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The Athenian Ephebeia in the Lycurgan Period: 334/3-322/1 BCE


Jan van der Crabben
by John Lennard Friend
published on 17 September 2012
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This dissertation examines the origin, purpose, and function of the Athenian ephebeia during the Lycurgan period (334/3-322/1 BCE). The ephebeia, a compulsory two-year long state-funded and organized program of military service for eighteen and nineteen year old citizens called ephebes, did not exist as a formal institution prior to 334/3 BCE., the date of the earliest known ephebic inscriptions. Instead, the demos probably created the ephebeia after Alexander’s destruction of Thebes in September 335 BCE because they needed a standing army to defend Attica against Boeotian raiders. The ephebeia, then, was not a Lycurgan reform of a long-standing institution but founded de novo for a specific military purpose.

Greek Hoplite
Greek Hoplite
Johnny Shumate (Public Domain)

This explains many hitherto misunderstood aspects of the ephebeia’s organization, officials, and military activities. Having entrusted the defense of Athens to the youngest and most immature citizens with no combat experience, the demos turned them into a capable fighting force by subjecting them to unusually strict discipline and by establishing a program of military training under specialized instructors. The demos also encouraged reluctant ephebes to serve by appealing to their love of honor (philotimia) and rewarded them with many honors at the end of their garrison duty.

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In addition to its military activities, the ephebeia played an important role in the civic and moral paideia of the ephebes because they were unable to gain the educational benefits from Athens’ democratic institutions. The ephebeia, by instilling moderation, piety, and patriotic fervor in the ephebes, sought to make them virtuous citizens both dedicated to preserving the democracy and deeply motivated to freeing Athens from Macedonian domination. This devotion to the state explains why the institution was abolished by the pro-Macedonian oligarchy (321/0-319/8 BCE) established after Athens’ defeat in the Lamian War in 322 BCE.

PhD Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 2009

Editorial Review This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Written by John Lennard Friend, linked by Jan van der Crabben, published 17 September 2012. Source URL:

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Friend, J. L. (2012, September 17). The Athenian Ephebeia in the Lycurgan Period: 334/3-322/1 BCE. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Friend, John Lennard. "The Athenian Ephebeia in the Lycurgan Period: 334/3-322/1 BCE." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified September 17, 2012.

MLA Style

Friend, John Lennard. "The Athenian Ephebeia in the Lycurgan Period: 334/3-322/1 BCE." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 17 Sep 2012. Web. 10 May 2021.