A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.

Many anthropologists use the term to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups (see clan and lineage).

The term is often loosely used to refer to
*historically, nations or ethnic groups that were not organized around urban centers;
*contemporarily, any non-Western or "indigenous" society.

Some modern theorists hold that "contemporary tribes" can only be understood in terms of their relationship to states.


English "tribe" occurs in 13th century Middle English literature as referring to one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The word is from Old French "tribu", in turn from Latin "tribus", the name of the tripartite ethnic divisions of the original Roman state (Tites, Ramnes, and Luceres, corresponding, perhaps, to the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans). The term's ultimate etymology is uncertain, perhaps from the PIE roots "*tri-" "three" and "*bhew-" "to be". [cf. Gregory Nagy, "Greek Mythology and Poetics", Chapter 12, p.276 and on. On p.278, he says, citing the linguist Émile Benveniste in his "Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen", that the Umbrian "trifu" (tribus) is apparently derived from a combination of *tri- and *bhu- where the second element is cognate with the 'phu-' of Greek 'phule', and that this was subdividing the Greek polis into three phulai.]

From 241 BC, the Tribal Assembly ("comitia tributa") in the Roman Republic was organized in 35 Tribes (4 "Urban Tribes" and 31 "Rural Tribes"). The Latin word as used in the Bible translates Greek "phyle" "race, tribe, clan". In the historical sense, "tribe", "race" or "clan" can be used interchangeably.


Anthropologists Morton H. Fried and Elman Service presented a system of classification for societies in all human cultures based on the evolution of social inequality and the role of the state. This system of classification contains four categories:
# Hunter-gatherer bands, which are generally egalitarian.
# Tribal societies in which there are some limited instances of social rank and prestige.
# Stratified tribal societies led by chieftains.
# Civilizations, with complex social hierarchies and organized, institutional governments.

A tribal society is thus characterized as having an intermediate amount of social stratification, more than in a mere band society, but less than in a civilization. As in the case of the Roman Republic, or later the Ashanti Empire, the transition from a tribal society to a confederacy of tribes and finally to a full-fledged urban civilization with central government is a gradual process and lacks any clear definition.

Tribes by region

;Old World
**Classical Antiquity
***List of Ancient Greek tribes
***Illyrian tribes
***Germanic tribes
***List of Celtic tribes
*Near East
**Ancient Near East
***Twelve Tribes of Israel
***Iranian tribes
**Modern (see Ethnic groups of the Middle East)
***Tribes of Arabia
***Arab tribes in Iraq
*South Asia
***Rigvedic tribes
***List of Scheduled Tribes in India
**List of African ethnic groups
**Bantu speaking peoples of South Africa

;New World
**List of Native American Tribal Entities
**List of Indigenous Australian group names

Contemporary tribes

Surviving tribal or clan-based societies are found in remote areas where the governance of the respective sovereign states is limited, as in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, in Brazil's Amazon Rainforest, or in the interior of New Guinea. A number of several dozen still uncontacted tribes is known to exist.

In his 1972 study, "The Notion of Tribe", Morton Fried proposed that most contemporary tribes do not have their origin in pre-state tribes, but rather in pre-state bands. Such "secondary" tribes, he suggested, actually came about as modern products of state expansion. Bands comprise small, mobile, and fluid social formations with weak leadership, that do not generate surpluses, pay no taxes and support no standing army. Fried argued that secondary tribes develop in one of two ways. First, states could set them up as means to extend administrative and economic influence in their hinterland, where direct political control costs too much. Fried (1972) provided numerous examples of tribes, the members of which spoke different languages and practised different rituals, or that shared languages and rituals with members of other tribes. Similarly, he provided examples of tribes where people followed different political leaders, or followed the same leaders as members of other tribes. He concluded that tribes in general are characterized by fluid boundaries and heterogeneity, are not parochial, and are dynamic.


* Benveniste, Émile
**"Indo-European Language and Society", translated by Elizabeth Palmer. London: Faber and Faber 1973. ISBN 0-87024-250-4.
**"Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen", 1935.
* Fried, Morton H. "The Notion of Tribe". Cummings Publishing Company, 1975. ISBN 0-8465-1548-2
* Nagy, Gregory, "Greek Mythology and Poetics", Cornell University Press, 1990. In chapter 12, beginning on p.276, Professor Nagy explores the meaning of the word origin and social context of a tribe in ancient Greece and beyond.

ee also

*Tribal sovereignty
*Tribal chief
*Tribal name
*Tribal warfare
*Hunter gatherer

External links

* [ Basic dynamics of classic tribes]

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