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How the ancient Greek Polis was arranged
How the ancient Greek Polis was arranged

In those days, beautiful statues were created, the Olympic Games began to be held, then the theater was born and developed, as well as philosophical schools, the cult of a healthy body, amazing architectural structures … Is it possible to return those times and live according to ancient rules and in cities created in the likeness of ancient Greek policy? Unfortunately no.

Polis is not equal to the city

The notion of a polis is more complex than just a “city living as a separate state”. The first poleis appeared in the archaic period of the history of Greece, from the VIII century. BC e., existed during the classical period and began to fade into oblivion with the emergence of the empire of Alexander the great (Hellenistic period). As a matter of fact, polis have existed much longer than many modern states exist, and the values ​​and those rules on which life in the polis was based turned out to be even more stable.

Despite their autonomy, the policies were similar to each other

These were independent and independent settlements, indeed, possessing many features of the state - they even minted their own coins in the policies. Citizens themselves managed such a settlement, all important issues were resolved at general meetings, the policy had its own armed forces, and the ownership of land and other property could be communal and private, in the first case, the fate of the object of law was decided by the citizens themselves.

More than a thousand - as many policies were counted by scientists in the entire history of the existence of such communities, each included an average of five thousand citizens (which did not coincide with the number of people living in the policy). There were also exceptions, for example, the Athenian policy in certain periods of its history reached the mark of one hundred thousand citizens, occupying a huge territory for ancient times.


Trade with other policies, conquests and other ways to improve their economic position for the ancient policies were rather a secondary matter. These city-states strove for autarky - complete self-sufficiency, which means that everything in the policy was subordinated, first of all, to maintaining a comfortable life for their own citizens. And this goal was achieved not at all using slave labor, as one might assume.

What was located inside the polis and outside its walls

The territory of the polis was surrounded by walls that protected the citizens living in it from outside attacks. And around, behind these walls, there was a chora - a suburb, an adjacent territory designated for agriculture. The choir occupied a much larger area than the "city" part. Those citizens who were engaged in agriculture owned plots - olive trees, grapes, grain crops were grown there.

Agricultural lands were located outside the walls of the polis

Domestic slaves, freedmen and foreigners were involved in the cultivation of the land - none of them had the status of a citizen, but still the basis of agricultural production was the labor of community members, usually working in families. Buildings could be located on the territory of the allotment, but citizens, as a rule, lived within the city walls, going to their lands as to work.

Another category of citizens of the policy was represented by artisans - they produced everything that the inhabitants needed. Trade was carried out in the market square, which was one of the parts of the agora - the center of the polis, a large open space where all issues of communal life were resolved. The Agora housed temples and workshops, including the premises where sculptors worked - for example, Phidias and Praxitel created their masterpieces in the Athenian Agora.They gathered here to resolve political issues, the main events of the policy, including religious festivals, were held here.

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth

Each of the ancient polis had their own cults, often one of the gods was endowed with the title of patron saint of the polis. All religious rituals and traditions were carried out at the expense of the polis itself and at its discretion - there was no single order of worship of the gods for the ancient Greek world.

The acropolis was erected at the highest point (translated as “the upper city”, it was a fortified sanctuary, often with a sacred spring. The most famous acropolis was again the Athenian one, on which the ruins of the Parthenon, the temple of the goddess Athena, were preserved.

The cult of the goddess Athena existed in the largest of the ancient city-states - Athens

The cult of health, physical beauty and strength, widespread throughout Hellas, led to the appearance of gymnasiums in the policies - institutions where young men trained in various types of ancient sports, and in addition, acquired reading and writing skills, which was still secondary to physical education. … At first, the gymnasium was just an open square area, surrounded by poplars around the perimeter, then they began to build premises for each type of physical exercise.

The gymnasium at first was an open area for practicing various sports

Theaters were also built in the policies. The Greeks valued the spoken word much higher, preferring it to the written one. The art of telling stories led to the emergence of a new type of art - tragedies, which were stories about heroes and their struggle against rock.

Who was not covered by the benefits of the policy

For a citizen of the polis, his belonging to the community was the most important way of self-identification. Before naming a person's name, they pronounced "Athenian", or "Theban", or another definition corresponding to his small homeland. However, not all people living in the city were considered full citizens. Some of those who had personal freedom, for example, freedmen or those who came from another policy, received the status of markers and could not participate in decision-making, and a number of actions, for example, participation in the court, were carried out only through the mediation of a citizen.

Ancient greek theater ruins

Women had a special status. Speaking about free citizens of the policy, participating in general meetings, making political decisions, attending gymnasiums, it should be borne in mind that this applies only to men. The woman is the keeper of the hearth, and she should not appear in public places, such was the worldview of the ancient Greeks. An exception was visiting the market - the so-called "women's agora" - and big holidays, like the games of Panathenaea in the Athenian polis, in which women even became participants in a solemn procession.

Ruins of agora in Corinth

In the Hellenistic period, there was a decline in the polis organization of communities, many city-states lost their independence, submitting from now on to the authority of the king and retaining self-government only partially. True, the culture of the polis existed for a long time, moreover, many of the peoples that became part of the empire adopted the polis rules of life.

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