Previous page Page 0 of 0  
Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere

Bookmark and Share
Ephors and elders: from the 8th century BC

The five ephors are the highest authority in Sparta after the two kings. They are elected annually by the assembly, composed of all Spartan citizens over the age of thirty. Immediately after their election the ephors fulfil a significant annual duty. They declare war on the helots, so that there will be no irregularity if any of them need to be killed at short notice. Theoretically Sparta is in a permanent state of civil war.

The ephors preside over the gerousia ('council of elders'), a body which is aptly named since all thirty members, apart from the two kings, have to be over the age of sixty. Once elected, they serve for life.


When there is a vacancy in the council of elders, it is filled by a vote of the assembly - in which every citizen has a voice. This power, together with the annual election of the ephors, means that the citizens of Sparta enjoy a representative democracy. This differs from the direct democracy of Athens, but it is not the simple oligarchy normally associated with the name of Sparta.

The normal business of government is conducted by the council of elders, which in judicial cases can vote a sentence of death or exile. The trial of a king is carried out either by the council or the assembly, but issues of war and peace always come before the assembly.


Previous page Page 0 of 0  
Up to top of page EPHORS AND ELDERS