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ETHNARCH (Gr. ὲθνάρχος), title given to John *Hyrcanus ii and his sons by official decree of Julius Caesar in 47 b.c.e. in addition to the office of high priest (Jos., Ant., 14:192ff.). The meaning of ethnarch – head of the people – excluded the title or the rights of a king, and Josephus comments that whereas "Pompey restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus and permitted him to have the leadership of the nation," he nevertheless "forbade him to wear a diadem" (ibid., 20:244). This distinction is apparent again in the description by Josephus of the appointment of Herod's son Archelaus. Augustus "appointed Archelaus not king indeed, but ethnarch of half of the territory that had been subject to Herod, and promised to reward him with the title of king if he really proved able to act in that capacity" (ibid., 17:317).

The title ethnarch was also used to designate the head of the Jewish community at Alexandria. Strabo, quoted by Josephus (ibid., 14:117), describes the Alexandrian ethnarch as one "who governs the people and adjudicates suits and supervises contracts and ordinances, just as if he were the head of a sovereign state." Philo, however, relates that Augustus replaced that ethnarch with a gerousia or Council of Elders (In Flaccum, 74ff.). Certain scholars have attempted to identify the term Σαραμέλ in i Maccabees 14:28 with ethnarch (see *Asaramel). The term ethnarch was not confined to Jewish rulers. Thus there is mention of an ethnarch at Damascus under the king Aretas (ii Cor. 11:32).


Schuerer, Hist, 107ff.; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 76–78; A. Schalit, Koenig Herodes (1969), 224ff.; Baron, Community, index.

[Isaiah Gafni]