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I have a fiction piece I am working on, which contains a Empire whose people are anologues of Russians. They're paranoid, defensive, and prefer to build walls and castles wherever they go for safety. The land in which they live is a series of mountain and river valleys which abut a circumpolar glacier. The lowest latitude of their empire reaches roughly to the 57th degree N. Most of the Land is Taiga, boreal forest, and tundra.


This is the product of two and a half years of meticulous design, redesign, and playtesting with fellow writers in my area. Given all the Factors below, and the people described, is this federal-feudal system a stable enough government to protect the common man and woman of the Enarya from threats both foreign and domestic?

TL;DR at the bottom if you don't want a history lesson.


In this land, the people holed themselves in high mountain passes behind labyrinthian systems of fortifications and holdfasts, eternally warring as they sought new high grounds to acquire for their own defenses. The rulers of the mountain fiefs were the Vojvodi, and the lowland river-dwelling rulers styled themselves as Boyarin. They Traded food from the (relatively) prosperous rivers in exchange for metal and stonework found mostly in the mountains.

The Boyars, through mostly peaceful means, united the lowland towns and cities under their banners, and left the Vojvodi to themselves. They facilitated trade between the vojvodi, and their fellow boyars. After several centuries had passed, the Wars of the Vojvodi came to a standstill, as every conceivable fortifiable strategic point had been walled-off and defended many times over. Meanwhile, the Boyarin and lowland Enarya peoples had grown wealthier and more prosperous.

The Vojvodi, however, had grown gradually weaker and more desperate as their wars soured, and were faced with the possibility of their state being taken advantage of by the lowland boyars who resented the steep tariffs imposed upon their goods. As a compromise, the Vojvodi negotiated to join the Boyars, though with much greater autonomy than the mayors of their other constituencies.

After five centuries of consolidation and peaceful expansion, the greater area of Enarcha contained 6-8 Boyarin, and within each a massive quantity of vojvodi, provostyi (mayors), and the individual hetmans of the smaller villages.

Overview of Enarcha, separated by the solid white lines into the boyarin, and by the dotted
lines further into the Vojvoidi

This system was mostly peaceable and stable save for occasional skirmishes and minor disputes. It wasn't for another century thereafter when a foreign invasion took the southern coasts, displacing the Enarya en masse and nearly entering the valley itself. The Southern Boyarin formed hasty alliances and together fought the invaders to a standstill in the foothills of the vital passes. Being Enaryat, the alliance collectively contracted their vojvodi to create massive walls to span the length of the valleys, all while under constant pressure by increasingly desperate invaders.

The Bloody war was eventually ended when the Boyars finished their walls and manned the fortresses embedded along it. A final all-out assault by the invading force crumbled, resulting in a humiliating and decisive end to the incursion. Peace was signed, and the Boyarin reluctantly granted the Southern coast to the invaders, realizing that the land was simply indefensible past the mountains. Fearing future attacks by similar foes, the Western Coastal region was abandoned as well, its people quickly fleeing for the safety of the high walls of the mountains.

Sensing future conflict was inevitable, they reached out to the other Boyarin and gradually roped them into the alliance. The Northern Boyars acquiesced, with watchful eyes turned to the glacial tribes which had been encroaching steadily toward their borders. After much deliberation, the Boyars elected one of their own, Ivan Zakuviy, as the Tsar of Enarya, though they limited his authority with a strictly enforced constitutional system.


I have min-maxed as best I can for at least internal stability.

The Hetmans are pressured to help their neighbors and their families, and are indispensable to the Provostyi whom they serve. They are local tax collectors, fully knowledgeable about how much any given person can comfortably pay, and more than willing to accept goods instead of coin. They are not obligated to provide a coin amount for tax to the provost, but rather a fixed percentage. Thus, no greedy big-city taxmen causing poverty and famine in the villages. If any one Hetman steps out of line, there are several more nearby to condemn and divest him of his power by popular vote.

The Provost are accountable to their Hetmans, who, if they sense corruption or something amiss, will boycott elections and prevent the Provost's re-election to the post. The Provost does not collect his own town's coin for his living, but rather lives in housing provided by the Boyar he serves at no charge, and is paid a wage set by his Hetmans. He may only propose municipal laws, which must be confirmed or denied by popular vote with sufficiently high turnout.

The Vojvodi are paranoid and unwilling to leave their mountains for war, and defend their territory with single-minded determination. They have no interest in conquering the lowlands, nor the flat, windswept tundra beyond the borders. They are more than happy to be granted the borderlands, and guard them against foreign attack in exchange for exemption of their villages from taxation.

The Boyars are too busy dealing with the hordes of temperamental Provostyi to have designs on their neighbors, and leave the management of the peasantry to the Provostyi as long as the taxes keep rolling in. They maintain a retinue large enough to fend off a surprise attack, but usually are more than happy to let the Vojvodi spend outrageous sums of money and manpower on the defense of the greater realm.

Lastly, the Tsar has restricted authority, only able to settle negotiations between other Boyars. His authority is enforced by the non-contested boyars, and a large imperial retinue kept in the capital, which is paid for by the taxes of the Grand Provostyi (Mayors of the Great Cities who answer directly to the Tsar), as well as import duties and tribute from local protectorates. During times of war, he takes control of the Vojvodi, and organizes military responses to foreign aggression.


TL;DR :

  1. Hetmans rule over villages less than 1,000. They organize elections and set the wages for their immediate superiors, as well as managing local tax collection.
  2. Provostyi rule over a single town of 1,000-5,000 and a number of local Hetmans. The total number of people must not exceed 15,000 between them. They propose laws, campaign for election, and have their wages set by their hetmans, and live in a home provided by their immediate superiors.
  3. Vojvodi are military marcher lords who man forts in the mountains in exchange for tax breaks. They answer to a boyar in peacetime, or the Tsar in times of war. They are paranoid about leaving their mountains, and don't want anything to do with the river-lands besides receiving food shipments.
  4. The Boyarin are middle-management for the realm, corralling and appeasing the Provostyi and the Local Vojvodi. They have the right to petition the Tsar, and have their concerns heard promptly. They also enforce the rule of the tsar against fellow Boyarin who step out of line.
  5. The Tsar directly controls the imperial military, and during wartime takes rule of the Vojvodi to organize defensive strategy. He directly rules the Grand Provostyi (who rule cities larger than 50,000 within the city proper). He gets their taxes, the import duties of international trades, and tribute from nearby rulers who bargain for protection. He is responsible for mediating the Boyars squabbles.
  6. There is historical reason for each to accept the system. The lowlands are mostly homogenous, while the mountains have some minor dialectical variation. The office of the Tsar has yet to fail to defend the nation, and the Boyars have grown wealthy and the land prosperous from the internal peace.
  7. The people are in all but the most extreme cases well-fed, represented by locally elected rulers, and only see the Boyars and Tsar when emergencies arise. Corruption exists, but mostly in petty bureaucracy within more scrutinized public offices.
  8. Since a commenter specifically requested this, assume rivers on the map located mid-post (designated by large, branching, riverine blue lines) are the more fertile land. The Southernmost areas have climates similar to the Caspian steppe, and thus their rivers form excellent land for wheat and barley, while the northernmost areas make do with pickling roots and tubers.
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    $\begingroup$ There is a lot of backstory here. It might be easier to answer if you could describe the political system briefly, and try to separate that from the history. Its nice to have context, but I'm getting a little lost. $\endgroup$
    – Atog
    Mar 18 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest an abstract/summary/TL:DR of the core question attributes at the very beginning of the question. +1 for all the info! $\endgroup$ Mar 18 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe also move the very last paragraph to nearer the front so readers realise this has been worked on for longer than rubbishbin man has been 'flagrantly' invading their neighbour. $\endgroup$ Mar 18 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ I am having trouble determining of the Provost, Hetmen, Vojvoidi,Boyars etc are they a job title, social class, cultural group or? The map doesn't show where the navigable rivers are and where the agricultural land is. Without knowing the overall geography can't guess how much threat the neighbors are. Stable over what time frame? 200 years? 800 years? $\endgroup$ Mar 18 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for that beautiful map ! nice work $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 19 at 10:51

2 Answers 2

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"Is this federal-feudal system a stable enough government?"

  • Stable, yes, it can be, see the historical example.

  • Government? Not so much.

    Some parts of the empire, such as free imperial cities, will have governments. Other parts of the empire won't even know what sort of animal a government can be. By and large, pre-modern empires did not provide governmental services to the people living on their territory; the (real) Roman Empire didn't, the Holy Roman Empire didn't, Ottoman Empire didn't. In pre-modern times, people were fully expected to self-organize and govern their lives themselves. Nobody expected the Emperor / King / Grand Duke / whatever to provide schools, health services, a police force, extensive transportation infrastructure, or really anything which we normally associated with a government. The Emperor / King / Grand Duke / whatever was there to keep the peace and protect the people from barbarian invaders, and that's it.

The Holy Roman Empire says hello

Congratulations! You have reinvented the Holy Roman Empire. In real history, this one-of-a-kind political structure endured for either eight or ten centuries, depending on whether you count Otto I (correctly) or Charlemagne (incorrectly) as the first emperor. That is a very long lifespan for a political structure.

There is no relationship between the Holy Roman Empire and the real Roman Empire. They simply reused the name of a famous, poweful and well-remembered empire. For about 400 (or 600) years, the HRE in Central Europe and the real Roman Empire in South-Eastern Europe coexisted. They never fought directly, and in general they usually ignored each other's existence; except that in 1204 the Fourth Crusade, which included a large number of noblemen and troops from the HRE, took and sacked Constantinople, founding a short-lived Latin Empire.

How did the Holy Roman Empire work?

  • At the head of the Empire was an elected Emperor. He (it was always a he) was elected by the prince-electors. There were seven prince-electors (three ecclesiastical and four secular). (In post-medieval times, this number was briefly increased to nine.)

  • Except that the Emperor had very little personal power outside whatever territories he actually held in his non-imperial capacity. What little central power existed in the Empire was mostly vested in the Imperial Diet, which worked mostly as a negotiation forum were the various local powers comprising the Empire came to discuss and reach agreements.

    • One step below the Emperor were the Prince-Electors. Seven in number, out of which three were Prince-Bishops, they were by and large the greatest feudal rulers within the Empire.

      • The secular Prince-Electors were the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. (Except for the King of Bohemia, they were usually called Elector of the Rhine etc. within the Empire; here I give their titles as used outside the Empire, where they were not Electors of anything.)

        The titles of Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Saxony, and Margrave of Brandenburg were hereditary; the title of King of Bohemia was ... hard to say what; sometimes elected, sometimes sort-of hereditary. In later times, the Holy Roman Emperor usually also assumed the title of King of Bohemia.

      • The ecclesiastical Prince-Electors were the Archbishop of Cologne, the Archbishop of Mainz, and the Archbishop of Trier. Quite obviously, the Prince-Bishops did not transmit their titles to their sons, which were not supposed to have anyway.

    • The Empire had an intensely confederal structure. The only things that the myriad states had in common was a vague of notion of belonging to this common political structure and a seat in the Imperial Diet, where they could discuss and negotiate. And of course, some sort of German dialect.

      There was no uniform legal system, no uniform currency, no common army. No capital city, obviously. While there were some imperial taxes, they were extremely low. Basically, the collection of states calling itself the Holy Roman Empire did not actually function as a state; it was much more like the European Union than like a real empire.

      Holy Roman Empire in 1356

      The Holy Roman Empire in 1356, when the constitutional Golden Bull was issued at the Diet of Metz.

      • For the purpose of describing the luxuriant confederal structure of the Empire we use the term imperial immediacy, denoting those feudal lords (whatever their title), cities and even individual persons who were directly subordinated (in principle) to the Emperor. Of course, the Holy Roman Emperor did not actually have any practical power to order them to do anything; what imperial immediacy actually entailed was basically complete sovereignty and a voice in the Imperial Diet.

        And yes, individual persons could and did enjoy imperial immediacy; they were called imperial knights (Reichsritter). (Not to be confused with the Freiherren (singular Freiherr), who were owners and usually rulers of allodial lands, i.e. lands which were entirely theirs and not subject to any feudal overlord.)

      • Oh yes, there were customs duties when crossing the border from one of the little states into another little state. The Holy Roman Empire was most definitely not a Single Market.

    • For most of its duration, the Empire coexisted with the Hanseatic League, which exercised enormous commercial power, especially in the northern parts of the HRE. To this day, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is a city-state in the German Federal Republic.

      • There were four to six dozen free imperial cities who were directly represented in the Diet, i.e., they had imperial immediacy.

And this enormously complicated structure endured for many centuries, from the early Middle Ages well into the Modern age. (It was formally dissolved in 1806, during the Napoleonic wars, when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, chose to take the title of Emperor of Austria and "released all imperial states and officials from their oaths and obligations to the empire", as Wikipedia says, artfully working around actually saying what those oaths and obligations entailed in practice by that time. (Which is, nothing much.)

Lessons to be learned from this historical example:

  • Terminology is strongly expected to very much more diverse and non-uniform than Tsar > Boyar > Provost > Hetman.

  • Most importantly, the actual administrative roles and structures are very strongly expected to be diverse and non-uniform.

  • If there is no strong central authority then there is no strong central authority. An intensely confederal empire cannot actually do much, if anything. It serves mostly as a forum where the component states discuss and negotiate. It almost certainly cannot field a unified army, for example, unless in a rare circumstance when the stars align.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. The only thing I'd note is that the HRE was made of highly populated / moderately populated states. Russia was always different because of its size and backwardness; its penchant for tyranny seems to have been partially driven by the need for a central authority unhindered enough to deal with rebellions and wars thousands of miles away. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ I had intended for the words "they elected" the first Tsar to be interpreted more along the lines of the Installment of the Romanov line onto the Russian throne, rather than to state that their was the Electoral system in place for the Tsardom. That would be messy, as seen in the historical example. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ I would also like to say that the stated purpose of the Tsar was to defend the borders and prevent internal conflict. It is a mostly military role, and he does field a standing retinue to act when the Boyars will not heed his call to arms against rebellious vassals. In addition, he is also the Boyar of the centermost province, and has all of the powers and incomes therein. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 15:26
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I'll take the pessimistic position and say no, unless a string of Tsars are exceptionally talented or that whole giant expanse is quite culturally homogeneous.

Generally, huge empires with lots of very inhomogeneous subjugated foreign peoples tend towards strong centralised government and tyranny (and a powerful state church). Russia, Imperial Rome, the Byzantines and the Ottomans all come to mind. The Roman Republic's transformation into the Empire was largely driven by the incompatibility of the Republic and their foreign entanglements. (The USA's long-held isolationism was a deliberate attempt to avoid being Rome 2.0...)

The Holy Roman Empire, which your empire resembles in terms of constitutional structure, was at least Catholic and German speaking* *(OK, and some very Catholic Italians).

At some point, a constitutional emperor is going to face a rebellion or foreign war or push for independence in a remote province, and the local state will do nothing or even be on the wrong side of it. If that coincides with a Tsar who isn't on good terms with the neighbouring boyars that he needs to pacify the area...trouble.

The more culturally alike the various Boyarim are (and the more different to their non-imperial neighbours), the better the chance for this empire. If the whole empire has a religion that its neighbours do not, and a capable and loyal church, the odds get much better.

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  • $\begingroup$ Things like "His authority is enforced by the non-contested boyars, who understand that it is paramount to keep the peace, even if the compromise is not directly favorable to them at the time. " result in a 'yes' answer but are not realistic with real people over long periods of time. Dynastic disputes, psychopathic rulers, ambitious boyars, etc, happen. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ It all depends on the population density of those "inhomogeneous subjugated foreign peoples". When the population density is low, there isn't much need for central government action. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Mar 19 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ I would say the Homogeneity is sufficient. Intermarriage, trade, and relative isolationism in the heartlands and landlocked regions would at least even out the minor differences. The Enarya are essentially anyone who live in the low river-lands. More differentiation is seen in the mountains, but their customs have been greatly assimilated into the plurality. $\endgroup$ Mar 19 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidR, substitute 'population' for 'population density' and I agree. The Russians dominated the Tatars and Caucasus peoples. The latter had reasonable population density but low actual population. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 0:28

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