The ancient Greek city-states serve as the birthplace of Western civilization. It is for this reason that such ancient powers as Athens and Sparta are household names in the modern world. Within Ancient Greece, there are often-overlooked city-states that played major roles in war, trade, and politics. Moreover, city-states existed alongside the great empires of the Middle Ages. The formation and dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and its subsequent dissolution played a major role in the significance of these cities.
Ancient Corinth traces its origins to 3000 BC, but it wasn’t until the 8th century BC when the city-state developed as a hub of commerce. Starting at this period, the city was ruled by the Bacchiads until their overthrow by Cypselus. In 550 BC, the government was taken by oligarchy and allied with the Spartans in the Persian Wars. Following victory, Corinth pursued and maintained its independence.
The location of the city allowed for extensive trade, earning it a reputation as one of the wealthiest Greek city-states with an estimated population of 90,000 by 400 B.C. Trade was conducted through two separate city ports along ancient trade routes. Corinth is home to one of the major architectural orders of ancient Greece, the same one that invented the Corinthian columns featured at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
The Republic of Venice
In the wake of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the Venetian city-state served as a refuge for Europeans from the mainland fleeing persecution. The salt trade served as its early financial backbone, though it went on to dominate maritime trade in the Mediterranean. The rise of the Venetian merchant class led to patronage of the arts and architecture that established the city as a beacon of culture. As a republic, it was ruled by the Duke of Venice, elected by the city’s parliament, the Great Council of Venice.
Venice accumulated extraordinary wealth throughout the High Middle Ages as it controlled trade between Europe and the Levant. Its maritime activities also led to the establishment of a war fleet that was employed during the crusades. Two hundred of these ships were instrumental in the capture of Syria during the first crusade. The beginning of its downfall was marked by the opening of trade routes to the Americas, where it could no longer control the seas. Subsequent defeats by the Ottomans and later Napoleon led to the division of the city-state into several republics annexed to the French, Austrians, Cisalpines, and Ionians. It wasn’t until the 19th century when Venice was incorporated into a unified Italy.
Augsburg was originally founded by the Roman Empire in 15 BC, eventually to go on as the capital of Raetia in 120 AD. From its early history, it was a prosperous hub of trade. In the 13th century, Augsburg became a Free Imperial City from under the Prince-Bishop of Ausburg and remained independent until 1803. The city remained strategically placed along major trade routes and continued to develop under conditions of affluence. Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries the city saw the development of financial institutions, and it flourished in the arts. It also attained a reputation for craftsmanship, especially in goldsmithing.
Augsburg saw its first major conflict during the Thirty Years War. In the wake of an unpopular Edict of Restitution under the Holy Roman Empire, Swedish forces took the city without resistance but clashed with Catholic forces shortly thereafter, leading to massive casualties. The city was eventually reincorporated back into the Holy Roman Empire with its independence intact and continued its run until the dissolution of the empire and its annexation to the kingdom of Bavaria.