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Political Entities: Types & Examples

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the different forms of political entities. We will identify types of political entities, explore their characteristics, and highlight examples from history.

What are Political Entities?

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that all geographic regions consist of nation-states. This is almost understandable; when looking at the countries surrounding the United States, we have Canada to our north and Mexico to our south. With easily definable borders, these countries fit into the nice and neat category of North American nation-states. Over in Europe, we see countries like Germany, France, Italy, and Spain and might be tempted to think that the entire world consists only of nation-states. However, this is not the case, and certainly hasn't been the case throughout history. Other types of political entities exist. So what exactly are political entities? Political entities are basically systems of governing authority organized as governmental power structures. Empires, nation-states, city-states, and kingdoms are just a few examples of political entities.

When we use the term state in the context of government, we're referring to a region ruled by one particular government. Most political entities are types of states, with the exception of stateless nations and autonomous regions, which we will discuss. It is also important to note that when discussing a nation, we're referring to a group of people with a shared language, religion, ethnicity, or other cultural factors.

Types of Political Entities and their Characteristics

We'll start with empires as they are one of the oldest forms of a political entity. An empire is a collection of regions or states under the authority of a single ruler. Usually the ruler, called an emperor or empress, had complete authority. Probably the most well-known example of an empire is the Roman Empire which existed between 27 B.C. and 395 A.D. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire covered vast sections of Europe including what is now Great Britain and France, portions of Africa including Egypt, and areas of Asia, notably what is now Turkey.

Hadrians Wall was built by ancient Romans in England, showing just how far the Roman Empire extended.
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A more recent example of an empire would be the German Empire, which lasted from 1871-1914. This empire was more liberal and had certain constitutional limits on its rulers. And of course, we all know about the British Empire, which at the height of its power controlled one-fourth of the world's surface. Kingdoms are similar to empires, but tend to be smaller in scale and consist of territory ruled by a king or queen. Before Italy became a nation-state it was composed of numerous independent kingdoms. Kingdoms have been prevalent at various points throughout European history.

In the United States cities like New York, Chicago, and Charlotte are located within states, which are located within a nation-state (we'll talk about nation-states in a minute!), but imagine each city being its own political entity and having complete governing authority. This is the idea behind the concept of a city-state. Each city-state has its own rulers and its own system of law and government. City-states aren't too common today, with relatively few modern examples such as Singapore, Vatican City, and Monaco, but think back to ancient Greece. Ancient Greece was made up of city-states like Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. Renaissance Italy was also home to numerous city-states.

Nation-states should be pretty familiar already. The United States, as we mentioned is a nation-state. Nation-states have a common heritage, and are often united by a common language and culture. Today nation-states are the most common type of political entity. Within many nations are semi-autonomous entities called provinces or states. For example, America is one nation, but it is made up of 50 separate, unique, and semi-autonomous states.

The United States of America is nation-state.
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