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In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos (Greek: δῆμος) was a suburb of Athens or a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens. Demes as simple subdivisions of land in the countryside seem to have existed in the 6th century BC and earlier, but did not acquire particular significance until the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508 BC. In those reforms, enrollment in the citizen-lists of a deme became the requirement for citizenship; prior to that time, citizenship had been based on membership in a phratry, or family group. At this same time, demes were established in the city of Athens itself, where they had not previously existed; in all, at the end of Cleisthenes' reforms, Attica was divided into 139 demes to which one should add Berenikidai, established in 224/223 BC, Apollonieis (201/200 BC) and Antinoeis (126/127). The establishment of demes as the fundamental units of the state weakened the gene, or aristocratic family groups, that had dominated the phratries.


A deme functioned to some degree as a polis in miniature, and indeed some demes, such as Eleusis and Acharnae, were in fact significant towns. Each deme had a demarchos who supervised its affairs; various other civil, religious, and military functionaries existed in various demes. Demes held their own religious festivals and collected and spent revenue.

Demes were combined with other demes from the same area to make trittyes, larger population groups, which in turn were combined to form the ten tribes, or phylai of Athens. Each tribe contained one trittys from each of three regions: the city, the coast, and the inland area.

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First period: 508 – 307/306 BC

Cleisthenes divided the landscape in three zones and the 139 demes were organized into 30 groups called trittyes ("thirtieth"), ten for each of the zones and into ten tribes, or phyle, each composed of three trittyes, one from the coast, one from the city, and one from the inland area.

Cleisthenes also reorganized the Boule, created with 400 members under Solon, so that it had 500 members, 50 from each tribe, each deme having a fixed quota.

The ten tribes were named after legendary heroes and came to have an official order:

  1. Erechtheis (Ἐρεχθηΐς) named after Erechtheus
  2. Aigeis (Αἰγηΐς) named after Aegeus
  3. Pandionis (Πανδιονίς) named after Pandion
  4. Leontis (Λεοντίς) named after Leos, son of Orpheus
  5. Acamantis (Ἀκαμαντίς) named after Acamas
  6. Oineis (Οἰνηΐς) named after Oeneus
  7. Kekropis (Κεκροπίς) named after Cécrops
  8. Hippothontis (Ἱπποθοντίς) named after Hippothoon
  9. Aiantis (Αἰαντίς) named after Ajax
  10. Antiochis (Ἀντιοχίς) named after Antiochus, son of Heracles

Second period: 307/306 – 224/223 BC

In 307/306 – 224/223 BC the system was reorganized creating the two Macedonian Phylai (XI. Antigonis and XII. Demetrias), named after Demetrius I of Macedon and Antigonus I Monophthalmus, and increasing the Boule to 600 members. Each of the ten tribes, except Aiantis, provide 3 demes (not necessarily one for trittyes); the missing contribution of Aiantis is covered by two demes of Leontis and 1 from Aigeis.

In connection the contribution of each village to the Boule is properly adapted.

Third period: 224/223 – 201/200 BC

The Egyptian Phyle XIII. Ptolemais, named after Ptolemy III Euergetes is created in 224/223 BC and the Boule increases to 600 members, the twelve tribes giving each a demos; moreover a new village is creatied and named Berenikidai, after Ptolemy's wife Berenice II of Egypt.

Fourth period: 201/200 BC – 126/127 AD

In 201/200 BC the Macedonian Phylae are dissolved and the villages (except the two given to Ptolemais) go back to the original tribe. Moreover, in spring 200 BC the tribe XIV. Attalis, named after Attalus I, is created following the same scheme used for the creation of the Egyptian Phyle: each tribe contributes a deme and a new deme, Apollonieis, is created in honour of Apollonis, wife of Attalus I of Pergamum. As a consequence we have again 12 tribeas and 600 members of the Boule.

From this period there are no more quotas assigned to the demes for the 50 Boule members of each tribe

Fifth period: 126/127 – third century

The last modification is the creation in 126/127 of XV. Hadrianis, named after Hadrian following the same scheme: each tribe contributes a deme and a new deme, Antinoeis is created in honour of Hadrian's favorite, Antinous.

More over each tribe contributes 40 members to the Boule.

Representation in the Boule

In the first three periods there it a more detailed system of fixed quotas which essentially remained unchanged. There is no evidence for a single general reapportionment of quotas within each of the first three periods, while there are evident small quota-variations between the first and the second periods.

More precisely in:

307/306 BC, 24 demes increased of 1 bouleutes, 13 of 2, 5 or 3, 6 of 4 and 1 (Lower Paiania) of 11 and there is not a single example of a decreased quota. 224/223 BC 4 demes increased of 1 bouleutes, 1 of 2, 2 or 3 and 2 of 4; of the 56 demes whose quota in the third period are known more than half maintain their same quota through the first three periods.

As regards the last two periods, the material illustrates the complete collapse of the quota-system from 201/200 BC.

Spurious and Late Roman demes

Some deme lists suggest to extend the 139+3 list adding 43 other names some of which have been considered by scholars as attic demes. The criticism performed by John S. Traill shows that 24 are the result of error, ancient or modern, or of misinterpretation and 19 are well known chiefly from inscriptions of the second and third centuries after Christ, i.e. in the fifth period, and thus for political purposes they were originally dependent on legitimate cleisthenic demes.

Homonymous and divided demes

There are 6 pairs of homonymous demes:

  • Halai Araphenides (VII.Kekropis) and Halai Aixonides (II.Aigeis)
  • Oion Dekeleikon (VIII.Hippothontis; later XIII.Ptolemais, XIV.Attalis) and Oion Kerameikon (IV.Leontis; affiliated with XII.Demetrias in the Macedonanian period)
  • Eitea: there were two demes of that name, but no modifier is known. One is associated to V.Acamantis, later XI.Antigonis and XV.Hadrianis; the other is associated to X.Antiochis
  • Oinoe: again no modifier is known; one deme was associated to VIII.Hippothontis, later XII.Demetrias and XIII.Ptolemais; the other was associated to IX.Aiantis, later XIV.Attalis and XV.Hadrianis.
  • Kolonai: again no modifier is known; one deme was associated to IV.Leontis; the other to X.Antiochis, later XI.Antigonis and XIII.Ptolemais.
  • Eroiadai: again no modifier is known for these two demes associated to VIII.Hippothontis and X.Antiochis.
  • and 6 divided demes, one composed of three parts:

  • Agryle, Upper and Lower (I.Erechtheis); one of them, but there is no prosopographical information for identifying which, was transferred to XI.Antigonis and went back at the end of the Macedonanian period; later one of them (again it is uncertain which) was transferred to XIV.Attalis.
  • Lamptrai, Upper and Coastal/Lower (I.Erechtheis); Upper Lamptrai was transferred to XI.Antigonis and went back at the end of the Macedonanian period.
  • Pergase, Upper and Lower (I.Erechtheis); one of them (no prosopographical information allows to decide which) was transferred to XI.Antigonis and went back at the end of the Macedonanian period.
  • Ankale: no special designations of either section are preserved, although they are presumed to have the regular Upper and Lower forms. One section, perhaps Upper Ankale, was transferred to XI.Antigonis and went back at the end of the Macedonanian period.
  • Paiania, Upper and Lower (III.Pandionis); Upper Paiania, was transferred to XI.Antigonis and went back at the end of the Macedonanian period.
  • Potamos has three sections, Upper Potamos, Lower Potamos and Potamos Deiradiotes (IV.Leontes); during the Macedonanian period, Potamos Deiradiotes belonged to XI.Antigonis and Lower Potamos to XII.Demetrias
  • The ten Cleisthenic tribes

    1. Erechtheïs (Ἐρεχθηΐς)
    2. Aigeis (Αἰγηΐς)
    3. Pandionis (Πανδιονίς)
    4. Leontis (Λεοντίς)
    5. Akamantis (Ἀκαμαντίς)
    6. Oeneïs (Οἰνηΐς)
    7. Kekropis (Κεκροπίς)
    8. Hippothontis (Ἱπποθοντίς)
    9. Aiantis (Αἰαντίς)
    10. Antiochis (Ἀντιοχίς)

    The Macedonian tribes

    1. Antigonis
    2. Demetrias

    The later tribes

    1. Ptolemais
    2. Attalis
    3. Hadrianis

    The ten tribes of Thurii

    When the city was settled under the support of Pericles and the command of Lampon and Xenocritus the population was organized in ten tribes, following the Athenian organization: there were tribes for the population of 1. Arcadia, 2. Achaea, 3. Elis, 4. Boeotia, 5. Delphi, 6. Dorians, 7. Ionians, 8. population of Euboea, 9. the islands and 10. Athenians.

    Later usage

    The term "deme" (dēmos) survived into the Hellenistic and Roman eras. By the time of the Byzantine Empire, the term was used to refer to one of the four chariot racing factions, the Reds, the Blues, the Greens and the Whites.

    In modern Greece, the term dēmos is used to denote the municipalities.


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