The role of the polis in Archaic and Classical-era Greece
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The role of the polis in Archaic and Classical-era Greece

The role of the polis in Archaic and Classical-era Greece

Before the archaic age, the small communities scattered across the land, and they lived in self-sufficient farms. During the transition time to archaic age, these small communities came together as a more significant community creating the setting for the rise of a Greek polis. A polis means a city-state, a central urban area. The role of the polis was to be the governing body of that city-state. According to Hansen and Nielsen, there were around 1500 archaic and classical Greek poleis (Hansen et al, 2004). The largest polis among that was the polis of Athens, the birthplace of democracy, and also Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, and Delphi, which are some other significant poleis in Archaic and Classical-era Greece.

Even though the role of the polis to govern the state, the type of government was distinct to each other. Each polis was also economically and politically independent. Each polis had its own culture, economic system, a governing system as well as different deities they worship. However, greek poleis came together for the Olympic games.


Small groups of influential individuals called Oligarchs or a tyrant ran the governance of some poleis. In contrast, other poleis allowed citizens to vote on and participate in making state decisions in a democratic governing system. Significantly literacy resurfaced during the archaic era, which was lost during the dark ages. They found a new alphabet and started writing in pottery and stones.

As the number of citizens increases, each polis expanded its territories by finding new lands and colonizing them. Some of the poleis, like Sparta, focused on their military skills and power. They even provided military power for others. Athens, on the other hand, explored their artistic and architectural abilities. Those later influenced most modern western architectural and artistic endeavours such as drama and theatre. “At the beginning of the Archaic age, statues imitated the Egyptian, appearing rigid and immobile, but by the end of the period and the beginning of the Classical Age, statues looked human and almost lifelike.” (Gill,2019)

Each polis had its agora, a market place but proper trading practices were not generally accepted. However, by the end of the archaic era, coin use started following the issues of the barter system.

The poleis system was a crucial point in Greek civilization and its influence on the modern world.