Alternate History

City states (Abrittus)

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A major difference between this timeline and OTL is the absence of an age of feudalism. The Roman revolution of the 260s and the successful political model it brought forth, the quicker development of crafts and technology in a non-slave-owning market economy, and the early increase in long-distance and (almost) world-wide trade due to peaceful relations between the Celtic, Roman, Sassanid and Aksumite Empires went hand in hand with the ascendancy of an alternative political model to that of medieval feudalism: the city-state.

City-states had existed in history prior to our PoD (the ancient Mesopotamian city-states, the Phoenician city-states and the Greek poleis, the city-states of the Pyu), and they were the dominant type of polity in the civilizations of pre-Columbian America (Nahua Altepetl, Mayan Cah, Mississippi culture). Even with feudalist territorial monarchies dominating as a political model from late antiquity up to the building of (equally territorially defined) modern nation states in OTL, there were still some historically important city-states in OTL, too: the republics of Novgorod and Pskov or the Italian republics of Florence, Genoa, Venice and Pisa, for example.

In the Abrittus timeline, for the above-mentioned reasons, the last centuries of the 1st millennium CE are dominated by an omnipresence of the city-state as a political model, which experienced its "golden age" during this era. While there are similarities among all city-states:

  • crafts and commerce dominate;
  • professions develop and diversify and education gains importance;
  • relations between individuals are less based on personal or familial ties and the coherence of the polity results from immediate local proximity;
  • for their survival, individuals depend less on nature and more on the integrity of the social fabric they are part of,

there are also significant differences in how they emerged in different geo-regions, how they structured their society and held it together, how they related to the countryside around them, how they conducted their internal political affairs, how they co-operated with other city-states, how they managed to stay independent and to what extent they were part of larger confederal or federal political constructions.

Six different "ideal types" from different geo-regions and cultures are described below. OTL-ATL identical Mesoamerican city-states are not included (because they are identical - pre-contact means that the differences caused by the PoD have not yet affected OTL Mesoamerica / ATL Southern Atlantis). Note that there is one very important global exception to the rule of dominant city-states in this timeline: China, a highly centralised empire, whose regional and local units possess only very limited autonomies - even less than in OTL China around the 10th century.

The six models will be described in descending order from the model with the greatest independence of each city to that where city-states are integrated rather closely into greater units.

The Shahristans of the Silk Road

Emergence towns formed around oases; important contribution of Silk Road trade between India, China, Persia and the Mediterranean
Ethnic / Social Structure   polyethnic  without racial discrimination; immigration restricted, but large,

constant perflux of foreign people; informal social differentiation according to economic, cultural and other factors

Economic Structure   market-based; moderate inequality; strong guilds and sabao-based clans (caravan

leaders); great importance of general and professional education

Political Structure   varies between highly egalitarian and democratic Choresmia and semi-aristocratic Karashahr;

common characteristics: city council as legislature (sabha), city guard for law, order and local defense

Relation Town - Countryside   surrounding countryside is often deserted; where this is not the case, integration

is nevertheless minimal (nomadic steppe dwellers often have separate polities of their own)

Co-operation / Integration   confederal co-operation: frequent meetings of representatives of each city's

leadership (simite), very important decisions taken in assemblies where all clans, guilds etc. from all cities send representatives (loja jirga)

Defense against Imperial Annexation   prior to 700 CE: weak; attempts at playing powers against each other;

after 700 CE: International Silk Road Treaty assures safety of commerce (and implicity of the caravanserais and cities hosting it) through military escorts from buying and selling empires

Typical Examples   Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Kesh, Kashgar, Kucha, Turfan, Talas, Andijan, Balkh, Xiva, Bamiyan
Developments / Variations  

The Oasis Communes and the Ljama'a of the Simonists in Northern Africa

Emergence towns formed around oases and / or at junctions of trade routes between Central Africa and the Mediterranean
Ethnic / Social Structure each city is usually monoethnic, but open towards immigrants, who must assimilate quickly or leave; highly egalitarian
Economic Structure Communist municipalism (internally and between members of the Ljama'a

Communistic, market exchange with foreigners); importance of education has religious backgrounds

Political Structure democratic / theocratic (all decisions taken in general assemblies by

quasi-consensus; but: important role of charismatic religious leaders)

Relation Town - Countryside surrounding countryside either desert, or belonging to the city commune / fully integrated
Co-operation / Integration traditional economic exchange and frequent mutual visits establish and maintain

informal ties in the Ljama'a, which exists only in the form of these ties - and as a strong cultural concept

Defense against Imperial Annexation attempts at annexation infrequent in 1st mill. CE due to geographical position;

co-operative defense based on vows of solidarity in the Ljama'a

Typical Examples Garama, Ouargla, Trarza, Tindouf, Aghram Nadharif, Koumbi Saleh, Mune, Kano,

Katsina, Daura, Biram, Zilum, Fashi, Halaka, Nijimi, Kaga, Walata, Tixit, Wadaan

Developments / Variations from the 8th century: minimal, but observable confessional as well as

socio-economic variations between a more orthodox North and a South where surrounding cultural influences make themselves felt - gradual eroding of the Ljama'a in the 9th and 10th century

The Gana Sanghas and their Alliances in the Indian Sphere

The Mji of the Swahili and their Mother States

The Civitates and the Res Publica of the Romans and the Celts

It has often been stated that the Roman Empire has itself developed from a city state. It is equally true that, while the First Roman Republic and the Principate saw a considerable centralisation, "municipia" and "coloniae" enjoyed far-reaching administrative autonomies. The concept of "civitas", derived from the model of the civitas urbis Romanae, meant a semi-autonomous middle level of administration, comprised of the city (municipium or colonia) and its surrounding countryside. Even during the First Republic and the Principate, they were not governed by Roman proxies, unlike the next higher level of provinces, but chose their own leadership. Also, while provinces were often arbitrarily redrafted according to political or military circumstances, "civitates" and their boundaries remained quasi-sacrosanct. (The "quasi" may even be considered inappropriate here, since at least the boundaries of towns and cities built by the Romans were indeed defined in a religious ceremony.)

When the central power eroded during the crisis of the 3rd century CE, it was only natural that a political rebirth came from these functioning units and built the new republican polity on them. Because Roman civitates always defined themselves as (self-confident and autonomous, but loyal) constituent elements of the Roman Empire, they have always enjoyed (and aimed for) a limited status of autonomy, which is not as far-reaching as that of the Silk Road city states or the communes of the Imaziyen. The Second Roman Republic is not confederal - political initiative does not rest solely with the civitates -, it is federal: the Senate and its elected republican Consuls, Praetors, Censors, Aedils and Quaestors pursue their own political agenda and keep the interests of the entire empire in mind, and the republican army, led by the Maximum Collegium Militum, is a strong unitary force, too, with bottom-up elective and top-down command structures of its own. But while this limits the independence of Roman civitates, it also guarantees their maximum safety and peace - nowhere else in the world are cities and their inhabitants so safe from invasion, annexation and foreign domination than in the Roman in Celtic Empires -, and it facilitates the integration of the rural population into the communal structures of the same polity.

Within their sphere of autonomy, Roman civitates pursue very different educational, religious, economic and social policies, and many civitates, especially in the peripheral regions, pursue their own foreign policy agendas, too.

Emergence Some cities of Phoenician or Greek origin date from the 2nd milennium BC and
had been city states before; others were non-independent towns like the
Celtic oppida; yet others were founded as garrison towns or colonies of
veterans, yet others resulted from the urbanisation of the rural


Ethnic / Social Structure polyethnic without racial discrimination; semi-open towards immigrants; informal

social differentiation according to economic, cultural and other factors

Economic Structure market-based; moderate inequality; moderately powerful guilds (collegia)
Political Structure directly democratic legislature (comitium civitatis), elects termed and recallable magistrates
Relation Town / Countryside countryside is legally and socially equal and (relatively) integrated part of the civitas (cives intra et extra muros)
Co-operation / Integration civitates are inseparable parts of a constitutional republic with a defined

division of duties between federal and city level; many civitates also form (less formalised and more fluid) alliances on an intermediate level, e.g. the Greek koina, which are in themselves federated again with the Panhellenion as their upper-level parliament

Defense against Imperial Annexation Roman civitates are an integral part of the imperial Roman Republic, which

has no trouble defending itself. Most of them also have sizable city guards, which guarantee not only the city's independence, but also its quick defense in cases of invasion or civil unrest

Typical examples Rome, Athens, Alexandria, Antiochia, Pergamon, Ephesos, Salamis, Mediolanum,

Syracuse, Leptis Magna, Cyrene, Memphis, Tingis, Sirmium, Philippolis, Tomis, Olbia; Lugdunum, Lutetia, Colonia Claudaia Ara Agrippinensis, Augusta Treverorum, Londinium, Tarraco, Burdigala, Massilia

Developments / Variations slow trend towards federalisation / centralisation of the Republic;

civitates outside the Empire (in the "margines") retain greater amount of independence (but also less benefits from peace, improving infrastructure etc.); a shrinking number of cities outside the borders of the Empire which have no autonomy ("emporia"; they seek to become "margines")

While reforms beginning in the 6th century strengthened the federal level in the Roman Empire, there was a simultaneous decentralisation in the Celtic Empire, which was only partly reverted in the 9th and 10th centuries.

The Müang / Kedatuan and the Mandala System of South-East Asia

The Centralised Imperial Exception to the Rule: Sui China


Salvador79 (talk) 10:53, January 29, 2015 (UTC)

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