Are there modern city-states

What is a city-state? Definition and modern examples

Simply put, a city-state is an independent country that exists entirely within the boundaries of a single city. The term originated in late 19th century England and was also used to refer to superpowers of the early world such as ancient Rome, Carthage, Athens, and Sparta. Today Monaco, Singapore and the Vatican City are considered the only true city-states.

Major takeaways: city-state

  • A city-state is an independent, self-governing country that lies entirely within the boundaries of a single city.
  • The ancient empires of Rome, Carthage, Athens, and Sparta are considered early examples of city-states.
  • In the past numerous, there are now only a few real city-states. They are small and dependent on trade and tourism.
  • The only three city-states agreed today are Monaco, Singapore and the Vatican City.


City State Definition

The city-state is a usually small, independent country made up of a single city whose government exercises full sovereignty or control over itself and all areas within its borders. Unlike more traditional multi-jurisdiction countries, where political powers are shared between the national government and various regional governments, the individual city of the city-state functions as the center of political, economic and cultural life.

Historically, the first recognized city-states developed during the classical period of Greek civilization in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. The Greek term for city-states, "Polis", comes from the Acropolis (448 BC), which served as the government center of ancient Athens.

Both the popularity and spread of the city-state flourished until the turbulent fall of Rome in AD 476, which led to the almost complete annihilation of the form of government. The city-states saw a minor revival in the 11th century AD when several Italian examples such as Naples and Venice achieved considerable economic prosperity.


Properties of city-states

The unique feature of a city-state that sets it apart from other types of government is its sovereignty or independence. This means that a city-state has the full right and power to rule itself and its citizens, without interference from outside governments. For example, the government of the city-state of Monaco, although entirely located in France, is not subject to French law or guidelines.

Due to their sovereignty, city-states differ from other forms of state institutions such as “autonomous regions” or territories. While autonomous regions are functionally political subdivisions of a central national government, they retain different degrees of self-government or autonomy from that central government. Hong Kong and Macau in the People's Republic of China and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom are examples of autonomous regions.

In contrast to ancient city-states like Rome and Athens, which became powerful enough to conquer and annex large swaths of land around them, modern city-states remain small. Without the space needed for agriculture or industry, the economies of the three modern city-states are dependent on trade or tourism. For example, Singapore has the second largest seaport in the world, and Monaco and Vatican City are two of the most popular travel destinations in the world.


Modern city-states

While several non-sovereign cities such as Hong Kong and Macau as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates are sometimes considered to be city-states, they actually function as autonomous regions. Most geographers and political scientists agree that the three modern true city-states are Monaco, Singapore, and the Vatican City.



Monaco is a city-state on the French Mediterranean coast. With a land area of ​​0.78 square miles and an estimated 38,500 permanent residents, it is the second smallest but most densely populated nation in the world. Monaco has been a voting member of the United Nations since 1993 and employs a constitutional form of government of the monarchy. Although it maintains a small military, Monaco relies on France for defense. Monaco's economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism and is known for its upscale Monte-Carlo casino district, luxury hotels, Grand Prix motorsport, and yacht-lined harbor.



Singapore is an island city-state in Southeast Asia. With around 5.3 million inhabitants on an area of ​​270 square kilometers, it is the second most populated country in the world after Monaco. Singapore became an independent republic, city, and sovereign country in 1965 after being expelled from the Malaysian Federation. According to its constitution, Singapore uses a representative democratic form of government with its own currency and fully trained armed forces. With the fifth largest GDP per capita in the world and an enviable low unemployment rate, Singapore's economy thrives on exporting a wide variety of consumer goods.


Vatican city

The city-state of Vatican City is the smallest independent country in the world. The Vatican City political system was created by the Lateran Treaty of 1929 with Italy and is controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, with the Pope serving as legislative, legal and executive head of government. The permanent population of the city of around 1,000 residents consists almost entirely of Catholic clergy. As a neutral country with no military of its own, Vatican City has never been involved in a war. The Vatican City economy relies on the sale of stamps, historical publications, memorabilia, donations, investing in its reserves, and museum entrance fees.


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