What general assessment can be given to the institution of ostracism? Was ostracism as an institution "good" or "bad", was its role in general in the life of the Athenians "negative" or "positive"? Estimates of this kind, very far from each other, were previously given in historiography, both ancient and modern, in connection with which it is necessary to cite some of them, the most interesting and typical.
The institution of ostracism has always been a problem for students of democracy. Some critics of democracy have seized on ostracism as the example par excellence of the irresponsibility and irrationality of democratic rule.
Aristotle, perhaps, more deeply than anyone in antiquity, looked at ostracism. He grasped and expounded - of course, in the language of his time - the extremely important characteristics of this institution. The purpose of ostracism, according to Aristotle, is to "prevent coming of sole authority in city-state by expelling the most powerful people." It is precisely the concepts of "exceeding" and "superiority" that are of key importance in Stagirite's reasoning about ostracism.
Aristotle does not always approve of ostracism, but believes that under certain circumstances "the thought of ostracism finds some kind of just justification." In particular, he is convinced that ostracism is beneficial and useful in the so-called "deviating" forms of government (and such in the classification proposed by the philosopher are three out of six existing ones - tyranny, oligarchy and democracy). The purpose of ostracism, according to Aristotle, is to "undermine their power by expelling outstanding people." It is precisely the concepts of "exceeding" and "superiority" that are of key importance in Stagirite's reasoning about ostracism. Being a man of the classical polis mentality, he is imbued with the idea of measure, proportionality, and he is sure that any deviation from this proportionality is incompatible with the normal life of the polis. If a citizen stands out in some way from the rest (at least for his merits), there are only two ways to behave towards him: either get rid of such a person (for example, through ostracism), or voluntarily submit to him, put him above all laws and thus give him full and sole authority. Or ostracism, or monarchy (tyranny) - in fact, such an alternative is put forward by Aristotle.
Aristotle's reflections on ostracism are of exceptional value: this is the deepest attempt in antiquity to comprehend the goals and functions of ostracism as something even inevitable element of the polis type of political life. (I.E. Surikov "Ostrakism in Athens" 2006)
Roman authors who mentioned it in the 1st century BC negatively assess ostracism. BC e. - I century. n. BC: Cicero, Cornelius Nepos and Musonius Rufus. They see nothing in this institution except the senseless envy, hatred and ingratitude of the Athenian citizens towards their outstanding statesmen and commanders. Steven Runciman explains the negative attitude of ancient Roman historians and philosophers to ostracism: "Indeed, nothing could be more alien to the Roman views on the state, personality, political leader than ostracism." But Rome has never had such a full-scale democracy as Athens.
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."
Some assessments and opinions of ancient and modern historians and historians were analyzed by Dr. I. E. Surikov (one of the most prominent specialists in modern times on the history of Ancient Greece) in the article "The Institute of Ostracism in Ancient Greece: Towards a General Assessment of the Phenomenon" (History and Modernity. №2 / 2005)
Plutarch looks at ostracism in a completely different way, although he lived already in the Roman era, he reasoned and wrote entirely within the framework of Greek ethical and political thought. He considers ostracism not to be a manifestation of envy of outstanding people, but, on the contrary, “a means to calm and reduce envy (phthonu).” Also, the Charonaean biographer says that ostracism “in fact turned out to be a means to calm down hatred, and a rather merciful means (philanthropos) : the feeling of ill-will found a way out not in something irreparable, but only in the ten-year exile of the one who caused this feeling. " Thus, Plutarch emphasizes the humane nature of ostracism, bearing in mind that in the conditions of the internal political struggle in the polis, an influential citizen could be subjected to a much worse fate than just a ten-year exile. In this, by the way, he is absolutely right: it is known about the really cruel reprisals of the Athenians against their own political leaders. Plutarch even particularly insists on the "honorable" nature of ostracism, which in certain situations could look like "honor". Thus, the more time has passed since the era of the real functioning of ostracism, the more positive aspects ancient authors found in it and the more they were concealed, faults of the institution and its costs receded into the background.
Statements of another author of the era of "second sophistry" - the outstanding rhetorician Aelius Aristides (II century AD). Aristides seeks to give such an assessment of ostracism, in the framework of which this institution would not look like something exclusively negative. Pointing to the negative aspects of ostracism, Aristides emphasizes at the same time the completely legitimate, legitimate nature of this measure. Thus, he writes: “Themistocles and Cimon were expelled by ostracism. But this happened not because of the hatred or hostility of the people towards them, but simply they had a law (nomos) in this regard, according to which something like this was supposed (I admit that this law is not too praiseworthy). Thus, their offense was not innocent, but had a kind of decency (euprepeian) in relation to these people: after all, everything happened, as I said, according to the law. The law was as follows: the overly influential were humiliated, expelled for ten years, but at the same time they did not add any accusations, denunciations or anger ... So, did the Athenians act justly, expelling Cimon and Themistocles? I would not say that, but they did not do something very shameful: both the expelled had some justification (paraitesin), and for the expelled the misfortune that happened to them did not entail shame ... ”Let's pay attention to several circumstances. First, Aristides insistently emphasizes that the expulsion by ostracism was carried out according to the law, on a legal basis, and this already contains some justification for the event itself. Even if this law is not praiseworthy, even if it is unjust, it is a law, and those who follow it should not be overly condemned. Obviously, the Greek rhetorician, who lived in the realities of the Roman Empire, was already to a certain extent imbued with the Roman legal consciousness (dura lex sed lex). Or maybe there is another nuance here: ostracism - a harsh but legal measure - is opposed by Aristides to manifestations of lawlessness and arbitrariness, which should have been familiar to him firsthand. Secondly, the cited author says that ostracism was not associated with some kind of anger at his victims, it was expressed only in exile, and not in something more severe. Here, the same notes sound as in Plutarch. Ostrakism Aristides does not justify, but, in general, does not condemn.
K. Kinzl (1977: 209) believed that the ostracism law was poorly thought out; the institution he introduced worked best, paradoxically, when it was not used and remained “in the scabbard” (507–487 BC), and once it was put into operation, it became the subject of abuse.
According to J. Camp (Camp 1986: 57), ostracism, in principle, was an interesting idea in its own right, but in reality this idea did not work, since in fact influential and powerful politicians used it to eliminate their rivals. It turned out that the politician who was most capable of becoming a tyrant and therefore had, it would seem, first of all to be expelled, remained in the polis, and politicians who were weaker and therefore less dangerous were expelled.
D. Kagan (Kagan 1961: 401) is convinced that the ostracism law is an indicator of the greatness of its author Cleisthenes as a statesman. The procedure established by the legislator was essentially soft and humane; everything was done to prevent its abuse. This is evidenced by the fact that a sufficiently large number of votes was needed to recognize the ostracophoria as valid, which should have prevented the adoption of arbitrary, ill-considered decisions, and the relatively light nature of the imposed sanction (ten-year, not lifelong expulsion, and without atimia - deprivation civil rights - and confiscation of property).
R. Thomsen (1972: 141–142) also emphasizes the positive features of ostracism. In his opinion, this institution has proved to be an effective tool for resolving political conflicts, in general, by peaceful means. It turned out to be beneficial for society and in a positive sense influenced the stability of Athenian democracy in the 5th century. BC e.
M. Lang also calls ostracism a useful and humane way to prevent a split in the polis as a result of a power struggle (Lang 1990: 5).
M. Hansen rightly notes that the accusations against ancient democracy coming from the lips of its modern critics look more and more hypocritical these days (Hansen 1989: 28).
Below is the opinion of the author of "Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece" - probably, the best collection of historical facts and analysis about the institution of ostracism (Sara Forsdyke, Princeton University Press (October 30, 2005), Princeton and Oxford), who probably knows the most of all about the history of ostracism, therefore this is one of the most valuable opinions of contemporaries about ostracism. Since, the quote is left unchanged, it contains some references to sections of her book, however, this only demonstrates the validity and complete support of the facts of the arguments of Professor Sara Forsdyke.
"Similarly, ostracism is problematic even for those who are sympathetic to democracy. Such scholars view ostracism as a bizarre practice and have devised numerous explanations of its purpose. Yet full understanding of the origins and nature of ostracism, I argue, shows that the institution was neither irresponsible, nor irrational, nor out of step with the practices and ideology of the Athenian democracy. I argue that ostracism was central to the Athenians' conception of the nature of political power and its just use. The integral relation between ostracism and political power arises from the importance of exile in the exercise of power in the predemocratic period and at the time of the foundation of the democracy. More important for the argument of this chapter and the one that follows, ostracism served as a fundamental way of marking off, in both practice and ideology, the rule of the people from non-democratic forms of rule. In this chapter, I argue that the procedures of ostracism and the occasions of its use reinforced a fundamental distinction between elite and non-elite forms of rule. Whereas power in the archaic period had been exercised through the frequent and violent expulsion of elites by their rivals, power under the democracy was exercised collectively through its the lawful institutions, with only infrequent and largely symbolic resort to the power of expulsion. The institution of ostracism symbolically articulated non-elite political power through control over decisions of exile, Chapter Four and simultaneously indicated the limited and lawful nature of democratic power. The next section, "The Procedure of Ostracism," provides an introductory background to the argument that follows. In the section "Ostracism as a Symbolic Institution," which follows, I argue that ostracism was the natural outcome of the strong connection between power over decisions of exile and political power both in the archaic period and at the time of the founding of the democracy. I argue moreover that ostracism served as a symbolic reminder of the origins of democratic rule and the fundamental power of non-elites to determine the outcome of intra-elite strife. In recalling the events by which democracy was founded and by symbolizing non-elite power in the polis, the institution of ostracism helped to deter violent intra-elite competition and stabilize the democratic polis. More important, I argue, the procedures and practice of ostracism in democratic Athens demonstrate a clear concern to avoid the destabilizing consequences of violent intra-elite politics of exile by allowing for only a limited and lawful form of exile. In this same section I also argue that consideration of the procedure of ostracism as a form of collective ritual helps to explain the myriad associations and explanations for ostracism in the ancient sources. Borrowing from recent anthropological and historical studies that interpret social events and political institutions as forms of ritual, I argue that the practice of ostracism in the fifth century was not only a means of articulating and affirming the democratic social order, but also a mechanism for contesting and transforming it. Although ostracism never lost its fundamental significance as symbolizing democratic political power, I argue that, over the course of time, the Athenians used the institution to articulate competing notions of the grounds for inclusion and exclusion in the political community. In essence, ostracism became a site for the active determination and contestation of Athenian collective identity. In addition, I argue that the elaborate procedures of ostracism and the visual spectacle created by the casting of potsherds by the mass of the Athenians elevated the occasion to the level of high ritual and enhanced the symbolic meaning of the procedure. In the next section, "Ostracisms in Fifth-Century Athens," I argue that the rarity of actual ostracisms in classical Athens is a further indication of the symbolic nature of the institution. I argue that the annual question in the Athenian assembly of whether to hold an ostracism, nevertheless, reminded elites of the people’s fundamental control of both exile and political power. In this section I examine the evidence for the historical context of each of the ten known instances of actual ostracism in democratic Athens and show that on each occasion, the institution served to resolve potentially violent conflict between rival elite leaders and their supporters ... Most notably, I argue (contrary to ancient and modern interpretations) that the last known instance of ostracism in Athens — the ostracism of Hyperbolus in 415 — did not represent a misuse of the institution against a base scoundrel, but was a typical instance of non-elite intervention in potentially violent conflict between rival elite leaders and their supporters. In "Other Forms of Exile under the Athenian Democracy" I turn to the use of exile as a penalty in the Athenian democratic courts. Here I demonstrate that the Athenian democracy did not use the courts as a mechanism for ridding themselves of opponents to democratic rule. Just as non-elites used expulsion moderately in their management of political power, so they did not abuse it in their exercise of judicial power. Democratic moderation in the use of exile in both political and judicial spheres, I argue, was an important factor in the stability of the democracy in contrast to the elite regimes that preceded it. Finally, in "Exile and the Oligarchic Revolutions of 411 and 404" I turn to the oligarchic revolutions of the end of the fifth century and show that, in contrast to the moderation of the democracy, the oligarchic leaders reverted to the use of expulsion to secure their rule. I demonstrate that oligarchic violence, as seen especially in the resort to expulsion, was a particularly important theme in contemporary democratic ideology. Furthermore, I argue that both actual expulsions and their representation in democratic ideology were crucial factors in the ultimate overthrow of these regimes. The moderation of the restored democracy, moreover, can be attributed both to the need to avoid the destabilizing consequences of arbitrary expulsions, and to the quest for ideological legitimacy in the highly unstable post-revolutionary conditions."
Opinion of Docent and Researcher in Political Science- Anthoula Malkopoulou (from aricle "Ostracism and democratic self-defense in Athens")
"My analysis links ancient Greek and contemporary democratic theory, and is based on literary sources and contemporary classical studies using archaeological research of the thousands of ostraca excavated in the Agora and Kerameikos. In the ﬁrst part of this article, I describe the institution of ostracism and distinguish three procedural qualities — temporal, participatory, and inclusive requirements. These are crucial as they illustrate the self-limiting nature of the Athenian model of democratic self-defense. In the second part, I discuss the purpose of ostracism. Was it aimed at preventing the emergence of tyranny? Or are we justiﬁed in calling it an anti-aristocratic tool? I conclude this section by arguing that the goal of ostracism was positive; to protect and promote democratic stability, and negative only inasmuch as it excluded any person who acted against this end. In the conclusion, I draw on my ﬁndings to build a framework of democratic self-defense that challenges some of the most popular contemporary paradigms."
"...Yet the real political threat today is the rise of antidemocratic parties that openly contradict the democratic constitution. They may be fully consensual internally and are allowed to operate in a liberal democratic system despite their intentions to overthrow it. As a result, they threaten democratic stability not through their intra-party organization, but rather through their radical opposition to mainstream parties and the extreme inter-party tension this produces. Parties and candidates that oppose the democratic principles of the constitution, endorse political violence, and actively threaten the life and integrity of minorities and their opponents are the ideal-typical targets of a neo-ostracism procedure. It is against such parties that having a positive pro-democratic mechanism of temporary expulsion through public vote would be reasonable.
To be sure, many antidemocratic parties appear to be paradoxically popular today. Yet, in many cases, this is due to an over-fragmentation of mainstream parties and their inability to mobilize voters around their agendas or policies a neo-ostracism mechanism with the self-limiting characteristics described in this article—regular yet optional, with high turnout and universal application—would unite the demos under a single issue of common concern, reinforce its commitment to defend the democratic constitution and turn them effectively and prudently against democracy’s enemies. What is needed is faith in the demos as defender of democracy, along with an appropriate pro-democratic mechanism. The constitutional logic of ancient ostracism can serve as an important repository of knowledge about such a mechanism that can promote democratic sustainability."
Point of view of MyOstracon.com
It is hardly possible to give a complete and fair assessment of the institution of ostracism in a few words. Of course, it is difficult after 2500 years to assess the impact that this institution had in Athenian society. We can find one-sided negative comments from some famous people, however, they are undoubtedly extremely subjective. Even taking into account the facts when the real reason for some expulsions was the banal political confrontation of the ruling elites, only people who have only superficially studied this institution can assess ostracism as a purely negative phenomenon. Historians who have studied this topic in more depth, arguing with facts and analyzes, without missing negative events, emphasize the positive influence of ostracism in general.
So is ostracism "bad" or "good"? No matter how paradoxical it may sound, it will be extremely wrong to evaluate the phenomenon based on the accomplished facts of expulsions. The main influence of the ostracism law was not in the act of exile itself, but in its existence as a restraining force - protecting the demos from authoritarianism, the increased self-confidence of the demos, which ultimately forced political leaders to refrain from potentially unpopular actions for the people. Yes, there were unjust expulsions, and yes, this measure seems to be harsh in the modern "democratic" world, but we can not do not take into account the fact that under fear of being the target of the "national broom", the leaders of the Athenian polis for many years were forced to reckon with the opinion of the demos with more caution, which undoubtedly was a breakthrough in the fight against authoritarianism and the formation of a democratic society.
And in the end, it is clear that the development of democratic institutions around the world should be largely grateful to the ancient Greek society, so the ostraca found in the Athenian Agora and Kerameikos are not just shards with inscriptions, and not only carriers of historical information - but the seeds sifted in the field of Democracy, that sprouted in Athens and spread throughout the world.