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Ostracon of Themistocles

Ostracon of Themistocles - Museum of the Ancient Agora - Joy of Museum

Ostracon of Themistocles

These Ostracon of Themistocles are pieces of pottery, broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessels and inscribed with the name of Themistocles in Greek ΘEMISΘOKLES. Ostraca refer to pottery shards that have writing scratched into them and in this case, they were used to vote for the ostracism of Themistocles. These Ostrika were prepared for the ostracism of Themistocles and were all created with the same hand at about 482 BC. They were discovered in a well on the North slope of the Acropolis.


Ostracism was a procedure in the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was also often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralising someone thought to be a threat to the state or a potential tyrant.

The name is derived from the ostraca (or ostraka) referring to the pottery shards that were used as voting tokens. Broken pottery was abundant and almost free, the pottery shards served as a kind of scrap paper. Papyrus, which was imported from Egypt as a high-quality writing surface was too expensive to be disposable.


Themistocles (524–459 BC) was an Athenian politician and general. He was a non-aristocratic politician who was a populist, having the support of lower-class Athenians and was generally at odds with the Athenian nobility.

During the first Persian invasion of Greece, he fought at the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). After Marathon, he advocated for a strong Athenian Navy, and in 483 BC he persuaded the Athenians to build a fleet of 200 triremes which proved crucial in the conflict with Persia. During the second invasion, he commanded the Greek allied navy at the battles of Artemisium and Salamis and played a prominent role in the achievement the decisive Greek victory.

After the conflict ended, his perceived arrogance began to alienate him with the Athenians. In 471 BC, he was ostracised and went into exile in Argos. The Spartans saw an opportunity to destroy Themistocles and forced him to flee from Greece. Themistocles died in exile however his reputation was posthumously rehabilitated, and he was re-established as a hero of Athens. His naval policies had a lasting impact on Athens since maritime power became the cornerstone of the Athenian Empire and golden age.

Ostracon of Themistocles

  • Name:            Ostracon of Themistocles
  • Date:              482 B.C.
  • Material:        Terracotta
  • Country:         Greece
  • Museum:        Museum of the Ancient Agora


“Time is the wisest counsellor of all.”
– Pericles


Photo Credit: JOM