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Datis fighting the polemarch of Athens Kallimachos at the Battle of Marathon, in the Stoa Poikile (reconstitution).
Datis fighting the polemarch of Athens Kallimachos at the Battle of Marathon, in the Stoa Poikile (reconstitution).

A polemarch (/ˈpɔːləˌmɑːrk/, from Ancient Greek: πολέμαρχος, polemarchos) was a senior military title in various ancient Greek city states (poleis). The title is derived from the words polemos (war) and archon (ruler, leader) and translates as "warleader" or "warlord". The name indicates that the polemarch's original function was to command the army; presumably the office was created to take over this function from the king. Eventually military command was transferred to the strategoi (στρατηγοί), but the date and stages of the transfer are not clear.

In Modern Greek, polemarchos means warlord.

Ancient Greece


In Athens, the polemarchos was one of nine annually appointed archontes (ἄρχοντες) and functioned as the commander of the military, though to what extent is debated among historians.[1]

At the Battle of Marathon Herodotus described the vote of the polemarchos, Callimachus, as the deciding factor during debate over engagement in battle; it is disputed whether this vote implies that the position of polemarchos was an equal to the strategoi or that of a commander-in-chief.[2][3][4] The polemarchos' military responsibilities continued until 487 BC, when a new procedure was adopted and magistrates were then appointed by lot.[5][6] Following this reform, the military duties were handled by the strategoi. By the mid-5th Century BC, the polemarchos' role was reduced to ceremonial and judicial functions, and primarily presided over preliminary trials involving metics' family, inheritance, and status cases.[1] After the preliminary stage the cases would either continue under the judgement of the polemarchos, or be remitted to tribal or municipal judges.[7][8] It is likely that at an earlier period, his responsibilities for cases involving aliens were more extensive.[citation needed] The polemarchos also conducted certain religious sacrificial offerings and arranged the funeral ceremonies for men killed in war.[7][9]


In the new structure of the Spartan Army, introduced sometime during the Peloponnesian War, a polemarchos was the commander of a mora of 576 men, one of six in the Spartan army on campaign.[10][11] On occasion however they were appointed to head armies. The six Spartan polemarchoi seem to have been on equal power to kings at expeditions outside Laconia and were usually descendants of the royal houses.[citation needed] They were part of the royal army council and the royal escort (δαμοσία) and were supported or represented by officers (συμφορεῖς). The polemarchoi were also responsible for public meals, since, by the laws of Lycurgus, the Lacedaemonians would eat and fight in the same group.[12] Next to their military and connected responsibilities, the polemarchoi were responsible for some civil and juridical tasks (not unlike the archōn polemarchos in Athens).


In the early 4th century BC several Boeotian poleis instituted the position of polemarchos, though there was no unified policy. Of the surviving accounts, Plutarch and Xenophon describe three polemarchoi as executive officials of Thebes during this period.[13]

Other uses

In modern use, the Greek Letter fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi titles their fraternity leaders as Polemarchs.[14]

Fictional use

This position was featured in Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game. In the novel, the position of polemarch was charged with the supreme command of humanity's space fleets, the International Fleet. The Polemarch, along with the positions of Strategos and Hegemon, was one of the three most powerful people alive.

This title was also given to the DC Comics character Artemis of Bana-Mighdall, an Amazon in the Wonder Woman comic books. For a period Artemis served as Paradise Island's co-ruler alongside fellow Amazon Philippus. Whereas Philippus oversaw the day-to-day rule of the island, Artemis oversaw its military aspects.[15]

The title was used to signify soldiers who commanded fortifications and other camps in the 2018 Ubisoft video game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. They were the strongest regular enemies in the game and killing them would lower the ‘nation power’ of a particular state in Greece substantially.

See also

  • Navarch – Greek word meaning "leader of the ships"


  1. ^ a b Spence, Iain (2002-05-07). Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Warfare. Scarecrow Press. p. 281. ISBN 9780810866126.
  2. ^ Godley, A.D. "Herodotus, The Histories". Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  3. ^ E.Badian, Antichthon, 1971, 1-34
  4. ^ N. G. L. Hammond, Studies in Greek History, (1973), 346-364
  5. ^ Gilbert, Gustav (1895). The Constitutional Antiquities of Sparta and Athens. S. Sonnenschein & Company. p. 153.
  6. ^ Hamel, Debra (1998). Athenian Generals: Military Authority in the Classical Period. BRILL. pp. 79, 80. ISBN 9004109005.
  7. ^ a b Aristotle (1892). Aristotle on the Constitution of Athens. Macmillan. p. 115.
  8. ^ Harrison, Alick Robin Walsham (1998). The Law of Athens. Hackett Publishing. pp. 9–11. ISBN 087220412X.
  9. ^ D. M. MacDowell, The Law in Classical Athens, (1978), 221-4
  10. ^ Anderson, John Kinloch (1970). Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon. University of California Press. pp. 225–226. ISBN 9780520015647.
  11. ^ Kennell, Nigel M. (2010). Spartans: A New History. John Wiley & Sons. p. 151. ISBN 9781405129992.
  12. ^ Moore, John Michael (1975). Aristotle and Xenophon on Democracy and Oligarchy. University of California Press. pp. 81. ISBN 9780520029095. lycurgus eat and fight in same group.
  13. ^ Buckler, John; Beck, Hans (2008-04-24). Central Greece and the Politics of Power in the Fourth Century BC. Cambridge University Press. pp. 88–90. ISBN 9780521837057.
  14. ^ "A Brief History - Kappa Alpha Psi® Fraternity, Inc". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  15. ^ Wonder Woman (vol. 2) #208
This page was last edited on 13 July 2020, at 16:36
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