Government longevity, who wins?
May 31, 2009 10:20 PM   Subscribe

What country or countries have the longest continuously functioning government? Please specify the type/form of government, such as US/ democratic republic.
posted by woman to Law & Government (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Icelanders will commonly tell you that their parliamentary assembly dates back to 930, though it was suspended for a few decades a couple of hundred years ago. An impressive record by any measure.

But your question's rather vague; it's entirely possible to have a power of governance which has "functioned continuously" despite upheavals and changes to its structure. People come and go, and with them peculiarities of rule. Judging whether these should be considered as part of a continuity of rule or not is largely a matter of interpretation. For instance, when Communism fell, some countries voted the same people right back into office in "free" elections and the manifestation of power didn't change much at all (at least initially.) To many, these would have been different "governments," I suppose, but in reality the change was almost purely nominal.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:29 PM on May 31, 2009

This Wikipedia article might be helpful, as might this one and this one.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

"San Marino is the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, having been founded on 3 September 301 by stonecutter Marinus of Rab, then a Roman colony, who went to Italy in 257 AD when the emperor Diocletian issued a decree calling for the reconstruction of the city walls of Rimini which had been destroyed by Liburnian pirates.

The Constitution of San Marino, enacted in 1600, is the world's oldest constitution still in effect."

via WikiPedia
posted by falconred at 10:44 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Japan's monarchy was officially established around 660 B.C.E. It's certainly the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world.
posted by halogen at 10:45 PM on May 31, 2009

One problem with your question is just how you decide in cases like the UK. My own opinion is that their current system dates back to Queen Victoria, who was the first English monarch to reigh but not to rule. But I've had Brits claim that it goes back to the restoration after Cromwell, or even that it goes back all the way to the Magna Carta.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:02 PM on May 31, 2009

No idea where it would be but I'd have to guess that there's going to be a town somewhere, probably in Asia, that has been run by a council of elders since time immemorial and hence is the oldest continuously-running government in the world.
posted by XMLicious at 12:40 AM on June 1, 2009

Arguments might be made for the vatican, on the ground that the pope has had sovereign power of one sort or another going back to the papal states in the middle ages. (Wikipedia claims it at 6th century)

The wikipedia list of constitutions by age ignores various documents that can be counted as constitutional, the most obvious one being the Magna Carta.
posted by paultopia at 12:42 AM on June 1, 2009

Best answer: founded on 3 September 301 by stonecutter Marinus of Rab

Did you check their source before trusting the article? The page they refer to ends by saying:

"This is the synthesis of what is contained in the writings on saints and martyrs by an anonimus of the XII century regarding San Marino ("Vita Sancti Marini") - the Life of San Marino. It is difficult to determine the difference between truth and legend; however, for certain, we know that Demosthene, King of the Libernians, never existed and that, if Diocletian ordered the walls of the city of Rimini to be rebuilt, it was not in the year 257. More specific studies date the life of San Marino sometime between 500 and 700 AD. It is also possible that the story of the life of the Saint was, at least in part, falsified in order to defend the territorial patrimony of the Monastery of San Marino from the attempts to claim the territory by the Bishop of Rimini, Placito Feretrano (parchment of 885 AD where for the first time the name of San Marino has a specific territorial reference)."

People make shit up in 885, and Wikipedia reposts it as facts 1120 years later.
posted by effbot at 3:54 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

There was a Pharaoh in Egypt for 3,000+ years. Not any more. Something I keep in mind when I think of social structures that seem invincible yet which I wish were gone.
posted by eccnineten at 7:46 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Icelandic Althing has been in operation, in one form or another, continuously since 930. The governing body actually pre-dates the sovereign state (it was beholden to Norway and then Denmark, usually as a self-governing entity.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:30 AM on June 1, 2009

There are many national myths surrounding this issue, a number of states claim the prize and countries regularly rewrite their histories. It might help to know why you want to know? Is it merely for the sake of trivia or are you attempting to uncover the answer to some greater question?
posted by B-squared at 8:36 AM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Yes, the larger question is "Is the constitutional republic of the US actually one of the oldest, continuously, and currently functioning governments?" The monarchies of Norway, Japan, and Britain ceased to function long ago. I was not referring to quasi states or municipalities, or cultures. Dee extrovert makes a good point. thanks to all.
posted by woman at 12:39 AM on June 2, 2009

People make shit up in 885, and Wikipedia reposts it as facts 1120 years later.

But they didn't re-post it as fact. They cited their source, which you investigated. The site they linked to,, seems to be an official tourism site for the country -- an approved source, in other words.

If you were to click on the Discussion tab for the article -- recommended for any visit to Wikipedia -- you would see that the age of the country's constitution is indeed the subject of some debate. There are more links there.

Wikipedia's chief goal is verifiability. It gets very difficult to verify things from 1200 years ago. Wikipedia was quoting what San Marino's government claims; if there's a claim to the contrary, you are free to add it, with citations, to the article or the Discussion section.

I know you're not alone in your suspicion of Wikipedia, effbot, and I understand that these steps require some time and effort. But sometimes the pursuit of truth takes more than 30 seconds.
posted by Flying Saucer at 10:19 AM on June 2, 2009

An earlier of the article said "According to tradition". Someone removed that, rephrasing the paragraph as a statement of fact. It's not.
posted by effbot at 12:57 PM on June 2, 2009

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