The nation-state developed fairly recently. Prior to the 1500s, in Europe, the nation-state as we know it did not exist. Back then, most people did not consider themselves part of a nation; they rarely left their village and knew little of the larger world. If anything, people were more likely to identify themselves with their region or local lord. At the same time, the rulers of states frequently had little control over their countries. Instead, local feudal lords had a great deal of power, and kings often had to depend on the goodwill of their subordinates to rule. Laws and practices varied a great deal from one part of the country to another. The timeline on page 65 explains some key events that led to the rise of the nation-state.

In the early modern era, a number of monarchs began to consolidate power by weakening the feudal nobles and allying themselves with the emerging commercial classes. This difficult process sometimes required violence. The consolidation of power also took a long time. Kings and queens worked to bring all the people of their territories under unified rule. Not surprisingly, then, the birth of the nation-state also saw the first rumblings of nationalism, as monarchs encouraged their subjects to feel loyalty toward the newly established nations. The modern, integrated nation-state became clearly established in most of Europe during the nineteenth century.

Example: Russia is a great example of consolidation of power by monarchs. Throughout most of the medieval era, what became Russia was a minor principality centered on the city of Moscow. Over the course of a few hundred years, the rulers of Moscow took over more land, eventually expanding to cover much of what is now Russia. This expansion came through a mix of diplomacy and war. When Ivan IV—also known as Ivan the Terrible—came of age and assumed the throne in 1547, he was crowned the first czar. He proceeded to devastate the nobility by means of a secret police and gained the loyalty of commercial classes by giving them positions in a new state bureaucracy. These actions led to the deaths of thousands.