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Why is a nation's capital city usually the largest?

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San Lumen
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Why is a nation's capital city usually the largest?

Postby San Lumen » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:32 am

I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many countries the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?
Last edited by San Lumen on Thu Sep 24, 2020 12:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Mathuvan Union » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:34 am

San Lumen wrote:I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many counties the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?

generally because it's the most important city and the best/most modern one which attracts more people.
capital cities generally have high quality-of-living
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Postby Valrifell » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:35 am

Bureaucracy generates jobs, jobs generate people who want them, people who want them have demands and needs, which draws other people to move there and sustain them. It also is better equipped with infrastructure as you noted.

However, chosen capitals are also generally large and economically powerful cities in their own right, supposing their not constructed.
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Postby New Carthagea » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:38 am

The largest cities, in most of the older nations and civilizations, have historically been centers of cultural importance. For example, I'd say most European and Asian capital cities have been centers of power for centuries under various regimes and countries, and have, over time, evolved to be centers of trade and commerce, which I guess is because there were lesser cities back in the day as more people were rural, and the existing cities were the backbone of exports and imports.
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Postby San Lumen » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:40 am

Valrifell wrote:Bureaucracy generates jobs, jobs generate people who want them, people who want them have demands and needs, which draws other people to move there and sustain them. It also is better equipped with infrastructure as you noted.

However, chosen capitals are also generally large and economically powerful cities in their own right, supposing their not constructed.


That makes sense. It would explain why capitals of administrative divisions tend to be the largest city as well.

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Postby SD_Film Artists » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:41 am

Setting a city as your capital removes corruption which then allows the city to be more efficiant and grow faster. You can reduce corruption with courthouses and police stations.

Oh you mean not Civilization?

What Valrifell said. Capital cities often become much larger because of the chain of industries to support the bureaucracy. Sometimes they become de facto city-states like London which is like a different country to its host nation, and others aren't infact larger and are more just a political hub like how Istanbul and New York aren't capital cities despite being the largest cities.
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Postby Farnhamia » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:41 am

San Lumen wrote:I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many counties the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?

I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.
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Postby San Lumen » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:44 am

Farnhamia wrote:
San Lumen wrote:I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many counties the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?

I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.


The US is unusual in that the largest cities tend to not be the capital.
Last edited by San Lumen on Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Aureumterra III » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:47 am

It all depends on which capitals you’re talking about, capitals are in different places in different countries for different reasons. Some capitals were there historically, having been the capital city of the country in question for centuries, this is the case for most European and East Asian capitals, these capitals tend to be the largest because the cities themselves were founded long ago, back when you couldn’t just plop down a city in the middle of nowhere and needed a good reason to settle there and build one (a river estuary, advantageous geography, etc.)

Other capitals, which tend to be much smaller, were generally deliberately built there for some reason in fairly recent times, Washington DC, for example, was built as a compromise between the North and South. Canberra was built to be equal distance from NSW and Victoria. Madrid was purposely built to be in the center of the country.

Then there are a few cases where the leaders of the country wanted to build a "model city" to show off the country to the world, for example Kigali, Islamabad, Abuja, Astana, Brasilia, etc.
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Postby New Carthagea » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:49 am

Farnhamia wrote:
San Lumen wrote:I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many counties the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?

I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

The US states are an exception. Most countries usually have their largest city as capital, or have a new, planned one.
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Postby Valrifell » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:49 am

Farnhamia wrote:
San Lumen wrote:I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many counties the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?

I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.


The reason why this is was actually very intentional iirc. The goal was to ensure that the major coastal ports and big wealthy cities wouldn't have too much power compared to the rural farmers, so US statesmen intentionally moved their state capitals more inland and away from the established trade centers.
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Of Zigarozia
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Postby Of Zigarozia » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:50 am

Gee, why doesn't that apply to
Australia
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Vietnam
to name just a few.

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Postby Rusozak » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:51 am

San Lumen wrote:
Farnhamia wrote:I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.


The US is unusual in that the largest cities tend to not be the capital.


And it's worth pointing out Washington D.C. is a relatively young city founded for the express purpose of being the nation's capital even after larger and more established cities already existed. Most capital cities have hundreds if not thousands of years of history as a cultural and political focal point.
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San Lumen
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Postby San Lumen » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:52 am

Valrifell wrote:
Farnhamia wrote:I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.


The reason why this is was actually very intentional iirc. The goal was to ensure that the major coastal ports and big wealthy cities wouldn't have too much power compared to the rural farmers, so US statesmen intentionally moved their state capitals more inland and away from the established trade centers.


Exactly and this is part of the reason Chicago isn't the capital of Illinois. No one wanted it to have all the power. Lincoln was instrumental in getting it moved to Springfield. He didn't like traveling to Vandalia, the previous capital and lobbied his fellow legislators to move it to his hometown given its central location.

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Postby New Carthagea » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:53 am

Of Zigarozia wrote:Gee, why doesn't that apply to
Australia
Belize
Brazil
Burundi
Cameroon
Canada
People's Republic of China
Côte d'Ivoire
Ecuador
Equatorial Guinea
Gambia
Federated States of Micronesia
Morocco
Myanmar
New Zealand
Nigeria
Pakistan
Palau
Switzerland
Tanzania
Trinidad and Tobago
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
Vietnam
to name just a few.


I think it was pointed out in the OP that there are exceptions. Largest cities tend to be the centres of power in most older civilisations and countries, such as Asia and Europe.
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Postby Auze » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:53 am

Because the capital city is where the government has the most control, so naturally you want to have the most control over the place that is the most important economically, strategically, populated, etc. Exceptions to this rule are generally countries that have multiple major centers of population and economy that cannot be easily controlled from one of them, so instead they have a capital where they can control these areas equally well (Examples: 1790's USA had Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, Boston, and Charleston; Australia had Sydney and Melbourne).
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Postby New Carthagea » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:55 am

Auze wrote:Because the capital city is where the government has the most control, so naturally you want to have the most control over the place that is the most important economically, strategically, populated, etc. Exceptions to this rule are generally countries that have multiple major centers of population and economy that cannot be easily controlled from one of them, so instead they have a capital where they can control these areas equally well (Examples: 1790's USA had Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, Boston, and Charleston; Australia had Sydney and Melbourne).

This. Canberra was instrumental in preventing quarreling between Sydney and Melbourne, and it ensured no city got an unfair advantage political-wise on the other.
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Postby Deltia- » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:59 am

Most capitals, at least in Europe and Asia have much better infrastructure and more opportunities than others, or were chosen a long time ago cause of their location. For example, London/Londinium was founded by the Romans probably because it was on a river.
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Postby New Carthagea » Thu Sep 24, 2020 9:02 am

Deltia- wrote:Most capitals, at least in Europe and Asia have much better infrastructure and more opportunities than others, or were chosen a long time ago cause of their location. For example, London/Londinium was founded by the Romans probably because it was on a river.

Rivers are a very common geographic feature historically for establishing cities. Paris, Berlin, Delhi, Moscow, Rome - all of them had rivers.
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Postby San Lumen » Thu Sep 24, 2020 9:03 am

Deltia- wrote:Most capitals, at least in Europe and Asia have much better infrastructure and more opportunities than others, or were chosen a long time ago cause of their location. For example, London/Londinium was founded by the Romans probably because it was on a river.

plus it provides easy access to the sea as well.

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Postby Aureumterra III » Thu Sep 24, 2020 9:04 am

Farnhamia wrote:
San Lumen wrote:I was thinking about this lately and wondering what the reason for it is. I know there are exceptions but in many counties the seat of government is the largest city. You can find this often in administrative division capitals too.

Is there something about it being the capital that makes people gravitate to it? I can see the appeal of wanting to be near the seat of government as it would likely have more opportunity than other cities. Most capital cites are centrally located and easily assessable by road, train or air which makes perfect sense for a seat of government. It doesn't explain though why it's more often than not the biggest city. Your thoughts?

I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

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Postby New Carthagea » Thu Sep 24, 2020 9:05 am

Aureumterra III wrote:It all depends on which capitals you’re talking about, capitals are in different places in different countries for different reasons. Some capitals were there historically, having been the capital city of the country in question for centuries, this is the case for most European and East Asian capitals, these capitals tend to be the largest because the cities themselves were founded long ago, back when you couldn’t just plop down a city in the middle of nowhere and needed a good reason to settle there and build one (a river estuary, advantageous geography, etc.)

Other capitals, which tend to be much smaller, were generally deliberately built there for some reason in fairly recent times, Washington DC, for example, was built as a compromise between the North and South. Canberra was built to be equal distance from NSW and Victoria. Madrid was purposely built to be in the center of the country.

Then there are a few cases where the leaders of the country wanted to build a "model city" to show off the country to the world, for example Kigali, Islamabad, Abuja, Astana, Brasilia, etc.


This reply does a pretty good job at explaining the situation.
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Postby Vistulange » Thu Sep 24, 2020 9:13 am

Aureumterra III wrote:
Farnhamia wrote:I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

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It's shocking that the world isn't all about America and America alone.

For instance, Turkey's capital is not Istanbul, though there are a lot of people who think it is. It's Ankara, Turkey's second largest city and decidedly a far more boring one. In this case, the reason for Ankara being the capital and not Istanbul is because Istanbul was the seat of the collaborationist imperial government during the War of Independence, and Ankara was the small backwater but secure settlement the national movement had set up shop in. After the war was over, the decision to keep Ankara as the capital was consciously made to mark the departure from the ancien régime.
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Postby Auze » Thu Sep 24, 2020 9:17 am

Mathuvan Union wrote:
Farnhamia wrote:I'd like to see statistics. I mean, you could be right, after all, New York City is the capital of New York State, Miami is the capital of Florida, Houston is the capital of Texas, Los Angeles is the capital of California, Seattle the capital of Washington State, Portland of Oregon, Chicago of Illinois, Cincinnati of Ohio, Philadelphia of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

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New York City ain’t the capital, it’s Albany. I must say, did the fry pan from the Max Barry thread hit you?

He's being sarcastic. None of the other cities listed are the capitals of their areas (for a variety of reasons).
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