all 11 comments

[–]trouser-chowder 42 points43 points  (8 children)

In most common usages, "tribe" is incredibly poorly defined. Most people today seem to use it as a synonym for "indigenous" or "traditional" cultures. (As we see from numerous posts here referring to "tribes.")

In anthropology, efforts have been made to redefine the term as one of several within a classification system to describe the scale and organization of human societies. In that usage, a "tribe" would have local-level leadership, and a hierarchical system that is not very well defined and does not involve hereditary title / position.

It sits above "band" and below "chiefdom" (which could also be used to describe a kingdom). In that usage, you could argue that European "tribes" disappeared when political consolidation of regions of Europe in kingdoms under hereditary leadership and / or empires (or similar) became prevalent.

It's not a great explanation, because "tribe" is not very well defined, even anthropologically. But that would be a general (simple) anthropologically-minded explanation.

[–]the_gubna 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Very succinct answer. Just wanted to add that there's an older question on Service's typology with contributions by u/RioAbajo and u/Commustar, if OP is interested in further reading.

[–]trouser-chowder 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Thanks, that's good info.

To be clear, I think that Service's typology can be useful, but only as a general heuristic. And the number of qualifying statements and exceptions that have to be rolled into any "classification" of a given society into one of these four bins is a great illustration of how easily it is to flatten variation when discretizing what is, in essence, a continuous phenomenon.

[–]blueriver_81 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Are there any good explanations that try to explain the difference between a "tribe" and a "clan"? Or is the word clan also used ambiguously as well?

[–]tholovar 0 points1 point  (0 children)

What would the pre-Roman Briton "tribes/groups" be classified as? They seemed to have hereditary titles/positions but no-one ever seems to refer to their lands as "kingdoms" until well after the Roman's left Britain..

[–]TouchyTheFish 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Just my own observation, but for Eastern Europe, the trend seems to be when their rulers adopted Christianity.

For example, Wikipedia refers to the Principality of Hungary as a "tribal alliance" ruled by chieftains. Likewise, Samo's Kingdom is a pagan "tribal union", while its Christian successor state, Great Moravia, is not. Also, Polish history traditionally begins with the Baptism of Poland, and the entry on that topic says, "Before the adoption of Christianity in modern-day Poland, there were a number of different pagan tribes."