Evolution of Statehood

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* Book: The Evolution of Statehood. From Early States to Global Society. By Leonid Grinin. Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011. - 360 p.

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


"The monograph is devoted to the problems of the origins, development and present situation of statehood. It also provides the forecasts of political development in the coming decades. The book touches upon a wide range of issues and topics, including: What alternatives did state have in evolution? Which main evolutionary stages has it passed as a structure? What are early, developed and mature types of the state? Were Athens and Rome Republic states? What new coalitions of countries will be possible in the nearest decades?

The book presents a new approach to the causes and models of the emergence of the state, to the state’s position among the forms competing with it (analogues of the early state) and new models of the state’s evolution. Today in their full swing are the processes of transformation of state sovereignty, change of state’s nature and functions and countries` integration into supranational communities. In the last chapter the reasons are explained of the inexplicable, at first glance, phenomenon why modern states voluntarily reduce their sovereign prerogatives.

Without the analysis of the statehood genesis and development, it is almost impossible to understand the course of human history and modern condition of World System as well as the possible directions of its transition. So we hope the book will be interesting to a broad audience both to specialists in political anthropology, philosophy, political studies, future studies, globalization studies, historical sociology, cultural evolution as well as to anyone interested in history and modern political problems and global trends."


“ the state formation process proper is regarded as a constituent part of the general politogenetic process.”

Two evolutionary pathways to statehood: vertical vs horizontal

Leonid Grinin:

“Two main models of transitioning to the state may be justly singled out.

According to the first one, states were forming ‘vertically’, so to speak, i.e., from non-state societies directly to states. For example, in Ancient Greece, people often had to migrate from villages to one large settlement to protect themselves from military actions or pirates; such migrations are called synoecism (Gluskina 1983). Sometimes, large states were formed ‘vertically’ at once, as was the case with the Zulus who rapidly created a sufficiently large state under the rule of ‘Emperor’ Shaka in the south of Africa in the early 19th century from a diversity of small individual chiefdoms (Ritter 1990).

The second way is ‘horizontal’. At first, pre-state societies transfer to a new stage of development (exceptionally in the form of early state analogues) and then transform into states.


However, the inner maturity of society, sufficient surplus production, social stratification, and so on are not enough to form a state. Special circumstances are necessary because transition to the state system is usually associated with sharp changes in social and political life under any model. In our opinion, this transition is facilitated by serious shifts from the habitual situation, such as the cessation of isolation, the emer- gence of a real threat to society or a part of the population, a sharp rise in trade, internal conflicts, and so on. All this can stimulate substantial changes in management and the political structure. In addition, we believe that wars, conquests, borrowing more effective weapons, and the threat of being conquered are, no doubt, of paramount importance among the fac- tors that cause sharp changes in life conditions. For example, importing firearms was an important factor in the formation of certain states, for example, on Madagascar in the 17th century or on the Hawaiian Islands in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”



Leonid Grinin:

“Basing on the aforesaid we believe it makes sense to subdivide all the diversity of the medium complexity polities (in view of a special role played by chiefdoms in the political evolution) into two major types:

(1) chiefdoms/chiefdom-like polities and

(2) chiefdom analogues.

Chiefdom-like polities

“Chiefdom-like polities can be defined as hierarchically organized and relatively centralized medium complexity polities possessing the following characteristics:

a) population in the range of several hundred to several thousand;

b) political autonomy;

c) they are led by a recognized and stable chief/leader or group of leaders who wield power in the framework of certain traditions and procedures; who are able to exercise real control over certain important social relationships and resource flows; who have influential support groups organized around them.

Chiefdom analogues

Chiefdom analogues, that can be defined as polities or territorially organized corporations that have sizes and functions, which are similar to those of chiefdom-like polities, but that lack any of their other characteristics, such as high levels of hierarchy and centralization, presence of formal leader, organized system of resource control, political independence, and so on (for more detail see Grinin, Korotayev 2011).

Such a subdivision of mid-complexity polities into chiefdoms and their analogues

  • emphasizes that chiefdoms are not the only type of mid-complexity polities (yet, in the meantime it indicates their special evolutionarily position);
  • demonstrates the diversity of evolutionary alternatives to the chiefdoms;
  • allows classification of mid-complexity polities that do not fit the chiefdom definition even if there are doubts regarding the exact type of polities to which they belong.

The formation of the first archaic states and their analogues

"The formation of the first archaic states and their analogues (i.e. stateless polities comparable with archaic states – see below) became another extremely important shift.

So during the analyzed late archaic and early civilization periods two major shifts took place, i.e.:

a) the formation of more or less institutionalized political subsystem, starting from the complexity level of chiefdoms and their analogues;

b) the formation of archaic states and their analogues with further institutionalization of the political subsystem.

We have denoted this whole epoch as the epoch of the initial (or primary) politogenesis (Grinin 2009h; Grinin and Korotayev 2009c). We define it as ‘initial’ because the politogenesis had not stopped with the state formation, but continued further with the evolution from the early state to the developed one, and even from the developed state to the mature one (see Grinin 2008a, 2010a; Grinin and Korotayev 2006; 2009a: see ch. 5).

Respectively, the epoch of primary politogenesis may be subdivided into two epochs:

1) the one starting with the formation of chiefdoms and their analogues, which we denote as the period of middle-complex societies or the pre-state period (Grinin, Korotayev 2011);

2) the one covering the formation and development of the early states and their analogues, which we denote as the period of complex societies or early state period (Grinin 2011a).”


The Three Stages of Statehood

Leonid Grinin:

"We are dealing not with the two main stages of statehood development (the early states and the mature states), but with the following sequence of three stages:

  • early states;
  • developed states;
  • mature states.

This has made it necessary to develop anew the statehood evolution theory and to suggest new formulations of elements of the previous state type, whereas in the third phase (the transitional phase) many of its institutions become ‘overripe’ and the first characteristics of a higher stage of the statehood development appear. Further we will briefly study the main differences between three evolutionary types of state and then examine every type in detail. With such a composition of the chapter the repetitions are inevitable but since the readers are suggested a new theory such iterations are quite justified."



Leonid Grinin:

“The bureaucratic states represent just only a type. Thus, it is rightful to speak about many types of early states. For the definition of the early state see below.

For example, Old Russia and Norway (as well as Lithuania in the 13th– 14th centuries and some other early states) provide examples of the druzhina type where power of the ruler ‘was measured primarily by the number of his armed followers’ (Gurevich 1980: 131). The druzhina (prince's armed forces or retinue) was formed of the prince's closest supporters who helped him to rule the army and the princedom (Gurevich 1970: 173; Shmurlo 2000: 107).

As concerns Sparta, e.g., Finley indicated it as a model military state. But according to him, the paradox is that Sparta's greatest military success destroyed the model (Finley 1983: 40). However, besides Sparta many other ancient states were military but with different peculiarities. That is why in my opinion it is more correct to regard Sparta as a military slave-holding and communal state.

We can also speak about military-trading states, particularly in regard to the nomadic ones (like the Khazar [Pletnyova 1986, 1987: 206–207; Shmurlo 2000: 38; Khazanov 2008] and Turk [Gumilev 1993: 42] Khaganats).

A number of medieval European states, Moscow Russia in the 15th – the early 16th centuries, the early Ottoman Empire as well as its predecessor in Asia Minor in the 11th – 13th centuries, the Seljuquid state were nothing but military-servant (military-feudal) states (Gordlevsky 1941: 69; Petrosyan 1990: 91; Stroyeva 1978: 5–11), etc.

One can also speak about imperial nonbureaucratic states like the Aztec state (Johnson and Earle 2000: 306); predatory states (like ancient Assyria).

The polis and civitas (although sharing many features) each represents a specific type of the early state. Probably it can explain why their evolutionary potentials turned out to be different. The Roman Republic, though not without crises, transformed into a more developed type of state. But the same transformation turned out to be impossible for a small democratic polis though a certain evolution took place there in the 3rd – 2nd centuries BCE (see Sizov 1992: 72–73).

Yet, the early democratic states are not at all peculiar for the European Antiquity only. They were present in different parts of the world. In particular, in Northern India in ancient times (the 6th – 3rd centuries BCE) a number of republics existed; they possessed different types of government but still the population or aristocratic council elected the governors there. Furthermore, the republics struggled with monarchies and more than once won impressive victories. Among ‘great countries’ the Buddhist sources mentioned also some republic states.”


Early State Analogues

Leonid Grinin:

“In examining the causes and ways of the rise of the state, political anthropologists often miss the following important point: pre-state polities, when uniting (or annexing other polities), could directly transfer to early state organization. However, pre-state sociopolitical systems often developed,; gave rise to nobility, property inequality, and slavery, but failed to become states because they lacked certain political institutions (strong central power, a professional apparatus of control, etc.). We term such non-state societies, comparable with states with regard to their complexity and functions performed, as early state analogues.”


Early State vs Mature State

“The fact is when we try to apply the scheme ‘early state – mature state’ to the political development of humankind it becomes evident that this scheme is in no way complete.”

Leonid Grinin:

“ The model developed by Claessen and Skalnik, who singled out the two main stage types of statehood, the early state and the mature state (Claessen 1978), has been the most popular over the last two to three decades. The concept of the early state introduced by Henri J. M. Claessen and Peter Skalník appears to have been the last among the great epoch-making political-anthropological theories of the 60s and 70s of the last century (e.g., Sahlins [1960, 1963, 1968], Ser- vice [1962, 1975], Fried [1967, 1975]), which did more than just giving a new consideration of socio-political evolution, its stages and models. One may even say that these theories succeeded in filling the evolutionary gap between the pre-state forms and the state, which had formed by that moment in the academic consciousness due to the fact that the accumulated ethnographic and archaeological data could hardly fit the prior schemes. However, it seems that in comparison with other ‘stage’ theories from the above-mentioned list the theory of the early state has a number of important advantages, especially concerning the view on social evolution in general and the evolution of statehood in particular. No wonder that Joyce Marcus and Gary Feinman (1998: 6) mention Claessen and Skalník among such scholars who do not believe in inevitability; they know that not every autonomous village society gave rise to a chiefdom, nor did every group of chiefdoms give rise to a state (see also Grinin 2007i). In the theory of the early state it was fundamentally new and important from a methodological point of view to define the early state as a separate stage of evolution essentially different from the following stage, the one of the full-grown or mature state. ‘To reach the early state level is one thing, to develop into a full-blown, or mature state is quite another’ (Claessen and Skalník 1978b: 22). At the same time they (as well as a number of other authors) indicated quite soundly that not all early states were able to become and actually became mature ones (see, e.g., Claessen and Skalník 1978a; Claessen and van de Velde 1987; Shifferd 1987). Thus there was formed exactly an evolutionary sequence of statehood in the form of a two-stage scheme: the early state – the mature state. And that explained a lot in the mechanisms and directions of the political evolution. However, the former of these two stages of the evolution of statehood (the early state) has been studied rather thoroughly, whereas the latter (the mature state) has not become the subject of a similarly close examination. Unfortunately, the analysis of the mature state has been little advanced in those several contributions to the subsequent volumes of the Early State project (further referred to as Project) where the subject was touched upon. Below we will present our own approach to the distinction of the stages of the evolution of statehood which to our mind develops and supplements Claessen – Skalník's ideas on the subject. However, this has made it necessary to suggest new formulations of the main characteristics of each stage of the evolution of the state. The fact is when we try to apply the scheme ‘early state – mature state’ to the political development of the humankind it becomes evident that this scheme is in no way complete. Firstly, if, according to the prevalent views, the first mature states appeared in ancient times (Egypt), or in the late 1st millennium BCE (China),5 how could we classify the European states of the 18th and 19th centuries, let alone the contemporary states? Would they be also mature, or supermature?

Secondly, it is also obvious that the European 19th century states also differed in the most profound way from the complex politically centralized monarchies of the Antiquity and Middle Ages (which themselves are qualitatively more complex than the early state) according to a number of other characteristics (in particular, with respect to the administration level and culture, in the degree of development of the law, and the relationships between the state and society).

Finally, it would be at least strange to assume that modernization in general and the industrial revolution of the 18th – 19th centuries in particular did not cause significant changes in state organization. Meanwhile, the above-mentioned theory does not assume the possibility of these changes at all. So the sequence of two stages of the evolution of statehood must be re-examined and changed. Hence we think that it would be more correct to distinguish not two but three stages of statehood, namely after the stage called by Claessen and Skalník the ‘mature state’ there must be inserted one more stage which would denote the type of industrial states (not only European but all the industrial states). However, here comes the problem of the name of this third stage. It would be better to introduce a new term for it. But which term? Supermature would sound awkward. So we came to the conclusion to keep the term mature state only for the industrial states and to define as developed states those preindustrial bureaucratic centralized states that Claessen, Skalník and others call the ‘mature’ ones (see Grinin 2006d, 2006g, 2007a, 2008a, 2011b; Grinin and Korotayev 2006, 2009a). Hence, we are dealing not with the two main stages of statehood development (the early states and the mature states), but with the following sequence of three stages: early states; developed states; mature states. This has made it necessary to develop anew the statehood evolution theory and to suggest new formulations of the main characteristics of each of the stages of this evolutionary process. For each stage we can identify three phases: the primitive, typical, and transitional states of each respective type.6 In the framework of this chapter the basic characteristics of statehood stages are identified on the basis of the middle phase of each stage (thus, respectively for typical early, typical developed, and typical mature states). The point is that at the first phase (the one of the primitive state of the respective type) the polity retains many elements of the previous state type, whereas in the third phase (the transitional phase) many of its institutions become ‘overripe’ and the first characteristics of a higher stage of the statehood development appear.“



Leonid Grinin:

"Early states are insufficiently centralized states. They politically organize societies with underdeveloped administrative-political and with no clear-cut social and class structures. Early states differ greatly from each other in many characteristics in particular with respect to the degree of their centralization, as well as the level of development of their administrative, taxation, judicial systems and so on. However, if we try to understand what differentiates early states from the developed and mature ones, we find that early states are always incomplete states (both organizationally and socially). This ‘incompleteness’ is also relevant with respect to relationships between the state and the society. Let us see what is meant. There were numerous versions of early states, but within each of them some important elements of statehood were either absent, or significantly underdeveloped. In most cases this incompleteness was expressed in the most direct way, as most of the early states simply did not have the minimal necessary level of centralization or/and some significant statehood attributes, or did not develop them to a sufficient degree. Early states often lacked a complete set or a satisfactorily developed set of power attributes that later became universal, such as a professional administrative apparatus, a system of regular taxation, administrative territorial division, written law, and sufficient centralization. Organizational and administrative institutions of early states were quite specific. For example, militia or feudal levy instead of regular army, landowners who performed the functions of both administrators and landlords instead of professional state officials and judges, a conglomerate of individual areas with their individual forms of power instead of a clear division into provinces, incomes from the king's domain instead of taxation, and so on. It is very important to understand, that professional apparatus, taxation system, and territorial division are optional for early states; they become obligatory only for the next evolutionary type, the developed state. But this ‘incompleteness’ of early states is also relevant with respect to the relations between the state and the society. However, in some early states (such as, e.g., the state of the Incas or the Early Kingdom in Egypt) a contrary disproportion is observed. Though the administrative apparatus and bureaucracy were rather powerful there, they were imposed upon societies that were underdeveloped socially and/or ethnically. Hence, in such cases it was the society that looked underdeveloped in comparison with the state.

Developed states are fully formed centralized states of the Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern period. They politically organize societies with distinct estate-class stratification. The developed state is a state that has been formed and is inevitably completed. So that is why the attributes of statehood that could be absent within the political system of the early state – such as a professional apparatus of administration, control and suppression, a system of regular taxation, an administrative territorial division, and written law – are necessarily present within that of the developed one.7 The developed state was an outcome of a long historical development and selection, as a result of which those states turn out to be more successful whose institutes are organically linked with the social structures of respective so- cieties that are both grounded on the respective social order and support it. The developed state affects social processes in a much more purposeful and active way. It is not only closely connected with the peculiarities of the social and corporate structure of the society, but also constructs them in political and judicial institutions. In this respect it can be regarded as an estate-corporate state.

Mature states are the states of the industrial epoch. It is a result of modernization, development of capitalism and the industrial (as well as demographic) revolution; hence, it has a qualitatively different production basis and social structure. Thus, according to this point of view, in the Antiquity and Middle Ages there were no mature states, but only early and developed ones. Mature states politically organize societies, where estates have disappeared, the industrial classes (bourgeois and employees or the analogous groups of the socialist nomenklatura and employees) have formed, nations have developed and nation-state formed, and representative democracy or one-party state have proliferated.8 The mature state greatly differs from its precursors. Organizationally and legally, it significantly surpasses the developed state: it has qualitatively more developed and specialized institutions of management and an apparatus of suppression and control. The state apparatus and army become autonomous to a certain degree and play an increasingly clear role of an abstract mechanism of serving society. There are also a clear-cut mechanism and a written procedure for the legitimate transfer of power (absent in many developed states).9 As a rule, constitutions and systems of power division are created, and the role of law, especially civil law, increases. On the whole (except for some totalitarian and authoritarian states), the systems of law and legal proceedings reach quite a high level in mature states. The most important function of this type of state is ensuring not only social order but also the everyday legal order."