Hellas was a world of cities. So this topic is for forumers to talk about the cities of Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greek civilization was a civilization of a distinctively urban character, as the majority of the ancient Greek lived in cities and towns (according to Hansen 2006, the total walled area of all Greek cities totalled 500 square kilometers, that was nearly 40 times the walled area of late Imperial Rome*, enough to house about 60-70% of the population of ancient Greece). The average Greek city was small though, as there were 1,000-1,100 Greek cities spread over the Mediterranean in the late 4th century BCE, at the time of Alexander the Great. There were other city state cultures in world history, like the Italian city states of the Renaissance and the Phoenician city states, but none of reached the same scale as the Greeks, at over 1,000 independent cities.
As result of their distinctive urban character, the Greeks didn't called their states Cities, instead of Countries, a word derived from Countryside. The word country was adopted because historically the majority of the population of states lived in the countryside. Since the majority of Greek always lived in cities and each city was an independent political community, citizens called their "country" city.
Priene was a typical Greek poleis, at 6,000 inhabitants, 4,000 lived in the city center and 2,000 lived in the countryside, according to modern archaeological surveys, it was of typical size. Hansen (2006) estimated that the 1,000-1,100 Greek cities housed 8-10 million inhabitants, the average would be 7,000-10,000, but huge cities like Athens, Syracuse and Sparta pulled the average from the median. While small compared to country-states, these 3 city states had populations in the order of hundreds of thousands living inside their borders, dozens of times bigger than other city states.
Priene city block:
The largest and oldest Greek cities weren't planned, as result their houses were closely packed and not so comfortable. As Greece became richer with time, and houses grew bigger, cities also adapted and cities started to be build according to planned rules. We can even notice that cities had an older unplanned part with smaller houses and higher density and a newer planned part with houses arranged in blocks of standard size. The two best excavated cities of Ancient Greece were Priene and Olynthus. In Priene city blocks contained 8 houses, each house had 207 square meters at base. In Olynthus city blocks contained 10 houses and each house had 296 square meters at base. The houses in Priene were smaller partly because the rough hilly terrain.
Athens was a an unplanned city, as result Athenian houses were smaller, averaging 150 square meters, and were uglier. Athenian houses:
So, about 60-70% of the Greeks lived in towns and cities, 30% if we count only the bigger towns (over 5,000, therefore Priene doesn't count as urban), while in Medieval Europe 5% of the population resided in towns, rising to 9% in the 16th century while in Tang Dynasty China it is estimated that 4,7% of the population resided in towns. Even in England, only in the early 19th century that over 30% of the population became urban and only in 1860 that 60% of the population was urban. Usually agricultural societies had rates of urbanization below 10%, usually hovering around 3-6%, like Tang China and Medieval Europe.
How the Greeks managed to reach such high levels of urbanization in relation to other agricultural societies? For 3 main reasons:
1 - Large scale food imports. The Greeks, particularly Athens, imported huge quantities of food from other mediterranean regions. It was generally estimated that one third of all food consumed in Classical Greece proper was imported. While Athens imported about 66% to 75% of their food. Large scale food imports allowed people to work on other activities, usually manufacturing. Athens paid for their food imports with manufactured products, as it was estimated by Takeshi Amemiya that over 50% of Athens GDP came from industrial activity. Trade was a vital component of the economy of the Greek cities, as evidenced by the size of Athens' port (walled area was bigger than the city itself, also note that the port was build later than the city so it was a planned city):
The ancient greek economy was perhaps transcending the constrains usually imposed by the pre industrial ceiling, though the intensive use of sea trade.
2 - Urban farmers: Many farmers lived inside city walls. They had their house inside the city and walked a few miles every day to work on their fields. Many excavated houses show that it was common for people to work on the field and to have a workshop at home, making money when out of season for farming.
3 - High levels of productivity in agriculture: Ancient Greek agriculture reached very high levels of productivity. The heavy use of manure, the spacial division of crops, where grain, olives and grapes were cultivated in the relatively best soil and traded using the mediterranean sea as a transportation system, and the extensive use of metal tools enabled agricultural productivity to reach levels only again equaled in the 19th century in dry farming.
These 3 factors enabled the population to migrate to the cities instead of living on farmsteads or agricultural villages, which enabled many people to become poets, philosophers, sculptors and cool artsy stuff like that.
*However, the total population of all Greek cities didn't reach anywhere near 40 times the population of late Imperial Rome, as the population density of the Greek cities was much lower, as the Greeks lived in spacious houses while imperial Romans lived in crowded apartment buildings 4-5 stories high. The population of all Greek cities probably totaled around 5 million people, less if you exclude the small towns of less than 5,000 inhabitants.
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Polis-Introduction-Ancient-Greek-City-State/dp/0199208506/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b"]Amazon.com: Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State (9780199208500): Mogens Herman Hansen: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41dywguCJ3L.@@AMEPARAM@@41dywguCJ3L[/ame]
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Shotgun-Method-Demography-City-State-BIOGRAPHY/dp/0826216676/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1304728925&sr=8-1"]Amazon.com: The Shotgun Method: The Demography of the Ancient Greek City-State Culture (MISSOURI BIOGRAPHY SERIES) (9780826216670): Mogens Herman Hansen: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51IFi6idgrL.@@AMEPARAM@@51IFi6idgrL[/ame]
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Economy-Evidence-Science-History/dp/0804757550/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304729726&sr=1-3"]Amazon.com: The Ancient Economy: Evidence and Models (Social Science History) (9780804757553): J.G. Manning, Ian Morris: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41GFdEwMNqL.@@AMEPARAM@@41GFdEwMNqL[/ame]
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Economy-Economics-Routledge-Explorations-Economic/dp/0415701546/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1304731563&sr=8-4"]Amazon.com: Economy and Economics of Ancient Greece (Routledge Explorations in Economic History) (9780415701549): Takeshi Amemiya: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41EaMUNAytL.@@AMEPARAM@@41EaMUNAytL[/ame]
papers/monographs http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/ober/051001.pdf ian
.pdf (read pages 43-46 on Greece)