A basileus (plural: basilees) was a leader who occupied the center of political power in the time of the Greek Dark Age, and for some time thereafter. The basileus was local "big man" or chieftan, but the title could just as well be translated as "baron" or "king." He settled disputes by rendering judgments, known as "dike," and during the Dark Age, he managed the distribution of goods among the people under his power, particularly the distribution of food.

During the Dark Age, the people of a town, village, or city would submit most or all of their food and other wealth to the basileus, who would then redistribute it from his central position. He would retain some of the goods for himself and his household, he would store some for future years if the crop harvest was plentiful, in order to insure against the starvation of the populace in bad years, and he often exchanged some of his wealth with other basilees through gifts.

The exchange of gifts was important, because a basileus who often gave gifts could expect help in times of need, and could thereby further secure the welfare of his people.

At the end of the Dark Age, the basileus grew independant, and no longer supervised the distribution of wealth, which lead to the independance of the peasantry, but also meant that they were thrown upon their own means, without a political system to help insure against starvation. The basileus, in this time, was a political figure with the power to render judgments, but he was no longer the warden of the people's livelihood and welfare.