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Polis means a city, a city-state and also citizenship and body of citizens. In context with Ancient Greece polis means nearly always "city-state."

The word originates from the ancient Greek city-states, which developed during the period and existed well into Roman times, when the equivalent Latin word was civitas, that means 'citizenhood' as well.


The bounds of the ancient polis often centered around a citadel, called the acropolis. Nearly always it had an agora (market) and typically one or more temples and a gymnasium. Many citizens of a polis did not live in the central city but in the suburbs or countryside. The Greeks regarded the polis as a religious and political association: while the polis would control territory and colonies beyond the city itself, the polis would not simply consist of a geographical area.

Words coming from "polis"

There are a lot of words in many modern European languages that come from polis. In English there are policy, polity, police and politics. In Greek, words coming from polis include politēs and politismos.

A number of words end in the word "-polis". Most refer to a special kind of city and/or state. Some examples are:

  • Megapolis, built by merging several cities and their suburbs.
  • Metropolis can refer to the mother city of a colony, the see of a metropolitan archbishop or a Metropolitan area — a major urban population centre.

Other refer to part of a city or a group of cities, such as:

  • Acropolis, 'high city' — upper part of a polis, often citadel and/or site of major temple(s).
  • Tripolis, a group of three cities, retained in the names of a Tripoli in Libya and a namesake in Lebanon

Other cities

The names of several other towns and cities in Europe and the Middle East have contained the suffix "-polis" since antiquity; or currently feature modernized spellings, such as "-pol". Some of the examples are:

The names of other cities were also given the suffix "-polis" after antiquity, either referring to ancient names or simply unrelated:


Further reading

  • Hansen, Mogens Herman. Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-920849-2; paperback, ISBN 0-19-920850-6).
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