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Athenian Political Art from the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BCE: Images of Political Personifications 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 24 of 26

· Themis ·


Read about the evidence
Hesiod (Hes. Theog.).
Homer (Hom. Od.).
Homer (Hom. Il.).
Plot on a Map
Argos (in text as “Argive”).

Discussion: Although the worship of Themis (Law) in Attika is not attested before her fourth century association with Nemesis at Rhamnous, she was well known in early art and literature throughout Greece. Hesiod calls her a sister of the Titans, daughter of Ouranos and Ge (Heaven and Earth), and the second wife of Zeus, with whom she gave birth to the Horai (Seasons)—Eunomia, Dike, and Eirene—and Moirai (Fates) (Hes. Theog. 901). In the epics she plays roles that are true to her name—which also means law, justice, privilege, and authority—convening assemblies of mortals (Hom. Od. 2.68-69), or of the gods, at the bidding of Zeus or Hera (Hom. Il. 20.4 and Hom. Il. 15.95). Before Delphi was given to Apollo, Themis held the oracular seat there. This explains her labelled appearance as a Pythian priestess, with Aigeus, on the tondo of the Kodros Painter’s cup in Berlin [3]. She is veiled, as befits a priestess, so the conflation between the figure we would expect to see in this pose (a Pythian priestess seated on the Delphic tripod) and the character identified by the label must have been intended. In Themis’ early Classical appearance, between Balos and Epaphos, Argive kings, on Syriskos’ calyx krater in Malibu [1], she also carries libation instruments, a phiale and an oinochoe. Her placement between two Argive kings does not correspond to any known mythological episode. Rather, her presence was meant to emphasize the legitimacy of their rule.

Plot on a Map
Thrace (in text as “Thracian”).

Themis is also shown as the personification of religious Laws on two vases related to the Phiale Painter, who was contemporary with the Kodros Painter [2] and [4]. On a skyphos in Tübingen [2], Themis greets Bendis (an imported Thracian divinity), although it is Themis who holds Bendis’ torch, as well as a traditional kanoun (offering basket). Erika Simon has plausibly explained that this scene shows Themis in a capacity as paredros of Delphic Apollo, sanctioning the establishment of the new cult of Bendis at Athens. The Bendis-Themis connection is repeated on a pair of stemless cups in Verona, also attributed to the Phiale Painter: Bendis is illustrated on the tondo of one cup, and the tondo of the other [4] illustrates a woman whose appearance is similar to that of Themis on the Tübingen skyphos [2].

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Evelyn Harrison has proposed that Themis may be identified by the distinctive “shoulder-cord” with which the sleeves of her garments are bound in many of these representations (Harrison 1977). But many woman on Classical Attic vases also wear this shoulder-cord, including Eris on the Karlsruhe Paris and as many as seven of the nine unlabelled personifications elucidated by Jenifer Neils on the Meidian lekythos in Cleveland (Neils 1983, 21). Yet Harrison’s iconographic observation might encourage us to identify the unlabelled woman standing with Heimarmene (Destiny), on the far right of the Heimarmene Painter’s Berlin amphoriskos [5] as Themis. Themis’ role in the Helen story is unprecedented and unexpected. Her inclusion in this scene might indicate, however, that the abduction and subsequent tragedies occurred because Heimarmene (Destiny) had temporarily distracted Themis. The similarity of shoulder-cords has also led Harrison to identify figure L, in whose lap Aphrodite reclines, on the East Pediment of the Parthenon, as Themis (Harrison 1977, 159). The shoulder cord is not enough to justify speculation that two torsos ([5] and New York 03.12.17) dating from the second quarter of the fourth century represent Themis, although, as Harrison notes, they are comparable to the third century statue of Themis found at Rhamnous (Athens, NM 231).


  1. [Certain example] Malibu 92.AE.6: a female figure, labelled ΘΕΜΙΣ, holding sacrificial vessels and standing between Balos and Epaphos, on a calyx krater signed by Syriskos, ca. 470-460.
  2. [Certain example] Tübingen S./10 1347: a female figure, labelled ΘΕΜΙΣ, standing with Bendis, on a skyphos related to the Phiale Painter, ca. 440-430.
  3. [Certain example] Berlin F 2538: a female figure, labelled ΘΕΜΙΣ, seated on a tripod opposite Aigeus, on a cup attributed to the Kodros Painter, ca. 440-430 (shown here).
  4. [Possible example] Verona 25653: a standing female figure with a libation oinochoe (jug) and a processional kanoun (basket), on the tondo of a stemless cup attributed to the Phiale Painter, ca. 440-430.
  5. [Possible example] Berlin 30036: a standing female figure, holding a bird, on the name vase (a pointed amphoriskos) of the Heimarmene Painter, ca. 430-420, with representations of Nemesis, Peitho, Heimarmene, and Tyche or Eukleia.
  6. [Possible example] Agora S 2370: colossal statue of a goddess, ca. 335-330, perhaps Demokratia, Themis, or Tyche.

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