Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.12.36

Nicolas Richer, Les éphores. Études sur l'histoire et sur l'image de Sparte (VIIIe-IIIe siècle avant Jésus-Christ). Histoire ancienne et médiévale 50.   Paris:  Université de Paris I, 1998.  Pp. 636.  ISBN 2-85944-347-9.  FF 190.00.  



Reviewed by Thomas Figueira, Rutgers University, New Brunswick (figueira@rci.rutgers.edu)
Word count: 2499 words

Let me start by saying that, having consulted this book for several scholarly projects, I felt it was not receiving recognition in North America commensurate with its contributions to scholarship on ancient Sparta. Hence I offered to write this review.

After an introduction setting out the basics about the ephoreia or ephorate and elucidating the genesis of this volume, the author devotes the first of three parts to the origins of the ephoreia. Here emphasis rightly falls also on understanding that ancient commentary on the origins of the ephoreia was inextricably linked with appraisals of its legitimacy and with the question whether its historical impact was positive or negative. Thus, commenting on the ephoreia was tantamount to appraising the entire Spartan constitution. The first chapter presents twenty-four passages (with translations) that bear on the beginning of the ephoreia. They attribute its foundation either to Lykourgos -- citations then explored in chapter 2 -- or to king Theopompos. Chapter 3 next cautiously explores the controversial role in the development of these attributions possibly played by an early 4th-century pamphlet (noted by Aristotle and Strabo) by Spartan king Pausanias that advocated curtailment of the prerogatives or dissolution of the ephoreia. Next, Richer examines the purported views of another enemy of the magistracy, Kleomenes III, who abolished the office in 227 and whom Plutarch describes as assigning its origins to the kings during the Messenian wars.

A synthesis in chapter 5 confirms the view of Aristotle that the reign of Theopompos saw the appointment of the first ephors. Using chapter 6 to establish a skeptical position on the possibility that a list of ephors going back to the 8th century existed in the classical period, Richer reconstructs a chronology for Theopompos and thereby the ephoreia in the early 7th century, in contrast to the more common placement in the late 8th century. While this dating is upheld forcefully, it will not convince many believers in the traditional dating. This chronology also sharpens the issue of the ephors' apparent absence from the Great Rhetra, a fundamental constitutional law promulgated under Theopompos and his fellow king Polydoros. Richer answers in chapter 8 by positing the ephors as the demotas andres of the rhetra (Tyrtaeus fr. 4.5W apud Plut. Lyc. 6.5; DS 12.7.6) and by noting the shared "populist" character of the rhetra and the ephoreia.

A seemingly confused account in Diogenes Laertius 1.68 appears to draw on a tradition in which Kheilon, one of the Seven Sages and a mid-6th-century statesman, was the first ephor. Evaluating and rejecting this tradition occupies chapter 9, with a careful review of the evidence on Kheilon. I found this analysis excessively reductive, especially in its downplaying of the possibility that Kheilon's ephorate represented a turning point in the history of the office. At the least, his name may well be the one that headed the later roster of eponymous ephors. That Kheilon initiated closer ties between kings and ephors through marriages is clever and could even be correct but is unlikely to account for the tradition that he "yoked" the ephors to the kings. While Richer had heretofore incorporated much earlier scholarship, chapter 10 systematizes modern theorizing on the origins and initial character of the ephors. A brief coda to the first part provides a summary: the ephoreia was an ancient office, exant by c. 700, but it is doubtful that a list of ephors existed from an early archaic date. Hints in the ancient debate over origins point to reorganizations in the early 7th and the mid-6th centuries.

The second part of the book covers the role of the ephors in religion. That they observed the skies on an 8-year cycle and could act against a king or kings if a negative astronomical manifestation occurred is known from Plutarch Agis 11.2-3 (on the removal of Agis' colleague Leonidas by the ephor Lysander). In a learned, dense exploration, chapter 11 reconstructs this procedure with forays into such abstruse subjects as 9- and 8-year calendaric cycles, Anaximander's activities at Sparta, observations of the heliacal rising of Sirius, and the mysterious early ephor Asteropos. Results must remain tentative, but Richer may be correct that the ephors assumed an earlier right of the damos and that the 8-year cycle is secondary and indicative of efforts to reconcile lunar and solar calendars. Although he has written elsewhere provocatively about the significance of observations of Sirius ("Achille et Sirius," Ollodagos 13 [2000] 245-308), I am much less persuaded by his hypothesis that the heliacal rising of that star was the key indicator in the observation rather than (e.g.) a "shooting star". Nor is the linkage with the oracle of Pasiphae/Selene at Thalamai, intended to balance royal connections with Delphi, more than speculation (albeit intriguing).

This oracle of Pasiphae, which is attested by literary texts and inscriptions, is the subject of the next chapter. Though the connection of the oracle and the ephors is undeniable (IG V.1 1317; Plut. Cleom. 7.2-3), uncertainty surrounds issues such as the breadth of access to the oracle and the singularity of the ephors' resort to it for political purposes (cf. Plut. Agis 9.1). A short chapter (13) examines another aspect of the ephoric authority, the ability to compel a king's attendance on a third summons (also known from a unique attestation: Plut. Cleom. 10.3). This investigation is rich in material on the religious, political, and folk symbolism of the number three, yet seeing in this stipulation a manifestation of religious rather than political authority is conjectural.

The Spartans had cults for socially significant abstractions, envisaged as pathêmata (such as Phobos, Aidôs, Hypnos, Thanatos, Gelôs, Eros, and Limos. Their use as mechanisms for social control provides a valuable perspective for analyzing the integration of an archaic polis (chapter 14). One point of hesitation is that, except for Phobos, whose sanctuary adjoined the ephoreion, these cults are not firmly or exclusively tied to the ephors -- the argument being insufficient, e.g., that the ephors supervised Spartiate erotic behavior. The exploration of cult sites to be connected with the ephoreia impresses me similarly (chapter 15). Pausanias lists cults near the ephors' offices (3.11.11). While Richer succeeds in illuminating their affinities, these associations could be merely spatial rather than official and programmatic. Some functions of the ephors relating to cult supervision emerge in the final chapter (16) of this part: authority over the prytaneion and public hearth -- in my judgment, their status as prytaneis could have been treated in greater depth -- and their proclamations upon accession to office. These latter included a notorious declaration of war on the Helots and a striking prohibition against young men cultivating mustaches. The third part of the work is the most substantial, as it examines the political role of the ephors. Brief chapters (17-18) explore their number and the various terms denominating them. The lack of a treatment of the obai or villages of Sparta is a deficiency here. A particularly solid reconstruction of the ephoric elections follows, however, in which the sources and previous scholarship are nicely assessed regarding the social status of known ephors, terms of eligibility for the office, electoral procedures (including schedule), and non-iteration of the office. We get interesting hints about how a shrinking population and growing economic disparities may have affected composition of the ephoreia. One ephor was the eponymous official for the Spartan year, a procedure surveyed in chapter 20, along with the prerogatives of and influence accorded eponymous status and its means of selection. A substantial chapter is predictably accorded to the role of the ephors in the creation of policy. Room for a detailed treatment is allowed by our sources, which here transcend scattered testimonia, to narrate unfolding events (evidenced by Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plutarch). A table (pp. 332-34) is a helpful summary of the evidence. Ephors directed the mobilization of troops, designation of their commanders, and determination of their goals in conjunction with the assembly or by delegation from it. They also prepared probouleumata for endorsement by the assembly. Richer compares this material, emphasizing the ephors' role, with the hypothetical earlier prominence of the gerontes in preparing the agenda for the assembly, concluding that the two organs usually acted jointly. Ephoric presidency over the assembly provokes Richer to pose the question whether Spartiates ever lost the right of making proposals in that body. Here I would differ by separating a potentiality for speaking, proposing, and amending from a right to do so, since the ephors probably always held the authority to exclude and overrule ordinary Spartiates, and they and the gerousia had to assent to any legislative act. In addition, it might have been better to juxtapose here the 5th- and 4th-century situation with that prevailing under Kleomenes I and perhaps Leonidas, when kings perhaps had a larger official role in policy formulation (cf. pp. 402-5). Chapter 22 covers the role of the ephors as administrators. It again deals primarily (and unsurprisingly, given the evidence) with military affairs, where implementation of the assembly's policies (often through royal agency) is at issue. Richer rightly appreciates the subtlety of disagreement and consensus formation in so small an official body and continues to investigate examples where successive colleges differed profoundly in policy outlook. I do not believe, however, that the covert massacre of liberated Helots described in Thuc. 4.80.3-4 is an illustration of this phenomenon. Nor can we be certain that alterations in policy, however fundamental they seem to us, resulted from elections to the ephoreia that tracked differences in the candidates' political stance. Rather, elections may have focused on the suitability of aspirants to office as judged by personal qualities (i.e., their embodiment of social values), so that the conduct of foreign policy could oscillate markedly whenever consensus was lacking.

The final four chapters deal with the ephors as surveillants, 'supervisors', a central function as the very etymology of the office and relevant lexical notices advise us. Chapter 23 ably organizes evidence for the relations of the ephors and kings. The ephors, ranking just below the kings in the hierarchy, exchanged monthly oaths with them. Their authority extended to punishing the kings and can be illustrated even under the strongest kings, Kleomenes I and Agesilaos II. Two ephors accompanied a king on campaign in what seems to have been a mechanism for supervising the king and his soldiers alike (influencing royal authority toward exclusively military issues). Here I should emphasize that the later practice of dispatching sumbouloi differed, in that the latter intervened on military issues, hitherto presumably a royal preserve. Throughout, the tenor of Richer's treatment is notable for his stress on ephoric predominance. The next chapter examines the ephors as judicial officers, including the material about their mode of anakrisis. Some prosecutions seem to have fallen to their sole discretion, while certain capital judgments were affirmed by a tribunal of both ephors and gerontes. Euthunai, economic matters, and control of non-Spartiates also fell to their jurisdiction. Richer demonstrates that no rule against double jeopardy existed. In connection, I would juxtapose the fluidity of valid grounds for prosecution. Both conditions point up the proto-judicial character of Spartan control of individual behavior. As Richer teaches us, the ephors enforced social norms flexibly, focusing on suppressing deviant comportment as much as on punishing specific criminal acts. This phenomenon is ripe for further investigation.

Unfortunately, the evidence is less impressive regarding supervisory authority within Lakonike, on whichit is hard to progress beyond generalities in order to dissect particular applications of the ephors' jurisdiction. In Chapter 25, the treatment moves expeditiously through policing of the young (shared by other officers, perhaps subordinate to the ephors), enforcement of the rules of marriage (especially important because of Spartan oliganthropia), prohibition of musical innovation, and surveillance of foreigners, including xenelasia, 'expulsion of aliens'. In these areas, as well as in other isolated interventions, the elasticity of the ephors' jurisdiction paradoxically served to impose rigid social roles. Our limitations in analyzing Laconian administration are well illustrated by the importance in this and the previous chapter of Xenophon's account of the suppression of Kinadon's conspiracy, in which the ephors loomed large (however much we admire Richer's determination to wring out every nuance). For instance, the policing use of the Hippeis helps illuminate other connections between that corps (and its connected agathoergoi 'benefactors') and the ephors. Moreover, those determined to rehabilitate the legislation of the ephor Epitadeos for Spartan economic history will be heartened by Richer's brief treatment. An examination of administrative functions finishes the main argument, including authority over monetary usage and fines, control of logistical support, usage of heralds, and utilization of the skutalai 'message batons' (an admirable and concise study). A conclusion to the third part explores the nature of the ephors' authority and compares them to the Cretan kosmoi, where Richer stresses distinctions, and to Roman tribunes, based on Cicero. Richer also investigates the ways in which ancient commentators qualified the authority of the ephors -- as a democratic component, for instance -- in appraisals of the Spartan polity as a mixed constitutional order.

A conclusion for the whole work restates its major arguments and findings, with cross references to preceding chapters. Attached ancillary material is detailed. A first tabular annexe endeavors to date all 77 known ephors, down to 227/6, with relevant sources, citations of scholarship, cross references to text discussions, and some additional chronological discussion. A second appendix provides a classified alphabetic list of attested ephors, while the third appendix presents an annotated chronology of Spartan history with particular relevance to the history of the ephoreia. A considerable, albeit avowedly limited, bibliography follows. Systematic indices both of ancient literary and epigraphic sources and of proper nouns and topics are a major asset for anyone using the volume. The book closes with a detailed table of contents.

This work retains the ample style of presentation of a traditional French thesis. Citations leave no doubt as to Richer's scholarly forebears on Sparta, especially P. Carlier, J. Ducat, and F. Ruzé. Some readers may well find the comprehensive citation of earlier authorities and discussion of their views rather trying, as they sometimes make continuous reading arduous. Others who dip into the text to answer specific questions will appreciate its synthesis of all the ancient source material, with a great deal of the earlier scholarship so transparently recapitulated. For Anglophone readers, cover-to-cover reading will perhaps be restricted to scholars actively researching and publishing on Spartan issues. Along with the thearoi/theoroi elsewhere, the ephoreia emerged from a characteristic transitional zone in the early polis order, lying between sacred and secular authority. That this cultural space awaits systematic analysis is a salient impression garnered from reading this work and not a point of criticism. Nonetheless, the ephoreia was a fundamentally important element of the Spartan state structure. Thus, the central role of Sparta as a type of polis evolution ought to make Richer's work an invaluable resource for all those interested in the political processes of the city-state. This is a work of intimidating erudition.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Archives
Books Available for Review
BMCR Home

HTML generated at 13:28:20, Friday, 03 April 2009