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An ancient Greek wine cup, dated all the way back to the 5th century B.C., depicts one of the earliest images of the act of voting. Greek chieftains are shown choosing between heroes Ajax and Odysseus to claim the armor of the fallen Achilles during the Trojan War. To settle the decision, they voted.

There are dots illustrated on either side of the pedestal that signify heaps of stones to mark the votes for Odysseus and Ajax. Ajax’s pile comes up just one pebble short, and the cup portrays him hanging his head in anguish. The images inside the cup show Ajax tragically fallen on his sword.

Voting with pebbles seems to be historically accurate. Ancient Greeks voted by depositing a pebble into an urn to indicate their choice. The concept of secret voting was also established around the 5th century B.C. Athenians may have obscured the view of bystanders so the urns could not be seen. In ancient Greece a pebble was called a psephos, which is the root word of the term “psephology”, the scientific study of elections. Following the same bean-counting pattern, the modern term “ballot” comes from the medieval French word ballotte, meaning a small ball.

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