The basic political structure of Ancient Greece. It was created during the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, after the decline in the power and importance of kings. The basic institution common to all poleis, regardless of their form of government, and what seperates them from other forms of city-states is the the gathering of the citizens (that was named ecclesia in Athens), in which officials were elected and laws were passed. All early poleis were basically oligarchic and ruled completely by the aristocracy, but the economic crises of the 6th century instigated the rise of tyrants in almost all poleis (for example Peisistratus in Athens and the Bacchiadai in Corinth cf. also apoikia), as well as the work of the great legislators (such as Solon of Athens and Lykourgos of Sparta). When the tyrants were deposed some of the cities returned to their former aristocatic governments but most have instituted alterations to it as to incorporate more of the citizens in the government. The polis Athens went the longest way, as after the expulsion of Hippias and Hipparchus the statesman Kleisthenes created the democratic constitution of the polis. Several other poleis later followed Athens to create their own democracies.

The importance of the polis in Greece dwindled after the occupation of Greece by Philip II of Macedonia in the 330's BCE.

In Ancient Greece, a polis was a unit of political organization which is usually translated as "city-state". It is the root of words of ours such as politics, police, policy and polity.

In the conception of politics held by the Ancient Greeks, the polis was supposed to provide a public space in which free men could speak words and act out deeds together, thus attaining glory and access to eternity through remembrance - but only within the limits set out by the constitution. Interestingly, it was common for the constitution of a polis to be drafted by a foreigner, because this was not considered to be among the political activities; it rather was like building an arena (in this case, of laws) in which politics would be conducted. Once this was accomplished, the serious business of the polis could begin. The polis was not these laws or the city itself, but rather the citizens within.

What these citizens aimed for was not utopia (Plato, who did seek utopia, wrote in explicit opposition to contemporary practice), or economic progress or equality, but rather the pursuit of individual excellence in word and deed; and this was only possible specifically without equality, because it was the labour of slaves which freed the ancients from necessity and allowed them to think about such abstract things as human excellence.

What these free men aimed for was to achieve immortality through their deeds. But this immortality could only be achieved through the continued survival of the polis and not in the unpredictable world outside; and the preservation of the polis within the laws set down by the original lawgivers was a sacred goal insofar as it seemed to promise the eternal continuance of this community, and hence the remembrance of the community's deeds.


Used to refer to a ("virtual") society of body-less minds/personalities/individuals by Greg Egan in Diaspora. This society is simulated on a computer (or rather specialised hardware that resembles a computer) so therefore has complete control over things like environment, their psychology, and time's resolution (how fast they become through time). Kind of like the metaverse.

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