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The Aurean Dominate is an empire controlling the entire planet Aurea and a scrap of the neighboring planet Awal (known as the Exarchate of Tifinagh). Aurea is around Earth-sized (although all of the landmass is in the southern hemisphere so it only has maybe 2/3 Earth's land area) and has extremely diverse climates and geography (although the vast majority of the population lives in areas with tropical or Mediterranean climates, and this is true in Tifinagh as well). However, this planet only has around the level of technology that the Eastern Roman Empire had at the time of its final fall in 1453 (with the addition of printing press). Could such an empire control all this massive expanse of territory with this level of technology? Here are a few more bits of context to factor in:

  • Here's how this preindustrial society and the others around it are doing space travel

  • The Aurean Dominate makes use of carrier rhamphos (basically pterosaurs of the Rhamphorhynchus genus that operate in a similar manner to messenger hawks from Avatar: The Last Airbender), cutting down communications times significantly

  • The Aurean Dominate is much more democratic than most empires, with the Dominus (head of state) being directly elected by the Aurean people, pretty much universal suffrage (among men) throughout the empire, proportional representation in the Aurean Senate, and an independent judiciary. Additionally, each province is more-or-less self-governing provided they do not conflict with federal laws, and each province chooses their own Governor, with some even having completely different systems of government (i.e. Terra Centralis is led by an elected Archon while Tangolia has a hereditary Khan). Each of these governors answers answers only to the federal government and must swear an oath of loyalty to the Dominus. Nevertheless, the aristocracy still wields considerable influence over politics, often using their vast financial resources to bribe politicians or publish disinformation to manipulate the largely uneducated voters (in addition to comprising the vast majority of Aurea's politicians in the first place due to their near monopoly on higher education).

  • All of Aurea's major settlements are connected by a well-maintained Roman-style road system

  • Aurea has a professional army of around 500,000 men at any given time, but this can be supplemented by upwards of 2 million conscripts in times of emergency.

  • In terms of rideable animals, Aurea has access to horses/unicorns, griffins, hippogriffs, pegasi, argentavis, deinonychus, Aurean camels, zebras/quaggas, macrauchenia, toxodon, and Tifinaghian elephants. (For the animals that either do not exist or are extinct in our world, I linked to the media portrayals of those creatures that are closest to what I have in mind).

  • In terms of overall culture, the main groups are best described as follows in terms of real-world inspiration: ethnic Aureans (the majority of the population) are Romano-Byzantine with hints of Turkish, Andalusian, Minoan, and Spanish Caribbean; ethnic Centralians are more Greco-Byzantine with hints of Mycenaean, Phoenician, and Minoan; ethnic Tangolians are a mix of Mongol, Turkish, Pashtun, and Korean; and Tifinaghians are a blend of Romano-Byzantine and Amazigh/Berber.

  • Although still uneducated by modern standards, the average Aurean peasant has at least what we would consider an elementary school education and is literate.

  • One of the most popular things the government does to keep the people happy is the Dole, free wheat, olive oil, and pork for the poorest Aurean citizens (inspired by the Roman grain dole). The vast majority of the supply for this comes from the Exarchate of Tifinagh.

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  • $\begingroup$ As this is already closer the the Roman Republic than the empire, have you considered a double head of state? Rome (consuls), Sparta )(kings) and Carthage(sufrets) all had two equals leading the state. This is politically very interesting and very rare in fiction. $\endgroup$ Apr 17 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDyingOfLight there is a Consigliere (a title I totally did not steal from every Mafia movie ever) who serves as a right-hand man to the Dominus, but they are clearly subservient to them and have little real power (other than being the Dominus's successor if they were to die or become incapacitated in office). Maybe I'll expand this into a bigger role... $\endgroup$ Apr 17 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ "and a scrap of the neighboring planet" - how does space travel work for this empire? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 17 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ "Space boats" look like a gamechanger here. Even with set limitations, there appears to be nothing that can stop their use as a fast interplanetary transport, which means that this empire possess similar capabilities to move people and cargo by air as our modern society. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Apr 17 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ The printing press is far from a footnote in any civilization's technological progress. If anything, I'd suggest that the ability to disseminate large amounts of dogma and propaganda is the easiest explanation for the dominance of this one society. $\endgroup$
    – ocket8888
    Apr 20 at 7:31

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I would think it would work. I suppose it depends on the size of the planet. If it is too big, then such ancient means of transportation would be impractical.

Your main concern will be the government and how it does not fall apart with things going so slowly. This can be fixed relatively easily. Set up the government in such a way that it is a concentric series of rings, the outermost being the capital. The smaller the ring, the smaller the power and the smaller the territory it encompasses. For example, Town X has a form of mini-government that can deal with things that take place within that city. The leader of that government (the "president/king" or whatever title you will give that leader) will report to the mini-government of Town X, Y, Z, A, B, and C, or the next level up, which controls those six towns efficiently because each town is self-sufficient. This would enable the mini-government that controls the six to be self-sufficient as well. This mini-government, along with several others on the same level of hierarchy, would report to a government that controlled a much larger territory. Then several of these 'governments' would report to a macro-government, which is the highest level possible. Where this macro-government meets would be essentially the capital.

The lower on the hierarchy a sub-government is, the smaller its responsibilities, powers, and resources are. Thus, the macro-government would be left to work on only important matters, while the smaller governments can provide for themselves efficiently.

This should fix the most important issues.

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    $\begingroup$ I already had something like this in mind and even have a map of the planet divided into a bunch of different districts (although I haven't done Tifinagh yet), but I haven't figured out how this system is going to work yet so I left it out of the original post. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ Ah. That makes sense. $\endgroup$
    – Wyvern123
    Apr 21 at 14:25
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It sounds decentralised and benign enough

Looking at the great colonial empires of European Nations it sounds plausible. You just have to be willing to delegate enough decisions to the provinces.

It don't mean you won't have rebellions, but if most of the empire is peaceful enough you can deal with them. It is probably important to use either a very friendly or very nasty approach to deal with insurgents. Don't do what the West has been trying in Afghanistan. Either the region is valuable, in which case you send veterans as colonists and insist that they mix with the locals (don't create ethic cast systems) and invest massively in the region. The other option is genocide. This happens to low value regions. The Romans did it in Carthage, Pannonia and Germania. Sadly enough, it works.

Being benign and not interested in local affairs as long as the taxes are paid and everything is peaceful will in many cases be enough to win over the population. Beyond that, Jared Diamond suggests in Guns Germs and Steal that there are four things a government can do to control the population. Gain a military advantage, use ideology, provide public security and provide public goods.

A military advantage means that you control the military and disarm the population. This is tricky in pre-modern settings. It has historically be done to certain casts on India, but as this is a global empire, you might have to deal with cultures where martial arts a a thing. This option will only have limited success. Though you'd spaceships could be used to deliver massive destruction.

On the ideology side you have many options. You could go full on imperial cult as in basically any monarchy (either the ruler is a god, rules by their decree or is a decendent of the gods. On the other hand you could have a human centric ideology. Nothing as advanced as Liberalism, communism or fashism. You could have early modern area proto ideologies. The democratic structure of your empire sounds like merchants could make a lot of money and thus in the long run gain power. Merchants have added benefits of making you rich and spreading your culture. See Ancient Greek, Islam in the Indian Ocean or Western Culture today. It would be very helpful if there were a Lingua Franca in the empire. While Merchants will inevitably spread it, some degree of state (or state church) sponsored education might go a long way.

Public security is easy. I basically ran through this issue in the beginning. It is probably worth spreading the imperial justice system into the provinces as they assimilate ever more. One easy option would be to provide imperial justice to anyone who's interested. Courts have only in modernity become a near state monopoly. If the imperial Arbitrators gain a reputation for being more just, faster and cheaper than the local alternatives, you will gain authority over the locals with time. Another option worth exploring is military service. While you should definitely maintain a strong army recruited from the imperial core, the provincial locals can be used to provide security as well and military service will integrate them into the empire. Service guarantees tees citizenship and so on. My idea would be that you recruit locals and send them into many other provinces where they serve together with other local troops and imperials.

Public goods. Well you are basically the Roman empire. Well maintained infrastructure is a great thing for starters. A stable economy, the justice and education system I mentioned above and not to mention the democratic structure you bring also help. The economy, especially if you deregulated it away from state monopolies will help you out as well. Maybe there are Suez Channel like projects the Empire could do. Organised land colonisation, especially using the veterans mentioned above would be great as well.

Additionally, I would suggest that you consider a further anachronistic technology here. Fertilizer. There have been so called gun powder empires in the past that ruled because they controlled a single valuable substance. Fertilizer is orders of magnitude more valuable. If the empire can grow food faster than population, it is basically set.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or potatoes (or some other high yielding crop that the others don't have). Everywhere where potatoes were introduced, the countries that adopted them boomed compared to those that didn't. Mass produced steel is another decisive technology; the Romans were streets ahead of everyone around them and it was a huge advantage. If you gave one civilisation potatoes, gunpowder, the compass, printing and good steel production, they'd blitz the competition and probably be welcomed everywhere. $\endgroup$ Apr 24 at 2:05
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As an alternative viewpoint, I'll have to apply a provisional no on this one. It could be created, but it couldn't last.

The problems that the Roman Empire ran across involved more than communications and response time. They hit their expansion limit based on those two, but they fell apart due to internal corruption and conflicting ambition.

In A World out of Time, Niven philosophizes that it would take an outside force to topple an empire, but people just regularly get the bright idea that they don't like someone else's government. They also get the bright idea that they want to blame someone else for their problems. This results in internal factions segregating themselves into geographical areas, and then making that space hostile to those who disagree with them until they have a majority, and then they revolt.

Democracy isn't a fix for a majority of people wanting to leave, and it's definitely not a cure for internal corruption. You have to ask yourself why the central government wants to control all of those disparate continents in the first place. In the US, for example, federal government has become an opportunity for people to push control down from the top, and your average politician can't resist beating that drum.

Politics is an engine that derives its energy from conflict. Until you handle that problem, any empire that doesn't have external enemies will find them within its own borders.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the Romans ran out of territory where profitable and convenient expansion was possible. I know they considered Yemen at some point, but that's way out of the way. The rest was pretty much worthless deserts and wilderness as well as the strategically deep Persian Empires. As I see it, the Empire only worked because of the old Republics structures. As soon as the Republic fell, the Romans were on borrowed time. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ Gibbon details the long end of the Roman Empire in "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" in a tidy six volumes. In it, he describes the natural features (rivers and mountains) that made natural borders to their expansion because enemies could make passing them too expensive to be worth it. They couldn't keep governors out that far because it was a shit assignment, away from all the fun. They tried breaking the empire into four sub-empires, but that only resulted in in-fighting. It's all about politics. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ I think we mean the same thing when it comes to Roman expansion limits. Yet the later European Empires did control larger and more distant regions. Additionally, the question is about at the very least a parliamentary monarchy, if not a republic. So the Roman Republic, the British Empire and Athens are all better examples of the internal politics than the Roman Empire. Corruption is inevitable if a small group of people rule. It is even inevitable when a large group of people rule, but then the payout are public instead of private goods. Especially if the economy isn't zero sum it can work. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ You underestimate the gullibility of the populace at large. By appealing to fear, racial unity, religious purity, etc., politicians are adept at convincing populations to vote against their own best interest. Cognitive dissonance emphasizes loss-aversion over well-being. Humans would rather accept less if it means they get more than the other guy. These are well understood principles. Humans are not cooperative, they're competitive, and this makes steady-states unsustainable. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ I said that steady states are viable. But what is a steady state? We have many examples of large empires lasting centuries. And the European Empires were taken down by nationalism and the impact of the world wars. While I'm aware of these cognitive biases, humans are not only selfish but also groupish. Group selection explains several features of humanity. In additionally in the absence of modern communication networks "more than the other guy" is quite muddy a concept. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 19:29

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