Friday, November 26, 2010


A polis (πόλις, pronounced /ˈpɒlɨs/, Ancient Greek: [pólis]), plural poleis (/ˈpɒleɪz/, πόλεις [póleːs]), is a city, a city-state and also citizenship and body of citizens. When used to describe Classical Athens and its contemporaries, polis is often translated as "city-state."
The word originates from the ancient Greek city-states, which developed during the Archaic period, the ancestor of city, state and citizenship, and persisted (though with decreasing influence) well into Roman times, when the equivalent Latin word was civitas, also meaning 'citizenhood', while municipium applied to a non-sovereign local entity. The term city-state which originated in English (alongside the German Stadtstaat) does not fully translate the Greek term. The poleis were not like other primordial ancient city-states like Tyre or Sidon, which were ruled by a king or a small oligarchy, but rather a political entity ruled by its body of citizens. The traditional view of archaeologists, that the appearance of urbanization at excavation sites could be read as a sufficient index for the development of a polis was criticised by François Polignac in 1984[1] and has not been taken for granted in recent decades: the polis of Sparta for example was established in a network of villages.The term polis which in archaic Greece meant city, changed with the development of the governance center in the city to indicate state (which included its surrounding villages), and finally with the emergence of a citizenship notion between the land owners it came to describe the entire body of citizens. The ancient Greeks didn't refer to Athens, Sparta, Thebes and other poleis as such; they rather spoke of the Athenians, Lacedaemonians, Thebans and so on. The body of citizens came to be the most important meaning of the term polis in ancient Greece.
The Ancient Greek term which specifically meant the totality of urban buildings and spaces was ἄστυ (pronounced [ásty]).

Archaic and Classical polis

Basic and indicating elements are:
Self-governance, autonomy and independence (city-state)
Agora: the social hub and financial marketplace, on and a round a centrally located large open space
Acropolis: the citadel, inside which a temple had replaced the erstwhile Mycenaean anáktoron (palace) or mégaron (hall)
Greek urban planning and architecture, public, religious, and private (see Hippodamian plan)
Temples, altars and sacred precincts: one or more are dedicated to the poliouchos, the patron deity of the city; each polis kept its own particular festivals and customs (Political religion, as opposed to the individualized religion of the later antiquity). Priests and priestesses, although often drawn from certain families by tradition, did not form a separate collegiality or class: they were ordinary citizens who, on certain occasions, were called to perform certain functions.
Coins: minted by the city, and bearing its symbols
Colonies being founded by the oikistes of the metropolis
Political life: it revolved around the sovereign Ekklesia (the assembly of all adult male citizens for deliberation and voting), the standing boule and other civic or judicial councils, the archons and other officials or magistrates elected either by vote or by lot, clubs, etc, and sometimes punctuated by stasis (civil strife between parties, factions or socioeconomic classes, e.g. aristocrats, oligarchs, democrats, tyrants, the wealthy, the poor, large or small landowners, etc)
Publication of state functions: laws, decrees and major fiscal accounts were published, and criminal and civil trials were also held in public
Synoecism, conurbation: Absorption of nearby villages and countryside, and the incorporation of their tribes into the substructure of the polis. Many of a polis' citizens would have lived in the suburbs or countryside. The Greeks did not regard the polis as a territorial grouping so much as a religious and political association: while the polis would control territory and colonies beyond the city itself, the polis would not simply consist of a geographical area. Most cities were composed of several tribes or phylai, which were in turn composed of phratries (common-ancestry lineages), and finally génea (extended families)
Social classes and citizenship: Dwellers in the polis were generally divided into four types of inhabitants, with status typically determined by birth:
Citizens with full legal and political rights, i.e. adult free men born legitimately of citizen parents. They had the right to vote, be elected into office, bear arms, and the obligation to serve when at war
Citizens without formal political rights, but full legal rights: the citizens' female relatives and underage children, whose political rights and interests were represented, and property held in trust, by their adult male relatives
Citizens of other poleis who chose to reside elsewhere (the metics, μέτοικοι, métoikoi, literally "transdwellers"): though free-born and possessing full rights in their place of origin, had full legal rights but no political rights in their place of residence. Metics could not vote, could not be elected to office, could not bear arms and could not serve in war. They otherwise had full personal and property rights, albeit subject to taxation
Slaves: chattel in full possession of their owner, and with no privileges other what their owner would grant (or revoke) at will

Hellenistic and Roman

During the Hellenistic period, which marks the decline of the classical polis, the following cities remained independent: Sparta until 195 BC after the War against Nabis. Achaean League is the last example of original Greek city-state federations (dissolved after the Battle of Corinth (146 BC)) . The Cretan city-states continue to be independent (except Itanus and Arsinoe, which lay under Ptolemaic influence) until the conquest of Crete in 69 BC by Rome. The cities of Magna Graecia, with the notable examples of Syracuse and Tarentum, were conquered by Rome in late 3rd century BC. There are also some cities with recurring independence like Samos, Priene, Miletus and Athens. A remarkable example of a city-state which flourished during this era is Rhodes through its merchant navy, until 43 BC and the Roman conquest.
The Hellenistic colonies and cities of the era, retain some basic characteristics of a polis, except: the status of independence (city-state) and the political life. There is a self-governance (like the new Macedonian title politarch) but under a ruler and king. The political life of the classical era is now transformed to an individualized religious and philosophical view of life (see Hellenistic philosophy and religion) The demographic decline forced the cities to abolish the status of metic and bestow citizenship; In 228 BC Miletus enfranchised over 1000 Cretans. (Milet, I, 3, 33-8.) Dyme sold its citizenship for one talent, payable in two instalments. The foreign residents in a city are now called paroikoi. In an age, when most of the establishments in Asia are kingdoms, an interesting example of a Hellenistic cities federation is the Chrysaorian League in Caria.
During the Roman era, some cities were granted the status of a polis, free city,self-governed under the Roman Empire. The last institution commemorating the old Greek poleis was the Panhellenion established by Hadrian.

Derived words

Derivatives of polis are common in many modern European languages. This is indicative of the influence of the polis-centred Hellenic world view. Derivative words in English include policy, polity, police and politics. In Greek, words deriving from polis include politēs and politismos, whose exact equivalents in Latin, Romance and other European languages, respectively civis (citizen), civilisatio (civilization) etc are similarly derived.
A number of words end in the word "-polis". Most refer to a special kind of city and/or state. Some examples are:
Astropolis — star-scaled city/industry area; complex space station; a European star-related festival.
Cosmopolis — a large urban centre with a population of many different cultural backgrounds; a novel written by Don DeLillo.
Ecumenopolis — a city that covers an entire planet, usually seen in science fiction
Megalopolis, built by merging several cities and their suburbs.
Metropolis can refer to the mother city of a colony, the see of a metropolitan archbishop or a Metropolitan area — a major urban population centre.
Necropolis 'city of the dead' — a graveyard.
Technopolis — city with high-tech industry; room full of computers; the Internet.
Other refer to part of a city or a group of cities, such as:
Acropolis, 'high city' — upper part of a polis, often citadel and/or site of major temple(s).
Decapolis, a group of ten cities
Dodecapolis, a group of twelve cities
Pentapolis, a group of five cities
Tripolis, a group of three cities, retained in the names of a Tripoli in Libya and a namesake in Lebanon


Polis, Cyprus
Located on the north-west coast of Cyprus is the town of Polis, or Polis Chrysochous (Greek: Πόλις Χρυσοχούς), situated within the Paphos District and on the edge of the Akamas peninsula. During the Cypro-Classical period, Polis became one of the most important ancient Cypriot city-kingdoms on the island, with important commercial relations with the eastern Aegean Islands, Attica and Corinth. The town is also well known due to its mythological history, including the site of the "Baths of Aphrodite".

Other cities
The names of several other towns and cities in Europe and the Middle East have contained the suffix "-polis" since antiquity; or currently feature modernized spellings, such as "-pol". Notable examples include:
Acropolis ("high city"), Athens, Greece
Adrianopolis or Adrianople ("Hadrian's city"), present-day Edirne, Turkey
Alexandroupolis ("Alexander's city"), Greece
Alexandropol ("Alexandra's city"), currently Gyumri, Armenia
Antipolis ("the city across"), the former name for Antibes, France
Constantinopolis or Constantinople ("Constantine's city"), the former name for Istanbul, Turkey
Heliopolis ("Sun city"), Egypt
Heracleopolis ("Hercules' city"), Egypt
Hermopolis ("Hermes' city"), several cities in Egypt and on Siros Island
Hierakonpolis ("Hawk city"), Egypt
Hieropolis ("Sacred city"), several cities in the Hellenistic world, in particular Hierapolis in south-western Turkey
Megalopolis ("Great city"), Greece
Neapolis ("New city"), several including the modern cities of Nablus and Naples (Italian: Napoli), and the adjective Neapolitan
Nicopolis ("Victory city"), Emmaus in Israel
Lithopolis ("Stone city"), Latin name for Kamnik, Slovenia
Persepolis ("city of the Persians"), Iran
Sevastopol ("Venerable city"), Crimea, Ukraine
Seuthopolis ("Seuthes' city"), Bulgaria
Simferopol ("city of common good"), Crimea, Ukraine
Sozopol ("Salvaged city"), Bulgaria
Tiraspol ("Tiras' city"), Moldova
The names of other cities were also given the suffix "-polis" after antiquity, either referring to ancient names or simply unrelated:
Anápolis, Brazil
Annapolis, Maryland, United States of America
Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada
Biopolis, Singapore
Cambysopolis, Turkey
Christianopel, Sweden
Copperopolis, California, United States of America
Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, United States of America
Florianópolis, Brazil
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America
Kannapolis, North Carolina, United States of America
Lithopolis, Ohio, United States of America
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America
Opolis, Kansas, United States of America
Petrópolis, Brazil
Sebastopol, California, United States of America
Sophia-Antipolis, France
Teutopolis, Illinois, United States of America
Uniopolis, Ohio, United States of America
Thermopolis, Wyoming, United States of America
Borrazopolis, Parana , Parana, Brazil
Some cities have also been given nicknames ending with the suffix "-polis", usually referring to their characteristics:
Swansea, United Kingdom, once dubbed Copperopolis due to its vast production of the metal.


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