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Forms of Government

Discussion in 'World Building' started by The Realm Wanderer, Apr 21, 2011.

  1. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    Okay, so basically I decided to make this thread in order to (hopefully) get a little more insight into the politics of world building. I know absolutely nothing about politics and need to include them in my novel, which obviously has brought me to a halt.
    So, to you kind people I ask, what exactly are Dukedoms, Kingdoms and empires? What are the differences between them? How are the domains ruled? etc. And if possible maybe talk a bit about royal lines.
    I don't really want a technical answer that I could have found by searching wikipedia or something. I just want someone who has some knowledge in this sector to explain it as simply and clearly as possible.
    Thank you in advance for any help or responses given :)
     
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    I'm not entirely certain, but I think to be an empire it has to include vassal states - states ruled by someone else, but which are paying tribute or taxes, or contributing soldiers or ships etc, to the empire state. I dunno about specific definitions of the others though.

    Have you considered non-monarchic types of government at all? Even in the ancient world, monarchies and empires weren't the only forms of government available. The Athenians had democracy, the Romans had republic, the Spartans had a complex type of dyarchic oligarchy (two kings, and a larger group of individuals who had lots of power too). Oligarchies were common in ancient Greece, as were tyrannies (without the negative connotations they have today thanks to Plato and Aristotle, these were similar to monarchies but without the divine providence stuff and generally only lasted one or two generations; many of these tyrants were actually not all that bad, because they had to be nice to stay in power. Pisistratos in Athens build loads of public buildings). The key thing with ancient forms of government is that even if it was called democracy, not everyone had a vote. Only the adult male citizens did. Or you could play with an oligarchic democracy - only those rich enough can vote, regardless of birth or family. One of the cities in my novel is run by a high priestess, who by law must be a virgin, so there are any dynasties.
     
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  3. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    Thanks for the quick response Chilari. Still clueless really lol but appreciate it nonetheless. I think some very tiring research is in order. I may actually be studying Ancient History soon which will educate me on the politics, religions, lifestyles, mythologies etc. of ancient civilisations. I'm really interested in the ancient greeks and egyptians in particular.
    I have a number of different realms in my novel that each require diverse types of government. One would be a democracy, another a dictatorship etc. so I was just curious. The research stage is going to be very daunting I think :/
     
  4. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    The hierarchy in most of Europe is, as follows, generally Emperor (Empire), King (Kingdom), Viceroy (Viceroyalty), Archduke (Archduchy), Grand Duke (Grand Duchy), Duke (Duchy, or Dukedom), Marquess (Marches, or Marquessates), Earl/Count (Earldom/County, or Countship), Viscounts (Viscountships, or Viscount[c]ies), and Barons (Barony). I may have missed one or two, but those are all of the big ones. Basically, each one is in control of something below it. An empire is a place with two or more kingdoms in it. The British Empire, at one point, controlled Canada, Australia, parts of Asia, and the United Kingdom. A kingdom has dukes, dukedoms have counties, and so on. Once you are at the end of the scale, let's say with Barons, they have knights, who basically just own manors with some servants and whatnot. Fiefs and all that. In essence, the people living on a knight's land pay him, who pays taxes to the baron, who pays taxes to the Viscount, until it seeps up to the Emperor.
     
  5. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Dukedom, Barony, Earldom, etc are all just the lands held by the particular noble or knight (knights were not necessarily nobility).

    All the historical information can be looked up quite easily on wikipedia or elsewhere on the net, but the important thing to know is this: You could not effectively rule lands that you did not live on.

    Travel and communication were very slow, and they all but shut down in the winters in some places. The governor of a land had near-total control over that land, because there was rarely anyone else of higher authority around. As Opiucha said, taxes (which were generally paid in goods, not in gold) flowed from the bottom up. Farmers give up part of their crop, craftsmen give up part of their work, etc. Everyone squeezed the guy below him for as much as he could without inviting open revolt.

    For info on lineages and royal lines, Wikipedia is your best bet. I'm not sure there is a short answer.
     
  6. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    Thank you all for your replies. Much appreciated :) Looks like me and Wikipedia are going to be getting to know each other a lot better in the coming weeks.
     
  7. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour

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    Let's not forget that in fantasy settings you can have limitless "creative experiments" with less orthodox types of governance:

    Theocracy: rule by religious elites
    Plutocracy: rule by the wealthy (merchant houses, guilds, etc)
    Magocracy: rule by magical elites(!)
    Gerontocracy: rule by the wise/eldest
    Demarchy: rule by randomly selected citizens (think of a lottery that decided the rulers every year!)
    Thalassocracy: A collective of sea or coastal entities who rule the seas.

    Or think of the various forms of anarchism: Anarcho-syndicalists are collectivists who own all the means of production (made famous by that one scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail), or Temporary Autonomous Zones, like the old pirate utopias. Or mixtures of various "might makes right" types which aren't formally ruled, but have various hierarchies that appear and disappear based on the intrigues within. Look up Somalia today or, for a more "folklorish" spin, look up Libertatia.
     
  8. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    Thanks Fnord. Given me a lot to think about. I may well just add my own spin to the governments. Make them less...normal and more fantasy-like :) Thanks again.
     
  9. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Oh, my. Dissertation time again. Or rather, not time: gotta go eat. A considered reply will follow when I get the chance. :rolleyes: ;)
     
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Ophiucha covered the "generic" order of precedence pretty well, though specific details as to which titles get used will vary widely from one culture to another. There are a few that fall below baron (baronet, seigneur/chevalier/knight, esquire, plus possibly lord, where that is more than just an honorific for some other title), but these will be particularly idiosyncratic. That's without getting into the non-English names, but unless you're really interested, there's no reason to bother with them for now. No single system will use all of these titles, though some manage to shoehorn most of them in; as long as you stick with the general order she gives, it doesn't matter which ones you drop out.

    I'm not sure whether she left out "Prince" on purpose or not, but it's just as well, since that admits the widest play of all titles, even without getting into "crown" princes, "royal" ones, and so on: it can mean anything from "sovereign" (which is why emperors, kings, etc. are sometimes collectively referred to as "princes") to "sovereign's children" (the usage we're most familiar with) to "nobleman" of just about any stripe—the number of "princes" in the Holy Roman Empire was truly staggering. In fact, if you want a good view of all the different forms monarchical politics can take, you can start and end there, as it not only includes more than its fair share of normally-titled nobility, but also free cities, lands held directly by the emperor, ecclesiastical lands, palatine lands (where the lord exercised powers normally reserved to the crown: the largest and longest-lived of which acquired a capital letter, as the Palatinate), and Electors (the guys who got to choose the Emperor). One of my all-time favorite maps is a detailed political map of the northwestern part of the HRE in the 17th century… which looks mind-bogglingly confusing until you realize that the largest feature, a yellow blob occupying a full third of the left side, is, of all things, Luxembourg—at which point you simply throw up your hands completely. :confused:

    One important point is whether or not the title-holder is sovereign (independent of an overlord)—because if he is, he isn't bound to follow anyone else's conventions on what title means what. The last surviving remnant of Byzantium called itself the "Empire" of Trebizond… and never consisted of more than a few hundred square miles on the southeast shore of the Black Sea, a tiny sliver of what is today Turkey. (An even smaller fragment, Epirus, began by calling itself an "empire," but you'll usually see it referred to as the "Despotate of Epirus," "Despot" originating as a non-pejorative title in Byzantine hierarchy.) If the title-holder isn't sovereign, he's pretty much stuck with his culture's conventions—usually involving inheritance—though there was occasional "mobility" (if someone is dispossessed by the crown, or if a title becomes vacant and the crown elevates someone to it), and it was far from unusual for a given individual to have multiple titles due to inheritance, marriage, or the crown handing them out as goodies (in the last case, generally without land attached). Feudal duties can get quite complex, as with the case of England and France in the 12th-15th centuries, when the English King was nominally the French King's vassal, while conversely the English King often claimed to be King of France as well. With that kind of confusion at the top, you can imagine what it might be like to be a count with holdings in two or more different higher divisions—possibly in different countries.

    Also, what a place calls itself may have little or nothing to do with how it's actually run… the best modern example being "People's Democratic Republic," which is code for "socialist dictatorship." For about half of the 17th century, France was run by a cardinal, effectively if not officially; ever since the 17th century, Britain/the British Empire has been run by the House of Commons… effectively if not officially. (Except for India: the India Office pretty much ran itself, no matter what sovereign or parliament said.)

    Note too that "government" itself has at least two distinct meanings—a distinction more likely to cause confusion to citizens of the U.S. than anywhere else. The meaning used in the U.S. refers to the entire apparatus of administering the state. The one used in parliamentary states (at least when it's capitalized: Government) refers to a group of Ministers, usually under a Prime Minister, each of whom bears responsibility for the acts of his department, who are chosen from the largest party (and, if they aren't a majority, from whichever allies they had to cozy up to in order to obtain a majority), who may or may not need to be members of parliament (or a specific house of parliament if there's more than one), who are often considered bound by honor and tradition (if not law) to resign if one of their acts or policies is repudiated by parliament at large, and who can at least potentially bring down the entire Government if they do resign and a willing replacement can't be found immediately. This is why you see mentions such as the number of "Governments" Italy has had since WWII (more than sixty, at last count) or Belgium not having had one for over a year now… doesn't mean there isn't anyone running the country. (I'm not even sure there's a way to tell the difference.…) This is also why Members of Parliament who are not Ministers may well have no duties of any sort, apart from what their particular electorate feels like holding them to—the British House of Commons (the physical chamber, that is) can't even seat all its Members… no idea if that's true in other states or not.

    In addition to the items Fnord mentioned, I'd add the following, most of which might've been skipped simply because it isn't too hard to find examples—or at least places that have claimed to be:

    • Democracy: rule by direct vote of the people (or at least those people entitled to vote, which may be a vanishingly small minority, e.g. property holders or adult males)
    • Republic: rule by elected officials (note: the U.S. is a republic, not a democracy; so was Rome, prior to Augustus Caesar… the first "emperor": Julius was killed because the Senate was afraid he might become emperor… that worked out well for them… :p )
    • Socialism: control of resources and means of production by the state (more an economic than a political distinction, as there still needs to be some form of "state" to do this controlling)
    • Communism: in its purest form, no rule at all—everybody shares everything (these really have existed, on small scales, from time to time; any modern state calling itself "communist" has actually been socialist)
    • Anarchy: no rule at all, but without all that touchy-feely sharing
    • Meritocracy: rule by those of proven ability (the Empire of China, at various times, was actually this—through a system of examinations to determine "ability"—though more often only nominally so)
    • Constitutional Monarchy: rule by the monarch, whose powers are limited by a constitution (in practice, parliament or an equivalent body has the real power; theoretically, the monarch has to approve its acts and the governing ministers, though I'm not familiar with any instances of a monarch refusing to do so and remaining on the throne)
    • Electoral Monarchy: there's a monarch, but the seat isn't hereditary (the HRE, throughout most of its history; Poland, at times—at one point, its elected king had to give up his throne because his brother had died and he'd just inherited France)
    • Kleptocracy: no one claims this for themselves—it's always applied by outside observers… rule by thieves (or, more commonly, by a thoroughly corrupt bureaucracy; another possibility would be rule by criminal organizations… not sure if there's a separate name for this)
    • Matriarchy: rule by women (most often a gerontocracy, but no reason this is necessary)
    • Kritarchy: rule by judges (I just learned that term)
    • Stratocracy: rule by the military (ditto… was going to call it "militocracy" until I ran across it)
    • Police State: generally taken to mean rule enforced by police, I had more in mind rule directly by the police—a nation of Inspector Javerts
    • Oligarchy: rule by pretty much any privileged group of people (unlikely to be used as a primary descriptor unless no other term applies)
    • Bureaucracy: rule by… well, by the government itself, as opposed to any specific person(s) (usually seen accompanied by the word "entrenched")

    The various permutations on the foregoing are all but endless. Athenian democracy, for instance, had one fascinating twist: every year, the electorate would get together and write down the name of the person they thought most likely to become a tyrant… and the "winner" was kicked out for a year, the idea being to prevent anyone from accumulating too much personal power. The practice, in which the names were written on pottery shards, or ostraka, gives us the word "ostracism." The early Roman Republic, in times of emergency, did the reverse: they elected a dictator, in whom was vested absolute power (that is, he could "dictate"—this in contrast to their normal practice of having two equal consuls, something that occasionally led to catastrophic results, as in the Second Punic War)… for a year. Then he was out. (Until a certain Gaius Julius Caesar extended his term indefinitely, at least.) Early Revolutionary France was, at least arguably, a "dictatorship of the proletariat"—a term Marxists use because "mob rule" sounds so pejorative. (And "dictatorship" doesn't?)

    All of which is probably more, rather than less, than you wanted to know. :rolleyes: But it ought to give you something to work off of, at least.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2011
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  11. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    I feel I must correct you on one detail, Ravana. Athenian ostracism was not quite as you described. Each year, everyone would vote on whether they believed any one person had gained too much power; if they thought someone had, then they had a second vote a couple of months later to decide who to ostracise. It didn't actually happen every year, nor even most years - there was a cluster of years in the 480s and 470s BC when it happened several times, then a few in the 450s, and a few more in the 420s and 410s, after which it was abandoned due to corruption - since by then people who thought they'd be ostracised banded together with former political rivals against a third individual and campaigned to get them ostracised instead, leaving two out of the three most powerful men safe, and either the second or third most powerful ostracised. Also there were various situations, not recording in the surviving literature but proposed by modern scholars on the basis of the archaeology, that campaigners wrote the names of their political rivals on thousands of sherds which they then gave out to people, many of whom may not have been able to read, and this may have swayed the results slightly the wrong side of unfair.

    Also, it was a ten year exile, not one year. They kept all their property but were not permitted to step on Athenian soil in ten years, on pain of death, for fear they had ambitions to become tyrants.
     
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  12. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    Okay, Ravana, I'm not sure whether to thank you for the reply or curse you for it ;)
    I won't lie to you. Some tears were shed when I saw how much I had to read through.
    Just kidding. It's clear you put a lot of thought and effort into the response and I very much appreciate it...just don't ever do it again! Haha :)
     
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Clearly, you haven't read through my other responses.… :rolleyes:

    Chilari: thank you. I stand corrected. I thought that one year of banishment sounded wrong, but didn't stop to check (obviously); had I done so, I might've caught the other as well—though I think that in the latter case, my sources themselves may have conflated the two votes, so I may not have, too. I suspect that in most of the periods of Athenian history I've read about they were busily dumping suspected embryonic tyrants hand over fist (and occasionally recalling them when they decided maybe they needed a strongman after all, if memory doesn't fail completely: perhaps you can check me on that as well).

    I'd be a bit suspicious about claims that pre-filled ballots were handed out in any great numbers, given that the size of the electorate was never that great, and therefore any large-scale tampering would be self-evident. (Though by the same token, it might not have taken all that many rigged votes to sway the results.) Too, it seems a bit implausible, in a city small enough that most of the people—and almost certainly all of the people eligible to vote—would know one another at least vaguely, that a supporter of one "candidacy" could find enough people who (1) couldn't read, and either (2) could be persuaded to cast a vote differently than they would have done anyway or (3) were unaware that the campaigner was a partisan of one side and were gullible enough to believe him when he said the vote was marked the opposite way. (Particularly since all they'd have to do is ask any literate friend "What does this say?"—one wrong answer, and the whole scheme gets tumbled.) I suspect outright bribery would've been simpler. And safer.
     
  14. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    I've read through a few of your responses actually, every time regretting it half way through (roughly about three hours in) ;)
     
  15. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Ravana: it is thought that during the classical period the citizen population of Athens was about 30,000 (and the total population, including women, children, slaves and metics) about 100,000. Thus it would be very unlikely that everyone would know everyone else. They say that people tend to have about 100-150 friends and acquaintances and can't keep track of more than that. So it would be possible to hide it. Perhaps I exaggerated when I said thousand, but it is certainly true that certain deposits have been found of ostraka which, experts have suggested, were all written by a very limited number of people. One collection in the Kerameikos museum in Athens has nearly a hundred all written by the same person; another collection of almost 200 found in a well are judged to have been written by fourteen individuals. These particular examples appear to have been discarded having not been given out, so either their plan didn't work or, as some evidence suggests (other ostraka found elsewhere match the handwriting of some of these fourteen campaigners), they made too many and got rid of the excess. So some at least were given out.

    Also, evidence suggests that literacy was not all that common in the classical period. While a significant proportion of the population may have had sufficient knowledge of letters to read notations on vessels at market - things that said whether the vessel contained wheat or olive oil, and how much - and possibly their own name on a lamp or drinking cup they owned, there is no evidence to suggest that all citizens, let alone all residents, could read at all. Thus it is entirely likely that a significant proportion of the electorate could not manage to write their own ostraka or even tell what was written on one without being told. Perhaps not a majority, but even if one fifth fell into this category, it's still about 6000 people.

    I did my undergrad dissertation on the graffiti of the Athenian agora, which included discussion of ostraka and a conclusion relating to the level of literacy among Athenian citizens. Admittedly it's all a lot of guesswork, and accurately estimating the literacy level in any ancient city, whether Athens, Sparta, Rome or even medieval London, is a tricky business. There's a very good book by one Rosalind Thomas called Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece on which I relied heavily for part of my dissertation, and it's well worth a read if you're interested in that sort of stuff.

    Anyway. Sorry for derailing the conversation.
     
  16. The Realm Wanderer

    The Realm Wanderer Troubadour

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    Okay, this thread is fast becoming a home-learning course. Let's all calm down and relieve our keyboards of their slavery haha
    Chilari, did you study Ancient History then?? Because I'm seriously considering taking it at University.
     
  17. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Hmm… that's somewhat higher than what I've seen in the past, but that may have been based on older data. You've studied it in detail; I haven't. (Though 100k people would have made for an absolutely huge urban population in that age–with a density that would put it in the top thirty or so among modern cities; perhaps that included immediate surroundings? I'm assuming one did not need to live within the city to be considered an Athenian citizen.) Even so, I'd definitely debate the number of people one can "keep track of"–especially once you start talking about public figures. (Go ahead: make a list of all the people whose faces you'd recognize. Though a lot may depend on the definition of "keep track of.") And it's still difficult to imagine all that many people accepting an ostraka from a stranger and taking his word that it has the correct name on it–apart from the possibility that it was accompanied by a few drachmae (which, of course, would not be thrown into the ballot box along with the vote). Certainly, no one who took his political franchise seriously would do so… these might have been votes that would otherwise not have been cast at all, but in that case it would be less a question of rigging than a get-out-the-vote campaign.

    There is, by the way, a much more straightforward possibility: that these people were illiterate–and wanted to cast votes. In which case, they would have approached someone from the favored party and asked him to write the name for them… a function that I'm sure the party would have arranged for people to provide, if indeed there weren't people officially designated to do just that. Either way, the same handwriting would appear quite a bit… the lower the literacy level, the more frequently. Not that I believe Athenian democracy was any less corruptible than any other throughout history–since we have plenty of other evidence that it wasn't, always; I just prefer to consider all possibilities, especially when some of them involve assumptions about behavior that are difficult to explain. (I know: I'm hopelessly enamored of the idea that humans will, on the whole, behave rationally, at least when it involves no effort to do so. Oh, well. Maybe someday I'll learn.…)

    I'll have to look for the Thomas book. Sounds like my idea of fun. :D
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  18. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Yes I did. Ancient History and Archaeology at Leicester University. Good place. I'm still there doing an MA on the classical Mediterranean. I don't know if it still is, but when I applied 4 years ago it was the top ancient history/archaeology department in the country. Several of the books and articles I have used have been written by my tutors, which is the mark of a good department since it demonstrates it's at the cutting edge of the topic and that the tutors have a lot of expertise. However, Reading, Durham and Cardiff are also good from what I hear; in fact some of the MAs in my department did their undergrads at Reading, and Cardiff is currently at the top of my list for my PhD, whenever that might actually happen.

    It's very interesting and it has constantly given me inspiration for my stories, mainly for worldbuilding but also some characters and scenarios. At the moment there's not much in the way of jobs in the sector unfortunately, but I've been getting around that by continuing my studies, and there are jobs outside the sector for which an ancient history degree is seen as a good thing, because of the analytical skills it teaches and whatnot. What I was planning for my future has changed a lot over the last four years anyway, not to mention the last four months, and the economy should pick up by the time you graduate so don't worry too much about that now anyway.

    Ravana: I think the 30,000/100,000 figure is for the whole of Attica, not just Athens, and thus includes the Piraeus, Thorikos, and various other towns much smaller than Athens itself but still considered part of it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
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