ephors (ĕfˈərz) [key] [Gr., = overseers], in ancient Greece, magistrates in several Dorian states. In Sparta they comprised an executive, legislative, and judicial board of five Spartan citizens. This annually elected board functioned from at least the 8th cent. B.C. until it was abolished (c.227 B.C.) by Cleomenes III. Later it was revived and lasted until A.D. 200. At its peak of authority the board of ephors was the organ of citizen control over the dual kingship of Sparta. Its members were elected in various ways at different times, but for the most part, apparently, by drawing lots. Their relation to the two kings was curious. The kings were recognized as the only authorized military commanders, but the ephors had full discretion in levying troops. During campaigns they had no voice in command, but they might bring the royal leaders to trial for alleged errors in conducting war. The ephors cast the deciding voice when the kings disagreed. Their decisions were the result of a simple majority vote.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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