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A voting ostrakon from the Kerameikos Museum.

25/06/2021

In the Kerameikos Museum in the center of Athens is exhibited a pottery fragment like those that were used in voting persons in to temporary exile if they were considered a threat to the democratic institutions of ancient Athens. They were known as ostraka (plural) to the ancients and the procedure was called ostrakismos (ostracism).The individual was given 10 days to manage his affairs and was banished for a period of 10 years.

The individual that was to be banished is Kallias son of Kratias. The ostrakon would be no different from the many others used in similar cases except for the fact that it has an archer engraved on the opposite side of the inscription. The archer is dressed in Scythian garb and he seems to be ready to advance after he has loosened an arrow.

This raises some issues. In general voting procedures are considered secret. So why the individual casting the vote wanted to mark it so that it would be known who cast it? Was the voter an illiterate who had been bribed to vote and put the engraved figure as proof that he had actually done it? (A case of electoral fraud here?) Did he bare a serious personal grudge against Kallias and he wanted him to know who voted against him? Was the engraved archer a threat to Kallias from a criminal whose grudge would not be resolved by the defendant’s banishment? If so was it a warning like: “watch your back”? Another interesting question would be: was a Scythian slave or mercenary involved in the case made against Kallias? After all Peseistratus had established tyranny with the employment of 50 club armed slaves. Was Kallias an officer of the horsearcher corps of Athens accused of dereliction of duty? Whatever the case this pottery fragment seems to hold its mystery.

3 Σχόλια
  1. Gary Thomas Jr permalink

    Interesting question which parallels the current American voting system…who is casting our ballots.Gary Thomas 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  2. John Robertson permalink

    Very interesting Stefanos. Slightly off topic though, it’s curious to see the archer with a re-curved bow, rather than a double re-curved/sigma type that you’d expect a Scythian to be armed with, I say that as the hat/cap is very finely depicted. All the best.

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