These days it is perhaps difficult
to put oneself empathetically into a world in which the dynastic realm
appeared for most men as the only imaginable 'political' system. For in
fundamental ways 'serious' monarchy lies transverse to all modern conceptions
of political life. Kingship organizes everything around a high centre.
Its legitimacy derives from divinity, not from populations, who, after
all, are subjects, not citizens. In the modern conception, state sovereignty
is fully, flatly, and evenly operative over each square centimetre of a
legally demarcated territory. But in the older imagining, where states
were defined by centres, borders were porous and indistinct, and sovereignties
faded imperceptibly into one another. Hence, paradoxically enough, the
ease with which pre-modern empires and kingdoms were able to sustain their
rule over immensely heterogeneous, and often not even contiguous, populations
for long periods of time.
...[T]hese antique monarchical states expanded not only by warfare but by [intermarriages of royalty]... Through the general principle of verticality, dynastic marriages brought together diverse populations under new auspices....
In realms where polygyny was religiously sanctioned, complex systems of tiered concubinage were essential to the integration of the realm. In fact, royal lineages often derived their prestige, aside from any aura of divinity, from, shall we say, miscegenation? For such mixtures were signs of a superordinate status. It is characteristic that there has not been an 'English' dynasty ruling in London since the eleventh century (if then)....