Ancient Greece: City States


Figure 1.--.Sparta is one of the best-known and most powerful of the many Greek city states, in many ways the antheisis to Athens which laid the foundation for Western civilization. This is a close up from a painting by the French painter Fernand Sabatté (1874-1940). It shows a Spartan father with his sons. We thought it might be a depiction of the point when a Spartan boy leave home. The boys of Sparta were obliged to leave home at the age of 7 to join sternly disciplined groups under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers. Instead it is the Spartan father showing a druken Helot to his sons as part of their education. Sparta enslved the Helots who became an important part of their economy.

The Greek city state was the central political institution of classical Greece. The Greek speaking world was divided into a number of different independent city states. A Greek city state was known as the "polis". These ciy states were an important political innovation with began to appear about 800 BC. These city states appeared on the Greek peninsula, the mainland, and the coast of Asia Minor or modern Turkey. Each important Greek city was an independent state. They controlled varrying territories around their city. There were alliances and associations between these cities. Many founded colonies. The dominate city state for much of Greek history was Athens. Although Athens was of enormous impact to western civilization, it and the other city states were not large. Athens was the largest and at the height of its power had a population of only 0.2 million. Thebes and Sparta were also important and there were several other smaller city states. Many modern concepts of ancient Greece are based on available information about Athens. There were many similarities between the different cities of the Greek world. There were, however, important differences. Sparta contrasted sharply with Athens and the rest of the Greek city states. Sparta was the largest of the city states in area, but not in population. It was militarily important because of its social structure. While a few city states were well known. There were as many as 1,500 such entities, many extremely small and would hardly be seen as cities or even towns in modern terms.

Background

The Greek city state was the central political institution of classical Greece. The Greek speaking world was divided into a number of different independent city states. A Greek city state was known as the "polis". These ciy states were an important political innovation with began to appear about 800 BC. These city states appeared on the Greek peninsula, the mainland, and the coast of Asia Minor or modern Turkey. Each important Greek city was an independent state. They controlled varrying territories around their city. There were alliances and associations between these cities. Many founded colonies.

Chronologies

The classical Greek city-states emerged primarily in the 7th-6th century AD. Most were governed by family groups or dictators, clled tyrnts. Democracy appeared in Athens during the 5th century. The Greek city-states flourished until a debiliating war between Athens and Sparta weaked those states, especially Ahens which in the end ws defated by Sparta. The city states camed under pressure from King of Macedon on Greece's northern perifery. The Greek city states were conquered by Philip's son Alexander who went on to conquer most of the known world before dying in 323 BC.

Individual City States

The Greek city states varied significantly in size, population, territory, and resources. Many modern concepts of ancient Greece are based on available information about Athens. There were many similarities between the different cities of the Greek world. There were, however, important differences. Sparta contrasted sharply with Athens and the rest of the Greek city states.

Argos

Argos was an inland city located near Cornith. Cortnith was not as agriculturally rich as many other city states. Cornith was especially well known for musicians and poets as well as drama--all very important in ancient in Greece. Argos had a population of about 15,000 citizens. Many Greeks looked down on Argos because they did not send troops to fight the Persians at Thermopylae (480 BC).

Athens

The dominate city state for much of Greek history was Athens. Athens saw itself, and in many ways was, the intellectual center of Greece. It was one of the first city-states to develop after the Greek Dark Ages. The city was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Although Athens was of enormous impact to western civilization, it and the other city states were not large. Athens was the largest and at the height of its power had a population of only about 0.2 million. Only a fraction of this population wereactual citizes, about a third of the male population. Much of the population lived in the rural areas outside the city. Other city states, even the other important ones had much smalller opulations. It was in Athens that the concept of political democracy was born in 508 BC. Athenian democracy was, however, limited to a relatively small numbers of citizens. While limited, Athenian democracy was direct. The Athenian citizens met monthly in the Assembly to discuss state affairs. Athens after their victory in the Persian Wars (490-479 BC) aacquired a large overseas empire. Through the Delian League, Athens enforced the Pax Attica and dominated Greece. The Athenian empire brought wealth as well as a mixing of influences which played a major role in the cultural flowering known as the Glden Age. The Athenians looked at themselves as the School of Hellas. Athenian hegemony created support for Sparta in the Greek world as eventually the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). [Kagan]

Cornith

Corinth was a coastal city-state and an important a cultural and trade center. Children are at first educated at home by their mothers or a male slave. Children began attending a day school near their homes at about age 7 and studied there until about age 14. They memorized poetry and studied drama, public speaking, reading, writing, math, and the flute. Boys from affluent families continued their studies. There was also military training for 2 years. Cornith was well known in Greece for bronze work and vase painting. Corinth had about 10,000 citizens.

Megara

Megara was another coastal state. As in most of the Greek city states, younger children were taught at home by their mother or a male slave. beginning about age 7 they began attending school. Boys memorized poetry and studied drama, public speaking, reading, writing, science, poetry, the flute, and the lyre. Mathemnatics was especially important in Magara schools. Megara was famed in Greece for its textiles. Plato livd in Megara for a time. It was Megara which Byzantium which would come to be the eastern capital of the Roman Empire.

Sparta

There were many similarities between Greek city staes. Sparta was, however, organized much different than the other impotant Greek city states. Sparta was the largest of the city states in area, controlling almost all of the Peloponnesian peninsula. While there were relatively few citizens, the Spartan state controlled a substantial population. It was militarily important because of its social structure. The Spartan military ruled over a small middle class and large population of workers or hellots--virtualy slaves tied to the land of the military elite and state. It was Sparta that led resistance to Athenian hegemony following the Persian Wars. Tension between the two city states eventually led to the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

Thebes

Thebes was one of the more important Greek city states. It was Thebes that broke the domination of spata over the Greek city states. The Spartans had emerged as the dominant power in Greece after the dfeat of the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

Others

There were many other smaller city states, most extremely small. Some historians suggest that theworld of classical Greece was composed of as many as 1,500 city-states. Most were, however, extremely small. Modern readers would hardly call these city states towns, let alone cities. Many of these smaller city state had alliance or associations with the larger more important city states.

Sources

Kagan, Donald. The Peloponesian War (Viking, 2003), 511p.

Sealey, Raphael. History of the Greek City States (University of California Press, 1977).





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