Ephebic Oath

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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,[1] 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.[2] 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).[3][4] 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,[5] probably at the age of eighteen when the youth underwent an examination (Greek: δοκιμασία[6]) and had his name entered on the deme register. He was then an ephebus until the age of twenty.[7][8]

The Oath[edit]

The ephebic oath is preserved on an inscription from Acharnae, which was written in the mid-fourth century BC.[9] Other versions of the oath are preserved in the works of Stobaeus and Pollux.[10]

Greek text[edit]

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...[11]

English translation[edit]

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...[12]

Alternative English translation[edit]

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.[13]

Modern use[edit]

The oath has been revived for use in educational institutions worldwide as a statement of civic virtue.


We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many; We will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty; We will revere and obey the city’s laws; We will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

-found in the foyer of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

I will not disgrace these sacred arms, nor ever desert a comrade in the ranks. I will guard the Temples and the Centers of Civic Life, and uphold the ideals of my Country, both alone and in concert with others. I will at all times obey the Magistrates and observe the Laws as well those at present in force as those the Majority may hereafter enact. Should any one seek to subvert those laws or set them aside, Him I will oppose either in common with others or alone. In these ways it shall be my constant aim not only to preserve the things of worth in my Native Land, but to make them of still greater worth.

-inscribed on a bronze plaque at the Thacher School, and given the title "Oath of the Young Men of Athens"

I shall never bring disgrace to my city, nor shall I ever desert my comrades in the ranks: but I, both alone and with my many comrades, shall fight for the ideals and sacred things of the city. I shall willingly pay heed to whoever renders judgment with wisdom and shall obey both the laws already established and whatever laws the people in their wisdom shall establish. I, alone and with my comrades, shall resist anyone who destroys the laws or disobeys them. I shall not leave my city any less but rather greater than I found it.

-recited by incoming students at Townsend Harris High School[14]


  1. ^ John Wilson Taylor, 'The Athenian ephebic oath', Classical journal (1918), 495-501.
  2. ^ John Wilson Taylor, p.497.
  3. ^ Josiah Ober, Fortress Attica: defense of the Athenian land frontier, 404-322 B.C., Brill, 1985, p.91
  4. ^ Rosalind Thomas, Oral tradition and written record in classical Athens, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.85
  5. ^ Demosthenes, On the False Embassy, 19.33
  6. ^ δοκιμασία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  7. ^ Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 42
  8. ^ Commentary on Against Leocrates
  9. ^ Eric Casey, "Educating the Youth: The Athenian Ephebia in the Early Hellenistic Era" in Judith Evans Grubbs and Tim Parkin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World. 2013. Oxford University Press, Oxford. p.420.
  10. ^ Eric Casey, "Educating the Youth: The Athenian Ephebia in the Early Hellenistic Era" in Judith Evans Grubbs and Tim Parkin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World. 2013. Oxford University Press, Oxford. n.6.
  11. ^ Lycurgus, Against Leocrates, 1.77, Greek original text
  12. ^ Lycurgus, Against Leocrates, 1.77, English translation
  13. ^ John Wilson Taylor, op. cit. p.499.
  14. ^ Who We Are, Townsend Harris High School