The European Union is the only organization at the moment that exhibits a high level of integration amongst its member nation states, but is it the world's first supranational type organization? Are there examples of nation states in the past banding together in an EU like fashion?

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    This question is poorly specified in terms of theory, in particular it fails to react adequately to "nationalism" and the "Westphalian state." This has resulted in the quality of answers below as a "discussion" over the very points the original question fails to specify. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 2:58
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    @SamuelRussell I appreciate your comment. Can you give me an example of what the term "nation state" means prior to the Peace of Westphalia, and the rise of nationalism? Maybe then I can better phrase the question to address your concerns. It doesn't seem like jfrankcarr and yourself had difficulty identifying that I was going for nation states with the meaning that you both assumed.
    – ihtkwot
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 3:29
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    "Nations" are considered, by mainstream scholarship, to have been constructed largely over the 18th and 19th century as a reaction to the Westphalian state system and the development of language specific elites in urban areas. There were no "English" as such prior to the Napoleonic wars, there were no "French" as such prior to the Napoleonic wars. Correspondingly, the concept of a "state" is tied up with the post-Westphalian geographic identity with absolute sovereignty. Prior to the 17th century, "states" didn't exist. These are both modern terms, and pre-modern uses are anachronistic. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 3:42

4 Answers 4



International Telegraph Union 1865 as a result of the International Telegraph Convention predates the Universal Postal Union.

Attempts to claim the German Empire or the Catholic Church as supranational organisations flounder on the concept of "nationality" post dating the Westphalian state.



  • The Latin League was founded in 7th century B.C. by a set of Italian states. The capital city was Alba Longa.

  • Delian League was founded in 5th century BC

  • Peloponnesian League was formed between 6 and 4th centuries BC

  • League of Corinth was formed during the winter of 338 BC/337 BC

  • Achaean League existed between 280 BC and 146 BC

  • In central, barbarian, Europe it was common to conduct inter-tribal congresses. Over several such congresses Julius Caesar himself presided.

  • Late Roman Senate can be considered a supranational organization because the kings and chives of allied countries were allowed to participate.

  • Catholic Church was founded in 1st cantury AD and soon became a supranational organization with college of cardinals composed of representatives of different countres. The encyclicals of the Pope were mandatory to all Catholic states.

  • Holy Roman Empire was a supranational organization that can be seen as a prototype of the European Union.

  • Hanseatic league was created in 13th century.

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    The Catholic Church (although in many ways not qualifying for this question) is an interesting case. It didn't set out to become trans-national. It intially just mirrored the organization of the Roman Empire. It accidentally became trans-national when the empire collapsed out from under it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 15:03
  • "Catholic" means "universal" I think. The aim of Christianity was from the very beginning to become a universal religion.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 15:07
  • It does in fact mean that (which is why the word is still in the creeds we recite at my protestant church). However, the "Catholic" church never did have any authority in Christian areas outside of the boundries of the original Roman Empire during the Roman Empire (eg: Armenia and Ethiopia).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 15:11
  • I do not know for the areas you mentioned but say the Rus was baptized by Byzantine church. At that time the church was seen as a means of control over neighbouring barbarian states. In similar way previously were baptized Ostrogoths and Vandals. The vandals by the time they saked Rome were already Christian (but fell to heresy).
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 15:16
  • None of these examples relate to the modern nation, or to the modern state. Attempts to analyse the Latin League in terms of nationality is anachronistic in the extreme. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 2:53

The earliest political body designed to harness the power of multiple independent sovereign states for trade and military purposes we have a historical record for appears to be the Awussa League.

The Assuwa League was an alliance of city-states and kingdoms formed to oppose Hittite influence in Anatolia, dating to just before the 14th century BCE.

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    ...and it should be also noted that the Hittites also organized a military union of their own.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 22:14

The US Articles of Confederation may be an example. Each colony/state were considered sovereign under it while they ceded some powers, such as common defense, to the federal Congress. Since the colonies were never recognized by other powers as separate nations but as part of the US, it may not fit your question though.

There have been a number of international organizations meant to coordinate certain activities between nations, such as the previously mentioned International Telegraph Union and the International Union of Railways, but these only affected a narrow area.

As Samuel Russell mentioned, the Catholic Church might or might not be considered such an organization. While not precisely like the EU, it did wield considerable political influence over nations for centuries before the modern nation-state era.

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    Lol the United States were founded centuries after the Catholic Church and thousands of years after say League of Corinth or say, Latin League. -1000
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 14:06
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    @Anixx - your negative, anti-American, leftist antics are driving me away from supporting this site.
    – jfrankcarr
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 14:59
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    Is it leftist to presume that there were confederations centuries before the United States? You downvoted my answer - do you believe that Latin League was not as ancient as the United States?
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 15:04
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    Jfrankcarr is right that the OP's question is poorly specified. Considering the articles of confederation as a supranational entity is difficult, as the confederating states weren't Westphalian in nature as demonstrated by both the continuous interventions of the United Kingdom into their sovereignty, and by their willingness to develop a common "national" identity in the modern sense only in confederation. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 2:56
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    If you feel that an answer is WRONG or does not address the question, then vote it down and leave a comment. You guys need to STOP using these comments for personal attacks or discussions. If you feel the need to do this, then take it to the CHAT ROOM! Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 14:18

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