What Is Demos in Ancient Greece?

In Ancient Greece, demos was a term used to refer to the common people or citizens of a city-state. The word demos comes from the Greek word “dēmos”, which means “people”. This term was often used to distinguish the ordinary citizens from the aristocrats or elite members of society.

The Importance of Demos in Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece, demos played a crucial role in the political and social life of the city-state. The concept of democracy, which originated in ancient Athens, was based on the idea that all citizens should have an equal say in how their city-state was governed.

The Role of Demos in Democracy

The demos were central to this idea of democracy as they were the ones who participated in the process of decision-making. In Athens, for example, all male citizens over the age of 18 were allowed to attend and speak at public assemblies where decisions affecting the city-state were made.

These assemblies were held regularly and provided an opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions on matters such as war, taxation, and laws. The demos had a significant say in these decisions as they could vote on proposals put forward by other citizens.

The Relationship Between Demos and Tyranny

The concept of demos also played a role in how tyranny emerged in Ancient Greece. A tyrant was someone who gained power through unconstitutional means and ruled with absolute authority.

Tyranny often emerged when there was discontent among the demos about how their city-state was being governed. A charismatic leader would emerge who promised to address their concerns and gain popular support. However, once they gained power, they often became tyrants themselves.

Demos vs Oligarchy

The idea of demos also contrasted with oligarchy – a system where power is held by a small group of people. In Ancient Greece, oligarchies often emerged when wealthy individuals gained control of the government and excluded the demos from decision-making.

This often led to tensions between the demos and the oligarchs, and in some cases, resulted in violent uprisings. The concept of demos was therefore an important one in maintaining a balance of power within Ancient Greek society.

The Legacy of Demos

The concept of demos has had a lasting impact on Western politics and society. The idea that all citizens should have a say in how they are governed is a fundamental principle of modern democracies.

The importance of demos can also be seen in how political movements today often arise from grassroots movements and popular support, rather than being imposed from above by an elite few.


In conclusion, the concept of demos played a crucial role in Ancient Greek society. It was central to the idea of democracy and provided ordinary citizens with a say in how their city-state was governed.

The importance of demos can also be seen in how it contrasts with tyranny and oligarchy – two systems that emerged when power was concentrated in the hands of a few. The legacy of demos can still be seen today, as it remains an essential principle in modern democracies around the world.