The ephors were leaders of ancient Sparta and shared power with the two Spartan kings. The ephors were a council of five elected annually who swore "on behalf of the city", while the kings swore for themselves.[1]

Herodotus claimed that the institution was created by Lycurgus, while Plutarch considers it a later institution. It may have arisen from the need for governors while the kings were leading armies in battle. The ephors were elected by the popular assembly, and all citizens were eligible for election. They were forbidden to be reelected. They provided a balance for the two kings, who rarely cooperated with each other. Plato called the ephors tyrants who ran Sparta as despots, while the kings were little more than generals. Up to two ephors would accompany a king on extended military campaigns as a sign of control, and they held the authority to declare war during some periods in Spartan history.[2] There were a total of 7 Ephors, consisting of the two kings and the 5 who were elected.

According to Plutarch,[3] every autumn, at the crypteia, the ephors would pro forma declare war on the helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a helot without fear of blood guilt.[4] This was done to keep the large helot population in check.

The ephors did not have to kneel down before the Kings of Sparta and were held in high esteem by the citizens, because of the importance of their powers and because of the holy role they earned throughout their functions. Since decisions were made by majority vote, this could mean that Sparta's policy could change quickly, when the vote of one ephor changed. (E.g. in 403 BC when Pausanias convinced three of the ephors to send an army to Attica; this was a complete turn around to the politics of Lysander.[5])

Cleomenes III abolished the ephors in 227 BC, but they were restored by the Macedonian king Antigonus III Doson after the Battle of Sellasia in 222 BC. Although Sparta fell under Roman rule in 146 BC, the position existed into the 2nd century AD, when it was probably abolished by the Roman emperor Hadrian and superseded by Imperial governance as part of the province of Achaea.

Zeus Naucratis Painter Louvre E668

Zeus on his throne with his eagle

This article is part of the series:
Spartan Constitution

Great Rhetra
Laws of Lycurgus
List of Kings of Sparta

Spartan army •   Other Greek city-states •  Law Portal

Legal power

The ephors held numerous duties including legislative, judicial, financial, and executive duties.[6] They had the power to indict a king, who would then be tried before the ephors and gerousia. Historians Paul Cartledge, Bury and Huxley agree that the ephors attained powers as great as the kings during the 7th century BC.


The word "ephors" (Greek ἔφοροι éphoroi, plural form of ἔφορος éphoros) comes from the Greek ἐπί epi, "on" or "over", and ὁράω horaō, "to see", i.e. "one who oversees" or "overseer".

Contemporary Uses

The concept of an ephorate continues to be used by some contemporary organizations which require a monarchical element within a democratic framework. One such organization is the Ephorate of the Rascals, Rogues, and Rapscallions, an American fraternal research society.[7]


  1. ^ Xenophon, Constitution of Sparta they collected taxes and in forced laws in Sparta. 15.7.
  2. ^ Nicolas Richer (1998). Les éphores. Études sur l'histoire et sur l'image de Sparte (VIIIe-IIIe siècle avant Jésus-Christ). Histoire ancienne et médiévale 50. Pantheon-Sorbonne University. p. 636. ISBN 2-85944-347-9.
  3. ^ Life of Lycurgus, 28, 3–7.
  4. ^ Xenophon, Constitution of Sparta 15.6; Xenophon, Hellenica 2.3.9–10; Plutarch, Agis 12.1, 16.2; Plato, Laws 3.692; Aristotle, The Politics 2.6.14–16; A.H.M. Jones, Sparta (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967), p. 26; Robert Struble, Jr., Treatise on Twelve Lights, chapter six, subsection entitled "Ancient Greece" Archived 2016-04-11 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Donald Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. page 29. Ithaca/New York 1969, ISBN 0-8014-9556-3.
  6. ^ Ancient Sparta – description of governmental system
  7. ^ Constitution of the RR&R Ephorate

External links

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Aracus (Ancient Greek: Ἄρακος) was a man of ancient Sparta who served as an ephor in 409 BCE. He was appointed nauarch (ναύαρχος) of the Spartan fleet in 405, with Lysander as his vice-admiral (ἐπιστολεύς); Lysander was to have the actual power, but could not be named nauarch because Spartan law did not allow the same person to hold this office twice.In 398, Aracus was sent into Asia as one of the commissioners to inspect the state of things there, and to prolong the command of Dercyllidas; and in 369, he was one of the ambassadors sent to Athens, where Ἄρακος (Aracus) should be read instead of Ἄρατος (Aratus), though some sources confuse the names.

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Endius (Endios) was a Spartan ephor during the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC).

Endius was a son of Alcibiades, member of a family whose connection with that of the Athenian Alcibiades had in a previous generation introduced into the latter this Lacedaemonian name. Apparently he was one of the three ambassadors sent by Sparta in 420 BC to dissuade Athens from entering into an alliance with Argos. They were chosen, says Thucydides, from the belief of their being acceptable to the Athenians, and possibly in particular with a view to conciliate his guest, Alcibiades, who probably made use of this very advantage in effecting the deception by which he defeated their purpose.

He was elected ephor in the autumn of 413 BC, the time of the Athenian disaster at Syracuse. And through him Alcibiades now inflicted on his country the severe blow of bringing the Lacedaemonians to the coast of Ionia, which otherwise may have been postponed. His influence decided the government to lend its support to Chios; and when the blockade of their ships in Piraeus seemed likely to put a stop to all operations, he again persuaded Endius and his colleagues to make the attempt. Thucydides says that Alcibiades was his patrikos es ta malista xenos; so that probably it was with him that Alcibiades resided during his stay at Sparta.To these facts we may venture to add from Diodorus the further statement, that after the defeat at Cyzicus in 410 BC, he was sent from Sparta at the head of an embassy to Athens with reasonable proposals for peace, which were rejected thanks to the influence of the presumptuous demagogue Cleophon.

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Sthenelaidas (Gr. Σθενελαίδας) was a Spartan who held the office of ephor in 432 BC, and, in the congress of the Lacedaemonians and their allies at Sparta in that year, vehemently and successfully urged the assembly to declare war with Athens. The speech which Thucydides puts into his mouth on this occasion is strongly marked by the characteristics of Spartan eloquence: brevity and simplicity. He was the father of the Spartan general Alcamenes.

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