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This article is about a city that serves as a center of government and politics. For other uses, see Capital (disambiguation).

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 center" 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 center 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 center 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.


[edit] Unorthodox capital city arrangements

See also: List of multiple capitals

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.

[edit] 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:

[edit] 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.

[edit] Largest national capital cities

Image:Capital not largest city.PNG
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:

[edit] Lists of capitals

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