A city-state is in contrast to the surface state, a State which includes only the area of ​​a city ( and where appropriate, their closer environs ). It may involve a sovereign state or a member state within a federal state. However, cities in unitary states are city-states in any case, even if they are equivalent administrative units above the municipal level, there are no constituent states in unitary states by definition. Also no city-states are cities that do not belong to the member states in federal states, but the status of Federal Territories have, such as Washington, DC or the Indian city of Chandigarh.


Historical city-states in Mesopotamia are at the beginning of civilization. This form was subsequently spread among other things, in Phoenicia, and Greece. The Greek polis was to the classical concept of the ancient city-state. Rome grew from a city-state to world empire. Even the Indian civilizations of the Maya and Aztecs in Central America organized themselves into city-states.

City-states in the Middle Ages were about the great city states in what is now Italy and Russia ( among other things Florence and the Maritime Republics of Venice, Genoa and Pisa in Italy and Novgorod and Pskov in Russia). Many Swiss cantons emerged from city states. With the conquest of Vaud in 1539, for example, the city and Republic of Bern became the largest city-state north of the Alps.

After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, there were four city-states in the German Confederation: Bremen, Free City of Frankfurt ( am Main ), Hamburg and Lübeck as well, directly adjacent to the German Federal Government, the Polish-speaking Republic of Cracow, which was 31 years later annexed by Austria. Frankfurt was annexed in 1866 by Prussia, Lübeck lost in 1937 by the Greater Hamburg Act its more than 700 years of statehood as the Free and Hanseatic City and came to the Prussian province of Schleswig -Holstein. For this was from 1807 to 1815 and from 1920 to 1939, the Free City of Danzig, a sovereign city-state.

Berlin was divided after the Second World War until reunification in 1990, Berlin ( West) was thus surrounded by the GDR and had a special status as a city state. It was not an official part of the Federal Republic, but was treated much the same way. Berlin as a whole was actually up in 1990 under the so-called four-power status and was in the jurisdiction affected by the occupation forces.

→ See also: Berlin question

Current situation in Germany

In Germany today, the three states are commonly referred to as city-states, two of which consist only of cities: Berlin and Hamburg. The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is also counted among the city-states, but occasionally also referred to as " two-city state," because it consists of two spatially separate cities ( Bremen and Bremerhaven ); insofar as it is not only the city but also "land". The city-states (including Bremen) are represented as states in the Bundesrat and be part of the financial compensation of the Federation and the countries where they enjoy the so-called city-states of privilege, stating that city-states get more money per capita from the financial equalization due to their higher per capita expenditure than the surface states. The city states of Berlin and Hamburg are administratively regarded both as a county-level cities and as a land, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen consists of the two independent cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven.

For the German city-states, the possibility of a merger with neighboring countries has in the past repeatedly discussed, eg Bremen Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Schleswig -Holstein and Berlin with Brandenburg. For Berlin and Brandenburg, this will be discussed again, although a merger agreement at referendum in 1996 in Brandenburg, the minimum participation of 25% of the electorate ( quorum ) achieved (adopted by the majority of Berliners, but 62.7 % of the voting Brandenburg rejected him ).

Sovereign city- states

Sovereign city- states and micro-states are Monaco, Singapore and the Vatican City.

Not Sovereign city-states

The Austrian capital Vienna and the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium are also city-states, where the latter consists of several independent communities.

In Switzerland, the Canton of Basel-Stadt is often regarded as a city state. However, there are next to the eponymous canton's capital - the city of Basel - two other smaller communities.

Also in colonialism / imperialism existed a series city-states, especially in China taught a European powers bases, so stood Macau, Hong Kong and Tsingtao under the administration of Portugal and the United Kingdom and the German Empire. To date, there are colonial city-states, the location on the Spanish coast Gibraltar continues to be managed as a British crown colony, for example.

The Brazilian State of Guanabara (1960-1975) included only the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Other city-states in federal states include

  • Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
  • Brasília, Brazil
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina