The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2014, 8-90

The Early State: A Structural Approach (translated by N.N. Kradin, edited by E.A. Melnikova)

H. Claessen


Henry J.M. Claessen is a prominent Dutch political anthropologist, the creator of the “early state” school. For a long time he was the dean of the Institute of social anthropology (now professor emeritus) at Leiden university and the Vice-Рresident of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. The concept of early state developed by him together with Peter Skalnik became one of the basic theories of political anthropology. The present publication is a translation of Chapter 25 of the book The Early State (ed. H.J.M. Claessen, P. Skalnik. The Hague; P.; N.Y., 1978. P. 533–596), one of the most important parts of this epoch-making book. Basing on the case studies of twenty one polities that existed in different periods of time (up to the nineteenth century) and in different regions of the world (Asia, Africa, Polynesia, Mesoamerica, Europe, etc.) and, according to their socio-political systems, belonged in the opinion of the authors and editors to the type of early states, Claessen singles out the main characteristics typical for the structure of an early state. These include economic and social indicators, degree of institutionalization of the administrative apparatus and fixation of functioners’ tasks, forms of legislation and legal procedures, status and role of the ruler, ideological support of the authority. The comparison of these and other characteristics in different polities allowed, on the one hand, to select the most significant ones (with the level of frequency not less than 99%) and, on the other hand, to develop the typology of early states and classify the polities under discussion as inchoate (Hawaii, Tahiti, Volta), typical (Scythia, China, Egypt, France, Inka), or transitional (to a more advanced type of state: Aztecs, Jimma, Yoruba). Structural characteristics and typology of early states described here by Claessen became the foundation of modern political anthropology and, with minor modifications and specifications, continue to be fruitfully employed in the studies of early states.

            The translation is made by N.N. Kradin and edited by E.A. Melnikova. Minor changes concerning cross-references within the book "The Early State" are introduced, and several misprints are corrected.

early state, structural characteristics, social composition, ruler, institutions, economy, ideology


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