And Political Development of the World System




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The Urbanization

and Political Development of the World System:

A comparative quantitative analysis1


Andrey Korotayev and Leonid Grinin


Because the relationship between urbanization and the evolution of statehood is a rather voluminous subject, we shall only consider a few aspects of this relationship2. First of all, it appears necessary to note that the very formation of the state is connected with urbanization directly, or indirectly3. Among factors that contribute to both state formation and urbanization the following, appear to have been especially important: а) population growth (see, e.g., Claessen and van de Velde 1985; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1994; Fried 1967a, 1967b; Service 1975; Korotayev, Malkov, and Khaltourina 2006a, 2006b; Гринин 2006а); b) development of trade (Ekholm 1977; Webb 1975)4; and c) growth of wealth5.

It also appears necessary to note that the "urban" way of the early state formation was one of the most important ones (for more detail see Гринин 2006а). Urbanization was connected with the concentration of people as a result of the compulsory merger of a few settlements due, usually, to pressure from a military threat. Such a situation was typical for many regions: for Ancient Greece (Глускина 1983: 36; see also Фролов 1986: 44; Андреев 1979: 20–21), Mesopotamia, in particular in the late 4th millennium and the 3rd millennium BCE (Дьяконов 1983: 110, 2000а, 1: 46), a number of African regions; for example, in South-East Madagascar in the 17th century a few small states of the Betsileo originated in this way (Kottak 1980; Claessen 2000, 2004). In Greece this process was called synoikismos.

Population concentration contributed in a rather significant way both to the urbanization and state formation process and development6. In particular, the density of contacts within a polity is a very important factor of state formation (Гринин 2001–2006; 2006а). And, as this density is higher in urban than rural societies, the politogenetic processes within them have certain peculiarities in comparison with those societies that lack cities.

Thus, state formation is connected rather tightly with city formation even though the correlation between the presence of the state and the presence of the cities is still far from 100%, though it is quite high as some scholars, for example, Adams (1966) believed. Adams, in fact, considered the presence of cities a necessary characteristic of the state. Of course, this relationship is not coincidental as economic, social, and many political processes (including the ones involving the institution of the state itself) of the state are intertwined with urbanization processes; to some extent they are based on it. On the other hand, the state influences urbanization processes. The state is a complex integrative institution that concentrates the development of many relationships within itself. Similarly, the city also implies a complex concentration consisting of geographical, social, political, and sacral, resources and assets. "The city is a direct territorial concentration of a multiplicity of heterogeneous forms of human activities" (Ахиезер 1995: 23).

Hence, most factors of politogenesis and state formation are connected with urbanization. The development of religion and the rulers' sacralization is inevitably connected with the development of temple systems, temple cities, or cities that acted as centers of religious life. The immense role of the military in the formation of the state is very well known (Ambrosino 1995; Carneiro 1970, 1978; Southall 2000), and it is not coincidental that fortress cities were a predominant type of cities in the period in question. On the other hand, military devastation was one of the most important causes for the destruction and death of cities and the decline of a city's population. The formation of an elite played a pivotal role in these processes, but the elites tended to concentrate just in cities. It is also quite clear that the processes of social stratification and class formation proceeded in many ancient agricultural societies under a considerable influence of the "urban revolution" (Алекшин 1986: 22).

The state is impossible without centralized power (see, e.g., Claessen 1978: 586–588; Claessen and Oosten 1996: 2; Claessen and van de Velde 1987: 16; Ember and Ember 1999: 158, 380; Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1987/1940; Haas 2001: 235; Spencer 2000: 157, etc.; see also Гринин 2001–2006; Grinin 2003, 2004). Hence, we believe that the relationship between urbanization and the evolution of statehood is especially transparent with respect to the formation and development (as well as the influence on social life) of the central settlement of the state (that is, its capital [see below for more detail]). Most frequently centralized power is geographically materialized as the main settlement of a country, its capital (though there were some exceptions like the empire of Charlemagne that lacked a real capital city [Дэвис 2005: 221]). The role of centralized power is especially significant in large developed states. It is difficult to overestimate the role of such gigantic urban centers as Rome, Constantinople/Istanbul, Moscow and so on in the life of their respective empires; and it is important to note that the population concentration of these cities was exceptionally high.

It is also necessary to note that the vector of the state's activities largely determines the process of urbanization: its intensity and direction, as well as the concrete transformations of concrete cities. By "concrete transformation" we mean the construction of fortresses, the destruction of cities during wars, the creation of cities as base stations or trade factories in conquered territories (as was done, for example, by Alexander the Great), as well as with colonization activities (as was typical for the Phoenicians, Greeks, Genoese, etc.). Sometimes the destruction of and enemies' cities and deportation of their population fed the growth of the victors' capitals, as this happened, for example, in the 14th century with Samarkand (to where craftsmen from conquered cities were deported by Timur en mass).

In a number of early and developed states, political changes were connected with the transfer of the capital from one city to another, or the construction of a new capital. For example, in Japan in 639 CE the capital was transferred by Emperor Jomei (Пасков 1987: 34); Sargon the Great made a previously unimportant town Akkad his capital (Дьяконов 2000б: 57). Andrew the Pious established his capital in the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality in a new town, Vladimir-na-Klyazme (Рыбаков 1966: 617). One can easily recollect cases when capitals were erected "at a blank space", as happened, for example, during the formation of the Golden Horde. As an example from the history of the developed states one may mention the transfer by the pharaoh-reformer Akhenaten of the Egyptian capital to the newly-built Akhetaten ("Horizon of Aten") named after the newly introduced single deity Aten (see, e.g., Trigger 2001: 78; Виноградов 2000а: 377–382). Another famous example is the erection of the new Russian capital Saint Petersburg by Peter the Great .

The processes of the growth and development of capitals (as well as the urbanization as a whole) could be also affected by such political factors as the struggle against separatism and other activities aimed at strengthening centralized power. For example, for these purposes the center tried to attract the nobility to the capital, and sometimes their representatives (or children) were kept in the capital as honorable hostages to insure the loyalty of their parents and relatives; some ancient Chinese states of the Zhou period (Johnson and Earle 2000: 294; Pokora 1978: 203) or Benin (Бондаренко 2001: 222–223) could be mentioned here as examples. However, such phenomena could be found not only among early states, but also among developed ones. For example, Qin Shi Huangdi, the founder of the first centralized Chinese empire, deported 120 thousand families of hereditary aristocracy, high-ranked officials and rich merchants to his capital Xianyang during the first year of the country's unification, 221 BCE (Переломов 1962: 154). In the 17th – 19th centuries the Shōgun government of Japan had to look constantly after the activities of the daimyo (the local rulers) and to keep them as hostages in the capital (Гальперин 1958; Топеха 1958; Губер и др. 1982; Сабуро 1972: 142; Сырицын 1987: 149–151; Кузнецов и др. 1988: 110–112). On the other hand, in Ottoman Egypt, the mamluk beys and other member of the top echelon of the Egyptian elite were "virtual hostages of the capital", as they were afraid to leave Cairo for long because of the constant intrigues and acute competition among the mamluk houses (Kimche 1968: 457). In addition, their obligatory participation in the divans (governmental councils) demanded their presence in the capital. In Russia Peter the Great in order to develop the new capital demanded from the top echelon of the elite to build houses in Saint Petersburg and to spend their considerable periods of time.

On the other hand, the development of cities is a necessary condition for the formation and growth of developed states (for more detail see Гринин 2006а; 2006в). In particular, the developed statehood implies some regional economic specialization, that is, the beginning of the formation of a unified economic organism in the respective country. For example, the formation of the "all-Russian market" began in the second half of the 17th century (Преображенский 1967: 25–28; Хромов 1988: 148–152), whereas in China "the economic specialization of individual cities, areas and regions had become clear by the 16th century" (Симоновская, Лапина 1987: 119). In Japan in the 17th century we find some definite specialization of regions, in particular with respect to some industrial crops – indigo, cotton, flax, sugar-cane and so on – which tended to be cultivated in particular regions (Гальперин 1958: 27). There was also some regional division of labor with respect to industrial products: various textiles, metal and lacquer products, paper, ceramics, porcelain, and so on. Osaka hosted not only the central market of the country, but also a rice exchange center which bought rice from local and regional farmers and gave credits against security of future crops (Кузнецов и др. 1988: 115). In Britain the unified national market had already formed by the 16th century and it developed actively throughout the whole of this century (Винокуров 1993: 48; Лавровский, Барг 1958: 72). Naturally, such specialization influenced the dynamics of urban development.

Industrialization is a necessary condition for mature state development. Naturally, industrialization is intrinsically connected with vigorous urbanization processes including, among other things, the development of cities with more than one million inhabitants and internal migrations to cities from the countryside (see, e.g., Бессонов 1999; Дмитриевская 1999). In addition to this, mature statehood is intrinsically connected with nationhood, whereas the latter is impossible without the effective exchange of information and commodities, without a deep division of labor within a society, without a unified economic space.

Let us consider now the relationship between the size of the territory controlled by the developed and mature states and their analogues, on the one hand, and the world urban population, on the other (see Diagrams 1 and 2):


Diagram 1. Dynamics of World Urban Population (thousands) and the Size of the Territory Controlled by the Developed and Mature States and Their Analogues (thousands km2), 1000 BCE – 1900 CE




NOTES. Data on urban population for cities with > 10,000 inhabitants. Data sources: for the city population (for all the diagrams used in this article) – see Korotayev's article in this issue of the Almanac. The dynamics of the size of the territory controlled by the developed and mature states and their analogues have been calculated on the basis of Tables 1 and 2 of the article by Grinin and Korotayev in the present issue of the Almanac, Taagapera's database (Taagapera 1968, 1978a, 1978b, 1979, 1997), the database Historical Atlas of Eurasia (http://www.openhistory.net), and the Atlas of the World History (O'Brien 1999) for all the diagrams of the present article.

Diagram 2. Correlation between World Urban Population (thousands) and the Size of the Territory Controlled by the Developed and Mature States and Their Analogues (thousands km2), 2100 BCE – 1900 CE (scatterplot with fitted regression line)




NOTE: r = + 0,916; p << 0.0001.


As we see, we do observe a really strong positive correlation between the two variables in question. However, the relationship between them is in no way identical with a simple linear relationship, which is especially clear if we consider the dynamics of the respective variables in a logarithmic scale (see Diagrams 3 and 4):

Diagram 3. Dynamics of World Urban Population (thousands) and the Size of the Territory Controlled by the Developed and Mature States and Their Analogues (thousands km2), till 1900 CE. (logarithmic scale)



Diagram 4. Correlation between the World's Urban Population (thousands) and the Size of the Territory Controlled by the Developed and Mature States and their Analogues (thousands km2), 2100 BCE – 1900 CE (phase portrait in logarithmic scale)



As we see, the formation of the first cities and the first phase of fast growth of the world urban population was observed in the 4th and early 3rd millennia BCE well before the formation of the first developed states and were connected with the development of early states and their analogues. However, already the formation of the first developed state (in Egypt in the mid 2nd millennium BCE) affected the World System urban population dynamics in a rather significant way. Indeed, after the millennial stagnation of the world urban population at the 300–500 thousand level, in the third quarter of the 2nd millennium we observe a period of relatively fast growth of the world urban population that, according to Modelski's (2003) estimates, in the 13th century exceeded (for the first time in the human history) one million. Note that this was, to a very considerable degree precisely due to the growth of Egyptian cities. It was in Egypt where the largest world cities were localized in the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE.7 On the other hand, the decline of the developed Egyptian state in the late 2nd millennium BCE contributed in the most significant way to the decline of the world's urban population that was observed at this time.

In general, with respect to the dynamics of the territory controlled by developed and mature states and their analogues, we find the same system of attractors and phase transitions that was found earlier (see Korotayev's article in this almanac) with respect to the world's urban population, literacy, and political centralization. With respect to this variable8 we also observe a phase transition in the 1st millennium BCE, as a result of which the size of the territory controlled by the developed states and their analogues grew by an order of magnitude up to around 10 million km2, and had found itself in a new basin of attraction, within which it fluctuated till the phase transition of the Modern Age.

On the other hand, notwithstanding all the impressive synchrony of the phase transitions with respect to all the above mentioned indicators of the World System development, it is impossible not to note here a few important time lags during the phase transition of the 1st millennium BCE the surge in the size of territory controlled by the developed states (and, in general, the transition from the early to developed statehood at the scale of the World System) lagged behind the phase transition in the dynamics of the World System urban population and urbanization.

This lag can be interpreted as evidence for the fact that at this time the economic development of the World System temporarily advanced beyond the World System's political development.9 Consequently, the transition of a number of early states to developed statehood (or its analogues) can be considered as dragging the level of political development up to the level of socio-economic subsystems that had advanced beyond the political ones with respect to their complexity. We believe that the formation of both early statehood and of developed/mature statehood implies a certain basis without which its development becomes impossible.10

In the meantime one should take into account the following points that account for the lag in the growth of developed states and also account for the advance of economic subsystems over political subsystems during the 1st millennium BCE.

1. The growth of developed statehood (and its analogues) is only an (advanced) component of the whole politogenesis process of the respective period. Political change (as well as change in other World System characteristics) occurred unevenly. Some societies develop early statehood whereas others move to the chiefdom level of political organization. In the period in question a very substantial part of the World System (especially at its periphery) had no statehood at all. Further growth toward developed statehood became possible only after the formation of early statehood in stateless parts of the World System (for example in most areas of Europe). However, for a long period of time this was not possible due to the lack of some necessary technologies (first of all, the development of iron technology).

2. However, the slow down of political development was not total. On the one hand, between the 16th and 7th centuries BCE we do not observe the formation of newly developed states (see Table 1 in the previous article of the present Almanac); on the other hand, this was a period in which a large number of new early states and their analogues were formed (see, e.g., Grinin et al. 2004, 2006). What is important is that within the World System of the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE, early statehood could not develop without being based on urbanization, trade and crafts.

On the one hand, this led to the lag between urbanization and developed statehood in the world. On the other hand, the transition of these early states to the developed statehood could not take place due to the underdevelopment of crafts and markets. One of the most important factors was the absence of true money whose presence would have enormously facilitated the formation of trade connections throughout very large territories. Another (and even more important) factor was the absence or underdevelopment of new technologies (both military and non-military) – first of all, of iron metallurgy.

Naturally, it appears necessary to take into account the fact that the transition to iron metallurgy did not lead automatically to the transition to developed (and even early) statehood, because this transition can only take place when a number of conditions are present.11 However, without iron metallurgy the expansion of developed statehood was strongly hindered; consequently, at this time, the formation of developed statehood was only observed under exceptional circumstances.

As was mentioned in the previous article of the present Almanac, the first states appeared within the World System (as well as, naturally, in the world in general) in the 4th and early 3rd millennia BCE (see, e.g., Виноградов 2000б: 150–151; Дьяконов 2000а: 45–56; Baines and Yoffee 1998: 199; Wright 1977: 386; 1998; Ламберг-Карловски 1990: 7). They appeared on the basis of intensive irrigated agriculture. Thus, there are certain grounds to connect state formation with the finalization of the agricultural revolution. However, an important theoretical clarification is necessary at this point, as this clarification is important for the explanation of the above mentioned time lag between the World System phase transition along the urbanization dimension and along the dimension of the expansion of developed statehood. We believe that the agrarian revolution is one of three major production revolutions (in addition to the industrial and information-scientific revolutions). These revolutions were the most important technological and economic benchmarks of the World System development. However, at the World System level each of these revolutions occurred in two phases (for more detail see Grinin 2006). As regards the agrarian revolution, its first phase was connected with the transition to primitive (hoe) extensive agriculture and primitive herding, whereas its second phase involved the transition to irrigated or non-irrigated plow agriculture. In general, the second phase of the agrarian revolution may be regarded as the transition to the intensive and/or partly labor-economizing agriculture, that is, to the agricultural systems that radically increased the productivity of land and/or the productivity of labor in the land cultivation during critically important ("busy") seasons of the year. For the sake of brevity this second phase of the agricultural revolution will be denoted below simply as "intensive"12.

Note that the gap between these two phases occupied a few millennia (between the 8th and 4th millennia BCE). Primary state formation should be connected with the second ("intensive") phase of the agrarian revolution.13 However, a theoretically important point is that in the areas of large subtropical/tropical rivers and soft soils the transition to irrigated agriculture (that formed the economic basis for the development of states and civilizations) did not generally need any specialized new tools and materials (for example, metals). What is more, the tools themselves sometimes remained rather primitive. In such cases the most important component of the second phase of agricultural revolution was connected not with the tools, but with irrigation techniques, improved domesticates, agronomic know-how that made it possible to bring fertile lands under cultivation, or to increase significantly the productivity of land. On the other hand, in the 4th millennium BCE (or even a few centuries earlier) new tools (as well as the beginning of the economic use of a new energy source) still in the form of primitive scratch-plows and the use of oxen (with the help of yokes) for plowing and transportation (see, e.g., Чубаров 1991; Краснов 1975; Шнирельман 1988). Of course, this was a very significant technological advance. However, it appears necessary to emphasize that the primary state formation was not strongly connected either with the invention of the plow, or the use of the energy of the draft animals.14

However, natural environments with soft and fertile soils that are liable for irrigation where productive agriculture (that is able to support supercomplex political structures) is possible without metal tools are rather limited. And what was possible in some Near Eastern areas on the basis of simple predominantly non-metallic tools (the formation of civilizations, cities, early, and later developed, states and their analogues) was simply impossible in most other areas of Asia, Europe, and Africa. In most of these areas the formation of supercomplex political structures became possible only after a qualitatively new level of technological development had been achieved (in particular, after the introduction of the iron metallurgy). Thus, the spread of civilization, urbanization, and statehood to many territories was hindered by the lack of iron metallurgy (and some other technologies). These technologies were invented in the late 2nd and 1st millennia BCE, and diffused throughout the World System in the 1st millennium BCE (note that they only reached many of its peripheral parts in the second half of this millennium).15

Only the introduction of plows with iron ploughshares in conjunction with effective draft animals and harnesses made it possible to carry out the second phase of the agrarian revolution in most parts of Eurasia. The new civilization only proliferated to most parts of the Old World with the invention of iron metallurgy; for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa civilizations only developed after the introduction of the hoes with iron working parts which, using Satton's (Саттон 1982: 131) expression, led to prosperity (see also Шинни 1982; Куббель 1982; Sellnow 1981). Effective agriculture only occurred in the Ganges Valley with the introduction of iron tools (Шарма 1987: 363).

In most parts of Eurasia the second phase of the agrarian revolution was connected with the introduction of iron tools, heavy plows (or light plows with iron ploughshares), as well as effective harness for draft animals.16 The very principle of plow agriculture was borrowed by Europeans from West Asia, but in Europe the plow was significantly improved. This version of the second phase of the agricultural revolution was prevalent in Eurasia and North Africa in the areas of non-irrigated agriculture.

Yet, when these technologies (and with them the early statehood and its analogues) spread to new territories, the above mentioned lag between urbanization and developed statehood was temporarily amplified. According to the theory proposed by the second author of this article (see the previous article in the present issue of the Almanac), developed statehood can only appear within a territory that has been prepared for this historically, culturally, and economically; and such a preparation needs a considerable period of time. Objectively, urban growth prepared the formation of developed statehood and its proliferation to new territories, whereas cities, serving as economic and political centers, created a network that was necessary for a new phase transition that involved the rise of the World System to a qualitatively new level of complexity.

Let us return now to an earlier period when the proliferation of developed states lagged behind the formation of new early states and their analogues (i.e., between the 2nd millennium BCE and the 1st half of the 1st millennium BCE). Already in the Bronze Age, in the late 3rd millennium BCE we observe in the Near East a complex model of cultural interaction between societies stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley, and the Central Asia to the Persian Gulf (see, e.g., Ламберг-Карловски 1990: 12). As a result, we observe the formation of cities, early states, and their analogues in territories that were adjacent to the centers of first Near Eastern civilizations (and first developed states and their analogues) on the basis of soils that were relatively easy to cultivate, copper and bronze metallurgy, international division of labor, trade and so on. However, the formation of developed states in these territories was still highly problematic without the wide proliferation of iron metallurgy, military modernization (based on iron), and other technological and economic improvements.

It appears necessary at this point to answer the following question: why during this period did a developed state appear in Egypt (and its analogues – in Mesopotamia)? One has to mention here, first of all, the extremely high productivity of agriculture that tended to result in very high population densities, implying the need for a mode of administration relying more on bureaucratic processes rather than on a military apparatus.17 A different situation was observed in the World System semiperiphery and periphery, neither of which possessed such productive agricultural resources. In these areas the military component of the state played a more important role. Consequently, developed states (and their analogues) could only appear here when there was a new productive basis that necessitated a greater economic consolidation of the respective territories. Other versions of developed states could appear either on the basis of profitable trade and the creation of considerable wealth in non-agricultural sector (that made it possible to import food resources in considerable quantities as it was observed in Athens), or on the basis of considerable technological improvements in agriculture that could make it as productive as it was in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the 3rd and 2nd millennia. In most places this only became possible after the introduction of iron instruments in agriculture, crafts, and military sector (that was accompanied by a considerable number of other technological and strategic innovations), as well as vigorous development of trade (that also implied a qualitative development of money and credit instruments) and sea transportation.18

Thus, in the 2nd millennium BCE and the first half of the 1st millennium BCE the potential of economic and military-technological basis for the formation of new developed states without iron metallurgy and other new technologies turns out to have been entirely exhausted, whereas it took the new technologies a considerable period of time to diffuse throughout the World System; this seems to partly account for the developed statehood formation (and diffusion) lagging behind the world urbanization processes.

During the Modern Age phase transition, the rapid increase in the size of territory controlled by developed (and mature) states had begun a considerable time before the start of an equally rapid and impetuous growth in the world's urban population. This increase in territory and urban population growth becomes especially clear if we consider the dynamics of these variables within the 2nd millennium CE (see Diagram 5):
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