Im griechischen Sprach- und Kulturraum der Antike konkurrierten Dutzende von Stadtstaaten um Macht, Reichtum und Ansehen. David Hume sah darin den Schlüssel zum Verständnis dieser Blütezeit. Er schreibt in einem seiner Essays (1742):
“Greece was a cluster of little principalities, which soon became republics; and being united both by their near neighbourhood and by the ties of the same language and interest, they entered into the closest intercourse of commerce and learning. … Each city produced its several artists and philosophers who refused to yield the preference to those of the neighbouring republics. Their contention and debates sharpened the wits of men. … But what I would chiefly insist on is the stop which such limited territories give both to power and to authority”.