The Personality of the Greek State

Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 129, 2009

22 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2009

Date Written: October 8, 2009


Were the poleis of classical Greece state-based or stateless communities? Do their political structures meet standard criteria for full statehood? Conventional wisdom maintains that they do not. According to a broad consensus, the classical polis was neither state-based nor stateless as such, but something somewhere in between: a unique, category-defying formation that was somehow both 'state' and 'society' simultaneously, a kind of inseparable fusion of the two. The current paper offers an alternative perspective on this complex but fundamental issue. It questions prevailing views on theoretical grounds, suggesting that the consensus 'fusionist' position rests ultimately upon a misunderstanding of what Thomas Hobbes would call the 'personality' of polis political structures. Focusing on the case of classical Athens, it then proceeds to present a new account of the Greek 'state', an account that aims to be both theoretically satisfying and heuristically useful. Even if all those who performed state functions were simultaneously constituents of polis 'society', the state was nevertheless perceived to function as an autonomous agency, possessing a corporate personality that was quite distinct from the individual personalities of the living, breathing citizens who happened to instantiate it at any particular time.

Keywords: ancient Greece, Athens, Greek polis, statehood, state personality, state theory, democracy, political theory, demos

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Greg, The Personality of the Greek State (October 8, 2009). Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 129, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Greg Anderson (Contact Author)

Ohio State University ( email )

Department of History, 271 Dulles Hall
230 W. 17th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States
614-247-8040 (Phone)

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