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I have an empire that occupies its own landmass, defined by water boundaries. At some point in the past (maybe 200 to 400 years) it was two main cultural regions, the East and the West. The modern empire was formed by two great leaders from each of those regions who formed their own empires in the East and West. They both wanted to unite the continent, but realized they were at an effective stalemate with the other empire. So the two leaders met and decided to marry and unify their lands in the process.

The historical example that brings to mind is Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, but the two areas in my world are larger in scale and have more cultural differences.

I'm trying to figure out how to combine the cultures and what step the rulers would have taken to do so.

  • Both the East and the West have roughly the same religion
  • Both regions are predominantly human, whereas the surrounding lands have other dominant species.
  • The rulers build roads to connect the entire empire
  • The militaries of both regions are combined

What other steps would need to be taken to ensure unification? How long would it take for people to stop thinking of themselves as being from the East or West to being from the Empire? Do the regions need to have the same language to ensure unification? Is this plan at all plausible?

(The world in question is fantasy, and does have magic if that changes anything).

Edit - I'm pretty flexible on the style of ruler ship and the reasons for resistance to unification. Presumably some people would oppose it out of a desire to keep their own culture "pure" and to avoid foreign influences. Others may see unification as a loss of their own power. Still others would probably support it with an eye to economic gains through trade relations and such.

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  • $\begingroup$ How far advanced are we talking as far as currency goes?..economic integration might be needed. If they are still based on gold, there isn't as much integration steps (assuming both value gold/silver/other currency material relatively the same)...but if they are more on today's banking system, they'd need a unified currency. Also, is there a notable wealth gap between east and west? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 13 '14 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ They are still gold based, and there isn't a notable wealth gap. $\endgroup$ – CoolCurry Nov 13 '14 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that even Spain hasn't fully unified yet. $\endgroup$ – Joe Nov 14 '14 at 2:54
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    $\begingroup$ Depressing but realistic option: unite them in racism against the other intelligent species. $\endgroup$ – octern Nov 14 '14 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ Ferdinand and Isabella's Spain example is not well suited; it was a personal union which mean that the King of Castille was also King of Aragon (and a bunch of different other titles). Each kingdom existed as a separate legal entity, with different laws, and at any moment a king could have decided to assign each kingdom to a different heir. It is not until Philip V (from 1700) that the kingdoms got legally unified (and not very peacefully). $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Nov 18 '14 at 2:14
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The time it takes for the populous to stop thinking in terms of East and West will depend greatly on how different they are to begin with and how different you wish to allow them to remain. For greatest effect, there will have to be both public and hidden efforts toward unification.

Remove Reminders of Historic Us vs Them

New Capitol
My first thought was mentioned by Scimonster. Carve out a neutral district along the border of the two original empires and build a new capitol city there. Choosing the location may be tricky depending on history.If there was a contested site that both sides associate strongly with, it may be ideal to use it and publicize it as a symbol of the union. On the other hand if any mention of the location just stirs up resentment of past wrongs done by the other side, it is probably not appropriate. Along with the new capitol, commission new national symbols: flag, anthem, etc.

Restructure Regional Governance/Borders
Chances are the governments of each original empires worked differently in many respects. In the long term, this will have to change. Both governments will need to be restructured to act as one. As part of the restructuring redraw regional boundaries to encourage weakening of historic associations in favor of new ones. (some will remain wholly east or west, but many will not.)

Office of Integration Facilitation
Department of the new government specifically chartered to identify and remove obstacles. Openly would have a large hand in determining the optimal restructuring listed above, and administer the melting pot projects below. Behind the scenes would hook into a network of operatives to collect/spread unofficial information.

Propaganda
Help improve acceptance of unification, discredit problematic people/organizations/practices.

Rewrite History Depending on the level of sophistication, this may not be possible. The basic idea is to bill the unification as a reunification and find(or make up) history of common roots along with tales of the magnificence of the past and restoring the glory of what once was. Reasons/blame for the original split should be placed elsewhere (punishment from heaven, evil plots of foreign (or long since defeated) powers.

Religious Mandate
If everyone follows the same god, or the gods are part of the same pantheon, the union could be advertised as "blessed" by those deities (assuming they will not actually show up and correct you)

Physical integration

Turn the country into a melting pot. This goes along with the building of highways. Differences in culture become muted and disappear when constantly in contact with others. Misunderstandings and prejudices

Migration and Inter-marriage
Have families of each side relocate to the other. Additionally have individuals marry across historic boundaries. This should be done at all social levels. How it is carried out will depend on the tools/funds the government has at its disposal as well as the size of the population and scale of the new empire. Can be anything from weak encouragement, to a relocation lottery enforced by the military. Somewhere in the middle where the crown buys up migrant's homes and sells them to other migrants at some discount.

This is more of a long-term plan and will take a few generations for full effect.

Educational Exchange
Create a national education program (if one does not already exist). Require students spend some significant portion of their terms in exchange in other regions. Exchange assignments should favor cross-country placement.

Magic

Depending on the metaphysics of your magic, it could create additional difficulties (maybe major regional dependencies/identity that can't be avoided) or make them all go away (massive charm spell). That's the nature of magic though...

War

Nothing like a good war to cement alliances and make new friends.

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Things I would do if I were one of those two rulers:

  • Keep own laws and customs for each empire, they need to progress slowly towards unity.
  • Unite militaries only for coast guard and foreign missions. Internal effort must be made by militaries of the own empire, and merge only slowly. People wants militaries and law officers to share their own customs.
  • Create a few laws common to both empires, maybe including religious ones.
  • Create common tribunals to both empires.
  • Build lots of roads, inside each empire and between them.
  • Enhance interempire commerce.
  • Teach both languages in both empires.
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  • $\begingroup$ BTW my friend from Zambia told me that language issues were resolved by keeping English as main language on state level. $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 14 '14 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ But definitely +1. Basically slow progress to unity. To me, as European, good example is USA, where it does not matter what your background is, but you feel proud to be American $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 14 '14 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds a little like you are describing EU. Only difference is EU have more than two countries. $\endgroup$ – Esben Skov Pedersen Nov 14 '14 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, I based the answer in a real example: Castile and Aragon unification in what is nowadays Spain. $\endgroup$ – Envite Jan 12 '15 at 13:53
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What is your intention as author in uniting them and having them become more homogeneous? Do you just want the empire to plausibly remain one cooperating empire for a certain time span, to be strong enough for some story about a future crisis? Are you looking for unification strategies that the rulers might attempt? I would suggest being clear with yourself about what you are wanting and why, and then consider examples in Earth's history that were or were not like what you're imagining, e.g.:

  • As for Earth examples, I second Oldcat's suggestion of looking at the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  • The eastern (Byzantium) and western (Rome) Roman empire(s) also could be interesting to look at for issues with maintaining an empire with two seats of government and distances and cultural differences involved.

  • China's ancient history also comes to mind as an eventually successful attempt to unite a large area.

  • The ancient Persian empire is also interesting and relevant.

I would say that the greatest issue for unifying people is cultural identity, and fairness. That is, where identity remains fractured, how fair does the unification's resulting laws and conditions feel to each group? The discussions leading up the the American Revolutionary War are mostly about fairness. For another example, even within modern England, there is some resentment in the north towards the more affluent and politically dominant south, though there is no talk of succession. Yet within modern Britain, Scotland has been considering becoming an independent country again - Here's an article discussing some of the issues involved. Another interesting modern example where there are cultural and language differences is Quebec within Canada.

Travel and communication time (and prevalence of travel) make a difference for how much the different cultures interact, and what the role of local government is versus national/imperial government. As in this other question.

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Probably the best (or worst) example you could use to illustrate the problems and struggles is the case of Austria and Austria-Hungary in our own world. It was essentially a glob of very different cultures pasted together politically that worked for a time, then became very strained later.

One interesting time was when Maria-Theresa became the Empress. The Emperor was also named to be King of Hungary, but there was a problem that by Hungarian Law, women couldn't rule so Maria could not be Queen of Hungary. Instead, she was named King of Hungary and they ignored the fact she wasn't a man.

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I am not sure 200-400 years are enough for that, but they might come close.
Expanding on Scimonster's answer I wanted to add two other examples of (partly) failed unifications:

Yugoslavia (pretty big cultural differences, languages, ethnic groups and religions) started out as a union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Voyvodina and Slovenia; today however there is no more Yugoslavia, but instead a Serbia with an associated Montenegro (not 100% sure about that status quo right now)

Germany: Though there were the Holy Roman Empire and German Confederation before, true unification came only as late as with the founding of the German Empire in 1871, and even then there were dozens of little semi autonomous states (with which their inhabitants still identify, partly to this day) with a very dominant prussia. As you might know Germany was split after World War 2 and then reunited about 55 years later. A quarter of a century after that re-unification, you still hear people referencing to themselves or others as "Ossis" (inhabitants from the former GDR) and "Wessis" (from the former western parts of Germany); it is just a feeling, but that maybe decreasing right now; but over 140 years of the foundation of the German Empire there still are people primarily identifying as Bavarians, Saxons or what have you (some even as Prussians :D); but I am not under the impression that this unification should be called failed because of this, because most Germans will actually identify themselves as Germans (maybe even Europeans for that matter) when it comes to world politics, for cultural preferences (like food, music, dialects, etc.) this might be an entirely different thing.

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  • $\begingroup$ And Yugoslavia almost made it, if the Soviets had held on for another generation or two, they probably would've done the trick. A lot of intermarriage was going on. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Nov 17 '14 at 14:48
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Even if unification was achieved, would people stop identifying as being from the East or West? Consider the USA. It's one big country (comparable to your empire), with 50 different states. Each has its own culture, local government, laws, etc, despite all being under the USA umbrella, with a federal government, currency, etc.

If the two regions have different languages, I think it'll be hard for them to unify. They should also have a unified currency system.

If there are cultural differences between the two parts, I think that's OK, as long as they aren't too huge, and people recognize and respect the differences.

Also, the people themselves need to want to unify. That doesn't mean they'll give up all of their territorial identity, but will recognize that they can be stronger together. If it's pushed upon them by the rulers, that can soon cause a civil war.

If the ruling palace is in one province, that could also cause dispute. My advice would be to put the seat of government between the two, on what used to be the border.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just so you know, the U.S. colonies all had different currencies before they united. Some of them had a lot of foreigners who spoke different languages. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Nov 14 '14 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the last point: Build a new neutral capitol city. $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Nov 14 '14 at 16:04
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Another idea i had on this.

East and West have rulers who don't like each other. However, there's a grassroots movement among the people that are.

The surrounding lands have a bone to pick with the human inhabitants of both East and West, and start a war against both. Due to the rulers' enmity, East and West don't collaborate in the war effort, and both are weakened. During this, the unifying movement gains popularity, and overthrows both rulers. They unify the empire, creating a combined army, and win the war.
After that, more steps are taken to preserve the unity, as said in other answers.

In this case, it would have been the people who pushed the unity, and so would quickly start identifying as being from the Empire, not East or West.

The grassroots leaders who performed the coup would be the ones remembered for good, while the overthrown rulers would be vilified.

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