History of Europe

athenian ostracism

Last updated:2022-07-25
Athenian ostracism was a political device used to exile or banish from the city-state any citizen who posed some kind of threat to the democratic order.

By Me. Cláudio Fernandes

When studying the history of Greek civilization, it is always necessary to pay extra attention so as not to confuse the political models of each city -state . We know that, despite the fact that the set of city-states have shaped what we now call Greece Ancient , each of them had unmistakable peculiarities. Therefore, the diarchy spartan , for example, cannot be confused with Athenian democracy. When it comes to democracy in Athens, one of the most interesting topics is ostracism Athenian .

Athenian democracy, unlike the democracy practiced in modern Western societies, was reserved only for “free men”, that is, of noble origin and able to participate in the life of the people.>polis (hence the term “policy”). The rules of democratic practice in Athens met precepts that should, at any cost, preserve the institutions, especially the assemblies that met in the Ágora to decide the political direction of the city.

When Athenian citizens realized that the democratic order could be threatened, they used devices to help maintain it. One such device was the ostracism , which was nothing more than the banishment or exile of some member of society (usually a political or military actor). Annually, citizens gathered at the Ágora to decide who to ostracize.

Voting was done by inscribing the names of candidates on pieces of ceramic, called ostracon (in Greek) – see image at top of text – hence the name ostracism. Whoever received the most votes from the citizens was ostracized. The most famous ostracized were ostracized on charges of tyranny or penchant for tyranny. Notable examples are those of the participants in the War from Peloponnese , the generals Themistocles and Thucydides , the latter being the famous historian and author of “The History of the Peloponnesian War”.

Even Pericles, considered the “father” of Athenian democracy, he received many votes to be ostracized, but he never actually suffered this sentence. For the ostracized, there was also the resource of amnesty, which enabled their return to the city-state. This is what happened to Thucydides in 404 BC

Ostracism could be applied to persons suspected of corruption, either of the public estate or of morals. Such were the cases of the sculptor Phidias and the philosopher Socrates , respectively. Phidias was accused of stealing part of the gold destined for the construction of works in Athens. Socrates, in turn, was accused of corrupting the young people to whom he taught his philosophical method. But the philosopher, however, as is well known, preferred the sentence of death by hemlock to leaving Athens.

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