Magistrates called Ephori
“overseers” were an ancient Lacedaemonian institution; we find
them also in some Lacedaemonian colonies, as in Thera, colonised in early
times (C. I. G.
No. 2448 = Cauer, Del. Inscr.
2 No. 148: A ἐπὶ
ἐφόρων τῶν σὺν Φοιβοτέλει,
ἐφόρων τῶν σὺν Ἱμέργῳ
: see also Boeckh, Kleine
vi. p. 42), and in the Theraean colony Cyrene
(Heracl. Pont. Polit.
4 = Müller,
Fragm. Hist. Gr.
ii. p. 212), in Heracleia (C. I.
5774, 5775 = Cauer, 40, 41), and, by inference, in its
metropolis Tarentum: see also Plb. 4.4
, for Messene. This shows that the ephoralty had early become a
firmly-established magistracy in Sparta, whence it passed into the colonies,
but scarcely proves, as O. Müller (Dorians,
116 f.) supposes, that it was a peculiarly ancient Dorian institution. The
ephoralty at Sparta is classed by Herodotus (1.65
) among the institutions of Lycurgus (cf. Xen. de Rep. Lac. 8
8, p. 354 B; D. L.
. Plut. Ages. 5
, ascribes it to
the Λακωνικὸς νομοθέτης,
(Aristot. Pol. 8.9, 1
S. = 5.11,
1 Bk.; cf. Plut. Lyc. 7
iii. p. 692 A; Cic. de
, de Legg.
3.16) refers the
institution of the ephoralty to king Theopompus, who is said to have founded
this office with a view to limiting the authority of the king, and to have
justified the innovation by remarking that “he handed down the royal
power to his descendants more durable, because he had diminished
it;” and the Alexandrine chronographi date its institution from 757-6
B.C., probably because the official lists of
ephors began with that year (Busolt, Griech. Gesch.
146, n. 6). These two accounts are not necessarily inconsistent with one
another; the ephors may have existed before king Theopompus, but it was in
his reign that the lists of ephors were first begun, and probably at the
same time some change in their position was effected. It is certain that the
ephoralty was not founded with a view of limiting the power of the kings: as
late as the second Messenian war the management of the state was entirely in
the hands of the kings and the γέροντες
(Tyrtaeus, fr. 4 Bergk), and it was many generations after the great
Messenian war, as king Cleomenes III. states (Plut. Cleomen.
10), that the ephor Asteropus raised and expanded the power of the ephors
(τὸν πρῶτον ἐπισφοδρύναντα τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ
), whilst according to D.
Chilon brought about this change. Their number, five,
appears to have been always the same (Xen. Ages.
; Roehl, Inscr. gr. antiq. praeter Atticas in Att.
No. 91, ἐβασίλευον Ἆγις,
Παυσάνιας. ἔφοροι ἦσαν Θυιωνίδας, Ἀριστογενίδας, Ἀρχίστας,
s.v., speaks of five μείζους
and five ἐλάττους
: and the Etym. M.
257, 28, gives nine as their number). Originally, as
Cleomenes is represented as saying, the ephors were appointed by the kings
(τοὺς βασιλεῖς . . . αἱρεῖσθαί τινας ἐκ τῶν
cf. Plut. Apophth.
Lacon. p. 217
C); at a later period they were elected
from the people (ε᾽κ τοῦ δήμου παντός,
2.6 (9 Bk.), 14, cf. 2.3 (6 Bk.),
10; 6.7, 5 = 4.9 b Bk.) without any qualification of age or property, and
without undergoing any scrutiny (οἱ
), so that the δῆμος
enjoyed through them a participation in the highest magistracy of the state.
The mode of election Aristotle calls very childish (Polit.
2.6 (9 Bk.), 16), and Plato (Legg.
p. 692 A) describes their office as ἐγγὺς τῆς
: cf. also the expression in Plut. Agis 8
, διαπραξάμενος ὁ Ἆγις ἔφρον γενέσθαι τὸν Λύανδρον.
They entered upon office at the autumnal equinox (Thuc.
), the beginning of the
Lacedaemonian year, and the first in rank (προεστὼς
Plut. Lyc. 30
) gave his name to the year,
which was called after him in all civil transactions (Thuc. 2.2
; Röhl, 83,
84, 86, 88, 91). They held their meetings in a public building called
in which they also ate
together (Paus. 3.11
; Plut. Cleom. 8
Xen. Ages. 1
): majority of votes decided (Xen. Hell.
). On the expiration of
their term of office they had to render an account, probably to their
successors (Arist. Rhet.
3.18.6; Plut. Agis 12
From want of information scholars have had recourse to various hypotheses as
to the original functions and power of the ephors. Thus O. Müller
ii. p. 119 ff.) supposes that their original
duty was the superintendence over sales and over the market (cf. Curtius,
i. p. 187);
A. Schäfer (de Ephor. Laced.
p. 7) and Oncken
(Staatslehre d. Arist.
i. p. 276) see in them the rulers
) of the five towns of
the perioeci after the deposition of the local kings; and Grote (ii. p. 351)
a board of specially popular origin in contradistinction to the kings and
the senate, etc. Cleomenes III. is represented as saying that the ephors
were originally nominated by the kings to act for them in a judicial
capacity (πρὸς τὸ κρίνειν
) during their
absence from Sparta in the first Messenian war (Plut. Cleom. 10
; cf. Apophth. Lacon. Anaxilas,
217 C), probably one for each of the five divisions of the town of Sparta,
viz. the πόλις
itself and the four κῶμαι
around it (Philol. Mus.
p. 50 f.). We learn from Herodotus (8.57
the judicial authority of the kings was limited to certain special cases,
adoptions, etc.; and Aristotle (Aristot.
Pol. 3.1, 7
) distinctly says that the ephors decided in civil
suits (τὰς τῶν συμβολαίων δικάξει τῶν ἐφόρων
) and generally in actions of great importance
(κρισέων μεγάλων εἰσὶ κύριοι,
(9 Bk.), 16). However, it is very unlikely that civil jurisdiction was the
starting-point of their power. The very name ἔφοροι
points to their having had originally a controlling
authority; the edict which they issued on entering upon their office,
ordering the citizens to clip their [p. 1.744]
to obey the laws (Aristotle in Plut. Cleom.
; Plut. de Ser. Num. Vind.
B; yet see Becker-Göll, Charikles,
iii. p. 296), is evidently of early date, as is also the custom of openly
declaring war on the Helots (Aristotle in Plut. Lyc.
). Such censorial power in the simpler conditions of society
carried with it the right of inflicting punishment: owing to this, and
especially to the discord of the kings, the ephors encroached upon the royal
authority and gained ultimately complete control over the kings. Towards the
end of the 6th century the kings, as long as they acted in unity, had
exclusively the active management and direction of foreign affairs, subject
however to trial and punishment by the ephors in case of misbehaviour (Hdt. 6.82
). Thus Cleomenes I. transacted business
with foreign ambassadors: with Maeandrius of Samos (Hdt. 3.148
), with the Scythian ambassadors (Hdt. 6.84
), with Aristagoras of Miletus (Hdt. 5.49
); the ephors were only called upon to act as magistrates of
police in sending Macandrius out of the country (Hdt.
). “The kings could levy war against any state they
chose, and no Spartan could impede them on pain of committing
sacrilege” (Hdt. 6.56
; cf. 5.14, 48 f.).
The meaning of this passage cannot be that the kings had only the right of
determining the general course and character of each campaign, the right of
declaring war resting exclusively with the popular assembly, as has been
asserted. The assembly undoubtedly possessed this privilege (Hdt. 5.63
but so did the kings. Cleomenes obeyed the summons of Isagoras and went to
Athens with a small force (Hdt. 5.70
); and when
driven back, he invaded Attica again with an army which he had drawn
together from all parts of the Peloponnese, “without informing anyone
of his object” (74); and Demaratus would certainly not have
ventured to leave Cleomenes with a portion of the army, thereby forcing
Cleomenes to return also, if the popular assembly had declared war (Hdt. 6.64
). But as soon as there was a rupture
between the kings, the ephors acquired, by a law, as Dum (Entstehung
v. Entwickl. d. spart. Ephorts,
p. 62) supposes, supreme power
in the state. To this points Lysander's remark (Plut. Agis 12
), that the power of the ephors was only grounded
on the dissensions of the kings, the ephors adding their suffrage to
whichever they judged to have given the better advice. Hence, the ephors,
acting on behalf of the state (ὑπὲρ τῆς
), received from the kings every month an oath by which the
latter bound themselves to rule according to the laws; and in return for
this, the state engaged, through the ephors, to maintain unshaken the
authority of the kings, if they adhered to their oath (Xen. de Republ. Lac. 15
7). These laws no doubt insisted on agreement between the kings; since,
however, discord was the rule (Hdt. 6.52
Xen. Hell. 5.3
), the ephors encroached more and more on
the royal authority, until finally the kings came entirely under their
control. Dum (p. 107) distinguishes roughly three periods in the development
of the power of the ephoralty,--the first extending to the death of
Cleomenes I. (c.
488 B.C.), when the ephors had
power only in time of dissensions between the kings; the second to c.
362 B.C., during which
their power became more firmly established, they taking to themselves by
degrees the prerogatives of the kings; and the third to the abolition of
their office by Cleomenes III., c.
226 B.C., the period of unlimited rule on the part of
the ephors, when they had raised themselves to a position above the council
and the popular assembly.
What Plutarch (Plut. Ages. 4
) says of the time
of Agesilaus holds good of this second period, viz. that the ephors and the
gerontes enjoyed the greatest power (τῶν ἐφόρων
ἦν τότε καὶ τῶν γερόντων τὸ μέγιστον ἐν τῇ πολιτείᾳ
). The ephors acquired the right, originally vested in the
kings (cf. Hdt. 6.57
), of convening and presiding
over the council (Hdt. 5.40
), and thereby gained
a share in the privilege of initiating laws (Plut.
), since the council had to discuss and vote on all
proposed laws, before they were submitted to the popular assembly; until, in
the third period, they usurped the exclusive right of initiating laws (Plut. Lys. 17
5; King Agis III. had his proposals for a new division of
land and the cancelling of debts submitted to the council by the ephor
Lysander: Plut. Agis 8
). All capital crimes
belonged to the jurisdiction of the council (Arist. Polit.
3.1, 7 ; cf. 6.7, 5 = 4.9b Bk., κύριοι θανάτου καὶ φυγῆς
); as presidents the ephors
acquired a share in this privilege likewise,--for such cases were laid
before them in the first instance,--and they had the power of throwing the
accused into prison, even if he were a king (e. g. Pausanias, Thuc. 1.131
; cf. Plut.
). The authority of the ephors was further increased by
their putting themselves in connexion with the popular assembly, convening
its meetings (Plut. Agis 9
), and laying
measures before it (Thuc. 1.85
): the presiding
ephor put the question to the assembly (Thuc.
). Acting as representatives of the public assembly--being, in
fact, the executive of the state--they transacted business with foreign
ambassadors (Hdt. 9.8
; Xen. Hell. 3.1
if they thought fit, forbade them to enter the Lacedaemonian territory
(Xen. Hell. 2.2
): they sent ambassadors abroad (Thuc. 6.88
; Xen. Hell.
), conducted negotiations
with foreign states (Thuc. 5.36
), and the first
ephor subscribed treaties of peace or alliance (Thuc.
). It is true the names of
the kings stood first and continued to do so, until their dignity was
finally abolished, but it was a prerogative devoid of all significance. The
ephors kept their seats when the kings passed (Xen. de Republ. Lac. 15
, 6); nay, Agesilaus is
said to have shown them his respect by rising (Plut.
). The kings continued also to discharge priestly
functions for the state (Hdt. 6.56
; Xen. Hell. 3.3
), and to consult the oracles either in
person (Xen. Hell. 3.3
, etc.) or through special messengers [PYTHII
] ; but the ephors
encroached upon this prerogative too. They consulted the dreamoracle of
Pasiphae (Plut. Agis 9
7); and once in eight years they chose a clear and
moonless night to observe the heavens, and, if a shooting star was observed
falling in a certain direction, it was believed to be a sign that the gods
were displeased with the kings, who were accordingly suspended from their
functions until an oracle allowed of their restoration (Plut. Agis 11
). The kings never lost the
prerogative of leading the Spartan army (Xen.
de Republ. Lac. 15
, 2 ; Arist. Polit.
3.9 (14 Bk.), 2); but they [p. 1.745]
were deprived of the power of declaring war, the popular
assembly claiming this as their exclusive right, and declaring war even
against the advice of the king (Thuc. 1.80
ephors, as representatives of the popular assembly, called out the troops
(Xen. Hell. 3.2. 23
etc.) and fixed the strength of the army (Xen.
de Republ. Lac. 11
, 2)--unless the popular
assembly had settled that point (Xen. Hell.
)--and the time of starting
(Xen. Hell. 5.4
); and in the third period the ephors seem
to have taken the initiative (Plut., Cleom.
13, 14. The account in Plut. Lys. 28
, παρώξυνε τοὺς ἐφόρους
καὶ συνέπεισε πεμφθῆναι φρουράν,
is contradicted by Xen. Hell. 3.5
), and to have decided which
king should lead the army (Plut. Agis.
the exercise of their general controlling power--and the vague nature of
this office facilitated greatly encroachments and usurpations--they had the
right to institute scrutinies (εὔθυναι
into the conduct of all the magistrates, which, as Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 2.6
(9 Bk.), 18)
observes, was a very great gift to the ephoralty. Nor were they obliged to
wait till a magistrate had completed his term of office, since, even before
its termination, they might exercise the privilege of deposition (Xen. de Republ. Lac. 8
Even the kings themselves could be brought before their tribunal, though
they were not obliged to answer a summons to appear there, till it had been
repeated three times (Plut. Cleomen.
10). In extreme cases
the ephors were also competent to lay an accusation against the kings as
well as the other magistrates, and bring them to a capital trial before the
council (Xen. Hell. 5.4
; Plut. Lys.
), or they could fine them, as e. g. king Agesilaus (Plut. Ages. 5
); in the third period they
condemned men to death without trial, e. g. Agis III. (Plut. Agis 19
: cf. Plut. Apophth. p.
D; and as regards the perioeci, Isocr. Panath.
§ 181) and Thectamenes (Plut.
Apophth. p. 221
F). Their censorial authority
seems to have been unlimited. Two ephors accompanied the king when he took
the field (ὁρῶντες δὲ ὅτι ποιεῖ ἕκαστος
Xen. de Republ. Lac. 13
5; Hdt. 9.76
; Xen. Hell.
). The ephors sent
instructions to the commanders abroad, and were in direct communication with
them (Thuc. 8.11
Plut. Lys. 12
; Schol. Aristoph. Birds
, etc.). The booty was no longer divided amongst the victors
), the king receiving a fixed
share, but sent to Sparta to the ephors (Plut. Lys.
), who had charge of the treasury (Plut. Agis 16
). They inspected the youths every tenth day to see
whether they led a healthy life (Aelian, Ael. VH
; Athen. 12.550
ff.), and superintended the choric performances (Xen. Hell. 6.4
) and the
gymnastic games (Xen. de Republ.
, 4). It was the ephors who chastised disobedient
boys brought before them by the paedonomus (Xen. de Republ. Lac. 4
, 6); who punished the
suitor of Lysander's daughter, who, on finding that Lysander had left no
money, had deserted her (Aelian, Ael. VH 6.4
who cut two of the nine strings from the instruments of musicians (Plut.
10; Instit. Lacon.
238 C); who brought a charge against king Leonidas for having married a
foreign woman (Plut. Agis 11
i. p. 121 C), etc.
The ephoralty was abolished by Cleomenes; but although re-established soon
afterwards, it did not recover its former authority, the first πατρονόμος
being benceforth the ἐπώνυμος
of the state (C. I. G.
i. p. 605 ff.). According to Koenig (τὰ
et οἱ ἐν τέλει,
p. 12) by
), or τὰ
τέλη των Λακεδαιμονίων
, etc.), or τὰ ὄικοι τ έλη
(Xen. Hell. 3.2
, etc.), the ephors were meant, whilst
οἱ ἐν τέλει
had a wider sense.