
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