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This article concerns places that serve as centers of government and politics. For alternative meanings see capital (disambiguation)
Capital City redirects here. For the fictional city, see Capital City (The Simpsons)

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. Capital punishment used to refer to the death-sentence, carried out by cutting off the 'criminal's head. In economics, "capital" referred originally to the "profit" one made, probably measured in 'heads' of cattle. Seats of government in major substate jurisdictions are usually called "capitals", but at lower administrative subdivisions, terms such as county town, county seat, or borough seat are also used.

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:

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.

As the focal point of power for the country or region, 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. Older capitals have often developed into prime economic, cultural, or intellectual centers as well. Such is certainly the case with Paris, France and Buenos Aires, Argentina among national capitals, and Irkutsk or Salt Lake City in their respective state or province. Such concentration may be controversial. The siting of Brasília in Brazil's heartland was done in order to bring progress to the interior of the country, since the old capital, Rio de Janeiro, along with entire Southeastern Brazil was 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 Thebes by Alexandria, 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 and Ottawa, were deliberately fixed outside existing economic areas, and may not have established themselves as new commercial or industrial hubs since.

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:

Largest capital cities

Some of the largest cities in the world are not national capitals. The largest capital cities in each continent, by urban/metropolitan area are:

(disputed )

Lists of capitals

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