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mid-14c., from Old French ierarchie, from Medieval Latin hierarchia "ranked division of angels" (in the system of Dionysius the Areopagite), from Greek hierarkhia "rule of a high priest," from hierarkhes "high priest, leader of sacred rites," from ta hiera "the sacred rites" (neuter plural of hieros "sacred;" see ire) + arkhein "to lead, rule" (see archon). Sense of "ranked organization of persons or things" first recorded 1610s, initially of clergy, sense probably influenced by higher. Related: Hierarchal; hierarchical.