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Code of Hammurabi: a hard shiny black stone, rounded at the top, with lots of writing on it and a man in front of a seated god

Code of Hammurabi – an early law code from the 1700s BC

The first people didn’t need any government, because there were so few people. Mostly people lived just with their own family or with one or two other families, and the older men and women decided what to do, without any system for deciding. If you didn’t like how things were being done, you could always go out on your own, or join another family nearby. Until about 10,000 BC, everyone lived this way.

But as there got to be more people, they began to live in larger groups. It got harder to decide what to do without anybody in charge. At this time, probably during the New Stone Age, people first began to have governments. Basically a government is a way for a large group of people to make decisions. Because some places got crowded sooner than other places, people began to have governments sooner in some places than in others.

People have had many different types of governments. Anthropologists (scientists who study people) like to divide governments into five groups: “big man” government, chiefdoms,¬†complex chiefdoms, states, and empires. Even though not all governments fit neatly into these categories, the categories make it easier to talk about how people are doing things.

Big Man” government
Complex chiefdoms

Bibliography and further reading about types of governments:

More about Egyptian Government
Or more about Greek Government
More about Chinese Government home