AskDefine | Define polis

User Contributed Dictionary



  • , /ˈpɒ.lɪs/

Etymology 1

From sc=polytonic.


  1. A city, or a city-state.
    • 2006, Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation, Atlantic Books 2007, p. 161:
      By the end of the century, poleis had been established throughout the Hellenic world, all bearing a marked family resemblance.
a city or city-state
  • Dutch: polis
  • French: polis
  • Greek: Πόλις-κράτος
  • Japanese: 都市, ポリス
  • Spanish: polis

Etymology 2

From Standard English police, compare polis.

Alternative spellings


  1. In the context of "uncountable|Geordie": The police.
  2. In the context of "countable|Geordie": A policeman or policewoman.
Northeast Dialect 2005}}




Extensive Definition

A 'polis' (πόλις, pronunciation pol'-is) plural: poleis (πόλεις) is a city, a city-state and also citizenship and body of citizens. When used to describe classical Athens and its contemporaries, polis is often translated as "city-state."
The word originates from the ancient Greek city-states, which developed during the Archaic period, the ancestor of city, state and citizenship, and persisted (though with decreasing influence) well into Roman times, when the equivalent Latin word was civitas, also meaning 'citizenhood', while municipium applied to a non-sovereign local entity. The term city-state which originated in English (alongside the German Stadtstaat) does not fully translate the Greek term. The poleis were not like other primordial ancient city-states like Tyre or Sidon, which were ruled by a king or a small oligarchy, but rather a political entity ruled by its body of citizens. The traditional view of archaeologists, that the appearance of urbanization at excavation sites could be read as a sufficient index for the development of a polis was criticised by François Polignac in 1984 and has not been taken for granted in recent decades: the polis of Sparta for example was established in a network of villages.The term polis which in archaic Greece meant city, changed with the development of the governance center in the city to indicate state (which included its surrounding villages), and finally with the emergence of a citizenship notion between the land owners it came to describe the entire body of citizens. The ancient Greeks didn't refer to Athens, Sparta, Thebes and other poleis as such; they rather spoke of the Athenians, Lacedaemonians, Thebans and so on. The body of citizens came to be the most important meaning of the term polis in ancient Greece.
The Ancient Greek term which specifically meant the totality of urban buildings and spaces was άστυ, asty.


The bounds of the ancient polis often centered around a citadel, called the acropolis, and would of necessity also have an agora (market) and typically one or more temples and a gymnasium. Note that many of a polis citizens would have lived in the suburbs or countryside. The Greeks did not regard the polis as a territorial grouping so much as a religious and political association: while the polis would control territory and colonies beyond the city itself, the polis would not simply consist of a geographical area.
Each city was composed of several tribes or demes, which were in turn composed of phratries and finally gentes. Metics (resident foreigners) and slaves lay outside this organization. Birth typically determined citizenship. Each polis would also worship a number of patron deities for protection and kept its own particular festivals and customs.
In the East beyond Asia Minor a major instrument of hellenization by Alexander the Great was the polis. He is said to have founded no fewer than seventy cities, destined to become centers of Greek influence; and the great majority of these were in lands in which city-life was almost unknown. In this respect his example was emulated by his successors, the diadochi.
Polis was frequently divided into three types of inhabitants. The first, and highest, “group” of inhabitants are citizens with political rights. Then are the citizens without political rights. Lastly are the non-citizen.

Derived words

Derivatives of polis are common in many modern European languages. This is indicative of the influence of the polis-centred Hellenic world view. Derivative words in English include policy, polity, police and politics. In Greek, words deriving from polis include politēs and politismos, whose exact equivalents in Latin, Romance and other European languages, respectively civis (citizen), civilisatio (civilization) etc are similarly derived.
A number of words end in the word "-polis". Most refer to a special kind of city and/or state. Some examples are:
Other refer to part of a city or a group of cities, such as:
  • Acropolis, 'high city' — upper part of a polis, often citadel and/or site of major temple(s).
  • Decapolis, a group of ten cities
  • Dodecapolis, a group of twelve cities
  • Pentapolis, a group of five cities
  • Tripolis, a group of three cities, retained in the names of a Tripoli in Libya and a namesake in Lebanon


In Cyprus there is a town called Polis in North Cyprus, identified with the Ancient Lampa.
Names of a number of places contain the suffix "-polis" (sometimes modernized, e.g. "-pol") since Antiquity, e.g.:
In other cases the term is hardly still recognizable, e.g.:
Furthermore it may be ued for latinization, e.g. for ecclesiastical use, such as Floropolis (for St-Flour, an episcopal see in France)
Such names were also given later, either referring to older ones or unrelated:
And the enterprise:


Further reading

  • Hansen, Mogens Herman. Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-920849-2; paperback, ISBN 0-19-920850-6).

See also

polis in Bulgarian: Polis
polis in Bosnian: Polis
polis in Catalan: Polis
polis in Czech: Polis
polis in Danish: Polis
polis in German: Polis
polis in Estonian: Polis
polis in Modern Greek (1453-): Πόλη-κράτος
polis in Spanish: Polis
polis in Esperanto: Poliso (urboŝtato)
polis in Basque: Polis
polis in French: Polis
polis in Armenian: Պոլիս
polis in Croatian: Polis
polis in Italian: Polis
polis in Hebrew: פוליס
polis in Latin: Polis
polis in Luxembourgish: Polis
polis in Hungarian: Polisz
polis in Dutch: Polis (stad)
polis in Japanese: ポリス
polis in Norwegian: Polis
polis in Norwegian Nynorsk: Polis
polis in Polish: Polis
polis in Portuguese: Pólis
polis in Russian: Полис (город-государство)
polis in Slovak: Polis
polis in Slovenian: Polis
polis in Serbian: Полис
polis in Serbo-Croatian: Polis
polis in Swedish: Polis (antiken)
polis in Tagalog: Pólis
polis in Chinese: 城邦

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Stadt, ally, archduchy, archdukedom, banlieue, body politic, boom town, borough, bourg, buffer state, burg, burgh, captive nation, chieftaincy, chieftainry, city, city-state, colony, commonweal, commonwealth, conurbation, country, county, domain, dominion, duchy, dukedom, earldom, empery, empire, exurb, exurbia, faubourg, free city, ghost town, grand duchy, greater city, kingdom, land, mandant, mandate, mandated territory, mandatee, mandatory, market town, megalopolis, metropolis, metropolitan area, municipality, nation, nationality, outskirts, polity, possession, power, principality, principate, protectorate, province, puppet government, puppet regime, realm, republic, satellite, seneschalty, settlement, sovereign nation, spread city, state, suburb, suburbia, sultanate, superpower, territory, toparchia, toparchy, town, township, urban complex, urban sprawl, urbs, ville
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