Every great fictional world has great fictional governments. They are the select few heads of the largest states of your world who make decisions that affect the lives of millions. This is an area of world building that requires much, much research but with the limited space that I have, I want to give you a better overall understanding of what constitutes a solid empire.
To learn how a fictional empire would rise, thrive and fall you must look at the historical accounts of actual Empires today. History is your best friend when it comes to building worlds and understanding why our worlds history of empires played out as they did will give you are far more comprehensive understanding for writing your own.
'The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus' by Carle Vernet
WHAT MAKES AN EMPIRE SUCCEED?
Rome came to be because two abandoned brothers were fed by the milk of a she-wolf by the river Tiber until, in 753 B.C, they founded the nation that would shape Europe. They were lucky in their location too. They had two friendly neighbours to the north (the Etruscans) and to the south (Greek colonies) and Rome was able to profit immensely by being located directly in the middle of their trade routes. Rome was a trader of fine clothes and wine instead of bloody throats and conquest back then.
The Golden Age of the Mongolian Empire began when a humble boy name Temujin who became the head of his clan and soon after united a confederation of Mongol clans before becoming sole ruler of Mongolia and going on to forge the largest continuous land empire the world has ever seen.
And as we all know I’m sure, the evil of the Nazi Empire began with exploitation over the public grievance of what the League of Nations had forced upon the German people at the end of World War One.
Temujin (Genghis Khan)
My point is, Empires rise in a great many ways and whether it be through good luck, an ambitious individual or the exploitation of political unrest, yours will have to emerge in a similar way. But think as well about the surroundings and the political climate your empires founders find themselves in from the start.
The Roman Empire at its largest
Had there been no horses in Mongolia, then they never would had been able to use the horse – along with the short bow – to devastate the world and create their empire. Thus, the Mongol’s probably would never had expanded beyond the unification of the clans and – although remaining a nuisance to China - not much of a threat to the rest of us.
In the same way, if the Romans had of begun their reign of conquest from the very founding of the city, the Greek colonies would had called in reinforcements from Athens and taken Rome with little trouble – then goodbye Roman baths in England. And if Hitler had of gotten into Art college, World War Two probably never would had happened. There’s a thought.
HOW EMPIRES COMMUNICATE
One thing to consider when building your Empire is how quick is the transfer of information. From different arms of the government (do they have a senate or is this a dictatorship?) or from government to citizens (Are people told the truth from above, are they lied to or are they distracted somehow from the truth?) and even from citizens to citizens. Tyrannical dystonia government's are a fairly common sight in fiction because they allow us to explore in our own ways how real events in history could so easily be bought back today, and as Orwell wrote in 1984, controlling the communication people can have, controls the people.
Winston Smith in the ultimate Orwellian nightmare.
In times of war, mobilisation of troops is required as soon as possible, are your people sending carrier pigeons or beaming the message through a hologram? Governments that don’t handle their communication lines well – be that with the public, with trade or in distribution – end up being the targets of riots and civil unrest.
As a side note, I noticed this aspect of world building rather lacking in later series of Game of Thrones. In the early episodes of Season One, we are told by Robert Baratheon that it takes a month to travel from Kings Landing to Winterfell by carriage. In Season 7, we learn that some characters can travel the distance within a matter of days. This takes us out of the story, so always remember when you establish a rule to always follow it. Even if bending or breaking the rule will make writing the plot easier, don’t break them. They’re your rules – stick to them.
HOW EMPIRES FALL
It would be nice to think that an evil Empire can be crushed in the same way Return of the Jedi show’s us; the central base of operations gets blown up (again) at the same time the tyrannical leader is killed, causing the entire Empire to crumble, leading our heroes to celebrate among spirit ghosts and Ewoks. In our history, however, empires take time to crumble and fall apart. The Roman Empire fell apart for a great many reasons but it took 200 years for the collapse to happen, and then the Byzantine Empire took a further 1000 years to collapse completely.
Empire - 0 Rebellion - 1
If your fictional empire is going to fall to rebellion plot (which has happened in history) then you should make sure to remember that rebellions happen for a reason. People don’t rise up and overthrow the government because the government are charging them too much for tea (except one time), it is usually as a result of economic instability, cultural fracturing and a shifting political environment. The revolution itself will often come at the end of that stage of downward progress, when your Empire is at its weakest.
'The Battle at the Rue de Rohan' by Hippolyte Lecomte.
Is your Empire an Oligarchy, where in a small group of individuals (who seized power at some point) are the law and decision makers on behalf of all the people – but are protected by the army. The army is the power here, the faction that keeps the Oligarchy in place, so if this government were to fall ask yourself who oversees this faction, why are they loyal to this Oligarchy and what may motivate them to change allegiances?
How ever you choose to build, maintain and destroy your empire keep in mind how much geographical and political factors play into the stages of your empires success, and also how something that takes millennia to build almost never is destroyed overnight. I hope I have given all you aspiring world builders a little more material.