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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

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THE LAW OF OSTRACISM

[116] 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 [117] 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.


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