Greek History &
Lecturer, CGED, NUB
The Greek City State: Introduction
• One of the hallmarks of GREEK CIVILIZATION
was the city-states. The city-states were small,
independent communities which were maledominated and bound together by race.
The nature & criteria of citizens : What this
meant is that membership in the city states was
hereditary and could not be passed on to
someone outside the citizen family.
The Greek City State: Introduction
• The citizens of any given city states were
an elite group of people – slaves,
peasants, women and resident aliens were
not part of the body of citizens.
• Originally the city states referred to a
defensible area to which farmers, slaves of
a particular area could attack in the event
of an attack. The Acropolis in Athens is
one such example.
Development of the City State:
• The growth of these towns were
unplanned, there were not enough place
for commercial convenience near rivers or
• In fact, the city states were situated well
inland to avoid raided by sea. With time
the agora or marketplace began to appear
within the city states.
Development of the City State
• The scale of the city states were indeed
small. When the philosopher Aristotle
(384-322 B.C.) came to discuss the origins
of the polis in his book ‘POLITICS’ in the
early 4th century B.C.
• He suggested that "it is necessary for the
citizens to be of such a number that they
Development of the City State
• each other's personal qualities and thus
can elect their officials and judge their
fellows in a court of law sensibly."
• Before Aristotle, Plato fixed the number of
citizens in an ideal state should be 5040
adult males in number.
Development of the City State
• For Plato (c.427-c.347 B.C.), as it was for
Aristotle, the one true criteria of the size of the
polis (city states) was that all the citizens know
one another.
The issue at stake (vulnerability, problems) here
is between public and private worlds. The
ancient Greeks did not really see two distinct
worlds in the lives of the citizenry.
Development of the City State
• Instead the public world was to be joined
with the private world. Thus there were no
distinction between public and the private
• The citizens in any given polis were
related to one another by blood and so
family ties were very strong.
• As boys they grew up together in schools,
and as men they served side by side
Development of the City State
• They debated one another in public assemblies .
They elected one another as magistrates – they
collected their votes for or against their fellow
In such a society – the society of the polis – all
citizens were intimately and directly involved in
politics, justice, military service, religious
ceremonies, intellectual discussion, athletics and
artistic pursuits.
Development of the City State
• The struggle between the various city states for
supremacy in Greece was more devastating .The
conflict between Athens and Sparta was not only
a contest for the supremacy of Greece , but also
struggle between two ideals of culture : the one
supporting traditional and the rights of the
privileged few championed by the Sparta ;the
other advocating progress and the rights of the
people, championed by Athens
The Greek City State : Sparta
• Sparta was essentially a militaristic state. The
able bodied citizens were all soldiers and
devoted their time to military training. The
government was in the hands of a few retired
soldiers and their domination over the people
was complete. The ideals of the Spartans were
based upon militarism, and they lacked the
imagination and initiative of the Athenians.
The Greek City State: Sparta
• Hence Sparta was admired by its
efficiency, but its cultural contribution ,
compared with those of the Athens, was
• Boys left home at the age of seven. They
were organized into troops and played
competitive games until their 18th years,
when they underwent ten years of military
training. From the ages of 18 to 28 they
lived together in barracks.
The Greek City State: Sparta
• At the age of 30, they became citizens in
their own right. Amongst themselves they
were called "Equals" – in the eyes of
everyone else, they were Spartans.
• There was state education for girls who
lived at home but who were also
organized into troops.
The Greek City State: Sparta
• Boys and girls met together to learn basic
studies as well as to dance, sing and play
musical instruments.
Relations between the sexes was much more
free than anywhere else in the Greek world.
However, after marriage (usually at 30 for men,
16 for women), the husband ate at the men's
club until the age of 60 while his wife remained
at home.
The Greek City State: Sparta
• The Spartan state arranged for a basic equality
in land holding and provided the citizens with
laborers, called helots (conquered people such
as the Mecinians who became Spartan serfs).
In other words, the economy was based on the
idea that slaves would labor to supply the
Spartan armies with food, drink and clothing.
The Greek City State: Sparta
• The Spartan constitution allowed for two
kings and was therefore a dual monarchy.
• As the highest magistrates in the citystate, these kings decided issues of war
and peace, and the other issues,
development in all sectors dealt by the
another kings.
• Although we may find the Spartan world
to be repressive or indeed oppressive, this16
The Greek City State: Athens
• Athens was similar to other city-states of
the period of the Greek Renaissance with
two important differences:
• (1) it was larger both geographically and
in terms of its population
• (2) those people it conquered were not
reduced to servitude – this was the rule at
The Greek City State: Athens
• So, Athens never faced the problem of trying to
control a large population of angry and
sometimes violent subjects.
This also explains why Sparta had to remain an
intensely militaristic state.
They visualized a great future for their city state
felt the urge to dominate the civilized world.
The Greek City State: Athens
• Around 460 B.C., Pericles, a famous king
in Athens (c.490-429 B.C.) used the power
of the people in the law courts and the
Assembly to break up the Council of Five
• Under Pericles, Athenian Democracy came
to mean the equality of justice and the
equality of opportunity.
The Greek City State: Athens
• The equality of justice was secured by the jury
system, which ensured that slaves and resident
aliens were represented through their patrons.
The equality of opportunity did not mean that
every man has the right to everything.
What it did mean is that the criteria for choosing
citizens for office was merit and efficiency and
not wealth.
The Greek City State: Athens
• But they also discussed what we could only call
democratic theory that is known as participatory
democracy– they constantly debated questions
like what is the form of good life?
and what is the best form of government? But
perhaps the most important of all were
discussions and debates over the issues of war
and also issues of peace.
Pattern of questions:
• 1. Critically evaluate the origin and development
processes of Greek city states.
• 2. What were the characteristics of Greek city states and
the essential requirements of Greek citizenship ?
• 3. “Athens never faced the problem of trying to control a
large population of angry and sometimes violent
subjects”- critically evaluate the characteristics of Athens
on the basis of the statement.
• “Sparta was an essentially a militaristic state .; The able
bodied citizens were all soldiers and devoted their time
to military training “- analytically discuss the features of
Sparta according to the statement.