This page is on the internet at
Unit 9: Poleis development, colonization

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Polis (/ˈpɒlɨs/; Greek: πόλις [pólis]), plural poleis (/ˈpɒlz/, πόλεις [póleːs]) literally means city in Greek.  It can also mean citizenship and body of citizens.  In modern historiography, polis is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, and thus is often translated as "city-state".

The Ancient Greek city-state developed during the Archaic period as 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 political entities ruled by their bodies 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 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 signify "state" (which included its surrounding villages).  Finally, with the emergence of a notion of citizenship among landowners, it came to describe the entire body of citizens.  The ancient Greeks did not always refer to Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and other poleis as such; they often spoke instead 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 Greek term that specifically meant the totality of urban buildings and spaces is ἄστυ (pronounced [ásty]).

The Emergence of the Greek Polis

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the question of why Greek communities became poleis. Some historians and political analysts found it inevitable. Aristotle, in fact, claimed that the polis was the natural situation for mankind. He defined humans as "beings who by nature live in a polis" (Politics 1253a2-3). However, the polis was a unique Greek invention and far from inevitable. The specific geography and history of Greece allowed its conception.

The polis consisted of the city and its surrounding lands and communities. The whole area was an individual unit with self-rule. Unlike the Mycenaean cities of Greek's past, where the powerless poor answered to the powerful aristocracy and the godlike king, every citizen was at least equal under the law. Citizenship was limited to natives, and only male adult citizens could exercise the vote, but power was distributed more widely than in any previous political system.

The polis was most efficient if it was small, since large groups were hard to coordinate as a decision-making body. Greek political theorists judged that 5 to 10,000 citizens was the ideal size of a Greek polis. In such a sized community, most citizens could at least recognize by face most other citizens.

Greek geography helped keep communities small. Covered with mountains and inlets, it provided many natural barriers that isolated neighboring communities. This isolation both limited the size of most poleis and made large-scale empire difficult, so most communities could control their own destiny.

The fall of Mycenaean power and Greece's dark age also provided a nurturing environment for developing poleis. The sudden disappearance of political structure provided a vacuum of power that was filled by the leaders of local communities. Each city became master of its own destiny. Over the course of the Dark Age, kingship vanished, and power was deposited in the hands of the nobles. As the fighting power of the Greek hoplite grew, rich men without distinguished lineage could claim importance in the defence of their community, and power began to be spread even further. As the aristocracy declined in power, the formerly powerless took part in government.
Since so much of the early development of the polis is lost to history, much of the above is speculation. Still, it is clear that the absence of central authority, paired with the individualistic nature of Greek communities, led to the emergence of the polis.

Early Colonization

Some Greeks had emigrated from the mainland eastward across the Aegean Sea to settle in Ionia as early as the ninth century BC.  Starting around 750 BC, however, Greeks began to settle even farther outside the Greek homeland. Within two hundred years, Greek colonies were established in areas that are today southern France, Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, and along North Africa and the coast of the Black Sea.  Eventually the Greek world had perhaps as many as 1,500 different city-states.  A scarcity of arable land certainly gave momentum to emigration from Greece, but the revival of international trade in the Mediterranean in this era perhaps provided the original stimulus for Greeks to leave their homeland, whose economy was still struggling.  Some Greeks with commercial interests took up residence in foreign settlements, such as those founded in Spain in this period by the Phoenicians from Palestine. ...

Like other peoples of the eastern Mediterranean, Greeks also established their own trading posts abroad.  Traders from Euboea, for instance, had already established commercial contacts by 800 BC with a community located on the Syrian coast at a site now called Al Mina.  Men wealthy enough to finance risky expeditions by sea ranged far from home in search of metals.  Homeric poetry testifies to the basic strategy of this entrepreneurial commodity trading.  In the Odyssey , the goddess Athena once appears disguised as a metal trader to hide her identity from the son of the poem's hero: “I am here at present,” she says to him, “with my ship and crew on our way across the wine-dark sea to foreign lands in search of copper; I am carrying iron now.” By about 775 BC, Euboeans, who seem to have been particularly active explorers, had also established a settlement for purposes of trade on the island of Ischia, in the bay of Naples off southern Italy. There they processed iron ore imported from the Etruscans, who lived in central Italy. Archaeologists have documented the expanding overseas communication of the eighth century by finding Greek pottery at more than eighty sites outside the Greek homeland ....
Parts of archaic Greece had the appearance of city states already toward the end of the "Dark Age" and many other parts rapidly joined the list.   We should remember that, in the Archaic Period, both coasts of the Aegean Sea and the whole shoreline of the Sea of Marmara were Greek.  And During the Archaic Period, colonies spread Greek presence much further.  As noted above, the Eubeans had established what is considered to be the first Greek colony on Ischia Island in the Bay of Naples. 

Athens and Sparta -- two divergent examples of polis development

Drawings of overhead views of Archaic Athens.  Unlike many other Bronze Age sites, Athens was not abandoned at the end of that period.  It remained an urban center throughout the Dark Age.
Every city needs a founding myth. Theseus (Ancient Greek: Θησεύς) was the mythical founder-king of Athens and was the son of Aethra by two fathers: Aegeus and Poseidon (double paternity caused by consecutive coitus was not uncommon in Greek mythology and is, in fact, possible). 

According to the myth, after slaying the Minotaur and decapitating the beast, Theseus used the string given to him by Ariadne, the daughter of the Cretan king, Minos, to find his way out of the Labyrinth and managed to escape with all of the young Athenians and with Ariadne as well as her younger sister Phaedra. 
On the beach, he and the rest of the crew fell asleep.  Athena woke Theseus and told him to leave early that morning.  She told Theseus to leave Ariadne and Phaedra on the beach.  Stricken with distress, Theseus forgot to put up the white sails instead of the black ones, so Aegeus committed suicide, in some versions throwing himself off a cliff and into the sea, thus causing this body of water to be named the Aegean.  Theseus went on to gather the Attic peoples and found a polis, which, under the protection of Athena became Athens. 

According to Plutarch's Life of Theseus, the ship Theseus used on his return from Crete to Athens was kept in the Athenian harbor as a memorial for several centuries.

See for more of the Theseus mythology.

There are all kinds of inconsistencies and anachronisms in this Athens founding myth, but that
was not uncommon in such stories.
Archon (Greek ἄρχων arkhon; pl. ἄρχοντες) is a Greek word that means "ruler" or "lord," frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem ἀρχ-, meaning "to rule," derived from the same root as monarch.

In ancient Greece the chief magistrate in various Greek city states was called Archon. The term was also used throughout Greek history in a more general sense.

In Athens a republican system of nine concurrent Archons evolved, led by three respective remits over the civic, military, and religious affairs of the state: the three office holders being known as the Eponymos archon (Ἐπώνυμος ἄρχων; the "name" ruler, who gave his name to the year in which he held office), the Polemarch ("war ruler"), and the Archon Basileus ("king ruler").[1] The six others were the Thesmothétai, Judicial Officers. Originally these offices were filled from the wealthier classes by elections every ten years. During this period the eponymous Archon was the chief magistrate, the Polemarch was the head of the armed forces, and the Archon Basileus was responsible for some civic religious arrangements, and for the supervision of some major trials in the law courts. After 683 BC the offices were held for only a single year, and the year was named after the Archōn Epōnymos. (Many ancient calendar systems did not number their years consecutively.)

After 487 BC, the archonships were assigned by lot to any citizen and the Polemarch's military duties were taken over by new class of generals known as stratēgoí.[citation needed] The ten stratēgoí (one per tribe) were elected, and the office of Polemarch was rotated among them on a daily basis. The Polemarch thereafter had only minor religious duties, and the titular headship over the strategoi. The Archon Eponymos remained the titular head of state under democracy, though of much reduced political importance.[citation needed] The Archons were assisted by "junior" archons, called Thesmothétai (Θεσμοθέται "Institutors"). After 457 BC ex-archons were automatically enrolled as life members of the Areopagus, though that assembly was no longer extremely important politically at that time.

See and links on that Internet page.
Athenian Law:
Draco /Greek: Δράκων, Drakōn; fl. c. 7th century BC) was the first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece.  During the 39th Olympiad, in 622 or 621 BC, Draco established the legal code with which he is identified.  He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court.  His laws, however were "Draconian", i.e., even minor offenses could bring the death penalty.   See

Solon (Greek: Σόλων; c. 638 – c. 558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet.  He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens.  His reforms failed in the short term, yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.  He wrote poetry for pleasure, as patriotic propaganda, and in defense of his constitutional reforms.  See
Areopagus -- Athenian Rock and Greek council
Written by: The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica

Alternative titles: Areopagite Council; Council of the Hill of Ares
Areopagus,  earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place. [tkw note: the low hill is actually a marble outcrop as shown in the image.]

The Areopagite Council probably began as the king’s advisers. Early in the Archaic period it exercised a general and ill-defined authority until the publication of Draco’s Code of Law (c. 621). Membership continued for life and was secured by having served as archon, an office limited to the eupatrids (Greek: eupatridai, “nobles by birth”). Under Solon (archon 594 bc), the composition and authority of the council were materially altered when the archonship was opened to all with certain property qualifications, and a Boule, a rival council of 400, was set up. The Areopagus nevertheless retained “guardianship of the laws” (perhaps a legislative veto); it tried prosecutions under the law of eisangelia (“impeachment”) for unconstitutional acts. As a court under the presidency of the archōn basileus, it also decided cases of murder.

For about 200 years, from the middle of the 6th century bc, the prestige of the Areopagus fluctuated. The fall of the Peisistratids, who during their tyranny (546–510) had filled the archonships with their adherents, left the Areopagus full of their nominees and thus in low esteem; its reputation was restored by its patriotic posture during the Persian invasion. In 462 the reformer Ephialtes deprived the Areopagus of virtually all its powers save jurisdiction on homicide (c. 462). From the middle of the 4th century bc, its prestige revived once again, and by the period of Roman domination in Greece it was again discharging significant administrative, religious, and educational functions.
Solon's reforms did succeed in removing personal and family member debt slavery, which had been a large source of labor on creditors' farms.
Peisistratos (/paɪˈsɪstrətəs/; Greek: Πεισίστρατος; died 528/7 BCE), latinized Pisistratus, the son of Hippocrates, was a ruler of ancient Athens during most of the period between 561 and 527 BCE.  His legacy lies primarily in his institution of the Panathenaic Festival and the consequent first attempt at producing a definitive version of the Homeric epics.  Peisistratos' championing of the lower class of Athens, the Hyperakrioi, is an early example of populism.  While in power, Peisistratos did not hesitate to confront the aristocracy, and he greatly reduced their privileges, confiscated their lands and gave them to the poor, and funded many religious and artistic programs.

Peisistratids is the common term for the three tyrants who ruled in Athens from 546 to 510 BC, namely Peisistratos and his two sons, Hipparchus and Hippias.

Pisistratus's main policies were aimed at strengthening the economy, and similar to Solon, he was concerned about both agriculture and commerce.  He offered land and loans to the needy.  He encouraged the cultivation of olives and the growth of Athenian trade, finding a way to the Black Sea and even Italy and France.  Under Peisistratus, fine Attic pottery traveled to Ionia, Cyprus, and Syria.  In Athens, Pisistratus' public building projects provided jobs to people in need while simultaneously making the city a cultural center.  He replaced the private wells of the aristocrats with public fountain houses.  Pisistratos also built the first aqueduct in Athens, opening a reliable water supply to sustain the large population.

All of the possible forms of government available to the Athenians were problematic.  Much vaunted Athenian democracy was extremely restricted; only male adults both of whose parents were citizens could participate in Athenian political life.  (The cartoon is, in fact,  incorrect -- females with proper parentage could be "citizens", but they were not allowed to exercise their citizenship  except  by producing more citizens.

Athenian democracy developed around the fifth century BC in the Greek city-state (known as a polis) of Athens, comprising the city of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica and is the first known democracy in the world. Other Greek cities set up democracies, most following the Athenian model, but none are as well documented as Athens.

It was a system of direct democracy, in which participating citizens voted directly on legislation and executive bills. Participation was not open to all residents: to vote one had to be an adult, male citizen, and the number of these "varied between 30,000 and 50,000 out of a total population of around 250,000 to 300,000.

Peisistratos died in 527 or 528 BC. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Hippias.  Hippias and his brother, Hipparchus, ruled the city much as their father did.  After a successful murder plot against Hipparchus conceived by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Hippias became paranoid and oppressive.  This change caused the people of Athens to hold Hippias in much lower regard.  The Alcmaeonid family helped depose the tyranny by bribing the Delphic oracle to tell the Spartans to liberate Athens, which they did in 508 BC.  The Peisistratids were not executed, but rather were mostly forced into exile.  Afterwards, the surviving Peisistratid, Hippias went on to aid the Persians with their attack on Marathon acting as a guide.

See and
Cleisthenes of Athens, also spelled Clisthenes  (born c. 570 bce—died c. 508), statesman regarded as the founder of Athenian democracy, serving as chief archon (highest magistrate) of Athens (525–524).  Cleisthenes successfully allied himself with the popular Assembly against the nobles (508) and imposed democratic reform.  Perhaps his most important innovation was the basing of individual political responsibility on citizenship of a place rather than on membership in a clan.

Miltiades was an Athenian who inherited the position of tyrant a colony on the Thracian Chersonese (now the Gallipoli Peninsula) where he ruled harshly. After the collapse of the Ionian revolt against Persia (494 BC), Miltiades and his clan fled back to Athens, taking shiploads of wealth with them.  The Athens to which Miltiades returned was no longer a tyranny, it had overthrown the Peisistratids and become a democracy 15 years earlier. Thus, Miltiades initially faced a hostile reception for his tyrannical rule in the Thracian Chersonese.  Miltiades successfully presented himself as a defender of Greek freedoms against Persian despotism, and also promoted the fact that he had been a first-hand witness to Persian tactics, a useful resume considering the Persians were bent on destroying the city, and so Miltiades escaped punishment and was allowed to rejoin his old countrymen.

Miltiades is often credited with devising the tactics that defeated the Persians in the Battle of Marathon.  Miltiades was elected to serve as one of the ten generals (strategoi) for 490 BC.  In addition to the ten generals, there was one 'war-ruler' (polemarch), Callimachus, who had been left with a decision of great importance.  The ten generals were split, five to five, on whether to attack the Persians at Marathon then, or later.   Miltiades was firm in insisting that the Persians be fought immediately as a siege of Athens would have led to its destruction, and convinced Callimachus to use his decisive vote to support the necessity of a swift attack.

He also convinced the generals of the necessity of not using the customary tactics, as hoplites usually marched in an evenly distributed phalanx of shields and spears, a standard with no other instance of deviation until Epaminondas.  Miltiades feared the cavalry of the Persians attacking the flanks, and asked for the flanks to have more hoplites than the centre.  Miltiades had his men march to the end of the Persian archer range then break out in a run straight at the Persian army.  This was very successful in defeating the Persians, who then tried to sail around the Cape Sounion and attack Attica from the west.  Miltiades got his men to quickly march to the western side of Attica overnight, causing Darius to flee at the sight of the soldiers who had just defeated him the previous evening.

The following year, 489 BC, Miltiades led an Athenian expedition of seventy ships against the Greek-inhabited islands that were deemed to have supported the Persians. The expedition was not a success.  His true motivations were to attack Paros, feeling he had been slighted by them in the past.  The fleet attacked the island, which had been conquered by the Persians, but failed to take it.  Miltiades suffered a serious leg wound during the campaign and became incapacitated.  

His failure prompted an outcry on his return to Athens, enabling his political rivals to exploit his fall from grace. Charged with treason, he was sentenced to death, but the sentence was converted to a fine of fifty talents. He was sent to prison where he died, probably of gangrene from his wound.

See and
The pnyx was the rock platform in Athens where the popular assembly convened.  Any citizen could speak at the assembly and voting was done by dropping white or black pebbles int the ballot box.
Major locations in Archaic Athens

Read about the development of the Athens Acropolis at
For more images and more extensive explanations of the Archaic Period Acropolis, see

Agora Athens

Read about the development of the Athens Agora at
See also 

AtticCulture -- Lyric (Metic) Poetry
Simonides was an innovator among Archaic period Greek lyric poets.  A major member of the canonical "nine lyric poets", he is considered to have been the first to have composed poetry meant to be read rather than received by listening.  He also is credited with having invented four letters in the revised Greek alphabet (ω, η, ξ, ψ -- that is, omega, eta, ksi, and psi) and with inventing a memory system ("memory palace" or "method of loci").  He was born in the Archaic period and lived into the Classical period

The Greek symposion (Latin convivium) was a key Hellenic social institution.  It was a forum for men of respected families to debate, plot, boast, or simply to revel with others.  They were frequently held to celebrate the introduction of young men into aristocratic society.  Symposia were also held by aristocrats to celebrate other special occasions, such as victories in athletic and poetic contests. ...

Symposia were usually held in the andrōn (ἀνδρών), the men's quarters of the household. The participants, or "symposiasts", would recline on pillowed couches arrayed against the three walls of the room away from the door. Due to space limitations the couches would number between seven and nine, limiting the total number of participants to somewhere between fourteen and twenty seven. ...
See for a description of the Greek symposium
and, for Plato's Symposium in English, see

Unlike Athens, which had a previously existing citadel and town, Sparta always was a collection of four (later five) Dorian villages in the easily defendable Eurotas River valley.  The valley had been inhabited by earlier groups from as early as the Middle Neolithic, but was not considered to be "Spartan" until the Dorians took over the area in the latter part of the Dark Age period.  (The Dorians were either new immigrants or were a formerly subjugated majority that took over during the Dark Age.)

Archeologically, Sparta itself begins to show signs of settlement only around 1000 BC, some 200 years after the collapse of Mycenaean civilization  Of the four villages that initially made up the Spartan Polis, historian George Forrest suggests that the two closest to the Acropolis were the originals, and the two more far flung settlements were of later foundation. The dual kingship may originate in the fusion of the first two villages.  One of the effects of the Mycenaean collapse had been a sharp drop in population.  Following that, there was a significant recovery, and this growth in population is likely to have been more marked in Sparta, as it was situated in the most fertile part of the plain.

Between the 8th and 7th centuries BC the Spartans experienced a period of lawlessness and civil strife, later testified by both Herodotus and Thucydides.  As a result, they carried out a series of political and social reforms of their own society which they later attributed to a semi-mythical lawgiver, Lycurgus.  These reforms mark the beginning of the history oClassical Sparta.

For more on the history and development of Sparta, see
We don't know much about Lycurgus, even when or whether he was alive or a real person.  It's another founding myth like the Theseus myth of the founding of Athens.  Spartans believed that he was their organizer and lawgiver, a man who refused an offer of kingship out of respect for law and justice.

The myth includes the story of how Lycurgus, seeing the disorder in early Sparta, sought advice from the Delphic Sybil and received in reply the "Great Rhetra" as a complete constitution for Sparta.  Once again there are inconsistencies and anachronisms which are glossed by Herodotus but are , in fact, acknowledged by Plutarch. 

and (Herodotus on Lycurgus)
and (Plutarch on Lycurgus -- lives)*.html
and (Plutarch on Lycurgus -- Moralia, Apophthegmata Laconica )*/Lycurgus.html
Leonidas of Sparta was already an old man by ancient Greek standards when he and three hundred Spartans held off the 80,000 Persians under Xerxes at Thermopylae in 480 BC.  (The Spartans could have been said to have taught the Persians what the name of the place really meant; "the hot gates of Hell").  The battle delayed the Persians long enough to allow the Athenians and their fleet to retreat to Salamis Island where the destruction of the Persian fleet caused Xerxes to retreat from Greece never to return.  All of this will be covered in the next unit (and see if you can't wait for next week.)
Syssition/Syssitia -- There is a great deal of discussion of how the singular (syssition) and plural (syssitia) forms of the word should be used and whether they refer to the eating groups or to the meals the groups ate together.  Even the ancient Greeks apparently couldn't decide.  Whichever form is used, this is what happened; Syssition/Syssitia was/were
the culmination of the coming-of-age process called agoge.
The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic Greek, or ἀγωγά, agōgá in Doric Greek) was the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to the Spartan group, military training (e.g. pain tolerance), hunting, dancing, singing and social (communicating) preparation.[1] The word "agoge" meant in ancient Greek, rearing, but in this context generally meant leading, guidance or training.[2]

According to folklore, agoge was introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus but its origins are thought to be between the 7th and 6th centuries BC[3][4] when the state trained male citizens from the ages of seven to twenty-one.[1][5]

The aim of the system was to produce physically and morally strong males to serve in the Spartan army. It encouraged conformity and the importance of the Spartan state over one's personal interest and generated the future elites of Sparta. The men would become the "walls of Sparta" because Sparta was the only Greek city with no defensive walls after they had been demolished at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the males were encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine the strongest member of the group.

From about age 14, boys were taken into homosexual pairing with older males.

At age 21 a young man who had completed agoge would apply to join a syssitiongroup of adult males who would eat all their evening meals together and sleep in their barracks.   More information is available at the Internet sites listed immediately below.
For more on Syssitia, see
For the Syssytia diet, see
For Agoge, see
For Spartan maturity processes, see:
and (Female)
Training and competition in running were integral parts of the upbringing of all Spartans, male and female.  Everyone was expected to be completely physically fit with the males ready for battle and females ready for child bearing (as soon a they were physically mature -- starting in their early  their teen years.) 

and  Bronze furniture relief   Painted horseman kylix (drinking bowl)
Spartan detailed bronze artwork is characteristically on a martial or training pattern as is the figure from the bottom of a kylix showing a victorious horseman.