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(ŏs`trəsĭz'əm), ancient Athenian method of banishing a public figure. It was introduced after the fall of the family of PisistratusPisistratus
, 605?–527 B.C., Greek statesman, tyrant of Athens. His power was founded on the cohesion of the rural citizens, whom he consolidated with farseeing land laws. His coup (c.560 B.C.) was probably not unpopular.
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. Each year the assembly took a preliminary vote to decide whether a vote of ostracism should be held. If a majority approved holding an ostracism, a day was set for the voting. When the polling took place, each voter put into an urn a potsherd (ostrakon) marked with the name of a person he wished ostracized. The man named on the most ostraka was exiled, unless fewer than 6,000 votes were cast (some authorities believe that a total of 6,000 votes was necessary to ostracize a person). The exile lasted normally 10 years with no confiscation. AristidesAristides
, d. c.468 B.C., Athenian statesman and general. He was one of the 10 generals who commanded the Athenians at the battle of Marathon (490 B.C.) and in the next year became chief archon. In 483 he was ostracized because he opposed the naval policy of Themistocles.
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, CimonCimon
, d. 449 B.C., Athenian general and statesman; son of Miltiades. He fought at Salamis and shared command (with Aristides) of the fleet sent to rescue the Asian Greek cities from Persian domination. From 478 to 477 he helped Aristides form the Delian League.
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, and others were recalled before 10 years were up. The last ostracism was probably that of Hyperbolus (416? B.C.), a demagogue of humble origin. Other cities used ostracism also. Numerous ostraka have been found in modern excavations, many bearing the names of Aristides and Themistocles.



in ancient Athens, the banishment of certain citizens by order of the popular assembly.

Ostracism was instituted by Cleisthenes at the end of the sixth century B.C. as a measure against the restoration of tyranny. First used in 488–487 B.C., it later became an instrument of political warfare. Once a year the popular assembly decided whether a vote of ostracism should be held. If the majority voted in favor of ostracism, a day was set for the procedure. Everyone having the right to vote in the popular assembly would write on a potsherd the name of any person who, in his opinion, was dangerous to the people. Any individual against whom at least 6,000 votes were cast was obliged to leave Athens within ten days, usually for a period of ten years. (According to other sources, 6,000 was the quorum necessary for the assembly.) Banished individuals did not lose their property or their rights as citizens.

Ostracism was not often practiced. Among those who were ostracized were Aristides (483–482 B.C.), Themistocles (471 B.C.), and the philosopher Damon, the teacher of Pericles (443 B.C.). The last known case of ostracism was in 417 B.C., when the demagogue Hyperbolus was banished from Athens. Similar institutions for banishing citizens existed in Argos, Syracuse, and certain other Greek cities.


Carcopino, J. L’Ostracisme athénien. Paris, 1935.
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