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Handout 1: The History of Ostracism

Excerpted from an online Wikipedia article, "Ostracism," accessed April 4, 2008.

A Wikipedia article on ostracism in ancient Athens includes a photo image of three potsherds inscribed with the names of citizens who, at one time, were selected for ostracism by some of their peers. The article reads, in part:

Each year, the Athenians were asked in the assembly whether they wished to hold an ostracism... If they voted "yes," then an ostracism would be held two months later. In a roped-off area of the agora [marketplace,] citizens scratched the name of a citizen they wished to expel on potsherds (pottery fragments), and deposited them in urns. The presiding officials counted the ostraka submitted; if a minimum of six thousand votes were reached, then the ostracism took place. The officials sorted the names into separate piles, and the person receiving the highest number of votes was exiled for ten years.

The person nominated had ten days to leave the country — if he attempted to return, the penalty was death. Notably, the property of the man banished was not confiscated and there was no loss of status. After the ten years he was allowed to return without stigma.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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