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- This article concerns places that serve as centers of government and politics. For alternative meanings see capital (disambiguation)
In politics, a capital (also called capital city or political capital — although the latter phrase has an alternative meaning based on an alternative meaning of "capital") is the principal city or town associated with its government. It is almost always the city which physically encompasses the offices and meeting places of the seat of government and fixed by law. The word capital is derived from the Latin caput meaning "head," and the related term capitol refers to the building where government-business is chiefly conducted.
Seats of government in major substate jurisdictions are often called "capitals", but this is typically the case only in countries with some degree of federalism, where major substate jurisdictions have an element of sovereignty. In unitary states, "administrative center" or other similar terms are typically used. For example, the main city in a state of the United States of America is usually called its "capital", but the main city in a region of England is usually not. At lower administrative subdivisions, terms such as county town, county seat, or borough seat are usually used.
Historically, the major economic center of a state or region becomes the focal point of power, and becomes a capital through conquest or amalgamation. This was the case for London and Moscow. The capital naturally attracts the politically motivated and those whose skills are needed for efficient administration of government such as lawyers, journalists, and public policy researchers. A capitals that is the prime economic, cultural, or intellectual center is sometimes referred to as a primate city. Such is certainly the case with Paris and Buenos Aires among national capitals, and Irkutsk or Salt Lake City in their respective state or province.
Capitals are sometimes sited to discourage further growth in an existing major city. Brasília was planted in Brazil's interior because the old capital, Rio de Janeiro, along with entire Southeastern Brazil, was considered already crowded. The government of South Korea announced in 2004 it would move its capital from Seoul to Yeongi-Gongju — even though the word Seoul itself means "capital" in the Korean language.
The convergence of political and economic or cultural power is by no means universal. Traditional capitals may be economically eclipsed by provincial rivals, as occurred with Nanjing by Shanghai, or Edinburgh by Glasgow. The decline of a dynasty or culture could mean the extinction of its capital city as well, as occurred with Babylon and Cahokia. And many modern capital cities, such as Abuja, Canberra and Ottawa, were deliberately fixed outside existing economic areas, and may not have established themselves as new commercial or industrial hubs since.
 Multiple capitals
Template:Seealso A number of cases exist where states or other entities have multiple capitals. In South Africa, for example, the administrative capital is Pretoria, the legislative capital is Cape Town, and the judicial capital is Bloemfontein, the outcome of the compromise that created the Union of South Africa in 1910.
In others, the "effective" and "official" capital may differ for pragmatic reasons, resulting in a situation where a city known as "the capital" is not, in fact, host to the seat of government:
- Yamoussoukro was designated the national capital of Côte d'Ivoire in 1983, but as of 2004 most government offices and embassies were still located in Abidjan
- Sucre is still the constitutional capital of Bolivia, but most of the national government long abandoned that region for La Paz
- Amsterdam is the nominal national capital of the Netherlands even though the Dutch government and supreme court are both located in The Hague.
In such cases, the city housing the administrative capital is usually understood to be the "national capital" among outsiders. For instance, Santiago is understood to be the capital of Chile even though its Congress is in Valparaiso.
 Capital as symbol
With the rise of modern empires and the nation-state, the capital city has become a symbol for the state and its government, and imbued with political meaning. Unlike medieval capitals, which were declared wherever a monarch held his or her court, the selection, relocation, founding or capture of a modern capital city is an emotional affair. For example:
- Ruined and almost uninhabited Athens was made capital of newly independent Greece with the romantic notion of reviving the glory of the ancients. Similarly, following the Cold War and German reunification, Berlin is now once again the capital of a prosperous and influential country. Other restored capital cities include Moscow after the October Revolution.
A symbolic relocation of a capital city to a geographically or demographically peripheral location may be for either economic or strategic reasons (sometimes known as a "forward capital" or spearhead capital). Peter I of Russia moved his government from Moscow to Saint Petersburg to give the Russian Empire a western orientation, while Kemal Atatürk did the same by actually moving east, to Ankara, away from more Ottoman Istanbul. Other examples include Abuja, Astaná, Brasília, Islamabad, Naypyidaw and Yamoussoukro.
- The selection or founding of a "neutral" capital city — i.e. one unencumbered by regional or political identity — was meant to represent the unity of a new state when Bern, Canberra, Madrid and Washington, D.C. became capitals.
- During the American Civil War, tremendous resources were expended to defend Washington, D.C., which bordered the Confederate States of America, from Confederate attack even though the small federal government could have been moved relatively easily in the era of railroads and telegraph.
 Strategic importance of capitals
The capital city is almost always a primary target in a war, as capturing it usually guarantees capture of much of the enemy government, victory for the attacking forces, or at the very least demoralization for the defeated forces.
In old China, where governments were massive centralized bureaucracies with little flexibility on the provincial level, a Dynasty could easily be toppled with the fall of its capital. In the Three Kingdoms period, both Shu and Wu fell when their respective capitals of Cheng Du and Jian Ye fell. The Ming dynasty relocated its capital from Nanjing to Beijing, where they could more effectively control the generals and troops guarding the borders from Mongols and Manchus. The Ming was destroyed when the Manchus took their seat of power, and this pattern repeats itself in Chinese history, until the fall of the traditional Confucian monarchy in the 20th century. After the Qing Dynasty's collapse, decentralization of authority and improved transportation technologies allowed both the Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists to rapidly relocate capitals and keep their leadership structures intact during the great crisis of Japanese invasion.
National capitals were arguably less important as military objectives in other parts of the world including the West, due to socioeconomic trends toward localized authority, a strategic modus operandi especially popular after the development of feudalism and reaffirmed by the development of democratic and capitalistic philosophies. In 1205, after the Latin Crusaders captured the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, Byzantine forces were able to regroup in several provinces; provincial noblemen managed to reconquer the capital after 60 years and preserve the empire for another 200 years after that. The British forces sacked various American capitals repeatedly during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 but American forces could still carry on fighting from the countryside, where they enjoyed support from local governments and the traditionally independent frontiersmen-civilians. Exceptions to these generalizations include highly centralized states such as France, whose centralized bureaucracies could effectively coordinate far-flung resources, giving the state a powerful advantage over less coherent rivals, but risking utter ruin if the capital is taken; in their military strategies, traditional enemies of France such as Germany focused on the capture of Paris.
 Largest national capital cities
Some of the largest cities in the world are not national capitals. The largest national capitals on each continent, by urban/metropolitan area population, are:
- Africa: Cairo (11,146,000)
- Asia: Tokyo (35,237,000)
- Europe: Moscow (13,600,000)
- North America: Mexico City (17,809,471)
- Oceania: Wellington (445,400)
- South America: Buenos Aires (14,230,000)
 Lists of capitals
- Lists of national capitals
- List of historical national capitals
- List of capitals of subnational entities
- List of multiple capitals
- List of countries that have the name of their capital included in their name
- List of countries whose capital is not their largest cityaf:Hoofstad
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