Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State

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Franz Steiner Verlag, More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Papers From the Copenhagen Polis Centre, 3.

Power & The Polis - Ancient Greek Society 02

Mitchell - - The Classical Review 49 Propagating the Polis M. The Household as the Foundation of Aristotle's Polis. Brendan Nagle - - Cambridge University Press. Sources for the Ancient Greek City-State: Symposium August, Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre, Vol 2.

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Ancient Greece

M H Hansen Ed. Obsorne - - The Classical Review 46 2: More Studies in the Ancient Greek "Polis". An Ancient Concept and its Modern Equivalent. Cartledge - - The Classical Review 49 2: Monthly downloads Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart. Sign in to use this feature.

The polis was a highly institutionalised community, and at the core of the polis were the political institutions where the politai met and isolated themselves from women, foreigners and slaves. Political activity was a fundamental aspect of the community, and, as a polity, the polis is best seen as a very deliberately planned and highly rational form of political organisation CPCActs 4: It is true for Sparta, but false for Athens. Again Sparta seems, in the Classical period at least, to have been the exception and Athens much closer to what we can expect to have been the case in other poleis , at least in democratically governed poleis.

The presumption is, however, that Sparta and poleis organised like Sparta, though exceptional, were poleis to the same degree as Athens and poleis organised like Athens. Thus, whether a given polis was a fusion of state and society or separated state from society is irrelevant for its status as a polis , but is, of course, relevant for the modern historian's discussion of whether or not it was a state or, to be more precise, a state in the modern liberal-democratic sense CPCActs 5: Our sources for the ancient polis reveal not the same, but a similar distinction between internal supremacy expressed through the adjective kyrios and external independence expressed through the adjective autonomos CPCActs 5: For a Greek citizen the polis was his fatherland patris for which he was expected, if necessary, to die, just as the modern state expects "every man to do his duty".

Both in the ancient and in the modern world victories in the Olympic Games are won by participants representing, respectively, their state or their polis. The polis had no flag; but city-ethnics Naukratites, Milesios etc.

Other symbols were the eternal flame burning in the prytaneion , cult festivals, monumental architecture etc. It is claimed that in the polis there was no clear distinction between rulers and subjects, no separate political institutions, no prison and law-enforcing apparatus of any consequence, whereas all these features are characteristics of the state from the age of Thomas Hobbes onwards.

In the polis , administration of justice was dominated by self-help, private apprehension and private prosecution of criminals. This apparent contrast between the polis and the early modern European state is based on suppression of a all the ancient sources which show that even in democratic poleis there was a clear distinction between archontes and archomenoi , but combined with an annual rotation, that every polis had a prison and separate political institutions empowered to enforce the laws, and that selfhelp was legal only in a few narrowly defined cases.

As a nucleated settlement a polis consisted of houses, as a political community it was made up of human beings. A study of words used synonymously with polis shows that both the local and the personal sense were used in a number of different ways. Thus, the two important senses are 1b "city" and 2a-c "state" of which both are very common, whereas 1c "territory" is a less common variant. In numerous passages these three senses are indistinguishable. The various senses do, of course, overlap, and especially so when polis is used as a generic term or a heading see infra no.

Our examination of the sources disproves the orthodoxy and shows instead what we have called the Lex Hafniensis de Civitate: Thus, the term polis had two different meanings, "town" and "state", but even when it is used in the sense of town its denotation seems almost invariably to be what the Greeks called polis in the sense of a self-governing community and what we today call a city-state.

The common view that there were quite a few poleis without an urban centre has no foundation in the sources of the late Archaic and Classical periods see no. The common view is that the toponym invariably denotes the town and the state is referred to by the city-ethnic.

Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State

An inspection of both literary sources and inscriptions reveals that this view is an exaggeration: Athenai, Korinthos or Tanagra is also commonly used as the name of the polis -state and as the name of the polis ' territory CPCActs 3: Whenever Stephanos quotes or paraphrases his source, he is remarkably reliable, and in all such cases his use of the term polis as a site-classification can be trusted to stem from the author he quotes CPCPapers 1: On the other hand, we must refrain from using Stephanos when we are unable to establish that he took the site-classification from the source he cites.

Thus, if we pick out the actual quotations, Stephanos provides us with valuable information about how the term polis was used by otherwise lost historians, such as Hekataios, Theopompos and Ephoros. All three were non-Athenian authors, and thus important sources for checking to what extent the bulk of our sources give a too Athenocentric view of the concept of polis CPCPapers 4: Comparison with all other contemporary sources shows that whenever the site-classification found in Pseudo-Skylax can be checked, there is a remarkable agreement between what Pseudo-Skylax classifies as poleis and what is found in all other sources.

In the chapters about Greece and the regions densely colonised by the Hellenes, Pseudo-Skylax follows the generally accepted usage and restricts the term polis to urban centres which were also the political centre of a polis. Erroneous classifications and "ghost cities" are found only in the chapters that deal with remote regions CPCActs 3: A failure to make this distinction has led some modern historians to assume that polis often signifies and denotes not only city-states but also large "territorial states" as states covering a whole country are usually called.

The evidence for such a view, however, is that such states are occasionally recorded alongside genuine city-states in lists headed by the word polis. A more important observation is that the term polis is not applied to such communities when they are mentioned on their own CPCPapers 4: True, Aristotle's basic view was that the polis was peculiar to Hellenic civilisation and that in this respect there was a gulf between the Greeks and the others.

Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State by Mogens Herman Hansen

But the gulf is rather between Aristotle and our other sources. In Hekataios, Herodotos, Thucydides, Xenophon and Pseudo-Skylax we hear about hundreds of barbarian poleis , often in the sense of city rather than state, but sometimes obviously in the sense of political community and applied to, e. On the basis of Aristotle's Politics, books 1 and 3, we have shown that the Greeks themselves had two different views of this issue according to whether they saw the polis as a political community or as a social and economic community.

When the term polis is attested in the sense of state, the focus is upon the political institutions and the polis is seen as a community of adult male citizens from which women, free foreigners and slaves are excluded. In this context the "atom" of the polis is the citizen polites. When the term polis is used in the sense of town, the focus is upon the economic and social aspects of the community and the polis comprises all inhabitants: The "atom" of the polis is the household oikia CPCActs 1: As a rule, a person is a citizen of one state only. In ancient Greece the corresponding terms used were politeia to denote citizenship itself, and polites to denote the citizen if the emphasis was on a citizen's exercise of his political rights, whereas astos masculine and aste feminine were commonly used to denote a person of citizen birth.

As a rule a person was a polites of one polis only CPCActs 5: Furthermore, instead of the prevailing defective terminology: Apart from the term polis itself, the attestation of a city-ethnic or a sub-ethnic is one of the best criteria for identifying a community as a polis CPCPapers 3: Our sources show, however, that in some periods more than half the poleis were dependencies without autonomia.

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In reply to the "peer polity interaction" model of the polis we have emphasised the hierarchical structure of the polis culture, and in opposition to the view that all poleis were autonomous we have developed the concept of the dependent polls. We have dissociated the concept of polis both from the ancient concept of autonomia and from the modern concepts of independence and autonomy. We hold that the concept of autonomia becomes linked to the concept of polis only in the course of the fourth century, and that the history of the autonomos polis does not end ca.

On the contrary, that is in fact where it begins, viz. So far, we have isolated the following fifteen different types of dependency: There is, of course, a considerable overlap between the different types CPCPapers 4: Many poleis were happy to use the coins of other poleis and never cared to set up their own mint CPCActs 2: Conversely, coins were often issued by dependent poleis , e.

By the use of city-ethnics as legends to identify the issuing authority, coins struck by a polis are fairly easy to distinguish from coins issued by a sanctuary, a district, a federation, or a ruler etc. It could have its own assembly, in which both laws nomoi and decrees psephismata could be passed and taxes and liturgies imposed; there could be separate local magistrates and a local court. But, in contradistinction to a polis dependent or independent , a civic subdivision had no prytaneion , no bouleuterion , no boule , and no desmoterion ; its members were citizens of the polis of which the subdivision was a part, and were not citizens of the civic subdivision as such; a local assembly had no right to pass citizenship decrees and proxeny decrees; and a local court could impose fines but was not empowered to pass a sentence of death or exile.

A civic subdivision did not have its own coins, and it had no right to send out envoys or to enter into relations with foreign states. The members of a civic subdivision could form a unit of the army of the polis , but would not operate as a separate army CPCPapers 4: The demos and the kome were the two principal types of territorial subdivisions. But demoi were confined to a few prominent poleis , principally Athens, Euboia, Rhodes and Kalymna, and in the Archaic and Classical periods komai are attested as civic subdivisions in two poleis only: Megara and Mantinea Inv.

Yet, a closer look at the attested reforms indicates that civic subdivisions were subject to constant transformations and with the passage of time became more and more artificial — a typical instance of the Greeks' conscious and continuous remodelling of their society and institutions. Reforms and revisions of civic units are so frequently attested throughout the period that a system attested in Hellenistic sources can only exceptionally be retrojected back into the Classical period Inv.

The two opposing factions were often one of the rich supporting oligarchy and one of the poor supporting democracy , but sometimes they were two different ethnic groups living side by side as citizens of the same polis , usually a colony, or two subfactions of wealthy citizens in an oligarchy Inv. The opposition between the two factions within a polis entailed a constant tension and discord resulting in repeated outbursts of civil war, during which each faction was prepared to collaborate with a congenial faction in a neighbouring polis , or in a distant but hegemonic polis.

The members of each faction were, in fact, willing to sacrifice the freedom eleutheria and independence autonomia of their polis if only they could get the upper hand of the opposing faction Inv.

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If the opposing faction came to rule the polis it would impose its will in all matters, day in and day out. If one's own faction ruled it would be in control of almost all decisions that mattered in everyday life. By sacrificing the autonomia of the polis one would have to pay tribute, but not necessarily a large one; in times of war one might have to assist the hegemonic polis.

But essentially the polis was left as a dependent, but still self-governing community. Dependent status became a nuisance only if a polis had to suffer a foreign garrison on its akropolis , or if its self-government was constantly interfered with by outside harmosts or episkopoi. On the other hand, apart from the help from the neighbouring polis to subdue the opposing faction, there might be a bonus, namely that a small polis could have the hegemonic polis as its protector, and so be safe from being attacked by neighbours who might be a more severe threat than the, perhaps, more distant, hegemonic polis Inv.

Accordingly, what the Greeks prayed for was not autonomia but homonoia and freedom from stasis. As far as we know, autonomia was never deified in any polis and made object of a cult, whereas homonoia became a goddess whose cult was venerated all over the Greek world, especially from the fourth century onwards Inv.


  • M. H. Hansen, Introduction: The 'Polis' as a citizen-state - PhilPapers.
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The subdivision of each of the three basic types into a positive and a negative variant is peculiar to the Athenian philosophers. Apart from the rulers of barbarian kingdoms Persia and remote colonies Kyrene , basileia is usually treated as an obsolete historical form of constitution and contemporary monarchs are called tyrannoi or monarchoi. Also, aristokratia as a positive form of the rule of the few seems to be invented by Sokrates and taken over by the Socratic philosophers: Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle. Aristokratia is unattested in inscriptions, in speeches delivered before the assembly or the court and in historians, apart from Thucydides Inv.

The evidence contradicts his views about tyrannis. It was not only found in remote regions such as Sicily or the Pontos. After a low point in the Greek homeland in the fifth century, tyrannies re-appeared in the fourth century all over the Hellenic polis world, and tyrants ruled poleis in the Peloponnese, in Euboia, in Thessaly and in Lesbos etc. The archaeological surveys conducted since ca. And the urban class of "landowners" was small as against a majority consisting of farmers, fishermen, artisans and traders.

To have a sizable part of the population settled in the hinterland was a characteristic of a few large poleis , and it was here an oppostion between town and country emerged and was felt. Thus, in Classical Greece the degree of urbanisation was inversely proportional to the size of the poleis: In Archaic sources asty is sometimes used in the sense of community, and the derivative astos man of the asty is never used in the sense of "townsman" but only in the sense of "citizen" by birth. Polisma is mostly used about urban centres in border areas where Greeks and non-Greeks lived together for polisma , see CPCPapers 2: The term polites citizen is almost invariably linked to the concept of polis in the political sense.

The word designates the adult male citizen and is only very exceptionally used in the sense of townsman CPCActs 4: The feminine form politis is sometimes used of females of citizen birth. There is no attestation of politis signifying a woman exercising political rights 30 CSC: The archaeological record, however, especially recent excavations of, e. Furthermore, references to city-walls in Homer, Alkaios and other early texts show that walls seem to have been an important element in the concept of polis already ca.

The two key passages are Thucydides 1. Thus, the polis in the urban sense is here a conurbation.


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Sparta was a polis with such an urban centre and is duly described in our sources as a polis in the urban sense and also as a polisma and as an asty CPCPapers 2: The per strigas system of townplanning is copiously attested in the Sicilian and Italian poleis of the Archaic period, and Archaic grid-planned towns are found in other regions as well. The Grid-planned polis seems to have emerged in the western Greek colonies as early as ca. Thus, there is no essential connection between grid-planning and democracy CPCActs 3: The palaces which many modern historians ascribe to the tyrants of the Archaic period are at present without support in written or archaeological evidence.

Prytaneia and bouleuteria were mostly plain buildings of modest dimensions and cheap materials. The people's assembly was convened either in the agora or in a theatre, connected with a sanctuary constructed primarily for dramatic performances etc. Genuine ekklesiasteria are exceptional. Dikasteria met in the agora or in buildings erected for other purposes e. Again, in the Archaic and Early Classical periods both the gymnasion with palaistra , stadion and hippodromos and the theatre were simple constructions which in most poleis have left no trace whatsoever.

Down to the second half of the fourth century B. In other regions, e. In the first case the emporion was a polis ' centre of foreign trade and was distinct from the agora , which was the centre of local trade. In the second case the emporion was a community, and the traditional view has been to distinguish an emporion a trading-station from an apoikia a colony , and to hold that an apoikia was organised as a polis whereas an emporion was not a polis. But, apart from the toponym Emporion attested ca.

The distinction between a community that had an emporion and one that was an emporion seems to vanish, but not quite. First, in poleis such as Athens the emporion was not the whole polis but only a part of the polis. In the settlements identified as being emporia the centre for international trade may have been the paramount feature of the settlement, where the majority of the citizens worked and from which the polis obtained almost all its revenue. Furthermore, all the sites classified as being emporia are colonial settlements and centres of trade between Greeks and barbarians.

Finally, a site classified as both a polis and an emporion seems to have been a specific type of dependent polis , namely one in which the port was the dominant part of the settlement CPCPapers 4: In Archaic poetry the agora is described as the place where the people had the sessions of the assembly. In the Classical period almost all traces of the agora as an assembly place have vanished, and the agora was now primarily the market place.

Conversely, the earliest evidence we have of the economic functions of the agora is a reference in the Gortynian law of ca. We must seriously consider the possibility that the concentration of local trade in the agora and of long-distance trade in the emporion was a phenomenon to be dated in the late Archaic and early Classical periods and to be connected with the development of the institutions of the polis CPCActs 4: There was no civic space to which only citizens were admitted.

What is attested is an opposition between private property and publicly owned property. Sacred precincts were usually open to everybody except atimoi and so were the agora and other publicly owned areas. But public space could, when required, be used for gatherings of adult male citizens from which women, metics and slaves were excluded CPCActs 4: In ancient Greek it was the word for city polis that came to denote the political community, whereas in modern European languages it is invariably the word for country that is also used synonymously with state.

The most likely explanation is that most poleis had one urban centre only which was also the political centre of the community, whereas the emerging mediaeval European states had many towns but no political centre. The king and his court moved from castle to castle and from town to town CPCActs 1: The concept of Poleis ohne Territorium is basically misleading.

For most poleis the territory was no larger than the immediate hinterland of the polis town CPCActs 5: Both the mode and the median fall between 25 and km2. The mean, however, is ca. This shows that a mean can be a dangerous simplification and that the Normalpolis may be a misleading concept. On the whole colonies had larger territories than poleis in the Greek homeland.