May
4
2015

So, You’ve Built an Empire… Now What?

Once a society has achieved stability, they will continue to grow and expand in all directions. However, they will eventually run into other groups and local resources will become contested. Historically, the stronger group will conquer and subdue the weaker, forming the seed of an empire.

There have been innumerable books written on the growth of empires and the nature of conquest. I’m not interested in repeating their words. Instead, I will focus on what comes next.

Though history seems to focus on Rome’s legions and emperors, much of their success and influence can be directly attributed to the skill of the Roman road builders. When we worldbuild, we need to consider how the cultural influence of conquest extends beyond the initial conflict and well into the consolidation of power.

The Romans knew that the true path to stability within a diverse empire is prosperity. As they conquered territories, the Romans stitched the lands and peoples they dominated into the fabric of the empire with ties of transportation and commerce. The Roman infrastructure was some of the best and safest of their day, allowing citizens and foreign nationals alike to travel unmolested from Spain to Jerusalem. This safety and stability went a long way to encourage trade within the empire, and in turn eased the sting of conquest with wealth and comfort. After all, it’s hard to encourage the subdued populace to rebel against the new rulers when life is genuinely better under their reign.

Furthermore, the presence of Roman garrisons in conquered lands was critical to cultural diffusion. Soldiers stationed far from Rome wanted a taste of the familiar. As such, they brought elements of Rome with them. They build coliseums, baths and temples. They ate their foods and worshipped their gods. However, with prolonged occupation, these same soldiers began to learn the local dialects, marry the local women, and adopt the local fashions and styles. When these garrisons were deployed to another part of the empire, they brought this influence with them, further spreading and evolving the hybrid culture.

This two-way diffusion allowed for the cultures to mix on a very personal level and explains why the influence of Roman religion and lifestyle can still be seen across Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. It also goes a long way to explain why the languages that take from Latinate roots are simultaneously wide spread and convoluted. Take this history of the English language as a key example.

The cultural and diplomatic influence of conquest rarely ends when the swords are sheathed. In fact, I would argue that the most significant challenges that conquerors face happen as they attempt to consolidate their rule and provide for the needs of their new subjects. So why then do many young writers seem to focus their worldbuilding efforts on histories of conquest and neglect the periods of consolidation? After all, only the nations that spend significant time on “building” their empire will leave enough of a legacy behind to be remembered.

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