Politeia (πολιτεία) is an ancient Greek word used in Greek
political thought, especially that of
Plato and Aristotle. Derived
from the word polis ("city-state"), it has a range of meanings[example
needed], from "the rights of citizens" to a "form of government".
1 English translations of the Greek word
Politeia in the work of the authors of Antiquity
Plato and Cicero
5 External links
English translations of the Greek word
According to Liddell and Scott's
Greek-English Lexicon a meaning of
politeia is "the conditions and rights of the citizen, or
citizenship", analogous to the
Politeia, in Greek means the community of citizens in a city /
state. It should not be confused with "regime" that is meant by
politeuma or "Status quo" that is meant by kathestos. The regime
is the word describing the political situation of the community of
citizens in a city/state, and "kathestos" means also the general
situation of an object, an agreement, or something else.
"Politeia" is derived from both the root word polis meaning
city/state, and from the verb politeuomai that means “I am living
as an active citizen of the polis.”
People living in a Greek city/state were not necessarily citizens. A
person that was ostracized from the active matrix of the city was an
example of such.[vague] Another example was people who lived in the
city but were not active citizens who had a say in the political
processes of the community. Women, slaves and others who were deemed
unworthy for some reason were not in the active matrix of the
political formations of that city state, making them not-citizens, so
not part of "politeia".
In the works of ancient Greek philosophers, the principal meaning of
politeia appears to be: "how a polis is run; constitution". A politeia
differs from modern written constitutions in two respects: first, not
all Greek states put their laws in writing; more importantly, the
Greeks did not normally distinguish between ordinary and
constitutional legislation. If a certain body had the power to change
the laws, it had the power to change the laws controlling its own
power and membership - even to abolish itself and set up a new
The phrases system of government, state organisation, form of
government, and, more recently, régime have also been used to
Régime has drawbacks: it is ambiguous where
politeia is not, since a change of régime can mean a change of
governors under the same form of government. It has a negative tone in
English, which politeia does not in Greek. It is also a loan-word; and
in that regard, has no advantage over simply adopting politeia itself.
Some translators thus use a different term for this second meaning of
politeia. Most common is the vague term polity. Specific translations
of this second meaning as constitutional democracy or republic are at
least anachronistic, and in most instances contentious and/or
inaccurate. Some translators feel it is incorrect to translate the
same word in different ways, arguing that the ambiguity must have been
deliberate and that it is impossible to always know which way the word
should be rendered.
In the Greek
New Testament politeia is translated as "commonwealth" or
"freedom" in Ephesians 2:12 and Acts 22:28.
Politeia in the work of the authors of Antiquity
Plato and Cicero
Politeia is the original title of the book by
Plato now commonly known
in English as The Republic.
Cicero translated politeia as res publica
(see also: De re publica), from which the modern word republic comes.
Note that the meanings the ancient Romans attached to res publica were
also multiple and only partially overlapping with the Greek politeia,
and further that few of the multiple meanings of politeia or res
publica are much of an equivalent to republic as it is understood in
modern political science.
Constitution of the Athenians (Athenaion Politeia), Aristotle
uses politeia for eleven states of the Athenian government up to his
own time, from the absolute monarchy of
Ionia and the tyranny of the
Thirty to the democratic Assembly and selection by lot of Pericles's
time and his own. He may have added that the absolute monarchy of Ion
was "less political" than that of Theseus or the later
constitutions, but the text is doubtful.
In his Politics,
Aristotle clearly uses politeia both as above and
also in a more restricted sense. Exactly what this sense is, and
Aristotle is using it in a consistent manner, have both been
long debated. By careful choice of quotation, all of the following can
A specific form of government.
Aristotle classified constitutions on
two grounds: how many citizens had a voice in making the laws; and
whether they did so considering the good of all citizens, or only
their own. Along with monarchy and aristocracy politeia is one of the
three virtuous forms of government. While monarchy is the rule by one,
and aristocracy by the few, politeia is rule by the many. [This
thought is disputed: While monarchy is the rule by one who is most
excellent and virtuous, and aristocracy is the rule of the best, who
are generally few, politeia is the quality or condition of a city or
state ruled by the decent citizens, who are generally many.]
A constitution that does not fit into this sixfold classification,
because it has features of more than one of them: the constitutions of
Carthage, Sparta, and [at least one of the cities of] Crete.
A constitution which mixes oligarchy and democracy (terms which, as
used by Aristotle, refer to vicious kinds of constitutions).
A constitution in which the hoplites governed. This is more
restrictive than the Athens of Aristotle's time. Athens was a naval
power, and many citizens were allowed to vote, and served the state
well in war, who could not afford massive metal armor.
In Book III of his Politics (1279a),
Aristotle seems to indicate that,
in principle, politeia refers generically to any form of government or
constitution, although he uses the word also to call a particular form
of government: “When the citizens at large govern for the public
good, it is called by the name common to all governments (politeion),
Aristotle uses the same term to refer to at least two distinct
ideas has confused readers for millennia. For instance, later
Aristotle refers to the ideal politeia as one using a mixed
government. But it is uncertain whether he is referring to governments
in general or to a specific form.
New Testament politeia refers both the Greek World as well as
to the nation of Israel.
Strong's Concordance defines the term as:
Signifies (a) "the relation in which a citizen stands to the state,
the condition of a citizen, citizenship," Acts 22:28, "with a great
sum obtained I this citizenship" (KJV, "freedom"). While Paul's
"citizenship" of Tarsus was not of advantagre outside that city, yet
his Roman "citizenship" availed throughout the Roman Empire and,
besides private rights, included (1) exemption from all degrading
punishments; (2) a right of appeal to the emperor after a sentence;
(3) a right to be sent to Rome for trial before the emperor if charged
with a capital offense. Paul's father might have obtained
"citizenship" (1) by manumission; (2) as a reward of merit; (3) by
purchase; the contrast implied in Acts 22:28 is perhaps against the
last mentioned; (b) "a civil polity, the condition of a state, a
commonwealth," said of Israel, Ephesians 2:12.
^ πολιτεία. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A
Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
^ Fletcher, Lancelot R. "On the title of Plato's
^ πολίτευμα in Liddell and Scott.
^ καθεστώς in Liddell and Scott.
^ "The ancient Greek city-state and town". Archived from the original
^ Bates, Clifford Angell. "The problem with POLITEIA as polity in
^ According to the Loeb translation.
A Greek-English Lexicon,
Henry George Liddell
Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott,
revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the
assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1940,
Online version at Perseus website. 9th edition, with a revised
supplement, edited by P.G.W. Glare, with the assistance of A.A.
Thompson: 1996, ISBN 0-19-864226-1.
Democracy in the Politics of
Aristotle - Glossary by Thomas R. Martin,
with Neel Smith & Jennifer F. Stua