Unification of the little guys

As we discussed the Andean state(s), I thought about how in a lot of the ancient states we talked about, we talked about the geography as being split into two or more spaces, as well as the fact that there were lots of little states before some group of people unified everybody into one state.  In Ancient Egypt, the northern and southern portions each had their own fairly distinct culture.  Each  was also viewed as its own state society.  But, then Upper Egyptian culture (shown through ceramics) started to influence, and eventually overtake, Lower Egyptian culture.  Once this takeover was complete, Egypt was considered a unified state.  In a similar way, Mesopotamia started as a bunch of little ethnic and cultural groups, eventually unified by the Sumerians and, later, the Akkadians.  Again, some of these smaller settlements and cultural groups could be considered states before they were joined with others by the Sumerians.  In the Indus Valley, the Harappan state emerged from a bunch of smaller communities that may or may not have been smaller states themselves.  In China, we never even really covered unification – there were so many little states cropping up and collapsing that we only gestured toward the much later unification of China into one state.  In Mesoamerica, the Maya similarly united various groups of people either at or working toward the complexity indicating statehood.  And, now, in the Andes, we see the Inca unite the Northern and Southern poles.

I guess part of what I am attempting to figure out/articulate, is why these states appear to have been made up of two or more smaller, earlier states.  In some cases, the smaller state appears to simply have collapsed, leaving the floor open for whomever (like Teotihuacan did).  However, at other places, such as with the Inca or with Upper Egypt, it appears a dominant culture emerged.  Sometimes this emergence happened through militaristic power, but other times it seems to have happened without that power.  In the smaller, more primitive states (some of which might be questioned as states), we see a significant split between those in different geographical areas (such as norther China and southern China).  But, somehow, a group was able to supersede these differences and unite all of these smaller cultures and identities.  I am wondering what made this particular group (the Inca in this case) able to overcome not only the ethnic and cultural differences between themselves and the people they subsumed/absorbed, but also the geographic differences accompanying these different cultures.  I feel like, looking back at each state, it is unclear what the common element is to this rise/unification.  But I also feel like this is a key bit of information/inference to have in order to understand what makes a state a state.

1 thought on “Unification of the little guys

  1. Hannah Brookhart

    Political theorists like Kant, Montesquieu, and Voltaire would probably all agree that the answer to your question is commerce. Not only is peace a requisite factor in trade, but trade dissipates differences. At least, it dilutes the degree to which those differences matter. In Kant’s perfect world nations would do so much trading that we would all identify with each other in a single cosmopolitan state.

    The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt: the major reason that these two regions encountered one another so much was likely because they were trading goods. If trade leads to unification then why didn’t Lower Egypt unite with their Asiatic trade partners? That’s a fair question. The point is not that commerce will lead to a unification of smaller states, but that it makes it possible and very likely.

    Trade has the ability to lead to peace between nations which might lead to their unification because it gives them greater power and is beneficial for both states. Montesquieu wrote that “The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent; if one has an interest in selling, and all unions are founded on mutual needs.” This doesn’t really explain the unifications that are of a military nature. Commerce still works as an explanation, though; it just doesn’t fit the theory of “perpetual peace”. Smaller states expand their territory to achieve greater economic influence, and absorb all of the resources of those states surrounding them. Commerce is once again the driving force.

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