Greek Polis

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The development of the Greek polis--whether a military oligarchy in Sparta or democracy in Athens--allowed citizens to participate in political issues. This concept of the "rule by the people," mainly in Athens, gave the citizens a sense of freedom and harmony. Greeks applied the label "polis" to all of the states, regardless of their political distinctions, because each was a koinonia, a community. After this period, the concept of the polis began to change. The regulation of power changed, along with the rights and duties of the people. The Greeks located the source of authority in the polis. Policy was decided in open discussions. In order to be a citizen in the polis, one had to be an adult whose ancestors were Greek and from that particular polis. Children, foreigners, and slaves could not be citizens. Citizens had many exclusive rights, including: the right to vote, own property, and contract legal marriage. The city-states differed in different regions of ancient Greece. Even though the states kept the concept of the polis, the way in which each was governed differed. Two of the most important city-states were Sparta and Athens. Sparta developed as a war-like polis, while Athens developed as a democratic one.

As Hopper stated in The Early Greeks, Sparta "began to develop as a militant polis with a rigid social structure and a government that included an assembly representing all citizens." It had an anti-tyrant policy; the Spartans felt that tyranny was an unstable form of government. Tyranny was replaced by oligarchy, which was the governing of a ruling class. Patterson discusses that the government of Sparta was based on military expansion. After the first Messenian War, the Spartan warriors divided the land among themselves and reduced the Messenians to Helots. The Helots worked the land while the Spartans devoted their time to military service. By 550 BCE Sparta had a mixed constitution.

In contrast to Sparta, Athens, the largest polis, combined...
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