(δῆμος). A word which originally denoted a district or country. Then, because in the early days the lower classes lived in the country and the nobles in the city, it received the meaning of commons or common people. A third use, likewise derived from the original signification, is seen in its application to the local divisions, or townships as it were, of Attica.
A certain number of these δῆμοι, or demes, were included in each of the ten tribes established by Clisthenes to replace the four old Ionic tribes. Their exact number at that time is not positively known, though it is supposed by some, from a statement of Herodotus (v. 69), to have been one hundred. In the third century before Christ, at all events, they numbered one hundred and seventyfour ( Strab.ix. 396). The names of one hundred and forty-five of these are known to us from inscriptions. If, however, we consider the division of some demes into καθύπερθεν and ὑπένερθεν, and of others between two different tribes, this sum is increased to one hundred and fifty-six (Milchhoefer, Untersuchungen ber die Demenordnung des Kleisthenes, pp. 8-10; C. I. A. iii. index). The names were derived in part from places, as in the case of Acharnae, Rhamnus, etc., and in part from the founders of the demes, as in the case of Erchia and of Daedalidae (Aristot. Athen. Polit. 21). The largest deme, according to Thucydides, was Acharnae, which in the Peloponnesian War was able to furnish three thousand heavily armed troops ( Thuc.ii. 19Thuc., 20).
At the time of his reforms Clisthenes admitted many resident aliens and even slaves to citizenship (Aristot. Polit. 3, 2), and to this fact is due that alteration in the official designation of citizens which he also introduced (Aristot. Athen. Polit. 21). They were no longer designated by the father's name only, but also by the name of the deme to which they belonged. The demes now became the centres of the local administrative power, and are said by Aristotle to have taken the place of the naucraries (Athen. Polit. 21). Each deme had its register of citizens, its own property, its own meetings and religious observances, and its own demarch. This officer made out the lists of the deme's property, kept in his possession the lexiarchic register, or register of qualified citizens, and convened the demesmen at will (Harpocration, s. v. Δήμαρχος). At these meetings the public business of the deme was transacted, such as the leasing of property, the election of officers, the revision of the lexiarchic register, and the enrolment of new members.
When a man was first admitted to citizenship he had the right to choose his own tribe and deme, but otherwise a man belonged to the same deme as his natural or adoptive father. The legitimate children of citizens could be enrolled on attaining their majority at the age of eighteen, and adopted children, whenever presented by their adoptive fathers. The enrolment took place in the presence of the assembled demesmen. If any member questioned the candidate's eligibility the matter was settled by a majority vote of those present (Demosth. Eubul. 1318). Illegal registration, however, was not uncommon, and certain demes, as Potamus for example, were notorious for this abuse (Harpocration, s. v. Ποταμός; Demosth. Leoch. 1091). To counteract this evil an official investigation of those inscribed in the register, called diapsephisis (Harpocration, s. v. Διαψήφισις), was held at various times by the deme. A similar examination was also held if, by any chance, the lexiarchic registers were lost or destroyed (Demosth. Eubul. 1306). If any one in the course of this inquiry was disfranchised by vote of the demesmen, he had the right of appeal to the courts. If the decision of the deme were sustained he was sold as a slave and his property was confiscated. But were he successful in his suit his name was restored to the register of the deme (Isaeus, 12; Argum. ad Demosthenis Eubul. 1298).
A man was not obliged to reside within the limits of the deme of which he was a member. But he could only hold property in another deme upon payment to the demarch of a tax, called ἐγκτητικόν. This tax, however, was sometimes remitted by the demes in the case of individuals to whom they desired to grant special privileges or honours (C. I. A. ii. 589).