Related Content

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Classical studies


Show Summary Details



Quick Reference


Exile (phygē, lit. ‘flight’) is permanent or long‐term removal from one's native place, usually as a punishment imposed by government or other superior power. In Greece it was from earliest times a standard consequence of homicide, and was as much a religious way of getting rid of a source of pollution as a punishment.

In Classical Greece exile was a punishment for various offences, such as professional failure by a general or ambassador. Sometimes, however, the ambiguity of the word ‘to flee’—‘be exiled’ or ‘flee’—means we do not know if an individual was formally exiled or simply fled voluntarily to escape worse. In addition, we often hear of political exiles, as individuals or groups. Again, it is sometimes unclear whether such exiles were driven out by actual decree or because life was for whatever reason intolerable. Decrees of exile were sometimes reversed. As a result of Alexander (2) the Great's ‘Exiles' Decree’, exiles returned to their origins. As beneficiaries of this general policy, Samians returned to Samos in 322, 44 years after their expulsion by Athens, which therefore found itself with an influx of refugees of its own; the Lamian War between Athens and Macedon was the result. The 5th‐cent. Athenian institution of ostracism was an unusual sort of exile in that it was for ten years only and involved no loss of property. Argos and Syracuse had or borrowed similar practices.


Exile, either undertaken voluntarily to escape a penalty (usually death), or imposed as a punishment, was common in the ancient world. In Rome it was originally voluntary. A person threatened by criminal proceedings for a capital offence could, even after the proceedings had begun, but before sentence, remove himself from Roman jurisdiction. This self‐banishment was tolerated by the magistrates, provided that the person did not return from exile. In the late republic this exsilium was institutionalized as, in effect, a substitute for the death penalty. The magistrates were required to allow a condemned person time to escape before a capital sentence was executed. After his departure a decree denying water and fire excluded him from all legal protection and threatened him with death if he returned illicitly. This kind of exile was replaced under the Principate by a formal sentence of deportation or of the milder penalty of relegation.

Subjects: Classical studies

Reference entries

View all reference entries »