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Demos ( Greek δῆμος dēmos , mostly understood as " state people ", in contrast to ἔθνος éthnos "people"; Pl. In German Demen ) probably originally referred to the settlement of individual clans in ancient Greece . With Homer and Hesiod the term mostly stands for an area or country and derived from it for the people living there. The ancient tradition in historical times understands the term usually a village or settlement community as the smallest administrative unit within an ancient Greek polis ( Pl. Poleis ). This applies in particular to the Ionian - Attic settlement area, but also applies to some Doric Poleis. In the political field, municipalities , commonly also the total number of full citizens of a Polis Demos, are named. Since only citizens with full civil rights - for example in the Attic democracy , of which the most extensive tradition has been preserved - could take part in the people's assembly , the word demos was also transferred to this . In addition, the term describes the “common people” or the mob , after all almost synonymous with the state itself.

In the late antiquity and during the Byzantine period a distinction between demos and the plural form Demoi: that was the marking of the lower and middle strata of the population of a city, especially Constantinople , reserved, this was the name for the local factions of chariot races . In contrast, in today's Greece, the lowest municipal administrative unit is derived from the corresponding meaning "municipality" of the word Demos . In sociology , demos was taken up as a political and legal term.

Demos in ancient times

Demes existed in Athens as early as the pre-cleisthenic period. As a rule, this was used to describe village centers that were located apart from the Athenian core city , which is called asty . There is no evidence that they played any role in politics or administration. As part of the Kleisthenian reforms in 508/507 BC They became the basic units of the new political order. Each demos was assigned to one of the thirty newly created Trittyen and through this was a member of one of the ten Attic phyls . The Demen were named after their main town - for example Eleusis , which was both the place and demos and eponymous for a Trittys -, after aristocratic families, landscape features, peculiarities of the flora, after settled crafts or after heroes.

Kleisthenes attributed every free resident of Athens and Attica to one of the originally 100 established demes, of which he thus became a member ( demotes ). In the course of time, the number of demes increased through divisions and comprised 174 units at the time of Strabons . The registration for one demo remained permanent, was inherited and could not be changed even by moving to another demos. Only the adoption led to a change in demos membership, which was due to the inheritance of the assignment. The name of the demos became an official part of the name of a resident, expressed by the demoticon , for example Panaitios from the Demos Hamaxanteia .

If strangers were granted Athenian citizenship, they had to register in a demos of their choice. Their inclusion in this demo was then decided by a vote of the demos. A rejection could be challenged and re-decided before the general people's assembly. The same applied to the admission of adult sons of the Demoten. When they were accepted, they were put on the demo's citizens' list. Inhabitants of foreign demes were kept in separate lists. The same applied to metics , foreigners without civil rights who lived in Athens. These citizen lists of the demes were important for the distribution of the tax revenue, for the raising of the demotes in case of war as well as the participation and determination of contributions to state festivals.

For the Council of Five Hundred in Athens, the Bule , each demonstration sent a fixed number of representatives, depending on its size, which was drawn by lot from the members of a demonstration. Depending on the size, this could only be one representative, but for large demes it could also be up to 22, for example in Acharnes , the largest Attic demos. The Demos Halimus may give an idea of ​​the proportionality, who sent three representatives to the Bule for around 73 to 90 demotes. The members of a demo met regularly or extraordinary. Every demos had a demarchos as head, but also administrators, accountants, scribes, heralds and priests for the local demotic cults and shrines.

The names of demes have been handed down from numerous other places, but their integration into the political structure of the respective polis is mostly unclear. Examples can be found for Miletus , for Naxos , for Lindos and other places on Rhodes , but also for places on the Greek mainland such as Mantineia , Tegea , Patrai and others.

Today's meaning

The modern Greek word Dimos ( Greek δήμος ( m. Sg. ), Plural dimi or dimoi , Greek δήμοι ) has retained the ancient Greek meaning “community”. Already during the Ottoman period , the local administration of the Greek communities was in the hands of demogerontes , "community elders ." If after the Greek War of Independence Ioannis Kapodistrias failed to enforce a new administrative structure at the local level due to the resistance of these demogeronts, this reform was one of the first tasks that had been tackled by the Kingdom of Greece, founded in 1832 . In this context, the historical municipalities of Greece were dissolved in 1833, and the newly designed Dimoi took their place as the smallest unit of municipal administration. Despite multiple reorganizations, they form the local level of the political structure of Greece even after the implementation of the Kallikratis program in 2010 . In Cyprus , the Dimos is also one of the community forms.

The term demos in sociology

In contrast to the ethnic term ethnos , demos describes a political and legal term for people . The people are understood here as a social and political entity that draws legitimation for social action solely from the community's expressions of will. The term goes back above all to the “sociological contributions to popular theory” of the sociologist Emerich K. Francis (1906–1994) and is used primarily by Friedrich Heckmann , among others, to define new concepts of ethnicity .




  • Emerich Francis : Ethnos and Demos. Sociological contributions to popular theory. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1965.
  • Friedrich Heckmann : Ethnos, Demos and Nation, or: Where does the nation-state's intolerance towards ethnic minorities come from? In: Uli Bielefeld (ed.): The own and the foreign. New Racism in the Old World? Junius, Hamburg 1991, ISBN 3-88506-190-2 , pp. 51-78.
  • M. Rainer Lepsius : "Ethnos" and "Demos". On the application of two categories by Emerich Francis to the national self-image of the Federal Republic and to European unification. In: Cologne journal for sociology and social psychology. Vol. 38, No. 4, 1986, ISSN  0023-2653 , pp. 751-759.

Web links

Commons : Athenian Demes  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Hans Volkmann : Demos. In: The Little Pauly (KlP). Volume 1, Stuttgart 1964, Sp. 1482 .; see in particular also the ancient philological view of Wilhelm Pape : Concise dictionary of the Greek language. Greek - Concise German Dictionary. Volume 1. 3rd edition. Vieweg and Son, Braunschweig 1914, p. 564 sv δῆμος , and Henry George Liddell , Robert Scott : A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1940, sv δῆμος .
  2. On the term demos in late antique and Byzantine times see Anastasia Kontogiannopoulou: The Notion of δῆμος and its Role in Byzantium during the Last Centuries (13th – 15th c.). In: Byzantina Symmeikta. Volume 22, 2012, pp. 101-124 ( PDF ).
  3. ^ David Whitehead: The Demes of Attica, 508/7 - ca.250 BC A Political and Social Study. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1986, pp. 5-16.
  4. Nikolaos-Komnenos Hlepas: A Romantic Adventure? National revolution, modern statehood and the Bavarian monarchy in Greece. In: Alexander von Bormann (Hrsg.): Non-simultaneities of European Romanticism. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2006, pp. 165–204, especially pp. 172–184.
  5. ^ Altana Filos: The arduous process of decentralization in Greece: The new program “Kallikratis”. In: Journal for Foreign Public Law and International Law . Volume 73, 2013, pp. 105-125, especially p. 108 f. 110-115 ( PDF ).
  6. Cf. also Friedrich Heckmann: Nationstaat, multicultural society and ethnic minority politics . In: Multicultural Society. The way between exclusion and appropriation? A conference of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on December 9 and 10, 1991 in Bonn. Edited by the research institute of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, department of labor and social research. Bonn 1992, ISBN 3-86077-048-9 ( Electronic edition : FES Library, Bonn 2001), pp. 41-51.