Conflict, democracy and voter choice: a public choice analysis of the Athenian ostracism

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Ostracism, the removal of a political leader from ancient Athens for a period often years without any additional financial sanction or other punishment, was an importantand rather unique institutional aspect of the direct democracy. The present study explainsthe adoption of ostracism as the utility maximizing choice of a self–interested constitutionalwriter—cum—political actor to resolve violent political conflict and illustrates that itacted as a type of negative referendum on politicians. Using notions from game theory andspatial decision modeling, the paper goes on to attribute the infrequent use of ostracism toits two-stage decision making process wherein the decisive voter of the first stage differedfrom the decisive voter of the second stage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-159
Number of pages23
JournalPublic Choice
Issue number1-2
Early online date1 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Oct 2016


  • Ancient Athens
  • ostracism
  • intra–elite conflict
  • constitutional choice
  • backward induction


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