Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII

The Centralized Traditional Polity.
Bureaucratic Empires: Introduction

I
We pass now to the analysis of the most homogeneous, compact, and enduring types of premodern political systems—at least as homogeneous as the city-states and certainly much more compact and continuous than either patrimonial systems or tribal federations—namely, the imperial systems or, to be more precise, the centralized bureaucratic empires. 1The term "empire" has normally been used to designate a political system encompassing wide, relatively highly centralized territories, in which the center, as embodied both in the person of the emperor and in the central political institutions, constituted an autonomous entity. Examples of centralized, bureaucratic empires are to be found throughout history. The principal ones, which comprise the major historical societies, are as follows:
1. The ancient empires, especially the Egyptian, Babylonian (1900-641 B.C.), and possibly the Inca and Aztec (1100-1521 A.D.) as well.
2. The Chinese Empire from the Han period to the Ching (200 B.C.—1912 A.D.).
3. The various Iranian empires, especially the Sassanid (226-650 A.D.) and, to a smaller extent, the Parthian (600-330 B.C.) and Achaemenid (sixth to fourth century B.C.).
4. The Roman Empire (31 B.C.—527 A.D.) and the various Hellenistic empires.
5. The Byzantine Empire (330-1453 A.D.).
6. Several ancient Hindu states (especially the Maurya (327-174 B.C.) and Gupta (320-495 A.D.) and the Mogul empires (1526-1705 A.D.).
7. The Arab Caliphate (especially from the reign of the Abbasides [750-940] and Fatimides), the Arab Moslem states in the Mediterranean and Iran, and the Ottoman Empire (1451-1789).
8. European states during the age of absolutism and to some extent their initial colonial empires, especially insofar as they were built with the idea of the direct extension of the patrimony and its central authority and not as merchant colonies or purely colonization settlements of small groups. Of these, the Spanish-American Empire (early sixteenth century to eighteenth century) is probably the nearest to the ideal type of historical bureaucratic empire. 2

The majority of these empires developed from one of the following types of political system: (a) patrimonial systems, such as Egypt or the Sassanid Empire; (b) patrimonial dualistic nomad-sedentary systems; (c) feudal systems, such as the European absolutist states; (d) city-states, such as the Roman and Hellenistic empires.


II

The different origins of these systems have necessarily greatly influenced the differential course of their history—the exact nature of their political symbolism, their international setting, their longevity or continuity—as well as the directions of their image. We have relatively full historical records of the origins of these systems, and it might, therefore, be worth while to examine the processes of their establishment.

Despite the great variety of historical and cultural settings, some common features in the first stages of the establishment of such polities can be found. The initiative for their establishment came from

-250-

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