Various historians, as well as scholars, have tried to define the term Polis. As a matter of fact, the word politics is derived from the Greek polis. According to one such historian, an Ancient Greek Polis was “The polis was a complex hierarchical society built around the notion of citizenship.
It was made up of hundreds or even thousands of independent peasant households, which neither paid impersonal dues to a centralized government nor depended on the state for the means of life.
Ancient Greek Polis
The equation of the polis with the whole citizen body, even if governmental functions were often reserved for a smaller group, marks it off from other ancient states. All citizens had a share in the polis, which in its most developed form was based economically on the institution of chattel slavery. If the citizens became subjects, their community ceased to be a polis.”
On the other hand, according to a 4th-century philosopher, Ian Morris, an ancient Greek Polis was “The early polls as city and state.” The plural form of Polis is referred to as Poli.
Since ancient Greece was not a unified nation, usually the term Poli was used in order to refer commonly to a collection of Poli. Though the term Poli is loosely referred to as a city yet it consisted of something much more than a city.
Usually, when we think of a city, we imagine it as a specific place. Similarly, an Ancient Greek Polis consisted of a small walled area that was generally not bigger than a few cities clubbed together along with the farmland which was surrounding such city blocks and most importantly included people as its integral part.
Though poverty is often understood as the basic disadvantage out of which emerge other disadvantages, yet in the context of ancient Greece, it contributed to the growth of a culture and political system which is a rarity.
The absence of large distinctions between the rich and the poor, kings and priests could not pave the way to power and prominence, and hence the ancient Greeks were forced to develop different, democratic systems of government.
Where Ancient Greeks were Bound Together in a Community
Moreover, the poor quality of soil which covered the major portions of Greece encouraged migration to the Aegean islands and the shore of Asia Minor, where ancient Greeks were bound together in small, tightly-knit communities. This similarity in the conditions of the ancient Greeks and their residence among foreign people created the preconditions for the growth of the polis or city-state.
Development of Greek Poli
Each polis was an independent nation of its own in spite of having many things in common. The Greek Poli developed independently of one another because they were isolated by rugged mountains or were located on small islands, though this Poli spoke one common language.
The Poli was also small and often had to rely on one another for its subsistence or survival. Further, the Poli also met every year at a great athletic contest known as the Olympics.