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Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy

Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece

Sara Forsdyke
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7srvc
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    Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy
    Book Description:

    This book explores the cultural and political significance of ostracism in democratic Athens. In contrast to previous interpretations, Sara Forsdyke argues that ostracism was primarily a symbolic institution whose meaning for the Athenians was determined both by past experiences of exile and by its role as a context for the ongoing negotiation of democratic values.

    The first part of the book demonstrates the strong connection between exile and political power in archaic Greece. In Athens and elsewhere, elites seized power by expelling their rivals. Violent intra-elite conflict of this sort was a highly unstable form of "politics that was only temporarily checked by various attempts at elite self-regulation. A lasting solution to the problem of exile was found only in the late sixth century during a particularly intense series of violent expulsions. At this time, the Athenian people rose up and seized simultaneously control over decisions of exile and political power. The close connection between political power and the power of expulsion explains why ostracism was a central part of the democratic reforms.

    Forsdyke shows how ostracism functioned both as a symbol of democratic power and as a key term in the ideological justification of democratic rule. Crucial to the author's interpretation is the recognition that ostracism was both a remarkably mild form of exile and one that was infrequently used. By analyzing the representation of exile in Athenian imperial decrees, in the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, and in tragedy and oratory, Forsdyke shows how exile served as an important term in the debate about the best form of rule.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2686-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHRONOLOGY
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS AND CONVENTIONS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction PROBLEMS, METHODS, CONCEPTS
    (pp. 1-14)

    Perhaps no ancient Greek practice is more opaque to us than the Athenian institution of ostracism. Scholars have repeatedly labeled it bizarre, intrinsically paradoxical, and exotic. If we follow Darnton’s exhortation (1984: 5), however, our puzzlement is not a cause for dismay, but a signal of fertile territory for the acquisition of a new perspective on the ancient Greek past. In many ways, I hope that the study that follows validates Darnton’s claim. By investigating ostracism, I have sought to open new perspectives not simply on one particular practice, but on broader attitudes and developments in Greek culture and society....

  7. Chapter One SETTING THE STAGE Intra-elite Conflict and the Early Greek Polis
    (pp. 15-29)

    This chapter and the next attempt to answer Ian Morris’s call (1998, 70: the first epigraph above) for a chronologically deep and geographically broad approach to Greek history. In this chapter, I explore the origins and nature of the early Greek polis in order to establish the conditions that form the basis for my argument about the role of exile in later Greek political development. In chapter 2 below, I provide four case studies of geographically dispersed poleis, each demonstrating the central role of (what I term) the “politics of exile” in the development of the archaic polis. These two...

  8. Chapter Two THE POLITICS OF EXILE AND THE CRISIS OF THE ARCHAIC POLIS Four Case Studies: Mytilene, Megara, Samos, and Corinth
    (pp. 30-78)

    In chapter 1, I argued that intra-elite competition was a key factor in the emergence and early development of the polis. In this chapter, I demonstrate that conflict between elites in archaic Greece often took the form of violent expulsions, and that this manner of conducting politics led to frequent changes of power as rivals exiled one another and fought one another to return. The four case studies, therefore, establish the broad context against which the role of exile in Athenian history is analyzed in subsequent chapters. I argue in the following chapters that the bizarre institution of ostracism, and...

  9. Chapter Three FROM EXILE TO OSTRACISM The Origins of Democracy in Athens, circa 636–508/7
    (pp. 79-143)

    In chapter 2 I demonstrated that intra-elite politics of exile was a common phenomenon in archaic Greece. In this chapter, I argue that Athenian political development in the later archaic period both replicates the Panhellenic pattern of violent expulsions and returns, and begins to diverge from it. In particular, I argue that the relatively plentiful evidence for the development of Athens in the later archaic period demonstrates that political competition between rival groups of elites (“factions” in the anthropological sense) was the catalyst for the further development of the civic structures of the Athenian state and the enhancement of Athenian...

  10. Chapter Four OSTRACISM AND EXILE IN DEMOCRATIC ATHENS
    (pp. 144-204)

    The institution of ostracism has always been a problem for students of democracy. Critics of democracy have seized on ostracism as the example par excellence of the irresponsibility and irrationality of democratic rule. The American founding father John Adams, following ancient critics of democracy, wrote: “History nowhere furnished so frank a confession of the people themselves of their own infirmities and unfitness for managing the executive branch of government, or an unbalanced share of the legislature, as this institution.”¹ Similarly, ostracism is problematic even for those who are sympathetic to democracy. Such scholars view ostracism as a bizarre practice and...

  11. Chapter Five EXILE AND EMPIRE Expulsion in Inter-State Politics
    (pp. 205-239)

    I argued in the previous two chapters that the Athenian democracy put an end to violent intra-elite politics of exile by usurping control over decisions of exile and using this power with moderation—in particular through the institution of ostracism. Moreover, in the last chapter we saw that in contrast to the oligarchs who seized power at the end of the fifth century, the restored Athenian democracy used the power of expulsion with moderation. In this chapter, I turn to the wider Greek world of the fifth century and examine Athens’ use of the tool of exile in the management...

  12. Chapter Six EXILE IN THE GREEK MYTHICAL AND HISTORICAL IMAGINATION
    (pp. 240-277)

    In the last two chapters, I argued that the historical experience of exile shaped the ways that the Athenian democracy conceptualized and exercised political power. In these chapters we saw that the Athenian democracy’s moderate use of exile both internally (as symbolized in the institution of ostracism) and externally (as represented in imperial decrees) was key both to Athens’ internal stability and to the maintenance of its empire. In this chapter, I turn back to the internal politics of Athens to examine more closely the role of exile in the ideological validation of democratic rule. The central claim of this...

  13. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 278-280)

    I began this book by suggesting that the modern perception of ostracism as a bizarre institution indicates that we have failed to grasp the ancient cultural logic of the practice, and that by doing so, we might gain a new perspective on the ancient Greeks. After all, even Aristotle, who theorized extensively about the injustice of democracy toward its best citizens, was prepared to admit that ostracism had a certain political justice.¹ Aristotle’s judgment suggests that the distinction between ancient and modern understandings of ostracism is not just a result of differing degrees of appreciation of individual rights. Rather, in...

  14. Appendix One: THE DATE OF THE ATHENIAN LAW OF OSTRACISM
    (pp. 281-284)
  15. Appendix Two: OSTRACISM OUTSIDE ATHENS
    (pp. 285-288)
  16. Appendix Three: EXILE IN SPARTAN MYTH AND HISTORY
    (pp. 289-300)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 301-326)
  18. INDEX LOCORUM
    (pp. 327-333)
  19. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 334-344)