ARCHON (ARCHONTES or ARCHONTEIA):
The title of a member of the governing body in the independent Jewish communities throughout the Roman empire, as in Alexandria, Antioch, Berenice in Cyrenaica, Rome, Tlos in Lycia, and other cities. In Alexandria, where Emperor Augustus established a Gerusia (Philo, "In Flaccum," § 10; compare Josephus, "Ant." xix. 5, § 2; Schürer, "Gesch." 3d ed., iii. 41) instead of a single Ethnarch for the Jews, the archons constituted the gerusia (Philo, l.c.), as is especially evident from the construction of the sentence τοὺς ἄρχοντας, τὴν γερου σίαν, οϊ καὶ γέρως καὶ τιμῆς εἰσίν ἐπώνυμοι (see Alexandria for the contrary view, see Schürer, l.c.). At the end of the first century of the common era, nine archons were at the head of the community in Berenice in North Africa; in Alexandria, more than thirty-eight; while in Rome there were several communities each with its Archon, as appears from their epitaphs. At Rome, the archons were chosen in the month of Tishri, about the Jewish New-Year; in Berenice, probably during the Feast of Tabernacles. Besides those elected for a term, there were archons for life. The mere title was sometimes bestowed on women and children.
It may be generally accepted that the functions of the Archon were the same as those that Strabo ascribes to the Alexandrian ethnarchs (Strabo, quoted by Josephus in "Ant." xiv. 7, § 2), and those delegated to the gerusia under Augustus: "He governs the nation, metes out justice to them, and takes care of their contracts and of the laws belonging to them." The archons conducted political affairs; while religious matters were managed by the heads of the synagogue, who, at the same time, might be archons. Yet the gerusia probably met at the synagogue, the court of which was the place for public distinctions adjudged by the gerusia (compare Philo, "Legatio ad Cajum," § 20). These archons must be distinguished from those of cities in Palestine organized on the Greek plan; as at Tiberias, for instance, where the Archon was the head of a Boulé Consisting of 600 members (Josephus, "Vita," §§ 27, 53, 54, 57; idem, "B. J." ii. 21, § 3).
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 38-52.