A rise of the Ephorate and a decline of the kingship?

Seminar Paper, 2007

18 Pages, Grade: Sehr Gut (A)


The Spartan Ephorate is often a crucial indication in the context of a development of the Spartan constitution; more precisely the Ephorate compared with the Spartan double kingship. It seems to be communis opinio among scholars to assume a constant development of the institutions in Sparta from monarchic dominated[1] up to the partly oligarchic and partly democratic institutions in the Classical time. The assumptions of many scholars culminate in the conclusion of a declining of the kingship by the rising of the Ephorate as a guard of the kings,[2] but which might have been not the result of the efforts of the damos but more the result of ‘a process of self-regulation in the political upper class of Sparta’ (‘eine Art Selbstregulierungsprozess der Oberschicht’).[3]

There are ancient sources supporting the assumption of a development and a later addition of the Ephorate,[4] on the other hand there are also sources which explain all the institutions were made up at the same time and remained unchanged.[5] There is a tendency in the works of the 4th century BC to imply a development of the Spartan constitution and therefore to assume a later invention or a later rises of the Ephorate. On the contrary in most of the sources from the 5th century BC we find the assumption of an earlier establishing of the constitution as a whole including the Ephorate. It is likely to presume a changing point of view towards the Spartan constitution as well as towards constitutional development as a whole in the 4th century BC, which very possibly might led to another interpretation or so to say to a false interpretation of the Spartan constitution and the Spartan institutions. This could also explain the different notes about the Spartan constitution and its Ephorate we have from Plato. First in one of his letters he depicts the Ephorate as invented by Lycurgos at the same time like all the other institutions,[6] but in one of his later works he states a development of the constitution and the invention of the Ephorate by a ‘third savior’, whose identity remains uncertain.[7]

At the end of the 5th towards the 3rd century BC we have severe discrepancies between Spartan kings and Ephores which culminated in the demand to abolish the Ephorate.[8] Reflections of those incongruities found their way into the sources of that period and might led to the assumption the Ephorate was not originally part of the Lykurgian constitution but a later invention which now must have been corrected.[9]

So it must take into consideration when the sources in question were produced, and it seems likely to see in most of the sources of the 4th century BC a deliberately changed view on the Spartan constitution.[10]

To explain and describe the Spartan constitution and institutions, often Plutarch’s Lycurgos[11] from the 1st century AD is the foundation for considerations. But it is one of the later sources we have for the Spartan history, and Plutarch did not make clear from which source he took the passage about the Spartan rhetra. It seems to be taken out of context, and the text is divided into two parts, which are most likely from different sources and also from different times.[12] There is disagreement among the scholars whether the second part is originally linked to the core text containing Lycurg’s activities,[13] or if the passage is younger[14] or older than the main text.[15] The Ephorate is not particularly mentioned in the Plutarch text, a fact which led scholars to the assumption that the Ephores where not present in the early stage of the Spartan constitution but a later addition. This assumption is supported by the second part of the Plutarch text, which declares King Theopompos as the inventor of the Ephorate.[16] But this text is from the 1st century AD, and its provenance is uncertain, so I consider it problematic at least to conclude a non-existence of the Ephorate in the beginning of the Spartan constitution from not mentioning the Ephorate in that particularly text.[17] On the other hand if we look at the addition of the rhetra text in Plutarch we find the name of king Theopompos mingled with the activities to strengthen the Gerusia. But the same king is mentioned in some sources of the 4th century as the inventor of the Ephorate![18] Now that increases my disbelieves in the sources of the 4th century BC, because according to these sources the Ephorate, and so its inventor king Theopompos, would have increased the influence of the Ephores and decreased the influence of the kingship. But here we find that king named in actions clearly to support the Gerusia and the kingship against the damos!

Looking now for the earliest mentioning of the Spartan constitution most scholars look up to Tyrtaios[19] and his poems, for his works seem to be the earliest source for Spartan institutions and political life. Usually Tyrtaios is dated in the middle of the 7th century BC,[20] mostly because of the chronology of the Messenian wars, which I regard as a bit problematic. We do not have precise notes and sources about the Messenian wars, most of the chronological orders are made in Hellenistic times, about 400 years later.[21] Hence the precise date of Tyrtaios’ living and writing is so uncertain; there are debates among scholars whether he is to be dated in the 7th century BC or maybe later in the 6th century[22] or even 5th century BC.[23]

That thesis about the dating of Tyrtaios into the 5th century BC is also supported in the recent work of Andreas Luther, in which he postulated two different Messenians wars into the fragments of Tyrtaios, which were fought with at least 50 to 60 years difference to the time of Tyrtaios life.[24] Although some of our sources date the first conquest of Messenia and so the first Messenian war into the 8/7th century BC,[25] there are also other sources which allow us to date the Spartan conquest of Messenia into the end of the 7th or beginning of the 6th century BC.[26] Recent works of scholars tend to follow that dating and therefore think of the finally Spartan conquest of Messenia not before around 600 BC.[27]

In frgm.4D Tytaios describes a war which occurred in the time of the grandfathers and which ended after 20 years with a flight or retreat of the Messenians from mount Ithome.[28] Thucydides also describes a fight against people from Messenia, which took place at the mount Ithome and ended with – so Thucydides – the safe retreat of the Messenians out of the Peloponnesus.[29] Diodorus mentioned a huge military conflict with the people of Messenia right after the devastating earthquake - stated also by Thucydides in correlation with the Ithome fight - which happened in Sparta; we may date that event in the sixties of the 5th century BC.[30] So Tyrtaios description of the Messenian war and the siege of Ithome could possibly mirror the events in the 5th century. Although the exact date of the earthquake is much debated among scholars,[31] as well as the chronology about Tyrtaios and his lifetime remains uncertain, because of the considerations above I follow the opinion that Tyrtaios and his work may be dated in the 5th century BC., and because Tyrtaios himself assigned the war in the time of the grandfathers we may think of Tyrtaios lifetime in the end of the 5th century BC. According to this postulate Tyrtaios then would not be a much earlier source than Herodotus or Thucydides but a contemporary to them, and his elegies would reflect the Spartan institutions in classical time.


[1] Hdt.6.52.5 explains the innovation of the double kingship in Sparta … th\n de\ Puqi/hn sfe/aj keleu/ein a)mfo/tera ta\ paidi/a h(gh/sasqai basile/aj,…

[2] L.Thommen. Lakedaimonion Politeia. Stuttgart (1996) 75; 82. L.Thommen. Sparta. Verfassungs- und Sozialgeschichte einer griechischen Polis. Stuttgart (2003) 103. M.Meier. Kleomenes I., Demaratos und das spartanische Ephorat. In: GFA 2 (1999) 90

[3] L.Thommen. Volkstribunat und Ephorat. Uberlegungen zum ‘Aufseheramt’ in Rom und Sparta. In: GFA 6 (2003) 30; M.Meier. Aristokraten und Damoden. Stuttgart (1999) 186ff.

[4] Aristot.Pol.1313a … kai\ pa/lin Qeopo/mpou metria/santoj toi=j te a)/lloij kai\ th\n tw=n e)fo/rwn a)rxh\n e)pikatasth/santoj: th=j ga\r duna/mewj a)felw\n hu)/chse tw=? xro/nw? th\n basilei/an, w(/ste tro/pon tina\ e)poi/hsen ou)k e)la/tton' a)lla\ mei/zon' au)th/n …

[5] Thuc.1.18.1e)/th ga/r e)sti ma/lista tetrako/sia kai\ o)li/gw? plei/w e)j th\n teleuth\n tou=de tou= pole/mou…

[6] Plat.Letters 8.354b ei)/h , metabalei=n . dunato\n de/, w(j e)/deicen e)/rgw? sofo\j a)nh\r kai\ a)gaqo\j Lukou=rgoj, o(\j i)dw\n to\ tw=n oi)kei/wn ge/noj e)n )/Argei kai\ Messh/nh? e)k basile/wn ei)j tura/nnwn du/namin a)fikome/nouj kai\ diafqei/rantaj e(autou/j te kai\ th\n po/lin e(kate/rouj e(kate/ran , dei/saj peri\ th=j au(tou= po/lewj a(/ma kai\ ge/nouj , fa/rmakon e)ph/negken th\n tw=n gero/ntwn a)rxh\n kai\ to\n tw=n e)fo/rwn desmo\n th=j basilikh=j a)rxh=j swth/rion, w(/ste genea\j tosau/taj h)/dh met' eu)klei/aj sw/?zesqai, no/moj

[7] Plat.Nomoi 3.691d-692.a … qeo\j ei)=nai khdo/menoj u(mw=n tij, o(\j ta\ me/llonta proorw=n, di/dumon u(mi=n futeu/saj th\n tw=n basile/wn ge/nesin e)k monogenou=j, ei)j to\ me/trion ma=llon sune/steile. kai\ meta\ tou=to e)/ti fu/sij tij a)nqrwpi/nh memeigme/nh qei/a? tini\ duna/mei, katidou=sa u(mw=n th\n a)rxh\n flegmai/nousan e)/ti, mei/gnusin th\n kata\ gh=raj sw/frona du/namin th=? kata\ ge/noj au)qa/dei r(w/mh?, th\n tw=n o)ktw\ kai\ ei)/kosi gero/ntwn i)so/yhfon ei)j ta\ me/gista th=? tw=n basile/wn poih/sasa duna/mei. o( de\ tri/toj swth\r u(mi=n e)/ti spargw=san kai\ qumoume/nhn th\n a)rxh\n o(rw=n, oi(=on ya/lion e)ne/balen au)th=? th\n tw=n e)fo/rwn du/namin, e)ggu\j th=j klhrwth=j a)gagw\n duna/mewj

[8] Especially king Pausanias. Strabo 8.5.5Pau]sani/an te tw=n Eu)rupwntidw=n e)kpeso/n[ta . . . th=j] oi)kei/aj e)n th=? fugh=? sunta/cai lo/g[on kata\ tou= Lukou/r]gou, no/mwn o)/ntoj th=j e)kbalou/sh[j au)to\n ai)ti/ou, kai\] tou\j xrhsmou\j le/gein tou\j doqe/nta[j au)tw=? peri\ tw=n] plei/stwn

[9] Aristot.Pol.5.1301b … o(moi/wj de\ kai\ e)pi\ tw=n loipw=n politeiw=n, h)\ i(/na e)pitaqw=sin h)\ a)neqw=sin: e)/ti pro\j to\ me/roj ti kinh=sai th=j politei/aj, oi(=on a)rxh/n tina katasth=sai h)\ a)nelei=n, w(/sper e)n Lakedai/moni/ fasi Lu/sandro/n tinej e)pixeirh=sai katalu=sai th\n basilei/an kai\ Pausani/an to\n basile/a th\n e)forei/an

[10] M.Koiv. Ancient tradition and early Greek history. The origins of states in early Archaic Sparta, Argos and Corinth. Tallin (2003) 200-202

[11] Plut.Lyc.6

[12] For this debate see D.Ogden. Crooked speech: the genesis of the Spartan rhetra. In: JHS 114 (1994) 87

[13] M.Meier. Aristokraten und Damoden. Stuttgart (1999) 187; L.Thommen. Sparta. Verfassungs- und Sozialgeschichte einer griechischen Polis. Stuttgart (2003) 35; M.Dreher. Athen und Sparta. München (2001) 41f.

[14] M.Koiv. Ancient tradition and early Greek history. The origins of states in early Archaic Sparta, Argos and Corinth. Tallin (2003) 196f.

[15] D.Ogden. Crooked speech: the genesis of the Spartan rhetra. In: JHS 114 (1994) 100-102

[16] See also Plut.Lyc.7e1tesi/ pou ma/lista tri/akonta kai\ e(kato\n meta\ Lukou~rgon prw/twn tw~n e)fo/rwn katastaqe/ntwn e)pi\ Qeopo/mpou basileu/ovtoj …

[17] So does for example L.Thommen . Sparta. Verfassungs- und Sozialgeschichte einer griechischen Polis. Stuttgart (2003) 101

[18] Aristot.Pol.1313a … kai\ pa/lin Qeopo/mpou metria/santoj toi=j te a)/lloij kai\ th\n tw=n e)fo/rwn a)rxh\n e)pikatasth/santoj: th=j ga\r duna/mewj a)felw\n hu)/chse tw=? xro/nw? th\n basilei/an, w(/ste tro/pon tina\ e)poi/hsen ou)k e)la/tton' a)lla\ mei/zon' au)th/n …

[19] In question at that point in that paper are especially the fragmentary poems Frgm. 2-4

[20] For example two of the experts in Spartan history among the German scholars follow these dates. M.Meier. Aristokraten und Damoden. Stuttgart (1999) 94; 239 and L.Thommen. Lakedaimonion Politeia. Stuttgart (1996) 31

[21] About the chronological problems see D.Fehling. Die sieben Weisen und die frühgriechische Chronologie. Bern (1985) 67-78; 130ff.; 144f.

[22] One of the earliest doubters of the 7th century thesis used to be E.Schwartz. Tyrtaeos. In: Hermes 34 (1899) 466f.

[23] P.J.Shaw. Discrepancies in Olympiad dating and chronological problems of Archaic Peloponnesian history. Stuttgart (2003) 144; 245f.

[24] A.Luther. Könige und Ephoren. Untersuchungen zur spartanischen Verfassungsgeschichte. Frankfurt/Main (2004) 64-68

[25] Isokr.Arch.6.26-27 … h(mei=j toi/nun Messh/nhn ei(/lomen pri\n Pe/rsaj labei=n th\n basilei/an kai\ krath=sai th=j h)pei/rou , kai\ pri\n oi)kisqh=nai/ tinaj tw=n po/lewn tw=n (Ellhni/dwnkai\ tou/twn h(mi=n u(parxo/ntwn tw=| me\n barba/rw| th\n )Asi/an w(j patrw/|an ou)=san a)podido/asin, o(\j ou)/pw diako/si' e)/th kate/sxhke th\n a)rxh/n, h(ma=j de\ Messh/nhn a)posterou=sin, oi(\ ple/on dipla/sion xro/non h)\ tosou=ton tugxa/nomen e)/xontej au)th/n This would give a date in the middle of the 8th century BC

[26] Plut.Mor.194B (and Ael.var.hist.13.42) in the report about the battle of Leuctra Epameinondas had repopulated Messenia 230 years after its conquest by the Spartans. … oi)ki/sai de\ Messh/nhn di ) e)tw~n tria/konta kai\ diakosi/wn …

[27] M.Meier. Aristokraten und Damoden. Stuttgart (1999) 94-96; M.Dreher. Athen und Sparta. München (2001) 37f.

[28] Tyrt.Frgm.4Dα ἰχμητα ὶ πατ έρων ἡμετ έρων πατ έρες ε ἰκοστ ῷ δ ' ο ἱ μ ὲν κατ ὰ π ίονα ἔργα λιπ όντες φε ῦγον Ἰθωμα ίων ἐκ μεγ άλων ὀρ έων .

[29] Thuc.1.101; 103 oi( de\ u(pe/sxonto me\n kru/fa tw=n )Aqhnai/wn kai\ e)/mellon, diekwlu/qhsan de\ u(po\ tou= genome/nou seismou=, e)n w(=| kai\ oi( Ei(/lwtej au)toi=j kai\ tw=n perioi/kwn Qouria=tai/ te kai\ Ai)qaih=j e)j )qw/mhn a)pe/sthsan * . plei=stoi de\ tw=n Ei(lw/twn e)ge/nonto oi( tw=n palaiw=n Messhni/wn to/te doulwqe/ntwn a)po/gonoi: h(=| kai\ Messh/nioi e)klh/qhsan oi( pa/ntej … . oi( d' e)n )Iqw/mh| deka/tw| e)/tei , w(j ou)ke/ti e)du/nanto a)nte/xein , cune/bhsan pro\j tou\j Lakedaimoni/ouj e)f' w(=| e)ci/asin e)k Peloponnh/sou u(po/spondoi kai\ mhde/pote e)pibh/sontai au)th=j

[30] Diod.11.63-65 tau=ta me\n ou)=n e)pra/xqh kata\ tou=ton to\n e)niauto/n. e)p' a)/rxontoj d' Aqh/nhsi Fai/wnoj e)n (Rw/mh| th\n u(/paton a)rxh\n diede/canto Leu/kioj Fou/rioj Mediolano\j kai\ Ma/rkoj Mani/lioj Ou)a/swn. e)pi\ de\ tou/twn mega/lh tij kai\ para/docoj e)ge/neto sumfora\ toi=j Lakedaimoni/oij: e)n ga\r th=| Spa/rth| genome/nwn seismw=n mega/lwn sune/bh pesei=n ta\j oi)ki/aj e)k qemeli/wn kai\ tw=n Lakedaimoni/wn plei/ouj tw=n dismuri/wn fqarh=nai. e)pi\ polu\n de\ xro/non sunexw=j th=j po/lewj kataferome/nhj kai\ tw=n oi)kiw=n piptousw=n polla\ sw/mata toi=j ptw/masi tw=n toi/xwn a)polambano/mena diefqa/rh, ou)k o)li/gon de\ tw=n kata\ ta\j oi)ki/aj xrhma/twn o( seismo\j e)lumh/nato … meta\ de\ tau=ta )Aqh/nhsi me\n h)=n a)/rxwn Qeagenei/dhj, e)n (Rw/mh| d' u(/patoi kaqeisth/kesan Leu/kioj Ai)mi/lioj Ma/merkoj kai\ Leu/kioj )Iou/lioj )/Iouloj, )Olumpia\j d' h)/xqh e(bdomhkosth\ kai\ o)gdo/h

[31] R.Sealey. The great earthquake in Lakedaemon. In: Historia 6 (1957) 370; D.W.Reece. The date of the fall of Ithome. In: JHS 82 (1962) 117ff.; P.Cartledge. Sparta and Lakonia. A regional History 1300-362 B.C. Boston (1979) 218f.

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A rise of the Ephorate and a decline of the kingship?
Indiana University  (Department for Classical Studies)
Ancient democracy beyond Athens
Sehr Gut (A)
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Ephorate, Ancient, Athens
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M.A. Diana Beuster (Author), 2007, A rise of the Ephorate and a decline of the kingship?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/77511


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