This empire was founded on the basis of a triumvirate with each leader governing their own spear while being prevented from interfering with the others. The clerical spear is made up of the nation's official religion. It is led by priests and their functionaries, who control all matters of faith and how it is administered to the people. The political spear is controlled by the administration. This administrative body controls matters dealing with the economy, formation of laws, and everything necessary to keep society running. The military branch is controlled by its generals. This is the army that defend the nation from outside threats. Each of these branches are controlled by a king, who is the ultimate authority in each of their own spears. Together, these figures are known as the TRIPLE T (THE TRIUMVIRATE OF TERROR).

These three kings are equal in power to each other and have final say in matters due to their branch. They also serve as a balance between each other. Unfortunately, a problem arises with the military king. Generally the force with access to the most powerful weapons have the most influence, and there is little to stop them from taking over the government entirely, or forcing another branch to act in their favor.

As powerful as religion can be, faith loses to guns. Administrative power also lose to guns. I need a way to keep the military king in check to prevent him from overthrowing the empire, and design a system of checks and balances where each branch doesn't infringe on the other. How can I do this?

  • $\begingroup$ you speak of a tetravirate first, then a triumvirate under one king, then 3 kings... would you clean that up please? $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Your problem is that each 'king' is the "ultimate authority in each of their own spears". This phrasing implies the opposite of "checks and balances." Properly-designed checks and balances are deliberately infringing. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 3:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you mean sphere instead of spear? $\endgroup$
    – Davo
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ That great fount of political knowledge, Roman history, would suggest that under no circumstances can you prevent the military from overthrowing whoever they want to. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ What @Davo said. Sphere? $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 2:12

7 Answers 7


If religion is so important in your political system then you're a theocratic monarchy with everything that implies.

One of the things it implies is that the army can't act without the support of the church. At high levels the weak party in this is the administrative arm, which probably only acts as a tiebreaker to resolve where the army and church disagree.

However, an army marches on its stomach, the church largely does too. So at lower levels both are dependent on the administrative arm and its ability to keep both fed.

You might think that leaves the church completely superfluous, in the modern age it does, but the church was at the heart of the community for the average person. It's a surprisingly powerful and influential organisation in a way that general administration failed to be, especially with the ability to communicate rapidly to the massed populace.

If you wish to directly balance the power of your army, then having a standing inquisition may be in order. Denouncing someone to the inquisition may as well be a death sentence, however this might tip things too far in favour of the church.

In practice this problem was resolved by not having more than a token standing army and only raising regiments when they were needed.


Model your empire on the Soviet Union. In the Soviet system, there were three prevailing political blocs: the Communist Party, the military, and the secret police (the KGB). If one of these three factions grew too powerful, the other two would collaborate to bring them back in line.

The military (in addition to the obvious) was a critical source of political strength abroad. But that hardly meant it went unchecked. The Party could and did use ideology as its weapon - if a particular officer was proving problematic, they could be censured, even purged as a result of "ideological differences". The KGB of course had its own special methods of dealing with problem individuals, and they also had control over information that could be damaging to the other factions.

Likewise in your empire. The three pillars are the military, faith - and therefore orthodoxy - and the administration of justice. If the military starts getting too big for its britches, key officers may find themselves subject to extra scrutiny from law enforcement or the secret police. (Or they might have their taxes audited.) They'll face attacks from the pulpit, both subtle and direct. In extreme cases they may be arrested or excommunicated.


The other two kings have economics on their side. The military doesn't grow its own food, or manufacture its own equipment. The others simply make sure the military doesn't have enough resources on hand to subsist more than one accounting cycle at a time. That means no excess cash beyond salaries and maintenance, limited stockpiles of food and equipment, and, this is the important part, no involvement in any form of economic production. Basically, the same way armies in our world are kept in check.


The church provides the social orthodoxy. If the soldier-king starts getting to big for their britches, then there's the stick of excommunication for their sins (real or false), and said soldier-king suddenly finds a decided lack of logistical support: troops aren't getting paid, infrastructure isn't getting fixed, weapons aren't being maintained, food isn't being delivered, fuel isn't arriving, and every sermon is about the heathen threatening the hard-working people.

If the High Priest starts getting a tad egotistical, the church can find itself hit on one side by civil laws ("What? We have to pay taxes now?") and on the other by groups of large, heavily armed men ominously looking over the High Priest. For his "protection", of course. Shame how he tripped and fell on to that sword. Four times.

And if the Chief Administrator starts throwing around their weight too much, they've got religiously-motivated mobs screaming for their head while the army is pounding on the door asking to have a chat.

However, to make the system stable, you need to ensure that none of the legs holding it up duplicates the primary capability of the others. If the military is able to come up with some way of producing income for itself, the administration loses their hammer and then it's a fight between church and army, and army wins. If the church starts fielding its own troops such that they can face the military on equal terms, civil war is pretty much inevitable. If the administration cripples one of the other two too much economically, then the other could take the opportunity to take over.

In essence, it's the standard Soviet model (that Cadence mentioned): the military controlled the big guns that could take out the Party and KGB, the Party could purge the military and KGB if necessary, and the KGB knew where all the bodies were buried and so could blackmail members of the military or Party.


Let's look at a couple historical examples of where we had segregation between military and other areas:


Sparta was a kindgom that was governed by a double-king-pair. But every decision of military involvement of them needed the Gerusia (Council of elders) to say "ok". For laws, the Assembly of citizens was allowed to propose and veto new laws. In effect, the Kings were more generals than leaders, it was some strange case of three-prong Unta: Elders (Veterans & Priests), Kings (heredity generals) & Assembly (Every male that is in the military).

They only subsided because they had enslaved a huge area and forced everybody there to work as Helots, they even declared formal war on them yearly.

What do we learn? Sparta's General-Kings were commanding a Veteran, professional army<, but seriously curtailed in how they could use their power.

Rome (Republic era)

The Roman Republic was a multi-prong bureaucracy. The Senate was to negotiate laws and made up from ex-consuls. To become a consul, you had to go through a very strict line of jobs.

And then there was the Plebeian Assembly that was an independent legislative arm lead by the Tribunes. Usually Senate signed off the results of the meetings that were open for all free men, but not always. See the brothers Gracchus for that.

A rather separate line of power were the cults. Not one church about a dozen different cults, each with influence in all the levels of society to different degrees.

And then there was the republican army. It was a citizen army, able bodies that could afford it, had to gear up themselves and go to war. Worked fine while the wars were only in Italia, but collapsed later to be replaced in the Marian Army Reforms with professional soldiers, paid with land in the periphery.

What do we learn? The republic had, for the most time, pre-Marius, no standing army of veterans but dedicated generals with a short, 1 year time to rule... without an army to command.


Locking the spears and making each one self subsiding is a bad idea, as then we have effectively 3 states. however, interlocking the spears does curtail the raw military power. Some ideas:

  • outside politicy is a thing of the church - to protect the beliefs.
  • the administrative branch also controls the manufacture, development and repair of arms and armor.
  • On the counterbalance, military is also the police, and any and all arrests have to be made by them, yet they can't write arrest warrants - that's administrative or church judge matters.

What if the other kings provide the soliders?

The military king probably won't get people to attack their home state very easily. If the others provide the men, the king provides orders.

The biggest army in the world won't help unless they follow your orders.

Maybe the other kings just don't have the logistical resources to make the army act as a whole, but they can recall their own cohort back and manage it easily.


Political Commissars and Military Chaplains

Another message to take from the example of the Soviet Union, is that of political loyalty officers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_commissar

Essentially, they were military officers directly appointed by the Party, to make sure all the military commanders in the Red Army were doing what the Party wanted. They had the authority to supervise unit commanders, and block or countermand their orders if they felt they weren't in line with the Party's ideology. You could simply adapt this concept, so that both the bureaucratic and religious arms of the government have political officers who can take direct command of the army if necessary. If you really want to crank up the political infighting, could also have it so that both the religious and bureaucratic organisations have secret police to spy on the military top brass, for example, the religious arm have their Holy Inquisition, and the bureaucratic arm have their State Security Bureau.

Paramilitary forces

Another approach might be that they both have separate paramilitary forces at their disposal. For example, the bureaucrats might have a highly trained tactical paramilitary police unit, or gendarmerie, such as Brimob in Indonesia, the Panamanian Public Forces, or the Soviet Union’s Internal Troops. Similarly, the theocratic branch might have a religiously-motivated militia at their command, something along the lines of the Basij and Ansar-e Hezbollah militias in Iran.


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