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Kritarchy, also called kritocracy or dikastocracy, is a system of rule by judges (Hebrew: שופטים, shoftim) in the tribal confederacy of ancient Israel during the period of time described in the Book of Judges, following Joshua's conquest of Canaan and prior to the united monarchy under Saul.[1]


Because it is a compound of the Greek words κριτής, krites ("judge") and ἄρχω, árkhō ("to rule"), its use has expanded to cover rule by judges in the modern sense as well, as in the case of Somalia, ruled by judges with the polycentric legal tradition of xeer,[2] and arguably the Islamic Courts Union[citation needed].

Ireland had a system of kritarchy from the 5th century BCE to the 5th century CE under the Brehon Law, the Brehons being the class of Druid Judges.[3][4] A kritarchy system was also present in medieval Ireland until the 13th century.[5]

The Icelandic Commonwealth between the 9th and 13th century has been labelled as a kritarchy by David Friedman and Einar Olgeirsson.[6][7]

Frisia in the 16th century had a system of kritiarchy.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The fictional regime of Mega-city One, the focus of setting for the Judge Dredd franchise, can be described as a kritarchy.


  1. ^[broken link]
  2. ^ A Peaceful Ferment in Somalia: Publications: The Independent Institute
  3. ^ "University of Pennsylvania Law Review". Retrieved 12 February 2017.
  4. ^ "Ireland's Brehon Laws were way ahead of their time". Retrieved 12 February 2017.
  5. ^ a b Michael van Notten (2005). "Introduction by Frank van Dun". In Spencer Heath MacCallum (ed.). The Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa. Law, sociology / AFRICA. Red Sea Press. ISBN 9781569022504. LCCN 2005018531.(in English)
  6. ^ David Friedman. "PRIVATE CREATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF LAW: A HISTORICAL CASE". Retrieved 12 February 2017.
  7. ^ Einar Olgeirsson (1971), Från ättegemenskap till klasstat., translated. Cilla Johnson, Estockholm, p. 44.