What Is a Deme in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, a deme was a political subdivision of the Attic peninsula. The word “deme” is derived from the Greek word “demos,” which means “people” or “district.”

History of Deme

The deme system was established in Athens in the 6th century BCE. At that time, Athens was divided into four main tribes, and each tribe was further subdivided into demes. Initially, there were about 170 demes, but this number varied over time.

Functions of Deme

Each deme had its own officials and assembly, which were responsible for various local matters such as maintaining public buildings and roads, organizing religious festivals and games, and registering citizens for military service. The assembly also elected officials to serve in the Athenian government, including members of the Boule (council) and magistrates.


Only Athenian citizens could belong to a deme. Citizenship was restricted to free adult males who were born to Athenian parents and had completed military training. Women, slaves, and foreigners were not considered citizens and therefore could not belong to a deme or participate in its activities.

Deme Names

Demes were named after various geographical features such as mountains, rivers, or villages within their boundaries. Some demes were also named after famous individuals who had connections to the area. For example, the deme of Socrates was named after the philosopher who lived nearby.


The deme system played an important role in Athenian democracy by providing a way for citizens to participate in local government and have a voice in larger political matters through their elected representatives. The idea of local government also influenced later systems of governance in Europe and beyond.

In conclusion, the deme system was a fundamental part of ancient Athenian society, providing citizens with a means to participate in local government and contribute to the larger political system. Its legacy can still be seen in modern forms of government, making it an essential part of Greek history and culture.