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city statea form of the preindustrial STATE based on a single city, e.g. the Gr eek polis. In their earliest forms (e.g. the numerous city states of the Near East and the Mediterranean region) these states were small. Nevertheless they represented a significant advance in the concentration of political and economic POWER compared with previous nonurban societies. This is indicated by their capacity to extend their hegemony over surrounding areas, sometimes becoming the basis of major empires, e.g. Athens and Rome. It has been characteristic of some city states that they have been based on a ‘democratic association’ of citizens (e.g. in Athens, all those who bear arms). They have also been a major source of significant ‘modern’ political ideas and ideologies, not least because a sharp division between citizens and non-citizens (including the appearance of an urban PROLETARIAT) led to new class division. See also ANCIENT SOCIETY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000