Is there any kind of technical term (and if not, can you think of one) for a civilization that “eats” others to gain their knowledge, powers, etc.? Such as… the Borg from Star Trek sort of did this, or at least they said they were going to during their “You will be assimilated” spiel—their commitment to actually doing so seemed to vary depending on the writer. The Krillitanes from Doctor Who were said to do this, (“They would ‘cherry-pick’ the best bits from the people they destroyed.”) and in Warhammer 40,000, the Kroot and the Tyranids both do it… and in real life, it was believed for awhile that planarian flatworms could basically do this, too.

So in my tabletop RPG setting I'm writing, there is a civilization that does this big-time, and I'm just wondering if there's any kind of specific cool term or descriptor I could use to describe this trait of the civilization (not the action!), as opposed to just simply describing it, or maybe coining my own term?

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    $\begingroup$ How does your civilization do this? The borg just took science/tech and the kroot basically absorb genetic values that are useful to survival. Is it biological, technological, cultural? $\endgroup$
    – Culyx
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ It is all of the above. It's kinda complicated… this is a pretty over-the-top science fantasy setting… basically they use sort of concept-engineering tech which is basically magic (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” and all that), stringites (string-size nanobots) to “convert” other beings, kind of like “turning” someone into a vampire, but less evil… and it's a two-way street. My civ gets the memories, skills, useful values of the converts, and the converts also get all the powers etc. that other members of the civ possess. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I could have sworn there was a single word for this type of empire, but I can't recall it. It would have had a very similar feel related to culture rather than genetics. The English stackexchange may have a clue about this. $\endgroup$
    – Jay Vogler
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Culyx, the Borg do more than just tech. From TNG, "We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile." Or, from First Contact, "We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile." (emphasis added) $\endgroup$
    – Brian S
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianS true, although I was mainly looking for clarification on the method of assimilation in the OP's question $\endgroup$
    – Culyx
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 19:08

6 Answers 6


Byte56's answer is good but I think it's a little too... "sciency" sounding. Maybe your culture has some particular traditions/rituals that go along with the converting of another species to their species; and when I say ritual I mean the whole "black cloaks and candles" thing.

Does it have a "religious" significance to your civilization? If so look at some other words/phrases to denote the movement from old species to new species:


A cultist/leader (in strange pope type garb mind you) shouting, "Prepare to transcend your biology and join the (civ name) with a higher purpose!"; sounds way cooler then a guy in a lab coat flicking a needle and saying "You may feel a slight prick."

Just for fun lets make up a word based on your description of nano tech and "like vampirism." Nanorism!

EDIT for your comment:

So to describe a species that does this type of act I would suggest "Xenophage" it combines the xeno (generally meaning stranger/alien) with phage (roughly meaning consumer) so this species is an Alien-Consumer references to the meanings:


1. a combining form meaning “alien,” “strange,” “guest,” used in the formation of compound words: xenogamy, xenolith.

1. a combining form meaning “a thing that devours,” used in the formation of compound words, especially the names of phagocytes: macrophage.

  • $\begingroup$ "Nanorism" seems unintentionally comic to me, but everything else in this answer is pretty good. $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Lol hehehe, yeahp, you got it all more or less right. That is pretty much exactly how they do it… except the cloaks are blue and gold instead of black, and instead of actual candles are little floating photon-globes that just look an awful lot like flickering candles, but you've got the basic idea down pat. But still I'm looking for a word that describes this type of civilization! Something like “ambush predators” or “super-parasites.” What should I use, just like, “species eaters”? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ I would tend to think they would have a rather eloquent way of saying it themselves, but everyone one else in the universe would have some (crude) slang for it. $\endgroup$
    – Culyx
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ YES absolutely, ohh, duh! So obvious now. Frankly it's bizarre I didn't think of this right away. I was raised on 40K, so I normally always go right to Greco-Roman terminology for these things… I mean I even refer to my “nanoric” civ as “terragenic” and the ones they're eating as “xenogenic.” So of course, the term I'm looking for is “xenophagic” civilization. I don't know why, somehow I got it in my mind that the word I was looking for would be English. I have no idea why. Well, Culyx, thank you so much for helping me see what was staring me right in the face! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ +1 "Xenophage" is inspired, but I'd probably re-edit to make it more prominent in your answer - I almost stopped reading at "nanorism"... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 20:16

I think you've already found your term: “[to] be assimilated”.


  1. to take in and utilize as nourishment : absorb into the system
  2. to take into the mind and thoroughly comprehend
  3. to make similar
  4. to alter by assimilation
  5. to absorb into the culture or mores of a population or group

This applies in all the ways you've described, even culturally. You will likely have to coin your own phrase if you want to include more details about the process. For example, the above phrase doesn't imply how assimilation happen or how peaceful it'll be.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay, well, that's good… except, obviously I don't want assimilate, as that is already way too strongly associated with the Borg and Star Trek in the minds of all my potential fanbase members. I mean, in terms of a verb for the actual action of doing this, I already have it: “[to] be converted.” What I'm looking for more is the description for the type of civilization that displays this behavior, NOT the behavior itself. Like I don't want to just refer to it as an “assimilating civilization.” There's got to be a more eloquent way of describing it, right? :/ $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Beyond the facts, I think you're slipping into a subjective "What sounds cool?" type question. $\endgroup$
    – House
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 15:54

I would claim this is the essential core of an 'Empire'. Empires do not conquer and expel competing civilizations, they subjugate them and incorporate their positive qualities.

Look at the Roman conquest of the Greeks, or even the interactions of the Punic wars, where Rome took home things and ideas that had been lost from Egyptian Imperial culture by warring with their heirs, the Carthagenians.

Also look at the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, where even though the dominators had very rigid notions, they realized that they still profited from borrowing the technology of their subject populations, and eventually learned it was best to allowed those populations immense cultural freedom, in order to cultivate those products.


I would probably lean towards using the root kleptes in there somewhere. Along the lines of kelptoplasty

some ideas:


"mind theif"


"potential eater"


"theif of heart/mind/soul/essence"

cordis is genetive form of latin cor.


"for theif to eat"
"eater to the theif"

klepti is dative form of kleptes if I'm reading this correctly.


"eater of heart/mind/soul/essence"

I think kleptiphage is what you'd want, but I'm not positive I translated the meaning correctly. If I screwed up it most likely would end up saying "eater of thieves" which is wrong. The other "-phage" words don't directly imply thievery of abilities.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting stuff, but I'm still going to go with Culyx's xenophage as definitely the best term to describe what I'm looking to describe. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I think xenophage sounds better myself. Just figured I'd give some other possibles as far as scientific or self-description. For others describing them I would imagine it would definitely end up being xenophage as "the public" tends to go with whatever sounds cool. $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. Well my “xenophagic” civilization actually speaks a language that… well, unsurprisingly, it's a mishmash of bits and pieces taken from the languages of all the other civilizations it's absorbed, but some of the oldest in there are Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, so it makes quite a bit of sense that they might actually identify themselves AS xenophages, much like modern humans identify themselves as, say, vertebrates. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @JoshZmijewski We must be awfully yummy if a bunch of "Xenos" made us their first target. ^_^ $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ Other way around, actually. Hehehe. My mythos has kind of a lot of trope inversion going on, so, basically, yeah, it's actually the Terran-descended humans who invade the aliens (well, our godlike posthuman descendants really, but you get the point… well, actually descendants of a certain faction or, more to the point, one particularly dominant clade of transhumanity, but yeah still, you get the point). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 12:26

FYI: In the show Hunter x Hunter there is a species of ANTagonists whose ruler could eat other species, pick and choose the best bits, and incorporate them into her children. The skill was called Phagogenesis. This combined phago (eating) with genesis (to make/create/give birth). If your species is very simular to this, the term should work well. It may not, however, exactly fit with what you are doing.


When I read your questions and answers I began to think of a word that could describe the qualities this species takes, and it led me to recognizing that this species is doing far more than incorporating "stuff", like powers and biology etc...but they are actually taking people's identities. The species is pervasive and destructive, almost sickeningly so, because they take the target's memories, aspirations, everything that we would use to identify them as them. It's frightening to consider the possibility that something could kill you, but even more to consider that it could become you, use you, intimately understand you, and in some ways, erase you because you are no longer the only you. The essence of someone is what they absorb. It's like identity theft on steroids. I did read that they convert as well, so I take it the original species isn't destroyed, even if they are irrevocably changed. So consider words like essence, identity, violation, annexation, and even genocide. The word I might use would be despoil. They could be referred to as despoilers in common tongue. Despoliation or despoilment would be the act. Just my two cents!

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, it sounds like you really don't like my civilization! :D Lol heehee wow. Well it is a science-fantasy-horror world, and there are certainly horror aspects to it and, in my setting, certainly some of the other civilizations that are terrified of them view them in exactly those terms. But everything isn't always so black and white. While it is true that the species they rapture are irrevocably changed, it is also true that the individual members of those species gain immortality, godlike powers, access to all of the knowledge and experience that the civilization has “eaten” in the past, etc $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ As well as a HUGE degree of personal freedom and autonomy (for the individuals) that is likely to be far greater than what they had under their original species… all at the mere cost of one’s soul, I suppose you might say… though they certainly don't see it that way, they see it as a spiritual gain or enlightenment, not a loss at all. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @JoshZmijewski Haha well I actually like the sound of them and what they do, it sounds very appropriate for the world you are creating. I think that though they offer many things, most civilizations would view them negatively. The idea of becoming something greater than you already are is pretty cool, however. I like that you're not looking at things as black and white though, and I think that because of the nuisances in real life you would probably find some who worshiped the species and some who hated them, and finally some who were just meh towards them haha. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ That is very much the way that the other civilizations view them. Some have murdered innumerable innocents just to reach them and beg to be converted, others have destroyed countless worlds trying to fight them to their last quantum of strength, others just want to trade with them for their very advanced technology, and still others believe they are a completely mythical race, an impossible myth at that, but regardless, in the end, all are converted, without pity or prejudice, without remorse or hate, the fate of all is inevitably, inexorably the same. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 21:33

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