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POLEMARCHUS (πολέμαρχος). There is probably no official title which was more widely diffused in Greece than that of Polemarchus. It is known at Athens as the name of the third archon [ARCHON], among the Dorians of Sparta, the Aeolian peoples of Thessaly and Boeotia, in Aetolia, Arcadia, and Euboea. It does not appear to have existed (at least, we have no evidence as yet) in any of the cities of Magna Graecia on the one hand, or in those of Asia Minor on the other; in other words, the title does not seem to have struck root in colonies. As its name implies, it originally meant a leader in war (cf. πολέμαρχος Ἀχαιῶν Aesch. Cho. 1072); and, as we shall see, probably was an offshoot of the office of the king in his capacity of commander-in-chief of the forces of the state. Everywhere alike we see its original military character continuing to attach itself to the office, for we find the polemarchs either holding actual commands in war, or superintending the military organisation and defence of the state in time of peace. As the polemarch at Athens was the survival of the military side of the ancient kingly office, so we find at Sparta the polemarchs playing an important part in its organisation. When we first hear of them, they appear as forming the immediate military staff of the king. They have no particular body of men under them; for the λόχος is under its λοχαγός. But in cases where a force took the field, of which the king in person did not hold the command, one of the polemarchs was appointed to lead it in his place. Thus the Spartan force sent to Tempe before the advance of Xerxes was commanded by Evaenetus, one of the polemarchs (ἐστρατήγει δὲ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων Εὐαίνετος Καρήνου, ἐκ τῶν πολεμάρχων ἀραιρημένος, γένεος μέντοι ἐὼν οὐ τοῦ βασιληΐου, Hdt. 7.173). From this passage we may likewise infer that it was not usual to appoint any of the polemarchs to such a command unless they were of the blood royal, and at the same time that, whilst the polemarchs were usually members of the kingly house, they were not necessarily so. It was natural that, when the duties of the kings as commanders-in-chief increased, they would find it necessary to have lieutenants or adjutants to aid in organising the forces, and for such important duties they would naturally employ persons connected with themselves by the close tie of clanship. The polemarchs continued in this position until the reorganisation of the Spartan army into six morae in 404 B.C. Thus Thucydides (5.66), when describing the organisation of the Spartan army when in the field, says that the supreme command was vested in the kino if he was with the troops; the king gave the necessary orders to the polemarchs, and they in turn gave them to the lochagi. Thus they evidently came next to the king, and were superior to the lochagi, over whom they were placed to command lochi on important occasions. Thus, at the battle of Mantinea (418 B.C.), we find two polemarchs in command of two lochi, doubtless detailed by king Agis for this special occasion (Thuc. 5.71). From this occasional supersession of the λοχαγοὶ by the polemarchs, the change to the new organisation (in 404 B.C.) is the natural step, when the polemarchs are now made the regular commanders of the new morae (six in number), each mora containing two lochi under lochagi. Thus we find the polemarch Praxitas with his mora garrisoning Sicyon (Xen. Hell. 4.4, 7). Xenophon (Resp. Lac. 12, 6) speaks of a πρῶτος πολέμαρχος, who may possibly be the same officer whom he calls (op. cit. 13, 7) πρεσβύτατος τῶν περὶ δαμοσίαν. That they formed part of the damosia, or king's body-guard, we may perhaps infer from Xen. Hell. 6.4, 14.

The polemarch was assisted by officers called συμφορεῖς (Xen. l.c.) When not in active service, the polemarchs had to superintend the Phiditia or public messes at home. We infer from Xenophon (Resp. Lac. 13, 6) that they were six in number under the organisation which existed in his time, as there was one for each mora. As the Spartans of the same lochi messed together, we may infer that the polemarch exercised a general control over the commissariat of the men who formed his own mora. In the various cities of Boeotia the office of polemarch was universal. There were usually three in number, though in some cases two only appear. For instance, at Thebes, at the time when Phoebidas the Spartan general got possession of the Cadmeia (482 B.C.) by the aid of Leontiades, one of the polemarchs, Xenophon speaks as if there were only two (πολεμαρχοῦντες μὲν ἐτύγχανον Ἰσμηνίας τε καὶ Λεοντιάδης, διάφοροι δὲ ἀλλήλοις καὶ ἀρχηγὸς ἑκάτερος τῶν ἑπαιριῶν, Hell. 5.2, 25).

We can infer from Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 5.4, 30) that the polemarchs had the control of the military organisation, having under them the λοχαγοί, who commanded the λόχοι, into which, as we know from Thucydides (iv, 91), the army was divided. The πολέμαρχος had a secretary (γραμματεύς, γραμματίδδων, Xen. Hell. 5.4, 2; Plut. Pel. 7; Larfeld, ινσξριπτ. 169). At Thebes the polemarchs had the power of arresting any one who had done an act worthy of death (Xen. Hell. 5.2, 30). We know of the existence of πολέμαρχοι at Thespiae from Plutarch (Plut. Demetr. 39), and from an inscription (Bullet. 8.413). At Acraephium there were three πολεμαρχίοντες and their γραμματίδδων (Larfeld, 184), and a similar board at Hyettus (Id. 144); at Copae (Id. 170), where there were only two in number; at Orchomenus (Id. 13, 17, 18, 21, 22); aid at Chaeronea (Mittheil. 8.355). They seemed to have had certain financial duties at Orchomenus, and to have presided in the popular assembly. They commanded the contingents from their several towns, being under the control of the boeotarchs, who were the highest officers of the League. [p. 2.442]

There were also polemarchs at Aegisthena and Megara, at the latter place probably representing the στραταγοὶ of an earlier date. We likewise find three πολέμαρχοι at Eretria in Euboea (C. I. G. 2144). In Thessaly the League (τὸ κοινὸν τῶν Θετταλῶν) consisted of four ancient divisions called τετράδες. Each τετρὰς had its polemarch, who with the πέζαρχοι under him commanded the contingent of infantry which his τετρὰς contributed to the army of the League. We may infer the existence of the office of polemarch (or polemarchs) at Phlius from the existence in that city of a πολεμάρχειος στοά (Müller, Fragm. H. G. 3.133). The office also existed at Phigalia (τὸ πολεμάρχειον, Plb. 4.79), at Mantinea (Thuc. 5.47), and at Cynaetha, where their functions were described by Polybius (4.189): κλείειν τὰς πύλας καὶ τὸν μεταξὺ χρόνον κυριεύειν τῶν κλείδων, ποιεῖσθαι δὲ καὶ τὸ καθ̓ ἡμέραν τὴν δίαιταν ἐπὶ τῶν πυλώνων). In the days of the Achaean League there were still πολέμαρχοι at Dyme, whilst there is also evidence for the office at Thuria in Messenia. That there was a polemarch in the island of Paros, we know from inscriptions (C. I. G. 2374, 2379).

Finally, the office seems to have existed both in Ambracia (C. I. G. 1797) and in Aetolia (Plb. 4.79). As in many of these places above specified we find mention likewise of an archon, we may, on the whole, infer that the duties of the polemarchi corresponded very closely to those of the strategi at Athens, and, in fact, we saw that at Megara they were called στραταγοὶ an earlier period.


hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.173
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.47
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.66
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.71
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.4
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.7
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 5.2
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 5.4
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.4
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.79
    • Plutarch, Demetrius, 39
    • Plutarch, Pelopidas, 7
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