There was no central government in ancient Greece. Ancient Greece was never an empire. In fact, Greece, back then, was not even one country. People lived in city-states. Each city-state was an independent unit. Each city-state made their own laws, had their own coinage, and had their own way of doing things. But, they all spoke Greek, they all believed in the same gods, and they all shared a common history.
As time went on, there were probably over a thousand city-states established on the Greek peninsula, possibly even more. Some were very small. Others, like Athens, Corinth, Megara, Argos, and Sparta, were large and powerful. Be it big or small, the ancient Greeks were very loyal to their city-state, and very proud of their city-state's accomplishments.
City-states went to war with each other. They teamed up to fight another Greek city-state or to fight a common enemy from outside the Greek peninsula. They traded with each other. They negotiated with each other. They knew each other. But if you asked a Greek if he was a Greek, he would probably give you a puzzled look and identify himself by his city-state. He might say: "I am a man of Corinth" (or Olympia or whatever city-state he called home.)
There were three main forms of government used in ancient Greece by various city-states.
- Ruled by a king: Some city-states were ruled by a king. This type of government is called a monarchy. The city-state of Corinth is an example; Corinth was ruled by a king.
- Ruled by a small group: Some city-states were ruled by a small group of people. This type of government is called an oligarchy. The city-state of Sparta was ruled by a small group of retired and highly respected warriors.
- Ruled by many: Athens experimented with direct democracy, or rule by many. For about 100 years, every citizen in Athens could directly vote in the assembly on issues. This form of government continued until Athens was conquered by Sparta.