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Origins and Development The Ancient Greek Polis. Synoecism Or Nuclear Expansion?. What Is A Polis?.

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what is a polis
What Is A Polis?
  • “Without a clear conception of what the polis was, and what it meant to the Greeks, it is quite impossible to understand properly Greek history, the Greek mind, or the Greek achievement.” H.D.F. Kitto
  • Poleis may have peculiar calendars, deities, foundation myths, magistrates, currency, etc.
some ancient views on the polis

Some Ancient Views on the Polis

“And because people need many things, and because one person calls on a second out of one need and on a third out of a different need, many people gather in a single place to live together as partners and helpers. And such a settlement is called a polis. Isn’t that so?” ~ Plato, Republic, 369 b-c

“I think…that they should let it [the state] grow so long as in its growth it consents to remain a unity, but no further.” ~ Plato, Republic, 423 b

“[A] polis could not consist of ten men, and one composed of 100,000 men would no longer be a polis.” ~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1170 b 31

inadequacy of the term city state
Inadequacy of the Term “City-State”
  • Ideal Population around 5,000
  • Sparta, Athens, Syracuse, and Acragas as “Abnormal States”--populations exceeding 20,000
  • Ideal of Autonomy and Sovereignty of the Polis in International Relations
the embryonic greek polis
The Embryonic Greek Polis
  • Old Smyrna in Asia Minor (ca. 850 BCE): circuit of mud-wall and brick; bottom courses of stone; houses on rectangular plan
  • Geography of Mainland Greece: Greek Polis Overdetermined?
  • Homer’s Cities (“Shield of Achilles”): “On it he wrought in all their beauty two cities of mortal men…there were marriages in one, and festivals….around the other city were lying forces of armed men shining in their war gear” (Iliad, 18, lines 490-510)
  • Economic Base for the Development of the Greek Polis: Adoption of coinage ca. 600 BCE at latest (stamped with symbol and sometimes the name of the polis)
physical characteristics of the polis
Physical Characteristics of the Polis
  • Quickened Pace of Architectural Development in the Sixth Century BCE (with parallel developments at religious sanctuaries--e.g. Temple of Apollo at Corinth; Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; Temple of Aphaia at Aegina; Temple of Hera at Samos
  • Assembly Place; Market (Agora); Temple; Acropolis; Gymnasium
spiritual universe of the polis
Spiritual Universe of the Polis
  • Variety of Constitutional Forms: Limited Monarchy (Sparta); Aristocracy (Corinth); Radical Democracy (Athens)
  • Some Degree of Participatory Self-Government
  • J.P. Vernant: community over individual (es to meson); cf. idiotes, with P. Rahe, American Historical Review 89 (1984) pp. 265-93
  • Hoplite Revolution
thucydides histories 2 40

Thucydides, Histories, 2.40

“Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well informed on general politics…we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”

greek poleis and international relations
Greek Poleis and International Relations
  • Inter-polis warfare endemic
  • Polis as atomistic unit
  • Ceaseless struggles for power and security
  • Absence of Effective International Peace-Keeping Agencies
  • Conflict Resolutions Usually Ineffective
  • From multipolarity to bipolarity (Athens/Sparta)
greek poleis and the realist perspective
Greek Poleis and the “Realist” Perspective
  • “Zero-Sum” Competition
  • Power Ultimately the Final Arbiter
  • International “System” of Anarchy the Rule
  • “The problem is this: how to conceive of an order without an orderer and of organizational effects where formal organization is lacking.” (Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (89))
ancient greek ideas on political equality
Ancient Greek Ideas on Political Equality
  • Numbers in Equations represent relative degree of political power and influence; numbers in parentheses represent degree of wealth and property in relation to the first element:
  • Arithmetical: 1+1(2)+1(4)=Political Equality (Justice)
  • Geometrical: 1+2(2)+4(4)=Political Equality (Justice)
  • “[T]he popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice, for they say that each of the citizens ought to have an equal share; so that it results that in democracies the poor are more powerful than the rich, because there are more of them and whatever is decided by the majority is sovereign. This then is one mark of liberty which all democrats set down as a principle of the constitution.” (Aristotle, Politics 6.1317b)
  • “Equality itself is unjust” (On Greek-style egalitarianism, which does not consider sufficiently socio-economic gradations and aristocratic ancestral privilege) ~ Cicero, Republic, 1.27.43
unity and divisions
Unity and Divisions
  • Citizen = Adult Males with Citizen Father
  • Non-Citizens: Resident Aliens, Slaves, Women, Children
  • City as Parasite (?): Astu and Rural Countryside
  • Class Struggle and Stasis