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E´PHETAE (ἐφέται), the name of certain judges at Athens, invested with jurisdiction in cases of homicide. They were fifty-one in number (hence sometimes called simply οἱ πεντήκοντα καὶ εἷς, Lex ap. Dem. c. Macart. p. 1069.57), selected from noble families (ἀριστίνδην αἱρεθέντες), and more than fifty years of age (Pollux, 8.125).

Their early history and the origin of their name are involved in much obscurity. The latter is usually derived from ἐφίημι, either (1) in the sense “judges of appeal” (ἔφεσις) now generally rejected; or (2) as letting slip the avenger of blood upon his victim (οἳ ἐφιᾶσι τῷ ἀνδροφόνῳ τὸν ἀνδρηλάτην: O. Müller, Diss. on Eumenid. § 65); or (3) as “directors” of the trial (Schömann, Antiq. 1.553, E. T.; Lipsius, Att. Process, p. 18). This last is the simplest, and decidedly preferable; cf. ἐφετμή, “command.” Two other conjectures may be noticed: (a) from root ἑδ, “to sit” (Forchhammer in Philol. 36.465 ff.); the improbability of this is pointed out by Schömann, l.c., and Gilbert, p. 121 n.: (b) from ἔται, cives optimo jure, as if οἱ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἔταις ὄντες (Lange, [p. 1.741]Die Epheten u. d. Areopag, p. 13 f.). This is approved by Gilbert; but Lipsius (l.c. p. 19 n.) very justly doubts the Attic usage of ἔτης in this sense; and besides, why should judges of homicide be in any special sense ἐπὶ τοῖς ἔταις̣ The institution of the Ephetae is ascribed to Draco (Poll. l.c.); and this view was upheld until quite lately, as by Grote (pt. ii. ch. 10, 2.286) and Schömann in his latest work (Antiq. 1.324, E. T.). According to Schömann, the appointment of a tribunal distinct from the Areiopagus, for the trial of cases of bloodshed, was a concession to the popular discontent; but as the new judges were still chosen from the Eupatrids only, the discontent was not allayed. The best recent criticism (Lange, Philippi, Gilbert) regards the Ephetae, no less than the Areiopagus, as among the primitive institutions of Attica; and Lange suggests that the nine archons and the fifty-one Ephetae may together have formed an aristocratic state-council of sixty members, divisible by four, the number of the old-Ionic tribes; and that this may have been, in fact, the pre-Solonian Areiopagus, charged, among its other duties, with trials for murder. This is highly ingenious, and is the only attempt yet made to explain the number of fifty-one Ephetae. The early existence of a senate or council at Athens, analogous to the Gerusia at Sparta and possessing jurisdiction in cases of homicide, had been already inferred (Müller, l.c.; Thirlwall, 2.41). But there is still a difficulty. It seems to be admitted that Draco enlarged the powers of the Ephetae, and made them, whether pre-existing or not, the sole tribunal in cases of homicide: on the other hand, that legislator is not regarded as the author of sweeping constitutional changes; and if he separated the Ephetae from the Areiopagus, he must have denuded the latter body of more than five-sixths of its members, unless he also re-organised the Areiopagus to an extent which is nowhere attested. We may agree with Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 19) that both Areiopagus and Ephetae existed before Solon, and probably also before Draco; but the reconstruction of the early constitution of Athens is so purely conjectural, that we must content ourselves with the cautious statement of Grote (l.c.), “Whether the Ephetae and the Areiopagites were the same persons, wholly or partially, our information is not sufficient to discover.” The number fifty-one may perhaps be accounted for by the preference for odd numbers, in order to prevent an equality of votes, shown in later times by the juries of 201, 501, &c. dicasts [DICASTES p. 628 a]. For a fuller discussion of these questions we refer to Gilbert, Staatsalterth. 1.120 ff.; Lange, Die Epheten und der Areopag vor Solon; Philippi, Der Areopag und die Epheten.

The thirty years between Draco and Solon (about B.C. 624-594) mark the limits of the plenary authority of the Ephetae. To this period must be referred the statement of Pollux (l.c.) that they sat in the five courts in which bloodshed was tried, i. e. in the Areiopagus and the four courts named below. The φονικοὶ νόμοι, indeed, of Draco were retained by Solon, and still subsisted in the time of Demosthenes (c. Aristocr. p. 636.51; c. Euerg. et Mines. p. 1161.71); but the φονικαὶ δίκαι, including trials for crimes allied to murder, such as malicious wounding, arson, and poisoning (Dem. c. Aristocr. p. 628.24; the “law” in § 22 is compiled from the orator's own words), were restored by Solon's legislation to the Areiopagus, now at all events a distinct body from the Ephetae. Henceforward they sat in four courts only, and these of minor importance,--that by the Palladium (τὸ ἐπὶ Παλλαδίῳ), by the Delphinium (τὸ ἐπὶ Δελφινὶῳ), by the Prytaneum (τὸ ἐπὶ Πρυτανείῳ), and the court at Phreatto or Zea (τὸ ἐν Φρεαττοῖ). For the curious regulations of these courts, see DICASTERION p. 626 b; PHONOU DIKÉ, near the beginning. Such ceremonial distinctions can only date from a very early period, and themselves furnish an almost conclusive proof of the high antiquity of the Ephetae. The four courts, it has been seen, dealt with bloodshed mainly from the religious point of view, and not as a crime against society. When, as in the lesser cases of homicide, the punishment was not death or perpetual banishment (ἀειφυγία), the perpetrator had still to undergo a temporary exile (the so-called ἀπενιαυτισμός, not necessarily for one year only; EXSILIUM). Such ceremonial matters as the atonement for blood, the purification of the shedder of it, and his reconciliation (αἰδεῖσθαι) with the relatives of the slain, came under the sacred law of Athens, the knowledge of which was confined to the old nobility, even after they had lost their political power [EUPATRIDAE; EXEGETAE]. The Ephetae accordingly retained the right of decision in actions for manslaughter, in which a temporary flight was followed by expiation, and also in cases of justifiable homicide, whether from the similarity of the latter (as regards the guilt of the perpetrator) to acts of accidental homicide, or as requiring a like expiation. The actual laws of Athens are here closely followed by Plato (Legg, 9.864 E-867 E; cf. 874 E).

A further case is recorded by Demosthenes (c. Aristocr. p. 632.38); the banished manslayer, as long as he kept outside the country, was entitled to the same protection as any other Athenian, and any one who slew him out of revenge committed an offence against the sacred law. Here the Ephetae are said διαγιγνώσκειν, to determine the question whether the sacred law had been violated or not; it does not follow that they conducted the actual trial. Again, in the amnesty carried on the motion of Patrocleides, after the government of the Four Hundred had been put down, those are excepted who had been condemned by the Areiopagus, the Ephetae, the Prytaneum, the Delphinium or the king archon (ap. Andoc. de Myst. § 78). For acts of wilful murder, on the other hand, the punishment was death or ἀειφυγία, and therefore no expiation (κάθαρσις) was connected with the administration of justice in such cases; so that there could be no objection to its being tried by the Areiopagus, or by a heliastic court, though its members did not of necessity belong to the old aristocracy.

A trial for murder in the Palladium is recorded as having come off before an ordinary jury of 700 (i. e. 701) dicasts (Isocr. c. Callim, § § 52, 54). We need not infer (with Gilbert, p. 360 n.) that the Ephetae had lost the right [p. 1.742]to sit in that court; when not wanted by them it was doubtless utilised for other purposes [DICASTERION p. 627 a]. The comparatively unimportant and antiquated duties of the Ephetae in democratic times sufficiently explain the statement in Pollux (l.c.) that their court gradually lost all respect, and became at last an object of ridicule. This holds good for the 4th century at least, probably earlier; and the attempt of Forchhammer to explain it away, reading κατηγελάσθη for κατεγελάσθη, is not deserving of serious consideration (Gilbert, l.c.). (Cf. Att. Process, ed. Lipsius, pp. 11-13, 17-22.)

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