What Is a City State AP World History?

A city-state, as the name suggests, is a political entity that comprises a city and its surrounding territory. These were prevalent in ancient times and were a significant advancement in governance. The term “city-state” has been used to describe various political entities throughout history, from ancient Greece to medieval Italy.

What is a City-State?

A city-state is an independent political entity that consists of a single city and its surrounding territory. It is often characterized by a high level of autonomy and self-governance, as well as a strong sense of civic identity.

Origins of City-States

City-states have been around for thousands of years, with some of the earliest examples dating back to ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization. However, it was in ancient Greece where the concept really took hold.

In Greece, the city-state was known as the “polis,” which was comprised of a central city and its surrounding territory. Each polis had its own government, laws, and military, but they also shared similar cultural traditions and religious beliefs.

Characteristics of City-States

City-states are characterized by their small size and high degree of autonomy. They are typically self-governing entities with their own government systems, laws, and regulations. They also have a strong sense of civic identity based on shared cultural traditions and values.

Another characteristic of city-states is their ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Because they are small and agile, they can respond more effectively to threats or opportunities than larger nation-states.

Examples of City-States

Some famous examples of city-states include Athens in ancient Greece, Venice during the Renaissance period in Italy, and Singapore in modern times.

Athens was one of the most important city-states in ancient Greece. It was known for its democracy and cultural achievements, including philosophy, literature, and the arts.

Venice was a powerful city-state in medieval Italy. It was known for its maritime power and wealth, as well as its cultural contributions to art and architecture.

Singapore is a modern-day city-state that is known for its economic success and cultural diversity. It has a highly developed economy and is one of the wealthiest nations in the world.


In conclusion, city-states have been an important political entity throughout history. They are characterized by their small size, high degree of autonomy, and strong sense of civic identity. While they may not be as prevalent today as they were in ancient times, their legacy continues to influence modern politics and governance.