Political Organization of Attica: Demes and Tribal Representation

Each tribe was divided into three parts, and each third (trittys) was from one of the three regions of Attica, plain, coast, or hills. Every trittys was itself made up of several smaller units called demes. These were the old townships, villages, or neighborhoods which had existed for centuries. They were somewhat independent units with their own local officials and administrators, like any small town in the United States today. Altogether, there were about 140 demes in Attica, distributed among the ten new tribes.

Map of the Attic demes (neighborhoods). Drawn by John S. Traill, Demos and Trittys, Toronto, 1986. The map depicts Kleisthenes' new tribal system. Each color stands for a tribe. Each symbol represents an individual deme. The lines link the demes that make up each trittys. The mix of colors shows the broad geographical distribution of the three trittyses that make up each tribe. The number within each symbol indicates the number of senators sent annually from that deme to the Boule.

In some cases, when traditional ties between demes were particularly close, as, for instance, between Marathon and Probalinthos on the east coast of Attica, the new system usually had them assigned to separate tribes in an attempt to break such alliances. Surviving lists of tribesmen serving in the Boule (Senate) show that large demes regularly sent several representatives to serve each year, while small demes sent fewer, just as the number of congressmen and congresswomen from each state in our House of Representatives is determined by the population of the state. Acharnai in northern Attica was the largest deme, with twenty-two representatives (4% of the citizens of Attica), whereas many small denies sent a single representative or even alternated with another small deme.

Allotment tokens, 450-425 B.C. H.: 0. 03 m. Athens Agora Museum MC 820-822. These rectangular clay plaques cut with one jagged edge were probably used in connection with allotment of a deme office. On one side of each plaque the name of a tribe is written: ΛΕΟ for the tribe of Leontis, and ΕΡΕ for the tribe of Erechtheis. On the other side is the name of the deme office: ΠΟΛ probably Poletes, an official auctioneer. ΗΑΛΙΜΟΣ is the name of a deme. The tokens were cut before firing in the kiln and would have been reunited in the process of allotting the deme office.
Upper part of an inscribed marble stele (stone slab) with red-painted letters, 222/1 B.C. H.: 0.275 m. Athens, Agora Museum I 7030. Found inside the remains of the South Stoa, this inscription is a record of the metronomoi, the inspectors of weights and measures, of whom Aristotle wrote in the Athenian Constitution (51.2): "There are ten metronomoi appointed by lot, five for the city and five for Piraeus. They are responsible for all measures and weights, to ensure that the salesmen use honest standards."

This attempt to ensure equal representation is found throughout Athenian administration. Each jury in the lawcourts had an equal number of jurors from each of the ten tribes. Public offices were also apportioned out as fairly as possible. A good example of this concern with fairness is the fragmentary inscription which records the transfer of the official weights and measures from the outgoing board of officials (metronomoi) to the incoming board. The five members and two secretaries of the metronomi are listed by name, patronymic (father's name), and deme and indicate that the seven came from seven different tribes:

The metronomoi when Archelaos was Archon:
Demostratos from Hestiaia
Aristokrates from Angele
Apollodoros son of Apollonios from Lamptrai
Theodotos from Ekale
Eratymenes from Oinoe and the allotted secretary:
Nikias son of Philo from Kydathenaion and the elected secretary:
Herakleitos son Timotheos from Krio gave over the following weights and measures...
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
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