>Casting the stone


Ostracism is one of the harshest punishments meted out in a social group. Today it is taken to mean exclusion or banishment from a particular group or society. Many groups have, through history, sought to keep particular groups away from mainstream society – the Cagots in medieval France and the Dalit class in India were both outcasts. Prostitutes, heretics, Jews and adulterers have all suffered edicts requiring them to wear particular clothes to mark them out from the rest.
The term ‘ostracise’ comes from the ostraka, broken pieces of pottery upon which names could be scratched. Athenian democracy held a procedure by which individuals could be expelled for up to ten-years. During the ostracism the citizens would stratch the name of the individual they wished to expel onto the shard and toss this ostrakon into an urn. If enough fellow-citizens agreed, the individual would be banished.
There were safeguards, requiring certain numbers of votes, but the historical reports do not quite agree on the hurdles. According to Philochorus a person could only be  ostracised if they had obtained at least 6,000 votes whilst Plutarchus wrote that the ostracism was valid if the total number of votes cast was at least 6,000.