(Εθνάρχης) refers generally to political leadership over a common ethnic group or heterogeneous kingdom. The word is derived from the Greek
words for "nation" and "leader" ("έθνος
" and "άρχων
The generic title (not a formal style) of ethnarch was used in the Roman
East to refer to rulers of vassal kingdoms who did not rise to the level of kings
. The Romans used the terms natio
for a people as a genetic and cultural entity, regardless of political statehood.
The best-known is probably Herod Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, who was ethnarch of the chief part, Samaria, Judea and Idumea, from the death of his father in 4 BC to AD 6. His brother Philip received the north-east of the realm and was styled Tetrarch (circa 'ruler of a quarter'); and Galilee was given to Herod Antipas, who bore the same title, so Archelaus' title singled him out as the senior ruler, higher in rank than the tetrarchs, so the chief of the Jewish nation; these three sovereignties were reunited under Herod Agrippa from A.D. 41 to 44.
Previously, Hyrcanus II, one of the later Hasmonean rulers of Judea, had also held the title of Ethnarch, as well as that of High Priest.
was the military title of a commander of foreign troops that were serving the Greek
Emperor; recruiting mercenaries by nationality was not uncommon in Classical Antiquity, nor in the feudal age.
Rather different was the case of minority community ethnarchs, especially within the Islamic Ottoman Empire
(political successor to Byzantium
) that were recognized as legitimate entities (millet
) and thus allowed to be heard by the government through an officially acknowledged representative, though without political persona.
When the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II decided to give such dialogue a more formal nature, the logical choice for the major Christian communities was the (Greek Orthodox) Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
For the far smaller, but also influential Jewish diaspora, a similar position was granted to the Hakham Bashi, i.e. Chief rabbi.
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