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(plural, poleis), the city-state, a special form of socioeconomic and political organization typical of ancient Greece and Italy. The polis consisted of the territory occupied by the city proper and the surrounding farming settlements (choroi). Poleis sprang up as a result of the struggle against the vestiges of the clan system and in consequence of the growth of commodity-money relations, the differentiation of crafts and farming as specialized forms of labor, and the exacerbation of the social struggle of the communal farmers and the merchant and artisan strata against the clan aristocracy.

The economic base of the polis was an ancient form of land-ownership, a contradictory, dual form that combined state (communal) ownership and private ownership, the latter usually conditioned by the former (see K. Marx in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 46, part 1, p. 471). Only a full-fledged hereditary citizen of the polis (commune) had the right to private ownership of land. In addition to full-fledged citizens, the polis was populated by metics, perioeci, and freedmen—free but not fully enfranchised residents, usually artisans and merchants— and by slaves, who lacked all rights. The polis secured the right of full-fledged citizens to own land and slaves and looked after the economic welfare of its citizens. Accordingly, its foreign and domestic policies were aimed at restoring small- and medium-scale landownership. This was achieved by various means, including agrarian reforms and the founding of colonies and cleruches (military farming settlements established in subjugated or allied states). The polis introduced the performance of liturgies (a state obligation borne by prosperous citizens and metics) and the distribution of money for public entertainments and payments for performing naval and state service. The popular militia was composed of all citizens of the polis from 17–18 to 60 years of age. The wealthy and middle strata of society served as knights and heavily armed infantry (hoplites), and the poorer strata as lightly armed warriors. The unique character of relationships within the polis gave rise to a polis ideology and a polis patriotism.

Despite the diversity displayed by the poleis, their political structure had a certain uniformity. The state apparatus consisted of a popular assembly of full-fledged male citizens—the Apella or Ecclesia; a council—the Gerousia, Areopagus, Boule, or Senate; and various elected officials—magistrates. The assembly— the most democratic administrative body—was characteristic of all poleis, exemplifying the citizens’ right to govern the state. Depending on the political influence acquired by the merchant and artisan strata and communal farmers in their struggle against the clan aristocracy, the polis was either oligarchic, as in the case of Sparta, or democratic, as in the case of Athens. With respect to economic relationships, the difference between poleis was determined by the role of the chora, that is, by the relationships between farming, on the one hand, and crafts and trade on the other. Thus, Sparta was a typical agricultural polis, and Corinth, which had an insignificant chora, was a typical commercial and artisan polis.

With the establishment of the slaveholding system, the polis became a form of slaveholding state. However, the growth of private property and exploitation of slave labor led to the ruin of the majority of communal farmers, to the breakdown of the ancient form of ownership, and, consequently, to a crisis of the polis. In Greece, where the polis flourished in the fifth century B.C., this crisis took place at the beginning of the fourth century B.C. In Rome, where the city-states achieved their greatest development between the fifth and third centuries B.C., the crisis took place between the third and first centuries B.C.


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Engels, F. “Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “O gosudarstve.” In Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 39.
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References in periodicals archive ?
The subtitle, 'Local history and the polis', looks a little like a misnomer--engagement with local polis history is delayed until Chapter 6, and thereafter is sometimes left aside while Clarke pursues some related notion that she thinks deserves coverage.
One possible reason that activity and foraging behavior does not change with precipitation (and prey availability) is the threat of predation including cannibalism by adults on juveniles (see Polis 1980a, 1980b).
La polis es el "lugar" primordial de su existir con otros, entre y por otros, el arte --las obras- el "lugar" privilegiado de su decir-se, de su "manifestacion".
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Odyssey closes and Odysseus's re-settlement and re-constitution of the Ithakan polis is at once commenced and completed in the garden.
What Odysseus's polis at home in Ithaka should not strive to emulate is fairly plain.
It really hurts," says Polis of the bark scorpion's sting, which he has experienced twice.
These islands are within 20 km of the Baja California peninsula and lie in a productive region of the Gulf characterized by year-round upwelling due to tidal mixing and winds (Maluf 1983, Polis and Hurd 1996a).
Yet while Plato believed that the sea as such had negative effects on the polis Aristotle's argument is more complex.
That is, the polis is understood as being grounded in a sharing through which the diverse citizens assist each other in meeting their needs.
Second, Patterson appears to ignore an objective political element capable of serving as a guide and component in the Greek concept and ideal of freedom, and that is the idea that the polis itself served as a powerful communal model for a developing sense of private or individual freedom: I refer to the ideal state of absolute 'political' independence, of identity, with the indelible marks of autarcheia and autarkeia, sovereignty and self-sufficiency, that were supposed to underpin and define the city-state.
Caucomgomoc , the lake; caucomgomoc-took , the river, Polis.
Two women, 28 and 36, were arrested after being caught stealing produce from a farm in Argaka, Polis police said reported on Saturday morning.