Enduring City-States: The Struggle for Power and Security in the Mediterranean Sea
By Zachary B. Topkis
Senior Thesis, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, 2015
The world is an ever changing place that has witnessed the rise and fall of a multitude of vast empires, the formation and break-up of alliances, and the invention of institutions and specializations that people have endeavoured to create. Most of history focuses on the bigger picture, the so called “Big Players” or superpowers that are thought to control and be the main avenue for change. Past historians have concentrated on national histories, which in turn have dominated the narrative.
However, this will never add up to be a complete history as small nations or cities have proven to play pivotal roles in historical events. These important moments in history are where the City-State, or ancient Polis, come into play as serious political, military, and commercial actors. The question is, not that of national histories, but instead a manner of scale and understanding the fact that national boundaries were not distinct and were fairly permeable which helps explain the massive cultural contacts that occur within this region of the world. This thesis will examine medieval and early modern city-states in the Mediterranean as illustrative of political, commercial and military responses to threats and opportunities in the premodern period instead of focusing on larger states and empires that seemingly dominate the Mediterranean world.
Top Image: Venice in 1565 – Venice, engraving by Hogenberg and Braun from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum