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Amt is a type of administrative division governing a group of municipalities, today only in Germany, but formerly also common in other countries of Northern Europe. [1] Its size and functions differ by country and the term is roughly equivalent to a US township or county or English shire district.


Current usage



The Amt (plural: Ämter) is unique to the German Bundesländer (federal states) of Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg.

Other German states had this division in the past. Some states have similar administrative units called Samtgemeinde (Lower Saxony), Verbandsgemeinde (Rhineland-Palatinate) or Verwaltungsgemeinschaft (Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia).


An Amt, as well as the other above-mentioned units, is subordinate to a Kreis (district) and is a collection of municipalities. The amt is lower than district-level government but higher than municipal government, and may be described as a supra-municipality or "municipal confederation". Normally, it consists of very small municipalities (Gemeinden, plural of Gemeinde).

Larger municipalities do not belong to an Amt and are called amtsfreie Gemeinden (independent municipalities); some of these municipalities may also not depend from a Kreis (district) and are called kreisfreie Gemeinden, and when they do also not belong to any other Land they are also called Stadtstaaten (plural of Stadtstaat), i.e. city-states (Berlin and Hamburg).

These large municipalities (cities, in German Städte, plural of Stadt) may be further divided into local offices named Ortsämter (plural of Ortsamt), each of them possibly grouping several suburbs (or small townships in rural areas) of the municipality named Ortsteile (plural of Ortsteil), named from small villages or hamlets or localities. The Ortsteil (suburb or township) may have been a former parish, but today it is meant only for civil purpose and essentially used for planning within the municipality; the Ortsamt (sometimes just named informally but confusingly as an Amt, or informally translated as an "urban district") is used to offer decentralized services of the municipality within local administrative offices for the residents in neighbouring suburbs. The Ortsteil itself may also be confusingly translated as a "municipality", but it is incorrect because it belongs to a city which is the only effective municipality (Gemeinde).

Former usage


The amt (plural, amter; commonly translated as "province" or, less accurately, "county") was an administrative unit of Denmark (and, historically, of Denmark-Norway). The provinces were established by royal decree in 1662 as replacements for the former Len (fiefs). The amter were originally composed of independent towns (købstæder) and parishes, and held only small areas of responsibility. During the 20th century, they were granted responsibility for the hospital service for the non-urban population. A 1970 administrative reform reduced the number of provinces to fourteen and eliminated the administrative distinction between (rural) parish and town. From then on, the amter were composed of a number of municipalities ( kommuner ). The reform granted the provinces wider areas of responsibility, most notably running the national health service and the gymnasium secondary schools.

The Danish Municipal Reform of 1 January 2007 abolished the amter and replaced them with five administrative regions, now solely charged with running the national health service. In contrast to the amter the regions hold no authority to levy taxes. The reform re-delegated all other areas of responsibility to either the municipalities or the state. At the same time, smaller municipalities were merged into larger units, cutting the number of municipalities from 270 to 98. See Counties of Denmark for more information about the Danish usage of the term.


In Germany an Amt was a medieval administrative district covering a manorial estate or the land owned by a castle or village. It was headed by an Amtmann , usually a lesser nobleman or cleric, appointed by a territorial lord to administer and dispense justice within the Amt.


While Iceland was a territory of the Danish-Norwegian realm, amts (singular: amt; plural: ömt) were established in the country on top of the existing counties. From 1684 to 1770, Iceland as whole was a single amt in the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway but was then split into two amts: North and East Amt (Norður- og Austuramt) and South and West Amt (Suður- og Vesturamt). The latter was in 1787 split into a West Amt (Vesturamt) and South Amt (Suðuramt). Iceland was thus divided into three amts until 1872, when the South and West amts were again merged. Amts were abolished in 1904, when Iceland gained home rule from Denmark.

Amts are not used to denote a geographical region in Iceland but the name lives on in the names of two public libraries in Iceland that were established during the amt era. The Amts libraries in Akureyri and Stykkishólmur which were established as the designated archives for the North and East Amt and the West Amt respectively.

Netherlands and Flanders

Ambacht can be seen as the Dutch equivalent to amt. Ambachten existed in Holland, Zeeland and Flanders up to about 1800.


From 1662 to 1919, the counties of Norway were called amter. They are now referred to as fylker , a term revived from the Middle Ages.

See also

Related Research Articles

Herzogtum Lauenburg is the southernmost Kreis, or district, of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is bordered by the district of Stormarn, the city of Lübeck, the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the state of Lower Saxony, and the city state of Hamburg. The district of Herzogtum Lauenburg is named after the former Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg.

Nordwestmecklenburg is a Kreis (district) in the north-western part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. It is situated on the coast of the Baltic Sea and borders on Schleswig-Holstein to the west. Neighboring districts are Rostock, Ludwigslust-Parchim and the district-free city Schwerin, and the district Lauenburg and the district-free city Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein. The district seat is the town Wismar.

A Verbandsgemeinde is a low-level administrative unit in the German federal states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt. A Verbandsgemeinde is typically composed of a small group of villages or towns.

Counties of Norway

Norway is divided into 11 administrative regions, called counties until 1918, they were known as amter. The counties form the first-level administrative divisions of Norway and are further subdivided into 356 municipalities. The island territories of Svalbard and Jan Mayen are outside the county division and ruled directly at the national level. The capital Oslo is considered both a county and a municipality.

Meissen is a district (Kreis) in the Free State of Saxony, Germany. It is bounded by the state of Brandenburg, the district of Bautzen, the urban district Dresden, the districts Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge, Mittelsachsen and Nordsachsen.

Districts of Germany

In all German states, except for the three city states, the primary administrative subdivision higher than a Gemeinde (Municipality) is the Landkreis or Kreis. Most major cities in Germany are not part of any Kreis, but instead combine the functions of a municipality and a Kreis; such a city is referred to as a Kreisfreie Stadt or Stadtkreis.

Region of Southern Denmark Region of Denmark

The Region of Southern Denmark is an administrative region of Denmark established on Monday 1 January 2007 as part of the 2007 Danish Municipal Reform, which abolished the traditional counties ("amter") and set up five larger regions. At the same time, smaller municipalities were merged into larger units, cutting the number of municipalities from 271 before 1 January 2007 to 98. The reform diminished the power of the regional level dramatically in favor of the local level and the central government in Copenhagen. The Region of Southern Denmark has 22 municipalities. The reform was implemented in Denmark on 1 January 2007, although the merger of the Funish municipalities of Ærøskøbing and Marstal, being a part of the reform, was given the go-ahead to be implemented on Sunday 1 January 2006, one year before the main reform. It borders Schleswig-Holstein (Germany) to the south and Central Denmark Region to the north and is connected to Region Zealand via the Great Belt Fixed Link.

Municipalities of Germany

Municipalities are the lowest level of official territorial division in Germany. This is most commonly the third level of territorial division, ranking after the Land (state) and Kreis (district). A Gemeinde is one level lower in those states which also include Regierungsbezirke as an intermediate territorial division. The Gemeinde is one level higher if it is not part of a Samtgemeinde. Only 10 municipalities in Germany have fifth level administrative subdivisions and all of them are in Bavaria. The highest degree of autonomy may be found in the Gemeinden which are not part of a Kreis. These Gemeinden are referred to as Kreisfreie Städte or Stadtkreise, sometimes translated as having "city status". This can be the case even for small municipalities. However, many smaller municipalities have lost this city status in various administrative reforms in the last 40 years when they were incorporated into a Kreis. In some states they retained a higher measure of autonomy than the other municipalities of the Kreis. Municipalities titled Stadt are urban municipalities while those titled Gemeinde are classified as rural municipalities.


The Amtmann or Ammann was an official in German-speaking countries of Europe and in some of the Nordic countries from the time of the Middle Ages whose office was akin to that of a bailiff. He was the most senior retainer (Dienstmann) of an Amt; the administrative office of a territorial lord (Landesherr) created to manage the estates of manors (Gutshöfe), castles and villages. The estates were both administrative as well as juridical districts. The Amtmann was usually a member of the nobility or a cleric. In towns, he was also often a member of the wealthy classes amongst the citizenship. He resided in an Amthaus or Amtshaus and collected taxes from the district (Amtsbezirk), administered justice and maintained law and order with a small, armed unit.

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Franzburg Place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

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Großenwörden Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

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Bergenhus len was an administrative division of the Kingdom of Norway that existed from 1503 to 1662, with the Bergenhus Fortress in Bergen as its administrative center Norwegian administrative division. The len was changed to an amt (district) in 1662 but it kept its original name and capital until 1919.

Hoort Place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

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Alt Meteln Place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Alt Meteln is a municipality in the Nordwestmecklenburg district, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

Farthings of Iceland

Historically, Iceland was divided into four farthings corresponding to the cardinal directions. These were administrative divisions established in 965 for the purpose of organising regional assemblies called farthing assemblies (fjórðungsþing) and regional courts called farthing courts (fjórðungsdómar). Each farthing held three local assemblies, which were each presided over by three goðar or chieftains. The North Farthing alone held four. Farthing courts would judge cases if both plaintiff and defendant belonged to the same assembly; otherwise the case was brought to the general assembly, the Alþingi. Little else is known about these farthing courts and they seem to have been much more irregular than the spring and autumn assemblies. Also, in spite of the apparent regularity of three goðar per assembly and three to four assemblies per farthing, the system of rule by chieftains and assemblies probably followed a much more varied pattern.

A Samtgemeinde is a type of administrative division in Lower Saxony, Germany. Samtgemeinden are local government associations of municipalities, equivalent to the Ämter in Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and Brandenburg, and the Verbandsgemeinden in Rhineland-Palatinate.

In the period preceding the Municipal Reform of 1970, Denmark was divided into around 170 hundreds. In the timeframe 1793 through 1970, each parish was functioning as a municipality within their respective hundreds. The hundreds were in turn part of a county. This was changed in 1970, when the parishes were merged into larger municipalities sometimes crossing hundred borders, and the hundreds fell out of administrative use.

Siebenlehn Town in Saxony, Germany

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  1. Püttner, Günter (2013-11-21). Handbuch der kommunalen Wissenschaft und Praxis: Band 1: Grundlagen und Kommunalverfassung (in German). Springer-Verlag. p. 333. ISBN   9783662119679.