Dr Matteo Barbato (The University of Birmingham)

This paper offers a new interpretation of ostracism and explores the significance of this Athenian institution for our understanding of democratic politics. The predominant scholarly view of ostracism is that it was an instrument for pursuing or regulating conflict among aristocratic politicians, which assumes that Athenian democracy was dominated by a restricted elite competing for power and prestige. This paper will re-assess this picture by investigating ostracism in the light of recent studies of honour, which stress this value’s potential for balancing competition and cooperation within a community. By using the ostracism of Themistocles as a case-study, it argues that ostracism was a manifestation of an institutionalised concern for honour in Athenian democracy. On the one hand, ostracism could punish politically active citizens who, in excessively enhancing their own honour, failed to respect democratic equality. On the other, it could be employed for tackling shameful behaviour that placed the agent below the community’s standards of honour. The paper thus sets ostracism against Athens’s broader institutional framework and argues that Athenian democracy was not so much concerned with policing intra-elite conflict as much as it was with fostering a balance between competitive and cooperative values and ensuring broad participation in the political domain.

Research seminars are held at 4 pm (Queensland time) on Fridays.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they will be conducted entirely via videoconferencing in 2nd semester 2020.