A Brief History of Charted Space
There exists precious little record of the events of truly ancient interstellar history. While records of some civilizations exist (some even spacefaring) which predate the advent of the Ancients, none ever managed to grasp more than a tiny handful of the systems within Charted Space. It is generally agreed that the first species to achieve Jump travel was the Ancients, and they used it to tremendous effect.
Common consensus dates the rule of the Ancients to a period somewhere between three hundred and four hundred thousand years prior to the founding of the Third Imperium (year 0). To this day, the technological advances of even the Darrians have failed to approach the level of advancement exhibited in the ruins and relics the Ancients left behind them. They were capable of grand terraforming experiments, geneering on a scale almost difficult to imagine, and when they bent their minds to it, destruction so cataclysmic it is scarcely possible to comprehend.
Despite this evidence, we know precious little about the Ancients themselves. Some humans and some Vargr each think they are descendants of the Ancients, and other theories as well abound, but ultimately their exact nature is unknown. What we do know, however, is that among other things they are responsible for the spread of Humaniti throughout Charted Space, and also for the transplanting of the Vargr from Terra to Lair.
We also know that at some point to the latter end of the Ancients period (generally accepted to be around 302,000 years before the founding of the Third Imperium), a schism of some sort threw the Ancients into a period of titanic, devastating conflict. The Final War lasted some two thousand years, and the weapons deployed by the Ancients during that time were powerful enough to strip atmospheres, crack the crusts of planets, and even sunder worlds. Whatever the reason for the conflict, it ended with the complete disappearance of the Ancients from the galactic scene, leaving only the wreckage and ruin of the war behind.
Thus we fade into the Long Silence. For nearly two hundred thousand years, the races left behind in the wake of the Final War must learn to find their way without the godlike guiding hand of the Ancients. Little of note comes about as a result of this development until -9235, when the Vilani major human race on Vland (Vland 1717) develops the jump-1 drive. The resulting era of exploration, expansion, wars of domination and consolidation lead to the creation of the First Imperium, the Vilani Ziru Sirka.
While the Vilani were not the first to develop Jump technology in the wake of the Ancients (an honor which goes to the Droyne), they were the first to build an interstellar empire with it. The Ziru Sirka ruled for some 7,000 years, and for much of it was incredibly effective. The Consolidation Wars allowed the Vilani to both absorb and neuter resistance to their empire, and the policies of the Pax Vilanica kept the technological advances of the Vilani Imperium from leaking out to agents beyond its borders.
However, it was not to last. By the year -3000, the Ziru Sirka had calcified – the borders were rigid and unmoving, and the bureaucracy had become so unflinching that technological advancement and innovation had entirely halted. It was into this environment that, in -2400, the nascent Terran Confederation from Terra (Solomani Rim 1827) came. When conflicts first broke out between the Terran Confederation and the Ziru Sirka, they were mere border skirmishes, and the Terrans were unaware of the sheer scope of the enemy with which they were grappling.
The Interstellar Wars turned against the Terrans at first, but disorder and internecine warfare within the Vilani Imperium kept the much greater power from effectively combating the Confederation. Over a series of ten wars, lasting almost 200 years, the Terrans grew from a weak association of a handful of systems within the Solomani Rim to the inheritors of the Vilani Imperium. However, this period of rapid growth and expansion led to schisms within the Terran Confederation – the longer the wars lasted and the grander their scope, the more disconnected the Terran Navies waging the war became from the Confederation itself, until at the close of the war, the Confederation was only directly administrating a paltry 3 sectors of the fallen Vilani Imperium.
Enter Grand Admiral Hiroshi Estigarribia. A decorated hero of the Interstellar Wars and commander in chief of the Terran Navy, Hiroshi enacts a coup in -2204 and proclaims himself the Regent of the Vilani Imperium and the Protector of Terra, united in the Rule of Man, and sets his capital on Dingir (Solomani Rim 1222). While not crowned in his lifetime, Hiroshi would go on to be posthumously titled Emperor Hiroshi I of the Rule of Man. Unfortunately, however, the designs he had for the Rule of Man die with him in -2182, a scant 20 years after the formation of the inheritor empire.
It becomes plainly obvious before too long that the Rule of Man has failed to halt the degeneration of the now-ramshackle Vilani Imperium. Rife with internal conflict (there were sometimes as many as twelve different claimants to the throne of the Rule of Man) and beset by economic instability, it would spend the next three centuries in a state of decay, and when it finally falls apart, there’s no net for interstellar society. The economic collapse of the Rule of Man precipitates the complete collapse of interstellar society, and brings on a two-thousand year dark age known as the Long Night.
Technology regresses and enters freefall on most worlds, as the technical knowhow to maintain TL11+ societies fades. Those worlds powerful enough to survive nonetheless abandon their colonies and assets out-of-system, and those that can’t quickly achieve self-sufficiency die of starvation or environmental circumstances. In the early years of the Long Night, piracy is common as the provincial fleets collapse, but eventually piracy too dies with the shiplanes; with no traders to raid, pirate crews have little to turn a profit with. Many abandoned colonies and stations show evidence of acts of mass suicide, as their occupants face the prospect of slow starvation with no hope of rescue or relief.
Ambitious individuals attempt to raise empires to fill the vacuum, but almost to a one these empires crumble and disintegrate. The Gashikan Empire descends into frantic anti-Vargr sentiment as a reaction to Vargr piracy and a policy of universal genocide is implemented; the Gashikan never really spread further than two sectors and two half-sectors. The Darrians seem poised to fill the void (even if they don’t yet know it exists) in the Spinward Marches, achieving a TL16 society, but their star probe experiments trigger the Maghiz and bathe the entirety of the Darrian Group with intense solar radiation, devastating every Darrian colony and utterly destroying Darrian interstellar society in the process.
And yet, around the morass that is the Long Night, the other empires persevere. In the period between the fall of the Rule of Man and the dawn of the Third Imperium, the Aslan to spinward of Terra develop jump technology and the Aslan Hierate is formed. To trailing, the K’kree and Hiver empires continue to develop – the Two Thousand Worlds in fact reaches its current size during the Long Night. And to coreward, the Vargr continue much as they always have. The Zhodani Consulate also reaches its current size some time during the Long Night, and the effects of the night are hardly felt at all within its borders.
It is not until -650 that the Long Night begins to brighten, with the foundation of the Sylean Federation on the previously little-important planet of Sylea, now known more often by the name Capital. The Federation must prove itself to those in its immediate vicinity early on – wars fought against the Interstellar Confederacy (had history been different, perhaps the Confederacy would’ve revived the Imperium) and the Chanestin Kingdom tie the Federation up for much of its lifetime.
And then, finally, in -57, Cleon Zhunastu (later Cleon I and the Father of the Third Imperium) is born to Grand Duke Felix Zhunastu, President of the Sylean Federation Grand Senate. In his youth, Cleon spends much time abroad, and in fact takes a year-long sabbatical on Vland, intensely studying the AAB‘s records and the Vilani Imperial Library. When his father dies in -30, Cleon succeeds him as President of the Sylean Federation, and in the next 30 years leads the Federation to an unprecedented era of growth, even absorbing much of the Interstellar Confederacy. Finally, in the last week of the year -1, the Sylean Federation Grand Senate ratifies Cleon Zhunastu’s “Warrant for the Restoration of the Imperium”. The Long Night is ended and the Imperium is reborn.
Cleon’s reign is characterized by rapid expansion of the Third Imperium’s borders, but this expansion is largely peaceful, as many of the worlds contacted by the nascent empire remember the previous Imperiums and are eager to rejoin interstellar society. This proceeds apace until year 53, when Cleon I passes away, and his son Cleon II takes the throne, a rule which would last for only a year. Cleon II abdicates in favor of Artemsus I, and the nature of the Imperium is forced to change.
Unlike Cleon, Artemsus favors an expansion of the Imperium’s borders by the cannon, and argues extensively for this. However, his efforts are parried by Zuan Kerr, and it isn’t until ten years after Kerr’s death, in 76, that Artemsus convinces the Moot to support his proposals, beginning the Pacification Campaigns.
The wars waged during this period are violent and punitive. Polities which refuse to join the Empire are put down with extreme military force, and planets or regions which rise in revolt are silenced and often subject to horrific retaliatory acts. The most notable of these is the conclusion to the Lancian Campaigns, which sees the near-sterilization of Aakgar (Gushemege 0912).
The pacification wars are over by 120, and is followed by the Julian Wars which see the defeat of the Imperium and the formation of the autonomously-administered Antares Region ruled by the League of Antares. The Imperium begins a policy of “border creep,” in which the borders of the Imperium grow slowly; this continues until 589, when the first Frontier War breaks out between the Imperium, and the Outworld Coalition headed by the Zhodani Consulate. This war lasts until 604, and immediately following the conflict Admiral Olav hault-Plankwell takes the Imperial armada back to the core and overthrows Empress Jaqueline.
The following 20 years of Civil War are referred to as the Barracks Emperor period, and see nearly a dozen different Emperors of the Flag sit on the Iridium Throne. Fifteen years into the civil war, the second Frontier War begins with a renewed Outworld Coalition pushing back into the Spinward Marches. Duchess Arbellatra Alkhalikoi, newly appointed Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy, takes a fleet to the Marches and, by 620, she has defeated the Coalition. She, like hault-Plankwell before her, takes her fleet from the front and returns to the Imperial Core, where she overthrows the last of the Barracks Emperors. Rather than take the throne, she defers to the Moot, who appoints her Regent while it determines the successor to the Iridium Throne.
The Moot then, in recognition of her heroic efforts, crowns Arbellatra the 32nd Empress of the Third Imperium in 629, and her reign is characterized by vast Imperial reform, and is generally remembered as a golden age. She establishes the X-boat Network, and by extension the Exnet, joining Empress Porfiria in the IISS’s esteem, and undertakes the construction of the Grand Imperial Palace on Capital. When she passes in 666, she is widely mourned.
Little of note occurs in the Imperium following until the Psionics Suppressions of the late 700s, which sees the previously-accepted Psionics Institutes outlawed and the practice and very existence of psionics criminalized. Publicly, this is due to a series of high-profile scandals involving the Institutes, but it is a not-uncommon theory that it was an attempt to curb Zhodani influence in Imperial space and generally an anti-Zhodani move.
About a century and a half following sees the twin spectres of the Third Frontier War and unrest in the Solomani Rim hanging over the Imperium. The Third Frontier War, begun in 979, ends in 986 with an Armistice, and shortly afterward Emperor Styryx is forced to abdicate the throne at gunpoint due to the casualties suffered in the war. Not even a decade later, the Solomani Rim War erupts, and lasts from 990 until early 1002 with the fall of Terra. A temporary armistice is extended into a permanent peace agreement, leaving much of the Solomani Rim under Imperial control and the Solomani Confederation capital moved to Home (Aldebaran 1009).
Another pause comes, leaving the Imperium time to rebuild, recenter and breathe, and the peace is appreciated by all. This peace is cut short in 1082 by the Quar Incident at Quar (Spinward Marches 0808), pulling both the Zhodani and the Imperium into a short-lived and unexpected Fourth Frontier War. The conflict lasts two years, until its explosive conclusion at the Battle of Two Suns between Yres (Spinward Marches 1802) and Menorb (Spinward Marches 1803). Both the Zhodani and the Imperium suffer heavy losses, and an armistice is negotiated.
That was 20 years ago. On the border, tensions remain high. In the Imperial Core, Emperor Strephon is beginning to embark on an ambitious set of reforms, and is drawing some comparisons to Empress Arbellatra. It is, to paraphrase an old and oft-misattributed Terran phrase, an interesting time.