I was on Wikipedia reading about Blood Libel when I came across the following sentence:

The earliest known antecedent is from a man named Democritus (not the philosopher) mentioned in the Suda,[15]..."

While Wikipedia says that it was NOT Democritus of Abdera, Thrace, on page 1 of the book Anti-Semitism and Its Metaphysical Roots (2015), David Patterson says:

Democritus of Thrace (ca. 460-370 BCE), known for his claim that all matter is composed of atoms, was a rationalist and materialist philosopher who believed that everything happens according to the ineluctable laws of nature. He is also known for his Maxims, a volume of deft bits of wisdom for living a virtuous life. And he is known as the first anti-Semite to invoke a blood libel, ..."

And the source given for the blood libel is Joshua Trachtenberg's book "The Devil and the Jews" published in 1983.

On the Jewish Encyclopedia's online entry of Blood Accusation, it mentions the same Democritus quote about every 7 years, but after that quote it says, "Nothing further is known of Democritus", suggesting that this is not the well-known philosopher who first proposed atomic theory. This entry appears largely copied from the 1925 Jewish Encyclopedia.

I searched the University of Kentucky's Suda Online attempting to find the specific quote, and I found the full entry, which you can see in the first revision of this question if you're curious.

Of note is that the entry is for Damocritus, NOT Democritus; however, I don't know if this could be a simple transcription error.

Also, I found times (in the Suda On Line) when Democritus was mentioned without any descriptors (such as his location or previous accomplishments), as well as at least one other Democritus of Chios. Adding to the confusion is Pseudo-Democritus, as well as Democrates of Aphidna, and another known Democrates who may have been confused with the most well-known Democritus.

So, my question is was the philosopher known for his atomic theory the same person who accused the Jews of human sacrifice, like the aforementioned books say, or was it a lesser-known historical figure, as the Internet seems to believe - or can we even say with any certainty, given the evidence?

One note to those who may not be familiar with anti-Semitic tropes, the blood libel is false. Jews never have used human blood in their rituals, but this has not stopped communities around the world from scapegoating their problems off onto the Jews, making false claims about their beliefs, leading to violence against the Jews. Wikipedia correctly records these accusations as "libel". I do not believe the comment by Democritus was true, regardless of which Demcritus/ates made the claim.

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    There was also Damocritus of Calydon in Aetolia who was a strategos, and the Suda says this guy wrote a book on tactics?
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 2:26
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    I'm not super comfortable with our site literally hosting the blood libel accusations in question. Linking to them is just fine for discussion purposes. I'd appreciate it if you could link to the text behind the spoiler tag as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 15:31
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    Right. That should be obvious to everyone, which is why I think the details of the accusations aren't really germane to the question.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 15:34
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    On second thought, I've removed the spoiler text entirely. Its still in the editing history, or the "curious" can go do the lookup OP did.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 15:44
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    I added a note explaining that blood libel is false. I thought the Wikipedia article made this clear, but I made it even more explicit in the question. Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: David Patterson has confused the philosopher Democritus (of Thrace, 4th century BCE) with the historian Damocritus (mentioned in the Suda, probably 1st century BCE).

This is a simple matter of following citations. Patterson cites Trachtenberg, who says:

Probably the oldest report of a ritual-murder charge is from the pen of a pre-Christian writer, Democritus […]8

Joshua Trachtenberg (1943). The Devil and the Jews, p. 126. Yale University Press.

In endnote 8 on p. 243, Trachtenberg cites this claim to the following entry in Théodore Reinach:

Damocrite. Historien d’époque inconnue, mais probablement contemporain des Alexandrins Chærémon, Lysimaque, etc.

60. — Suidas, s.v. Δαμόκριτος (C. Müller, Frag. hist. graec., IV, 377)

Damocrite, historien. Ouvrages: Tactique en deux livres; Sur les Juifs

Théodore Reinach (1895). Textes d’auteurs grecs et romains relatifs au judaïsme, p. 121. Paris: Ernest Léroux.

It seems that Trachtenberg (or his typesetter) made a typographical error, and that Patterson neglected to check.

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    So, is this Democritus mentioned anywhere else, or is this one mention from him in the Suda all there is? Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 18:08
  • As far as I know, that's all there is. There are a couple of other men with the same name: a sculptor (Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.3) and a general (Paus. 7.13), but neither seems likely to be the historian. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 18:24
  • It's a minor error, too. The difference between the two names comes down to dialect, like the difference between color and colour.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 0:20

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