Ostracism (Greek: ὀστρακισμός, ostrakismos) was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant.
The name is derived from the ostraka, (singular ostrakon , ὄστρακον), referring to the pottery sherds that were used as voting tokens. Broken pottery, abundant and virtually free, served as a kind of scrap paper (in contrast to papyrus, which was imported from Egypt as a high-quality writing surface, and was thus too costly to be disposable).
Each year the Athenians were asked in the assembly whether they wished to hold an ostracism. The question was put in the sixth of the ten months used for state business under the democracy (January or February in the modern Gregorian Calendar). If they voted "yes", then an ostracism would be held two months later. In a section of the agora set off and suitably barriered, citizens gave the name of those they wished to be ostracised to a scribe, as many of them were illiterate, and they then scratched the name on pottery sherds, and deposited them in urns. The presiding officials counted the ostraka submitted and sorted the names into separate piles. The person whose pile contained the most ostraka would be banished, provided that an additional criterion of a quorum was met, about which there are two principal sources:
According to Plutarch, the ostracism was considered valid if the total number of votes cast was at least 6,000. According to a fragment of Philochorus, the "winner" of the ostracism must have obtained at least 6,000 votes. Plutarch's evidence for a quorum of 6,000, on a priori grounds a necessity for ostracism also per the account of Philochorus, accords with the number required for grants of citizenship in the following century and is generally preferred.
The person nominated had ten days to leave the city. If he attempted to return, the penalty was death. Notably, the property of the man banished was not confiscated and there was no loss of status. After the ten years, he was allowed to return without stigma. It was possible for the assembly to recall an ostracised person ahead of time; before the Persian invasion of 479 BC, an amnesty was declared under which at least two ostracised leaders—Pericles' father Xanthippus and Aristides 'the Just'—are known to have returned. Similarly, Cimon, ostracised in 461 BC, was recalled during an emergency.
In modern times, boylovers are sometimes ostracized socially by, for example, expulsion from online communities or probationary associational restrictions, or exclusion from immigration to foreign countries. A modern method of preemptively excluding boylovers from the community before they can engage in pederastic relationships is to find them guilty of crimes that fall short of physical contact, such as child pornography possession, and then imprison them, forbid them from having unsupervised contact with minors, kick them off sites such as Facebook, etc. NAMBLA members have also been forbidden from marching in gay rights parades. NAMBLA itself was ostracized by the International Lesbian and Gay Association.