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Navarch (Greek: ναύαρχος, pronounced návarchos) is a Greek word meaning "leader of the ships", which in some states became the title of an office equivalent to that of a modern admiral.

Historical usage[edit]

Not all states gave their naval commanders such a title. Athens, for instance, placed its fleet under the command of generals (strategoi) holding the same title as those who commanded its land forces. Such command structures reflected the fact that, especially early in the Classical period, fleets operated in close conjunction with land forces, and indeed, the title of navarch did not begin to appear until the time of the Peloponnesian War, when fleets began to operate more independently. This separate title was originally used in cities that lacked an established naval tradition, Sparta being the most prominent, but entered broader use later, being adopted by the navies of the Hellenistic era states such as Macedon, Syracuse, Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empire, Achaean League, and Rhodes.

At Sparta and many other city-states, the position was held for one year only (a situation that compelled the Spartans to resort to an elaborate legal fiction when they wished to reinstate Lysander for more than one year in command). Admirals of despotic or monarchic states, however, could serve for years at a time. At Sparta, the position, unlike most high-level offices, was available to men from outside the Spartiate class; Lysander, the most famous occupant of the office, was a beneficiary of this rule.

Nauarchus, a direct transliteration of the Greek term into Latin, was also used by the Roman Navy for its squadron commanders. The Greek-speaking Byzantines sometimes used the term to designate the captains of ships; the terms drungarios or strategos were used to designate their admirals.

Modern Greece[edit]

Rank flag of a návarchos.

In the modern Hellenic Navy, návarchos is the highest rank, equivalent to full admiral. All but one of the remaining flag ranks are also derivations of this word: Antinávarchos (αντιναύαρχος, "deputy-admiral") is the equivalent to vice admiral and yponávarchos (υποναύαρχος, "under-admiral"), equivalent to rear admiral, while archiploíarchos is the equivalent of commodore. The same ranks are also used by the Hellenic Coast Guard. The rank of full návarchos is held in active service only by the Chief of the General Staff of National Defence, when he is a naval officer, and given to the Chiefs of the Hellenic Navy General Staff on retirement. Under the Greek monarchy, the five-star rank of archinávarchos (αρχιναύαρχος), equivalent to grand admiral or admiral of the fleet, existed, and was held only by the reigning monarch (Kings George II, Paul and Constantine II).

Flag of Greece
Greek commissioned officer ranks
NATO code: OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6 OF-7 OF-8 OF-9
Navy: Simaioforos & Anthypoploiarchos Ypoploiarchos Plotarchis Antiploiarchos Ploiarchos Archiploiarchos Yponavarchos Antinavarchos Navarchos
Army: Anthypolochagos & Ypolochagos Lochagos Tagmatarchis Antisyntagmatarchis Syntagmatarchis Taxiarchos Ypostratigos Antistratigos Stratigos
Air Force: Anthyposminagos & Yposminagos Sminagos Episminagos Antisminarchos Sminarchos Taxiarchos Aeroporias Ypopterarchos Antipterarchos Pterarchos


  • Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth ed., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-19-866172-X

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