Tales from the Inner Sea
The Armavine Empire
This Empire has existed in one form or another for 1300 years, and is regarded as the most important and pre-eminent civilization in the Inner Sea region, despite it’s upheavals and the almost mortal blow it’s civil war dealt it some 300 years previously. The best analogue for it is The Byzantine Empire circa 6th century, but with a number of key differences, most notably that the Imperial line is traced through the female, a comparatively recent development instigated by the revered and venerated Empress Armanixes the Third following the Great Civil War.
The current Emperor is Khelsine the Second, a shrewd and able administrator who tolerates no dissent to his rule and is vigorous in maintaining the birthright of his heir and eldest daughter, the Imparioi Katarivix. His wife was the Empress Maranixes the fifth, a wise and capable woman who died from natural causes 6 years previously. He holds the Throne until his daughter and Heir reaches her majority at the age of 18 (which is in 2 years time) at which time he shall publicly crown her as Empress and then step aside to resume his role within the Military as the Tribunus Magna of the First Legion( the key military office within the Empire). A sizeable and adept administration assists with the running of the Empire, which is in turn supported by semi elected officials from the various cities and Imperial provinces that make up the Quoria (an advisory and administrative senate). These officials, called Quorientes, have prominent merchant houses, military leaders, scholars and hereditary nobility amongst it’s august number. They have prestige and honour and can determine and carry out some policy matters releasing the Imperial Family from micromanaging the Empire, but all final power rests firmly in the hands of the Emperor. It is however common custom that in the case of non military related matters of policy the Emperor consults and informs the Quoria on any decisions made before the information is passed out to the world at large and enacted.
The Empire has almost 13 million free citizens scattered throughout it’s territories with the largest single concentration being in the city Armarissa, which has 800,000 within the city itself and a further 2 million in the hinterlands and surrounding areas who maintain it through a network of villages, farms and towns. Agriculture within the Empire is now down to a clever and well run science organised by the clergy of Bumi-Bijiran and the Offices of Grain within the Quoria. “Armarissa Invictor” as might be expected, is the capital and seat of power, and is the largest city within the whole Inner Sea, indeed perhaps the world. The Vaunted Palace is the residence of the Imperial family and is itself a medium sized city, enclosed from the rest of the capital by mighty walls and impressive gates. Armarissa’s walls are huge, rising to 60 metres in some places. The towers,roofs and minarets of the city are often painted in bright yellow and golden colours to catch the sun when it rises. With the domes of the Hama Encanda, the Great Temple to Nerukata in burnished gold leaf, the sight of the city at sunrise and sunset can awe and shock first time visitors and also makes the Armavine citizen swell with pride.
The armed forces are substantial, but not as large as they used to be prior to the civil war. Now, 120,000 regular forces are the main body of the troops, comprising highly trained and well equipped heavy infantry. There is also a body of horsemounted auxiliaries from the Altaic Zevgenya tribe, long settled within the Empire, who make up 15000 devoted medium horse archers. Finally there is a force of 4000 elite Imperial Guards called “The Fist of Armanixes”, open to both men and women, a dedicated Legion strength body who serve the Imperial family with fanatical zeal and reside in well appointed barracks and quarters within The Vaunted Palace. A quarter of them are always seconded to the army, principally in active service forces and rotated yearly, keeping the power of the Emperor foremost in the mind of the people and also providing continuous experience for the Fist. The typical Legionary of the Armavine Legions is a hard faced, ruthless and highly disciplined soldier, fully capable of acting as part of his unit as well as possessing individual initiative. The soldier is recruited at a very early age, normally between 10 and 12 depending upon various tests for mental strength and maturity. During this time he is conditioned physically for hardship and deprivation and mentally to be loyal unto death to the Throne and monarch. Personal and group honour is emphasised building pride in the Empire, the Legions, the Unit and finally himself, forming an army with a very high esprit de corps. Most soldiers follow Perang or Satrom as Initiates, but all are at least lay members of Nerukata, Sensu and Armanixes as well, with some especially devoted examples being Initiates of the Cult of the Empress Armanixes. The Legionary standard armour is lamellar cuirass, greaves and vambraces and a full helmet, with standard weaponry and training being with broadsword, Hoplite shield, javelin, dagger and Armanian Body Combat (punches, holds and throws with Martial Arts). In addition, many branches of the Legions further specialize and are trained in engineering, as Marines or as missile troops (crossbows being most popular). Cavalry comes purely from the Zevgenya Altai auxiliaries, who also act as messengers and scouts.
Especially dedicated and elite troops are offered the chance to join the Fist of Armanixes, but this is only made available to members of the Imperial Cult to make up for losses to the Fist. The Fist is fanatical in the extreme, utterly unshakeable in their defence of the Imperial Family and the Throne with absolute loyalty and fidelity. The Legions are a male dominated (though not a male exclusive) preserve, however women make up a great number of the Fist, some being indoctrinated at an early age as orphans raised by the Cult of Sensu and the Empress. They operate in a similar way to the Legions, though they wear a distinctive steel cuirass with arm and leg greaves, and an impressive red plumed helmet with a clever mesh visor that allows good visibility to the Guard whilst hiding the face of the wearer, the better to intimidate foes. Superlative weapon and unarmed combat skills are the hallmark of a member of the Fist, and there is no foe they fear nor can match them for discipline, unwavering loyalty and training.
Economically, trade flows to Armarissa from the East into the Inner Sea properly, providing silks, unusual spices, slaves and many other commodities to the populace. It is said that in no other city can a pauper become a merchant with staggering wealth and lose it all within the space of one year. Perhaps an exaggeration, but one that draws merchants from Ateliket, Bassur, Menetia and more to ply their trades in The Gilded Quarter, the huge mercantile district of Armarissa.
The people, both common and exalted and all inbetween are raised to honour and revere the Imperial family and in particular the ruling Emperor or Empress, and whilst furious politicking takes place in the Quoria and ferocious mercantile manoeverings happen in the Gilded Quarter, none would consider involving the Imperial family. The Imperial family themselves like to meddle from time to time within these matters, but always with a degree of discretion and subtlety. The common folk are always happiest when an Empress resides on the Throne for she is “Our Great Mother”, and there is a great degree of anticipation for when the Imparioi ascends to the throne.
The 2 main entertainments that unite all Armavines are the Chariot Races and the Gladiatorial Colissea. Both are sustained with great prizes and sporting events funded by the great generosity of the Imperial family and sometimes from wealthy patricians and merchants seeking to curry favour with the Throne and/or the masses, but each Factio House (in the case of chariot racing) and Colissea Stabila (in the case of the gladiatorial contests) are separate organisations, each having devoted and sometimes fanatical supporters amongst all levels of society. There are many Racing and Gladiatorial Factions and Houses, and such is their popularity and social influence that their leaders can sometimes aspire to a position within the Quoria. Each city of note within the Empire has Stabila and Factio houses, with a rare city counted poor and backwards indeed without a racing stadia or at least a small colissea. Even the smallest racing Factio House or Colissea Stabila can aspire to moving up the many regional leagues to contend in the Imperial capital, perhaps before the Emperor or Empress themselves. Gladiators and charioteers are no longer slaves and are idolised throughout the Empire and beyond. The Masters of these great sporting houses maintain networks of contacts and scouts throughout the Empire and surrounding territories looking for new prospects and recruits. Theatre is also popular, with the playhouses drawing many to their bawdy comedic revels and touching tragedies.
The reforms of Empress Armanixes have removed armour and most weapons from the common man and woman, and though a club, dagger, shortsword and staff is still permitted to the commoner for defence, they are not permitted anything else. That being said, they are also freed from ever being enlisted against their wishes and will never make up part of a levy force, so most commonfolk are happy with tradeoff. Of course, since members of the nobility can loosely be described as “military” with some of their prospective duties and expectations, they can be armed as they please, and each noble house maintains its own guards who are well armed, though not to the level of a soldier. Soldiers who have retired honourably are permitted all their original weapons and reduced armour with the understanding that in the case of Imperial Demand they can be summoned back to the Army. The Golden Sword of Honour is a tattoo that a soldier has upon his chest after 10 years of service, and after 20 years he has a Golden Shield added around it as well. There are 30 legions each of 4000 men within the Empire, with the First being the most illustrious and honoured. Post mustering out crimes like murder (if successfully proven with a fair trial) result in the public removal of the tattoo and either 100 lashes and lifetime slavery or death with the criminals choice on punishment.It is regarded as honourable for such a one to choose death and in so doing reclaim his honour and good name.
The roads of the Empire are well maintained with walking and wagons tending to be the most prevalent method of travel for many commoners, with horses, chariots, carriages and palanquins used by the more affluent and well off. Ships in the Empire are normally Triremes for the military, monoremes, biremes, Girakes and Uskaris vessels for coast based traders and a network of canals and rivers allowing the movement of goods and military formations rapidly within the Empire; Girakes and various types of barge are used on the rivers and canals. There is an Imperial Mail Service that operates throughout the Empire (and most of its former holdings as well) using fast horses and chariots to transport mail and resting at Imperial Mail Posts (which are small well defended settlements in themselves). It is a capital offence to interfere with the Mail itself, a law enforced rigorously without favouritism and any Imperial Mail Courier slain in foreign lands raises the ire of the Throne; this is something most countries are keen to avoid.
Slavery, like much of the Inner Seas is an ever present fact of Imperial life, though slaves in the Empire have some rights to protect them. No slave can be killed with impunity lest murder charges be brought and all slaves can earn freedom in time if they serve well and dutifully, with laws enforcing a slaves manumission after 15 years. Custom rather than actual law forbids excessive cruelty to slaves, though the powerful and jaded can find ways around this. People enslaved due to serious crimes however have none of these protections and can expect a lifetime of unhappiness and misery. Such a sentence is regarded as more severe than death. Due to these many laws and turnover, there are normally around 2 millions slaves within the Empire, with new slaves arriving all the time and other ones gaining their manumission. Slaves who are freed often stay within the Empire, as they will have very little chance of becoming slaves again (barring criminal acts) due to their having a Tabula Manumittia ( a small hardfired clay tablet denoting their legal freedom). The Office of Imperial Works is the part of Government that holds copies of all Tabula Manumittia, recording who has been freed. A freed slave automatically has citizenship of the Empire if wished though the more martially inclined may decline and leave due to the strict weapons laws prohibiting armour and anything larger than a shortsword to citizenry.
The practice of sorcery is regarded with some suspicion, but this stops short of actually being outlawed. Many assume this to be a diplomatic nod to the Valheeni Delegation within the city and the undoubted usefulness of having a sorceror available who sells their services for reasonable coin; also, the goodwill in recent years that existed between the late Empress Maranixes and the Magus Adeline Kothui has done much to promote better understanding of sorcerors, and with the continuing rise of the Cult of Armanixes (whose clergy are well disposed to civic minded sorcerors), its practitioners can have every reason to be optimistic for the future. Most ordinary Armavines make use of non Valheeni sorcerors from time to time, whether for medical issues or other such matters, though most are low key and quiet about it when they visit one. Nobles and reputedly the Imperial Family may do so as well or in some cases speak directly to the Valheeni Delegation, though the latter is normally very expensive (though eminently discrete).
Regarding foreign policy, the Armavines tend to have a mostly benevolent view on their former colonies and subjects, especially Padiha. They look upon the Voyans as dangerous militarists, and are always watching for Voyan expansion and mischief. The Altai serve as a useful buffer against the Tarmaki Horse Lords in the north and also divert the attention of the Voyans. The Valheeni are regarded with respect though not fear, as whilst Valheeni sorcery is certainly powerful the clergy of the Gods in Armarissa are not without power. In fact the Emperor thinks the Valheeni serve a useful role in maintaining peace in the region. The Armavines at any rate devote military and diplomatic effort in acquiring new land and influence in the Great East out of sight of the Inner Sea and its people, and the ambassadors and citizens of the many eastern citystates and realms can be seen within the capital and the Empire.
Finally, religion is an important aspect of Imperial life, with the Cults of Sensu and Nerukata being foremost, though all other benevolent cults are well represented within the Empire, especially the continuing rise of the Cult of Armanixes, the now deified Empress from the time of the Great Civil War. The largest temples to Sensu and Nerukata in the Inner Sea are found in Armarissa, being the Hama Salleia and the Hama Encanda respectively; awe inspiring edifices with golden spires and domes honouring Nerukata and great fountains and lakes exalting Sensu with thousands daily coming to and from it for worship. The High Priest of Nerukata called the Indomitable Sun Father and High priestess of Sensu named the Great Wave Mother are based here, passing religious decree to the Empire which often filters out and is adopted by other nations temples (though not always). Guardianship of the Temples in the City is carried out by Templars called The Sons and Daughters of Perang, aided by Templars of Satrom as well.
In short, the Empire survives and is strong and unified, and if it is not as large as it used to be, it is now certainly more efficient and stronger for it. A centre of culture, art, and a bastion of the heights that civilization can achieve, the only threat that now faces it is what threatens every large Empire; stagnation and decadence. Even this threat seems unlikely, for with a well run bureaucracy, a strong and wise monarchy and in the last number of years the rise of the sensible and unifying Cult of Armanixes, these threats seem unlikely. The current Emperor and his late wife were very welcoming to emissaries and ideas of other lands, and this trend of openness and cultural acceptance is likely to continue with the Imparioi Katarivix.