2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Politics and government

In politics, a capital (also called capital city or political capital — although the latter phrase has a second meaning based on an alternative sense of "capital") is the principal city or town associated with a country's government. It is almost always the city which physically encompasses the offices and meeting places of the seat of government and fixed by law.

The word capital is derived from the Latin caput meaning "head," and the related term capitol refers to the building where government business is chiefly conducted.

Seats of government in major substate jurisdictions are often called "capitals", but this is typically the case only in countries with some degree of federalism, where major substate jurisdictions have an element of sovereignty. In unitary states, "administrative centre" or other similar terms are typically used. For example, the seat of government in a state of the United States of America is usually called its "capital", but the main city in a region of England is usually not. At lower administrative subdivisions, terms such as county town, county seat, or borough seat are usually used.

Historically, the major economic centre of a state or region often becomes the focal point of political power, and becomes a capital through conquest or amalgamation. This was the case for London and Moscow. The capital naturally attracts the politically motivated and those whose skills are needed for efficient administration of government such as lawyers, journalists, and public policy researchers. A capital that is the prime economic, cultural, or intellectual centre is sometimes referred to as a primate city. Such is certainly the case with London and Buenos Aires among national capitals, and Irkutsk or Salt Lake City in their respective state or province.

Capitals are sometimes sited to discourage further growth in an existing major city. Brasília was planted in Brazil's interior because the old capital, Rio de Janeiro, along with all of Southeastern Brazil, was considered already crowded. The government of South Korea announced in 2004 it would move its capital from Seoul to Yeongi-Gongju — even though the word Seoul itself means "capital" in the Korean language.

The convergence of political and economic or cultural power is by no means universal. Traditional capitals may be economically eclipsed by provincial rivals, as occurred with Nanjing by Shanghai. The decline of a dynasty or culture could mean the extinction of its capital city as well, as occurred with Babylon and Cahokia. And many modern capital cities, such as Abuja, Canberra and Ottawa, were deliberately fixed outside existing economic areas, and may not have established themselves as new commercial or industrial hubs since.

Unorthodox capital city arrangements

A number of cases exist where states or other entities have multiple capitals, and there are also several states that have no capital. In others, the "effective" and "official" capital may differ for pragmatic reasons, resulting in a situation where a city known as "the capital" is not, in fact, host to the seat of government. Likewise, occasionally the official "capital" as called is may be host to he seat of government, but is not always the geographic origin of political decision-making.

  • Former British protectorate of Bechuanaland, today Botswana, was administered from Mafeking (now Mafikeng), creating a unique situation of the capital of the territory being located outside of it.
  • Bolivia: Sucre is still the constitutional capital, but most of the national government long abandoned that region for La Paz.
  • Chile: Santiago is understood to be the capital even though the National Congress of Chile is in Valparaíso.
  • Côte d'Ivoire: Yamoussoukro was designated the national capital in 1983, but most government offices and embassies are still located in Abidjan.
  • European Union: Brussels, Belgium is generally treated as the 'capital' of the European Union, and the two institutions of the EU's executive, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, both have their seats there. However, a protocol attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam requires that the European Parliament have monthly sessions in Strasbourg, France.
  • Nauru: Nauru, a tiny country of only 21 square kilometres (8 sq mi), has no capital city.
  • The Netherlands: Amsterdam is the constitutional national capital even though the Dutch government, parliament, supreme court and the palace of the queen are all located in The Hague.
  • In South Africa, the administrative capital is Pretoria, the legislative capital is Cape Town, and the judicial capital is Bloemfontein, the outcome of the compromise that created the Union of South Africa in 1910.
  • In Germany, the executive and legislative capital is Berlin, although a portion of various ministerial back offices are located in the former West German capital of Bonn. The judicial branch of the government is divided between Karlsruhe and Leipzig.

Capital as symbol

With the rise of modern empires and the nation-state, the capital city has become a symbol for the state and its government, and imbued with political meaning. Unlike medieval capitals, which were declared wherever a monarch held his or her court, the selection, relocation, founding or capture of a modern capital city is an emotional affair. For example:

  • Ruined and almost uninhabited Athens was made capital of newly independent Greece with the romantic notion of reviving the glory of the ancients. Similarly, following the Cold War and German reunification, Berlin is now once again the capital of the country. Other restored capital cities include Moscow after the October Revolution.
  • A symbolic relocation of a capital city to a geographically or demographically peripheral location may be for either economic or strategic reasons (sometimes known as a " forward capital" or spearhead capital). Peter I of Russia moved his government from Moscow to Saint Petersburg to give the Russian Empire a western orientation, while Kemal Atatürk did the same by actually moving east, to Ankara, away from more Ottoman Istanbul. The Ming Emperors moved their capital to Beijing from more central Nanjing as to better supervise the border. with the Mongols and Manchus. Other examples include Abuja, Astaná, Brasília, Helsinki, Islamabad, Naypyidaw and Yamoussoukro.
  • The selection or founding of a "neutral" capital city — i.e. one unencumbered by regional or political identity — was meant to represent the unity of a new state when Bern, Canberra, Madrid, Ottawa and Washington, D.C. became capitals.
  • During the American Civil War, tremendous resources were expended to defend Washington, D.C., which bordered the Confederate States of America, from Confederate attack, even though the small federal government could have been moved relatively easily in the era of railroads and telegraph.

Strategic importance of capitals

The capital city is almost always a primary target in a war, as capturing it usually guarantees capture of much of the enemy government, victory for the attacking forces, or at the very least demoralization for the defeated forces.

In old China, where governments were massive centralized bureaucracies with little flexibility on the provincial level, a Dynasty could easily be toppled with the fall of its capital. In the Three Kingdoms period, both Shu and Wu fell when their respective capitals of Cheng Du and Jian Ye fell. The Ming dynasty relocated its capital from Nanjing to Beijing, where they could more effectively control the generals and troops guarding the borders from Mongols and Manchus. The Ming was destroyed when the Manchus took their seat of power, and this pattern repeats itself in Chinese history, until the fall of the traditional Confucian monarchy in the 20th century. After the Qing Dynasty's collapse, decentralization of authority and improved transportation technologies allowed both the Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists to rapidly relocate capitals and keep their leadership structures intact during the great crisis of Japanese invasion.

National capitals were arguably less important as military objectives in other parts of the world, including the West, due to socioeconomic trends toward localized authority, a strategic modus operandi especially popular after the development of feudalism and reaffirmed by the development of democratic and capitalistic philosophies. In 1205, after the Latin Crusaders captured the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, Byzantine forces were able to regroup in several provinces; provincial noblemen managed to reconquer the capital after 60 years and preserve the empire for another 200 years after that. The British forces sacked various American capitals repeatedly during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, but American forces could still carry on fighting from the countryside, where they enjoyed support from local governments and the traditionally independent frontiersmen-civilians. Exceptions to these generalizations include highly centralized states such as France, whose centralized bureaucracies could effectively coordinate far-flung resources, giving the state a powerful advantage over less coherent rivals, but risking utter ruin if the capital is taken; in their military strategies, traditional enemies of France such as Germany focused on the capture of Paris.

Largest national capital cities

Countries whose capital city is not their most populous city
Countries whose capital city is not their most populous city

Some of the largest cities in the world are not national capitals. The largest national capitals on each continent, by urban/metropolitan area population, are:

Lists of capitals

  • Lists of national capitals
    • by name
    • by country (with also the largest city)
    • by continent and country
  • List of historical national capitals
  • List of capitals of subnational entities
  • List of multiple capitals
  • List of countries that have the name of their capital included in their name
  • List of countries whose capital is not their largest city
  • List of purpose-built capital cities
  • List of capitals outside of the territories they serve
Retrieved from ""