Ephors (Gr. from to oversee), popular magistrates at Sparta. The origin of the office seems to have been too ancient for its institution to be historically traced. The authority of the ephors was designed as a counterpoise to that of the kings and council. They were five in number, and chosen from and by the people without any qualification of age or property. The mode of their election is not known. Aristotle calls it puerile, and it is supposed to have been by lot. They held their office for one year, entering upon it at the autumnal solstice, the beginning of the Lacedaemonian year. They met daily and took their meals together, in the building in which foreigners and ambassadors were entertained. They had judicial authority in civil cases, and the power to scrutinize the conduct of all magistrates. In early times the privileges of the office were very great, and they were gradually increased, until even the kings were called before its tribunal, and the assemblies of the people were convened only by its authority. During the Peloponnesian war the ephors received foreign ambassadors, subscribed treaties of peace, and sent out armies; and even on the battle field the king was attended by two ephors as councillors of war.
The ephoralty is thought by Muller to have been the cause of the instability and final dissolution of the Spartan state. The kings were obliged to court popular favor in order to uphold their power, and thus, contrary to the spirit of the Spartan constitution, the government became a democracy. The ephors became at length associated with all opposition to the extension of popular privileges, and the office was abolished by Cleomenes III. (about 225 B. 0.), but restored by the Romans.