Ancient Greece was not a unified nation, but a collection of city-states known as poli.  Poli is the plural of polis.  Polis is often translated as city, but there was a very important difference between an ancient Greek polis and what we think of as a city today.

The ancient Greeks saw themselves as citizens of their poli no matter where they lived.  If a person were born in Athens, he would consider himself an Athenian even if he had lived in another polis for many years.

Most Greek poli comprised a small walled area and the surrounding farmland, but some larger poli comprised several small villages.  The poli developed independently of one another because they were isolated by rugged mountains or located on small islands. Still, the people of the poli spoke similar languages and worshipped many of the same gods.  Each poli had an independent government.  The word we use today for making decisions as a group is politics.  Politics is derived from an ancient Greek word that refers to the Greek polis.

Ruins of a Greek poli wall


The Greeks built walls within their poli to keep out invaders.

The Greek poli had to depend on one another to survive.  Many of the city-states developed alliances, called leagues, for protection against other cities and foreign invaders.  Each polis contributed soldiers and ships to form a common army and navy.

The Greek poli met every four years at a great athletic contest to honor the god Zeus.  In ancient Greece, a period of four years was known as an Olympiad, so the ancient Greeks called their contests the Olympics.  During the Olympic Games, poli at war would suspend hostilities until the contests ended.  We don’t know exactly when the ancient Greeks began to hold Olympic Games because the contests are older than any Greek writing.  Today the spirit of the ancient Greeks lives on as most of the world’s nations participate in Olympic Games every four years.

The Ruins of Olympia


Olympia is a small town in Greece. Olympia hosted the ancient Olympic Games for at least 1200 years until the fourth century of the Common Era.


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Lexile Measure 1120L
Mean Sentence Length 17.39
Mean Log Word Frequency 3.43
Word Count 313

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on Ancient Greece.

Greek Olympian (clipart)