A polis (πόλις, pronunciation [pól.is] , ['pɒl.ɪs] in English)-- plural: "poleis" (πόλεις, pronunciation [pól.eːs] , ['pɒl.eɪz] in English) --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 [Polignac, "La naissance de la cité grecque" (Paris 1984). An attempt to dissociate urbanization from state formation was undertaken by I. Morris, "The early polis as city and state" in J. Rich and A. Wallace-Hadrill, eds., "City and Country in the Ancient World" (London 1991) pp 27-40.] 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" ( [ásty] in IPA), asty.


The bounds of the ancient "polis" often centered around a citadel, called the "acropolis", and would of necessity also have an "agora" (market) and typically one or more temples and a "gymnasium". Note that 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.

Each city was composed of several tribes or "demes", which were in turn composed of "phratries", and finally "gentes". "Metics" (resident foreigners) and slaves lay outside this organization. Birth typically determined citizenship. Each "polis" would also worship a number of patron deities for protection and kept its own particular festivals and customs.

In the East beyond Asia Minor a major instrument of hellenization by Alexander the Great was the polis. He is said to have founded no fewer than seventy cities, destined to become centers of Greek influence; and the great majority of these were in lands in which city-life was almost unknown. In this respect his example was emulated by his successors, the diadochi.

Polis was frequently divided into three types of inhabitants. The first, and highest, “group” of inhabitants are citizens with political rights. Then there are the citizens without political rights. Lastly there are the non-citizens.

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
* Megapolis, 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, Athens, Greece
*Adrianopolis or Adrianople, present-day Edirne, Turkey
*Alexandropol, the former name for Gyumri, Armenia
*Antipolis, the former name for Antibes, France
*Constantinopolis or Constantinople, the former name for Istanbul, Turkey
*Daugavpils, Latvia
*Heliopolis, Egypt
*Heracleopolis, Egypt
*Hermopolis, several cities in Egypt and on Siros Island
*Megalopolis, Greece
*Neapoli, several including the modern cities of Nablus and Naples (Italian: "Napoli"), and the adjective Neapolitan
*Nicopolis, Emmaus in Palestine
*Persepolis, Iran
*Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine
*Seuthopolis, Bulgaria
*Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine
*Sozopol, Bulgaria
*Tiraspol, 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
*Biopolis, Singapore
*Cambysopolis, Turkey
*Copperopolis, California, United States of America
*Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America
*Kannapolis, North Carolina, United States of America
*Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America
*Petrópolis, Brazil
*Sebastopol, California, United States of America
*Sophia-Antipolis, France


Further reading

* Hansen, Mogens Herman. "Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-920849-2; paperback, ISBN 0-19-920850-6).

ee also


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