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Monaco, an example of a city-state.
Vatican City, a city-state well known for being the smallest country in the world.

A city-state is a sovereign state consisting of a city and its dependent territories.[1][2] Historically this included famous cities like Rome, Athens, Carthage[2] 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. A number of other states share similar characteristics and therefore are sometimes also cited as modern city-states. These include Malta,[3][4][5][6] Bahrain,[7][8] and San Marino[7][9][10] which are microstates with high population densities; as well as Qatar,[8][11] Brunei,[7] and Kuwait,[7][8][12] each characterised by a highly populated urban center comprising a significant proportion of the population.

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.[7][9][13]


  • Historical background 1
    • Ancient and medieval world 1.1
    • Southeast Asia 1.2
    • 19th and 20th century Europe 1.3
      • 20th century cities under international supervision 1.3.1
        • Danzig
        • Fiume
        • Tangier
        • Memel
        • Trieste
  • Modern city-states 2
    • Monaco 2.1
    • Singapore 2.2
    • Vatican City 2.3
  • Non-sovereign city-states 3
    • Stadtstaaten of Germany 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Historical background

Ancient and medieval world

Historical examples of city-states 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; the city-states of the Swahili coast; 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.[14]

The Republic of Ragusa, a maritime city-state, was based in the walled city of Dubrovnik.

In Cyprus, the Phoenician settlement of Kition (in present-day Larnaca) was a city-state that existed from around 800 BC until the end of the 4th century BC.

Some of the most well-known examples of city-state culture in human history include the ancient Greek city-states and the merchant city-states of empire and the nation-state.[15]

Southeast Asia

In the history of 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.[16][17][18]

19th and 20th century Europe

In the 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[19][20] 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.

Modern city-states


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.


Overview of Singapore's financial district

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. Singapore was part of Malaysia before it exited the federation in 1965, becoming an independent republic and city state.

Vatican City

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.

Non-sovereign city-states

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."[7]

Stadtstaaten of Germany

Three cities in Germany, namely Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, are sometimes considered city-states (German: Stadtstaaten). Together with thirteen area states (German: Flächenländer) they form the sixteen federal states of Germany.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "city-state". Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "city-state". Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "The emblem of Malta, Department of Information, Official Website of President of Malta". Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "This very crowded isle: England is most over-populated country in EU" – Daily Mail
  5. ^ 'Draft National Strategy for the Cultural and Creative Industries – Creative Malta''"'". Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  6. ^ Malta - European Central Bank
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Mogens, Hansen. 2000. "Introduction: The Concepts of City-States and City-State Culture." In A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures, Copenhagen: Copenhagen Polis Centre. Pg. 19
  8. ^ a b c Parker, Geoffrey. 2005. Sovereign City: The City-state Through History Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pg. 219
  9. ^ a b Parker, Geoffrey. 2005. Sovereign City: The City-state Through History Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  10. ^ Mogens, Hansen. 2002. A Comparative Study of Six City-State Cultures: An Investigation Pg. 91
  11. ^ Roberts, David. 2014. Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-state. London: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.
  12. ^ El-Katiri, Laura, Bassam Fattouh and Paul Segal. 2011 Anatomy of an oil-based welfare state: rent distribution in Kuwait. Kuwait City: Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States
  13. ^ Kotkin, Joel. 2010. "A New Era for the City-State?" In Forbes.
  14. ^ Holm, Poul, "Viking Dublin and the City-State Concept: Parameters and Significance of the Hiberno-Norse Settlement" (Respondent: Donnchadh Ó Corráin), in Mogens Herman Hansen (ed.), A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures. Denmark: Special-Trykkeriet Viborg. (University of Copenhagen, Polis Center). 2000. pp. 251–62.
  15. ^ Sri Aurobindo, "Ideal of Human Unity" included in Social and Political Thought, 1970.
  16. ^ Scott, James. 2009. An Anarchists History of Upland Southeast Asia.
  17. ^ Winichakul, Thongchai. 1997. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press
  18. ^ Baker, Chris and Pasuk Phongpaichit. 2009. A History of Thailand: 2nd ed. Sydney: Cambridge University Press
  19. ^  
  20. ^ Samerski, Stefan (2003). Das Bistum Danzig in Lebensbildern (in German). LIT Verlag. p. 8.  
  21. ^ Lulat, Y. G.-M. (2015). A History of African Higher Education from Antiquity to the Present. Greenwood Publishing. p. 197.  

Further reading

  • Mogens Herman Hansen (ed.), A comparative study of thirty city-state cultures : an investigation conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre, Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2000. (Historisk-filosofiske skrifter, 21). ISBN 87-7876-177-8.
  • Mogens Herman Hansen (ed.), A comparative study of six city-state cultures : an investigation, Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2002. (Historisk-filosofiske skrifter, 27). ISBN 87-7876-316-9.
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