Early State and Its Alternatives

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* Book: The Early State, Its Alternatives and Analogues. Ed. by Leonid E. Grinin, Robert L. Carneiro et al. 'Uchitel' Publishing House, 2004

URL = https://www.socionauki.ru/book/early_state_en/

Contextual Quote

"What is important for us here is that there are reasons to suppose that an equal level of sociopolitical (and cultural) complexity (which makes it possible to solve equally difficult problems faced by societies) can be achieved not only in various forms but on essentially different evolutionary pathways, too. Thus, it is possible to achieve the same level of system complexity through differing pathways of evolution which appeared simultaneously (and even prior to the formation of Homo Sapiens Sapiens."

- Dimitri Bondarenko et al. [1]


"Issues of formation and evolution of the early (archaic) state continue to remain among those problems which have not found generally accepted solutions yet. New research shows more and more clearly that pathways to statehood and early state types were numerous. On the other hand, research has 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. Contributors to The Early State, Its Alternatives and Analogues represent both traditional and non-traditional points of view on evolution of statehood. However, the data presented in the volume seem to demonstrate in a fairly convincing manner a great diversity of pathways to statehood, as well as non-universality of transformation into states of complex and even supercomplex societies."


From the editorial introduction:

"Contributors to this volume represent both traditional and non-traditional points of view on evolution of statehood. However, the data presented by the contributors seem to demonstrate in a fairly convincing manner a great diversity of pathways to statehood, as well as the absence of unavoidable necessity of transformation into states for complex and even supercomplex societies.

Henri J. M. Claessen presents his article ‘Was the State Inevitable?’.

He provides the following answer to this question:

- "Only when a number of specified conditions are present at the same time in the same society, and when some triggering accident occurs, the development of an early state will take place, provided that a positive feedback between the ‘necessary conditions’ occurs. It is in such cases only that the emergence of an early state was inevitable."

This is a very considerate approach. However, there were a lot of societies where the above-mentioned combination of conditions never came about and ‘some triggering accident’ never occurred. Yet, those sociopolitical systems continued to develop. How could we classify respective polities? Such complex stateless systems often coped with problems comparable with ones encountered by states, they are quite comparable with early states by the range of their functions and level of their structural complexity as well as causes and prerequisites for their formation. So it is incorrect to consider them as pre-state structures. What were those political systems, which developed beyond the pre-state level and competed successfully with states?

A few contributions to the volume (Bondarenko, Grinin, Korotayev, Kradin) try to find answer to this question. These authors consider the above-mentioned political systems as state alternatives and analogues. They arrive at the conclusion that processes of archaic societies' political evolution should not be reduced to the rise of the state exclusively because this is rather a specific version of those processes.

In particular, Grinin, in his first contribution to this volume, maintains that

- "we know of numerous polities, which are comparable to early states in size, complexity and a number of other parameters, and, at the same time, are significantly superior to typical pre-state formations – such as simple chiefdoms, tribes, independent simple communities. For these reasons, it would be wrong to regard such complex non-state societies as being at the pre-state level of development. The most productive path to follow is to recognize them just as early state analogues."

Claessen argues that ‘from its very beginning was the state a stronger type of organization than all others; for the surrounding polities there were not many alternatives’.

Indeed, most alternative sociopolitical structures were ultimately destroyed and absorbed by states, or transformed into states. However, it is not evident that the state was the dominant type of political organization from the very beginning in general as well as in every particular case of state and non-state polities' interaction. In many regions of the world for long periods of time alternative and analogous polities were neither less complex nor less successful than states. Thus, the long-run evolutionary superiority of the state did not become obvious from the very beginning and though today the state can be regarded as an almost inevitable result of global socio-political evolution, this was not evident for a great part of human history. It is not reasonable to ignore the fact that states and their alternatives and analogues co-existed for millennia. So the diversity of sociopolitical forms, non-unilinearity of social evolution, presence of alternatives to the state can be regarded as general ideas going through most contributions to this volume.

Alternatives of social evolution cannot be only reduced to the alternativity of state formation process. We are dealing here with a general feature of evolutionary processes, which is considered in the contribution by Bondarenko, Grinin, and Korotayev, who maintain the following:

- What is important for us here is that there are reasons to suppose that an equal level of sociopolitical (and cultural) complexity (which makes it possible to solve equally difficult problems faced by societies) can be achieved not only in various forms but on essentially different evolutionary pathways, too. Thus, it is possible to achieve the same level of system complexity through differing pathways of evolution which appeared simultaneously to the formation of Homo Sapiens Sapiens and increased in quantity alongside socio-cultural advancement. Diversity could be regarded as one of the most important preconditions of the evolutionary process. This implies that the transition to any qualitatively new forms is normally not possible without a sufficient level of variability of sociocultural forms.

Another leading theme of the volume is complexity of the state formation process. For example, the article by Korotayev considers a case of transformation of state systems into chiefdoms. On the other hand, it turns out to be rather difficult to classify many political systems and as a result, sometimes different contributors to this volume classify the same polities in opposite ways. Thus, Berent considers the Athenian polis as a stateless community, whereas Grinin in his second contribution regards the same polity аs an early state of a specific type essentially different from other (especially bureaucratic) types. Political systems which Khazanov considers to be early states (e.g., the Hsiung-nu polity), are regarded by Kradin as ‘supercomplex chiefdoms’.

Carneiro and Berezkin examine cultures, which can be classified as unequivocally pre-state; however, Berezkin shows that alternatives of social evolution are attested among such cultures too. Complexity of social evolution is also emphasized in the contribution by Chabal, Feinman, and Skalník which starts with the following statement: ‘Even in the face of a revolution in telecommunications and a powerful process of economic globalization, it has become evident that there has been no linear progression in political development or centralization’. This article analyzes the present- day сhiefdom-like political formations in Africa, the Arab world, in Afghanistan, in some parts of India, Burma and Thailand, in Oceania as well as some other parts of the world. Chabal, Feinman, and Skalník study how the concept of chiefdom correlates with the present day сhiefdom-like political entities."


Part I: Theory

Introduction via [2]

1. Alternatives of Social Evolution Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Leonid E. Grinin, and Andrey V. Korotayev

2. Was the Chiefdom a Congelation of Ideas? Robert L. Carneiro

3. Beyond States and Empires: Chiefdoms and Informal Politics Patrick Chabal, Gary Feinman, and Peter Skalník

4. Alternative Models of Middle Range Society. ‘Individualistic’ Asia vs. ‘Collectivistic’ America? Yuri E. Berezkin

5. Was the State Inevitable? Henri J. M. Claessen

6. The Early State and Its Analogues: A Comparative Analysis ) Leonid E. Grinin

Part II: Early States

7. Early Dynastic Egypt: A Socio-Environmental/Anthropological Hypothesis of ‘Unification’ Dmitri B. Proussakov

8. The Ruler as Possessor of Power in Sumer Vladimir V. Emelianov

9. Ritual and Rationality: Religious Roots of the Bureaucratic State in Ancient China Richard Baum

10. Conquest Warfare, Strategies of Resistance, and the Rise of the Zapotec Early State Charles S. Spencer and Elsa M. Redmond

11. The Pristine Myth of the Pristine State in America Richard P. Schaedel and David G. Robinson

12. The Transition to Statehood in Central Europe Ludomir R. Lozny

13. Formation and Development of States in the Congo Basin Eleonora S. L'vova

Part III: Sedentary Alternatives and Analogues

14. The Chiefdom: Precursor of the Tribe? (Some Trends of Political Evolution in North-East Yemeni Highlands) ; Andrey V. Korotayev

15. From Local Communities to Megacommunity: Biniland in the 1st Millennium B.C. – 19th Century A.D. Dmitri M. Bondarenko

16. Greece: The Stateless Polis (11th– 4th Сenturies B.C.) Moshe Berent

17. Rome: Socio-political Evolution in the 8th– 2nd Centuries B.C. Dmitri V. Dozhdev

18. Early State and Democraсy Leonid E. Grinin

Part IV. Nomadic Alternatives and Analogues

19. Cultural Capital, Livestock Raiding, and the Military Advantage of Traditional Pastoralists (download) William Irons

20. Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in Historical Retrospective Anatoly M. Khazanov

21. Nomadic Empires in Evolutionary Perspective Nikolay N. Kradin

22. Mongolian Nomadic Society of the Empire Period Tatyana D. Skrynnikova

Characteristics of Early State Forms

Leonid Grinin et al. :

"First of all, let me introduce our definition.

The early state is a category used to designate a special form of political organization of a relatively large and complex agrarian society (or a group of societies/territories) that determines its external policy and partly its social order; it is a power organization

(a) that possesses supremacy and sovereignty (or, at least, autonomy);

b) that is able to coerce the ruled to fulfil its demands; to alter important relationships and to introduce new norms, as well as to redistribute resources;

c) that is based (entirely or mostly) on such principles that are different from the kinship ones.

Once again we point out, this definition does not mention professional administrative and control apparatus, regular taxation and artificial territorial division as necessary traits of the early state because in the early states those traits are almost never observed in their entirety.

The state as a form of political organization of the society reflects the social construction of the latter. Our analysis of the traits typical for the early state indicates that this state should be regarded as incomplete. This incompleteness implies that there are certain restrictions within the system of relationships between the state and society that block the further development of the early state. These restrictions mean that such a relationship between the state and society is retrospectively (from the point of view of the evolutionary potential of the respective system) inadequate in comparison with what we observe within more developed systems. Thus, it is in no way strange (what is more, it is perfectly normal) that most early states never evolved into developed states (see, e.g., Claessen, van de Velde 1987; 1991; Skalník 1996; Shifferd 1987; Tymowski 1987; Kochakova 1995), whereas those that did it, usually only achieved this through painful crises and cataclysms that caused a deep reconstruction of the entire system. The restrictions manifest themselves in different ways. Sometimes the political form of the early state turned out to be insufficiently tightly connected with the society. In such cases it did not ‘matter’ (for a state superstructure) what it controlled. Take, for example, Central Asia where interstate borders did not get stabilized for centuries, they changed constantly in connection with purely military circumstances and a new conqueror's luck (this is also rather typical for West Asia and North Africa). As another example, one can take Medieval Europe during the 11th – 13th centuries, where huge areas were transferred from one ruler to another, and from one polity to another as a result of rulers' marriages/divorces, deaths and inheritance cases Europe at this time is an example of a political system with a weak administrative structure. However, we also find such cases of ‘incongruence’ between the state and society when the political system of a state possesses a developed administrative apparatus that is able to control and regulate different territories. This could be observed in Mesopotamia where states frequently changed their borders, grew and shrank in a rather fast way, which was accompanied by a fast dynastic change. However, the principles of statehood remained the same as the bureaucracy easily imposed itself over any territorial configurations. However, in some early states the above mentioned limitations expressed themselves in the fact that the links between the state and society were too tight, that is, some state form was appropriate only for a given society. As a result such states were incapable of performing qualitative transformations.

A good example is provided here by the organization of the Greek poleis that failed to transform themselves even when their independence was threatened. ‘A paradox of Greek history is that its main tendency was the continuous and generally unsuccessful aspiration to overcome the polis: it was continuous because of the incongruence of sometime established polis principles … with the subsequent social progress, whereas it was unsuccessful because the attempts to overcome the polis were undertaken on the very basis of the polis’ (Frolov 1979: 6). We have identified the two main types of incongruence between the political and structures of the ancient and medieval states.

The first and the most widespread incongruence is when the administrative structure of the state is underdeveloped. As was mentioned above, early states did not possess the complete set of important features of the developed state, or had not developed all (or some) of them up to a sufficient degree. In fact, some of these features could be rather developed, whereas the rest were underdeveloped (and some could just be absent).

First of all, this is relevant for such statehood attributes as:

(1) a professional administration/control/oppression apparatus;

(2) taxation;

(3) administrative (i.e. made specially for the purpose of governing) territorial division; and

(4) the presence of written law and written administrative documentation (orders, directives, reports, archives, etc.).

Frequently early states had a rather weak apparatus of administration and oppression. Sometimes this weakness was combined with a primitive character of social stratification, as, for example, could be observed in the European ‘barbarian kingdoms’ of the early Middle Ages.

On the other hand, estate-class stratification could be expressed in a rather distinct way, whereas the administrative apparatus was weak and non-bureaucratic, as could be found in Athens, Rome and other states where professional administrators were either absent all together (and magistrates occupied their positions in turn or by drawing lots), or they did not receive salaries and were elected for short periods of time (see, e.g., Osborne 1985: 9; Finley 1977: 75; Shtaerman 1989; Grinin 2004c, 2004e, 2008f, 2010a). It was not always the case (especially in the Ancient period) that early states had regular armies, whereas rulers relied on levies as their main military force. Also, police systems were seldom found in these early states.11 In some early states we find tribute, gifts, temporary loans rather than true regular taxation, etc. Frequently taxes were irregular; for example, often they were only collected during wars. In some cases they could be absent all together, as the government could have other sources of revenue, such as monopolies on some types of trade (including foreign trade), or some types of economic activities (e.g., extraction of salt and other minerals), special lands and territories whose revenues were used to support the ruler (thus, in medieval Europe revenues of the royal domain were frequently the main source of the state finance); tribute and contributions paid by subjugated areas; compulsory payments of allies (as, e.g., within the Athenian arche) and so on. In the early Roman Republic a very important source of public financing consisted of revenues from the public lands that were rented out, whereas taxes were only collected in extraordinary circumstances.

In some early states we find natural rather than administrative territorial divisions, or such divisions as based on clans, tribes, or local communities (see, e.g., Korotayev 1995, 1996; Grinin 2006g, 2007a).

Such incomplete early states were often just imposed over societies and restricted themselves to military and redistribution tasks, collection of tribute and duties without penetrating deeply into social life.14 Ancient Russia was such a state for a rather long period of time as well as many states created by nomads, many early states of Tropical Africa and so on. It was not rare when a young state nourished a vigorous layer of new nobility that stopped taking into account the interests of the very state that had created it and began to shape social processes of their own. A clear example is provided here by the titled nobility of medieval Europe that transformed service fiefs into private property, enslaved peasants, stripped the kings of their tax-payers and soldiers, and finally transformed kingdoms into nominal entities. Similar processes could be observed during certain periods in many other countries` history starting from rather ancient epochs (e.g., in China of the Chou period: Vasilyev 1993: 187–189; see also Kryukov 1974: 14–15; Kril 2001).

The process described above is the representative of the typical early state phase and turned out to be a period of feudal decentralizаtion. That is why the following statement makes sense: ‘Political decentralization of the early feudal epoch is not a symptom of the state's weakness, but a natural condition (within the observed circumstances): this was a hierarchicized alliance of vassals and seniors based on a system of personal links that were the prevalent form of social relations in this society’ (Gurevich 1970: 60).

In small (and to some extent in medium-size) states the administrative apparatus was usually underdeveloped and insufficiently separated from the population due to their sizes. Indeed, within such a scale many problems can be solved in a rather effective way by means that are different from state orders and controls (they could be solved, e.g., by private persons, through the direct expression of the population's will, or through the activities of clans, professional organizations and social groups). Here the growth of statehood was connected first of all with the necessity to wage successful wars, and sometimes to organize foreign trade. An important role could be played by the state in the settlement of social conflicts, as this was observed in Athens, some other Greek poleis, and to some extent in early Rome (with respect to the conflict between plebeians and patricians). As a result of such conditions, some features of statehood were strengthened and others lagged behind. The particulars depended on the peculiarities of concrete polities. Spartan, Athenian, Phoenician (as well as Roman and Carthaginian [naturally until the respective polities remained small]) ways are just some versions of such development. On the other hand, large early states of the imperial type that originated as a result of conquests were bound to disintegrate or to get radically reduced in size. Empires rarely remained powerful for more than 100 consecutive years (see, e.g., Taagapera 1968, 1978a, 1978b, 1979). Numerous rises and falls of Assyria in the 13th – 7th centuries BCE can serve here as a clear example (see, e.g., Sadayev 1979). However, even when an early state was militarily strong enough to keep its provinces under control for long periods of time, still it usually turned out to be insufficiently developed to integrate effectively its constituent parts. There was usually a pronounced imbalance between the statehood of the center and its periphery (see, e.g., Thapar 1981: 411). As a rule a typical early empire was a multipolity, that is, a political system consisting of a state in its center and various non-state polities at its periphery (see, e.g., Korotayev et al. 2000: 23–24; Grinin, Korotayev 2006: 79–80; 2009a). And such states as republics of Rome, or Carthage or Mauryan Empire in India in the 4th century BCE, and moreover Charlesmagne's Empire, Grand Duchy of Lithuania of the 14th century and many other large states were not tightly integrated systems, but rather conglomerates of territorial polities (for more detail see Grinin 2007a: 134–135). They possessed systems of special links between the center and every people, every region, every territory, whereas some peoples/communities had more rights, some others had fewer rights, some were almost equal to the center, and some had an extremely low status. The second kind of incompleteness of the early state was opposite to the first and by far less frequent one. We are referring to those states that possessed a developed bureaucratic administrative apparatus while, at the same time, had an underdeveloped social structure. Such states lacked sufficiently distinct forms of social stratification (that is, they did not have clearly expressed classes or estates, and lacked sufficiently mature land property relations). What is more, an overdeveloped administrative apparatus could block the formation of a sufficiently developed and stable social system. Examples of the similar situation are: Egypt of the Ancient Kingdom; the Inca Empire; Sumer of the Third Dynasty of Ur (the 21st century BCE); and the subsequent state of Hammurabi.

Thus, one may say that in such states bureaucracy (notwithstanding all its organizational importance) was an external superstructure over society. In other early states, military nobility with its retinues was imposed over society. However, these elites possessed different methods for exploiting and influencing the society (see Grinin 2007a for more detail). If in the former case of incompleteness the early state's weak governments sometimes failed to sufficiently mobilize country's resources as they dealt with self-willed nobility and local governors; in the latter case, the state suppressed the society by trying to restructure it entirely to meet the needs of the state. It took upon itself the functions of resource redistribution and production organizer/controller. Such a state's hypertrophy developed under conditions of a subsistence economy (as was observed, e.g., in the Inca Empire). However, an obsession with registration and control could also be found in societies with commodity-market relations if state duties in kind were also prevalent there; for example, the collection, transportation, storage, and redistribution of duties kind are much more arduous and cumbersome than the accumulation of money. However, the overdevelopment of the bureaucratic administrative apparatus within the state of the Third Dynasty of Ur and the kingdom of Hammurabi sharply distinguished them from the rest of archaic states. Hence, though, on the one hand, these states could be considered early states, on the other, they could also be regarded as developed state analogues."



Heterarchy vs Homoarchy in State and Societal Formation

the state is not the only possible post-‘primitive’ evolutionary form.

("The state is understood throughout as ‘…a sufficiently stable political unit characterized by the organization of power and administration which is separated from the population, and claims a supreme right to govern certain territory and population, i. e. to demand from it certain actions irrespective of its agreement or disagreement to do this, and possessing resources and forces to achieve these claims’ (Grinin 1997: 20; see also Grinin 2000c: 190).")

Dimitri Bondarenko et al. :

"When we have a system of elements which ‘possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways’, it seems impossible to speak about the absence of hierarchy. In this case we rather deal with a system of heterarchically arranged hierarchies. Hence, it does not appear reasonable to denote the heterarchy alternative as ‘hierarchy’. We would rather suggest to designate it as ‘homoarchy’ which could be defined as ‘…the relation of elements to one another when they possess the potential for being ranked in one way only’. Totalitarian regimes of any time give us plenty of examples of such a sociocultural situation when the ruled have no chances to get ranked above the rulers in any possible contexts. This stands in a sharp contrast with, say, an archetypal example of a complex heterarchical system – the civil community (polis) of Athens (the 5th – 4th centuries B.C.) where the citizens ranked lower within one hierarchy (e.g., the military one) could well be ranked higher in many other possible respects (e.g., economically, or within the subsystem of civil/religious magistrates). Consequently, it was impossible to say that one citizen was higher than any other in any absolute sense.

On the other hand, it seems necessary to stress that it appears impossible to find not only any human (including informal ones), but also any totally homoarchical cultures. Hence, though in order to simplify our analysis in this paper we speak about heterarchical and homoarchical evolutionary pathways, in fact we are dealing here with heterarchy–homoarchy axis along which one could range all the known human cultures. Within this range there does not seem to be any distinct border between homoarchical and heterarchical cultures; hence, in reality it might be more appropriate to speak not about just two evolutionary pathways (heterarchical and homoarchical), but about a potentially infinite number of such pathways, and, thus, finally not about evolutionary pathways, but rather about evolutionary probability field cultures totally lacking any hierarchies.


Until recently it was considered self-evident that just the formation of the state2 marked the end of the ‘Primitive Epoch’ and alternatives to the state did not actually exist. All the stateless societies were considered pre-state ones, standing on the single evolutionary staircase squarely below the states. Nowadays postulates about the state as the only possible form of political and sociocultural organization of the post-primitive society, about a priori higher level of development of a state society in comparison with any non-state one do not seem so undeniable as a few years ago. It has become evident that the non-state societies are not necessarily less complex and less efficient. The problem of existence of non-state but not primitive (i.e. principally non- and not pre-state) societies, alternatives to the state (as the allegedly inevitable post-primitive form of the sociopolitical organization) deserves attention. Of course, in no way do we reject the fact of existence and importance of the states in world history. What we argue, is that the state is not the only possible post-‘primitive’ evolutionary form. From our point of view, the state is nothing more than one of many forms of the post-primitive sociopolitical organization; these forms are alternative to each other and are able to transform to one another without any loss in the general level of complexity. Hence, the degree of sociopolitical centralization and ‘homoarchization’ is not a perfect criterion for evaluating a society's evolutionary level, though it is regarded as such within unilinear concepts of social evolution.


Let us consider now in more detail one of the most influential and widespread unilinear evolutionary schemes, the one proposed by Service (1962/1971; its outline is, however, already contained in Sahlins 1960: 37): band – tribe – chiefdom – state. The scheme implies that the growth of the political complexity (at least up to the stage of the agrarian state) is inevitably accompanied by the growth of the inequality, stratification, the social distance between the rulers and the ruled, the ‘authoritarianism’ and hierarchization of the political system, decrease of the political participation of the main mass of population etc.


It is very important to stress that on each level of the growing political complexity one could find easily evident alternatives to this evolutionary line.

Let us start with the human societies of the simplest level of sociocultural complexity. Indeed, one can easily observe that acephalous egalitarian bands are found among most of the unspecialized hunter-gatherers. However, as has been shown by Woodburn (1972, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1988a, 1988b) and Artemova (1987, 1991, 1993, 2000a, 2000b; Chudinova 1981, see also Whyte 1978: 49–94), some of such hunter-gatherers (the inegalitarian ones, first of all most of the Australian aborigines) display a significantly different type of sociopolitical organization with much more structured political leadership concentrated in the hands of relatively hierarchically organized elders, with a pronounced degree of inequality both between the men and women, and among the men themselves.

On the next level of the political complexity we can also find communities with both homoarchical and heterarchical political organization. One can mention e.g., the well-known contrast between the Indians of the Californian North-West and South-East.


We have argued elsewhere (Korotayev 1995b) that in general there is an evident evolutionary alternative to the development of the rigid supra-communal political structures (chiefdom – complex chiefdom – state) constituted by the development of internal communal structures together with soft supra-communal systems not alienating communal sovereignty (various confederations, amphictyonies etc.). One of the most impressive results of the sociopolitical development along this evolutionary line is the Greek poleis (see [Berent 1994, 1996, 2000a, 2000b] regarding the statelessness of this type of political systems) some of which reached overall levels of complexity quite comparable not only with the ones of chiefdoms, but also with the one of states. The same can be said about its Roman analogue, the civitas (Shtaerman 1989). Note that polis/civitas as a form of sociopolitical organization was known far beyond the Classical world, both in geographical and chronological sense (Korotayev 1995b; Bondarenko 1998b), though quite a number of scholars still insist on its uniqueness.

The ‘tribal’ and ‘polis’ series seem to constitute separate evolutionary lines, with some distinctive features: the ‘polis’ forms imply the power of the ‘magistrates’ elected in one or another way for fixed periods and controlled by the people in the absence (or near-absence) of any formal bureaucracy. Within the tribal systems we observe the absence of any offices whose holders would be obeyed simply because they hold posts of a certain type, and the order is sustained by elaborate mechanisms of mediation and search for consensus.

There is also a considerable number of other complex stateless polities (like the ones of the Cossacks of Ukraine and Southern Russia till the end of the 17th century [Chirkin 1955; Rozner 1970; Nikitin 1987; etc.], the Celts of the 5th – 1st centuries B.C. [Grinin 1997: 32–33; Kradin 2001: 149], or the Icelandic polity of the ‘Age of Democracy’ till the middle of the 13th century [Olgeirsson 1957; Gurevich 1972; Steblin-Kamenskij 1984]) which could not yet be denoted with any commonly accepted terms, and whose own self-designations are often too complex (like Kazach'e Vojsko) to have any chance to get transformed into general terms. Such examples can of course be further multiplied.


The same overall level of complexity could be achieved both through the development of a single polity and through the development of a politically uncentralized interpolity network. This alternative was already noticed by Wallerstein (1974, 1979, 1987) who viewed it as a dichotomy: world-economy – world-empire. Note that according to Wallerstein these are considered precisely as alternatives, and not two stages of social evolution. As one would expect, we agree with Wallerstein whole-heartedly at this point. However, we also find here a certain oversimplification. In general, we would like to stress that we are dealing here with a particular case of a much more general set of evolutionary alternatives.

The development of a politically uncentralized interpolity network became an effective alternative to the development of a single polity long before the rise of the first empires. As an example, we could mention the interpolity communication network of the Mesopotamian civil-temple communities of the first half of the 3rd millennium B.C. which sustained a much higher level of technological development than that of the politically unified Egyptian state, contemporary to it. Note that the intercommunal communication networks already constitute an effective evolutionary alternative to the chiefdom. E.g., the sociopolitical system of the Apa Tanis should be better described as an intercommunal network of a few communities (incidentally, in turn acting as a core for another wider network including the neighboring less developed polities [chiefdoms and sovereign communities] – see Führer-Haimendorf 1962).

We also do not find it productive to describe this alternative type of cultural integration as a world-economy. The point is that such a designation tends to downplay the political and cultural dimension of such systems. Take for example, the Classical Greek inter-polis system. The level of complexity of many Greek poleis was rather low even in comparison with a complex chiefdom. However, they were parts of a much larger and much more complex entity constituted by numerous economic, political and cultural links and shared political and cultural norms.


The polis with a level of complexity lower than the one of the complex chiefdom, turned out to be part of a system whose complexity was quite comparable with that of the state (and not only the early one).

The same can be said about the intersocietal communication network of Medieval Europe (comparing its complexity in this case with an average world-empire). Note that in both cases some parts of the respective systems could be treated as elements of wider world-economies. On the other hand, not all the parts of such communication networks were quite integrated economically. This shows that the world-economies were not the only possible type of politically decentralized intersocietal networks. Actually, in both cases we are dealing with the politically decentralized civilization, which for most of human history over the last few millennia, constituted the most effective alternative to the world-empire. Of course, many of such civilizations could be treated as parts of larger world-economies. Wallerstein suggests that in the age of complex societies only the world-economies and world-empires (‘historical systems’, i.e. the largest units of social evolution) could be treated as units of social evolution in general. Yet we believe that both politically centralized and decentralized civilizations should also be treated as such. One should stress again the importance of the cultural dimension of such systems.


Thus, it is possible to contrast societies that followed the pathway of political centralization and ‘authoritarianization’ with cultures that further elaborated and perfected democratic communal backgrounds and corresponding self-government institutions. However, such a culture as the Benin Kingdom of the 13th – 19th centuries can make the picture of sociopolitical evolution even more versatile. In particular, it reveals that not only heterarchical but also homoarchical societies can reach a very high (incomparably higher than that of complex chiefdoms) level of sociocultural complexity and political centralization still never transforming into a state during the whole long period of existence. The Benin evidence also testifies that local community's autonomy is not a guarantee of complex society's advancement along the heterarchical pathway. We have suggested elsewhere to define this form of sociopolitical organization as ‘megacommunity’.


Another evident alternative to the state seems to be represented by the supercomplex chiefdoms created by some nomads of Eurasia – the number of the structural levels within such chiefdoms appear to be equal, or even to exceed those within the average state, but they have an entirely different type of political organization and political leadership; such type of political entities do not appear to have been ever created by the agriculturists.


Within the upper range of complexity and integrativity of the sociopolitical organization the state (at least in the pre-industrial world) ‘competes’ with not only heterarchical systems of institutions (e. g., with polis) but also with some forms of sociopolitical organization not less homoarchical than the state.


The notion of ‘Politogenesis’ was elaborated in the 1970s and 80s by Kubbel (e. g., 1988) who employed it to define the process of state formation. But it has become evident by today that processes of archaic societies' political evolution should not be reduced to the rise of the state exclusively because this is rather just one particular version of those processes. We suggest to use this term in order to denote the formation of any types of complex political organization, which also looks more justifiable from the etymological point of view: in ancient Greece the word politeia meant the political order of any type, and not ‘state’.

We believe that among the students of politogenesis one can observe a tendency to narrow the analysis to the study of the state formation process only. This entirely legitimate intention to restrict and define the study field still leads to the underestimation of the fact that for long periods of time the state formation process was inseparably linked with other evolutionary processes (e. g., processes of religious evolution), and this seems to hinder any really profound explanation of the state formation processes themselves. We believe that such explanations may be only achieved if the state formation processes are studied against background of all the other contemporary evolutionary processes.


One of the causes of this situation can be defined as ‘polito-centrism’. Volens-nolens the state formation starts to be regarded as a central process of the evolution of medium complexity cultures not just because of initial definition of the research objective (which seems to be entirely legitimate); it starts to be regarded as an objectively central process, whereas this is not always true, because in many cases other processes (e. g., socio-structural or religious) could be more important."


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