Ancient Greek City-States for Kids Illustration

Ancient Greek City-States for Kids

After the Greek Dark Ages - Development of City-States:  Dorian rule came to an end when the Greeks banded together and kicked the Dorians out of Greece. After the Greek Dark Ages, villages started to band together to create city-states, in part for protection and in part for more organized trade. Some city-states that had already existed like Athens and Sparta were crushed into obedience by the cruel and hated Dorians. After they Dorians were kicked out, these and other city-states reappeared and appeared and grew. Greece was back, better than before. 

No Central Government: In a great part, because of the geography of the area, there was no central government in ancient Greece. There were no formal roads interconnecting the many city-states. The mountains and the winding coastlines made travel by land quite difficult. Travel was mostly by sea. The Greek city-states did know each other. People were free to visit or even move to a different city-state if they wished. But each city-state was independent. Each developed its own government. Some were ruled by kings. Others were ruled by councils. Ancient Athens, who grew into a very large and important city-state, even experimented with an early form of democracy. At one time in ancient Greek history, some site say there were 1,000 city-states on the Greek peninsula! Some scholars insist there were over 2,000 ancient Greek city-states. What we know for sure is that there were a great many city-states in ancient Greece. Some were very small. Some were very powerful. All were independent.

To understand a city-state, think of the United States if there was no president, no Congress, no Washington DC, no federal laws that applied to all the people, only individual states. But that's still too big. Think of one state, yours, for example. What is the capital? That would be one individual city-state and probably would include the small communities around it. But the capital would not rule the other towns in your state. Each town, or a group of towns that banded together under one name, would be independent. Each would rule itself in its own way.

The Greek city-states had many things in common. In the United States, we have religious freedom and people worship in different way. The people in all the ancient Greek city-states believed in the same gods and worshiped in the same way. They were not forced to believe. Thanks to the storytellers, they simply believed in them. They spoke the same language. They had a common culture - their love of beauty and competition to name two. Their city-states were located on the same peninsula. They thought of themselves as Greeks.

When we refer to "the Greeks", we are being very general. To be more accurate, we would have to say Athens did this, and Sparta did that, or Athens and Sparta did this or that, or all the Greek city-states got together and did this or that. It's just too cumbersome. So we often simply say "The Greeks". That can be misleading. Ancient Greece was not one country. It was never an empire. Except for the 13 years that Alexander the Great conquered the Greek city-states (along with Egypt, Mesopotamia, parts of India, and more), the Greek city-states did not have one leader. After Alexander died, the Greek city-states all went back to ruling themselves, each city-state in its own way.

Loyalty to their city-state: If you were to ask an ancient Greek man where he was from, he would not say I'm from Greece. He would say: "I am a man of Sparta." Or: "I am a man of Athens." He would name his home city-state. The ancient Greeks were very loyal to their city-state. Collectively, the city-states of ancient Greece qualify as a civilization - a very great civilization! 

The Greek city-states did, on occasion, team up against a common foe. They also went to war with each other, unless the Olympic Games were in progress. The Greeks invented the Olympics, and took the event quite seriously. Nearly all the ancient Greek city-states sent teams to participate, even if they only had one or two athletics ready to compete. If two or more Greek city-states happened to be at war with each other when the game date arrived, war was halted for the duration of the games. The Greek Olympics were not the only games in ancient Greece - the Greeks loved competition of all sorts - but the Olympics were the most important. Every city-state wanted to brag that their athletics were the best!

The Glory that was Greece! The Greeks gave us so many gifts - gifts like democracy, trial by jury, the theatre, advances in medicine and science, architectural wonders like the ancient Greek columns, and incredible stories about heroes, to name a few. In a great part, our many gifts from the Greeks are a direct result of the competition between the ancient Greek city-states. They all wanted to be the best at everything.

Let's take a look at five powerful ancient Greek city-states

Athens

Sparta

Corinth

Megara

Argos

QUIZ: Ancient Greek Government (Interactive with answers)

Because it is the birthplace of Alexander the Great, also known as the Great Greek, we are often asked by kids from around the world: Was Macedonia a Greek city-state?