Doomed to extinction
Mon May 11 00:38:15 2009
In his article “Doomed to Extinction: The Polis as an Evolutionary Dead-End” W. G. Runciman argues that the polis was a kind of political and social structure that could only survive in proximity to other similar structures but had great disadvantages in trying to compete in a wider and more varied political landscape.
There were three main reasons for this. Their economic institutions were limited to the individual oikos or landholder and lacked centralized control. The change from militia to mercenary warfare left the polis less able to support and maintain a sufficiently large and permanent armed force. The fragmentary and individualized nature of citizenship made it hard to unite them in larger common interests. These three problems had a tendency to reinforce each other.
He argues that the Roman and Venetian Republics were able to succeed where the Greek polis failed because they had an elite class with an effective monopoly on political and military power (in the case of Rome) or economic and commercial power (in the case of Venice). The Greek polis was too fragmentary and democratic to concentrate and reinforce it’s military or economic assets and hence unable to hold out against those states that could, in this case Macedon.