The Role of Polis in Greek civilization
The polis is a name given to the Greek city states which emerged and
developed during the classical era of Greek civilization. Burckhardt
describes the poleis as "city communities, city states with body of laws"
(5). Preston argues that "the polis was much more than a governmental
system as it was a culture built around expansion of human intellect-
through architecture, drama and mathematics" (1). The polis is "the
definitive form of the Greek state, a small independent state comprising of
central city and surrounding territory" (Burckhardt 6).
The polis played a vital role in Greek civilization because the Greek
culture first assumed its classical form in the polis (Jaeger & Highet 77).
This paper explores the role of the polis in Greek civilization. The polis
is probably the center stage of Greek civilization. To understand the role
of the polis in Greek civilization, it is important to know how it emerged.
Emergence of the Polis
The Greek polis tresses its roots back to the Paleolithic Epoch when
man began to expand his capability to live in groups (Preston 1). The
initial city states were in form of bands which were made up of
approximately one hundred people and finally became city states. The
agrarian and the bronze ages accelerated the development of the polis.
During the ages, there was stable supply of food and specialization
emerged. As a result, man's life became more complex and some form of
government came up. "Greek culture caused settlements to be isolated in a
way that set the stage for the polis to evolve" (Preston 1). The poleis
grew rapidly because they became economic and agrarian centers.
The Role of the Polis in Greek civilization
"Greek culture assumed its classical form in the polis... spiritual
leadership of the Greece culture was taken over by the culture of the city
states" (Jaeger and Highet 77). Greek history in the classical epoch
focuses mostly on the polis. Jaeger & Highet observes that "the classical
era is the most important period of Greek's development making it the
center of historical interest" (77). Jaeger & Highet further notes that the
"polis includes and defines every form of social and intellectual activity"
(77). This makes the polis the most important aspect of Greek civilization.
The polis marked a change of the Greek culture from the initial
culture which was practiced in the rural villages to a modern culture. The
inhabitants of the polis were considered to be free people. Burckhardt
observes that the polis was viewed as a community of free men, metics, and
the masses of slaves did not enjoy political rights (12).
The polis was also important in the Greek culture because it served as
an educative force. The way of life of the polis affected the behavior of
the citizenry making them to completely change their culture. Burckhardt
further observes that "the participation in state government, either as an
administrator or concerned subject, made living in a polis a continuous
education process" (14). Education was an important factor that changed the
way of thinking and the living style of the inhabitants of the polis.
The polis played an important role in the development of Greek
culture hence it is an important component of Greek civilization. The
classical era, an important era in Greek civilization, revolved around the
polis. Education was another important factor that led to Greek
civilization. The polis played an important role in educating the people of
Greece as it was considered as a center of education.
Burckhardt, Jacob. History of Greek Culture. New York: Courier Dover
Jaeger, Werner, and Gilbert Highet. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture
Volume I: Archaic Greece: The Mind of Athens. New York: Oxford University
Preston, Keith. The Polis: Was the Ancient Greek City-State the Greatest
System Ever? December 5, 2011. Web. January 10, 2013.