Saturday, June 12, 2021

The ephebeia

Just as select Spartan youth endured the krypteia, a year long trial in the wilderness to prove their worthiness to become a Spartiate, Athenian young men also took part in a training regimen known as the ephebeia.  This "college" taught them the responsibilities of citizenship and trained them as soldiers.  After admission to the college, the ephebe took the oath of allegiance, recorded in histories by Pollux and Stobaeus, in the temple of Aglaurus, and was sent to Munichia or Acte to form one of the garrison there. 

At the end of the first year of training, the ephebi were reviewed, and, if their performance was satisfactory, were provided by the state with a spear and a shield, which, together with the chlamys (cloak) and petasos (broad-brimmed hat), made up their equipment. In their second year they were transferred to other garrisons in Attica, patrolled the frontiers, and on occasion took an active part in war. 

During these two years they were free from taxation, and were generally not allowed to appear in the law courts as plaintiffs or defendants. The ephebi took part in some of the most important Athenian festivals. Thus during the Eleusinian Mysteries they were sent to fetch the sacred objects from Eleusis and to escort the image of Iacchus on the sacred way. They also performed police duty at the meetings of the ecclesia.

After the end of the 4th century BCE, the institution underwent a radical change. Enrolment ceased to be obligatory, lasted only for a year, and the limit of age was dispensed with. Inscriptions attest a continually decreasing number of ephebi, and with the admission of foreigners the college lost its representative national character. Scholars have speculated this was mainly due to the weakening of the military spirit and the progress of intellectual culture. The military element was no longer all-important, and the ephebia became a sort of university for well-to-do young men of good family, whose social position has been compared with that of the Athenian "knights" of earlier times. The institution lasted till the end of the 3rd century CE.

Roman aristocratic families often sent their young men, between the ages of 16 - 20, to Greece to learn civic virtues. Several new officials were introduced, one of special importance being the director of the Diogeneion.  The Diogeneion was essentially a gymnasium originally built in honor of Diogenes, the last commander of the Macedonian garrison in Athens that departed the city in 229 BCE.  It is assumed he funded the construction of the building and scholars therefore conclude military training was conducted there.

Image: This Attic Red-Figure Stamnos at the Getty Villa (unfortunately not currently on view), produced between 470-460 BCE, appears to depict an ephebe (ephebus in Latin) who has completed at least his first year at the the ephebeia successfully as he is now equipped with two spears and wears the trademark petasos on his back.  He appears to be bidding farewell to an old white-haired man (his father or teacher) before leaving for his assigned garrison.

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