Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
ARCHONS. The archons were the principal magistrates of Athens. Their institution goes back to the eleventh century before Christ. After the death of Codrus (1045) the Athenian aristocracy, the eupatrides, like the patres in Rome at a later period, abolished royalty and replaced a hereditary king by an elective magistrate, the archon, elected for life, invested with the royal authority but responsible to his electors and chosen from a limited number of families. So long as the Doric and aristocratic elements were preponderant in Attica, the archonship retained its original character. But it was modified according as the constitution inclined to democracy, and the different reorganizations which it under went are a faithful picture of the revolutions, more and more democratic in character, of the Athenian people. After 714 (or 752) the archonship, instead of being a sort of royalty for life, was limited to ten years. Thenceforth open to all noble families, it ceased to be the exclusive appanage of an oligarchy. In 683 it received its almost final organization. Executive and judicial power, concentrated until then in a single hand, was divided among nine archons, elected for a year. Each of these had his special powers. The first, the archon eponymous, gave his name to the year, represented the state, maintained the social hierarchy, was judge of questions of civil status, and acted as the official representative of widows and orphans. The second the king archon, inherited the religious functions of ancient royalty. He looked after the ceremonies of religion, presided at the Areopagus, and had jurisdiction in criminal cases as well as in cases of sacrilege. The third, the archon polemarch, organized and commanded the army and decided disputes between citizens and strangers. All other judicial affairs were reserved to the last six archons named thesmothetæ.
—The reforms of Solon while respecting this organization did away with its sovereignty. While the archonship was rendered accessible to all citizens of the first four classes established in the state by Solon according to their fortunes, its judicial power ceased to be absolute. The archons were obliged on leaving office to render an account of their administration before the general assembly of the people, to which, from that time the real sovereignty belonged. The archon eponymous had within his jurisdiction only questions of status and inheritance. The creation of ten strateges elected annually took from the archon polemarch nearly all his military authority, and by the extension of power given the heliasts, the six archons thesmothetæ were transformed into simple examining magistrates. Aristides by a law opened the archonship to all classes of citizens. Shortly after, Pericles and Ephialtes substituted drawing by lot for election. The candidates were not admitted until after an examination, and a decision by the assembly of the people. Once in office, they continued under the supervision of the nomophylactes, new magistrates charged with maintaining the law, and who might veto every act of their administration. To sum up, their judicial power was limited to the repression of the simplest misdemeanors punishable with a small fine.
—Thus deprived of all their authority in favor of the people, the archons, like the consuls at Rome, survived all the governments which followed one another in Greece and their name is found in an edict of Galien in the third century of the Christian era.
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