Tribes of Athens - 508 B.C.

In 508/7 B.C., the statesman Kleisthenes proposed a set of reforms that re-organized the Athenian citizens into 10 tribes ( phylai ). In order to prevent the people living in any one geographical area from becoming dominant, each tribe was composed of citizens from the city, the coast, and the inland areas of Attica. Athenians served in the Council ( boule ), on juries, and in the military according to their tribes. The tribes also had their own officials, sanctuaries, and religious calendars. Therefore, membership in a tribe was very important for political, social, military, and religious reasons, and the tribal structure was one of the essential elements of early Athenian democracy ( demokratia ) and equality under the law ( isonomia ).

The 10 tribes of the early Athenian democracy were named after 10 mythical heroes, selected by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi from a much larger, preliminary list of names provided by the Athenians. Each hero was represented by a bronze statue on the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes in the Athenian Agora. Important information pertaining to each tribe was posted beneath the relevant statue, and the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes became an important public "bulletin board" and meeting place. The original 10 ten tribes and their heroes were:


Order
508/7
to
307/6 BC
Tribe
Eponymous Hero
Identity/Myth
I
Erechtheis
Erechtheus
Early king of Athens, sometimes confused with Erichthonios; sacrificed some of his (many) daughters to save the city; defeated Eumolpos of Eleusis in battle; killed by Poseidon; later worshipped on the Acropolis.
II
Aigeis
Aigeus
Early king of Athens; son of Pandion(?) and father of Theseus.
II
Pandionis
Pandion
Early king of Athens.
IV
Leontis
Leos
Son of Orpheus; father of three daughters who sacrificed themselves to save the city.
V
Akamantis
Akamas
Son of Theseus.
VI
Oineis
Oineus
Son of Dionysos(?) or Pandion(?).
VII
Kekropis
Kekrops
Early king of Athens; father of Aglauros, Herse, and Pandrosos.
VIII
Hippothontis
Hippothoon
Hero from Eleusis.
IX
Aiantis
Aiax (Ajax)
Hero from Salamis; son of Telamon; fought at Troy.
X
Antiochis
Antiochos

Son of Herakles.


Athenian citizens (adult males only) served in the Council (Boule) according to tribe. In the early democracy, the Boule was composed of 500 members (50 from each of the 10 tribes). In addition, each tribe would take its turn at being the chair or "presidents" ( prytaneis ) for about a month at a time. However, the order in which each tribe served as "presidents" was not always the same. On the other hand, the tribes are listed in a regular, set order on various official documents (e.g., casualty lists, public decrees).

The names of the tribes and their regular order are represented by this mnemonic phrase (taking the first 2 or 3 letters of each name):

ErAigPaLeAk OiKekHipAiAn (ER-AIG-PA-LE-AK OI-KEK-HIP-AI-AN)

Of course, the political structure of Athens was not static, and the number of tribes changed over time reflecting different political diplomatic relationships. For example, in 307/6 B.C. the Athenians paid honor to two Macedonian kings, Antigonos I Monopthalmos and his son, Demetrios Poliorketes, by creating two new tribes (Antigonis and Demetrias) named after them. Two statues were added to the Monument of the Eponymous heroes (bringing the number to 12). The new tribes were added to the front of the list:

Order
307/6
to
224/3 BC
Tribe
Eponymous Hero
I
Antigonis
Antigonos I Monophthalmos
II
Demetrias
Demetrias Poliorketes
III
Erechtheis
Erechtheus
IV
Aigeis
Aigeus
V
Pandionis
Pandion
VI
Leontis
Leos
VII
Akamantis
Akamas
VIII
Oineis
Oineus
IX
Kekropis
Kekrops
X
Hippothontis
Hippothoon
XI
Aiantis
Aiax (Ajax)
XII
Antiochis
Antiochos


In 224/3 B.C. another Hellenistic king, Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt, was added to the list of heroes (13). The new tribe of Ptolemais was inserted into the 7th position:

Order
224/3
to
201/0 BC
Tribe
Eponymous Hero
I
Antigonis
Antigonos I Monophthalmos
II
Demetrias
Demetrias Poliorketes
III
Erechtheis
Erechtheus
IV
Aigeis
Aigeus
V
Pandionis
Pandion
VI
Leontis
Leos
VII
Ptolemais
Ptolemy III Euergetes
VIII
Akamantis
Akamas
IX
Oineis
Oineus
X
Kekropis
Kekrops
XI
Hippothontis
Hippothoon
XII
Aiantis
Aiax (Ajax)
XIII
Antiochis
Antiochos

When war broke out between Athens and Macedon at the end of the 3rd century B.C., the two "Macedonian tribes" (Antigonis and Demetrias) were removed from the list (and monument) of eponymous heroes (11).

Order
200 BC
Tribe
Eponymous Hero
I
Antigonis
Antigonos I Monophthalmos
II
Demetrias
Demetrias Poliorketes
I
Erechtheis
Erechtheus
II
Aigeis
Aigeus
III
Pandionis
Pandion
IV
Leontis
Leos
V
Ptolemais
Ptolemy III Euergetes
VI
Akamantis
Akamas
VII
Oineis
Oineus
VIII
Kekropis
Kekrops
IX
Hippothontis
Hippothoon
X
Aiantis
Aiax (Ajax)
XI
Antiochis
Antiochos

This situation seems to have lasted only a few months. In 200 B.C., King Attalos I of Pergamon, who had helped the Athenians against Philip V of Macedon, was named an Eponymous hero (12 again). This new tribe (Attalis) was placed at the end of the list:

Order
200 BC
to
AD 124/5
Tribe
Eponymous Hero
I
Antigonis
Antigonos I Monophthalmos
II
Demetrias
Demetrias Poliorketes
I
Erechtheis
Erechtheus
II
Aigeis
Aigeus
III
Pandionis
Pandion
IV
Leontis
Leos
V
Ptolemais
Ptolemy III Euergetes
VI
Akamantis
Akamas
VII
Oineis
Oineus
VIII
Kekropis
Kekrops
IX
Hippothontis
Hippothoon
X
Aiantis
Aiax (Ajax)
XI
Antiochis
Antiochos
XII
Attalis
Attalos I

The number of tribes remained stable until 124/5 A.D., when the Roman emperor Hadrian was named an eponymous hero (bringing the the total up to 13 again.). The new tribe was inserted into the 7th position:

Order
after
AD 124/5
Tribe
Eponymous Hero
I
Antigonis
Antigonos I Monophthalmos
II
Demetrias
Demetrias Poliorketes
I
Erechtheis
Erechtheus
II
Aigeis
Aigeus
III
Pandionis
Pandion
IV
Leontis
Leos
V
Ptolemais
Ptolemy III Euergetes
VI
Akamantis
Akamas
VII
Hadrianis
Hadrian
VII
Oineis
Oineus
VIII
Kekropis
Kekrops
IX
Hippothontis
Hippothoon
X
Aiantis
Aiax (Ajax)
XI
Antiochis
Antiochos
XII
Attalis
Attalos I


Many of these changes can be noted in the archaeological record of the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes, since the base had to be modified to accommodate the changing number of statues.

 


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