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TETRARCH tĕt’ rärk (τετράρχης, τετραάρχης from τετρα-, four, and ἀρχή, G794, rule, so ruler of a fourth part). The title given to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea (Matt 14:1; Luke 3:19; 9:7; Acts 13:1).

Originally the term was used for a ruler of the fourth of a region. Eventually, the literal sense faded out, and the word came to be used as the title of a petty dependent prince, lower in rank and authority than a king. This designation is given to Herod Antipas not only in the NT but also several times in inscrs. and in Josephus.

The verb τετραρχέω, G5489, (τετρααρχέω), “be tetrarch,” occurs three times in Luke 3:1. There it is stated that Herod [Antipas] was tetrarch of Galilee, Philip of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias of Abilene, while Pontius Pilate was governing Judea.

When Herod the Great died in 4 b.c., his domain was divided into three parts. Archelaus received Judea (with Idumea and Samaria) and the title of ethnarch. Antipas and Philip were both given the title of tetrarch. The latter ruled over various territories in NE Pal. Later Lysanias, about whom little is known, was made tetrarch of the tiny district of Abilene, NE of Mt. Hermon.

In Mark 6:14, 26 Antipas is spoken of as “king” instead of tetrarch. Of this Swete says: “A tetrarch was in fact a petty king, and may have been called βασιλεύς, G995, (king) as an act of courtesy. He possessed a jurisdiction with which the imperial authorities were ordinarily reluctant to interfere [cf. Luke 23:7]” (Gospel According to Mark, 113). Two other factors should also be considered. It was the custom in Rome to call all eastern rulers by the popular title of “king,” and Mark was writing in Rome. Then, too, the people of Galilee would likely refer to their ruler as king.


E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Eng. tr., 1890), 7-9 (esp. footnote 12).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

te’-trark, tet’-rark tetrarches): As the name indicates it signifies a prince, who governs one-fourth of a domain or kingdom. The Greeks first used the word. Thus Philip of Macedon divided Thessaly into four "tetrarchies." Later on the Romans adopted the term and applied it to any ruler of a small principality. It is not synonymous with "ethnarch" at least the Romans made a distinction between Herod "tetrarch" of Galilee, Philip "tetrarch" of Trachonitis, Lysanias "tetrarch" of Abilene, and Archelaius "ethnarch" of Judea (BJ, II, vi, 3; Ant, XVII, xi, 4). The title was often conferred on Herodian princes by the Romans, and sometimes it was used courteously as a synonym for king (Mt 14:9; Mr 6:14). In the same way a "tetrarchy" was sometimes called a kingdom.

Henry E. Dosker

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