Citizenship: Tribes and Demes

Every male Athenian, above and beyond the regular universal military training for service in the citizen army, was subject to universal political service. Besides being a member of the Assembly, he was almost certain, at least once in his lifetime, to be chosen by lot as one of the Council (Boule) of 500 and to serve for a year in this body which prepared legislation for the Assembly and coped, by means of smaller committees, with the day to day exigencies of administration.

In addition to his legislative responsibilities, each citizen was liable to executive duties. He might be allotted for a year’s service to any of a number of committees or boards such as Treasurers, Lessors of Public Contracts, Auditors, Market Controllers, Controllers of Measures, Grain Wardens, Port Superintendents, etc. Even many of the highest offices in the land were filled by allotment and so could fall on any citizen; almost all offices could be held only for a single year. In this way maximum participation was achieved, and every man was a public servant.

6.Oath stone (lithos) of the Athenians, on the steps of the Royal Stoa. Sixth century B.C. and later.

All citizens about to serve the state took an oath of office, vowing not to transgress any of the laws or to overthrow the democracy. The oath stone (6) has been found in front of the Stoa Basileios (or Royal Stoa), headquarters of the Basileus, chief religious and legal magistrate of the city. The spread of responsibility also made necessary an equally broad system of judicial control. Here again the citizen was the court of first and last appeal. All citizens were jurors, and both the size of the juries (from 200 up) and the number of courts (up to 10 sitting simultaneously) gave to all the opportunity to serve.

Thus, the legislative and judicial branches of the government were the people of Athens, who also, as individuals, served in executive capacities and, as a group, elected the chief executives each year. Every man held his citizenship, which he inherited, through membership in a deme, a group which had its origin in a geographical unit (a neighborhood of the city or a village in the countryside) and which gave to each citizen the third element of his official name, e.g., Perikles, son of Xanthippos, of (the deme of) Cholargos. There were about 140 demes, divided among 10 tribes (7), which were the basic units for allotment, representation on boards, and military organization.

7. Map of demes and tribes. Each color stands for one of the 10 tribes, each mark for an individual deme. The lines link groups of demes that belong to the same tribe. The number within each mark records the number of representatives sent each year to the Council (Boule) from that deme.
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).