What Is a Ephors in Ancient Greece?

In Ancient Greece, the term ‘Ephors’ referred to a group of five magistrates who were responsible for overseeing the affairs of the state, particularly in Sparta. These individuals were elected annually and held significant power in the society.

History of Ephors

The concept of Ephors was introduced in the 8th century BC in Sparta as a way to balance the power of the monarchy. The word ‘Ephor’ means ‘overseer’ or ‘watcher,’ and these magistrates were tasked with supervising not only the king but also other public officials and citizens.

The Role of Ephors

The Ephors had several responsibilities and powers that they exercised during their tenure, including:

  • Overseeing the education system: The Ephors were responsible for ensuring that all Spartan citizens received proper education, which included physical training and military skills.
  • Legal disputes: They acted as judges in legal disputes between citizens and could even impeach public officials if they deemed them unfit for office.
  • Financial matters: The Ephors managed all financial matters related to state affairs, including taxes and public spending.
  • Military command: In times of war, they could assume command over Spartan troops.

The Selection Process for Ephors

The selection process for Ephors was unique. Each year, two candidates from each of the five Spartan tribes were nominated by their respective tribes.

After this nomination process, 50 candidates were chosen by lot. From this pool of candidates, five individuals were selected to serve as Ephors for one year.

Ephorate System vs Monarchy

The introduction of the Ephorate system was revolutionary in Ancient Greece as it helped establish a balance between the power of monarchy and the authority of the people. The Ephors were able to check the power of the king and other officials, making sure that they did not abuse their authority. This system helped prevent corruption and abuse of power, which was common in other Greek city-states.


In conclusion, Ephors were an essential part of Ancient Greece’s political system. They played a crucial role in maintaining a balance of power between the monarchy and the people, ensuring that justice prevailed, and the interests of citizens were protected. Their contribution to Spartan society has left a lasting impact on history and remains an important aspect of Greek political thought.