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demes


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dēmoi local districts—villages, in effect—in Greece, and, by extension, the inhabitants or members thereof. The first of these twin meanings was always common, but of greater significance is the second, which at local level—demos as the word for an entire citizen body being another story—expresses the fact that a Classical or Hellenistic state's demoi sometimes served as its official, constitutional subdivisions, besides sustaining internally organized communal functions of their own. In post‐Cleisthenic Athens (see cleisthenes 2) 139 demoi, encompassing the city itself and the Attic countryside, became the building‐blocks of Cleisthenes' three‐tier civic structure. As natural units of settlement they varied in size, from hamlets to substantial towns like Acharnae or Eleusis, but equalizing mechanisms operated at the levels of trittyes and phylai, including proportional representation on the boule of 500. Deme membership was hereditary in the male line, irrespective of any changes of residence, and served as guarantee of membership of the polis itself. Registration of 18‐year‐olds as demesmen was thus the most far‐reaching of the many functions supervised by the dēmarchos, the one official to be found in every deme. Besides the demarch, though, a deme assembly could devise and appoint whatever officials it liked, as one instance of the high degree of self‐determination it enjoyed generally. To its own (resident) members their deme felt like a polis in miniature, and where possible it behaved as such, levying and spending income, organizing local cults and festivals, and commemorating its decision‐making on the inscriptions from which much of our evidence derives. Ambitious Athenians might occasionally see their deme as a stepping‐stone to higher things, but prosopographical evidence more strongly indicates the microcosm(s) and macrocosm as separate spheres, with life in the small pool remaining rewarding enough for many a big fish.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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