The Greek City states has many peculiar features and Greek society stand apart from many contemporary society.

Formation of City States

The geography of Greece is mountainous. Therefore ancient Greece was geographically divided into many smaller regions each with its own dialect, cultural peculiarities, and identity.

Some cities were located in valleys between mountains, while others were located on coastal plains.

Soon these cities brought the surrounding rural areas and smaller towns under their control. However some cities like Athens and Corinth also become major maritime and mercantile powers as well.

These independence city states fiercely defended their freedom. Empire formation or unification was something that people of ancient Greece rarely contemplated.

Soon Ancient Greece had several hundred relatively independent city-states.

This was a very different situation compared to many other contemporary societies.

Most of the societies in that period were organized on the basis of kingdoms, which ruled over relatively large territories.

Even when, Persian army invaded Greece, very few city-states allied themselves to defend Greece. The vast majority of city-states remained neutral.

As soon as Persian army was defeated, the allies quickly returned to infighting.

Expansion and foundation of overseas colonies

Between 800BC to 400BC, the population of Greece increased roughly tenfold from 800,000 to roughly10 million.

This population grew beyond the capacity of the limited arable land of Ancient Greece to support them which resulted in the large-scale establishment of colonies elsewhere.

Soon Greek began setting up colonies in all directions.

First they colonized the Aegean coast of Asia Minor followed by Cyprus and the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara and south coast of the Black Sea.

Overseas Colonies of Greek City-States
Overseas Colonies of Greek City-States

One outstanding feature of these colonies was independent local politics. Though they might count a certain Greek city as their home city but they were completely politically independent of the founding city.

Formation of Alliance instead of Kingdom

Usually smaller city states might be dominated by larger neighbors. However conquest or direct rule of smaller city states by another powerful city-state was quite rare.

Instead the city-states grouped themselves into alliance. To defend their interest these city states forms alliance, membership of which was in a constant state of flux due to changing interest of various city-states.

Later under the domination of few city states (particularly Athens, Sparta and Thebes) very few but powerful alliances were formed.

Often smaller city-states were compelled to join these alliances under threat of war (or as part of a peace treaty).

Even after Philip II of Macedon conquered the heartlands of ancient Greece, he did not attempt to annex the territory. Instead he simply compelled most of the City-States to join his own Corinthian League.

Citizens dominates the political space

Not all people can participate in Greek city-states political life. Only free, land-owning, native-born men could be citizens entitled to the full protection of the law in a city-state.

In most city-states, social prominence or wealth did not allow special rights or power.

Some families in various City-States controlled public religious functions, but this ordinarily did not get any extra power in the government.

In Athens, the population was divided into four social classes based on wealth. This system was flexible as people could change classes if they made more money.

In Sparta, all male citizens were called homoioi, meaning “peers”. Though it was ruled by Spartan King who served as the city-state’s dual military and religious leaders came from two families.

However the power of king was not absolute. Their power was kept in touch by a council of elders and magistrates specifically appointed to watch over the kings.

Rise in Slavery

In ancient Greece slaves had no power or status.

If his master permit a slaves can have a family and own property but they had no political rights.

By the 5th century BC, slaves constitute around one-third of the total population in some city-states.

As per various estimates between 40% to 80% of the population of classical Athens were slaves.

Slaves outside of Sparta almost never revolted because they were made up of too many nationalities. They were also too scattered to organize themselves for a revolt.

Sparta on the other hand had a special type of slaves called helots.

Helots were Messenians enslaved by Spartan City-States during the Messenian Wars. These helots were assigned to various Spartan families where they were forced to stay.

Helots raised food and did household chores, which freed Spartan women to concentrate on raising strong children while men could devote their time to training as hoplites.

These helots revolted many time against Spartan states and finally in 369 BC they won their freedom.

Citizen Army and Short Campaign

The fragmentary nature of politics in ancient Greece resulted many competing city-states. This increased the frequency of conflict but limited the size and scale of battle.

These smaller city-states were unable to maintain professional armies. So, these city-states relied on their own citizens to fight.

This reduced the potential duration of campaigns, as citizens would need to return to their own professions so they can feed their families.

Campaigns would therefore often be restricted to summer. When battles between city states occurred, they were usually set piece and intended to be decisive.

Casualties in the battle were very small. In any typical battle it rarely amount more than five percent of the losing side. However probability of death of prominent citizens and generals was quite high as they led from the front.

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