Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece

By Sara Forsdyke | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
FROM EXILE TO OSTRACISM:
The Origins of Democracy in Athens, circa 636–508/7

IN chapter 2 I demonstrated that intra-elite politics of exile was a common phenomenon in archaic Greece. In this chapter, I argue that Athenian political development in the later archaic period both replicates the Panhellenic pattern of violent expulsions and returns, and begins to diverge from it. In particular, I argue that the relatively plentiful evidence for the development of Athens in the later archaic period demonstrates that political competition between rival groups of elites (“factions” in the anthropological sense) was the catalyst for the further development of the civic structures of the Athenian state and the enhancement of Athenian civic identity. Through the promulgation of laws, in particular, Athenian elites attempted (unsuccessfully) to moderate violent intra-elite competition, and to prevent themselves from being exiled. The indirect result of these laws, however, was to strengthen the civic structures of the state (in particular the mechanisms for the regulation of disputes) and to articulate more formally the legal and ideological basis of membership in the Athenian community (citizenship).

The actions of Solon and Pisistratus are particularly important in this regard. Solon attempted to avoid violent intra-elite competition for political office by introducing the lot for the selection of magistrates. More important, Solon saw that violent conflict between elites could be prevented only through the greater participation of non-elites in the allocation of political power. I argue that through his so-called law on stasis, Solon enjoined non-elites to intervene in intra-elite conflict. By encouraging non-elites to put their support on one side or the other, Solon hoped to prevent the rapid changes of power that resulted from competition between narrow groups of elites.

Although Solon was unsuccessful in moderating violent intra-elite competition, I argue that the later sixth-century tyrant Pisistratus developed Solon's strategy in a way that was much more effective in preventing violent intra-elite strife. I argue that Pisistratus was both an active participant in intra-elite politics of exile and the source of a new, more inclusive mode of conducting politics. Through his skillful use of the civic institutions, rituals, and cultural symbols of the Athenian community, Pisistratus was successful in activating non-elite support on his side in the struggle. Moreover, during his final tyranny, Pisistratus departed from the norm of intra-elite politics of exile by allowing his elite rivals to remain in Athens and enjoy positions of prestige. In

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