"The polis was a complex hierarchical society built around the notion of citizenship. It was made up of hundreds or even thousands of independent peasant households All citizens had a share in the polis..." (Morris) Originally, the polis referred to a defensible area to which farmers of a particular area could retreat in the event of an attack. This defensible hill became known as an acropolis. The Acropolis in Athens is one example. Over time, towns grew around these defensible areas, and developed into the polis. The poleis were situated well inland to avoid raids by sea. With time, the agora, or marketplace, began to appear within the polis. The agora was not only a marketplace but the heart of Greek intellectual life and discourse. The word polis means city, but it was much more than that to the Greek citizen. It was the central focus of a citizen 's political, religious, cultural, and civil life. Since poleis were so isolated from each other by mountains, they became largely self-sufficient communities. In determining what a polis was and what its goals were, one can turn to Aristotle 's idea of a polis:
"It is clear, therefore, that a polis is not an association for residence on a common site, or for the sake of preventing mutual injustice and easing exchange. These are indeed conditions which must be present before a polis can exist; but the presence of all these conditions is not enough, in itself, to constitute a polis. What constitutes a polis is an association of households and clans in a good life, for the sake of attaining a perfect and self-sufficing existence."
Aristotle says that the polis exists "for the sake of a good life." (Aristotle) The polis did not exist just because people lived in the same physical vicinity and had to have some sort of government. The polis was dedicated to the pursuit of a "good life."
This good life was conceived of in terms of the people having a say in the laws
Cited: Aristotle. Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Comp. W. H. C. Davis. Mineola: Courier Dover Publications, 2004. Google Book. 11 Dec. 2007 <http://books.google.com/books?id=VOIVREg9K7IC =politics+aristotle >. Hooker, Richard. "Ancient Greece." World Resources. 6 June 1999. Washington State University. 11 Dec. 2007 <http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/WORLD.HTM>. Morris, Ian. "The Early Polis as City and State." City and Country in the Ancient World. Ed. John Rich and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. The Foundations of the Greek Polis: Political Culture 700-500. 11 Dec. 2007 <http://academic.reed.edu/humanities/110tech/polisfoundations.html>. Nagle, D. Brendan. The Ancient World. 5th ed. Prentice Hall, 2001. Rymer, Eric. "Development of Democracy in Athens." History and Government of Ancient Greece. 2007. History Link 101. 11 Dec. 2007 <http://www.historylink102.com/greece3/democracy_athens.htm>. Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane; cont. Buxton, Richard, ed. Oxford Readings in Greek Religion. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.