Was the death penalty common in Ancient Athens/Greece (Socrates)


Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
North Georgia
Concerning the trial of Socrates and his death, I was wondering, how often was the death penalty handed out for political prisoners.

I can see that for various crimes, exile, seizure of assets, disenfranchisement (not allowing people to participate in public life, shunning people), putting people in the stocks, and, the death penalty as well.

But, not for murder but for political prisoners, how often was the death penalty handed out?
Jan 2017
Virginia, USA
In antiquity, I can think of one big event like the proscription of various rival Roman senators by Octavian and Mark Antony during the Second Triumvirate. It wasn't as common as you think, though. Athens used the practice of exile (i.e. ostrakismos, root word of our English "ostracism") far more often than execution. In fact, Socrates was officially exiled from the city of Athens but he refused to leave. That's why he was executed/forced to commit suicide by poisoning. If he had just left Athens like they demanded of him they wouldn't have forced him to commit suicide. He just would have returned like a decade later if he was still alive. He chose to stay on principle. That's one of the reasons Socrates is admired to this day, standing his ground and standing up for what he believed in, to the point where he would die for such a cause.

Alternatively, exile was also somewhat dangerous in the ancient world, since being expelled from your mother city and native polis meant you were at the whims of bandits who could waylay you along the side of the road. Hosts in other cities might not act so generously as one would expect. Then again Socrates was a well known philosopher in his own day, so I'm sure someone would have gladly sponsored him and sheltered him, especially the contemporary king of Macedon. The kings of Macedon loved to collect Greek philosophers, artists, and intellectuals at their court, Aristotle being only one in a long line of them.