The Polis

James Redfield

in The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199286140
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

The Polis

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  • Ancient Greek History
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This article reflects on changes in social structures from the eighth century BCE. It describes the rise of the polis and the different characteristics of the city-states that have formed at various times and places. The rise of the polis is an aspect of a more general history or it is an aggregate of many histories. The two poleis most famous in ancient as in modern times were also the two most atypical. Overall, the polis was not about equality but about stratification. The most egalitarian polis was Sparta: it achieved this by rigid controls and exclusions, and by making an exception for the twin kings. The greatest liberty, for citizens and non-citizens alike, was at Athens, but it achieved this only by keeping real political initiative in the hands of a very narrow circle, and by making an exception of the citizen women.

Keywords: social structures; eighth century BCE; Greek polis; Athens; Sparta

Article.  4534 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Ancient Greek History ; Classical Philosophy

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