Alaria and Rome, Part Two

   First up for today, it’s part two of the Alaria and Rome article, covering the similarities and differences between the two. Since it follows directly from the material in part one, it’s best to start THERE if you haven’t already read it.

   Obviously enough, what classification you fall under has a major impact on your fortunes in the Imperium. A citizen may – at least in theory – appeal unjust legal decisions all the way to the Senate, while a Bondsman has no legal recourse whatsoever. In practice, of course, the occasional Citizen will appeal on behalf of someone else, there are quasi-legal appeals for clemency – based on simply asking for pity rather than any legal argument – and foreigners are generally handled by the Legion Vigeles military courts regardless of the origin of the complaint. Fortunately for traders and merchants, the Vigeles courts are well-versed in commercial law and tend to give scant credence to complaints based on “I don’t like the competition!”. Complaints against ambassadors and such normally go straight to the upper-level imperial bureaucrats, who will usually refer anything serious to the Senate. This is rarely good news for anyone bringing a frivolous complaint.

   For example, a Guild Court may put an entrepreneur on trial for operating without a license – and, if convicted, sentence him or her to be fined, punished, or even enslaved (guild authority does not normally extend to executions, and may not extend to enslavement). However, a Robati or above may appeal to the local governor or whoever’s in charge of guilds – who may then uphold the sentence, alter it, or take the chance to restrain or punish an over-ambitious guild. A Citizen could appeal past the Governor if his or her family approved, taking the case to a relevant Senator. Given the risks of such cases, most persecutions in the empire stick with well-established precedents. After seven thousand years, the laws of the imperium are actually relatively reasonable – often harsh, unforgiving, and designed more to serve social stability than “Justice”, but reasonable. There are even some tolerably well-developed investigative procedures.

   In application, the laws and courts of the Imperium don’t recognize much in the way of exceptions. Ignorant? Drunk? Young? Stupid? That’s too bad. Being compelled by someone else isn’t an excuse either, but it is a factor in sentencing: if someone demonstratably was holding your children hostage, had you under a spell, or tricked you into doing something illegal, you’re still guilty – but you’ll probably get off with a far lesser punishment or a perhaps small fine for being stupid while the court will order the arrest and punishment of the genuinely responsible party. Children commonly get lesser punishments than adults as well – but a lot of things can be considered “crimes” for children which aren’t for adults. A child can (and usually will) be enslaved for persistent disobedience or being disruptive, an adult – or at least an adult not subject to legion discipline – will simply be banished from the relevant group.

   The Imperium holds that punishment should be as public as possible, both to shame the offender and to have the maximum possible impact on any confederates or others who might be considering similar misdeeds. Thus executions, slave-demotions and -markets, and other physical punishments are normally carried out in the city coliseums. Other punishments, such as fines, demotions, and banishments, are announced there.

   This of course, takes us to

   (5) The Games. Yes, there are games. However, the majority of events are non-lethal, ranging from things as mild as sponsored debates, music, poetry recitals, and historical tales (serving to both impress the audience with the mighty history of the Imperium and to educate the young) on through races and athletic events, and only then on up to actual punishments and bloodshed. Many youngsters appear in the coliseums several times each year to exhibit artworks, compete against other children, and generally show off. There’s something going on at the coliseums every day.

   Gladiatorial events are put on periodically, but require a good deal more finesse than they did in Rome. Atherian animals can have much more unpredictable and difficult-to-restrain abilities, and even fights between humans can be extremely hazardous to the audience when supernatural talents come into play. A highly-skilled gladiator may be a match for twenty ordinary guardsmen, while a Dernmarkian phase-cat, or Chelmian Archer Lizard may easily escape or endanger the audience. Most “gladiatorial” events in the Imperium involve free professionals giving exhibitions, and correspond more closely to boxing matches or professional wrestling events than to classical gladiatorial events – right down to the occasional nonlethal “challenges to all comers”, and even recruiting events with the more skilled legionaries showing off their training for the youngsters. There are occasional formal duels and even executions-by-combat – but such events are expensive and rare.

   Physical punishments, enslavements, slave auctions, and executions are always a show. While bidders can sometimes buy relatively minor offenders out of the executioner’s line as slaves, most of the time they are put to death in any of a wide variety of painful and creative ways – at times allowing bidders to determine how. This, along with the occasional unsavory or excessive event (such as the Linneaus Treason episode in 6540 when three families convicted of treason as a group were forced to watch their younger children being killed and eaten by animals, and then their adolescent offspring being tortured to death, before they were ritually transformed into eternally starving, tormented, undead, sealed into blocks of stone, and fitted deeply into the foundations) have given the Imperium a reputation for decadence among several of the neighboring domains. Fortunately, such events are far more the exception than the rule (both Senators involved were later executed themselves for corruption and the sentence of eternal torment was reduced to death – even if it did mean a lot of digging).

   6) The Imperium is OLD. Not just old in the “This has functioned well for a couple of centuries old”. It’s old like Agriculture, or the Domestication of Chickens. The roads, aqueducts, baths, coliseums, city walls, dams, irrigation systems, and other public works are well-established and maintained almost automatically. In fact, in most cases, they’re self-maintaining pieces of mystic architecture with secondary magical functions. The farming is well-organized, crop rotation is established, the fields are blessed and offerings are made to the fey on a regular schedule to increase the yields. The population density is high and concentrated around the cities. What wilderness areas remain are either not worth exploiting or are carefully managed, either as parks, lumber sources, or religious preserves.

   Similarly, the technology of the empire is about at its limits. There are excellent watermills, roads, aqueducts, arches, vaults, domes, and flying buttresses (allowing the Imperium to roof extensive areas even without mystic architecture), there is piping and water management, automatic floatation valves, distillation, powerful siege engines, windmills, bridges, dams, and good mining techniques. There are even basic pumps and steam engines (both curiosities rather than practical mechanisms due to the widespread use of Charms and Talismans for various jobs and to the shortage of fuel; what coal and metal exists is mostly needed for smiths and tools). Lighting is generally provided by magic, beeswax candles, and strips of pine with a minor spell on them to let them burn brightly for extended periods of time. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, “chemical” explosives will not function; due to the underlying dynamic-magical-flow physics of Atheria structural changes cannot propagate at such a rate. Magical equivalents exist, allowing the creation of items such as the Zakari Stormbow as Charms, and of versions which fire Scorching Rays as Talismans – but such devices are relatively rare. Better to learn a little magic of your own and use your charms and talismans for more practical things.

   On the subject of metal and mineral reserves, there are virtually no worthwhile mines or sources left in the Imperium – and even the better grades of stone are scarce. While trade always brings in enough currency metals to allow the mints to keep up with losses – especially given the use of Talismanic presses to turn out thin-yet-durable coins – in many places in the Imperium the easiest source for metals is the magical extraction of materials from old buildings and of lost tools from fields and the bottoms of rivers. Thus, of course, the constant temptation to invade Dernmarik, where they are somehow forever stumbling onto new mines and veins.

   While there were occasional incidents in the early Imperium of various forms of Undead attempting to hang onto seats in the Senate, or attempting to continue running businesses or families, long after their deaths, this is no longer permitted; such meddling by the dead was classified as a violation of the natural order, and banned, in 542. The occasional appearances of deceased Emperors in the Senate is still permitted – if only because they are commonly regarded as minor deities rather than spirits of the dead – but is a rarity in any case.

   The population is essentially stable: general prosperity, relatively low child mortality, easy and reliable contraceptive magic, and the tendency for excess, unsupervised, or poor children to wind up as slaves, have all combined to make having children something that Citizens do only when they’re ready – and many never are. The Robati have rather more children, but their children often wind up being sold as slaves – and slaves are relatively rarely permitted to reproduce.

   On the cultural front, the Imperium dominates much of the surrounding area.

  • The various noble courts of Dernmarik sometimes rebel to follow strange fashions imported from other worlds, but they usually follow the styles, literature, and customs of the Imperium the way that a remote European barony might follow the fashions of Paris, the plays of Shakespeare, and the pronouncements of Rome. Still, the people of Dernmarik are well aware that to fall into the fascination of the Imperium is to become – like the people of the borderlands under the sway of the Imperial Legions – second-class citizens in their own homes. The Imperium is best kept at a careful arms-length.
  • The Barbarians find the crowds, the wealth, the scale, and the complexity, of the Imperium both fascinating and – ultimately – incomprehensible. Perhaps sadly, since the products of the Imperium are in great demand in the Barbarian Lands, and they have little to export beyond the products of the forest and slaves, all too many Barbarians get to see the Imperium with slave collars around their necks.
  • The people of Chelm have a wild rainbow of reactions to the Imperium. They envy the power of it’s charms and talismans, its wealth, and its safety. They fear its legions. They pity it’s lack of understanding of the uses of Rekorathi and it’s citizens fear of death – and are disgusted by how it fails to ease the burden of the Goddess of Blood. They have little use for most of the culture of the Imperium, although they find its fine and durable products extremely useful. They are puzzled by the hatred and fear directed towards them.
  • While Kharidath is lost in its fanatical devotion to the distant past, the towns and oases near the Imperial side of the Mri Desert are firmly tied to the empire, to the point where they effectively have little or no culture of their own. They may, perhaps, have what we here in the 20’th century would describe as a faint “Arabian Nights” or “Byzantine” flavor to them, but there are few notable cultural differences other beyond a few styles and turns of phrase.

   There isn’t much easily-observable cultural feedback from the neighbors. While occasional compositions, bits of literature, original spells, and other cultural artifacts do drift back into the Imperium from the surrounding territories – especially the occasional dimensional import from Dernmarik and innovations in spices and cookery – for the most part the culture of the Imperium is twenty times older, incorporates far more people, and is immensely more stable. Other cultures tend to fit themselves around it as water flows around a rock – and with much the same result. The Imperium does change, and it does adopt new ideas, it’s just that it’s very slow to do so, and often has seen very similar ideas several times before.