Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Papers,
Lund University, Department of Economics

No 2001:17: The origins of the Polis. An economic perspective on institutional change in ancient Greece 1000-600 B.C.

Carl Hampus Lyttkens ()
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Carl Hampus Lyttkens: Department of Economics, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economics, School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Box 7082, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: From a beginning of small isolated settlements, the city-state (polis) emerged in Greece in the course of four centuries as a political, geographical and judicial unit, with an assembly, council, magistrates and written laws. Using a rational-actor perspective, it is shown how this process was driven by competition among the members of the elite. A crucial ingredient was the gradual consolidation of boundaries, which contributed to population growth, inter-state conflicts, colonisation and a more fierce competition for power. Variations over time in the conditions for competition explain both the introduction of formal political institutions and their overthrow by tyrants.

Keywords: institutional change; ancient Greece; city-state; competition

JEL-codes: D23; N43; P14; P16

38 pages, First version: September 15, 2001. Revised: September 30, 2004.

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Published as
Carl Hampus Lyttkens, (2006), 'Reflections on the origins of the polis. An economic perspective on institutional change in ancient Greece', Constitutional Political Economy, vol 17, no 1, pages 31-48

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