The Reforms of Cleisthenes - the tribes

The Reforms of Cleisthenes - the tribes Athenian citizen storming the Acropolis, from The Greeks documentary


The 'democratic' reforms of Cleisthenes were a highly complicated revision of tribal and religious associations that had endured for centuries. Above all else, they were an attempt to make the different factions and regions of Athens into one people, with a popular assembly, and the necessary institutions to make that assembly work.

Cleisthenes accomplished this by reorganizing the four tribal groups all Athenians belonged to. Though he didn't abolish the old tribes, he divided them into 10 new groups, called phyle, each of which adopted a mythological hero as its patron and founder.

Next he revised the way neighborhoods were organized, creating local councils called demes which consisted of either several small hamlets, a village, or a city district. Like the reorganization of the tribes, these demes were a modification of older community organizations, but each now had a local assembly and a leader resembling a mayor.

Finally, in order to encourage unity between the different parts of Attica - the city of Athens, the inland farms and the coastal villages - Cleisthenes ensured that each of the 10 tribes were composed of two demes from each of these three areas (a total of six demes per tribe). This must have required some sophisticated reorganization since the demes varied greatly in size (between 100 and 1000 citizens) and each of the tribes needed to be roughly the same size (about 3,500 citizens each).




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