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Form: Gr. ostrakismos; i.e. vote by potsherd.
A mode of judgment by the people practised in various Greek states [Argos, Megara, Miletus], and especially at Athens, by which persons whose presence appeared dangerous to liberty were banished for a certain period, without, however, thereby suffering any loss in reputation or property. Ostracism was introduced at Athens in 509 B.C. [it was applied (amongst others) to Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, and Alcibiades, and was last exercised in 417 against a demagogue, one Hyperbolus, whose insignificance made the measure ridiculous, and so produced its abolition [Thuc. viii 73; Plutarch, Nicias 11, Alcibiades 13]. Every year the question was put to the people, whether the measure appeared necessary: if they so decided (and it was only exceptionally that there was occasion for it), the citizens who possessed the franchise assembled in the marketplace, and each wrote upon a sherd (ostrakon) the name of the person whose banishment he deemed desirable. The man whose name was found upon not less than 6,000 sherds had to leave the country in ten days at latest, for ten or (later) five years. He could, however, at any time be recalled by a decree of the people; and the question, as before, was decided by not less than 6,000 votes [Aristotle, Pol. iii 13 § 15, 17 § 7, v 3 § 3, Const. Athens, 22; Plutarch, Aristid. 7. Cp. Grote's History of Greece, chap. xxxi.].
Type: Standard
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