Synoecism or synecism (// si-NEE-siz-əm; Ancient Greek: συνοικισμóς, sunoikismos, Ancient Greek: [syːnɔi̯kismós]), also spelled synoikism (// si-NOY-kiz-əm), was originally the amalgamation of villages in Ancient Greece into poleis, or city-states. Etymologically the word means "dwelling together (syn) in the same house (oikos)." Subsequently, any act of civic union between polities of any size was described by the word synoikismos. The closest analogy today is the incorporation of a city; in fact, "incorporation" is often used to translate synoikismos, in addition to the Latinized synoecism. Synoecism is opposed to Greek dioecism (διοικισμóς, dioikismos), the creation of independent communities within the territory of a polis.
Synoecism is the result of a few major factors, mainly an increase in population density of adjacent settlements, with an incorporation proposed for economic, political or ideological advantages, such as the synoecism of the communities of Attica into Athens, or by imposition of a ruling power, such as the synoecism of Messenia into the newly built city of Messene.
A dioecism is essentially the inverse of a synoecism, the releasing of cities, towns or villages from their association with a polis. This process might manifest itself in several ways, such as the settling of new but independent communities within former territory of Constantinople on land abandoned due to a contraction of population, or the contraction of Thessaloniki out of its former neighborhoods outside the city walls due to the occupation of the countryside by the Turks. A conqueror might break up a polis for various reasons. As part of the settlement of the Third Sacred War in 346 BC, the Amphictyonic League was commissioned to destroy 21 or 22 cities of Phocis, many of which had already been burned. They chose the method of dioecism, returning the poleis to their constituent kōmai, or villages. The city fortifications were then dismantled. This relatively mild destruction was reversed by Athens and Thebes several years later. They were sympathetic to Phocis but their hands had been legally tied. The cities were re-synoecized. The larger states assisted Phocis to rebuild the fortifications.
Although there were differences between synoecism in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, the same general concept is deduced from the history of both civilizations. Before political union, the future (combined) population of the polity constituted smaller settlements that were not obligated to each other, or at least not by the contract that was later to institute their political union. A settlement or group of settlements might be constituents of another polity from which they would be annexed or transferred.
In ancient Greece
In ancient Greece, society was divided into the demos (δῆμοι, κῶμαι; "country people" or "country villages") and the "asty" (ἄστυ) or "polis" (πόλις). The polis was the situs of the princely nobility, gentry, and aristocracy and the sacerdotal and martial families. The distinction between the "demos" and the "polis" was politically very important in these ancient states. There was much antagonism between the two bodies of the country and city. Where commerce and trade came to dominate culture and ideology, they encouraged men to live together in larger towns and develop democracies. In the city states of classical Greece, synoecism occurred when the "demos" combined with and subordinated, usually by force, the "politiea" in one polity.
In the poleis, the synoikistes was the person who according to tradition executed the synoecism, either by charisma or outright conquest; he was subsequently worshiped as a demi-god. The most famous synoikistes was the mythic and legendary Theseus, who liberated Attica from Cretan hegemony and restored the independence of Greece under the leadership of Athens.
In Greek democracies
In ancient Athens, the villages of Attica combined with the polis of Athens; consequently the "demos" and "polis" became identical in Athens and the former word assumed preference to denote the whole polity. Popular government was first established in the wealthy and populous Greek cities in Ionia. From this history the word and concept of "democracy" is derived. This synoecism was one of the primary causes of the Kyklos in ancient Hellas.
Synoecism also occurred in the history of Mantineia. In the fifth century, after its synoecism, it became a democracy; in the fourth century, it was again divided ("dioikismos") and an oligarchy formed. Later, more political upheaval caused another synoecism, thus instituting another democracy. This further occurred in the other Arcadian towns of Tegea and Heraia.
In Greek oligarchies
Ancient Greek states not democratically governed used the word "polis" in their public documents to signify sovereign power. The Doric states of Crete and Sparta preserved the polis separate from the demos. As late as the second century AD, Cretan towns continued to denote themselves with "polis". Sparta, however, deviating from this use of the word, denominated itself "damos" (δᾶμoς) in ancient laws, because it never thought of itself as a body opposed to the Perioeci.
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."
In ancient Rome
In ancient Rome, some of the kinds of settlement that were incorporated by synoecism into greater municipal polities were the prefecture (praefectura), a non-autonomous village administered by a prefect; the oppidum, a fortified, autonomous town; the castellum, a small fortified place under or previously under martial jurisdiction; the forum, being a marketplace; the conciliabulum, being a meeting place; the vicus, being a small, private settlement without government; the canabae, being a settlement of dependents in the vicinity of a base; the pagus, being a rural village; the gens, being a tribal canton; the saltus, being a settlement of coloni (farmers) on a large estate, part of which they leased from the conductor (manager); and the colonia, being a settlement of colonists from Rome.
As an archaeological site
"Synoecism" also denominates an ancient Cretan archaeological site on the western fringes of Troullos. Artifacts discovered at the site include a terracotta bull figurine, a bronze statuette, and Late Minoan I pottery.
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- Abbott & Johnson 1926, pp. 10-20.
- Abbott, Frank Frost; Johnson, Allan Chester (1926). Municipal Administration in the Roman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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