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Доклад на iii-ей международной конференции «Иерархия и власть в истории цивилизаций»

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Доклад на III-ей международной конференции «Иерархия и власть в истории цивилизаций» Москва 18-21 июня 2004

Leonid E. Grinin

Alternativity of State Formation

process: The Early State vs. state



We know many historical and ethnographic cases of polities which differ from the early state significantly in political organization and power as well as administrative structure, but are similar to the state in size and complexity (Beliaev et al. 2002; Bondarenko 1995, 2000a, 2000b, 2001; Bondarenko and Korotayev 2000; Bondarenko and Sledzevski 2000; Crumley 1995, 2001; Girenko 1995; Grinin 1997, 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2002d; 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2004a; Grinin, Carneiro, Bondarenko, Kradin, Korotayev 2004; Korotayev 1995, 2000a, 2000b; Kradin et al. 2000; Kradin, Bondarenko, and Barfield 2003; Kradin and Lynsha 1995; McIntoch 1999a, 1999b; Popov 1995a, 1995b, 2000; Possehl 1998; Schaedel 1995 etc.).

Later I shall give some examples of such societies. But now let me point out that it is recognized universally enough (see, e.g. Claessen 1978, 2000, 2002) that to form a state a pre-state society must possess a certain set of minimum characteristics with respect to territory, population, complexity, sociopolitical differentiation and ability to accumulate surplus. Pre-state societies, however, after reaching a certain size and level of sociocultural complexity (at which the transition to the state is already possible), may continue to develop without building political forms of an early state for a long time. So they can significantly outgrow the respective levels of those indices – but without forming a state. In particular, a culture may have a high level of social stratification but lack a state system. How then should such societies be classified? Still as pre-state cultures, or as something else?

Some of such societies can be characterized by the term heterarchy (see e.g., Crumley 1995, 2001; see also McIntosh 1999b). But among such societies there are many hierarchical polities as well as those of some other types.

So I am convinced that the most productive path to follow is to recognize them just as early state analogues (Grinin 1997, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2002d, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2004a, 2004b; Bondarenko, Grinin, and Korotayev 2002). That is the way because, on the one hand, if compared with doubtlessly pre-state societies, such as, for example, simple chiefdoms, tribes, independent simple communities, big-men systems etc., they are not only bigger in size but much more complex as well. On the other hand, their size and complexity were comparable to those of early states and they dealt with problems of comparable scale and essence. That is why they may, in a certain sense, be regarded as being at the same level of sociocultural and/or political development as the early state societies. The latter, certainly, differ significantly from their analogues, but not so much in the development level as in some peculiarities of political organization and in ‘the mechanics’ of administration (for details see Grinin 2002b, 2002c, 2003c, 2004a).

However, despite the differences in the mechanics of regulation of sociopolitical life, similar functions were still performed in both types of societies. I mean such functions as:

– establishment of political and ideological unity and cohesion within enlarged society (or a group of closely related societies) directed at solving common problems;

– ensuring security from external threat and providing conditions for expansion; and so on.

Later I shall give some examples of early state analogues. However, before doing this, I should provide some additional explanations.

Early state analogues:

size and some characteristics

First of all, of course, analogues are quite different from each other. The introduction of dissimilar societies under the single common title ‘early state analogues’ has been done with the purpose to contrast other alternatives of the development of complex post-primitive societies with the state one.

Naturally, analogues had very difficult fortune. Some of them turned out to be incapable to get transformed into states at all. Other analogues do become states – but after reaching quite a high level of development and complexity that is fairly comparable with those of many state societies.

Next the size of the analogues should be mentioned. This issue becomes of a rather great importance because of the following relationship: the bigger is the population of a polity, the more complex its structure is (all other conditions being similar), because a higher population and a larger territory may require the new levels of hierarchy and administration (see, e.g. Carneiro 1967; Feinman 1998; Johnson and Earle 2000: 2, 181). But since we compare early state analogues with the early state proper, first it should be established what is considered to be the minimum size required for an early state.

To begin with, there is no uniformity of opinion on this subject and as Feinman said ‘less agreement than one might expect exist in the scholarly literature concerning the size and scale of archaic state’ (Feinman 1998: 97; see also Chabal et al. 2004: 55). However, something like the following pattern tends to be traced:

simple chiefdom – population of thousands;

complex chiefdom – population of tens of thousands;

state – population of hundreds of thousands or millions

(Johnson and Earle 2000: 246, 304; see also Vasilyev 1983: 45).

Then they produce an elegant and perfect line of levels of cultural evolution: the family – the local group – the Big Man collectivity – the chiefdom – the archaic state – the nation-state (Johnson and Earle 2000: 245).

In general, such a line could be a fruitful method of constructing evolutionary patterns for a certain purpose. But it is a mistake to regard it as a universal pattern. Such an approach only distorts a view on our problem because it completely ignores states with population from several thousand to a hundred thousand though just in this size interval the similarity between early states and early state analogues can be seen best of all. There were a great number of such states (about a hundred – one hundred and fifty) in the ancient and medieval times and one can also find such states even in the modern times (e.g. Nauru, Kiribati, etc.). I want to point out that there even exists an opinion, e.g. D'jakonov (2000: 34) that the pristine states must have been small in size at any time and anywhere and must have incorporated one single territorial community or several interconnected communities. D'jakonov cites some interesting facts regarding the assumed population numbers of Mesopotamian city-states in the 3rd millennium B.C. In the 28th – 27th centuries B.C. the population of the Ur city-state encompassed 6,000 people, of which two thirds resided in the city of Ur itself. In the 27th – 26th centuries B.C. the population of the Shuruppak could amount to 15,000–20,000 people. There is also a point of view expressed by Claessen which I am inclined to consider as the right one in general. He supposes that for a polity to become a state it must have a population of not less than several thousand people. And he adds that the population of the smallest Tahiti states counted not less than 5,000. But this, certainly, is the lowest limit for an early state.

In this respect, therefore, the early states counting from several thousand to 100–200 thousand people are of special interest for the researchers of state formation process. There were a number of such states in different parts of the world especially among the city-states of ancient Greece; Northern Italy in the 13–14th centuries (Batkin 1970: 252; Bernadskaya 1970: 329; Luzzatto 1954: 283; Rutenberg 1987: 74, 112; Skazkin et al. 1970: 208, 261). Presumably, the population of 40,000–50,000 people could live in the early state that existed around 100 B.C.–A.D. 250 at Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico (Kowalewski et al. 1995: 96). Of course, one can easily give many other examples.

Thus, the differences in population numbers and, respectively, in the complexity of organization of early states may conventionally be reflected in the following graduation:

a small early state – from several thousand to several dozen thousand people;

a medium early state – from several dozen thousand to several hundred thousand people;

a large early state – from several hundred thousand to 2–3 million people;

a huge early state – more than 3 million people.

Respectively the early state analogues must be classified as small early state analogues, medium early state analogues and large early state analogues. It goes without saying that all three of them considerably differ from each other.

For every type of early state there is a type of early state analogue which is comparable in size, complexity and functions (see Table 1).

Table 1

The relation between the sizes of early states and their analogues

Polity size

Type of early state and examples

Type of early state analogue and examples

Several thousand to several dozen thousand people

A small early state (Ur in the 28th –27th centuries B.C.)

An analogue of a

small early state

(Iceland in the 11th century A. D.)

Several dozen thousand to several hundred thousand people

A medium early

state (Hawaii in 19th


An analogue of a

medium early state

(Aedui, Arverni, and Helvetii of Gaul

before Caesar)

Several hundred

thousand to 2–3

million people

A large early state

(Poland in the 11th–14th centuries)

An analogue

of a large early

state (Hsiung-Nu in

200 B.C. – A.D. 48)

> 3,000,000

A huge early state (Rome in the 2nd century B.C.; the Inca state)

Analogues of huge early states do not appear to exist

The watershed between the states and the analogues runs within the polity size of several hundred thousand people. For the analogues, this size is, probably, the final limit beyond which such a polity either breaks down or transforms into a state. That is why large state analogues are very rare. The only case of such analogues among the examples given further, are the large nomadic polities as, for instance, Hsiung-Nu which Kradin denotes as ‘supercomplex chiefdoms’ (2000a, 2000b, 2001a, 2001b). He estimates their population up to 1,500,000 people (Kradin 2001a: 127). Thus, such analogues only correspond to relatively smaller varieties of large states. Analogues of huge early states do not appear to exist.

Early state analogues: classification

All the analogues, no doubt, differ from early states in their peculiarities of political organization and administration. However, this distinction is manifested in each analogue type in a different way. For example, the separation of the power from the population in self-governing communities is rather weak; while confederations exhibit the weakness of power centralization, etc. That is why I did my best to classify the early state analogues according to peculiarities of their political forms, although this principle is hard to keep to consistently. The following types and sub-types of the analogues can be distinguished:

First, one could single out some self-governing communities and territories, such as:

a) Urban communities, especially the ones with developed commercial structure. As examples of self-governing townships the following can be cited: some temple-civil communities of ancient Arabia (Korotayev 2000b: 266; Korotayev et al. 2000: 23); some towns of Gaul where the number of ‘true towns’ reached 1,000 (Shkunaev 1989: 143), some of them with the population of several dozen thousand (Shkunaev 1989: 134); certain Greek poleis, for example, Delphs (see Gluskina 1983: 45, 71. For detail also see Grinin 2003b: 8–9; 2004b).

b) Large enough self-governing settlers' territories, e.g. Iceland in 10th–13th century A.D.

Iceland was sectioned into territorial areas and dozens of legal-administrative districts, with Althing (the people's assembly) and Lögretta (a kind of senate) as supreme organs of administration. The level of electoral procedures and conventions was high, the proof of which being the decisions adopted from time to time by the Althing by voting. Thus, in A.D. 1000 it was decided to change the religion and adopt Christianity. At the same time toleration was preserved: it was allowed to secretly worship pagan gods and eat horseflesh, the basic food for the population. It was also decided to divide big land possessions of the nobility and distribute them among the farmers; this process was completed in the middle of the 11th century (Olgeirsson 1957: 179–191). However, in the 12th century the wealth and social inequality again became so strong that it started influencing the transformation of the basic institutions of the Icelandic society (Gurevich 1972: 8, 9). In the 13th century the population grew up to 70,000–80,000 people (Filatov 1965: 343).

c) Territories inhabited by large groups of déclassé persons of various descent (‘outlaws’), that had their own bodies of self-government and constituted an organized and formidable military force like, for example, the Cossacks of the Don or Zaporozhye (Korotayev et al. 2000: 19; Rozner 1970).

Second, some large tribal ‘confederations’ with a supreme chieftain exercising power strong enough (e.g., ‘kings’, khans, etc.), such as:

a) More or less stable tribal unions, ethnically uniform or having a firm monoethnic main body. German tribal unions of the period of the Great Migration of the Peoples in the 4th–6th centuries A.D. (Salian Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, etc.) that counted from 80,000 to 150,000 of population (Bessmertny 1972: 40; Le Goff 1992: 33; Neusyhin 1968; Udaltsova 1967: 654) or Slavic union in Bohemia and Moravia under Samon in 7th century (Lozny 1995: 86–87) may serve as examples.

b) Very large polities that emerged as a result of successful wars (like the Huns ‘empire’ under Attila in the 5th century A.D. or the Avars ‘empire’ in the 6th–7th centuries A.D. [Korsunsky and Gunter 1984: 105–116; Smirnov 1966: 324; Tikhanova 1958]), usually rather unstable and ethnically heterogeneous.

c) The unions that can be defined as a transitional type between the analogues described in items ‘a’ and ‘b’ are the ones under the leadership of this or that outstanding chieftain and consisting of ethnically close peoples but rather unstable and usually breaking apart after their leader's death or even during his life. For example, in the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. the Germans had large unions: Ariovistus's union of the Suebi, Maroboduus's union of the Marcomanni, Arminius's union of the Cherusci and others (Neusyhin 1968: 601–602; Oosten 1996).

Third, large tribal unions and confederations without royal power like a) Saxons of Saxony (Kolesnitskij 1963; [Kolesnitskij] 1969a); Aedui, Arverni and Helvetii in Gaul (Shkunaev 1989: 140). At the same time it should be specifically pointed out that the processes of social and proprietary differentiation had gone quite far within them, going ahead of political development.

The Saxons (of Saxony), before they were conquered by Charles (the end of the 8th century A.D.), had had no royal power but their tribal units were headed by dukes. General military command was in the hands of a duke who was chosen by lot (Kolesnitskij 1963: 186). Politically, all the territory was organized as a kind of federation of separate provinces. Common issues were discussed and tackled at a congress of representatives of the provinces (Kolesnitskij 1963: 186).

The Saxon society, excluding slaves, was divided into three strata: the tribal nobility (aethelings, nobiles), the free (liberi) and the semi-free (liti). At the same time, the legal status of the nobiles and the liberi differed sharply, which was legally affirmed in Lex Saxonum. In the first twenty articles of this code the nobiles appeared as the sole bearers of legal standards and rules ([Kolesnitskij] 1969a: 479; 1969b; Neusyhin 1968: 608).

Gaul, by the Caesar's conquest, was a very rich territory with large population – 5 to 10 or even more million people (Brodel 1995: 61–62) – with numerous towns, trades and well-developed commerce. The population of certain tribal units and confederations was very great (up to 2–4 hundred thousand [see e.g., Shkunaev 1988: 503]). Social differentiation was considerable (Clark and Piggott 1970: 310–328). According to Caesar, the common people lived like slaves (Le Roux 2000: 125). At the same time the Gallic nobles had, each of them, up to several hundred – and even several thousand (up to ten thousand) – clients to form cavalry troops as a substitute for levies and in this way to confront the majority of Gallic commoners (Bessmertny 1972: 17; Caesar 1993: 9). In the aristocratic civitas a distinct military unity was observed, while the mechanisms of making political or other decisions were realized through one of several elected magistrates (Shkunaev 1989: 139, 144).

b) Confederations of societies, at times making quite stable and strong (from the military point of view) political formations as, for instance, tribal confederations of the Iroquois (Fenton 1978; Morgan 1983; Vorobyov 2000), the Tuareg (Pertshyts 1968) or the Pechenegs (Marey 2000).

c) Autonomous rural territories forming a federation or a confederation of politically independent rural communities, as, for example, it is observed among many highlanders (Korotayev 1995).

Highland Dagestan in the Caucasus may be cited as an example (Aglarov 1988). The communities, jama'ats, that formed federations, were themselves, at times, large enough settlements – some of them up to 1,500 and more households (ibid: 207) – and had a multilevel system (up to five levels) of self-government (ibid: 186). As to a federation (sometimes including 13 or more settlements), it was a political unit of an even more complex constitution and uniting dozens thousand people. Family groups (toukhoums) were unequal socially and in rank (ibid: 131). Another example is the village groups in southeastern Nigeria, sometimes including dozens of villages with total population of dozens of thousands (up to 75,000). Each village group had its own name, internal organization, and a central market (McIntosh 1999a: 9).

d) Some heterarchies (Crumley 1995, 2001; McIntosh 1999b) which can be quite complex, and they are found all over the world.

Fourth, superlarge nomadic amalgamations, such as Hsiung-Nu (which superfluously resembled large states), termed by Kradin (1992, 2000a, 2000b, 2001a, 2001b) as ‘nomadic empires’ and referred to as supercomplex chiefdoms. According to Kradin, the ‘nomadic empires’ of Inner Asia counted up to 1,000,000–1,500,000 of population (2001a: 127; 2001b: 79).

In my opinion, Scythia in the 6th–5th centuries B.C. may also be denoted a supercomplex chiefdom (for detail see Grinin 2003 c: 142, 165).

Fifth, polities whose structure can be hardly described because of scarce data but, on the other hand, there are important reasons to regard them as neither pre-state nor state ones with respect to their scale and culture. The Indus, or Harappan civilization could serve here as an example.

Several dozens thousand of citizens or perhaps even more could live in the biggest cities like Mohenjo-daro (Bongard-Levin and Il'yin 1969: 92; Jacobson 2000: 394). There was a class and social stratification within the Indus civilization (Bongard-Levin and Il'yin 1969: 111; Possehl 1998: 287). Crafts and trades were highly developed (Bongard-Levin and Il'yin 1969: 101–103; Possehl 1998: 289). But there is a reason to believe that the political system was segmented and decentralized, lacking a ‘king’. Also there is no evidence for a central government, or bureaucracy, implying that older ‘tribal’ organizations wielded political power within regional contexts. But whole civilization held in place through a strong Harappan ideology, which crossed the segmented, regional political boundaries, reaching into every Harappan family. There are other forms of solidarity as trade (Albedil 1991: 56; Bongard-Levin and Il'yin 1969: 102–103; Possehl 1998: 289). Also it is possible to imagine strong temporary alliances among a number of groups (Possehl 1998: 288) though the actual form of organization for the mature Harappan is obviously not well understood (Possehl 1998: 290).

Mature Harappan culture included such units as a writing system, a system of weights and measures, and a host of artifact categories like ceramics, beads, figurines, and metal objects. And also some architectural standards are apparent.

Thus, major dissimilarities between early states and their analogues are not in size and complexity level – they are in the peculiarities of political organization, and in the methods of government – therefore, to distinguish an early state from its analogues some other criteria are required than the ones used for distinguishing early state and true pre-state societies. I have singled out and analyzed four of such features to distinguish early state and its analogues:

1. Specific properties (attributes) of supreme power.

2. New principles of government.

3. Non-traditional and new forms of regulating social life.

4. Redistribution of power.

For detailed explanation for these theses see Grinin 2002b, 2003c, 2004 a.

New researches have detected such directions of sociocultural evolution, which do not lead to state formation at all, whereas within certain evolutionary patterns transition to statehood takes place on levels of complexity far exceeding the ones indicated by conventional evolutionist schemes. So the concept of analogues of the early state may be useful for explaining such cases.


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