Kleroterion: What Is It & How Was It Used?

Kleroterion: What Is It & How Was It Used?

The Kleroterion was a device used by the ancient Athenians to randomly select citizens for juries, offices and state councils. The Kleroterion is an early example of democratic processing in order to avoid corruption. The biggest example of a Kleroterion every found was discovered by archaeologists in the Athenian Agora in the 1930s, later being moved to the Agora Archaeological Museum for display and study.

How Did It Work?

The Kleroterion is a sortition device that was used to select citizens at random for positions of power. It is estimated to have been used over 2,500 years ago at the onset of Ancient Athenian Democracy. It was made of a large slab of stone, that was incised with multiple rows of small slots in which citizens would place their ID tokens. ID tokens were made from either wood or bronze and each was called a pinakion.

kleroterion was used for democratic selection
Image credit: Greek News Agenda

In order to randomly sort the slotted tokens into those that would and would not be selected for the trial, a funneled tube and balls were used. Held in place against the Kleroterion alongside the slots was a wooden tube topped with a funnel. Black and white balls would be poured into the funnel, entering the tube at random. The balls would be stopped at the bottom by a crank operated opening. The balls would then be released one at a time.

If the first ball came out black, then the first row of ID tokens (pinakia) would be removed and their owners would be dismissed. If the first ball comes our white then the first row of pinakia would be selected, and their owners would be called forward to judge for the day. This would continue with each ball representing a row of pinakia until all tokens have either been selected or dismissed. Once this process was complete the trial would start.

Why Use a Kleroterion?

Athenian Democracy was developed in the 6th century BC, and with it came the process of Sortition. This process was delivered via the use of the Kleroterion to achieve truly random results. Sortition was the key process used to pick most of the magistrates for their juries and governing committees. 

Image credit: La Libre

Athenians were acutely aware of the possibility of corruption. Power being given often resulted in that power being abused, and so they devised a lottery system to avoid this problem. It was decided that it would be better to use a crowd of 500 jurors, as opposed to a single judge (who could be bribed or intimidated). Anyone selected through the use of the Kleroterion was put through an examination in order to prevent incompetence in positions of power.

The Discovery of the Kleroterion

It was discovered in Athenian Agora during an archaeological dig that took place in the 1930s. After its discovery it was carefully studied and examined. Sterling Dow, a renowned archaeologist at the time, later included an overview of the Kleroterion in his publication “Aristotle, The Kleroterion, And The Courts“.

More About the Kleroterion



Eloise is a lifelong gamer, a studier of Ancient History and Archaeology, a pet care journalist, a new mother of one, and film studies graduate with a desire to pass on her own knowledge so that others may benefit from it.

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