Synoecism or synœcism (Ancient Greek: συνοικισμóς) is the amalgamation of villages and small towns in Ancient Hellas into larger political units such as a single city. It is the process by which democracy in the Ancient Greek world originated and developed. The word itself means "dwelling together" or "to unite together under one capital city". Synœcism is opposed to the Greek word διοικισμóς (dioikismós).
Interplay between "demos" and "polis"
In early Greece
, ancient society was split between the "demos
", (δημοι, κωμαι
); meaning the "country people" or the "country villages" and the "asty" or "polis
); the seat of the princely (nobility
, the gentry, the aristocracy), the sacerdotal and military families. The distinction between the πολις
and the δημοι
was of great political importance in the ancient states. There was much antagonism between these two bodies; the country and city and where commerce and trade became the dominant cultural and ideological force, it collected many men together promoting larger towns and democracy. In the city states of Classical Greece, synœcism occurred when the "demos" combined, usually by force, with and submerged the "politiea" to form one political union.
In democratic states
, the villages of Attica
combined with the asty of Athens proper. The πολις
and the δημοι
became identical in Athens and the later word was used by preference to signify the whole community. It was the wealthy and populous cities of the Greeks in the Ionian
territory that popular government was first established. This is how the word "democracy" was formed and its form of government
. This synœcism was one of the primary causes of the kyklos
in ancient Hellas.
This principle is witnessed in the history of Mantineia. In the fifth century, after its synœcism it became a democracy; in the fourth century, it was again split apart, (dioikismos) and an oligarchy was formed. Later on more political upheaval caused a synœcism to recur thus creating another democracy. This occurred in the other Arcadian towns of Tegea and Heræa.
In oligarchical states
States not under democratic government used the word πολις
in their public documents to signify the sovereign power. The Doric
states of Crete
kept the "polis" separate from the "demos". As late as the second century after Christ, Cretan towns continued to use the word "polis" to denote themselves. The Spartan community, however, deviating from this usage of the word, calls itself δãμoς
in ancient laws; because it never thought of opposing itself as a body to the Periœci.
Müller states: "In oligarchical states, as in Elis, the people in later times remained almost constantly in the country; and it frequently happened that grandfathers and grandchildren had never seen the town: there were also country courts of justice, and other regulations intended to make up for the advantages of a city life. Where the courts of justice were at a distance, and there was no inducement to mechanical industry and internal commerce, (see the term banausos), the ancient habits of life continued much longer in existence."
Occurrences of the word "synœcism"
- "They always remained separate states and were never synoikised."
- "Legends...current before the villages were ' synoecised ' into Athens."
- "When the town was first formed...by the synœcism of the neighboring villages."
- "Even the crushing of such dissent within the Peloponnesus did not rid Sparta of her fears as she was forced to acknowledge the synoecism of Elis into a democratic poleis, north of Messenia, and the synoecism of Mantinea, both as reward for remaining apart from the rebellion attempt by Tegea and Argos."