The Ephebic Oath was an oath sworn by young men of Classical Athens, typically eighteen year-old sons of Athenian citizens, upon induction into the military academy, the Ephebic College, graduation from which was required to attain status as citizens. The applicant would have been dressed in full armour, shield and spear in his left hand, his right hand raised and touching the right hand of the moderator. The oath was quoted by the Attic orator Lycurgus, in his work Against Leocrates (4th century BCE), though it is certainly archaic (5th century BCE). The Ephebate, an organization for training the young men of Athens, chiefly in military matters, had existed since the 5th century but was reorganized by Lycurgus. The oath was taken in the temple of Aglaurus, daughter of Cecrops, probably at the age of eighteen when the youth underwent an examination (Greek: δοκιμασία) and had his name entered on the deme register. He was then an ephebus until the age of twenty.
Οὐκ αἰσχυνῶ τὰ ἱερὰ ὅπλα, οὐδὲ λείψω τὸν παραστάτην ὅπου ἂν στοιχήσω: ἀμυνῶ δὲ καὶ ὑπὲρ ἱερῶν καὶ ὁσίων καὶ οὐκ ἐλάττω παραδώσω τὴν πατρίδα, πλείω δὲ καὶ ἀρείω κατά τε ἐμαυτὸν καὶ μετὰ ἁπάντων, καὶ εὐηκοήσω τῶν ἀεὶ κραινόντων ἐμφρόνως. καὶ τῶν θεσμῶν τῶν ἱδρυμένων καὶ οὓς ἂν τὸ λοιπὸν ἱδρύσωνται ἐμφρόνως: ἐὰν δέ τις ἀναιρεῖ, οὐκ ἐπιτρέψω κατά τε ἐμαυτὸν καὶ μετὰ πάντων, καὶ τιμήσω ἱερὰ τὰ πάτρια. ἴστορες θεοὶ Ἄγραυλος, Ἑστία, Ἐνυώ, Ἐνυάλιος, Ἄρης καὶ Ἀθηνᾶ Ἀρεία, Ζεύς, Θαλλώ, Αὐξώ, Ἡγεμόνη, Ἡρακλῆς, ὅροι τῆς πατρίδος, πυροί, κριθαί, ἄμπελοι, ἐλάαι, συκαῖ...
I will not bring dishonour on my sacred arms nor will I abandon my comrade wherever I shall be stationed. I will defend the rights of gods and men and will not leave my country smaller, when I die, but greater and better, so far as I am able by myself and with the help of all. I will respect the rulers of the time duly and the existing ordinances duly and all others which may be established in the future. Furthermore, if anyone seeks to destroy the ordinances I will oppose him so far as I am able by myself and with the help of all. I will honor the cults of my fathers. Witnesses to this shall be the gods Agraulus, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalius, Ares, Athena the Warrior, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, and the boundaries of my native land, wheat, barley, vines, olive-trees, fig-trees...
Alternative English translation
I will never bring reproach upon my hallowed arms, nor will I desert the comrade at whose side I stand, but I will defend our altars and our hearths, single-handed or supported by many. My native land I will not leave a diminished heritage, but greater and better than when I received it. I will obey whoever is in authority, and submit to the established laws and all others that the people shall harmoniously enact. If anyone tries to overthrow the constitution or disobeys it, I will not permit him, but will come to its defence single-handed or with the support of all. I will honour the religion of my fathers. Let the gods be my witness: Agraulus, Enyalius, Ares, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone.
Note on its transmission
The oath was not preserved in the Medieval manuscripts of Lycurgus' Against Leocrates. The version now printed in the editions is based on an inscription found in 1932 at Acharnae. Other versions are to be found in Stobaeus IV.1.48 and Pollux viii 105f.
The oath has been revived for use in educational institutions worldwide as a statement of civic virtue.
- John Wilson Taylor, 'The Athenian ephebic oath', Classical journal (1918), 495-501.
- John Wilson Taylor, p.497.
- Josiah Ober, Fortress Attica: defense of the Athenian land frontier, 404-322 B.C., Brill, 1985, p.91
- Rosalind Thomas, Oral tradition and written record in classical Athens, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.85
- Demosthenes, On the False Embassy, 19.33
- δοκιμασία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 42
- Commentary on Against Leocrates
- Lycurgus, Against Leocrates, 1.77, Greek original text
- Lycurgus, Against Leocrates, 1.77, English translation
- John Wilson Taylor, op. cit. p.499.
- Commentary on Against Leocrates
- Who We Are, Townsend Harris High School