ostracism [key], ancient Athenian method of banishing a public figure. It was introduced after the fall of the family of Pisistratus. 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. Aristides, Cimon, 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.
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