Pagarch (Greek, Pagarchos Or Pagarches)

PAGARCH (Greek, pagarchos or pagarches)

A word of obscure origin because of the comparative lack of papyri from the fifth century. G. Rouillard (1928) dates it to 460/470, while W. Liebeschuetz (1973) connects the rise of the pagarch with the reforms of Emperor Anastasius I (491-518), whose aim was to revive civic institutions. By the sixth century, the pagarch was the most powerful representative of the principle of local autonomy in the civil administration of Egypt. Under administration, after 642, the pagarch (also known as epikeimenos, amiras, dioiketes, archon) formed the main link between the and the subject population. From the end of the seventh century, the office was increasingly held by Muslims.

The pagarch was chosen, probably by provincial authorities, from among wealthy ex-officials and major landowners; an example is the family, who held the post for several generations at Oxyrhynchus (Gascou, 1985, pp. 61-75). His appointment by the pretorian prefect was subject to ratification by the emperor. Rather than being an office in the strict sense, the function of the pagarch seems to have been a munus patrimonii (patrimonial office); it also could be held by women (Gascou, 1972, pp. 68-70). Though the pagarch received his instructions from the provincial governor, he was directly responsible to, and could only be dismissed by, the emperor (see the regulations of Justinian’s Edict, XIII.12; 25).

From the end of the sixth century, the district administered by a pagarch was called a pagarchia. The same word is attested in the fourth century with the meaning “office of the praepositus pagi” (P. Oxyrhynchus 17.2110, A.D. 370). Hence the assumption that the pagarch supplanted the praepositus pagi, who is attested from 307/308 until the second half of the fifth century, as chief officer of a pagus. The pagarchy has accordingly been considered to be a conglomerate of pagi: the pagus (created in 307/308 to replace the toparchy) being the rural area surrounding a city, the administrative district of the pagarch would have been equivalent to the nome with the exception of the metropolis (Gelzer, 1909). This suggestion has been convincingly rejected in favor of the assumption that the pagarchy was coextensive with the nome in its entirety (e.g., Bell, 1908, pp. 101-103). A single pagarchy could be headed by two, sometimes three, pagarchs. This did not imply a topographical division, at least not in the Byzantine period, but a division of responsibilities (Gascou, 1972; Wipszycka, 1971).

As “director of taxation,” the pagarch probably supplanted the exactor civitatis, himself a successor of the strategos of the nome, whose office was reduced to that of a tax collector after 307/308. The pagarch, however, exerted greater coercive power and enjoyed more autonomy toward the city council than the exactor ever did. He was responsible for forwarding and enforcing the financial orders of the central and the provincial governments on the local level, a delicate task because it involved direct contact with the often unruly taxpayers. In rural areas, the pagarch’s authority to make assessments and collect imperial tribute was confined to the and estates that were not granted the privilege of autopragia (the right to collect their own taxes and to deliver them directly at the provincial bureau, the epichorios taxis). Besides his financial duties, the pagarch exerted some judicial functions, for instance, ensuring that the decisions of the provincial courts were executed.

The pagarch held his office for several years, perhaps for life.

Some pagarchs combined their office with that of a topoteretes, a provincial governor’s deputy, or of a tribunus (stratelates), a garrison commander, thus increasing their authority to a degree rarely conceded to local functionaries in earlier provincial administration (Liebeschuetz, 1974).

  • Bell, H. I. “The Papyri.” Journal of Hellenistic Studies 28 (1908):97-106.
  • Gascou, J. “La Détention collégiale de l’autorité pagarchique dans l’Egypte byzantine.” Byzantion 42 (1972):60-72.
  • . “Les Grands domaines, la cité et l’état en Egypte byzantine (recherches d’histoire agraire, fiscale et administrative).” Travaux et mémoires 9 (1985):1-90.
  • Gelzer, M. Studien zur byzantinischen Verwaltung Ägyptens, pp. 84-92. Leipziger Historische Abhandlungen 13. Leipzig, 1909.
  • Grohmann, A. “Der Beamtenstab der Finanzverwaltung in Ägypten in früharabischer Zeit.” In Studien zur Papyrologie und antiken Wirtschaftsgeschichte Friedrich Oertel zum achtzigsten Geburtstag gewidmet. Bonn, 1964.
  • Johnson, A. C., and L. C. West. Byzantine Egypt. Economic Studies, 27. 102-06, 174, 219, 322-27. Amsterdam, 1967. Reprint of the 1949 edition.
  • Liebeschuetz, W. “The Origin of the Office of the Pagarch.” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 36 (1973):38-46.
  • . “The Pagarch: City and Imperial Administration in Byzantine Egypt.” Journal of Juristic Papyrology 18 (1974):163-68.
  • Rouillard, G. L’administration civile de l’Egypte byzantine, 2nd ed., 62. 52-62. Paris, 1928.
  • Wipszycka, E. “Les reçus d’impôts et le bureau des comptes des pagarchies aux VIe-VIIe siecles.” Journal of Juristic Papyrology 16-17 (1971):105-116.