The Greek Concept of the State


  • Valentin Kalan



ancient philosophy, Greek philosophy, political philosophy, polis, state


The starting-point of my paper is the general recognition of the importance of Ancient Greek democracy and Greek political philosophy for modern democracy and for the assessment of political activity today. Here I draw on the studies by Castoriadis and Hansen. With regard to the ancient definitions of the state, Aristotle’s distinctive feature is that he takes into account the topographical and political-administrative aspects, while Plato’s definitions are – predictably –characterised by the notion that a politician is one who administers state affairs on the basis of his knowledge. The discussion of the entry polis in theEtymologicum Magnum is accompanied by a brief survey of the more recent etymological explanations from the perspective of semantics. Language issues are further addressed in the section on synonyms for the polis, such as ἀκρόπολις, ἄστυ, χώρα, ἄνθρωποι, δῆμος, κοινωνία, πατρίς, ἔθνος. Describing the basic characteristics of the concept of the state, the paper begins with the territory or space, which is often merely touched upon in political theory as the latter prefers to concentrate on the functioning of the political system. According to Aristotle, the territory or space is, like the climate, an external condition of the state, but at the same time a basic one, determined by Nature, φύσις, herself. The discussion of the populace from a political perspective dwells on the Greek vocabulary referring to citizens, male and female. Among the characteristics of the Greek concept of the state, particular emphasis is placed on the religious and mythological foundation of its politics, which is evident in the worship of gods/goddesses as the tutelary deities of cities (such as Zeus, Athena, Hera, Apollo, etc., with their temples), in the cult of the hearth goddess Hestia, and in the Tholos as the Prytaneum building. A further essential quality of the ancient Greek state is its sovereignty, the significance of which has been examined particularly by Danish political scientist H. M. Hansen. Again, the study briefly considers the Greek lexicon for sovereignty, which is referred to by such terms as τὸκῦρος,αὐταρκεία, αὐτοκρατορία.


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31. 12. 2010




How to Cite

Kalan, Valentin. 2010. “The Greek Concept of the State”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 12 (2-3): 47-65.

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