About The Klêros Project

A database of literary and epigraphic evidence for the drawing of lots in Archaic and Classical Greece

The study of drawing lots in the ancient Greek world relates to the practices of drawing lots, their contexts, and the egalitarian mindset that both enabled and expressed them. Long before lots became a political instrument in the Athenian democracy, Greeks were drawing lots for distribution, selection, determining turns and procedures, initiating social and political mixture, and divination. Greeks participated in lotteries on an equal basis, defining the contours of the community in the process, and emphasizing the values of equality and fairness. The birth of democracy in ancient Greece cannot be fully understood without researching the wide spectrum of drawing lot with their emphasis on individual, equal or equitable “portions,” and the interchangeability (hence equality) of participants. The centuries between Homer and Cleisthenes (roughly 750-500 BCE) have never been studied comprehensively with the question of drawing lots in mind. Drawing lots expressed a horizontal, egalitarian “vector” of society that was often at odds with the elitist one.

The research on ‘Greeks Drawing Lots’ was supported by the Israel Science Foundation grant no 1033/17. The work on the database and the internet site is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation. This Internet site can be viewed either independently or in conjunction with the forthcoming book "From Egalitarianism to democracy: Drawing lots in ancient Greece" by the principal investigator (Irad Malkin) co-authored with Josine Blok’s part on the role of the lot in polis governance. 

A comprehensive study of the uses of the lot reveals a distinct mindset which not only accepted randomness and devices generating it as rational but also reveals a perception of the community as horizontal, drawing authority from within itself. Drawing lots expressed reciprocal and mutual sovereignty. Greeks too knew elitist notions but the egalitarian vector, expressed through the drawing of lots, seems more prominent among ancient Greeks than in other ancient societies. It may be contrasted with a top-bottom, vertical authority, evident in some ancient Near Eastern regimes, such a Pharaonic Egypt. This website may also support contextual studies that may further enhance our understanding of the mindset and associated values, especially egalitarian values of equality and fairness (isos, homoios; those terms are not included in the website). Our purpose here is restricted to closely observing the relevant lemmas, focusing on the major vocabulary of drawing lots in order to explore the full spectrum of meanings of its key-terms.

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