It is so hard to find out the truth by looking at the past. The process of time obscures the truth and even contemporaneous writers disguise and twist out of malice or flattery. — Plutarch

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

The Law of Ostracism

After Cleisthenes had set Athens free from the rule of Hippias, he began to reform the laws and to make Athens a more democratic State than she had yet been.

Until now the Athenians had been divided into four tribes; Cleisthenes split up the four tribes into ten. Each of the ten tribes he then arranged in ten parishes or 'demes.'

In each tribe there were demes made up of the Plain, the Shore, and the Hill. As these demes had to fight together in time of war, the three different parties grew to be friends instead of enemies. And that was why Cleisthenes had arranged the tribes in this way, instead of making one tribe consist of ten demes of Hill men and another of ten demes of Plain or Coast men.

Members from the new tribes were sent to the assembly of the people, and to the assembly Cleisthenes gave new powers. It could choose its own rulers, and punish those who ruled unjustly. It could impose taxes, make war, and settle terms of peace.

But of all the laws which Cleisthenes made, the one which will interest you most is the one that was called the law of Ostracism. The word ostracism comes from the Greek ostrakon, a shell.

In Athens there were often two leaders opposed to one another, but each as powerful as the other.

Cleisthenes thought that it would be a good plan to be able to get rid of one of these leaders for a time and so save the city from civil war, which often threatened to overtake it. So he said that when it was necessary to banish one of these leaders, the citizens should meet together, each being given an oyster-shell on which to write the name of the man of whom he disapproved.

If six thousand votes were given against one leader he was said to be ostracised, and was compelled to leave the city within ten days for five or perhaps even for ten years. His exile was not a disgrace, it was enforced only for the good of the State. When the five or ten years had passed, the leader returned to Athens to hold as high a position as he had held before and to take possession of his property.

The reforms of Cleisthenes displeased the nobles who wished Athens to be an oligarchy, and they were angry that so much power had been given to the assembly of the people. They said the city would soon be ruined, for how could the people who were unaccustomed to so much power use it well and wisely. But the fears of the nobles were groundless, for from this time Athens grew more prosperous as well as more powerful. She soon had a stronger army, a better fleet, and, as you shall hear, was victorious over her enemies both by land and by sea.

Great writers and sculptors too added to the glory of Athens and made her the most famous city of Greece.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple