This article is brought to you by the year 1000 B.C.E.
You're an American. You live in a country that has fifty states. Each state has its own set of laws. Just think if your state was more like a country and that each city had its own laws. Just imagine driving ten minutes and finding yourself in a new country with new laws and different kinds of rulers! Sound strange? Maybe exciting? Maybe you would have liked to have lived in ancient Greece . . . where no one thought of themselves as Greek. Confusing? I agree. This will be easier if we just go visit one . . .
You will notice that this city-state is very small and does not have many people, only about 5-10,000. A city-state
is a city that rules the land around as if it were its own country, but is much smaller than most countries. You will see that this city-state is built around a hill. The wall is wrapped around the very outside of the hill with the houses and fields around the hill's base. The fort that protects everyone is up on the hill with the temples and other public buildings. These will be the hardest things to reach if the city-state is every attacked. Yeah, I'm glad we aren't attacking this either. That looks like quite the hike. Brush up on your Greek!
"Polis" means city-state. This is where the word "politics" comes from. Fun Fact!
There are very few city-states remaining on Earth today, including the Vatican, where the Pope lives. While we are in Ancient Greece, we may as well visit a place that is not around in our time, right? Sparta was one of them most important city-states in Greece and was famous for their warriors. Like I said, every city worked a little differently. This city-state has not one king but two. They practiced slavery, built up their military, and tried to slow trade. Why? They did not like using coins, and they did not want outsiders to get in the city easily and attack. This meant the slaves did most of the work. There were ten slaves for every one master. Everyone else could choose their trade because there were no outsiders coming in and taking the jobs. The Spartans put most of their focus on military force . . . which is why they are not letting us in their walls. I guess when you are a small city-state that has many other city-states around, you have got to stay safe. Now if we take a short trip to the north and east, we will come to another city that lives very differently. Brush up on your Greek!
The word "Spartan" refers to people who came from the city, but today we use it to refer to anyone who goes without comfort. The Spartan warriors trained with very little comfort so they could become better warriors. No wonder they keep their gates locked tight.
Looks like we are going to have to hike this steep hill to get to the next city-state. Athens
was the largest city in Ancient Greece and is famous for philosophy and being an early democracy. Today, this city is still around and is the capitol of Greece. Whew! This hill is steep. This city-state works much differently than the last one we visited. They do not have two kings. They do not even have one king. Athenians did not build up their military, but they focused on building ideas on how the people should be ruled . . . or should rule themselves. They made laws that made everyone equal and leaders were chosen by people voting. Maybe they had to figure this out because they had a LOT more people than most city-states. I am tired from all this hiking. Let's go back down. Do not worry. We still use the Athenians best invention in our time.
Why were the Athenians so different from other city-states? They came from a history of never ending warring. The cultures before them were all about kings ruling over a people and attacking others to gain power. This way of ruling changed over a very long time, about six hundred years. After many blood-thirsty kings, a few newer and wiser leaders noticed things were bad for the people, and many people were in debt. One leader forgave all debts and said the poor no longer needed to pay taxes. Another leader who came after this one broke up the city-state into ten tribes and had them choose leaders who would vote on how everything would be run. Democracy
is a kind of government where people vote for their leaders and choose people to represent them. The Greeks came up with this idea! They figured out that the best thing for the whole state or country or city-state or WHATEVER was to have the people vote together. Let's go back to America. We can still vote for who we want to lead us. Important fact!
While it is amazing that the Greeks invented democracy, they were not as forward-thinking as we might hope. Only rich men were allowed to vote.
What an exciting trip we had to Ancient Greece! Even though we did not get to see any city-states. Because each was like its own country they had to stay safe with walls that wrapped around hills that kept their forts up high. Each city was run very differently. Sparta worked on its military power. Athens worked on the best ways to run the people . . . or to have the people run them. We still use their ideas today when we vote for laws using democracy. So what do you vote? Would you like this land to be run in many city-states or keep it the way it is? References:
Ancient Greece. "Greek City-States" Ducksters, 2011. <http://www.ducksters.com/history/ancient_greece/greek_city_state.php
History for Kids. "City-States: historyforkids.org, 2009. <http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/government/polis.htm