Flashcards for Political Organization
Topic 3:  Chiefdoms and States
(20 cards)

Select the "Next Card" button to see a card. Select it again to view the answer.
"Delete Card" allows you to eliminate a card from the stack during this session.
Copyright © 2004 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.

the political system that is found in classless societies

(Is it a chiefdom or a state?)


(While everyone in a chiefdom is likely to be ranked in terms of genealogical distance from the chief, there are no distinct social classes. Don’t forget that bands and tribes are also classless societies.)


The general term for an administrative system that divides governing tasks into specific categories carried out by different individuals and/or departments. Such systems are characteristic of states but not chiefdoms, tribes, or bands.


The level of political integration in which a society has a more or less permanent political leader (chief) but no bureaucracy of professional administrators.


The level of political integration in which a society has a permanent, highly centralized political organization with an elite social class of rulers at the top. The bulk of the people are at the bottom of the pyramid of power. Between them and the rulers is a bureaucracy of officials who run the state on a daily basis.

the parts of the world mentioned in the tutorial where there have been advanced chiefdoms with paramount and lesser chiefs

Africa and ancient Hawaii
redistributive exchange system

The general term for an economic exchange intended to distribute a society's wealth in a different way than exists at present. In modern nations, charity and progressive income tax systems are examples of redistributive exchanges.

the way in which economic redistribution often occurs in chiefdoms

Chiefs usually perform a society wide economic redistribution function cloaked in the guise of ritual gift giving. This essentially siphons off surplus agricultural products from farmers and then redistributes them throughout the society. In the process, a small amount is held back in order to support the chief's somewhat more lavish life style.

the person in a chiefdom who commonly functions as an arbitrator and judge in difficult legal disputes

the chief or his representative

the level of political integration that is most likely to be found in societies with large-scale intensive agriculture


when and where in the world the first states appeared

(hint: these were the ancient civilizations)

4,500-5,500 years ago in Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq), India, China, Mesoamerica, and the central Andean mountain region of Western South America.

what the functions of cities were in the ancient states

They were primarily centers for the elite ruling class along with the state government bureaucracy as well as the majority of the fulltime craft specialists and traders who worked for them. In addition, cities were commonly the locations of major temples of the state religions.

the political system that is found mostly in societies with fulltime professional armies

(Is it a chiefdom or a state?)


the reason that the transition from acephalous bands and tribes to chiefdoms and finally states mostly began after the end of the last ice age, 8,000-10,000 years ago

The dramatically altered climate at the end of the last ice age was largely responsible for the disappearance of many large mammal species that humans hunted at the time. Lowland areas were being flooded by sea levels rising as a consequence of massive continental glaciers melting. These changes occurred at the same time that the human population was growing. In the arid river valleys that were to become the centers of the majority of ancient civilizations, this crisis was probably the most acute. The first response was to shift the focus of foraging to small game and wild plant foods, especially cereals. This was a stop-gap. Inevitably, plant and animal domestication were necessary to increase the food supply and make it more dependable. Horticulture and pastoralism were successful as long as the population density did not increase much. However, many of these societies continued to get bigger. Chiefdoms became a common solution to the problem of continued growth. The next step was the development of intensive agriculture. This made the creation of the ancient states inevitable.

voluntaristic theory for the development of ancient states

The idea that people made rational economic decisions that led them inevitably to develop the first states. It is argued that food surpluses created by early agriculture allowed some individuals to spend increasing time in developing manufactured products, while some others became full-time traders. Markets appeared and some people became wealthier than others. In order for this to happen, the strong social pressure of the earlier egalitarian societies to share equally had to be replaced by the acceptance of individuals accumulating wealth. These changes created the need to develop new political solutions to the problem of mediating the differences between economic groups. A more centralized and less democratic political system was the outcome of this process.

hydraulic theory for the development of ancient states

The idea that state level political systems arose out of the need to construct and manage large-scale irrigation systems necessary for intensive agriculture within arid river valleys. It is argued that elaborate irrigation systems required leadership to organize the labor needed for this purpose. Once that leadership had come into existence, local control would have increasingly passed to a permanent centralized ruling class. That elite class would have been able to control farmers by denying water to those who resisted their authority. This is an ecological explanation.

coercive theory for the development of ancient states

The idea that states developed as a means of mobilizing armies to conquer competitive neighboring peoples. It is argued that Increasing population pressure in early agricultural societies would have resulted in intensive competition with other societies for scarce resources such as land, water, salt, and wood. This would have triggered wars of conquest. Centralized state governments would have developed to mobilize and direct armies. Those armies would continue to exist as tools for controlling conquered peoples, collecting tribute, and allocating resources.

multi-cause theory for the development of states

The idea that states developed as a result of a number of different interacting causes. It is argued that changes in society, culture, and the environment are interrelated in complex ways. Different developments in evolving states would have triggered further developments which in turn would have affected the direction and rate of the initial developments. For example, some emerging ancient states in Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) were more successful than others because they had better resource bases and were able to control agricultural production over larger areas. This in turn gave them advantages in waging war. Once they began conquering their neighbors, they would have gotten tribute from the defeated states which would have reinforced the advantages of the successful conquerors.

how modern states are like the preindustrial states of the early civilizations

Modern nation states still have a pyramid shaped distribution of economic and political power. Subsequently, there is social, political, and economic inequality. There is poverty for some while others are rich.

how modern states are different from the preindustrial states of the early civilizations

Social mobility between classes is generally much easier in modern nation states. Hereditary rulers have been almost entirely replaced by democratically elected leaders. Modern states have far larger permanent bureaucracies. Their political power is centered in cities that dwarf most of those in the early states.

the likely consequence of continued human global population growth in the future

(Think in terms of food and other critical resources.)

We will constantly need to produce more food, fiber, and other materials in order to satisfy the growing demand generated by the additional people each year. Over the 21st century, much of the world very likely will face severe shortages, including those of food (especially protein rich meat), drinking water, arable land, and petroleum based fuels. We will be forced to be ever more creative in using them efficiently and to make hard decisions about their distribution in society. Those decisions probably will involve new political solutions in addition to technological ones.