Empires usually have three stages: the rise, the glory days and the decline. In the previous post I covered the rise of empires. This time it is time to peek into the stable periods of large nations. To some, these periods of stability and prosperity may seem boring and without good hooks for adventure. But despite the general stability, many forces are usually working to shape or rip apart the empire.
When empires expand, they create a need for new social structures. Someone needs to feed the new population, someone needs to transport that food, someone needs to organize things and someone needs to build and repair the roads that the goods move. With large empires, some areas may be very self-sufficient even while some areas need constant supplying from others. For example, Rome needed the Egyptian fields and orchards to feed the capital’s population during the empire’s heyday. These long supply chains offer us opportunities for good storytelling. Threats, both internal and external, can threaten entire nations while power-hungry factions and individuals seek to manipulate the system to their own ends.
The Thulian Empire
After the first Pretorian emperor added the mountain-lands to the old Thylian kingdom, the empire was created. With Eisenstad iron and lowland manpower, the new emperor consolidated his grip inside his own borders by creating the Legions, loyal to the emperor alone, effectively disbanding the old feudal levies.
The legions not only provided the emperor with a virtual monopoly of armies, they gave him the excuse to further cripple the nobles’ power by transferring tax-collection to imperial officials. In return, he provided the old nobles with pensions and a new central court to play in politics.
This growing bureaucracy desperately needed new members and to train them, a new educational system was created. While many of the students were of noble stock, imperial decree stated that the schools were open to anyone who passed the entrance exam.
These major cultural changes didn’t happen overnight. The first emperor spent his last years focused on internal matters, leaving a stable and centralized empire for his heir and daughter, Juliana. Later the empress would be known as the “Warrior Empress”, for she expanded the empires borders aggressively using her father’s legacy. In the south, the coastal cities of the Maritime alliance were conquered with little resistance, as the cities faced another naval invasion from the Navaran islands. The Alliance submitted to the Empress in exchange for protection.
In the East, beyond Eisenstad, lay the lands of the Guranni, a collection of tribes unified by a High King only a few decades earlier. The forested lands offered the defenders ample opportunities for ambushes and attrition and demanded new ways of fighting from the legions. The forested lands also lacked roads and had very few cities, further hindering the legions’ tried and true decisive siege and control strategies.
In the end, after over two decades of fierce fighting and imperial occupation, the Guranni were pacified. Imperial settlers flooded the forests and intermingled with the natives, who became loyal subjects eventually. This long and exhausting campaign was started by the “Warrior Empress” but she didn’t live long enough to witness its end. Her successor, Pretorius II finished it.
After the huge land gains of the first two rulers, the empire settled into stability. In the following decades the Navaran islands were added to imperial rule, thanks to the new advanced ship designs of the former Maritime Alliance combined with the power of the empire. These ships also established the imperial outposts on the far shore of the Shallow Sea.
After a century of the first emperor’s coronation, the empire had reached its apex. This Imperial glory made the empire the envy of its neighbors, who both feared it and curried favor with it. But like many others before it, it was susceptible to corruption and decay. The long and gradual end of the empire had already begun.