EPHEBI , a name specially given, in Athens and other Greek towns, to a class of young men from eighteen to twenty years of age, who formed a sort of college under state control. On the completion of his seventeenth year the Athenian youth attained his civil majority, and, provided he belonged to the first three property classes and passed the scrutiny as to age, civic descent and physical capability, was enrolled on the register of his deme . He thereby at once became liable to the military training and duties, which, at least in the earliest times, were the main object of the Ephebia. In the time of Aristotle the names of the enrolled ephebi were engraved on a bronze pillar (formerly on wooden tablets) in front of the council-chamber. After admission to the college, the ephebus took the oath of allegiance, recorded in Pollux and Stobaeus (but not in Aristotle), in the temple of Aglaurus, and was sent to Munychia or Acte to form one of the garrison. At the end of the first year of training, the ephebi were reviewed, and, if their performance was satisfactory, were provided by the state with a spear and a shield, which, together with the chlamys (cloak) and petasus (broad-brimmed hat), made up their equipment. In their second year they were transferred to other garrisons in Attica, patrolled the frontiers, and on occasion took an active part in war. During these two years they were free from taxation, and were not allowed (except in certain cases) to appear in the law courts as plaintiffs or defendants. The ephebi took part in some of the most important Athenian festivals. Thus during the Eleusinia they were told off to fetch the sacred objects from Eleusis and to escort the image of Iacchus on the sacred way. They also performed police duty at the meetings of the ecclesia.
After the end of the 4th century B.C. the institution underwent a radical change. Enrolment ceased to be obligatory, lasted only for a year, and the limit of age was dispensed with. Inscriptions attest a continually decreasing number of ephebi, and with the admission of foreigners the college lost its representative national character. This was mainly due to the weakening of the military spirit and the progress of intellectual culture. The military element was no longer all-important, and the ephebia became a sort of university for well-to-do young men of good family, whose social position has been compared with that of the Athenian "knights" of earlier times. The institution lasted till the end of the 3rd century A.D.
It is probable that the ephebia was in existence in the 5th century B.C., and controlled by the Areopagus and strategus as its moral and military supervisors. In the 4th century their place was taken by ten sophronistae (one for each tribe), who, as the name implies, took special interest in the morals of those under them, their military training being in the hands of experts, of whom the chief were the hoplomachus, the acontistes, the toxotes and the aphetes (instructors respectively in the use of arms, javelin-throwing, archery and the use of artillery engines). Later, the sophronistae were superseded by a single official called cosmetes, elected for a year by the people, who appointed the instructors. When the ephebia instead of a military college became a university, the military instructors were replaced by philosophers, rhetoricians, grammarians and artists. In Roman imperial times several new officials were introduced, one of special importance being the director of the Diogeneion, where youths under age were trained for the ephebia. At this period the college of ephebi was a miniature city; its members called themselves "citizens," and it possessed an archon, strategus, herald and other officials, after the model of ancient Athens.
There is an extensive class of inscriptions, ranging from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., containing decrees relating to the ephebi, their officers and instructors, and lists of the same, and a whole chapter (42) of the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens is devoted to the subject. The most important treatises on the subject are: W. Dittenberger, De ephebis Atticis (Göttingen, 1863); A. Dumont, Essai sur l'éphébie attique (1875-1876); L. Grasberger, Erziehung und Unterricht im klassichen Altertum, iii. (Würzburg, 1881); J.P. Mahaffy, Old Greek Education (1881); P. Girard, L'Education athénienne au Ve et IVe siècle avant J.-C. (2nd ed., 1891), and article in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquités which contains further bibliographical references; G. Gilbert, The Constitutional Antiquities of Athens (Eng. tr., 1895); G. Busolt, Die griechischen Staats- und Rechtsaltertümer (1892); T. Thalheim and J. Ohler in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, v. pt. 2 (1905); W.W. Capes, University Life in Ancient Athens (1877).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)