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 tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups (see clan and kinship).
Some theorists hold that tribes represent a stage in social evolution intermediate between bands and states. Other theorists argue that tribes developed after, and must be understood in terms of their relationship to, states.
The English word 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, referring to the original tripartite ethnic division of the Roman state: Ramnes (Ramnenses), Tities (Titienses), and Luceres, corresponding, according to Varro, to the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans respectively. The Ramnes were named after Romulus, leader of the Latins, Tities after Tatius, leader of the Sabines, and Luceres after Lucumo, leader of an Etruscan army that had assisted the Latins. According to Livy, the three tribes were in fact squadrons of knights, rather than ethnic divisions.
The term's ultimate etymology may be found in the Latin word for three, tres. The dative and ablative declensions of this word are both tribus. The word tribus could therefore mean "from the three" or "for the three."
Another theory holds that tribus is perhaps derived from the Proto-Indo-European roots *tri- ("three") and *bhew- ("to be").
In 242–240 BC, the Tribal Assembly (comitia tributa) in the Roman Republic was organized in 35 Tribes (four "Urban Tribes" and 31 "Rural Tribes"). The Latin word as used in the Bible translates as Greek phyle "race, tribe, clan" and ultimately the Hebrew שבט ([ʃevæt]) or "sceptre". In the historical sense, "tribe," "race" and "clan" can be used interchangeably.
Considerable debate takes place over how best to characterize tribes. This partly stems from perceived differences between pre-state tribes and contemporary tribes; some reflects more general controversy over cultural evolution and colonialism. In the popular imagination, tribes reflect a way of life that predates, and is more "natural", than that in modern states. Tribes also privilege primordial social ties, are clearly bounded, homogeneous, parochial, and stable. Thus, many believed that tribes organize links between families (including clans and lineages), and provide them with a social and ideological basis for solidarity that is in some way more limited than that of an "ethnic group" or of a "nation". Anthropological and ethnohistorical research has challenged all of these notions.
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