I have been trying to find evidence of a system of government where one of the principles it works on would be to hinder the creation of effective political families (thereby allowing people to advance based on merit and not familial relations -- though I accept this would not be a natural consequence of such a system).

  • The dogal election system in Venice was the first possible option, and that seemed to be close although not satisfying the conditions of this question as people from the same family have inherited the title after each other: List of Doges of Venice. The election system, however, is still fairly complex and does seem to be successful in curbing the power of families. Would anyone be able to offer comment on whether the fact that people from the same families inherited was due to those people being 'ordained' by the family or actual abilities they had? Was being the doge something a Venetian even worked towards (or would they have preferred another office)? [What about the other mercantile republics of Genoa and Amalfi and Pisa?]

  • The Papacy is another (and, quite possibly, the strongest) candidate. However, both Roman noblemen (earlier periods) and the Italian families of the High Middle Ages seem to have exerted considerable power in choosing cardinals -- or, at least in making certain someone would not be chosen. How effectual was this way of curbing familial powers, and how easy was it for someone to make their candidate the Pope? This will have surely also depended on the time period, with more recent elections being subject to stricter rules so highlighting the change in this would also be helpful (and why a change in rules came about to begin with).

  • The Polish-Lithuanian(-Ruthenian) free election is another option, but that does not quite qualify as the intention of every magnate was to find a weak king. The family of the person was less relevant, although certain familial relations may have been helpful for some candidacies.

Can anyone suggest other states where the leader was chosen (either automatically, by the system in place, or 'manually') with the intention to prevent the formation of powerful dynastic blocks?

Perhaps I should add for clarity that I do not think it necessary for one family to be disqualified entirely after one 'term of office' but rather for there to be a considerable gap in it -- say that a grandson could rise to the office the grandfather held, but that the father would have been ineligible to serve in any such capacity.

  • 1
    Is this a question about history, or about a counterfactual history? Are you trying to design something or are you analyzing a historical event?
    – MCW
    Feb 4, 2016 at 13:28
  • This is a question about history, as I'm trying to find a historical example of a system of government. My guess would have been that a polity with such a policy would be more successful than one in which a single family (or only a few powerful ones) rule, I was trying to prove/disprove this.
    – gktscrk
    Feb 5, 2016 at 10:54
  • I'm fairly certain that history itself proves your thesis as incorrect, or at least that a familial inherited rule doesn't stop States from becoming world powers. The problem is that there is no way to know if the rules of inheritance weren't there, would they have been more or less powerful. The single best example of what you want IS the Papacy and you discount it.
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 5, 2016 at 14:07
  • 1
    Based on the answer below, my discounting of the Papacy is less valid than I thought it was. It was my general impression that the Popes were more or less shoved into place (pre-ordained, so to say), but @Adrian Todorov's example kind of puts that to rest.
    – gktscrk
    Feb 5, 2016 at 14:44
  • 1
    @CGCampbell, I have taken your comment more seriously though and edited the premise of the Papacy being discounted -- as well as clarified the aspect of Venice in this question. My original willingness to do this came from the theocratic nature of the state, but to be fair it is more importantly an absolute monarchy. I hope that makes more sense?
    – gktscrk
    Feb 5, 2016 at 14:53

2 Answers 2


The Papacy is as good as it gets as an example - altough there were families with considerable influence over the choice of Cardinals and later on the Pope, and Nepotism was rampant, there were effective checks on Papal power - if one family tried to get a firm grip on the Pope/Papal position, at least one unhappy nation would start a war, not to mention the internal plots that would try to curb said family's power.

A perfect example are the Borgias - synonymous with "nepotism", "greed for power" and etc. they had only two Popes, and especially the second one, Alexander VI, who had a lot of power and tried to advance his family in all possible ways - he nearly brought the destruction of his House because there were a lot of people, Kings and Emperors and Cardinals and regular bishops and schemeres who misliked him and how powerful he and his relatives were.

So, as we can see, there was a sort of self-regulating principle that curbed the power of whoever got too much of it.

Edit: Plus, the mere fact that (by definition and job description) the Pope doesn't have any children, the "same family inheritance" is extremely limited (and that's why nepotism is named nephewism)

  • 1
    ...sort of. Its perfectly legit to be married before you enter the priesthood. They insist on celibacy, not virginity. There are even a fair number of married priests running around today. Wikipedia lists 6 Popes who were married and had kids, one of which also became Pope. But I think its fair to say this was highly unusual.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 4, 2016 at 20:45
  • Of course it happened, even my prime example, Alexander VI, had a couple of kids while he was a Cardinal and Pope, and promoted them to various important positions in the Papacy. His son, Cesare, had great influence and power in the Papal State, and even influenced the choice of the next Pope. And Alexander VI himself mostly got his influence thanks to his uncle, who was Pope some time before him and annointed him a bishop and cardinal. But - which was my prinicpal point - soon enough their family's influence was diminished by those who were oposed to them and were afraid from their influence. Feb 5, 2016 at 10:01
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Just to get the facts straight: In the Latin rite (=99% of the Catholic church) priests cannot marry and married men cannot become priests. In the Eastern rites of the Catholic church, and in the various Eastern churches, priests can marry before their ordination, but married priests cannot be promoted to bishops or other higher ranks.
    – fdb
    Feb 6, 2016 at 23:36
  • @fdb - But that isn't entirely straight. There are in fact several married catholic priests running around today. I believe the typical path for that is conversion from the Episcopal(/Anglican) Church. It seems the Catholic Church considers conversions from nearby protestant sects a higher priority...
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 7, 2016 at 15:03

The Novgorod Republic comes to mind. I cannot think of any family supplying more than one top ruler (be it a Prince, a posadnik or an archbishop). I cannot say if Novgorodian system was specifically set up to prevent the formation of powerful dynastic blocks, but it surely succeeded in doing so.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.