Towns of ancient Greece

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While the archetype settlement in ancient Greece was the self governing city state called ‘the polis’ there were other types of settlement.


A Kome is typically translated as a village that was also a political unit.

The translation isn’t exact though, according to Thucydides although a polis, Sparta resembled four unwalled villages. Similarly, a kome could also be a neighbourhood within a larger polis or its own rural settlement.

Thucydides mused that the Polis’ had developed from the older Kome.


A Katoikia was similar to a polis[citation needed]. Typically a military colony with some municipal institutions, but not those of a full Polis. The word derives from the Greek "to inhabit" or settlement and is the cognate of the Latin civitas.

In the Classical era there were comparatively few Katoikia. However, with the rise of large centralised 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. While many went on to be fully independent polis of their own some did not. 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 cities polis, with citizenship being retained by the settlers and may have functioned like a Kome.

Military settlements[edit]

Within the Greek world several military establishments resembled civilian towns.

  • A Phrourion was a fortified collection of buildings being used as a military garrison and is the equivalent of the Roman castellum or English fortress. The word carries a sense of being a watching entity.
  • Stratopedon were "army camps" and are the equivalent to the Roman Castra. These differed from phrourion in that they would not normally have been permanent.