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An empire of sea-peoples?

I'd like feedback on why an empire like this might not work, and/or how stable such a culture would probably be. I feel like the fact that I don't know of any stable civilization that's worked the way I envision the latter stage of the civilization being organized suggests that there is a fundamental problem, but don't see what it is.

The culture starts as early bronze age riverine raiders and traders. Their merchants do legitimate trade, while their their warriors use their mobility to threaten villages along the river into providing tribute, and establish fortified bases to conduct their raids. Eventually the warrior class forms a more stable ruling class for the peoples under their rule and the warriors march to defend the peoples who pay tribute to them from other militaries, using the rivers for efficient transportation so they can quickly mass soldiers against any invader.

They march to the watersheds of adjacent river systems, set up bases of operation and repeat their model until they have conquered a significant part of the continent. The continent is Europe-like, surrounded by inland seas, and they develop more sophisticated seagoing vessels similar to scaled-up versions of their war canoes that are akin to longboats to raid across those seas. Again, rather than settling and farming, they let the peoples of the region do that, while they establish fortresses to protect ports along the coasts and use the mobility of their boats to mass troops against any who try to stand up to them, or who invade the lands under their dominion to prevent the theft of tribute that would otherwise be theirs.

They establish a federated psudo-empire through an alliance of monarchs. Rather than claiming the lands between the seas as nations we are more familiar with have done, the monarchs each claim smaller seas or portions of large seas, and the lands drained by the rivers that flow into those seas as their domains.
 

pmmg

Istar
Reasons I could think of include those paying tribute dont like it.

Rivers do not always connect in ways that make supporting each other easy.

Land provides the resources, the raiders will need.

And sooner or later, a land based army will show up in greater numbers and remove them.
 
I had the same feeling as ThinkerX . It feels very much like the vikings and the Rus in what is now western Russia. So it can work. If you want to know why it would end, the usual. Either an internal threat, people get fed up with being bossed around by outsiders, monarchs fight with each other to the point where everyone is so weak that they are easily overthrown. Or an outside threat. Others invading them for whatever reason.
 

Phietadix

Auror
How easily can they sail up-river? If they are bound by the current I imagine they're going to have some issues
 
I had the same feeling as ThinkerX . It feels very much like the vikings and the Rus in what is now western Russia. So it can work. If you want to know why it would end, the usual. Either an internal threat, people get fed up with being bossed around by outsiders, monarchs fight with each other to the point where everyone is so weak that they are easily overthrown. Or an outside threat. Others invading them for whatever reason.

It is heavily inspired by the Vikings. The Vikings started as farmers and mostly ended up settling down and becoming peoples of the land though, and mostly ended up using their power to settle wherever they went and forming a local ruling class rather than staying mobile and continuing to project power over a larger area, but maintained a stable long-term empire where they settled.

On the other hand, the Mongols often didn't settle, but also the Mongol Empire was relatively short-lived.
 

pmmg

Istar
That goes along with the land provides the resources. If they dont settle the land they really dont claim the spoils. At sone point they will have to stop raiding and govern or they will be removed. Not settling the land seems like the grasshopper and the ants waiting to happen.
 

Queshire

Auror
Well.... why wouldn't they settle down? If I had a choice between paying in blood or gold to obtain the lumber needed to build my ships vs taking the temporary lose to set up a town in order to have a constant supply of lumber I know which one seems more viable in the long term.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
It would work, but it depends very much on the various rulers staying in contact with one another and maintaining family links. They would find it necessary to cooperate with some of the locals, because they couldn't gather enough manpower quickly enough to defeat the locals if the locals acted in unison and concentrated their forces - also a lesson from the Viking period, as shown by Harolds defeat of a Viking army at Stamford Bridge in 1066.
 
The reason why every empire in history has claimed land is because land is where all the resources are. Humans can't live on nothing but seafood. We can't build homes or tools or even boats out of water. We can't make all our clothes out of fish skins. (I know sealskin clothing has historically been common in seaside bioregions, but there's no way a whole empire could be clothed in that without hunting the seals to extinction.) Water rights have their value and their use, but to support an empire, land has to have priority.

Even in a seaside community, having land would be important. Maybe people would be wearing sealskin boots and coats and eating a lot of fish and seaweed, but they would still need land-based resources first and foremost. And the carrying capacity in those bioregions is extremely limited. If fish and seaweed and seals and other ocean-based resources are the main source of food, only a small community can survive on that. Farming allows for greater population density, the kind that could support an empire.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
How easily can they sail up-river? If they are bound by the current, I imagine they're going to have some issues

'Strong rowers' - pretty much the translation for the name of one of the peoples in the old 'Viking Empire.'

For areas with rapids, 'portage towns,' where men and beasts towed the boats upstream through the turbulence, and daredevils navigated them downstream through the froth. These towns would likely be fortified (because they are chokepoints) and would probably including boat building/repair yards. Since getting through the rapids might take a while, likely inns and markets as well for people who don't care to go past the rapids in either direction.

As to maintaining communications, likely a system of fast courier boats - skinny, light, built for speed above all else, piloted by the most promising rivermen/warriors.
 
It isn't so much that the people in question not claim land or establish strongholds, in fact they must. And with advancing technology they or their cultural heirs are to build canals and locks. What I'm focusing on though is the difference between a settled people and a nomadic people's ability to mass against an enemy, and yes that depends on alliances and communication between the different groups, such as fast scouting and messenger vessels.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
'Strong rowers' - pretty much the translation for the name of one of the peoples in the old 'Viking Empire.'

For areas with rapids, 'portage towns,' where men and beasts towed the boats upstream through the turbulence, and daredevils navigated them downstream through the froth. These towns would likely be fortified (because they are chokepoints) and would probably including boat building/repair yards. Since getting through the rapids might take a while, likely inns and markets as well for people who don't care to go past the rapids in either direction.
Strangely, no, not usually. Few captains took a large boat through rapids, it was too dangerous. A portage isn't being towed through some area of strong current, it's the boat being unloaded and the goods taken past the falls on pack horses, sometimes even the boat itself being drawn on rollers around the falls. There are several well-known examples of portages here in Sweden, amongst them Edsätersvägen.

What usually happens is that you get some sort of inn at each end of the portage route, which is where the pack horses are stabled and where travellers will stay. Those people leading the pack horses may live in a village by the inn, but at least here in Sweden it was more usual for those people to come from local farms - the extra money you earned for leading the pack horses was a useful supplement to the normal farm income. You don't usually get a town forming, because there isn't enough trade to justify that. Going up and down river in northern Europe was very much a seasonal thing; it wasn't done in winter because the rivers froze, nor in early spring when the snow and ice were melting owing to the current and the risks of hitting large blocks of ice floating downstream. (Writes the Mad Swede, whose great-grandmother's family owned one of these inns for several generations.)
 
Thinking about this more, I just need to accept that no empire is static, and they all transform into something else and usually break up or change dramatically over the course of relatively small segments of human history.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
Humans can't live on nothing but seafood.
Challenge accepted.

Thinking about this more, I just need to accept that no empire is static, and they all transform into something else and usually break up or change dramatically over the course of relatively small segments of human history.
Your original idea to me seems to imply a sprawling cultural network of kingdoms and perhaps other realms that might collectively be called an Empire (North Sea Empire) or civilization (Gaul, Germania or Ancient Greece). If anything, I would expect internecine conflict to be a constant of such an entity and would see representation of that as a pro instead of a con. Constant warfare between the rulers and local uprisings would be a good way to explain how the entity keeps existing in a largely stable size and form over time, instead of disputing it.
 
Challenge accepted.
Are you going to try living on nothing but seafood? Or can you come up with a society where everyone lived on nothing but seafood as long as anyone could remember?

Societies where seafood plays a major role in the diet certainly exist, and have, but they've never been limited to seafood only.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
Are you going to try living on nothing but seafood? Or can you come up with a society where everyone lived on nothing but seafood as long as anyone could remember?

Societies where seafood plays a major role in the diet certainly exist, and have, but they've never been limited to seafood only.
No I'm actually not going to do anything. That was an off-handed joke, for I like fish a great deal.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
This reminds me of the Kingdom of the Isles that was centred on the Isle of Man (in around 1000). It was a Viking kingdom including Islay, Mull, Skye, and the Hebrides.

I don't see any special reason why an island empire couldn't succeed.
 
One thing to keep in mind when dealing with empires is that reality is often very far from what we see in fiction. Empires in fiction are these eternal monoliths, that have existed forever. There may be outside threats every now and then, but they always grow back and become stronger.

The reality is that the average lifespan of an empire across human history is a mere 250 years. Or, give or take, the age of the United States. Yes, there are some exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions.

So having a smal island empire exist in a tumultuous state for 200 years can be fairly historically accurate. Much more so in fact than trying to make it last for 1.000 years.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
This reminds me of the Kingdom of the Isles that was centred on the Isle of Man (in around 1000). It was a Viking kingdom including Islay, Mull, Skye, and the Hebrides.

I don't see any special reason why an island empire couldn't succeed.
Yes, the islands formed the Bishopric of Sodor and Man. This was where the Rev Wilbert Awdry got the name for the setting for his Railway Stories. The church province of Sodor disappeared when the Scottish kings conquered the Hebrides and the Western Isles, so Awdry decided to recreate the rest of the bishopric when he wrote the stories.
 
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