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Bronze rectangular object broken into two pieces. It is stamped with an owl in an olive branch and a gorgoneion, and punched with a seal. There are characters engraved along its length.
Pinakion (personal identification tag)

PATRICIA KARVELAS: For the ancient Athenians, the most democratic way to select a person to carry out a civic duty was sortition, that is to say, choosing people randomly by lot. On the whole, they preferred this method over voting in an election. Elections, they thought, gave unfair advantages to the wealthy and the educated. Choosing people randomly created a level playing field.

In order to make these selections, they used elaborate sortition machines, called, in Greek, kleroteria. Here we see a ticket for one of those machines. This ticket functioned as a citizen’s identity card. On it we can see punched out the citizen’s name, in this case, Thucydides, and the name of the local village where he was enrolled as a citizen. When it came time to make a selection, this ticket along with others could be inserted in rows into a stone board with slots carved to hold the tickets. Once all the tickets had been installed, black and white balls would be poured into a hopper which fed into a long tube. This allowed a person to pull balls out of the tube, one at a time. If a black ball was pulled out, all the tickets in the row were disqualified. A white ball meant the candidate had succeeded in the selection.

One of the most regular forms of sortition in Athens involved selecting people to sit on a jury. The Athenian law courts sat over 200 days a year and required huge numbers of citizens to participate as jurors. The most minor matters required a jury of 201 citizens, and the largest recorded jury involved 6,000 citizens. Juries of 501 citizens were common. Every morning, thousands would gather to see if they could be selected to serve as a juror. A half-day’s wage acted as an incentive for this service. For the average citizen, it was an empowering experience. A character in Aristophanes’ renowned comedy, The Wasps, captures the sentiment perfectly. ‘When I sit as a juror, I feel equal to the gods.’

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This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 17 December 2021

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