Most historians of classical Greece consider the characteristic feature of Greek political life to have been the city-state or polis. Others have cited the fragmentation of the peninsula into a multitude of sovereign states, which tended to vent their tempers at one another rather than to cooperate in the face of a threat to them all, as a significant factor leading to the ultimate collapse of Greek freedom before the might of Alexander the Great in the fourth century, B.C. So cherished was the independence of a typical Greek city-state, and so jealously was it guarded, that the political history of classical Greece might easily be viewed in a series of parallel columns, one for each polis, rather than as a continuous narrative that attempts to weave together the threads of a single story.

The particular forms of government that were produced in classical Greece varied greatly from city-state to city-state. Here there was an oligarchy, there tyranny, elsewhere democracy. Yet, of greater significance than the existence of these variations is the fact, that, in the words of George Forrest, "common to all [of them was] the achievement in the end of some sort of what we are prepared to describe as the constitutional government of the city-state."

This article is based on a lecture delivered at the The Greeks Institute, a series of lectures presented to secondary school teachers in the Bridgeport Public Schools during the spring of 1989. Co-sponsored by the Connecticut Humanities Council, Sacred Heart University, and the Bridgeport Public Schools, the purpose of the institute has been to provide teachers with an interdisciplinary exploration of classical Greece for the purposes of professional enrichment and curriculum development.



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