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There is a veil which separates our reality from a parallel dimension that contains Eldritch abominations. An predatory empire has discovered that they can harness the power of this realm by summoning demons across the barrier. This is done through the use of human sacrifices.

The more powerful the demon, the more sacrifices are needed. The sacrifice of one human being would be equivalent to one measly familiar, while the death of thousands would yield a more powerful daemon. Weaker daemons are subjugated by their masters and used as servants. Stronger daemons cannot be subjugated in this way due to being more powerful. Instead, they are used for specific purposes before being sent back to their realm (specific spells, reveal dark secrets or information, create items, etc).

This empire preys on its neighbors to provide the fuel it needs for their rituals. This includes the weaker states surrounding it as well as more powerful Nations further out. As such, thousands of individuals are taken from these surrounding nations as a form of tribute. However, an empire in our world known as the Aztecs also operated under this mantra, taking slaves from other nations through conquest. What eventually happened was that all of their enemies banded together with the help of conquistadors to overthrow them. The Aztecs had pissed off so many people with their constant need of sacrifices that their weaker nations destroyed them through strength of numbers.

Surrounding nations of this demon worshiping empire aren't likely to take the kidnapping, torture, and sacrifice of thousands of their people for the sake of this empire's survival lightly. You would think that this empire can simply call upon their demons to fight and defend them, but it is not that simple. Demon summoning requires many valuable and hard to get materials, which often can be used only once. Rituals are time consuming and expensive, and individuals can't just call down an army of demons to back them up. training and skill are required for summoning. Certain parameters must also be met, such as specific locations, dates, and environment. The economic factors alone would put a large amount of strain on this empire, not to mention other factors. Therefore, warfare is not a long term solution in most cases.

This empire needs to continue taking large amounts of tribute from its neighbors while at the same time preventing them from taking sides against them. How can they avoid this scenario and maintain the status quo?

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    $\begingroup$ Please don't answer in comments. Write it up properly and post it where it can be voted on its merit, or leave it to others. @LiJun $\endgroup$ – Nij May 2 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ My first idea when I rad the title on HNQ was "Move to new neighbourhoods regulary" $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen May 3 at 19:36
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Very easily

If you look at the history books, your assumption of a slave revolt being successful is, unfortunately, incorrect. Revolts can work on a small scale, but on a large scale, slave revolts by themselves have never stood a chance against whatever regime they were up against. Sure, the Aztecs kind of made enemies of whoever wasn't an Aztec, but it took the Spaniards to successfully organize the slave revolt and overthrow them, because the Conquistadors actually knew a few things about fighting and had access to guns. Take Sparta - the slave to citizen ratio in Sparta was 20 to 1. That is, 1 Spartan to 20 Helots. Sparta had slave uprisings, but they never succeeded.

Now, why is that? Well mostly because tyrants are good at their job of being tyrants, i.e. spreading fear and misery. As in, in Sparta, if they got a hint that a certain Helot wanted to revolt, they'd send in a death squad to kill that Helot, their family, their friends, and every poor bystander in the building while they were doing that. In other words, as long as you're willing to exploit and dehumanize the people you're beating down continually, you can drive the light of hope from their eyes and have them do nothing but cower in fear of the very mention of your name. Kind of like the real Aztecs, who were also terrible people.

On the other hand, should there be nations of equal standing with the slaves, then there is a chance of success. But you only mentioned weaker nations.

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    $\begingroup$ Re the general failure of revolts, there’s a good quote something like “The people don’t replace the king; the court replaces the king.” (I can’t remember the exact wording, I’m afraid.) Grassroots revolts are very rarely successful unless they have some factions of the privileged classes on board. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine May 3 at 11:32
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The empire grows a lot of food.

That is what they are doing with the demons. The demon secrets, special items etc are all deployed to one end: grow food. And they grow it - lots of it, and it is good, not demon flavored at all but crunchy and toasty and delicious.

Lots of food means lots of full bellies which means lots of people. That is why there are so many people out there. Thanks to the empire's efforts, everyone eats. The slaves provided by the outlying areas are bought and paid for by the empire - with food, in a fair trade. Plus the neighboring regions get to pick who goes - they provide their criminals, sick dying folks, folks they themselves capture (or trade for!) from areas further out.

It is a good system for almost everyone. No war, everyone fed.

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This is more or less what happened with slavery, with the Europeans taking and transporting millions of Africans to the New World over many decades, effectively sacrificing them to the gods of economics (or Mammon, if you will). They also needed many other resources (gold, diamonds, land etc), which they took by similarly violent means with little effective opposition by the locals for centuries.

The Africans never successfully fought back and slavery was eventually ended (more or less) by other means.

Unfortunately, things tend to favour the oppressor if they are well-armed and well-organised compared to their prey. "Whatever happens, we have got/the Maxim gun, and they have not".

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The Aztecs got overthrown because an outsider with advanced technology sided with the local tribes. Without said outside, the Aztecs could have continued sacrificing people to this day.

As such, to make it an eternal empire, make their army advanced.

They have demons which give them modern equivalent technology

They have demons that can summon fireballs, they can summon demons of great power and little restraint in crowded areas, they have more powerful magic due to their advanced demon summoning. This isn't something that can be replicated by outsides, because their people are being sacrificed en masse.

The threat of an attack is enough to cower those around them

Using demons in warfare is very expensive, and threatens the economy of the nation. They can do it, but they don't like to. Fortunately, those around them know what happens if they don't behave. There are ample stories and examples of places destroyed by the empire. They are afraid of being destroyed if they rise up.

Spying magic is excellent, and they use this to prevent a large scale rise up

They know secrets of divination beyond those around them, and have demons with great stealth. Any attempt by those around them to unite can be spotted, making it much harder for their enemies to unite. They can simply kill whoever proposes an alliance as an example, at minimal cost to themselves, or offer demonic aid to someone who doesn't want to ally with their neighbors.

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Divide et impera (Divide and conquer)

Of course, your risk is higher if those oppressed people all work together against you. Fortunately, preventing it is easy; the main risk being that you empire becomes divided by internal frictions itself..

First, geographical division. The peoples to the west of the empire will not have an easy way with organizing with the peoples to the east of the empire.

Second, political division. Do not allow your victims to become centralized countries. Make lots of differents countries of them, so each one is technically independent; making coordination very complicated as there are lots of rulers with no fealty to one another. Of course this has some disavantages, as it implies you need a more thoroughly coordination (instead of getting a delivery of 1,000 prisoners, you need to manage 100 deliveries of 10 prisoners each from each of the polities).

Building on top of that, play those countries one against the other. Those that are harder to control or too far away from you can get a better deal by helping you control your other victims; they will be left unmolested and maybe they will get a cut of the profits. Bonus point if you can stir previous animosities between countries and/or cultures. European colonial powers were particularly adept to this system.

And last, social division. Provide something of value to the higher classes of those countries so they enjoy the status quo. If you want to introduce something supernatural, a life-extending potion or the like.

But usually providing safety and stability for their own positions can be enough. If an internal revolt thratens them, send your army to help them. The nobility will be less likely to revolt if they are not personally threatened by you, and if they fear their own people revolting against them and count on your support.

If, against their own interest, some nobles or kings are against you, just support some pretenders to their position who are willing to deal with you for your help (there are always some of those).

And of course, sometimes those rulers will be deposed by a rebellion. But then, that rebellion with be isolated among other countries ruled by an elite sympathetic to you and you will have advance warning that a challenge to your rule has been raised.

Secrecy and religion

Of course, there is no need to tell the other countries what you will need the people for. Just tell that you will enroll them in your army, or settle them in some unoccupied region of your land, and you may ever end with volunteers.

And lastly, engineer a solution where this sacrifice is actually seen as martyrdom and those who willingly offer themselves to be butchered will be revived in a paradise, and then you are all set.

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Strong conventional army

Plenty of real world nations have survived long periods of warfare with their neighbours. So long as the demon-summoning nation has a strong army, solid leadership and a functional economy they should be able to keep most of their enemies at bay, especially if they are also:

Flexible

Even a strong nation would struggle to fight all its rivals at once (Just look at Brandenburg during the 7 year's war or France during the 30 year's war). So it would make sense for the demon-summoners to make alliances where possible. If they team up with other nations to subjugate the weak, both they and their allies can benefit from raiding and territory gain.

They could also be pragmatic in their approach to capturing slaves. In times of military weakness or failure they could use their own population for rituals. They might also institute a slave trade so that those willing to trade them captives outside of wartime are rewarded with trade and money.

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