Section Banner Images

Empires to Nation-States

Before Islam

print icon Print Page


Back Button Off 1 of 3 Next Button On


Empires and Nation-States are types of political organization that developed slowly over thousands of years in the Middle East as they did elsewhere in the world. These terms require some definition.

“Politics” could be defined as the way a society makes decisions and distributes resources to its members. Even small-scale hunting and gathering societies are governed by politics. But as societies grow larger, certain individuals or families acquire the power to make decisions for others. Eventually, these decision-making roles become institutions that we would recognize as parts of government including kingship, bureaucracies, and written laws.

A “state” is a form of government that has authority within its territory to enforce its decisions by control of a legal system, an army, and sometimes religious practices. A “nation” is a culturally similar group of people, and a “nation-state” is a state whose geographic boundaries are the same as those of a cultural group. While many scholars see the nation-state as a product of eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Europe, some ancient Middle Eastern societies—particularly ancient Egypt—were very much like nation-states. Finally, an “empire” is a political unit that has conquered other states and other cultural groups.

Next Button Off The Rise of States

© 2010 The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago  |  Page updated: 12/29/2010

Contact Information  |  Rights & Permissions