The Polis

The Polis During the Archaic Period of Ancient Greece, many communities segregated themselves into small, subdivided city-states. Such cities were small, but managed to establish the very roots of democracy today. The term polis can be defined as an independent state governed by its population. Such a definition is accurate, however also could be considered broad and constricted. In deeper aspects, the polis was an organized state or community that worked together in upholding equivalent rights with an effort to prevent tyranny, or a state governed by one person.

The polis went through extensive political efforts to maintain its unity and natural rights. Such qualities of a state led to other enhancements of the polis such as the social, religious, and economic aspects of joined community. The polis developed shortly after Cultural Revolution of ancient Greece during the early Archaic Period. During this time period almost every aspect of life went experienced a major change. Socially and politically Greece began to develop greater stability. Unlike other areas, which developed mostly into personal leadership, Greece followed an antagonistic political principle of unity and basic equality.

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The polis emerged from such political ideology to form a state of equal natural rights and the absence of tyranny. Some of the major reasons why Greece did not develop single rulers were because of financially weak kings, weapons which made war chiefs obsolete in strategic commanding, geographical isolation, and a simplicity of Greek life which withheld principles of equality. Such conditions helped curve the development of the polis. Politically, the polis was known to be well established. The political structure of the polis was based upon its value of equal representation and natural rights.

Therefore the major office was filled with different officials managing different aspects of the community. One official might conduct religious ceremonies, another official would control civil aspects, and son on. Such members of the cabinet were only temporary, and were replaced on a regular basis to avoid anyone gaining too much political strength. Individually, citizens of the polis had equal rights and commitments to their communities. Every citizen had an equal representation and say in their beliefs and ideas which would strengthen their community.

Likewise, everyone also had equal votes and voices to elect officials in performing higher tasks. Eventually such officials grew into a council which Gained higher roles and duties parallel with the growing population. In time political and military organizations began fighting with other independent states over possession of farmland and other important geographical aspects. As the population of such states grew, complications did as well. However the polis continually managed to maintain its ideology of communal unity.

(Starr, p.206) Socially the polis contained moral and ideal qualities that are still contained in modern democracy. Aside from equal representation, citizens of the polis had great appreciation for their state in government, and worked collectively to preserve such a state. Their society was composed of equal citizens who constantly worked to supply their needs for both survival and growth. Although the polis did consist of several classes, none were distinguished too sharply and everyone was focused more on their community rather than themselves. The social classes of a typical polis consists of an upper class where one must be a citizen without a job but a method of high income.

A member of the upper class would also be free from economic tasks such as trading or farming, but instead must get slaves or others to attend material concerns such as property and fortune. Only by such liberation of work can an upperclassman find time for government, war, literature, and philosophy. The Greeks also believed there must be a leisure class, or there would be no standard for good taste, no encouragement of the arts, and no civilization. Such a class fell into the category of the middle class. The middle class also had a large number of non-citizens from foreign birth. Although they were ineligible for citizenship, they would spend their lives professionally as merchants, contractors, tradesman, craftsman, and artists.

In fact a large portion of the ceramic industries of some cities were owned by the middle class. Such occupations and economic liberty far outweighed the downside of non-citizenship. Although they were unable to own land or marry into a family of citizens, the non-citizens still maintained a substantial wealth and a comfortable life. The lower class of the polis was partly made up of freedmen, who at one time in their lives had been slaves. Most of the time these people were not citizens of the State, so the best they could ever be is middle class.

The remainder of the lower class consisted of farmers and peasants who worked enough only to continue their daily lifestyles. Such people rarely were citizens of the state, and were only a minor step above slavery. Therefore Greeks in general felt that all men were not created equal. To citizen, there was no greater disgrace than being stripped of his citizenship. Some families had lived in Greece for generations, but they still were not considered citizens. The middle and lower classes outnumbered the upper class by an enormous number, but only the upper class citizens who owned land could vote. This meant that all the decisions were made by the few, even though the rules they made up applied to all. (Lumas, p.108) The citizens and all classes of the polis valued religion and culture very much. Typically, a Greek state would contain an official that would act as the religious leader for the remaining population.

Such an official would conduct ceremonies to worship their gods and perform the religious tasks that were expected by their gods. However, although a common religion was practiced by a huge majority of the population, it was not required by many of the lower classes. As mentioned earlier, the Greeks highly valued their personal and individual freedom. Such freedom was a major aspect of their culture and was expressed through different arts and ideas. Although the Greek citizens highly appreciated a stable economy and workforce, they valued freedom and culture even more.

The production wines, paintings, ceramics, and traditional ceremonies for weddings, births, and funerals were all an important aspect of Greek culture. The Greeks valued the enjoyment and leisure of life to the same degree (if not more) than any other aspect of their civilization. (Starr,208) The Polis was indeed a highly organized concept of civilization. The values and freedoms which originated from the polis are strongly reflected in modern society. Their belief in individual rights and an overall commitment towards their community seemed to have been applied much well in the Greek society than it ever would in our modern democracy. However the ideas which originated from the polis serve as an ideal state and a goal which we continually aim to achieve in our modern world.

Bibliography References – Chester G. Starr, A History Of The Ancient World, 4th ed. 1991 – Michael A. Lumas, The Atlas of World Histroy, 1993. History Essays.