HIS 104 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Polis, Some Cities, Hegemony
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~ History 104 Lecture #7 ~
The Hellenistic World
o The underlying subject that will be discussed is the failure of the polis and what comes out of this
o The polis doesn’t come to an end, it turns into something else.
o The polis is a self-governed city-state that will become an institution for world enlightenment.
o If one says that the polis fails, you may well want to clarify in your own mind what it means to say
o There will be questions about it on the midterm.
o Be able to put together a brief account of what this means.
o What is the polis? What are its features? How did it fail? What did it become? How are these
connected to literary developments?
o The polis can be said to have failed in a number of ways.
o It’s persistent difficulty in uniting for any kind of purpose.
▪ We know of over 500 poleis and they were all very jealous and suspicious of their
o At the height of the polis as an independent political form, just to the East of the Greek world is the
Persian Empire, the greatest empire of their era.
o This consistently affected Greek life.
o Comparatively, the Greek poleis are miniscule, and the Greek people are aware of this.
▪ They feel threatened by the Persian state.
▪ There are several examples of them standing up to this large power, however.
• A proverbial David vs. Goliath
o In some ways, the Grecian victory over Persia is not as great as it might seem because Persia still
o Persia might have vast wealth and a large population, but it’s so big that it takes a lot of time
and effort to mobilize it.
▪ If you’re fighting in Greece and trouble arises in India, it’s going to take you months
or even years to get there.
o It was a major accomplishment, however, and it was made by about 100 Greek city-states
coming together to fight a common enemy.
▪ If your cities can unite, you are stronger together than the strongest empire of the
• This is going to be constantly in mind for over a century.
o This alliance of 100 poleis didn’t survive but about a year or two; it fell apart fairly quickly.
▪ Part of this was its structure.
• How do you put together an alliance of 100 cities?
• Who gets to decide what’s done?
o You have to have a commander (hegemon).
o One city leads, the others follow.
o In the invasion that ended in 480 and 479, they were led by Sparta and their two kings commanded
o This doesn’t mean that everyone else was happy about this.
▪ All poleis are touchy about their independence.
▪ They were also jealous.
• If a polis is the same size as Sparta, why don’t they get to lead?
o This is a big reason why the alliance broke up.
o Some cities thought they had done enough while some closer to
Persia wanted to keep fighting.
o There are a lot of reasons for this.
o Athenians were jealous of Spartan leadership.
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