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Geography and the Population of City-states

The geography of Greece greatly influenced the process by which this radically new way of organizing human communities came about. The severely mountainous terrain of the mainland meant that city-states were often physically separated by significant barriers to easy communication, thus reinforcing the tendency of city-states to develop separately and not to cooperate with one another. A single Greek island could be home to multiple city-states maintaining their independence from one another; the large island of Lesbos1, for example, was the home for five different city-states. Since few city-states controlled enough arable land to grow food sufficient to feed a large body of citizens, polis communities no larger than several hundred to a couple of thousand people were normal even after the population of Greece rose dramatically at the end of the Dark Age. By the fifth century Athens had grown to a size of perhaps forty thousand adult male citizens and a total population, including slaves and other non-citizens, of several hundred thousand people, but this was a rare exception to the generally small size of Greek city-states. A population as large as that of classical Athens could be supported only by the regular importation of food2 from abroad, which had to be financed by trade and other revenues.

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