What Were Greek City-States?

Greek city-states were a political structure that arose from towns banding together to form an independent city that ruled over the surrounding territory. Greece's mountainous terrain influenced the creation of city-states by isolating and insulating groups of towns from one another.

Each city-state developed distinctly from its neighbors because of the geographical isolation that was imposed on it. For example, the culture of the Greek city-state of Sparta was heavily influenced by the military, while Athens developed a reputation for adherence to the arts. The ancient name for the Greek city-state was the "polis," which was derived from the word "acropolis."

The acropolis was a settlement that was situated on the highest point in the center of the city. The acropolis was the center of administration for the city. The polis was therefore not only the physical area surrounding the acropolis, but the people who inhabited that area as well. A wall was built around the city that contained the acropolis beginning in the eighth century. The citizens of each Greek city-state normally lived within the walls of the city rather than in the surrounding farmland communities. The governing body of Greek city-states was made up of a small number of rich, land-owning families.