BMCR 2020.11.20

The Athenian ephebeia in the fourth century BCE

, The Athenian ephebeia in the fourth century BCE. Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy, 13. Leiden: Brill, 2019. Pp. xi, 309. ISBN 9789004402041 €110,00.

This work is based on the doctoral thesis of the author, written more than ten years ago. Since that time, as the author explains in the preface, he has twice reviewed the corpus of ephebic inscriptions from the Lycurgan period to obtain new readings or to check the readings of other scholars. As a result of this work the author has assembled a catalogue of thirty-one relevant inscriptions (T1T31), occupying pages 185 to 254, giving texts and translations for the lengthier ones where possible. Some of these, however, are published for the first time, and in such cases it has not proved possible to publish the texts, as the inscriptions have only been found recently, and are awaiting full publication. In a significant number of cases the inscriptions were found recently but are still awaiting full publication. This must have been a source of frustration for the author. Nevertheless, the work is destined to become the principle reference tool for the ephebic inscriptions of the Lycurgan period, replacing Reinmuth’s 1971 catalogue.

One could have wished for more informative illustrations of the inscriptions themselves, some of which bear images of the epheboi together with their supervisors. These should not be treated as mere decorative embellishments; they frequently contain valuable information if subjected to appropriate analysis. The front cover shows a fragment of a votive relief of Lycourgan date from Rhamnous depicting the victors in a torch-race from an unknown tribe. One could have wished for more, such as an illustration of the relief dating to the second century BC (IG ii² 2122) showing ephebic trainers with ‘birches’ (p. 73), which is directly relevant to the discussion of whether sophronistai are being shown, or the depiction of eutaxia alongside an ephebe dressed in chlamys and short chiton and with him resting his left hand on an aspis (p. 75), or ‘the small male figure wearing a chiton and chlamys on NM 2958, if an ephebe’ (p. 93), or the relief found near T25 in Marathon depicting several lampadephoroi (p. 250).

The first two-thirds of the book are devoted to an exhaustive discussion of all aspects of the ephebeia, especially as it functioned during the Lycurgan period. The law of Epicrates, reforming or initiating the system of ephebic training at Athens, was enacted in 335 BC, not as a delayed reaction to the defeat at Chaeroneia in 338 BC, as once was generally believed (including by myself), but in the wake of the destruction of Thebes earlier in 335 BC, as was first suggested by Bertosa.[1] Friend (pp. 49-50) suggests that one result of the destruction of Thebes would be a rise in brigandage and raiding on the Attic-Boeotian border, and the law was brought in, at least partially, to deal with this threat.

The author states that the introduction of the Athenian ephebeia for the first time in 335 BC is the minority position, citing in Chapter 1, ‘Introduction’ the history of the literature dealing with the Athenian ephebate. I suspect, on the contrary, that the majority of scholars currently working on the subject adopt the same position as Friend.

The principle obstacle to this point of view is the evidence of Aeschines, who was born in 391/0 or 390/89 BC, and states (2.167) ‘for having passed from the boys I became a peripolos of this land for two years, and I will provide for you my fellow epheboi and my officers as witnesses of these statements’. Friend devotes Chapter 2 ‘An Aeschinean Ephebeia? ’ trying to deal with this problem (unsuccessfully in my view). This is not the only issue the author leaves unresolved. Xenophon mentions peripoloi (who seem to be a class of epheboi) in his Poroi (4.47) written in 355/4 BC, and one Hermon, a commander of peripoloi, is mentioned in 411 BC (Thuc. 8.92.5). The ephebic oath was ‘the ancestral oath of the ephebes, which the ephebes must swear’ and it appears to have been taken for the first time at or after Plataea. It is first referred to as being a requirement for the epheboi to take in the context of events of 348 (Dem. 19 De Falsa Legatione 303). Lycurgus (Contr. Leocr. 1.76-7) accuses Leocrates of breaking his ephebic oath in sending his household to Rhodes after the Battle of Chaeroneia in 338 BC. A number of ephebic torch-races are attested prior to the law of Epicrates, most famously in Aristophanes Ran. 1087-98 where scorn is poured on the weakest competitors: if the torch-races were not compulsory, why did the participants volunteer to be humiliated in this way?

The following four chapters of the book deal with various aspects (mainly social) of ephebic training during the Lycurgan period. They are: 3 The Creation of the Ephebeia, 4 The Defenders of Athens, 5 Ephebes and the Ephebeia, and 6 Educating Ephebes. Chapter 7 is an Epilogue dealing with the ephebeia from the end of the Lamian War in 322 BC until the end of the fourth century BC. There is a lot of valuable detailed discussion in these chapters, for example of the progressive allocation of specific spheres of responsibility to individual Athenian stratēgoi (pp. 66-68), and I have benefitted from this. It is the nature of reviews to be critical however, and in what follows I will deal with those places in which I believe Friend to be in error.

Friend rejects my suggestion that the ephebic taxiarchoi and lochagoi are not themselves ephebes, but are rather selected from young men who have already completed their ephebic service with distinction.[2] This suggestion has the virtue of bringing down the excessively high number of individuals listed in the catalogues who have the same patronymics, which is far too high for twins. The ephebic officers are listed in the ephebic catalogues in different ways, sometimes appearing alongside the epheboi, and sometimes being listed separately, which is admittedly a problem for my interpretation. The ephebic catalogues for the classes of 334/3 and 333/2 list circa 450-500 epheboi, and for the age classes from 332/1 onwards circa 600-650. Beginning with the archonship of Nicocrates (333/2 BC) ephebic taxiarchoi and lochagoi were appointed (p. 118), which, if they were not ephebes themselves, could in part at least explain the rise in the number of persons inscribed in the list. The ephebic officers accounted for between 10 and 20% of the individuals listed in the catalogues (p. 119). Friend (p. 117) explains the disparity by the ‘honors . . . bestowed upon ephebes in the first few years of the ephebeia’s operation which changed the behavior of these otherwise disinclined ephebes’. The most important of these honors, Friend suggests, is appointment as an ephebic officer: out of the ephebes of any given age-class ‘ambitious individuals could distinguish themselves from their peers by becoming taxiarchoi or lochagoi (whether appointed or elected)’ (p. 118), but it is hard to see on what criteria these as yet untried 18 year-olds could have been selected.

The number of Athenians who were disfranchised when Antipater imposed a new constitution on the Athenians after their defeat in the Lamian War in 322 BC is given variously in the sources. According to Diodorus (18.18.4-5) ‘more than 22,000’ lost their full citizenship, while about 9,000 retained it, which gives a total of 31,000 citizens before disenfranchisement. According to Plutarch (Phocion 28.4) the number of those deprived of their franchise was ‘more than 12,000’, which, together with the 9,000 who retained it, gives a total of ‘more than 21,000’. The figure of 20,000 or 21,000 Athenians is given in four other places by sources relevant to the second half of the fourth century BC (Pl. Critias 112 d-e; Plut. Mor. 843 d-e; Dem. 25.51; Athen. 6.272 c). So it seems obvious that Diodorus has misread his sources.

But Friend, without discussing the contradiction in the sources for the disenfranchisement of 322 BC, and not mentioning the four places where the sources give the figure of 20-21,000 Athenians, follows Hansen (p. 98) in adopting a figure of 31,000 for the total number of Athenian male citizens in 322 BC. This figure has the virtue of being roughly in line with the number of 30,000 Athenians given by Herodotus 5.97, and the army numbers given by Thucydides 2.13.6-9 for 431 BC, but it does not take into account the catastrophic losses in manpower suffered during the Peloponnesian War, due to plague and military disaster.

For a total citizen body of 31,000, any plausible life table adopted would give a number of circa 1,000 for the 18-year-olds. Friend accepts this, but the catalogues for the classes of 334/3 and 333/2 list circa 450-500 ephebes, and for the age classes from 332/1 onwards circa 600-650. Friend asks (p. 98) ‘How should we interpret this data?’ A good question indeed! He continues (p. 96) ‘As Hansen rightly observes, the ancient historian has little choice but to employ the “shotgun method” to make sense out of the available data’. Let us see how Friend blasts his way out of these difficulties.

It is an inevitable consequence of the statistics adopted (from Hansen) that half of the age-class did not serve in the ephebeia (p. 100). So military service has to be made, essentially, a matter of free choice in which the only compulsion is peer-pressure. Friend suggests (p. 101) ‘Few fathers, even if they were aware of the ephebeia’a existence, would have sent their sons to Athens on their own initiative to register as demesmen and serve alongside their peers’. It is difficult to accept that few Athenian fathers would be aware of the ephebeia’s existence: bearing in mind they would have participated in the assembly which had voted it into existence only a few months earlier. Failure to register in your deme, incidentally, would result in a loss of citizen rights. One imagines that few Athenian fathers would wish this fate on their sons. Friend next suggests (p. 103) ‘perhaps 20%’ of ephebes were exempted from service in the ephebeia, and a further 5% because they were resident abroad, despite giving ‘explicit evidence for cleruchic involvement in the ephebeia’ two pages earlier (p. 101). Friend admits that ‘At first it is difficult to reconcile this reconstruction with Lycurgus’ statement in the Against Leocrates that “you have an oath, which all citizens swear, whenever they enroll upon the deme register and become ephebes (1.76)’. Friend reveals his solution on the next page ‘It is an enduring misconception that the ephebeiawas a prerequisite for full citizenship’. Evidently Lycurgus himself laboured under this same misconception.

Another reason given for the absence of epheboi from service is that ‘computer generated modelling suggests that approximately half of eighteen-old citizens would have come into their patrimony’ (p. 110), ‘assuming a life expectancy of twenty-five and a first marriage of thirty for men’ (p. 110 n. 67). This is special pleading indeed. Are we really expected to believe that the majority of Athenian males were fatherless when they became married?

There is a lot of really good material in this book, painstakingly assembled by the author, but the delivery is marred by the dismissive treatment of the (admittedly limited) evidence for the existence of the ephebeia before 335 BC, and the unquestioning adoption of Hansen’s statistics for the size of the Athenian population in the fourth century BC, perforce making participation in the ephebeia not compulsory. This is undermined by the ephebic catalogues for third-century Athens, which regularly list between 20 and 50 Athenian citizens, when we know voluntary participation in the ephebeiahad become a fact.


[1] Brian Bertosa, ‘The Supply of Hoplite Equipment by the Athenian State Down to the Lamian War’ Journal of Military History 67, 2003, 361-379 at 373.

[2] N.V. Sekunda, ‘Athenian Demography and Military Strength 338-322 BC’ BSA 87, 1992, 311-355 at 327-330.