The word ostracism
comes from the Greek ostrakio
which in turn derives from ostrakon
, which means
. During the annual vote on ostracism, the men of Athens
the name of the person they'd like to see banished
potsherd. The man named on the most sherds was sent into exile
normally for a period of ten years.
Curiously enough, this was normally not considered a punishment, nor
was it something shameful. It was merely a mechanism for
maintaining political stability. Those ostracised were generally men
who had become too powerful or influential for the common good, and they were welcome
back when ten years had passed.
In his Athenian Constitution, Aristotle notes that the
first person to have been ostracised from Athens was Hipparchus.