Drawing lots in ancient Greece—vocabulary and tools

1. The ancient world
By Liliane López-Rabatel

The implementation process of democracy in Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. reveals the constant search for tools, facilitating the development of political innovation. The wish to grant a broad group of citizens an equal opportunity to be involved in public life led to a subtle organization of the way in which the people were to participate and to express themselves. Regarding the devolution of public responsibilities, the use of sortition increased at the expense of the election process, but election remained a powerful arbitration mode, be it at the Assembly, at the Council, or at the People’s Court (of justice).This article intends to relate the main stages of development of the sortition organization apparatus, relying on the study of the lexicon attached to it. We will also question the significant change marked by the invention of the kleroterion, used to perform sortition and which is not only a material device but also an emblem of democracy. The joint examination of textual sources and archeological vestiges leads us to question the contribution of archeology to knowledge of Athenian democracy.


  • sortition
  • Athens
  • kleroterion
  • Athenian democracy
  • Greek vocabulary of sortition
  • pinakia
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