Migrations of “tribes”, and mobility of elites, figure in many narratives of state formation and nation-building. But the frequent assumption that early medieval migrations regularly led to state formation is not borne out by a critical look at western European cases between the fifth and eleventh centuries AD. The outcomes of migrations in this period varied considerably. The case studies discussed in this paper include the Anglo-Saxon immigration into
State formation appears to have been a likely consequence only where immigrants encountered native populations of a certain level of social complexity. The reason might lie in the nature of segmentary (tribal) organisation: it presupposes social links and shared ancestry among the lineages of the tribe. This imposes size limitations, but more importantly restrictions in terms of identity. After conquest by an immigrant population or elite, one possible solution is that the native population is reduced to the status of slaves who are attached to the households of lineage members. The alternative would be the creation of a joint state based on a common ideology (such as afforded by Christianity in early medieval western Europe).
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