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Ostraca

OSTRACA (ŏs'tra-ka). Inscribed fragments of pottery (sing., ostracon). In the ancient world handy writing material was rare, but potsherds, or broken pieces of earthenware, were abundant, hence the habit of writing brief memoranda or communications on such ready material. The surface holds the inscription well and some important ancient documents have come down to us in this form (e.g., the Lachish Letters). In ancient Athens the use of potsherds, or straka, for voting tablets in the peculiar Athenian process of relegation, led to the term “ostracize.” The verb originally meant the writing on an ostracon of the name of the person the voter wished thus to exile. Most of the ostraca from early Ptolemaic Egypt are tax receipts. Later, orders, lists, brief letters, school exercises, magic formulas, and religious texts, both pagan and Christian, appear. A good deal about Egyptian Christianity has been deduced from this source. The material is scattered, most ostraca being recovered casually