This article has two objectives. First, and in particular, it seeks to reinterpret the ostracism procedure of early democratic Athens. Since Aristotle, this has been understood as a rational, political weapon of collective defense, intended to expel from Athens a disproportionately powerful individual. In this article, by putting emphasis on themateriality, gestures, and location of ostraka-casting, I propose instead that the institution can more fruitfully be understood as a ritual enactment of civic unity. Second, and more generally, I hope to explore the frames within which early Athenian democracy is placed: while Greek kingship and tyranny (i.e. “primitive” polities) have been very successfully explored through anthropological and cross-cultural comparison, Greek democracy for the most part has remained in the domains of the institutional historian and political theorist. Taking a phenomenological and comparative approach, this article asks how the citizens of early democratic Athens experienced and comprehended their new sovereignty and the invented procedures of mass decision-making through which it was expressed.

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