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

Where as the 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 Athensmarker, Spartamarker, Thebesmarker, and Corinthmarker), the Phoenicianmarker cities of Canaan (such as Tyremarker and Sidonmarker), the Sumerian cities of Mesopotamia (such as Babylonmarker and Urmarker), the Mayans of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (including sites such as Chichen Itzamarker and El Miradormarker), the central Asian cities along the Silk Road (which includes Samarkandmarker and Bukharamarker), and the city-states of Italy (especially Florence, Genoa, Sienamarker and Venicemarker) and Croatianmarker city-state of Ragusa .

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 Citymarker (1833-1848), the Free Hanseatic City of Bremenmarker (1806-1811 and again 1813-1871), the Free City of Frankfurt upon Mainmarker (1815-1866), the Canton of Genevamarker (1813-1848), the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburgmarker (1806-1811 and again 1814-1871) and the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeckmarker (1806-1811 and again 1813-1871). Another city-state, though lacking sovereignty, was West Berlin (1948-1990), 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 Germanymarker, it was legally never part of it. A number of the afore-mentioned city-states - though partly with altered borders - continue to exist as city-states within today's Federal Republic of Germanymarker and today's Swiss Confederation (see below: 'Cities that are component states of federations').

Among the most well-known periods of city-state culture in human history include ancient Greek city-states, and the merchant city-states of Renaissance Italy, who organised themselves in small independent centres. The success of small regional units coexisting as autonomous actors in loose geographical and cultural unity, as in Italymarker or Greecemarker, often prevented their amalgamation into larger national units. However, such small political entities often survived only for short periods because they lacked the resources to defend themselves against incursions by larger states. Thus they inevitably gave way to larger organisations of society, including the empire and the nation-state.

Contemporary city-states

Today there are only a handful of cities that exercise authority akin to a sub-regional state, and even fewer that are sovereign states in their own right.

Sovereign city-states


The Principality of Monacomarker is an independent city-state. Monaco-Villemarker (the ancient fortified city) and Monaco's well-known area Monte Carlomarker are districts of a continuous urban zone, not distinct cities, though they were three separate municipalities (communes) until 1917. The Principality of Monaco and the city of Monaco (each having specific powers) govern the same territory. On 28 June 1919, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, part of the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monegasque policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. Only in 1993 did Monaco become a member of the United Nations, with full voting rights. In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarifies that if there are no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the principality will remain an independent nation rather than revert to France (which were the terms of the previous arrangement). Monaco's military defence, however, is still the responsibility of France. Monaco did not receive its first foreign ambassador, the French ambassador, until 16 February 2006.


Singaporemarker is an island city-state in Southeast Asia. About 4.8 million people live and work within , making Singapore the 2nd-most-densely populated country in the world. The entire island functions as a single metropolitan area. The city centre in the south of the island is surrounded by satellite towns, parks, reservoirs and industrial estates, which are connected to the centre and each other by a dense network of roads, expressways and metro railway lines. Singapore has a highly centralised, unitary government with a unicameral legislature. While there are town councils and mayors in Singapore, these are essentially property managers in charge of the maintenance of public housing within their constituency boundaries. They do not represent local authorities with any legislative or executive autonomy from the national government.

Prior to the 19th century, Singapore was a minor part of various regional empires, including Srivijaya, Majapahit, Malacca and Johor. From 1826 to the Battle of Singaporemarker in 1942, Singapore was the capital of the Straits Settlementsmarker, a British colony that included the Settlements of Malaccamarker and Penangmarker along the Straits of Malaccamarker. After the Second World War, Singapore was hived off as a separate colony while the other two Settlements joined the Malay States to form the Federation of Malayamarker. In 1963, Singapore merged with Malaya, Sabahmarker and Sarawakmarker to form Malaysiamarker. However, because of a number of problems, Singapore left the federation in 1965, becoming an independent republic.

Since 1965, Singapore rapidly industrialised and modernised, becoming one of the four "Asian Tigers". In addition to the substantial absolute and per-capita size of its economy, Singapore maintains a significant armed forces. It ranks highly in terms of defence spending and troop size.

Despite its small land area, Singapore has a population, economy and armed forces that place it in a similar league to small, but full-fledged nations like New Zealandmarker, Irelandmarker, Israelmarker and the Nordic countries (i.e., Denmarkmarker, Finlandmarker, Icelandmarker, Norwaymarker and Swedenmarker), rather than semi-dependent microstates. Singapore also maintains a diplomatic corps and has memberships in international organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Singapore places emphasis on self-sufficiency in basic needs, like water. The government also stockpiles other key resources, such as sand and oil. In this way, Singapore tries to avoid overdependence economically, politically or militarily on larger entities. As such, Singapore may represent the most-complete contemporary example of a city-state, meeting the full definitions of both a city and a fully sovereign state.

Vatican City

Until 1870, the city of Romemarker had been controlled by the pope as part of his "papal statesmarker". When King Victor Emmanuel II annexed the city in 1870, Pope Pius IX refused to recognize the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. Because he could not travel through a place that he did not admit existed, Pius IX and his successors each claimed to be a "Prisoner in the Vatican", unable to leave the 0.44 km² (0.17-square mile) papal enclave once they had ascended the papal throne.

The impasse was resolved in 1929 by the Lateran Treaties negotiated by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini between King Victor Emmanuel III and Pope Pius XI. Under this treaty, the Vatican was recognized as an independent state, with the pope as its head. The Vatican City Statemarker has its own citizenship, diplomatic corps, flag, and postage stamps. With a population of less than 1,000, it is by far the smallest sovereign country in the world, and widely recognized internationally as such.


Countries that have a very high proportion of their population within a single city, such as Kuwaitmarker and Djiboutimarker, are sometimes referred to as virtual or near city-states, especially when they are relatively small in total land area; however, city-states are not small nation-states. Likewise, cities with their own quasi-sovereign states in larger nations or federations, like Dubaimarker in the United Arab Emiratesmarker, do not technically qualify as city-states.

The United Nations lists seven small jurisdictions as having exclusively urban populations. Apart from Monaco and Singapore, the list contains Nauru and four British overseas territories: Anguillamarker, Bermudamarker, the Cayman Islandsmarker and Gibraltarmarker.

Non-sovereign city-states

Some cities or urban areas, while not sovereign states, may nevertheless enjoy such a high degree of autonomy that they function as "city-states" within the context of the sovereign state that they belong to.

Cities that are component states of federations

Some cities or metropolitan areas are component states of federations. Examples include:

Federally-administered cities

A federal country may also have one or more cities that are federally administered:

Washington, D.C.

Not being part of any U.S. state, Washington, D.C.marker's government operates under authority derived from the U.S. federal government. The city (generally referred to as "the District") is run by an elected mayor and a city council. The council is composed of 13 members: one elected from each of the eight ward and five members, including the chairman, elected at large. The council conducts its work through standing committee and special committees established as needed. District schools are administered by a chancellor, who is appointed by the mayor; in addition, a superintendent of education and a board of education are responsible for setting some educational policies. There are 37 elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners that provide the most direct access for residents to their local government. The commissioners are elected by small neighborhood districts, and their suggestions are given "great weight" by the city council and city agencies. However, the U.S. Congress has the ultimate plenary power over the District. It has the right to review and overrule laws created locally and has often done so. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants to states all rights not belonging to the federal government, does not apply to the District. Residents of the District do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress.

Autonomous cities in unitary states

In nations without a federal administrative structure, cities may sometimes enjoy a greater degree of autonomy, e.g.:

Hong Kong and Macau
Because of Hong Kongmarker's and Macaumarker's long histories as colonies of the British and Portuguese empires, respectively, and the unique "one-country, two-systems" policy, the two former city-states are given a high degree of autonomy even after their return into the People's Republic of Chinamarker. While geographically they are cities, having legal systems, police forces, monetary systems, customs policy, immigration policy that are independent from Chinamarker, makes their status almost equivalent to independent nations.


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