In my story, I made a galaxy spanning civilization that has a constitutional monarchy with a imperialist view of seizing worlds.

For a little more context, the agreement for the transition form a full monarchy to a constitutional one was after a rebellion, the royal family would handover all governmental control, but only if they can still have a prominent role in the military. Some of the nobles (who still wanted to hold on to their tradition) also signed a similar deal, and they agreed to it. (I know it's dumb to let them have it, but it was means to an end.)

So the problem I'm facing is what position/rank they should have where the command large armies, but they can't screw the military over and/or take over the government.

EDIT: When I say nobility, I mean something like near the end of the medieval era.

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    $\begingroup$ What is "nobility" in a "galaxy spanning civilization"? Please define your terms. And no, western European medieval and early modern nobility is not something universal; it was very much a phenomenon restricted to medieval and early modern western Europe. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 11, 2019 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ I can't believe that a galaxy-spanning government would have a merely "royal" family at the top. Do you know how many stars there are in the tiniest dwarf galaxies? Do you know how many stars there are in our galaxy? If each star system has a ruler with the title of king, one would expect that ten systems, for example, would be ruled by a king of kings, a hundred by a king of kings of kings, and so on up to the supreme rulers who would be an emperor or emperor equivalent. $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2019 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding it worked for 40(?) thousand years in Asimov's Foundation series... $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Nov 12, 2019 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ "I know its dumb to let them have it but it was means to an end". What end? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Nov 12, 2019 at 3:25
  • $\begingroup$ This question doesn't actually specify human. Aliens are ... alien. Plenty of SF examples of species for whom a heirarchic social dominance structure works better than for humans. Ditto amongst animals on this planet, from wolves to termites. $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Nov 12, 2019 at 10:25

13 Answers 13


Small Elite troops.

"So the problem i'm facing is what position/rank should they have where the command large armies but cant screw the military over and/or take over the government"

In military arms you will have Infantry/Air which in your case all may merge with Naval spaceships. If you place lots of troops under their command, historically the political element rears it's ugly head. And Charlie Foxtrot's you at the worst possible time.

If they control spaceships, may use it to further their own trade agreements or withold passage. Again, you got Cluster F...

Say you give them infantry and numbers. Nobles will be able to outright sell, negotiate or barter the command possitions between them. That still gives them ton of influence, since the sheer numbers of families involved gives ton of ears and access to a wide assortment of talent. Remember infantry got from Engineers to Artillery.

So give them the Special Forces. Tiny group which can mititage their reach. You also seldom deploy them, so they twidle their thumbs for the better part of the year.

And the carrot. You make Special Forces a beautiful ego stroking carrot.

The fate of our nation many say can be decided by a bullet. Other times by bombardement. Because only a noble of birth can understand the shades of gray needed to be Special Forces. Subtlety isn't something we can hammer into a low born. We can entrust this position only to the best of the best. And who may claim to be above the Most Acient houses?

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    $\begingroup$ This is great. You can put the most incompetent noble in charge of the Top Secret Special Forces Team, which never loses (it never gets deployed), trains constantly to stay in tip-top shape (keeps him from meddling with other stuff), and competes and always wins in wargames against the enlisted -- challenging another noble squad is presents an unsuitable risk of the other nobles death or embarrassment (also a good way of testing which enlisted are willing to take an ego hit in the name of smoothing politics). Plus they act as a sink for impractical military industrial complex toys. $\endgroup$
    – Zwuwdz
    Nov 11, 2019 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ "impractical military industrial complex toys" That's why you baseborn never get the best gear. Such a gaudy thing to use a Plasma Kalashnikov. Only us get the Ultra Duper Boomstick Mark IIV. $\endgroup$
    – Gustavo
    Nov 12, 2019 at 13:26

History has many different examples to choose from.

The British Royalty has a long tradition of being very "hands on" militarily speaking. We can go back to Henry V or Richard III as true warrior kings fighting on the field of battle, to the more modern example of the House of Windsor sending their sons and daughters into service (and actually performing at rank). Her Majesty Elizabeth II served in WWII as a mechanic, Prince Andrew flew a helicopter towing a radar reflector behind a Royal Navy aircraft carrier in the Falklands War, and Prince "Harry" served two tours in Afghanistan, one as a armoured corps officer and one as an Apache helicopter pilot. Elizabeth's father, King George VI, served aboard a battleship during the battle of Jutland in the First World War.

enter image description here

Princess Elizabeth at war

On the other hand, while the future King George was serving in the Royal Navy aboard a battleship, the Kaiser Wilhelm II was the "Supreme Commander" of all Imperial German forces, but his staff had to carefully manipulate the yearly manoeuvres so his side would "win" the wargames. Many Royals were equally ineffective as true military leaders, despite their notional rank and position in the Armed Forces.

enter image description here

Wilhelm II. "But my side always wins"

Depending on the effect you are trying to achieve in the story, your royals could be either exemplary members of the Armed Forces like the British Royal Family, or duds who are given largely ceremonial positions and carefully insulated from command. Reality means that in either case there will always be exceptions (Prince Edward washed out of Royal Marine Commando training, while during WWI King Leopold of Belgium regularly visited the front lines to encourage his troops and maintain national morale).

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    $\begingroup$ WRT the British military, you could also look at the circum-Victorian practice of nobility or upper class people buying commissions as officers. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Nov 12, 2019 at 4:17

This problem is central to the organisation of one of the best-known settings: Warhammer 40.000

Once upon a time the then-new Imperium of Mankind had fully combined arms and was commanded by a single Warmaster: Horus Lupercal

Horus rebelled and went traitor in an event you might have heard of: the Horus Heresy. This was the largest war the galaxy had seen in millennia and whole sectors were torched by both sides. The reason this worked was because of the integration of forces: whole expedition fleets were commanded by single leaders and if one of those went rogue they took the entire fleet with them.

So in the year 40.000 armies are carefully split along extremely inconvenient lines to prevent them from being corrupted by a single group.
- An Army officer might go rogue but he won't have supplies, air superiority or transport to the next system.
- a Naval officer might go rogue but he won't have boots on the ground to actually achieve anything and he won't receive supplies.
- A Administratum clerk might go rogue but he won't be able to use any of his supplies.

Each of these branches is equal and necessary to prosecute a serious war but petty politics and rivalries make sure that it is extremely rare for a whole army group to decide that becoming traitors is the good idea.

  • $\begingroup$ Good example of preventing outright rebellion, but as often as not, nobility in the military is an issue of ineptitude as it is trust. You may want to expand on that topic as well. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 12, 2019 at 19:08

Short Answer:

Officials of all classes start out lower and if competent are promoted to higher ranks. But officials who come from higher ranking classes start out at higher ranks than officials who come from lower ranking classes.

And even the most democratic politicians accept that class bias because the number of levels in the government hierarchy is so large that nobody could start at the bottom and be promoted all the way to the top during their career. Since the top positions have to be filled, even the most democratic politicians accept that much class bias in appointments, but no more.

Long Answer in five parts:

Space is big. Very, very big. And very, very complicated.

Part One: the size of a galaxy spanning government.

the tiniest dwarf galaxies each have about a million star systems. Our Milky Way Galaxy has at lest a hundred thousand times as many stars, at least 100,000,000,000 star systems, and possibly several times that many.

The disc of the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light years in diameter, so a galaxy spanning government would rule over at least a distance of 50,000 light years and rule at least a quarter of the volume of the galactic disc.

So I would say that a galaxy spanning government would rule a volume of space containing at least 10,000,000,000 star systems. It is perfectly possible for humans from the habitable planet Earth to colonize our entire solar system and use asteroid and comet material to construct countless thousands and millions of space habitats so that our solar system could support trillions or quadrillons of humans.

A space empire might find that only one star system out of a hundred would have a planet that humans could colonize. And thus one ruling over at least 10,000,000,000 star systems would rule over at least 100,000,000 habitable planets that humans could colonize. Each habitable planet should be able to support at least 1,000,000,000 humans, so the space empire should be able to have a total population of 100,000,000,000,000,000 humans on the habitable planets.

But of course each of the 100,000,000 habitable planets in the space empire should be able to build space habitats in its system and have a total population of at least one trillion or 1,000,000,000,000 persons on those space habitats. Thus the space empire could have total of 100,000,000,000,000,000 humans on the 100,000,000 habitable planets and another 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 humans living in the space habitats in the 100,000,000 star systems that happen to have habitable planets.

But what about the 9,900,000,000 star systems in the space empire which don't have habitable planets? Most of those should have planets, moons, comets, and asteroids, so it should be possible to build space habitats in those systems. So every single one of the 10,000,000,000 star systems in the space empire could eventually have thousands and millions of artificial space habitats and a total population of at least a trillion or 1,000,000,000,000 persons on those space habitats. So the total population of this hypothetical space empire could be 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 persons, spread over 100,000,000 habitable planets and countless gazillions of space habitats in 10,000,000,000 star systems.

So any "galaxy spanning" space empire should have a very, very, very, very complicated government.

Part two: The space navy of a galaxy spanning government:

For example, suppose that each star system has a one star admiral in command of the defenses there. A two star admiral might be in command of the defenses in ten star systems, a three star admiral might be in command of the defenses in 100 star systems, a four star admiral might be in command of the defenses in 1,000 star systems, a five star admiral might be in command of the defenses in 10,000 star systems, and so on and so on.

And when a feet of space battleships is assembled, a one star admiral might be in command of ten space battleships, a two star admiral might be in command of 100 space battleships, a three star admiral might be in command of 1,000 space battleships, a four star admiral might be in command of 10,000 space battleships, a five star admiral might be in command of 100,000 space battleships, and so on and so on up to the commander of the entire fleet.

In E.E. Smith's Lensman series, the main battle fleets of galactic governments had millions of space battleships.

So I was rather shocked by the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sacrifice of Angels" depicting an important battle in the Dominion War with only 600 Federation ships vs 1,200 Dominion and Cardassian ships. The fleets should have been tens and hundreds of times as large. And it was equally shocking to see Sisko, a lowly captain, in command of 600 Federation ships. This seems like a clear case of "Writers Cannot Do Math":


So any space government that rules a galaxy, or a significant piece of a galaxy, is going to have a space navy with many, many, many different Admiral ranks. in the current US navy there are only six officer ranks below the Admiral ranks: ensign, lieutenant junior grade, lieutenant, lieutenant commander, commander, and captain, and only four admiral ranks. But in the space navy of a major galactic power, the admiral ranks should greatly outnumber the other officer ranks, and might even greatly out number the other officer ranks and the enlisted ranks combined.

Part Three: the size of the civil government of a galaxy-spanning empire.

Suppose that some of the solar systems in the galaxy-spanning empire have artificial space habitats. We might suppose that the ruler of a single space habitat might be called a habicrat. A habicrat might be elected by the people of the habitat, or a hereditary noble, or appointed by higher authority. Maybe there are all three different types of habicrats ruling habitats in each star system.

Suppose that the ruler of ten habitats is a habicrat of Habicrats, or a habicrat to the second power, and abbreviated HC2. The ruler of 100 habitats might be a HC3, The ruler of 1,000 habitats might be a HC4, The ruler of 10,000 habitats might be a HC4, The ruler of 100,000 habitats might be a HC5, and so on and so on. There could be millions of artificial space habitats in the system, so there could be one or more rulers of a million habitats, each of them a HC6.

And possibly the ruler of an entire star system, whether elected, hereditary, or appointed from above, might be called a stellacrat. Then the ruler of ten systems would be a stellacrat of stellacrats, or a stellacrat to the second power, abbreviated SC2. The ruler of 100 systems would be a SC3, The ruler of 1,000 systems would be a SC4, The ruler of 10,000 systems would be a SC5, The ruler of 100,000 systems would be a SC6, and so on and so on. So the ruler of the entire space empire of 10,000,000,000 star systems would be the equivalent of an SC11.

Suppose that in the space empire agriculture is replaced by technological synthesis of food. In that case the space empire might have a Department of Food Synthesis as its equivalent of the Department of Agriculture in the USA. And if that Department of Food Synthesis has offices on every planet and on every artificial space habitat, it will have to have a hierarchy with many different levels of managers to manage those offices.

Part Four: The title of the monarch.

The Op talks about the "royal family" of the vast space empire "spanning the galaxy".

I find it really hard to picture a government of a significant part of a galaxy with a mere king as the monarch.

If every single star system in the space empire had a king (elected, hereditary, or appointed) as its ruler, perhaps each group of ten star systems would have king of kings, or king to the second power, as it ruler, abbreviated K2. A group of 100 star systems would be ruled by a K3, a group of 1,000 star systems would be ruled by a K4, and so on and so on up to the ruler of, in my example, 10,000,000,000 star systems who would be the equivalent of a King to the 11th power, a K11. And I think the highest ruler of such a vast space empire would be an emperor.

My answer to the question: Imperial Kingdoms?2

Shows that there are many examples of kings, great kings, kings of kings, etc., being subordinate to higher rulers.

Thus your galactic realm might have many nobles and many royal families subordinate to the monarch who might be an emperor.

Part Five: How to select officials.

Thus the galaxy spanning space government should have many levels of administration. And how should the different levels of military and civil officials be selected?

Shouldn't someone pass tests and show skills in a lower rank before being promoted to a higher rank? But what is the minimum amount of time someone can spend in a position before he shows that he is suited for promotion to the next highest position? And how long is the average working span of adult humans in your future society?

If the average working life of an adult human in your story is divided by the usual amount of time someone has to spend in a position before being promoted to the next highest position, how many promotions will the average official get in their working lifetime? And how does that average number of promotions compare to the total number of ranks in the official hierarchy?

If the official hierarchy has many more ranks than the average official can be promoted do during their career, promoting someone from the lowest rank to the highest rank during their career might be impossible.

So in a non democratic monarchy, every single position could be hereditary. So small communities would be ruled by hereditary lords who are vassals of hereditary counts who are vassals of hereditary dukes who are vassals of hereditary kings who are vassals of hereditary kings of kings who are vassals of hereditary kings of kings of kings who are vassals of hereditary kings of kings of kings of kings who are vassals of hereditary hereditary kings of kings of kings of kings of kings, and so on and so on, up to the hereditary emperors.

But if the OP wants an at least partially democratic, and at least partially bureaucratic, form of government, the space empire will have many ranks of appointed officials, as well as a considerable number of elected officials, so many positions must not be hereditary.

So possibly, whether the government is an absolute monarchy or is a democracy with a purely ceremonial monarch or is anyway on the broad spectrum between those extremes, members of different classes might start their official careers at different levels of the official hierarchy.

Common citizens or subjects might start at the lowest level of the hierarchy and be promoted five to ten times during their careers. Members of noble families might start their careers a few steps above the lowest level and be promoted five to ten times during their careers, thus retiring at higher ranks than commoners. Members of royal families might start their careers a few steps above where nobles start and be promoted five to ten times during their careers, thus retiring at higher ranks than nobles. Members of the families of kings of kings might start their careers a few steps above where members of royal families start and be promoted five to ten times during their careers, thus retiring at higher ranks than members of royal families.

And so on and so on up to members of the imperial dynasty, who would start their official careers at a level higher than anyone else and get promoted five to ten times during their careers and thus retire a higher ranks than anyone else.

How fast someone gets promoted, so whether they are promoted five times or ten times during their career, should depend a lot on how well they do, so that more competent persons should be promoted faster.

And there should be programs to enable exceptionally promising persons to be start their careers at higher levels than normal and to reach higher positions than normal, and for noble, royal, etc. persons who fail badly to be demoted to lower ranks.

And of course, commoners have become noble in even the most stratified societies. Noble families occasionally die out and thus new noble families are needed in order to keep the existing noble families from becoming too powerful. And in a expanding society there should be more opportunities for commoners and for nobles in each generation.

And democratic institutions are quite practical on a local scale, even if the central government is less democratic. So every swarm of artificial space habitats, or every habitable planet, could have several levels of democratic government. So democratic governments should function well and control most matters important to the people, up to the level of solar system wide government.

I'm not so certain whether democratic forms of government could function well on the level of a galaxy spanning space empire. I'm also not certain that monarchical, aristocratic, feudal, bureaucratic, communist, fascist, or any other types of government could function well on that scale.

But the OP assumes there is a functioning galaxy spanning government with a mixture of democracy, monarchy, aristocracy, and bureaucracy, and it is certainly possible that some mixture might work in the higher levels of the galaxy spanning government.

  • $\begingroup$ For your "Sacrifice of Angels" example, it is important to note that the federation has hunreads, but not thousands of member worlds. This means that if they have 10 warships per planet as you approximate, then 500 ships would be a large portion of their forces. In Star Trek, the federation is a big nation compared to other interstellar nations, but it's only a tiny drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of the galaxy which is why Voyager needed decades to cross the galaxy at high warp, but federation ships never seem to be more than a couple of days/weeks from any where they are going. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 12, 2019 at 19:21

Officer vs Enlisted

The whole idea of officers is a hold over from feudal times where a knight would have a group of commoners fighting underneath his command, generally his serfs that he rounded up.

As armies got larger there was a need for senior enlisted, someone who was still a plebe but trusted in warfare. He wouldn't order around a knight but would carry some authority.

In modern armies, the disdain felt towards ensigns/2nd lieutenants(O1) and the respect towards chiefs and sergeants is palpable. Even though the lieutenant is in charge everyone looks to the sergeant.

Having a capable enlisted second is hopefully enough to either train them to competence, or let Darwin cull the herd.

Sometimes a choice is not a choice

Modern government leaders don't run everything and I assume the military works the same way. It is said that Napoleon was the last person to run an entire battle and even that is somewhat debated.

As you progress up the org chart information is distilled, refined and polished. Leaders make a choice from options given. If Hitler had been given the choice of "Make peace with England" or "Wait for spring to invade Russia" WWII might have turned out very differently.

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    $\begingroup$ Not entirely correct. Officers and non-comm do different things (strategy vs tactics). For instance, the (possibly apocryphal) question asked in British officer training: "Lieutenant, how do you dig a trench?" "I say 'Sergeant, I need a trench over there'". $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Nov 12, 2019 at 4:22

Give them a competent Chief of Staff.

That was the model in Imperial Germany, which had a share of Imperial or subsidiary princelings with martial ambitions. Judge if they can be trusted to listen to their CoS. If so, they can have major armies and fleets. If not, judge the political fallout of shuffling them to a secondary front.


Divide and conquer.

For the nobility, assign them positions where the troops under their command aren't from their base of power. If the noble family is from Tatooine, they might be assigned command of forces drawn primarily from Vulcan, while the nobles from Vulcan are in command of troops from Geidi Prime, and so on. That reduces a natural base of support, so the only way they'll get respect from their troops is being good officers.

For the Royal Family, who better to command the units assigned to protection of the Royal Family and their properties? As a second job, specialized light infantry/special forces. Elite troops, highly respected for their skill and professionalism...and massively outgunned if they try to pull something off.


Assign a regiment (or equivalent) to each royal, "Prince Gregory's Light regiment of foot". A strong tradition of military service will help ensure that they are competent, descendants that are no so inclined can can receive courtesy ranks in non essential staff positions.

Financing for each regiment will depend on the civilian government, providing a check on the royals power.


You may as well use the British monarchy as a role model.

By tradition young royals serve time in the military (Prince Harry served in the British Army, Prince William in the Royal Air Force, Prince Charles served in the Royal Navy etc.) They follow a typical junior officer's career path, although are typically not sent on high risk missions in order to protect the morale of the nation which might suffer if they were killed. (Your society might be more tolerant to the deaths of a few royal brats.)

They cease active service as their royal duties begin to take up more of their time but are promoted to the highest ranks (Admiral of the Fleet / Field Marshall / Air Chief Marshall) in order to be able to technically outrank everyone else and wear fancy uniforms for their ceremonial duties, which you ensure they have plenty of so that they have time for little else. At this point they no longer have any operational military role, but still get to feel important, wear swanky uniforms and attend lavish military dinners and celebrations where they can hob-nob with other important people.

Now if they want to command more than say the single ship that Prince Charles did, then your sane new government needs to check their power. The most effective way of doing this would be to give them command of the operational forces but ensure that you keep very tight control of the logistics and support engineering functions. If a royal goes rogue you simply cut off all engineering support, supplies, parts, fuel, ammunition. You try to structure your military so that it's very difficult for their forces to be self-sustaining.

In essence you aim to give them the illusion of real power and the comfort of "being at the top of the tree", and hope that their lives of comfort turns into indolence and inaction, or at most simply pursuing their own eccentric hobby horses.


When placing nobility during worldbuilding you first have to ask where did the nobility came from, how it appeared.

In the western civilization the nobles are the descendents of warlords, barbarians invaders and brigands that took control of the countryside, built their fortresses and fought against each other until someone became a king, not so different then today's latin american drug cartels and african warlords. They got the church to support them and established that their power would pass to their children, not unlike El Chapo's power passing to his sons. So, nobility is martial from it's beginning and it was expected that the nobles would fight, would be on the frontlines. It only changed when royal power grew enough and the kings could support professional, permanent armies, rendering the nobles obsolete. The levee en masse concluded the process.

Using the feudal age of the western civilization as an example, your nobles would be the descendents of fleet admirals, rebels and pirates of an earlier civilization that collapsed. You don't have to think about a role for them because they alredy have all roles, at least in the beginning.

But you also said that your monarchy is transitioning from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one, while your nobility is like the late medieval nobility. You can't have absolute monarchy and XV century nobility: the nobles are too strong and they can force the king to relinquish power to them. If you decide that you want an absolute monarchy then your nobles' powerbase has alredy been broken by the king and their role is as generals, both because of tradition, because they are taught to be commanders and because the culture still expects that commanders should be nobles. The transition to a constitutional monarchy (forced by which faction?) would not change these three conditions.

So, your nobles will be commanders.


An army doesn't have a single representative in each high grade.

There are plenty of position to accommodate the most promising or most influent elements of the nobility in the high ranks.

Moreover, with an army capable of conquering entire worlds, I am pretty sure you are not handling only battalions in your world. Again, plenty of positions available.

In real life princes have high ranks in their armies or navies, but it doesn't mean they are the only ones having them.

You can also create purely honorific positions with actual 0 power, just to fulfill the pride of those in need.


Nobility can be of several kind. The most common being Robe, Land and Sword. The first kind are, more or less, pen pusher and title-buyer. The second kind has political power because they oversee the land and those who inhabit there. The last category won its titles in war. They often have (relatively) less political influence and overall wealth. There might be other categories, of course, but this is just a starting point.

Now, for some time, your nobility primary role has been reduce the the last item. But not only. Some of the first two groups will be involved into logistical roles. Some from the second group will thrive in combat as thy have to prove that what remains of their possession is not just an outdated injustice to the people. The third category will have a build-in warrior ethos that might prove really good in elite units, but good over all.

As to the rank question ?

Two solutions might be entertained : - To be a noble you have to create and maintain an army. BUT you don't have access to the navy, so you still have to use and count on the Empires ships to ferry you to fronts of conquest. - Another solution is for nobles to have a special mark on their ranks and start where their skills will allow.

Strangely, until recently, nobility fared quite well in the armies, even though those tends to be result oriented, closer to a meritocracy than a place to send idiots sons to be hidden (not that it never happened). Your nobles could be brat that are nothing out of the corps. They have to be good to amount to anything in their social circles. The good will start in officer schools, the other might be... §Grunts (with a mark denoting birth, but no other privileges). They will be advantaged by the way they were raised, but still needing to prove themselves.


The agreement could allow for the nobles to maintain their own private armies, which would then work in coordination with the national military when needed. This is essentially how the feudal structure of medieval Europe operated.


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