Richard Drayton's characterisation of empires as beginning "in the subordination of one community to a power that has a monopoly on legitimate violence within a frontier" derives from hindsight. Roads and military organisation did not motivate the Incas to seek to rule other peoples, although they succeededin gaining control over the better organised Chimu Empire.
His argument relies too heavily on technologicalinnovations without contextualising such advances. He would have done well to have read Hugh Thomas (Features, October 31), who epitomised the origins of many empires by citing John Seeley's 1870 lecture on the British Empire as the result of "a fit of absence of mind".
Department of archaeology and anthropology
University of Wales, Lampeter