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A city-state is an independent entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as part of another local government.

Whereas nation-states rely on a common heritage, be it linguistic, historical, economic, etc., the city-state relies on the common interest in the function of the urban center. The urban center and its activity supplies the livelihoods of all urbanites inhabiting the city-state.


Historical city-states

Examples include the city-states of ancient Greece (the poleis such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth), the Phoenician cities of Canaan (such as Tyre and Sidon), the Sumerian cities of Mesopotamia (such as Babylon and Ur), the Maya of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (including sites such as Chichen Itza and El Mirador), the central Asian cities along the Silk Road (which includes Samarkand and Bukhara), and the city-states of Italy (such as Florence, Genoa, Siena, Venice and many others) and Croatian city-state of Ragusa (Dubrovnik).

Within the transalpine part of the Holy Roman Empire the Free Imperial Cities enjoyed a considerable autonomy, buttressed legally by the Lübeck law which was emulated by many other cities. Some cities — though also members of different confederacies at that time — officially became sovereign city-states in the 19th century — such as the Canton of Basel City (1833–48), the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (1806–11 and again 1813–71), the Free City of Frankfurt upon Main (1815–66), the Canton of Geneva (1813–48), the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (1806–11 and again 1814–71) and the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck (1806–11 and again 1813–71). Another city-state, though lacking sovereignty, was West Berlin (1948–90), being a state legally not belonging to any other state, but ruled by the Western Allies. They allowed — not withstanding their overlordship as occupant powers — its internal organisation as one state simultaneously being a city, officially called Berlin (West). Though West Berlin held close ties to the West German Federal Republic of Germany, it was legally never part of it. A number of the aforementioned city-states — though partly with altered borders — continue to exist as city-states within today's Federal Republic of Germany and today's Swiss Confederation (see below: 'Cities that are component states of federations').

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