Sanskrit word meaning "circle of tributary princes." The root word, samanta, originally meant "neighbor." It's interesting how such words, over time, often wind up having less friendly meanings.

Anyway, in medieval India, the various Hindu kings could often not afford to support a large bureaucracy to help them govern the wide territories they had gained. Kings therefore ruled portions of their kingdoms by giving orders to the lesser rulers they had defeated, their samantas. Not only did this form of feudalism allow them to hold some kind of (often tenuous) control over their large empires, but it also provided a sort of measuring stick of prestige: the king with the largest samantacakra was an object of envy.

I thought about this today after I heard the latest report on the Clinton sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom. Here we have something very close to a samantacakra: The Clintons, through the years, have largely eschewed material gains (their NY house is the first one they've ever owned, despite both of them being reasonably compensated as lawyers) for the sake of building a circle of influence. Their power (whatever amount your personal partisan inclinations want to credit them with having) therfore derives not from money or land, but from the size of their samantacakra.

This has also given me an insight into the game of chess, which is Indian in origin. Here, the king is one of the weakest pieces, yet is able to command an army comprising several powerful units, such as the rook and the queen. It's easy to see the series of pawns as the king's personal army and the rest as his samantacakra.