Eumenis Megalopoulos | Mar 14, 2023

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Clístenes (570 B.C.-507 B.C.), in Greek: Κλεισθένης

Clístenes had been archon during the tyranny of Hipias, and now renounced to reestablish the old order, but from his public position as legislator, and with the approval of the Athenian people, he created the basis of a new state based on isonomy or equality of citizens before the law. He also created the institution of ostracism to avoid as far as possible any attempt of return of tyranny.

To further his purposes he carried out (from about 508 B.C.) a fundamental reconstruction of the Athenian political system, which led him to be among the leading legislators of antiquity, chronologically after the Athenian Solon.

Once primitive tribes, they could mean: Geleontes, the "shining ones", "the noble ones" (from gelân, "to shine"). Egícoras, the "goatherds" (related to aíx, "goat"). Árgades, "the workers" (from árgon, "work"). Hoplites, "the soldiers" (from "hópla", "weapons"), were replaced by ten new tribes, artificially constituted with the inhabitants of various regions of Attica; thus, according to the organization of Clístenes, each tribe was composed of inhabitants of the city, of the rural interior, and of the coast, a territorial redistribution that ensured that no territorial tribe coincided with the zone of influence of an aristocratic clan, and that in the new tribe a certain social element did not predominate.

The territory of each tribe had to be established on the basis of heterogeneous geographical elements, if possible far from each other.

This was done in three stages: 1. division of Attica into three regions of balanced population: central area or Mesogea, maritime area or Paralia, urban area or Asty, none of which constituted a natural region. 2. Division of each region into ten districts or tritias, of equivalent population (each with a variable number of demos or municipalities to eliminate ancient gentile or cultural communities. 3. Grouping of three tritías (one from each region) to form a tribe or phýlē, resulting in a total of ten. Thus, the members of the various tribes had no personal contacts as a whole and no common interests. This distribution of the demos meant that a tritís never represented a uniform geographical whole, since it was composed of demos scattered throughout the three regions into which Attica had been divided. Chieftainship and territorial political parties were greatly diminished.

In this regard, it established ten filarcos instead of four.

According to Aristotle, it was the Pythia who designated the ten eponymous heroes of the new Athenian tribes. The names of the ten tribes, cited by their official order, were: Erectea, Aegea, Pandionisia, Leontida, Achamantide, Enea, Cecropia, Hippopontide, Ayantide and Antiochea, choosing them from a group of one hundred that the Athenians presented to her.

The main innovation of Clístenes was to establish as a basic principle the "isonomy" or equality of all citizens of Athens before the law. This principle depreciated rights by virtue of family inheritance (aristocracy) or wealth (Solon's Timocracy).

The minimum division of the citizens was the "démos" (plural: démoi), of which there would be one hundred and thirty-nine, although the function of the démoi is not well understood. The entire population was also divided into thirty "tritias" and every three tritias formed a "tribe" (phyle, phylai), there being ten tribes. The division into ten tribes determined political participation. The members of the same tribe were distributed throughout Attica, i.e., it was not a geographical division. Within each tribe, it was also divided into three regions (coast, city and inland), so that within each tribe there were people from all three regions. It is believed that the intention of Clístenes was to mix the population so that people with different political interests would work side by side.

It was common for politicians, for example the members of the Boulé or bouleutas, to be elected by lot. The drawing of lots is the system of election typical of participatory democracy, i.e., the ancient Greeks believed that any citizen without distinction was qualified for political office. Thus, any demôtas could also be a politês. The opposite system would have been the ballot, in which voters choose "the best" (aristoi). The drawing of lots was also applied to the election of the archons by the Ekklesia, but the restriction to the first two social classes was maintained, who also retained the privilege of access to another higher magistracy, the treasury.

Since the Boulé was composed of 500 citizens, fifty from each tribe, all citizens of Attica were obliged to work together, taking into account the different interests of each region and each tribe. In addition, each month the presidency of the Boulé (pritania) was granted to the fifty representatives of one of the tribes on a rotating basis according to the new calendar. The Boulé promoted the discussion of issues in the Ekklesía, summoned it and made proposals of law.

The Ekklesía or Assembly of citizens, composed of all males born in Athens, over eighteen years of age, discussed and voted, having the last word. Thus, the Ekklesia definitely became the main decision-making body in all areas. It also elected by lot the members of the Heliea or Court of Justice, as well as the major magistrates (archons, strategists, treasurers, etc.) and minor magistrates (astinomios or of order, agoranomios or of markets, jailers, etc.). All citizens could become magistrates, without restrictions. As we have said, the higher magistracies were reserved for wealthy landowners, although they had to perform them in the interests of public opinion.

The Areopagus or aristocratic Council was marginalized from major decisions and reduced to a consultative and advisory body, or criminal court of blood matters. It was composed of the exarchons, so that indirectly the members were elected by the Ekklesia.

To control the Ekklesia, in the times of Ephialtes and Pericles, the nomophylakes or Guardians of the Law were established, who could initiate veto processes to the decisions of the Ekklesia (graphé for nomon). In order that all citizens could use their time in the discussions of the Ekklesia, without losing days of work, a salary or mistophoria was established for all assembly members. In addition, ostracism or political banishment was instituted. The credibility of the magistrates was scrutinized before their management (dokimasia) and also after their management they had to render accounts (euthyna).

One of the two central events that would lead Athens towards plenary democracy is given by the fact that the institutional design imposed by Clístenes (the second event is given by Pericles), in a certain way, configured a government in which democratic and aristocratic components were balanced, however, the democratic component had a more accentuated profile, because when there were conflicts between the Areopagus and the council, the assembly had the last word.

The people had confidence in Clístenes, who was then at the head of the masses, three years after the overthrow of the tyrants, during the archonate of Isagoras. The first thing he did was to divide all the citizens into ten tribes instead of the old four (...) in order to involve more people in political life (...) He then made the boulé of five hundred members instead of four hundred, fifty from each tribe (...) He further divided the territory into thirty parts according to the demoi: in ten parts the city and surroundings, in another ten the riverside and in ten also the hinterland. He called these thirty parts tritias and allocated by lot three to each tribe so that each of them participated in all the districts (...) The Athenians called themselves by the demoi. He also created demarchs (...) With these changes, the constitution became much more democratic than that of Solon.

(Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, 21 f.)


  1. Cleisthenes
  2. Clístenes de Atenas
  3. ^ Ober, pp. 83 ff.
  4. ^ The New York Times (30 October 2007) [1st pub:2004]. John W. Wright (ed.). The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, Second Edition: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 628. ISBN 978-0-312-37659-8. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  5. ^ R. Po-chia Hsia, Julius Caesar, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, and Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West, Peoples and Cultures, A Concise History, Volume I: To 1740 (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007), 44.
  6. ^ Smith, William (1867). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Alcmaeonidae. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 105–106.
  7. Al respecto véase Alcmeónidas y Cilonianos
  8. Filarco (φύλαρχος): regidor de una tribu.
  9. 1,0 1,1 διάφοροι συγγραφείς: «Enciclopedia Treccani» (Ιταλικά) Institute of the Italian Encyclopaedia. 1929. Ανακτήθηκε στις 15  Δεκεμβρίου 2017.
  10. 2,0 2,1 Andrew Bell: «Encyclopædia Britannica» (Βρετανικά αγγλικά) Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.. 1768.
  11. 3,0 3,1 (Αγγλικά) Library of Congress Authorities. Βιβλιοθήκη του Κογκρέσου.
  12. 4,0 4,1
  13. 5,0 5,1 5,2 5,3 «Clisthenes» (Ρωσικά)
  14. Gaetano De Sanctis., autori vari CLISTENE di Atene // Enciclopedia Treccani (итал.) — Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, 1931.
  15. Bell A. Encyclopædia Britannica (брит. англ.) — Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1768.
  16. Library of Congress Authorities (англ.) — Library of Congress.

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