Anax is an ancient Greek word for "king". It is one of the two Greek titles traditionally translated this way, the other being basileus, which also translates as sovereign. Anax can be interpreted more accurately as "high king".

The word anax derives from the stem wanakt-' (ϜΑΝΑΞ, ϜΑΝΑΚΤΟΣ), and appears in the Mycenaean language, written in Linear B script as wa-na-ka (). The digamma was pronounced /w/ and was dropped very early by eastern Greek dialects (e.g. Ionian).

The word Anax in the Iliad refers to Agamemnon (ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν, i.e. "Commander-in-Chief") and Priam, kings who exercise overlordship over other kings. This possible hierarchy of one "anax" exercising power over several local "basileis" probably hints to a proto-feudal political organization of Bronze Age Greece. The Linear B word wanakteros (wa-na-ka-te-ro), meaning "royal", and the Greek word anaktoron (ἀνάκτορον), meaning "palace", are derived from wanax. Anax is also a ceremonial epithet of the God Zeus ("Zeus Anax") in his capacity as overlord of the Universe, including the rest of the Gods. The meaning of "king" of basileus in Classical Greece is due to a shift in terminology that took place during the Greek Dark Ages. In Mycenaean times, a gwasileus appears to be a lower-ranking official, while in Homer, Anax is already an archaic title, used for legendary heroes and gods rather than for contemporary kings.

The Greek title has been compared to Sanskrit , a word for "merchant", but in the Rigveda once used as a title of Indra. The word could then be from PIE *, roughly "bringer of spoils" (compare the etymology of lord, "giver of bread"; compare also the Vanir).

In Modern Usage

In modern Greek the term is still in use in the description of the royal palace i.e. anactora meaning "The mansion of anax".

Further reading

  • Palaima, Thomas G. (1995). The Role of the Ruler in the Prehistoric Aegean. Liège: Univ., Histoire de l'Art et Archéologie de la Grèce Antique.

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