BMCR 2006.07.58

Ostrakismos-Testimonien I: Die Zeugnisse antiker Autoren der Inschriften und Ostraka über das athenische Scherbengericht aus vorhellenistischer Zeit (487-322 v. Chr.). Historia Einzelschriften 155

Peter Siewert, Ostrakismos-Testimonien : die Zeugnisse antiker Autoren, der Inschriften und Ostraka über das athenische Scherbengericht aus vorhellenistischer Zeit (487-322 v. Chr.). Historia. Einzelschriften, Heft 155. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2002-. volumes : illustrations ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3515079475 €100.00.

Given the inexcusable tardiness of this review, it would seem best to provide only an overview of the history, context, and potential significance of the book, with only a few remarks on details.

‘Ostrakismology’ was (and in many ways still is) largely the preserve of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and scholars connected with it in various and often indirect ways. It was based mainly on material from their Agora excavations, combined with some earlier finds at the Kerameikos (amounting to a total of close to 1700 ostraka in all by the mid-1960s). This situation might have changed dramatically when in 1966 and the following years the store of ostraka was augmented vastly by the discovery of new deposits at the Kerameikos (almost fourfold the number of those hitherto recovered). As a result of a combination of the customary excavators’ claim to some kind of ownership until publication and German ‘Gründlichkeit’, these remain — c. three decades after their discovery — unpublished. After R. Thomson’s provisional account of 1972, it was not until 1991 that the excavator (the late F. Willemsen) and his new collaborator, S. Brenne, issued a more reliable list.1 The volume under review includes an even more authoritative and informative list by Brenne (46-71), who in 1994 was officially put in charge of the final publication of these ostraka. Siewert’s project and the present volume must, however, be consulted in conjunction with S. Brenne’s Ostrakismos und Prominenz in Athen, his revised Tübingen PhD thesis of 1994.2 The actual ostraka represent our most tangible connexion with Athenian politics, but must be studied in connection with literary sources.

The present vol. 1 is dedicated to A. E. Raubitschek.3 It contains an introductory Part I by Siewert (25-35). Brenne is the author of the complex Part II, on the ostraka of ‘487-ca. 416’ in their function as testimonia (36-166). The remaining nearly 300 pages contain Part III which includes the other testimonia predating the Hellenistic era — almost without exception literary (167-478) — and an assessment of these (479-509); and various apparatus (518-555). The various testimonia in Part III are presented according to the following scheme (occasionally with additional detail): bibliography, original text, context of the quoted text and translation into German, commentary, summary, by various contributors.

It goes without saying that any volume presenting evidence in as exhaustive detail as possible is of intrinsic scholarly value and therefore a κτῆμα if not ἐς αἰεί then at least for a long time to come. It would seem unlikely that anyone would ever again consider launching such an enterprise. If vol. 2 had been issued in quick succession, we would not be left — at least for the foreseeable future — with a torso, the only truly invaluable part of which for reference is Brenne’s list of names — until that day when the Kerameikos ostraka will be made accessible not only in the form of a list. This final publication will, one would hope, take the form of an electronic publication, including three-dimensional scans of each ostrakon. An electronic publication will easily include likely new finds, be they at the Kerameikos, the Agora, or in other locations.

Brenne’s contribution falls into several parts and is somewhat abridged by simply referring to Willemsen’s, his own, and other scholars’ earlier work rather than reviewing it at somewhat greater length. It would be unfair to second-guess the editor’s decision to allot as much space as he did to Part III but this no doubt lies behind Brenne’s abridgments.

There are by now about 8,500 ostraka, at present assumed to be all from one and the same ostrakophoria, most probably conducted in 471. The date rests chiefly on three arguments. First, a sherd naming Megakles is a fragment of a vase by the Pistoxenos painter. Second, joins between this Megakles ostrakon and another ostrakon from the same vase but cast against Menon (Kerameikos O 6092) which expressis verbis identifies Menon (archon eponymos in 473/2) as a former archon and which therefore cannot date from 486. Third, Themistokles was a candidate but cannot have been ostracised in this year because of the vastly larger number of ostraka against Megakles. A late 470s date was indeed suggested as early as 1975 by D. M. Lewis and P. J. Bicknell, respectively, who cited Lysias’ (14.39) mention of a second ostracism of Megakles (see below, (1)).

With a volume of this scope it would be pointless and indeed presumptuous to make an attempt to evaluate each and every detail. I shall therefore restrict my remarks to a couple of hobby horses of mine.

(1) Megakles Hippokratous Alopekethen, named on over 4,000 Kerameikos ostraka, was, according to AP, ostracised in 486 — never to be mentioned again in AP. The late 470s date now suggested for the Kerameikos deposit confronts us with the methodological dilemma: ‘to reconcile or not to reconcile’ it with AP 22.8. The solution of the conventional reconcilers: Megakles was ostracised twice. Lysias (14.39) may be safely discounted. It is well known that orators are hardly the most reliable purveyors of historical information, and Raubitschek, with his philological acumen, demonstrated the passage in question to mean nothing of the kind in the first instance. Also, anyone familiar with Greek (and Latin) collectors of pseudo-information of the trivial kind would be greatly surprised that neither Ailianos nor any other even less ‘reputable’ source knows any of this — admittedly an argumentum e silentio but, I believe, a valid one. The inconvenient (to those whom I tend to refer to, following A. R. Burn, as ‘neo-fundamentalists’) truth may well be that AP 22.8 must be discarded. The even more ‘frightening’ consequence of this may be that the whole list in AP 22 is open to challenge. I attempted, in vain, to show that AP 21.3 is not to believed in the matter of the notion that Kleisthenic Attika ‘est omnis divisa in partes tres’, because it flies in the face of 4th century epigraphic evidence and indeed plain logic.4 I cannot second-guess the verdict of authorities on ARF vases, but if they are right, and if the writer of the Menon ostrakon indeed meant to identify him as a former archon (η]ος επχσεν the only possible conclusion is: we must exclude AP 22 from our store of unimpeachable literary evidence for the 480s ostracisms — which would merely add to the already sufficiently long catalogue of spurious information in AP.

(2) T[estimonium] 31: The notorious Androtion FGrHist 324 F 6, from Harpokration s.v. Hipparchos. It must be pointed out that even the non-epitomised Harpokration is not the original but an already abridged version. There we read that the law on ostracism was ‘first passed’ before Hipparchos’ ostracism. How many times does one ‘pass’ a law? The phraseology of the passage shares some 90% of its words with AP 22.2 and adds nothing — even though Androtion’s Atthis was a multi-book work. Harpokration is just a poor rephrasing of AP 22.3, his true source (cited in about 60 other entries by title). Although we cannot know what Adrotion believed and wrote, we cannot cite Harpokration as a witness.5

(3) Vaticanus Graecus 1144, 222 r -222 v which would belong to vol. 2 if it ever materialises, is mercifully referred to only twice, and mercifully with little enthusiasm. It was first published by L. Sternbach as ‘Gnomologium Parisinum ineditum’, in 1894.6 This text was never read in context by its re-discoverer7 and his respondents. It is at the end of a ‘codex bombycinus in 4 o s. XV’ (Sternbach), a kind of a filler to use up empty pages, preceded by excerpts from Diogenes Laertios and followed by yet another collection of gnomai. Ours contains 347 items, a wild medley of widely diverse material and entries of greatly varying length. The ‘historical’ section with somewhat lengthier texts (entries 160ff) demonstrates how useless all this is. The one point on which Raubitschek may well have been correct was his identification of the ultimate source as Theophrastos who, as we may note, declared Theseus founder of Athenian democracy and may have credited him — quite logically, as it were — also with ostracism. One wishes Aristotle’s successor had stuck to plants and the like …! By identifying Theophrastos as the possible ultimate source of this obscure text we cannot, however, conclude that its content may be cited as evidence for actual historical facts.

To sum up: a very difficult, a very important and a very valuable volume, an indispensable tool for research libraries.


1. R. Thomsen, The origin of ostracism (Copenhagen 1972); F. Willemsen and S. Brenne ‘Verzeichnis der Kerameikos-Ostraka’ AM 106 (1991) 147-56, with corrections in AM 107 (1992) 185.

2. S. Brenne Ostrakismos und Prominenz in Athen: Attische Bürger des 5. Jhs. v. Chr. auf den Ostraka (Wien 2001) (Tyche Supplementband 3).

3. A. E. Raubitschek ‘Theophrastos on ostracism’ Cl & M 19 (1958) 73-109, which is the first-ever comprehensive collection of the literary testimonia He assembled what was available to him at the time, drawing on his impeccable training in Classical Philology; the list has a few lacunae but that was inevitable. He included important and notoriously difficult testimonia from sources of the Byzantine period (some of which still remain unpublished, such as the Etymologicum Genuinum, and for some of which he could only rely on inferior editions — as we still must in many instances, not least Harpokration).

4. K. H. Kinzl Chiron 19 (1989) 347-65.

5. According to the ‘obtuse’ (P. Harding Androtion and the Atthis (Oxford 1994), commentary, ad loc.) attempt by K. H. Kinzl Klio 73 (1991) 28-45.

6. Rozprawy Akademii Umiejetnosci: Wydzial filologiczny. Serya II. Tom V. (Kraków: Nakladem Akademii Umiejetnosci 1894) 135-218. [BMCR encoding does not extend to special Polish characters which are here rendered stripped of their diacritical marks.]

7. J. J. Keaney and A. E. Raubitschek, ‘A Late Byzantine Account of Ostracism’, AJPh 93 (1972) 87-91.