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Prytanis (Greek: πρύτανις): highest executive official in a Greek city, usually serving for one year.

The Prytaneum of Sagalassus

The original meaning of the Greek word πρύτανις, "prytanis", can still be found in Aeschylus' Prometheus, in which the supreme god Zeus is called a prytanis, a leader.note Similarly, the word is also attested as a royal name for a king from the Eurypontid house in Spartanote and a related verb means "to rule".note

Although the original meaning of the word was not forgotten, a special meaning developed in the Archaic Period, when the Greek city-state was created, both in Greece and in its overseas colonies: the prytanis was the highest executive official, usually elected for one year. Originally, they were selected from the aristocratic family that governed the town (e.g., the Bacchiads in Corinth), but when the cities became bigger, the prytanis would be elected from a larger group of wealthy people. A parallel development was that the many duties of the prytanis were shared with other officials, in every city differently, but the prytanis would always rank very high and retain his religious duties.

In several cities (e.g., Athens), there was a college of prytaneis, which met in a building that is called the prytaneum. Usually, they can easily be recognized because they are always near the agora and resemble square theaters.

This page was created in 2019; last modified on 9 April 2020.

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