Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV

The Tribal Federations:
Confrontation between the Ruler,
the Ruled, and the Cosmic Order

I

Out of the great variety of different types of political systems which presumably developed from the primeval primitive communities, we shall deal here first with what may be called the "tribal federation": federations or congeries of tribes converging into, but not fully amalgamated in, some new types of center.

The most important historical illustrations of such tribal federations can be found in the ancient Middle East, especially in the regions of biblical history, in the broad international setting between the great patrimonial and imperial systems of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia (some of which might indeed have developed from such federations, although we have direct evidence to this effect in only a few cases), of some of the city-states that developed regions—like the Phoenician and Summerian; and as part of the great Euro-Asia tribal immigrations in the second and first centuries B.C. Of these federations the most important can be found in the confines of Canaanite— Phoenician, Philistine 1—civilization, the various political units of the Semite tribes, among whom the tribes of Israel made the greatest impact on further history.

Various types of tribal federation could also be found in most of the great nomad settlements in Asia and Europe. Similar types of tribal federation probably developed in other places, such as in Mesoamerica, but much less is known about them. Among "contemporary" primitive societies, the closest to this type seems to be some of the Annuak 2 and Shilluk 3 as well as, to some extent, the Bembas. 4

The very term "tribal federation," descriptive as it is, denotes already some of the basic structural characteristics of these political systems. They constitute a congregation of different "tribal" units based largely on kinship and territorial units not dissimilar from those of large primitive societies. Usually, they have been brought, by some combination of internal and external forces, to cooperate or converge into units wider than their "original" ones, without, however, giving rise—at least in the first stages of the process of their development—to great changes in their basic structural characteristics. And yet, the very coming together of such units tended to develop pressures for the creation of some intertribal centers.

In these types of center there could develop several different types of activity: "political" or "administrative" on the one hand, and "ritual" and "symbolic" on the other. The political-administrative were mostly oriented toward such external problems as common defensive or offensive military organization or to such internal problems as the regulation of intertribal organization of common economic or trade relations. The more symbolic and ritual activities were oriented toward the development and maintenance of some new, relatively elaborate cults or sanctuaries which could be common to several different tribes or tribal units, stemming probably from some common origins.

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