What Happened to People That Were Ostracized in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, social exclusion or ostracism was a severe punishment reserved for those who were deemed a threat to democracy. Ostracized individuals were banished from their city-state for ten years, during which they had to live in exile without any means of support from their former community. This article will explore what happened to people that were ostracized in ancient Greece.

What is Ostracism?

Ostracism was a practice used in ancient Athens as a way to protect the democratic system from individuals who were perceived as too powerful or ambitious. It was a vote by the people, in which each citizen would write the name of the person they wanted to banish on a piece of pottery called an ostrakon. If more than 6,000 citizens voted for the same person, that individual would be exiled for ten years.

What Happened to Ostracized Individuals?

When someone was ostracized, they had to leave Athens within ten days and could not return until their sentence was up. They were not allowed to own property or have any contact with their former community during this time. Some chose to go into voluntary exile rather than face ostracism.

Life in Exile

For those who were forced into exile, life could be difficult and lonely. They had no means of support and had to rely on friends and family outside of Athens or find work as mercenaries or traders. Some even turned to piracy as a way of making money.

The End of Exile

After ten years, an ostracized individual could return home without fear of punishment or revenge. In some cases, they even came back more influential than before their exile. However, this was rare, and most people found it challenging to reintegrate into Athenian society after being away for so long.


Ostracism was a severe punishment in ancient Athens and was used to protect the democratic system from potential threats. Ostracized individuals had to leave their homes and live in exile for ten years without any support from their former community.

Life in exile could be difficult, but most people were eventually able to return home after their sentence was up. Overall, ostracism served as a potent tool for maintaining the stability of Athenian democracy.