Broken dish

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Shards with the names Pericles , Kimon , Aristeides and their respective patronyma

In ancient Greece , especially in Athens , the “ ostracism ” ( ostracismos , ancient Greek ὁ ὀστρακισμός ho ostrakismós ; formerly mainly Latinized “ostracism”) was a procedure to remove unpleasant or overly powerful citizens from the political life of the city. The term is derived from ostracon ( τὸ ὄστρακον ), pottery shard, since fragments of clay vessels were used as "voting papers". The participants scratched the names of undesirable people on the pieces; after the election, the most-named person was banned for ten years. The exile was allowed to keep his property and was not otherwise completely disenfranchised.

Similar procedures existed in other Greek cities. In Syracuse , olive tree leaves were used instead of broken fragments , which is why the term “petalismos” ( πέταλον petalon , “leaf”) - which, according to Diodorus, only covered five years as a banishment period - was used.

In today's linguistic usage, shard judgment has developed into a catchphrase that is used to describe mostly politically motivated actions and methods with which unpleasant or uncomfortable people are to be eliminated.


In contrast to many other areas of ancient history, there are large numbers of original sources for the jar of fragments in the form of excavated, labeled fragments. By 1965, 1,658 broken pieces were known. Then, within four years, around 8,500 pieces were excavated in the arm of the Eridanos in Kerameikos . To date, over 11,000 such shards have been found. The largely uniform find situation allows fragments to be put together and even the manuscripts of individual scribes to be distinguished, which often enables dating that would otherwise not have been possible. Otherwise, literary sources are available, especially allusions in comedy , news from the speakers of the 4th century BC. BC, the representation by Aristotle in his Athenaion politeia and details by even later authors, especially Plutarch .

The drastic improvement in the sources had a serious influence on the assessment of ostracism in modern research.


During the term of office of the 6th Prytany , i.e. in the sixth of the ten decades (beginning of February to mid-March) of each year, the people's assembly in Athens voted without debate on whether a shards court should be carried out. If this decision was positive, then - probably in the next month, at least before the 8th Prytany - the "ostracophoria" ("carrying the broken glass") took place. There was no list of the "candidates", but each citizen could write on his "vote shard" who he wanted to have expelled from the city. It could only hit one at a time. A majority of at least 6,000 votes had to be directed against the candidate who was to leave the city.

The mass of the found fragments shows the details clearly. The name was given, often also the patronymic and occasionally the demos , the district. So the voter had to be able to write, but one could get help, as an anecdote tells about Aristeides , who is said to have written his own name on the shard at the request of a man when he asked the stranger for help. Sometimes comments, mostly of an unfriendly nature, are also included.

The vote took place without further debate. The citizen most frequently named on the shards had to go into exile for ten years within ten days, with the threat of the death penalty in the event of early return. Nothing more happened to him. Although he lost the right to take part in public affairs while he was away, he retained his property. Nor did he lose his civil rights. In all these respects, the shard court differed from a normal trial and an ordinary conviction.

Occasionally, democracy passed special laws to recall those convicted by the shard court. So returned in 480 BC. BC three exiles (not just Aristeides, as can often be read) returned to Athens when their support against the Persian attack was believed to be needed.

Late sources (Cod. Vat. Graec. 1144) report that Kleisthenes first introduced a two-stage process in 507: first, there was a vote in the Areopagus or in the Boule, and only if this council of nobility voted for exile with a quorum of 200 votes, the people's assembly had been questioned. If this message (its reliability is controversial) is correct, it can be assumed that the procedure was entrusted to the people alone at the latest 488/7.


As far as is known, it happened in 488/87 BC. To the first, 417 BC BC or 415 BC For the last time to an ostracism. The underlying law was possibly already at the request of Kleisthenes in the year 507 BC. (See above), for which Ps.-Aristotle provides the earliest source almost 200 years later. It would then have passed 20 years until the first application, although it was a politically troubled time. This is partly explained in research by the fact that the original 488/7 procedure could have been modified and the Areopagus (see above), who was previously primarily responsible, could have been disempowered. There was never a formal abolition of ostracism.

20 ostracisms are known, some more precisely, including those of:

  • 488/87 BC Chr .: Hipparchus, son of Charmos, the mother's side of the family of Pisistratus arise
  • 487/86 BC Chr .: Megakles , son of Hippocrates, of the Alkmaioniden family , nephew of Kleisthenes; 480 BC Recalled BC. 472/71 BC Chr. Again ostracized
  • 485/84 BC Chr .: Xanthippos , the father of Pericles ; 480 BC Recalled BC
  • 483/82 BC Chr .: Aristeides , probably against Themistocles; 480 BC Recalled BC
  • 472/71 BC BC: Megakles, son of Hippocrates, for the second time, against Themistocles, Aristeides and Kimon were also named subordinately
  • 471/70 BC Chr .: Themistocles , the victor of Salamis , after having survived ostracisms several times.
  • 461/60 BC Chr .: Kimon , son of Miltiades , the marathon winner
  • 444/43 BC Chr .: Thucydides, son of Melesias, against Pericles
  • 417/15 BC Chr .: Hyperbolus , against Alcibiades and Nikias . Last ostracization.

In this last vote, the procedure was taken ad absurdum when the actual opponents Nikias and Alkibiades concentrated their supporters on the demagogue Hyperbolus, who had applied for ostracism. It was apparently so discredited that no further ostracophoria was carried out, although for another 100 years at the beginning of each year the people formally voted whether one should be carried out.


The ostracization had a peculiar hybrid position between process and "negative choice" ( Martin Dreher ) and was obviously not based on legally defined offenses. No accuser appeared. That is why precise accusations are never passed down.

Until recently, on the basis of literary sources, it had been widely believed that the reason for the move was a suspicion that a fellow citizen might gain too much influence in the city; The accusation was quickly raised that he was striving for tyranny . It cannot be ruled out that the law was originally introduced with this justification, but this motive is in no way confirmed by the now available - especially very early - ostraca. Literary sources did not begin for the most part until half a century after the events, the great number being much later. In any case, the authors had no basis in the files, so they had to rely on guesswork and judged from the perspective of their present.

Nowhere do the preserved ostracas raise the charge of medism , of collaboration with the Persians, of whom literary sources speak, or even of striving for tyranny (it would be more the oligarchy ); that was evidently from the ostracophoria of 488/487 BC. BC, to which a member of the Peisistratiden fell victim. Indeed, the mild form of exile would have been a very light punishment for what could have been classified as high treason. Rather, a rather vague aversion to the powerful and the rich seems to have expressed itself, a feeling of being outclassed, of facing rulers who “do injustice” ( ιδικεῖν adikeĩn ), as it is often said, so that it has been assumed that they could be behind official question. It is not alluded to future actions, but to past ones. On the one hand, the fellow citizens are accused of “hating the demos”, political inadequacy and inefficiency, a tendency to waste; on the other hand, superiority (protection against regular court proceedings), the status of knight and horse breeder, a conspicuous wealth, excessive ambition. Allegations of sexual behavior are also raised - Megakles was called an adulterer, the Kimon was accused of having sexual relations with his stepsister.

However, in many cases there were also opponents who stood for different directions of Attic politics, so that with the ostracization of one of the two mostly quite influential politicians, the influence of the other was consolidated. For example, the controversy between Aristeides and Themistocles about building a navy against the threat from the Persians in 482 BC. Finally decided by Aristeides ostracized. The ostracizations of the Kimon (461 BC) and Thucydides Melesiou (443 BC) were directional decisions for a further democratization of Athens. This function of ostracism is particularly important historically, as the decisions made against a certain policy by the banishment of the loser were permanent and could not - in contrast to decisions of the people's assembly - be easily reversed under the influence of the loser.

It is quite conceivable that ostracism, precisely because it did not affect the body, honor and property of the exiles and therefore offered no cause for revenge, should also prevent the escalation of a stasis situation .

Legal outflows

Among the legal historians it is considered that the mechanism of ostrakischen power control had been transferred to two other types of processes from the 4th century. Thus, in criminal proceedings against applicants, protection should be provided against abuse of the people's assembly and against attacks on the legislative assembly. Resolutions reached illegally in the people's assembly or laws passed before the nomothets that showed inappropriateness were punished . Ideally, the decision made led to the ineffectiveness of the respective measure.


The basis is:

  • Peter Siewert (Ed.): Ostrakismos Testimonia .
    • Vol. 1: The testimonies of ancient authors, the inscriptions and ostracas about the Athenian dish of fragments from the pre-Hellenistic period (487–322 BC) (= Historia . Individual writings. Vol. 155). Steiner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-515-07947-5 .
      With a detailed introduction and discussion of the documentary and literary sources (Testimonium 1, the ostraka itself, will be discussed by Stefan Brenne). The purpose and aim of ostracism are treated on pp. 484–490 by Walter Scheidel and pp. 504–509 by Peter Siewert.

Further literature:

  • Stefan Brenne: Ostracism and celebrities in Athens. Attic citizens of the 5th century v. On the ostraka (= Tyche . Supplbd. 3). Holzhausen, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-85493-033-X (At the same time: Tübingen, University, dissertation, 1994: Studies on the Athenian leadership in the 5th century BC ).
  • Martin Dreher : Exile without offense. The ostracism (the dish of fragments) . In: Leonhard Burckhardt , Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg (Ed.): Great trials in ancient Athens. Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-46613-3 , pp. 66-77 (text), pp. 262-264 (literature and notes).
  • Mabel L. Lang : Ostraka (= The Athenian Agora. Results of Excavations conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Vol. 25.) American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton NJ 1990, ISBN 0-87661-225- 7 .
  • Gustav A. Lehmann : The ostracism decision in Athens. From Kleisthenes to the era of Themistocles. In: Journal of Papyrology and Epigraphy . Vol. 41, 1981, pp. 85-99, JSTOR 20186002 .
  • David J. Phillips: Athenian Ostracism. In: Gregory HR Horsley (Ed.): Hellenika. Essays on Greek politics and history. Macquarie Ancient History Association, North Ryde NSW 1982, ISBN 0-85837-488-9 , pp. 21-43.
  • Winfried Schmitz : Athens - a defensive democracy? Thoughts on Solon's stasis law and ostracism. In: Klio . Vol. 93, No. 1, 2011, pp. 23-52, doi : 10.1524 / klio.2011.0002 .
  • Rudi Thomsen: The Origin of Ostracism. A Synthesis (= Humanitas. Vol. 4). Gyldendal, Copenhagen 1972, ISBN 87-00-60712-6 .
  • Eugene Vanderpool : Ostracism at Athens. In: Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple. 2nd Series: 1966–1970 (= University of Cincinnati Classical Studies. Vol. 2). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1973, ISBN 0-8061-1062-7 , pp. 215-270.


The third novel in the trilogy on German history by Anne Birk is titled Scherbengericht .

Web links

Wiktionary: jar of fragments  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Diodor 11: 86-87.
  2. Peter Siewert (Ed.): Ostrakismos Testimonia . P. 31.
  3. The sources are not clear how the result was determined: According to Plutarch , Aristeides 7.5, at least 6000 votes had to be cast, and then a simple majority counted; Philochoros (and a late Byzantine source) report that at least 6000 votes had to be allocated to one person in order to pronounce a banishment (Philochoros FGrH 328 F 30; Iulius Pollux 8, 20). The majority of research considers the latter variant to be a misunderstanding of Philochorus.
  4. Plutarch, Aristeides 7, 5-6.
  5. Plutarch, Nicias 11 and Alcibiades 13.
  6. Uwe Wesel : History of the law: From the early forms to the present. CH Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 978-3-406-54716-4 . Pp. 121-124 (124) margin no. 108.
  7. ^ Basically on the constitution in Athens in classical times: Hans Julius Wolff : "Norm control" and the concept of law in the Attic democracy 1970 . In: SZ (Romance Department). Edited by Ulrike Babusiaux , Wolfgang Kaiser and Martin Schermaier vol. 90 issue 1.