City-States of Ancient Greece

Contributor: Ryann Maginn. Lesson ID: 12586

Do you live in a city? Do you live in a state? What kind of government do you live under? Ancient Greeks lived in city-states with different rulers, money, etc. Discover where you might have lived!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What is the term “city-state” in the Greek language? Did you know you use it in English?

“Polis” is the Greek term for city-state.

English speakers get words like "metropolis" and "Annapolis" from this word.

During the Classical era (800 B.C. to 500 B.C.), Greece was not just one country, but rather a collection of 1,500 city-states with a powerful city in the center of each that controlled each of their own governments.

The type of government involved within each city-state varied. Some held monarchies that were ruled by kings and queens. Other governments were run by councils of powerful men. This type of ruling was known as an "oligarchy." In addition, the city of Athens invented democracies where the people of the city ruled for years.

Some of the most important Greek city-states during this period included:

  1. Athens
  2. Sparta
  3. Corinth
  4. Megara
  5. Argos


Athens developed democracies as described above. In addition, the citizens were known for their appreciation for arts, architecture, and literature. Many statues and temples that were built during that time still stand to this day. Below are pictures of just a few of the Athenians' creations.

The Parthenon A temple dedicated to the mythological goddess, Athena:

The Parthenon

Caryatids Statues at Acropolis Part of a structure that had housed an ancient wooden statue of Athena:

Caryatids Statues at Acropolis

Herodus Atticus Theater An ancient music venue that has since been renovated and is used for festivals today:

Herodus Atticus Theater


The city of Sparta was rather different from Athens. This city-state was not a democracy, but had kings and queens in power as well as an oligarchy. Instead of focusing on arts and literature like the Athenians, Spartans focused on building a strong and powerful military so they could fight off enemies.

The city wanted everyone to be dedicated to Sparta and to have tough soldiers. Determining a soldier's abilities began as early as infancy. Researchers have noted that parents would leave their children alone on a mountain overnight to see if they would be able to survive on their own. By seven years old, boys were taken from their families to begin intense military training.

Can you imagine training at such an early age?

Sparta soldiers


The ancient city-state, Corinth, was well known for its major Roman colony and naval fleet, and was located in a prime location for trade. A very popular symbol of Pegasus, a winged horse in Greek mythology, was derived from this region. It can be seen on Corinthian coins. In addition, Corinth was involved in many wars, including the Persian Wars, that affected the survival of all of Greece. Julius Ceasar also made a major mark on the city-state by arranging agricultural plots within the region. This was essential for trade.

Ancient ruins in Corinth:

Corinth ruins


This city-state was infamous for consistently losing battles to the city of Athens. They did not appreciate the growing success of Athens, and in retaliation, became allies with Sparta. Megara was well known for their trade and textiles, which were flexible cloths made from various materials. They also had their own coinage, just as Corinth did. Megara was also known for establishing the city of Byzantium, which is now known as Istanbul.

Ancient coinage of Byzantium:

Byzantium coin

Image from Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


Argos was another important city-state in ancient Greece. This region was well known for their horse-rearing and involvement in the Trojan War. Argos, rival of Sparta, developed innovative military tactics and weapons for its era.

Remains of ancient Argos - the ruins of Hellenistic Theater:

Hellenistic Theater

  • Which city-state would you prefer to live in, Athens or Sparta?
  • Maybe Argos or Corinth?

Share your thoughts with your parent or teacher and see which Ancient Greek city-state they would prefer.

Once you have discussed your ideas, move on to the Got It? section, where you will take a quiz to find out which city-state you would have lived in based on your personality.

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