Ceramic fragment with WANAKTI inscription

Archaic inscription Ι ϜΑΝΑΚΤΙ, "to the king") on ceramic fragment, here shown upside down; a warrior bearing a spear and mounted on a horse is also depicted.

Anax (Ancinet Greek: ἄναξ; from earlier ϝάναξ, wánax) is an ancient Greek word for :(tribal) king, lord, (military) leader". It is one of the two Greek titles traditionally translated as "king", the other being basileus. Anax is the more archaic term of the two, inherited from the Mycenaean period, and is notably used in Homeric Greek, e.g. of Agamemnon. The feminine form is anassa, "queen" ἄνασσα, ánassa; from wánassa, itself from *wánakt-ja).[1]


The word anax derives from the stem wanakt- (nominative *ϝάνακτς, genitive ϝάνακτος), and appears in the Mycenaean language as wa-na-ka,[2] and in the feminine form as wa-na-sa[3] (later ἄνασσα, ánassa). The digamma ϝ was pronounced /w/ and was dropped very early on, even before the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet, by eastern Greek dialects (e.g. Ionian); other dialects retained the digamma until well after the classical era.

The word Anax in the Iliad refers to Agamemnon (ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν, i.e. "leader of men") and to Priam, high kings who exercise overlordship over other, presumably lesser, kings. This possible hierarchy of one "anax" exercising power over several local "basileis" probably hints to a proto-feudal political organization of Bronze Age Greece. The Linear B adjective wa-na-ka-te-ro (wanákteros), "of the [household of] the king, royal",[4] and the Greek word ἀνάκτορον, anáktoron, "royal [dwelling], palace" are derived from anax. Anax is also a ceremonial epithet of the god Zeus ("Zeus Anax") in his capacity as overlord of the Universe, including the rest of the gods. The meaning of basileus as "king" in Classical Greece is due to a shift in terminology during the Greek Dark Ages. In Mycenaean times, a *gʷasileus appears to be a lower-ranking official (in one instance a chief of a professional guild), while in Homer, Anax is already an archaic title, most suited to legendary heroes and gods rather than for contemporary kings.

The Greek title has been compared to Sanskrit वणिज् vanij, a word for "merchant", but in the Rigveda once used as a title of Indra. The word could then be from Proto-Indo-European *wen-ag'-, roughly "bringer of spoils" (compare the etymology of lord, "giver of bread").

The word is found as an element in such names as Hipponax ("king of horses"), Anaxagoras ("king of the agora"), Pleistoanax ("king of the multitude"), Anaximander ("king of the estate"), Anaximenes ("enduring king"), Astyanax ("high king", "overlord of the city") Anaktoria ("royal [woman]"), Iphiánassa ("mighty queen"), and many others. The archaic plural Ánakes (Ἄνακες, "Kings") was a common reference to the Dioscuri or Heavenly Twins, Castor and Pollux, whose temple was usually called the Anakeion (Ἀνάκειον) and their yearly religious festival the Anákeia (Ἀνάκεια).

The words ánax and ánassa are occasionally used in Modern Greek as a deferential to royalty, whereas the word anáktoro[n] and its derivatives are commonly used with regard to palaces.


  1. Beekes, Robert (2010) [2009]. "S.v. ἄναξ". Etymological Dictionary of Greek. With the assistance of Lucien van Beek. In two volumes.. Leiden, Boston. pp. 98–99. ISBN 9789004174184. 
  2. "The Linear B word wa-na-ka". 
  3. "The Linear B word wa-na-sa". 
  4. "The Linear B word wa-na-ka-te-ro". 

Further reading

  • Hooker, James T. (1979). "The Wanax in Linear B Texts". Kadmos 18 (2): 100–111. 
  • Kilian, Klaus (1988). "The Emergence of Wanax Ideology in the Mycenaean Palaces". Oxford Journal of Archaeology 7 (3): 291–302. 
  • Palaima, Thomas G. (1995). "The Nature of the Mycenaean Wanax: Non-Indo-European Origins and Priestly Functions". in Rehak, Paul. The Role of the Ruler in the Prehistoric Aegean. Aegaeum. 11. Liège: Univ., Histoire de l'Art et Archéologie de la Grèce Antique. pp. 119–139. 
  • Willms, Lothar (2010). "On the IE Etymology of Greek (w)anax". Glotta 86: 232–271. 
  • Yamagata, Naoko (1997). "ἄναξ and βασιλεύς in Homer". Classical Quarterly 47 (1): 1–14. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Anax. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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