(Α᾿σιάρχης, ruler of Asia Minor, in the plur., Ac 19:31; Vulg. Asiceprincipes; Auth.Vers. "the chief of Asia"), the title of the ten persons annually chosen in Proconsular Asia as chief presidents of the religious rites (prresides sacerdotales, Tertull. De Spect. 2), and whose office it was to exhibit solemn games in the theatre every year, in honor of the gods and of the Roman Emperor (Cod. Theodos. 15:9, 2). This they did at their own expense (like the Roman aediles), whence none but the most opulent persons could bear the office, although only of one year's continuance (see Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul, ii, 83). The appointment was much as follows: at the beginning of every year (i.e. about the autumnal equinox), each of the cities of Asia held a public assembly, in order to nominate one of their citizens as asiarch (Spanheim, De usu et prcestant. num. p. 694). A person was then sent to the general council of the province, at some one of the principal cities, as Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, etc., to announce the name of the individual who had been selected (l1. Arist. p. 34,4 sq., ed. Jebb; p. 613 sq., ed. Cant.). Of the persons thus nominated by the cities the council designated ten. As the asiarchs are repeatedly mentioned in the plural, some suppose that the whole ten presided as a college over the sacred rites (comp. Strabo, 14:649). But in Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 4:15) Polycarp is said to have suffered martyrdom when "Philip was asiarch and Statius Quadratus proconsul of Asia ;" from which and other circumstances it is deemed more probable that, as in the case of the irenarch, the names of the ten nominated by the general council were submitted to the proconsul, who chose one of the number to be asiarch (see Vales. in loc.; Deyling, Observ. iii, 379 sq.). Kuinol (at Ac 19:31) admits that one chosen by the proconsul was pre-eminently the asiarch, but conceives that the other nine acted as his assessors, and also bore that title. Others, however, think the plurality of asiarchs sufficiently accounted for by supposing that those who had served the office continued to bear the title, as was the case with the Jewish highpriests; but the other branch of the alternative is usually preferred. It is probable that in the course of time changes were made in the office, which our fragmentary information does not enable us to trace; and that the solitary testimony of Eusebius amounts to no more than that one asiarch, Philip, then and there presided at the public games, but not that the arrangements of all the games were made and provided by that one asiarch. Even the college of these officers appear to have had jurisdiction in Proconsular Asia (q.v.) only, for we find mention of similar functionaries in the other provinces of Asia Minor, e.g. Bithyniarch, Galatarch, Lyciarch, Cariarch, etc. (Strabo, 14:3; Malalas, p. 285, 289, ed. Bonn), and likewise in other parts of the Roman empire, e.g. Syriarch (Liban. Ep. 1217), Phoeniciarch, Cypriarch (2 Mace. 12:2), etc., each charged with similar duties in their respective districts (see the Hall. Encycl. iii, 284 sq.). There is no ground for the supposition of Schottgen (Miscel. Lips. v, 178 sq.), that the asiarchs were city magistrates, having appellate or superior jurisdiction over the decisions of local courts: they should by no means be confounded with the archon, or chief magistrate of Ephesus; for they were representatives, not of a single city, but of many cities united. This notion of the asiarchs is confirmed by a medal of Rhodes, struck under Hadrian, on the reverse of which we read, "'A coin struck in common by thirteen cities, in honor of the magistrate of Rhodes, Claudio Fronto, asiarch and highpriest of the thirteen cities." The office might be filled by the same person several times (Akerman, Num. Ill. p. 51). Their place of residence was at Ephesus, Smnrna, Sardis, Cyzicus, or at any other city where the council was held. Their office was thus, in a great measure at least, religious, and they are, in consequence, sometimes called "priests" (ἀρχιερεῖς), and their office a "priesthood" (ἱερωσύνη) (Mart. S. Polycarp. in Patr. Ap. c. 21). Probably it represented the religious element of the ancient Panionian League, to the territorial limits of which also the circle of the functions of the asiarchs nearly corresponded (see Herod. i, 142). Coins or inscriptions bearing the names of persons who had served the office of asiarch one or more times, are known as belonging to the following cities: Aphrodisias, Cyzicus, Hypsepa, Laodicea, Pergamos, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna, Thyatira. (Aristid. Or. 26:518, ed. Dind.; Eckhel, ii, 507; 4:207; Bockh, Inscr. vol. ii; Krause, Civitates Neocorce, p. 71; Wetstein, On Acts XIX; Herod. v, 38; Hammond, On N.T. in loc.)
These chiefs, then holding such games at Ephesus, out of friendly consideration for Paul, restrained him from appearing, as he proposed, in the theatre, during the sedition raised by Demetrius, the goldsmith, respecting Diana of Ephesus (Ac 19:31). The consideration of these asiarchs for the Apostle Paul, during the tumult, is not only extremely honorable to his character and to theirs, but is also a strong confirmation of the remark made by the evangelist (ver. 10), that " all they who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (see Conybeare and Howson, ii, 86). It shows also in what light the tumult of Demetrius was beheld, since he took especial care to observe that "all Asia" worshipped their goddess. Yet were the very asiarchs, now engaged in this worship, intent on saving the man whom Demetrius represented as its most formidable enemy (Carstens, De Asiarchis Paulo quondam amicis, Lubec. 1744). See generally Salmas. ad Solin. 40, p. 566; Van Dale, Dissert. ad antiq. et marmor. p. 273 sq.; Carstens, Mleditat. subseciv. spec. ii (Lubec. 1744); Ziebich, Observ. e numis antiq. sacr. (Viteb. 1745), p. 36 sq.; Smith's Diet. of Class. Ant. s.v.; and the treatises De Asiarchis, of Boysen (Hal. 1716), Lintrup (Hafn. 1715), Siber (Viteb. 1683), Sontag (Altdorf, 1712), and Wesseling (Utr. 1753).