Polis is the Greek word for city. But it really means much more than the city. It refers to what we often call a city state. City state is a city plus all the land around that city that is used to help raise the food needed for the farmers and the residents of the city to live.

The Greek polis is the basis of ancient Greek life and politics.

A polis is more than a city and the land about it. It's a community. It's a community that is created by independent farmers. Because of this, democracy will begin to develop in the Greek polis. The city part of the polis is built by independent men rather than the few aristocratic men of the Mycenaean civilization using the population for their benefit. A new GreeceĀ is being created. It is going in a totally different direction for Greece from the past.

The territory of the polis of Athens in red

Mountains divide Greece. Each polis develops around a distinct acropolis. Each polis becomes its own individual community. Many poleis (plural of polis) grow up in Greece. However, individual Greeks give their loyalty to their own local polis.

The Ancient Greeks like a small, local community. They see no need for all Greek speaking people to form one huge Greek kingdom. This small size is one important feature of the Greek polis. The Ancient Greeks considered small good. The polis of Corinth is made up of 320 square miles. The polis of Athens is the largest of all the Greek poleis. It is about the size of our state of Rhode Island.

the cubic centimeter -- a standard sized cube -- is a basic unit of measurement. For the Greeks, the polis is the basic unit for government -- the starting point for government.

The polis is the basic unit of government in Ancient Greece. There is not and will not be any larger government covering the lands of the Greek speaking people. The ancients in Greece spoke of themselves as Athenian, Corinthian, Thebian, or Spartans. Sure, they are all Greeks. But being Athenian, Corintian, Thebian, or Spartain come BEFORE being Greek. Their polis always came before their being Greek because it was the polis they were loyal to not Greece or the Greek people.

The polis is also cozy and personal. The Ancient Greeks believe everyone in the polis should be able to know everyone else. If the polis gets too big for that to happen, it is too big to work for the benefit of the citizens.

This is the way it is in many small towns in America. All of the people in the community know each other. That does not mean they like each other. They know each other. What each person is like. Whether a person has good judgment. Whether a person is soundly honest or is a crook. For the independent minded ancient Greeks, you can not trust anyone with power you didn't first know and understand.,

The Ancient Greeks' loyalties to the poleis prove to be good and bad.

On the good side. Knowing each other creates real competition. It is the competition that helps drive the Greek Renaissance during the Archaic Period of Greek history. It is this competition that causes Athens to have so many philosophers with so many different ideas about life and the universe. The carefully controlled competition within the poleis is the source of most of Greece's creativity.

On the bad side. The same competition can be directed by one polis against another polis. The result is frequent, deadly, and costly wars. This results in needless loss of life. Crops are destroyed. And the wealth of a polis might be spent on waging war rather than building trade and culture. This hurt Greek society over its long history.

Created By
Robert Brady

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