Ancient Greece wasn't a single country or empire united under a single government, it was made up of a number of city-states. At the center of each city-state was a powerful city. The city ruled the lands and area around it. Sometimes it also ruled smaller less-powerful cities. The Greek name for a city-state was "polis".
Each city-state, or polis, had its own government. Some city states were monarchies ruled by kings or tyrants. Others were oligarchies ruled by a few powerful men on councils. The city of Athens invented the government of democracy and was ruled by the people for many years.
The two most powerful and famous city-states were Athens and Sparta, but there were other important and influential city-states in the history of Ancient Greece. Here are a few examples:
Corinth was a trade city in an ideal location that allowed it to have two seaports, one on the Saronic Gulf and one on the Corinthian Gulf. As a result, the city was one of the wealthiest cities in Ancient Greece. The Corinthians developed their own coins and required that traders use them when in their city.
Corinth is perhaps most famous for its architecture. The Corinthians developed the Corinthian order of Greek architecture which is the third major form of classical Greek architecture along with the Doric and Ionic.
The government of Corinth was a monarchy ruled by a king. Corinth provided soldiers to the Greeks during the Persian Wars. They also allied with Sparta against Athens in the Peloponnesian War.
Thebes was a powerful city-state to the north of Corinth and Athens that was constantly switching sides in the various Greek wars. During the Persian Wars they originally sent men to Thermopylae to fight the Persians, but later, they allied with King Xerxes I of Persia to fight against Sparta and Athens. During different times in history they allied with Athens against Sparta and then switched sides to ally with Sparta against Athens.
In 371 BC, Thebes marched against Sparta and defeated the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra. This put an end to the power of the Spartan city-state and set many of the Spartan slaves free.
Thebes was famous in Greek legend and literature as well. It is known as the birthplace of the Greek hero Hercules and played a major role in the stories of Oedipus and Dionysus. Also, perhaps the most famous Greek poet of the time, Pindar, lived in Thebes.
Argos was one of the oldest city-states in Ancient Greece, but it first became a major power under the tyrant Pheidon during the 7th century BC. During Pheidon's reign, Argos introduced silver coins as well as a standard system of weights and measures that later became known as the Pheidonian measures.
According to Greek Mythology, Argos was founded by Argos, the son of the god Zeus. The land became dry and arid after the gods Hera and Poseidon had an argument over the city. Hera won and became the patron of the city, but Poseidon got his revenge by drying out the land.
Delphi was the religious center of the Greek city-states. People from all over Ancient Greece visited the city to receive guidance from the famous Delphic oracle Pythia. During the classical Greek period the city became the shrine to the god Apollo after he slew the Python.
Delphi was also a center of the arts, education, literature, and trade. Located in the center of Greece, it was often called the "navel (center) of the world". Delphi was also home to the Pythian Games, one of the most famous athletic competitions in early Greece.
The city-state of Rhodes was formed in 408 BC on a Greek island when three smaller cities (Ialyssos, Kamiros, and Lindos) decided to unite and make one large city. The city was prosperous for hundreds of years due to its prime location as a trade port. The city was famous for its shipbuilders as well as its giant statue called the Colossus of Rhodes. The Colossus of Rhodes was considered one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. It was a statue of the Greek Titan Helios and it stood over 100 feet high.
Interesting Facts about the Greek City-State
People living in Ancient Greece did not think of themselves as "Greek", but as citizens of their city-state. For example, people from Corinth considered themselves Corinthians and people from Sparta considered themselves Spartans.
The Michigan State University mascot is the Spartan.
Many of these cities, such as Rhodes, Thebes, and Corinth were also important cities during the Roman Empire.
The first tyrant king of Corinth, Cypselus, said that he received an oracle from Delphi telling him to take over the city.
Each of the Seven Sages of Greece was from a different city-state. Periander was from Corinth. He was known for saying "Be farsighted with everything". Solon was from Athens. He was known for saying "Keep everything with moderation". The other sages included Cleobulus from Lindos, Chilon of Sparta, Bias of Priene, Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus of Mytilene.