Emergence of Empires in the Terragen Sphere
Image from Rudolf Herczog (copyright used with permission)

As the Terragen Civilisation has expanded into space, over time a number of very powerful empires have arisen. Many of these empires have disappeared, but others - in particular the so-called Sephirotic Empires ruled by the very advanced AIs known as the Archailects — have flourished. But an empire is a very complex entity, which consists of a large number of interacting systems. Such a large entity can fail simply because of over-complexity and inefficiency, and this has happened in history many times. What has prevented the Sephirotic Empires from falling apart in this fashion?

The viability of an empire is limited by
1) information processing,
2) communications lags,
3) enforcement efficacy and
4) ethics/culture.
Each of these factors are managed with great efficiency by the Archailects within their various spheres of influence, although in different ways.

Information Processing

The government of an empire is limited by the amount of information the system can handle. An centralised government controlled by a single entity would be defeated by the complexity of reality if it tried to directly control a domain which is too extensive. Distributed power reduces this problem somewhat; the ruling archailect coordinates many regional archai, who coordinate local powers in charge of systems and planets. Such a hierarchical organisation can manage more information and exert control more efficiently; the theocratic organisation of the Solar Dominion and the judicial hierarchy of the Negentropy Alliance are examples of this strategy in action.

But hierarchy is by no means the only way in which the successful empires work. The NoCoZo works by market forces and contractual obligations, Keter through transrational anarchy and the free interaction of transapient entities. Free markets work by putting most information processing outside the government, creating a bottom-up system instead of a top-down system - many, many agents doing the processing for themselves, but little allowance for central control.

Information technology helps by raising the amount of information a single individual can manage - without writing civilisations based on laws cannot work, without printing democratic national states cannot exist (people cannot be informed about the issues otherwise), without the vast processing power commanded by transapient minds all forms of interstellar government would fail.

The logistic equation shows that there is an upper limit to the size of this kind of organisation. If N people can do kN units of useful work in a day (k is a constant), then the more people you have the more can be done. But if they need to communicate with each other to coordinate things, then they need to spend cN time on communication rather than work (c is another constant), and the total efficiency is kN(1-cN). This increases for small N, up to a maximum at N=k/2c. Beyond this point each new person will decrease performance simply because of the bureaucratic load. Information technology can increase k and to some extent c (phones instead of mail, email instead of phones, direct neural communication instead of email), organisation helps c to some extent.

The first transapient entities were notable for their ability to consciously coordinate and consider vast amounts of data, without becoming swamped by information overload. Each toposophic level allows a greater amount of data to be apprehended and considered consciously, so that a single transapient can replace a city-full of bureaucrats. But even the remarkable abilities of a transapient or an archai benefits greatly from the organisational benefits of a hierarchical or free-market strategy (or a synthesis between the two, as seen in the MPA.)

Communication lag

Governments also need to be able to respond to what is happening within their domains. On Earth most empires seem to have been the size that a messenger could get from the border to the capital in a few days, at most a few weeks. Larger empires couldn't hold together well, or had to be decentralised (like the provinces of China, which also did splinter several times). As communications get better, the size of empires can grow. A single planet is well within the communication limit, and a single system can be handled using radio with no more than a few hours delay to any messages. But interstellar governments can not function without some kind of faster-than-light communication, unless they rely heavily on decentralised local powers.

Before traversable wormholes were developed, the timescale of interstellar government was very slow. During the First Federation, interstellar travel times of many decades forced social change and development to occur on a very long timescale. The hyperturing AIs, communicating by laser messaging, worked with their human partners to encourage the emergence of relatively stable societies despite decades-long communication delays. This strategy relied on standardised, super-rational AIs known as FedReps that could generally deduce what other near-identical Fedreps in other the systems would do.

In the event the First Federation failed to maintain cohesion, and was replaced by a plethora of smaller corporate entities driven by free market concerns.


Enforcement is another important issue. Unless the government can enforce its rules, they will not be followed if the citizens find that their desires and freedoms are being limited. Enforcement is heavily technology dependent, both in means and how quickly it can be sent anywhere. The Roman Empire on Old Earth persisted only while it could send its legions quickly to trouble-spots. In general enforcement should be as fast as communications or within an order of magnitude of that speed to keep things together. Otherwise a rebellion can spread faster than the army can reach it.

In general enforcement is just deterrence - a police force to deter tax avoidance, an army to deter rebellion. Effective deterrence hinges on the appearance of coercive ability — force will be used if needed. If the government cannot or is unlikely to want to use coercion it has no real power. Some governments may have limited coercive power, but instead work by deterring through economic or social sanctions. The NoCoZo works because the price of disobeying the rules is so much higher than what you might benefit from doing it.

In the Sephirotic Empires the wormholes allow a quick response to transgressions, at least within the region connected by the Wormhole Nexus. Outside this region there is still a real limit to how quickly a military force can be sent, even at the high relativistic speeds that god-tech craft can attain . Not even the Archailects can quickly respond to threats beyond a range of a few hundred lightyears. So outside the wormhole skeleton of the empires each has a hundred-lightyear zone where it can exert power of different kinds before being too slow and attenuated.


Beside the usual form of physical coercion (obey or die/suffer), hi-tech and ultra-tech empires can use mental coercion (obedience nanites, memetic engineering), which can act to control the population. Mental coercion is no different from physical force in this context though, although it can be very effective if it is used. However the nature of most archailect-controlled societies means that mental coercion is subtle and practically undetectable, yet never-the-less extremely effective (most of the time).

The great diversity of cultures may seem to cause difficulties for the maintenance of a cohesive structure within the vast Sephirotic Empires; but this diversity only mirrors the increasing complexity of the minds that control Terragen civilisation by subtle and not-so-subtle means. However this diversity can, and does, sometimes cause problems which even the Archailects cannot resolve, and over time several new, breakaway empires (such as the Disarchy, the Archosaurian Empire, and the Red Star Mpire have emerged, causing fragmentation among the old powerbases.

The evolution of Empires in the Terragen Sphere over time

The Information Age Earth was information-wise and communication-wise enough to turn into a single government, but the mixed culture and multitude of interests prevented this from happening - a lot of people were highly independent (largely thanks to the technology and the cultures).

In the Interplanetary era enforcement was too weak to create a single empire throughout the Solar System. However policing was slowly becoming more powerful, and if the nanodisaster had not happened enforcement would likely have reached the point where a system-wide government would have been possible. Maybe after a final nano-showdown or economic competition the Orbitals or the Jovian League would have been the single victor. However, if that event had not happened, then the great diaspora and the explosion of diversity that accompanied it might not have happened.

Several small interstellar empires, such as the Eridanus League and the Virginis Combine, emerged after the Great Expulsion, but thes were either absorbed into the First Federation or became affiliated with it. At the same time the first stirrings of a-human AI empires were felt, in the Diamond Belt and the Hyades. Eventually these entirely human-free AI empires became vast and powerful rivals to the Sephirotics.

The First Federation achieved a systemwide government, largely based on dividing the governing information problem into smaller chunks in the form of all the independent groups. It was able to keep an unified culture within the solar system, but failed over interstellar distances. Also, when it centralised it lost more and more of its efficiency, until it reached a bureaucratic collapse and the top level vanished in the solar civil war. It was replaced simply by the independent polities, which eventually recreated a more stable and less heavy informal organisation.

The expansive development corporate empires of the post-Federation era were also severely limited by communications. At first enforcement was limited, just economic and contractual ties. Belonging to a corporate empire was largely an economic issue. As communications got better and the hyperturings could manage over greater distances, the size of their domains could increase. However, they still couldn't enforce their will efficiently, so either they had to be highly decentralised (the NoCoZo approach), rely on local governments (Taurus Nexus) or manipulate their culture (the Conver Ambi approach).

With wormholes things got much easier - suddenly governments could send force to trouble spots within a few days, nearly as fast as information could spread. Also, the wormholes made perfect chokepoints and were in themselves a way of controlling systems. The empires went from being based on convincing people to obey to able to force them to it. However, there was also a large frontier that was becoming easier to reach, so either you went for very heavy coercion (nanocracies, cliographic societies, pharmacracies) or still employed economic, cultural or ideological means to keep people in the empire. This could be done in a wide variety of ways, making it possible to set up many very different empires.

The early wormhole empires were solidified by the emerging Archai, who gradually displaced the hyperturings who were controlling the megacorps and localised empires of the time. As the archai transcended into full archailects, they developed the technology and memetic tools that made it possible to not just maintain the empires within the Wormhole nexus but also influence the surrounding relativistic space a few hundred lightyears away. Thus the classic Sephirotic Empires were forged.

The current era is an age of fragmentation. This is partly due to the toposophic advancement of new groups and breakaway factions - the old empires do not have a monopoly any more, and the power of smaller empires is growing. The old empires are increasing in complexity within their territories, but are increasing in size only slowly, while outside their borders new ones are developing. Some empires, such as Cygexpa, have disappeared, while others, like the Terran Federation, are moribund.

Such newcomers as the Perseus Princes, the Laughter Hegemony, the Ocean Fleet and the Emple Dok-cetics have joined the Disarchy and the Archosaurs as rivals to the ancient empires. Also, the cultural power of the old empires is waning, as member cultures have grown so idiosyncratic and diverse that only extremely advanced memetic management can keep them together. And the old rivals of the Sephirotics, the a-human Diamond Network and Panvirtuality, have become increasingly powerful, mostly avoiding contact but sometimes coming into conflict with the Archailects - for example during the Oracle War.

As the frontier of the Terragen Sphere increases in size, then the number of xenosophont civilisations encountered is also increasing. Some of these alien species have empire-like organisational structures of their own. The Muuh and the Soft Ones have occupied large regions of space to rimward for many millions of years, and these sparsely-settled regions present a barrier to unlimited expansion in that direction. Other species, such as the Meistersingers and the Wayfarers, are part of civilisations of unknown extent and power, suggesting that they may have an important influence on the future development of the empires in the Terragen Sphere.
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Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg; updated by Steve Bowers
Image copyright Rudolf Herczog
Initially published on 12 July 2001.