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Towns of ancient Greece

The archetypical settlement in ancient Greece was the self-governing city state called the polis, but other types of settlement occurred.

A kome was typically a village that was also a political unit. The translation is inexact, but according to Thucydides, Sparta, though it was a polis, resembled four unwalled villages. Similarly, a kome could be a neighbourhood within a larger polis or its own rural settlement. Thucydides mused that the polis had developed from the kome.

A katoikia was similar to a polis, typically a military colony with some municipal institutions, but not those of a full polis. The word derives from the Greek for "to inhabit" (a settlement) and is the cognate of the Latin civitas. In the Classical era, there were few katoikia; however, with the rise of large centralized empires following the conquests of Alexander the Great, they became the main type of Greek settlement, especially in the newly conquered east.

Many of the polis in ancient Greece established colonies, of which many went on to be fully independent polis of their own. These include:

  • Emporia these were Greek trading-colonies and could be self-contained settlements or a section of either another Greek polis or of a non-Greek town. They were usually found in ports and could be considered to be the reverse of a politeum.
  • A cleruchy (κληρουχία) was a colony, typically Athenian, which despite being in a different location from the mother city, did not achieve independence. Instead, it remained part of the mother city's polis, with citizenship being retained by the settlers, and it may have functioned like a kome.
  • A phrourion was a fortified collection of buildings used as a military garrison and is the equivalent of the Roman castellum (English fortress). The word carries a sense of being a watching entity.
  • A stratopedon was an army camp, equivalent to the Roman castra. It differed from a phrourion in that it was not normally permanent.
  • A kotoikia was a fortress, inside a city or in an open position. It was an equivalent of the English idea of a fort.


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