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Early State in Classical World: Statehood and ancient democracy

Early State in Classical World: Statehood and ancient democracy

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Published by Leonid Grinin
The present article is devoted to the problem which is debated actively today, namely whether Greek poleis and the Roman Republic were early states or they represented a specific type of stateless societies. Since I believe that Athens and Roman Republic were early states though of a particular type, the article is in many respects a direct dis-cussion with the supporters of the idea that these polities were a kind of stateless societies.
On the whole in this contribution a specific aspect of the problem of multilinearity in sociopolitical evolution is examined. The diversity of sociopolitical evolution is expressed in a tremendous variety of the early states proper among which the bureaucratic states represent just one of many types. The democratic early states without bureaucracy were early states of another type. In this article Athens and the Roman Republic are analyzed as examples of this very type.
The present article is devoted to the problem which is debated actively today, namely whether Greek poleis and the Roman Republic were early states or they represented a specific type of stateless societies. Since I believe that Athens and Roman Republic were early states though of a particular type, the article is in many respects a direct dis-cussion with the supporters of the idea that these polities were a kind of stateless societies.
On the whole in this contribution a specific aspect of the problem of multilinearity in sociopolitical evolution is examined. The diversity of sociopolitical evolution is expressed in a tremendous variety of the early states proper among which the bureaucratic states represent just one of many types. The democratic early states without bureaucracy were early states of another type. In this article Athens and the Roman Republic are analyzed as examples of this very type.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Leonid Grinin on Jul 31, 2009
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Published in: Grinin, L. E., Beliaev, D. D. and Korotayev, A. V. (eds.),
 Hierarchy and Power in the History of Civilizations: Ancient and Medieval Cultures
Moscow: URSS,KomKniga. (pp. 31–84).
 Early State in the Classical World: Statehood and Ancient Democracy
Leonid E. Grinin
Volgograd Center for Social Research
ABSTRACT
The present article is devoted to the problem which is debated activelytoday, namely whether Greek poleis and the Roman Republic wereearly states or they represented a specific type of stateless societies.Since I believe that Athens and Roman Republic were early statesthough of a particular type, the article is in many respects a direct dis-cussion with the supporters of the idea that these polities were a kind of stateless societies.On the whole in this contribution a specific aspect of the problem of multilinearity in sociopolitical evolution is examined.
The diversity of so-ciopolitical evolution is expressed in a tremendous variety of the early states proper among which the bureaucratic states represent just one of many types. The democratic early states without bureaucracy were early states of another type. In this article Athens and the Roman Republic areanalyzed as examples of this very type.
PRELIMINARY REMARKS
For many centuries in the minds of politicians and scholars Athens andthe Roman Republic have been the examples of states. That is why the problem as to whether Athens and the Roman Republic were early statesis important in itself.However, the attempts to settle the question of the nature of an-cient polities inevitably result in a consideration of a wider problem of great importance: what polities in general can be considered as earlystates. In particular, is it also possible to regard as such the ancient andmedieval democratically organized societies? As a matter of fact, thoughquite a few scholars directly insist on the non-state character of such
Grinin / Early State in the Classical World: Statehood and Ancient Democracy, pp. 31–84
31
 
Hierarchy and Power: Ancient and Medieval Cultures
democratic polities as Athens and Rome in particular, actually almost allthe analyses of the early states' attributes proceed explicitly(see
e.g.,
Petkevich 2002: 148) or implicitly from the idea that the earlystate was obligatorily a hierarchically arranged society of a monarchic type
1
.This idea determines some rather widespread views on typical fea-tures of the early state (Berent's article analyzed below [2000b] is an ex-cellent example to demonstrate the prevalence of such views). In partic-ular that, first, the opportunities to influence politics are concentrated al-most exclusively in the ruler's clan or in a rather narrow higher circle(
e.g.,
see how Claessen [1978: 589; Claessen and Skalník 1978b: 633]characterizes the discrepancies between inchoate, typical and transition-al early states). Second, the majority of population is excluded from in-fluencing politics. Thus the common people are only destined to bear the duties (military, taxes, and labor) and third, in order to fix such a dis-tribution of duties the presence of a coercive apparatus is required.
 
 No doubt, a strict separation of the masses from politics, the concen-tration of power and decision-making in the narrow circle were quitetypical phenomena for the early states. However, the typical does notmean the only possible. In other words, there were quite numerous al-ternatives of early state organization, functioning and development. For example, in Athens and the Roman Republic monarchs were absent, theinfluence of patrimonial relations on authority was insufficient, the sys-tem of staff selection was based on some different principles than in oth-er societies, the citizens were not excluded from political life and viol-ence was applied irregularly upon them
2
.Thus, the question,
whether Athens and Rome were early states?
ac-quires a great theoretical significance
3
. Certainly, from the Marxistviewpoint they may be regarded as almost classic examples of the state.It is not without reason that Engels paid so much attention to the historyof Athens and Rome in his ‘
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
’ (1961).
 
According to him, the ancient state was primarily ‘thestate of slave-owners aimed at suppressing slaves’ (1961: 179). Boththese polities correspond well with Lenin's famous definition of the stateas an agency with the help of which one class exploits another class andkeeps it in obedience (Lenin 1974: 24).However, some Soviet historians always had problems with apply-ing the concept of historical materialism to the societies of their person-al professional concern. As for Greece and Rome, the problems origin-ated primarily from the fact that sometimes it was impossible to applythe notion of social classes to characterize the social strata and early es-
32
 
Grinin /
Early State in the Classical World
tates
 
(see
e.g.,
Shtaerman 1989: 81–85). Second, the notion of the statewas firmly associated with bureaucracy and other features characteristicof Oriental
despoties
. Meanwhile, in Rome and Athensthe government officials bear little resemblance to bureaucrats (see
e.g 
.,Osborne 1985: 9). Third, some difficulties were encountered when deal-ing with other features considered obligatory attributes of a state, suchas for instance, a compulsory taxation. After all, the citizens of the Ro-man Republic, Athens and some other poleis paid no regular taxes butonly special ones (I will return to this point later). These and some other specific
 
features of ancient communities provided grounds for raising anumber of complicated questions including such as whether a
 polis
wasa state (
e.
., Utchenko 1965: 18; see also Gluskina 1983b: 31; Frolov1986: 18; Koshelenko 1983: 31) and whether it was a city at the sametime? (Koshelenko 1979: 5–6; 1983: 31; Marinovich and Koshelenko 1995;also see about it: van der Vliet 1987: 71.)
ON THE TYPOLOGY OF THE EARLY STATES
In the framework of the present article the
early state
will be defined
as a
category denoting
a specific form of political organization of asufficiently large and complex craft-agrarian society (or a group of such societies/territories) that controls its external policy and,partly, social order; at the same time this political form is a powerorganization separated from the population and which a) possessessovereignty (or, at least, autonomy); b) is capable of forcing the pop-ulation to fulfill its demands, change important relationships and in-troduce new ones, and redistribute resources; and с) is not built (ba-sically, or mainly) on kinship principles.
As I showed in a number of works, complex and diverse in their forms and institutes non-state societies comparable with state in manyrespects existed simultaneously with the early states. Such politieswhich were comparable with early states in their complexity and func-tions, but which differed from the state in some characteristics of their  political and administrative organization I called
early state analogues
(see Grinin 2003, 2004c, 2006b, 2007b, 2007a).
 
Thus, the process of  politogenesis should not be reduced only to the state formation (for de-tails concerning the term
 politogenesis
, see Bondarenko and Korotayev2000b; Bondarenko, Grinin and Korotayev 2002; Grinin 2003: 164; for the distinction between both terms, see Grinin 2001–2006). Still the earlystates themselves cannot be reduced only to a single type, namely, the
33

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