An ephor (from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  epi, "on" or "over", and horaō, "to see", i.e. "one who oversees") was the leader of ancient Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

 and shared power with the Spartan king. There were five ephors elected annually, who "swore on behalf of the city", while the kings swore for themselves.

Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 claimed that the institution was created by Lycurgus
Lycurgus (Sparta)
Lycurgus was the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi...

, while Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 considers it a later institution. It may have arisen from the need for governors while the kings were leading armies in battle. The ephors were elected by the popular assembly, and all citizens were eligible for election. They were forbidden to be reelected. They provided a balance for the two kings, who rarely cooperated with each other. Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 called them tyrant
A tyrant was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments.Plato and...

s who ran Sparta as despot
Despotism is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy...

s, while the kings were little more than generals.

According to Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, every autumn, at the crypteia
Krypteia or crypteia was a tradition involving young Spartans, part of the agoge regime of Spartan education...

, the ephors would pro forma
Pro forma
The term pro forma is a term applied to practices or documents that are done as a pure formality, perfunctory, or seek to satisfy the minimum requirements or to conform to a convention or doctrine...

declare war on the helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a helot without fear of blood guilt.

The Ephors did not have to kneel down before the Kings of Sparta and were highly considered by the citizens, because of the importance of their powers and because of the holy role they earned throughout their functions.
Since decisions were made by majority vote, this could mean that Sparta's policy could change quickly, when one vote of an ephor switched (e.g. in 403 BC when Pausanias
Pausanias of Sparta
Pausanias King of Sparta from 409 BC. He was in frequent conflict with the Ephors. Aristotle said that he tried to overthrow them. Army leader Lysander sent a letter to him, requesting help against Thebes, but it was intercepted...

 convinced three of the ephors to send an army to Attica). This was a complete turnaround to the politics of Lysander
Lysander was a Spartan general who commanded the Spartan fleet in the Hellespont which defeated the Athenians at Aegospotami in 405 BC...


Cleomenes III
Cleomenes III
Cleomenes III was the King of Sparta from 235-222 BC. He succeeded to the Agiad throne of Sparta after his father, Leonidas II in 235 BC.From 229 BC to 222 BC, Cleomenes waged war against the Achaean League under Aratus of Sicyon. Domestically, he is known for his attempt to reform the Spartan state...

 abolished the ephors in 227 BC, but they were restored by the Macedonian king Antigonus III Doson
Antigonus III Doson
Antigonus III Doson was king of Macedon from 229 BC to 221 BC. He belonged to the Antigonid dynasty.-Family Background:He was a grandson of Demetrius Poliorcetes and cousin of Demetrius II, who after the latter died in battle and rescued Macedonia and restored Antigonid control of Greece...

 after the Battle of Sellasia
Battle of Sellasia
The Battle of Sellasia took place during the summer of 222 BC between the armies of Macedon and the Achaean League, led by Antigonus III Doson, and Sparta under the command of King Cleomenes III...

. The position existed into the 2nd century AD when it was probably abolished by the Roman emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

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