A city-state is a sovereign state consisting of a city and its dependent territories. Historically this included famous cities like Rome, Athens, Carthage and the Italian city-states during the Renaissance, but today only a handful of sovereign city-states exist, with some disagreement as to which states should and should not be considered as city-states. However, a great deal of consensus exists that the term properly applies to Singapore, Monaco and Vatican City. Other states that are often cited as modern city-states include Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Luxembourg, Qatar; Brunei, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
Additionally, several non-sovereign cities enjoy a high degree of autonomy, and are sometimes considered city-states. Hong Kong and Macau, along with independent members of the United Arab Emirates, most notably Dubai and Abu Dhabi, often are cited as such.
- 1 Historical background
- 2 Modern city-states
- 3 Non-sovereign city-states
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Historical examples include the oldest known Sumerian cities of Uruk and Ur; Ancient Egyptian city states, such as Thebes and Memphis; the Phoenician cities (such as Tyre and Sidon); the Berber city-states of the Garamantes; the city-states of ancient Greece (the poleis such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth); the Roman Republic (which grew from a city-state into a great power); the Mayan and other cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (including cities such as Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan and Monte Albán); the central Asian cities along the Silk Road; Venice; Ragusa; states of the medieval Russian lands such as Novgorod and Pskov; and many others. Scholars have classed the Viking colonial cities in medieval Ireland, most importantly Dublin, as genuine city-states.
Some of the most well-known exemplars of city-state culture in human history are the ancient Greek city-states and the merchant city-states of Renaissance Italy, which organised themselves in small independent centres. The success of small regional units coexisting as autonomous actors in loose geographical and cultural unity, as in Italy or Greece, often prevented their amalgamation into larger national units. However, such small political entities often survived only for short periods because they lacked the resources to defend themselves against incursions by larger states. Thus they inevitably gave way to larger organisations of society, including the empire and the nation state.
In the history of Mainland Southeast Asia, settlements were organised by aristocratic groups, Buddhist leaders, and others into autonomous or semi-autonomous city-states which were referred to as mueang and usually related in a tributary relationship now described as mandala or as 'over-lapping sovereignty' in which smaller city-states paid tribute to larger ones which paid tribute to still larger ones until reaching the apex in cities like Ayutthaya; Bagan; Bangkok and others which served as centers of Southeast Asian royalty. The system existed until the 19th century when colonization by European powers, and Thailand's (then known as Siam) resulted in the adoption of the modern concept of statehood.
19th and 20th century Europe
In the Holy Roman Empire the Free Imperial Cities enjoyed a considerable autonomy, buttressed legally by the Lübeck law, which many other cities emulated. Some cities – though also members of different confederacies at that time – officially became sovereign city-states in the 19th century – such as the Canton of Basel City (1833–48), the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (1806–11 and again 1813–71), the Free City of Frankfurt upon Main (1815–66), the Canton of Geneva (1813–48), the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (1806–11 and again 1814–71) and the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck (1806–11 and again 1813–71). Another city-state, though lacking sovereignty, was West Berlin (1948–1990), being a state legally not belonging to any other state, but ruled by the Western Allies. They allowed – notwithstanding their overlordship as occupant powers – its internal organisation as one state simultaneously being a city, officially called Berlin (West). Though West Berlin maintained close ties to the West German Federal Republic of Germany, it was legally never part of it.
20th century cities under international supervision
The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) and nearly 200 towns in the surrounding areas. It was created on 15 November 1920 under the terms of Article 100 (Section XI of Part III) of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles after the end of World War I.
The Free State of Fiume was an independent free state which existed between 1920 and 1924. Its territory of 28 km2 (11 sq mi) comprised the city of Fiume (now in Croatia and, since the end of World War II, known as Rijeka) and rural areas to its north, with a corridor to its west connecting it to Italy.
The Tangier International Zone was a 373 km2 (144 sq mi) international zone centered on the city of Tangier, North Africa under the joint administration of France, Spain, and Britain (later Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States), attached to Morocco, then a French protectorate from 1923 until 29 October 1956 when it was reintegrated into Morocco.
The Klaipėda Region or Memel Territory was defined by the Treaty of Versailles in 1920 when it was put under the administration of the Council of Ambassadors. The Memel Territory was to remain under the control of the League of Nations until a future day when the people of the region would be allowed to vote on whether the land would return to Germany or not. The then predominantly ethnic German Memel Territory (Prussian Lithuanians and Memellanders constituted the other ethnic groups), situated between the river and the town of that name, was occupied by Lithuania in the Klaipėda Revolt of 1923.
The Free Territory of Trieste was an independent territory situated in Central Europe between northern Italy and Yugoslavia, facing the north part of the Adriatic Sea, under direct responsibility of the United Nations Security Council in the aftermath of World War II, from 1947 to 1954. The UN attempted to make the Free Territory of Trieste into a city state, but it never gained real independence and in 1954 its territory was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia.
The Principality of Monaco is an independent city-state. Monaco-Ville (the ancient fortified city) and Monaco's well-known area Monte Carlo are districts of a continuous urban zone, not distinct cities, though they were three separate municipalities (communes) until 1917. The Principality of Monaco and the city of Monaco (each having specific powers) govern the same territory. On 28 June 1919, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, part of the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monégasque policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. Only in 1993 did Monaco become a member of the United Nations, with full voting rights. In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarifies that if there are no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the principality will remain an independent nation rather than revert to France (which were the terms of the previous arrangement). Monaco's military defence, however, is still the responsibility of France. Monaco did not receive its first foreign ambassador, the French ambassador, until 16 February 2006.
Singapore is an island city-state in Southeast Asia. About 5.2 million people live and work within 700 square kilometres (270 sq mi), making Singapore the 2nd-most-densely populated country in the world after Monaco, another city-state. The entire island functions as a single metropolitan area. The city centre near the south of the island is surrounded by satellite towns, parks, reservoirs and industrial estates, which are connected to the centre and each other by a dense network of roads, expressways and metro railway lines dubbed MRT by locals. Singapore has a highly centralised, unitary government with a unicameral legislature (the City Council and the Rural Board were abolished in the 1960s). While there are town councils and mayors in Singapore, these are essentially property managers in charge of the maintenance of public housing within their constituency boundaries. They do not represent local authorities with any legislative or executive autonomy from the national government.
Prior to the 19th century, Singapore was a minor part of various regional empires, including Srivijaya, Majapahit, Malacca and Johor. From 1826 to the Battle of Singapore in 1942, Singapore was the capital of the Straits Settlements, a British colony that included the Settlements of Malacca and Penang along the Straits of Malacca. After the Second World War, Singapore was hived off as a separate colony while the other two Settlements joined the Malay States to form the Federation of Malaya. In 1963, Singapore merged with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia. However, because of a number of problems, Singapore was expelled from the federation in 1965, becoming an independent republic.
Since 1965, Singapore rapidly industrialised and modernised, becoming one of the four "Asian Tigers". In addition to the substantial absolute and per-capita size of its economy, Singapore maintains a significant armed forces. It ranks highly in terms of defence spending and troop size.
Despite its small land area, Singapore has a population, economy and armed forces that place it in a similar league to small, but full-fledged nations like New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and the Nordic countries (i.e., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), rather than semi-dependent microstates. Singapore also maintains a diplomatic corps and has memberships in international organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Singapore places emphasis on self-sufficiency in basic needs, like water. The government also stockpiles other key resources, such as sand and oil. In this way, Singapore tries to avoid overdependence economically, politically or militarily on larger entities. Accordingly, Singapore may represent the most-complete contemporary example of a city-state, meeting the full definitions of both a city and a fully sovereign state.
Until 1870, the city of Rome had been controlled by the pope as part of his Papal States. When King Victor Emmanuel II seized the city in 1870, Pope Pius IX refused to recognize the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. Because he could not travel without effectively acknowledging the authority of the king, Pius IX and his successors each claimed to be a "Prisoner in the Vatican", unable to leave the 0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi) papal enclave once they had ascended the papal thrones.
The impasse was resolved in 1929 by the Lateran Treaties negotiated by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini between King Victor Emmanuel III and Pope Pius XI. Under this treaty, the Vatican was recognized as an independent state, with the Pope as its head. The Vatican City State has its own citizenship, diplomatic corps, flag, and postage stamps. With a population of less than 1,000 (mostly clergymen), it is by far the smallest sovereign country in the world.
Some cities or urban areas, while not sovereign states, may nevertheless enjoy such a high degree of autonomy that they function as "city-states" within the context of the sovereign state that they belong to. Historian Mogens Herman Hansen describes this aspect of self-government as: "The city-state is a self-governing, but not necessarily independent political unit."
- Ceuta and Melilla (Spain)
- Chinese Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong and Macau
- Gibraltar (United Kingdom)
Stadtstaaten of Germany
- Altepetl, a Mesoamerican political unit similar to a city state
- Pyu city-states
- List of fictional city-states in literature
- Free imperial city
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- Malta - European Central Bank
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