What explains the glory that was Greece? Actually, sound economic policy:”

By the later fourth century B.C., when Aristotle was writing his masterpiece on Politics, there were about 1,100 Greek city-states, or poleis. They stretched from outposts in Spain and France through southern Italy and Sicily to the shores of the Black Sea and western Anatolia and south to eastern and southern outposts in Syria and North Africa. The total population of Hellas — that is, the residents of small states that were substantially Greek in language and culture — was in excess of 8 million; about a third of them lived in “urban” areas (towns of more than 5,000 people). They inhabited relatively large and well-built houses, lived relatively long lives and produced and consumed very substantial quantities of high quality goods.

Among the central questions raised by ancient Greek history is how and why such an extensive small-state system persisted in such a flourishing condition for such a long time. In an inversion of the experience of Europe from 1500 to 1900 or China from circa 700 to 200 B.C.E., where systems of small state fell to the centralizing logics of state-building and empire, there were many more independent states in the Greek ecology by at the height of the classical efflorescence than there had been several hundred years previously. Moreover, many of them were organized as democracies.

Why, during the era of efflorescence, did the many states of Hellas not consolidate into a unitary empire, on the model of Persia, Carthage or Rome? Or, failing that, into several large competitor states on the model of ancient Phoenicia, Warring States China or Europe circa 1500 to 1900? Ancient Greek history points to an alternative to the dominant narrative of political and economic development…