Definitions - Empire, Country, City-State, Civilization Illustration

Definitions - Empire, Country, City-State, Civilization


What is a city-state?

A city-state is an independent city with its own government and own way of doing things, sometimes surrounded by or including dependent territories. Examples of city-states in ancient times would be Rome, Athens, Sparta, Carthage; and in modern times the city-state of Monaco. A city-state is NOT a small country with only one city in it. It is an independent city.

What is a country?

"A country is land that is controlled by a single government. Countries can be large or small. A country's land does not have to be connected." Britannica Kids

  • Ancient Rome: No, not a country. Ancient Rome was a civilization that grew from a small town to an empire. Ancient Rome was a city-state. 

  • Ancient Greece: No, not a country. This one is easy. Ancient Greece was a civilization composed of hundreds of ancient Greek city-states, each with their own government. When conquered by ancient Rome, Greece did not become a country; rather, each city-state became part of the Roman empire.

  • Ancient Macedonia (home of Alexander the Great): Yes, a country (located to the north of the ancient Greek city-states) that grew into an empire.

  • Ancient Egypt: No, not a country. Ancient Egypt was a civilization.

What is an empire?

The definition of an empire according to Britannica Kids: "An empire is a type of political unit. Throughout history countries have wanted to control lands beyond their borders. The word imperialism refers to the practice of a country's extending its political power - especially through the acquisition of conquered territory." Britannica Kids  The first requirement of becoming an empire is that first you need to be a civilization, typically a country, but sometimes a city-state will grow to become an empire. If you expand your borders considerably by any means, typically by conquering other countries or city-states, you grow to become an empire if, and only if, all lands are under one central government with one ruler. That ruler is sometimes called an emperor. Without a central government, a civilization cannot be classified as an empire.

Examples of an empire:

  • Ancient Rome: Yes, an empire. Ancient Rome grew from a city-state to an empire. Rome did expand her borders, and did conquer lands around the Mediterranean and as far away as Britain from the city of Rome. Rome did control all these lands under one ruler in power. In ancient Rome, that ruler was called an emperor.

  • Ancient Greece: No, not an empire. Although various city-states in ancient Greece established colonies around the Mediterranean, ancient Greece cannot be classified as an empire because every city-state had its own government - no central government in ancient Greece, and no one ruler in charge of all the Greek city-states. When ancient Rome conquered the ancient Greek city-states, ancient Greece still was not an empire; the Greek city-states became part of the Roman Empire. At no time was ancient Greece an empire.

  • Ancient Egypt: No, not an empire. Although ancient Egypt had a central government, with one ruler - Pharaoh - the ancient Egyptians were not interested in expanding their borders considerably. They loved their life along the Nile, where the Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea, and saw no reason to live anywhere else.

What is a civilization? 

Are all elements of a civilization of equal importance? (No.) Do you need all of the elements listed under "What is a civilization?" to be called a civilization? (No.) What are four really important elements of a civilization would you guess? There are many answers but some of the best might include: Agriculture, Government, Written Language, and Military Strength. Not all civilizations have central governments.