21694541911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 25 — StrategusJohn Malcolm Mitchell

STRATEGUS (στρατηγός), strictly the Greek word for a general, or officer in command of an army, but frequently the name of a state officer with much wider functions. Such an officer is found in many Greek states, the best known being the Athenian strategus, originally a military official, whose functions gradually developed until, in the latter half of the 5th century B.C., he became the most important magistrate in the state. According to Aristotle's Constitution of Athens iv., the office existed in the time of Draco and the qualification was property to the value of 100 minae (i.e. ten times as high as that for the archonship); but it is certain that until the end of the 6th century the archon (q.v.) was the most important state official. If, as is probable, the chapter in the Constitution is a forgery (see Draco), we may conclude that the Strategia (board of ten generals) was a result of the tribal system of Cleisthenes, and that the college is to be ascribed to the year 501 B.C. Some maintain that Cleisthenes himself created it, but the evidence (Ath. Pol. xxii.) is against this. At all events, as late as the battle of Marathon the head of the army was the Polemarch (see Archon). It follows that the strategus was, until 487 B.C., subordinate to the Polemarch. The tribal unit was represented in the army by the taxis, and each taxis was led by a strategus. After the Persian Wars the command of the taxis passed to officers called taxiarchs, who acted as colonels under the strategi. If Herodotus may be trusted, the command of the army, at the time of the battle of Marathon, passed to the strategi in turn from day to day. No trace of this system, however, is to be found in the subsequent history. It was the customary practice in the 5th century to appoint a certain number of the generals, usually three or five, for a particular field of operations, and to assign the chief command to one of them. Exceptions to this rule are found in the well-known instances of the Sicilian expedition (when the three commanders, Nicias, Alcibiades and Lamachus were given co-ordinate powers), and of the battle of Arginusae, when the command was divided among the whole board. In crises such as the Samian revolt, the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War or that which led to the recall of Alcibiades, we find the whole board subordinated to a single member (e.g. Pericles or Alcibiades). Originally each strategus was elected by and out of the tribe he commanded (Ath. Pol. lxi.), and it may probably be inferred from Plutarch (Cimon, viii.) that this system prevailed as late as the archonship of Apsephion (469 B.C.). In the 4th century, however, the strategi were elected out of all the citizen body irrespective of tribes; the change must have occurred between 470 and 440 B.C., because in the latter year, and again in 433, one of Pericles' colleagues was Diotimus, a member of his own tribe (cf. Alcibiades and Adeimantus in 408 B.C.). But from Xenophon (Memorab. iii. 4) we learn that one strategus was still elected by each tribe, i.e. each strategus represented a tribe, though he might not be a member of it. Though the strategi were the nominal heads of the army, it is important to notice that they had no power to choose their taxiarchs, who, like the strategi, were elected by the tribes they were to command. It was only as low as the lochagi (commanders of λόχοι, companies) that the Ecclesia allowed them to select. From the Constitution (lxi. 3), however, it appears that in the 4th century, at any rate, the lochagi were appointed by the taxiarchs, not the strategi. By a gradual process in the course of the 5th century, the regimental command was transferred to the taxiarchs, the strategi thus becoming general officers in command, while they at the same time acquired important political functions (see below). On the other hand the strategi commanded by both land and sea, and thus held the power divided at Sparta between the kings and the nauarchus (admiral).

In the course of the 5th century the powers of the strategia were increased by important political functions, especially in foreign affairs; hence the office, unlike that of the archon (q.v.), remained on in its original elective character and was held by the most important men (e.g. Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades). Owing to the fact that the Boulē was the chief administrative body, it was necessary to bring the strategi into close connexion with it; it was, therefore, provided that they, though not members, should be allowed to attend its meetings and to bring motions before it. As the Boulē of one year rarely contained members of the previous Boulē, the strategi acquired great power from the fact that they were frequently re-elected for many years together, and so had greater experience and continuity of policy. Secondly, in the Ecclesia, the strategus had the advantage over the ordinary citizen that his business took precedence (the meetings always discussed first the question of national defence) and that he could in cases of emergency convene a special meeting (cf. Thuc. ii. 59 and iv. 118).

Many historians in dealing with the strategia have been misled by modern analogies. The strategia was, for example, by no means analogous to the British cabinet, which (1) has collective responsibility and (2) is executive in the sense that its members are heads of state departments. The strategi had no such characteristics; their influence over the Ecclesia in voting was merely that of a private citizen; there was no collective responsibility, no unanimous policy. Nor was the strategia a foreign office, though it clearly performed a ministerial act in attaching its signature to treaties. In general it had no powers of originating negotiation, but merely carried out the psephism of the Ecclesia. It was their relation to the empire which gave the strategi their authority. It was they who took the oath on behalf of Athens when an alliance was concluded, and their advice would have special weight in settling the terms of the treaty and the amount of tribute to be paid. They were not, indeed, compelled to submit a budget, nor did an adverse vote by the Ecclesia involve their resignation. On the authority of Plutarch it has been asserted that there was always a president of the strategic college, and this may well have been the case during the Persian Wars (Themistocles, 480; Aristides, 478). The three alleged occasions in the later years of the 5th century when a single strategus was in absolute authority (see above) were all critical occasions and in no way represent the normal condition of affairs. It is abundantly clear that Pericles owed his long ascendancy to his personal force, not to the constitutional authority of his office. Though at first the strategi acted as a single body, in the 4th century and later special duties were assigned to particular members of the board. Thus we hear of strategi ἐπὶ τοὺς ὁπλίτας, ἐπὶ τὴν χώραν, ἐπὶ τὴν ἀκτήν, ἐπὶ τὰς συμμορίας, and inscriptions of the 3rd century refer to others. Under the Roman domination the strategus ἐπὶ τὰ ὅπλα was the chief state officer. The law of the emperor Hadrian regarding the export of oil to Athens speaks of him as managing the corn supply and presiding over the education of the Ephebi. In general, their duty was still mainly the foreign policy, offensive and defensive, of Athens; they nominated trierarchs, and, if any nominee refused to serve, brought him before the Heliaea to defend his case. They had powers of life and death over the army in the field—even a trierarch might be put in irons by a strategus. They presided over certain religious festivals and processions, and appear to have been responsible for the protection of the corn supply.

Authorities:[1]—A. H. J. Greenidge, Handbook of Greek Constitutional History (London, 1896), especially on the question of the presidency, p. 253; Gilbert, Greek Constitutional antiquities (Eng. trans., 1895); Hauvette-Besnault, Les Stratèges athéniens (Paris, 1885); Beloch, D. att. Politik seit Perikles, pp. 276, 277; Paulus, Progr. v. Maulbronn (1883, 34 seq.); Aristotle's Constitution of Athens passim, but especially iv., xxii., lxi.; the general histories of Greece—Busolt, Meyer, Bury, Grote (ed. 1907).

(J. M. M.)
  1. All works written prior to 1891 must be read in the light of the Constitution of Athens.