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ALABARCH (Gr. ἁλαβάρχης), title designating office-holders appointed to the fiscal administration in Egypt and other countries in the Roman and Byzantine periods. Since reference is made to the office being held by two wealthy Jewish notables of Alexandria (*Alexander Lysimachus and *Demetrius, the second husband of Princess Mariamne, daughter of Agrippa i, cf. Jos., Ant., 20:147), some historians have identified it as that of the head of the Jewish community (*ethnarch). The title is mentioned, however, in several sources without any Jewish connection.

Many scholars regard this office as identical with the arabarchs (cf. Cicero, Adversus Atticum 2:17; Juvenal, Saturae 1:130), the letters "i" and "r" (λ, ρ) being interchanged through dissimilation. These arabarchs were Roman officials who were responsible for the collection of imposts from incoming and outgoing vessels from the eastern ("Arabian") bank of the Nile; Wilcken (Griechische Ostraka, 1 (1899), 350–1) and Dittenberger quote a document which includes a tariff of the contractors who farmed the harbor dues paid to the arabarchs. Josephus (Apion, 2:64) mentions that the Jews received from Ptolemy (?) the "wardship of the river," and it is therefore possible that Alexander Lysimachus and Demetrius held this office.

According to a less acceptable opinion, the word is a hybrid of the Greek archō and the Semitic root ʿarab (ערב) meaning "to barter" (cf. Ezek. 27:9) and the title therefore designates an official of the mercantile tax administration (V. Burr, Tiberius Julius Alexander, Ger., 1955, 16, n.4, 87 ff.).

The suggestion of Rostovtzeff that the alabarch was responsible for the collection of specific Jewish taxes is untenable, since such taxes were not imposed until the time of Vespasian (69–70 c.e.) and until then, they paid ordinary taxation to the usual tax collectors.

It seems that the alabarch exercised different functions in different localities and periods and there is no definite information as to their precise functions.

The title does not occur in the Talmud but it has been suggested that the variant reading אפרכוס found in some texts to explain the "Avrekh" of Genesis 41:43 (Sifrei Deut. 1:1; Yalkut Shimoni 1:792) is a corruption of "Abarchus = Alabarchus" (see Mid. Tan. to 1:1).


Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19074), 132, no. 42; W. Dittenberger, Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae, 2 (1905), 255f., 258, no. 570, 413–9, no. 674; M. Rostovtzeff, in: Yale Classical Studies, 2 (1931), 49 ff.; Graetz, Gesch, 3 (19053), 631–51; idem, in: mgwj, 25 (1876), 209–24, 308–20; Lesquier, in: Revue Archéologique, 6 (1917), 94 ff.; idem, L'armée romaine d'Egypte (1918), 432 ff.; Baron, Social, 1 (19522), 409–10, no. 16; Tcherikover, Corpus, 1 (1957), 49, n.4.

[Abraham Schalit]