Who Was Ostracized in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, ostracism was a political practice that involved the banishment of individuals deemed to be a threat to the state. This process was carried out once every year, and the citizens had the right to vote on whether or not to ostracize someone. The individual who received the most votes was then exiled from Athens for a period of ten years.

Who exactly was at risk of being ostracized in ancient Greece? Let’s take a closer look.

Who Was Eligible for Ostracism?

Any citizen of Athens could be potentially ostracized, provided they met certain requirements. These included:

  • Being a male citizen over the age of 18.
  • Having lived in Athens for at least ten years.
  • Not having been convicted of any crime.

Why Were People Ostracized?

Individuals were ostracized because they were seen as a threat to the stability and harmony of Athens. This could be due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Being too powerful or influential.
  • Promoting policies that were deemed harmful to the state.
  • Causing social unrest through their actions or words.

The Process of Ostracism

The process of ostracism was carried out once every year in Athens. The citizens would gather in the agora, which was a public space used for meetings and assemblies.

Each citizen would write down the name of an individual they believed should be ostracized on a piece of pottery called an ostracon. These ostraca would then be collected and counted, and if any individual received at least 6,000 votes, they would be exiled from Athens for ten years.

Examples of Ostracism

One of the most famous examples of ostracism in ancient Greece is that of Themistocles, a prominent Athenian general and politician. Themistocles had played a key role in the Battle of Marathon and was responsible for building up Athens’ navy. However, he was eventually ostracized due to his perceived ambition and arrogance.

Another example is that of Hyperbolus, a demagogue who often used inflammatory rhetoric to gain support. He was ostracized in 417 BCE after both the Athenian aristocracy and the common people turned against him.


Ostracism was a unique political practice in ancient Greece that allowed citizens to banish individuals deemed to be a threat to the state. While anyone could potentially be ostracized, it was typically reserved for those who were too powerful or influential. The process involved the citizens voting on pieces of pottery, with the individual who received the most votes being exiled for ten years.