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Structure and Meaning in World History

A revolution is a discontinuity: one political order replaces another, typically through whatever violent means are available. Modern theories of revolutions tend neatly to bracket the French Revolution of 1789 with the fall of the Soviet Union two hundred years later, but contemporary global uprisings—with their truly multivalent causes and consequences—can overwhelm our ability to make sense of them.

In this authoritative new book, Saïd Amir Arjomand reaches back to antiquity to propose a unified theory of revolution. Revolution illuminates the stories of premodern rebellions from the ancient world, as well as medieval European revolts and more recent events, up to the Arab Spring of 2011. Arjomand categorizes revolutions in two groups: ones that expand the existing body politic and power structure, and ones that aim to erode—but paradoxically augment—their authority. The revolutions of the past, he tells us, can shed light on the causes of those of the present and future: as long as centralized states remain powerful, there will be room for greater, and perhaps forceful, integration of the politically disenfranchised.


“Highly recommended. . . In his erudite contribution to the topic, Arjomand breaks with the prevailing view by seeking the origins of the structure and meaning of political revolution in a deeper history.”


Revolution is a landmark study of global, comparative, and transnational historical sociology. Arjomand examines a series of ancient and early modern revolutions in Asia and Europe, arguing that these revolutions emerged from processes of imitation and conquest and that they enhanced social integration and strengthened states. Revolution reconnects the history of Europe, Islam, and the Far East. It should interest all students of politics, states, empires, and revolutions.”

George Steinmetz | author of The Devil’s Handwriting

“It is a rare treat to find a book so ambitious in its aims. Arjomand’s scholarship is deep, his writing clear, and his analysis insightful. This bold, fascinating book is highly recommended to all scholars and students of revolution.”

George Lawson | author of Negotiated Revolutions

“Arjomand is a sociologist’s sociologist. He has mastered a vast range of historical knowledge and is able to journey across world history, from the Akkadians through the Greeks and Romans, on to Sasanian and Caliphal history, and eventually to medieval Europe and the Mongols. The yield is a most fruitful typology of revolution combining the highest grades of sociological theory and historical interpretation. Revolution is comparative historical sociology in the grand style.”

Aziz Al-Azmeh | author of The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity

“A masterful synthesis of knowledge about revolutions in the ancient and medieval world. Written by one of the world’s leading scholars on the Iranian revolution, this book offers a wealth of insights on revolutions that do not rely on the modern revolutionary myth.”

Hans Joas, Humboldt University of Berlin

"Arjomand’s book is a remarkable achievement for its historical scope and is a welcome addition to scholarship on the topic. . .I recommend it enthusiastically."

Mansoor Moaddel | Mobilization

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Introduction / Revolution in Comparative and Historical Sociology
The Modern Idea of Revolution and Rereading the Past
Revolution and Theory
Revolution and Meaning in History
Definition and Architectonics of the Concept of Revolution
Conceptions of Revolution in the Ancient and Medieval World
Causes, Process, and Consequences of Revolutions Reconsidered
A Structural Typology of Revolutions: Explaining Common Patterns
Religion, Ideology, and the Motivation of Revolution
Teleology of Revolutions and Their Significance

One / The Akkadian Constitutive Revolution and the Establishment of Universal Monarchy in Mesopotamia
Political Structure of Mesopotamian City-States and Their Common Culture
Revolutionary Unification of Mesopotamia and Transition to Empire
Mesopotamian Value-Ideas and the Ideology of the Akkadian Revolution
Consequences and Significance of the Akkadian Revolution
Dynastic Cycles and the Emergence of a New Revolutionary Pattern in Ancient Mesopotamia

Two / The Athenian Constitutive Revolution and Subsequent Revolutions of Ancient Greece
Constitutive Revolution and the Establishment of Democracy in Athens
Consequences of the Cleisthenian Revolution
Ideology, Organization, and the Cycle of Greek Revolutions and Counterrevolutions during the Peloponnesian War
The Constitutive Revolution of the Roman Ancient Republic: A Comparison

Three / Revolution in the Roman Republic
Prelude to Revolution: 126–122 BCE
Extension of Roman Citizenship through the Social and Civil Wars: 91–84 BCE
Sulla and the Counterrevolution: 82–79 BCE
Transformation of the Republic into Monarchy: 52–27 BCE
The Augustan Settlement and the Cumulative Consequences of the Revolutions of the Late Republic

Four / Revolution in the Roman Principate and Its Transformation into Imperial Constitutional Autocracy
The Authority Structure of the Principate
The First Year of the Four Emperors and Revolutionary Power Struggle
The Flavian Consolidation of Revolution and Constitution of Imperial Autocracy

Five / The Last Roman Integrative Revolution
Loss of Legitimacy and Commodus’s Purge of the Senate and His Murder
Septimius Severus and the Revolutionary Power Struggle, 193–197
The Severan Consolidation of Revolution
Consequences of the Severan Revolution
Roman Revolutions in Perspective

Six / Rise of the Sasanian Empire: A Feudal Integrative Revolution in Late Antiquity
Alexander and Anti-Alexander
The Political Structure of Parthian Feudalism
Ardashir’s Long Integrative Revolution
The Pan-Iranian Ideology and the Restoration of Mazdian Religion as Instruments of Mobilization
Consequences of the Sasanian Revolution

Seven / Rise of Islam: The Constitutive Revolution of Late Antiquity
Preconditions of a Constitutive Revolution on the Periphery of Empires
Revolutionary Mobilization: Holy Struggle (Jihād) in the Path of God
The Construction of a New Community (Umma) in Medina
The Unification of Arabia and the Emergence of a Composite Muslim Polity
Consequences of Muhammad’s Constitutive Revolution in Arabia

Eight / Islam’s Integrative Social Revolution
The Revolution of the Eastern Periphery: Khorasan
Outbreak of the Revolution
Revolutionary State Building, Export of Revolution, and Imperial Expansion
The Revolutionary Power Struggle and the Reintegration of the Khorasanian Periphery
Revolutionary Leadership and the Appropriation of the Hashemite Revolution
Consequences of the ʿAbbasid Revolution: Caliphal Absolutism and the Integration of the Persian Mawāli

Nine / The Papal Revolution and Its Export: The Crusades
Geopolitics of the Reform of the Church in the Second Half of the Eleventh Century
Constitutional Politics of the Revolutionary Struggle for the Freedom of the Church
Revolutionary Mobilization of Italian Cities and Frankish Feudal Society
Teleology of the Papal Revolution
Consolidation of the Papal Revolution by Urban II (1088–1099)
Export of the Papal Revolution
Consequences of the Papal Revolution

Ten / The Mongolian Integrative Revolution in Eurasia
The Prototype: Ancient Constitutive Revolutions of the First and Second Turk Empires
Chinggis Khan’s Integrative Revolution and the Establishment of the Great Mongol Empire
The Great Mongol Empire under Ögedei and Möngke
Consequences of the Mongol Revolution I: Emergence of the Compound Society in Iran
The Constitutionalist Reading of the Rise of the Mongols by Persian Bureaucrats
Consequences of the Mongol Revolution II: The Yuan Polity in China
Confucian Statecraft under the Yuan
Compound Societies in Il-Khanid Iran and Yuan China: A Comparison
Conclusion / World-Historical and Theoretical Significance of Premodern Revolutions
Premodern Revolutions and the Pattern of World History
A Typology of Premodern Revolutions

Epilogue / Revolutions of the Last Hundred Years in the Light of My Typology
The Epicycle of Revolutions Motivated by the Modern Myth of Revolution
Negotiated, Dystopian Revolutions of Central Eurasia after 1989
The Arab Revolution of 2011

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