EPHOR , the title of the highest magistrates of the ancient Spartan state. It is uncertain when the office was created and what was its original character. That it owed its institution to Lycurgus (Herod. i. 65; cf. Xen. Respub. Lacedaem. viii. 3) is very improbable, and we may either regard it as an immemorial Dorian institution (with C.O. Müller, H. Gabriel, H.K. Stein, Ed. Meyer and others), or accept the tradition that it was founded during the first Messenian War, which necessitated a prolonged absence from Sparta on the part of both kings (Plato, Laws, iii. 692 a; Aristotle, Politics, v. 9. 1 = p. 1313 a 26; Plut. Cleomenes, 10; so G. Dum, G. Gilbert, A.H.J. Greenidge). There is no evidence for the theory that originally the ephors were market inspectors; they seem rather to have had from the outset judicial or police functions. Gradually they extended their powers, aided by the jealousy between the royal houses, which made it almost impossible for the two kings to co-operate heartily, and from the 5th to the 3rd century they exercised a growing despotism which Plato justly calls a tyrannis (Laws, 692). Cleomenes III. restored the royal power by murdering four of the ephors and abolishing the office, and though it was revived by Antigonus Doson after the battle of Sellasia, and existed at least down to Hadrian's reign (Sparta Museum Catalogue, Introd. p. 10), it never regained its former power.
In historical times the ephors were five in number, the first of them giving his name to the year, like the eponymous archon at Athens. Where opinions were divided the majority prevailed. The ephors were elected annually, originally no doubt by the kings, later by the people; their term of office began with the new moon after the autumnal equinox, and they had an official residence in the Agora. Every full citizen was eligible and no property qualification was required.
The ephors summoned and presided over meetings of the Gerousia and Apella, and formed the executive committee responsible for carrying out decrees. In their dealings with the kings they represented the supremacy of the people. There was a monthly exchange of oaths, the kings swearing to rule according to the laws, the ephors undertaking on this condition to maintain the royal authority (Xen. Resp. Laced. 15. 7). They alone might remain seated in a king's presence, and had power to try and even to imprison a king, who must appear before them at the third summons. Two of them accompanied the army in the field, not interfering with the king's conduct of the campaign, but prepared, if need be, to bring him to trial on his return. The ephors, again, exercised a general guardianship of law and custom and superintended the training of the young. They shared the criminal jurisdiction of the Gerousia and decided civil suits. The administration of taxation, the distribution of booty, and the regulation of the calendar also devolved upon them. They could actually put perioeci to death without trial, if we may believe Isocrates (xii. 181), and were responsible for protecting the state against the helots, against whom they formally declared war on entering office, so as to be able to kill any whom they regarded as dangerous without violating religious scruples. Finally, the ephors were supreme in questions of foreign policy. They enforced, when necessary, the alien acts , negotiated with foreign ambassadors, instructed generals, sent out expeditions and were the guiding spirits of the Spartan confederacy.
See the constitutional histories of G. Gilbert (Eng. trans.), pp. 16, 52-59; G. Busolt, p. 84 ff., V. Thumser, p. 241 ff., G.F. Schömann (Eng. trans.), p. 236 ff., A.H.J. Greenidge, p. 102 ff.; Szanto's article "Ephoroi" in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, v. 2860 ff.; Ed. Meyer, Forschungen zur alten Geschichte, i. 244 ff.; C.O. Müller, Dorians, bk. iii. ch. vii.; G. Grote, History of Greece, pt. ii. ch. vi.; G. Busolt, Griechische Geschichte, i. 555 ff.; B. Niese, Historische Zeitschrift, lxii. 58 ff. Of the many monographs dealing with this subject the following are specially useful: G. Dum, Entstehung und Entwicklung des spartan. Ephorats (Innsbruck, 1878); H.K. Stein, Das spartan. Ephorat bis auf Cheilon (Paderborn, 1870); K. Kuchtner, Entstehung und ursprüngliche Bedeutung des spartan. Ephorats (Munich, 1897); C. Frick, De ephoris Spartanis (Göttingen, 1872); A. Schaefer, De ephoris Lacedaemoniis (Greifswald, 1863); E. von Stern, Zur Entstehung und ursprünglichen Bedeutung des Ephorats in Sparta (Berlin, 1894).
(M. N. T.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)