Created By: PrimoVictoria on October 24, 2011 Last Edited By: jatay3 on March 1, 2013
Troped

The Cycle Of Empires

Expansion, Stabilization, Decay, Long Night

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
What kind of creature is this? In the morning it's angry and full of ambition, but also brave and with sharp teeth, so it can take everything it desires. At high noon it lies on its treasures, peaceful and wise, but still as strong and brave as before. At the sunset its teeth are no longer sharp and it becomes mad, squandring all of its treasures, forgetting its wisdom, strength and brave heart, to live only for pleasure. When night falls, it lies down in agony, rotting alive. But if neither predator nor scavenging worm feasts on its body until sunrise, it heals and rises again, rejuvenated and strong. What is this?

An empire.

What?

Let's explain. History of every empire, real life or fictional, can be divided in four parts:

  • Phase One: Expansion

During this phase Empire is still young and rising, and it's rulers are ambitious. Those days are of the biggest military expansion in empire's history, but also most prone to betrayals and civil wars, as many great leaders may turn against each other in their desire to take the throne for themselves.

The ruler of this era is The Conqueror and Founder of the Kingdom. Serving him are The Good Chancellor, fathers to their men, and just heroes of legend and lore. Opposing him are Feudal Overlords clinging to their old crumbling castles, warlords and barbarian chiefs, for whom Authority Equals Asskicking and might makes right, and hardline devotees of a previous empire, who want to preserve what little is left of it. This era ends when there is either nothing left to conquer, or people are too tired of constant wars. With long awaited peace second phase begins.

  • Phase two: Stabilization

In this phase conquerors are replaced by administrators who help estabilish a system of rules and institutions used to manage their empire. It may also involve a purge of hotheads who still think in terms of brute force, which is a significant source of internal conflict during this era. While not as agressive as their precursors, rulers of this phase know war very well, having learned from conqueror's experience. Conquest may still occur, but the empire is more focused on protecting what they already have and use it to become stronger in cultural, administrational and economical sense, becoming a Hegemonic Empire.

The ruler of this era can be a Reasonable Authority Figure, though they can also be a Totalitarian Utilitarian control freak. Badass Bureaucrats, Honest Corporate Executives and, quite possibly, some Secret Police support them.

  • Phase Three: The Decay

After administrators' work is done, a time of prosperity and decent life begins. This, however, may sooner or later lead to situation in which a Spoiled Brat will inherit the throne and the rule will be passed over to decadents, who from history's lessons took mostly pride of being descendants of conquerors and administrators, especially the former, but none of their wisdom or bravery. They tend to spend their life wasting what previous generations left for them, instead of trying to secure or multiply it. While they spend their time on never-ending hedonism or consumerism, bad administration weakens the empire, slowly crippling economics and the army.

The ruler of this era can be The Caligula, an Adipose Rex, or a possible well-meaning but inept ruler, Unfit for Greatness, who will only make things worse with their reforms; helping (or hindering) him are a cabal of obstructive and corrupt bureaucrats and the whole Deadly Decadent Court, some of whom are on the payroll of a Corrupt Corporate Executive or two. Such an empire can already be called vestigial; it may not yet suffer loss of territories, but its influence is waning. The fate of Empire that enters this phase is to fall; the point of no return is already past, and no matter how gilded is the empire's facade, its structure is rotting, and the only way to stop it is a top-down revolution, that is, to tear everything down and rebuild from scratch (think Meiji or Peter the Great).

  • Phase Four: The Long Night

What was once a mighty Empire is now a failed state, a gray zone of squabbling independent shards, or sub-factions. Only a small part of the former empire's territories, half or less, are under control of the former capital; this is called a rump state, or a late, actually Vestigial Empire, where utter ignoramuses try to simulate the old Empire in a Cargo Cult-ish fashion, dressing in the robes of long-dead emperors and spouting bombastic orders no one actually listens to.

The decadence of the old Empire is now concentrated around a few select oligarchs and their surroundings, possibly a rich city or two, and the rest of the populace is struggling hard to get something to eat. The majestic and titanic monuments of the previous imperial eras turn into ruins or are resettled by bandit gangs, marauders or folks more sinister still.

The ruler of this era is Authority in Name Only with a 0% Approval Rating, a Small Name, Big Ego pompous gasbag of a dictator or an outright Empty Shell who has lost all will and cognition due to Despair Event Horizon, a Fisher Kingdom effect or just plain senility and/or alcoholism, practicing Head-in-the-Sand Management. A Vast Bureaucracy may form, stifling any and every positive idea and pilfering away budgets. The peripheries, which the rump state no longer controls, are home to Feudal Overlords clinging to their old crumbling castles, warlords and barbarian chiefs, for whom Authority Equals Asskicking and might makes right, and yet more Small Name, Big Ego dictators, who are pleasantly surprised that they don't have to kowtow to anyone any longer. However, in one or more sub-factions, intelligent leaders may arise and plan a new Empire; a new Expansion begins when one of them emerges openly, unambiguously triumphant.

Adjacent empires can see the rotting carcass of the empire ripe for plundering; they may directly intervene, send troops and partition the dead empire into colonial or semi-colonial pieces, or they can use hegemonism and make the petty states of the ex-empire their puppets.

Eventually, the Long Night ends with either total disappearance of the empire, its shards growing from petty and self-proclaimed to true distinct nations, or fading culturally and becoming just governorates of neighboring nations, or a climactic Civil War in which it is reforged in fire and steel and re-enters Stage One.

In fiction the border between phases are mostly clear, but in Real Life it wasn't always so clear - neither Caligula and Nero brought the Decay stage upon Roman Empire, because when the empire is mighty, the occasional tyrant don't hurt it much. It wasn't also uncommon to have rulers more fit for second phase to appear in first or third, trying to stabilize the situation. They can even pop up in the fourth phase, backtracking the rump state back from failed to just decayed. However, it does not appear possible to uncreatively restore the former regime to its full glory; even if such a restoration happens, it comes back wrong and already in the decay phase. To truly restart the cycle, new ideas and institutions are required.

Examples:

Comic Books

  • Shi'Ar Empire from X-Men was in the Phase 1 under the rule of D'Ken. Under Lilandra it set up on Phase 2 but viarous crisises (many of which involved X-Men) threw it into phase 3, leading to secret conspiracy trying to re-estabilish D'Ken as a ruller, only for Vulcan to take it over, leading to new Phase 1, which lead to War of Kings. After their defeat Shi'Ar are now in another Phase 2.

Film

  • In Star Wars, the Galactic Republic is in decline at the start of the Episode I, but Emperor Palpatine, rather than squandering it, restores it to expansion, but at the cost of turning it into, well, The Empire. By Episode IV, it is at the end of the stabilization phase. As Leia had predicted, the decline of his empire is rapid: "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." After Endor, the Long Night deepens on the Empire, with warlords like Zsinj, Harsk or Delvardus calling the shots. Meanwhile the New Republic has a rather rough road through its expansion phase.

Literature
  • In Black Company Lady's Empire is clearly Phase 1, however it later moves to the Phase 2. This trope is even lampshaded in The Silver Spike.
  • The CoDominium was an alliance between the United States of America and the Soviet Union that took over earth and colonized most of known space, it collapsed when the founding states finally sterilized earth in a nuclear war. Then the former American colony Sparta decided that humanity must be united under a single rule and conquered the other surviving colonies forming the Empire of Man, some centuries later this Empire falls thanks to a rebellion by the Sauron supermen. After a few more centuries of dark age a Second Empire emerges.
    • In The Mote in God's Eye the Second Empire contacts an alien race that due to their ridiculous breeding rate experiences the empire cycle frequently, so much so that they've depleted their system's supply of fissionable material. However they're restricted to one system because the only Alderson Point in their system of origin leads into a red supergiant.
  • In Steven Brust's Dragaera series, the empire (called, naturally, "The Empire") goes through "the cycle," a series of rulers based on their clan (each ruling several hundred years). It has gone through several cycles, always starting with the ascendant Phoenix, through all 17 clans, and ends with a decadent Phoenix. The cycle is then repeated. Recently the cycle was broken by a catastrophic event, but has started turning again.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation setting tells the tale of multiple empires:
    • Earth itself is still in the expansion phase when the first fully sentient robot is developed. By the time of the Robot novels with the character Detective Bailey, it is already in decline. In the Empire novels we see Earth has become an unimportant backwater. By the Foundation era, it has been abandoned and forgotten.
    • The spacers are at their height, on the cusp of stabilization and decline, in the novels featuring Detective Bailey. In the empire novels, they are already gone, except for robots that have infiltrated human society, and Solaria, the most extreme of the spacer worlds, where the robot:human populaton ratio is over 1000:1.
    • The empire ruled from the planet Trantor is going through late expansion and early stabilization in the Empire novels. By the time Hari Seldon, the man ultimately responsible for the Foundation, is born, it is entering decline; by the end of the Foundation novels Trantor is a galactic backwater.
    • The Foundation itself is in expansion through most of the Foundation novels; however, the final book reveals that the Foundation will not succeed in restoring the galaxy to stabilization; humanity's future lies in a different direction.
  • Barryar in Vorkosigan Saga is in phase 2. It is becoming more cultured and less violent and has more or less halted expansion but it still retains memories of old ways. The present Emperor is a Reasonable Authority Figure who was apprenticed by one of Barryars greatest statesmen in history. Ezar's last order is also an example of purging hotheads.
  • Fredric Brown's Letter to a Phoenix, where a 180 000 year old man claims he saw Humanity bomb itself into the stone age six times already.
  • In The Republic Of Trees it is discussed as "historical gravity" - everything that rises, from empires to revolutions must fall one day. And yet people keep trying, hoping that they will be the first to get lucky.

Live-Action TV

  • Andromeda takes place in the Interregnum of the Systems Commonwealth, with the titular ship's crew trying to establish a new Commonwealth.

  • The Korean drama Emperor Wang Guhn was type 3 and type 1. Taking place in the 9th century AD, it shows the decline & fall of Silla and the rise of Koguryo (modern day Korea).

Tabletop Games

  • Fading Suns has gone through two corporatocratic Republics and is slowly emerging from a dark age as a feudal Empire.
  • Warhammer40000: The first human and Eldar empires were torn apart by the birth of Slaanesh, the Eldar because their homeworlds were consumed by the Eye of Terror and the humans because the resulting warp storms made interstellar travel difficult. Humanity was re-united under the God-Emperor but the Eldar are still scattered.
  • The Third Imperium in the default setting of Traveller is in phase 2. The Vilani Imperium in Intersteller Wars is in phase three and the Terrans in phase 1; the Vilani Imperium arose thousands of years ago at the dawn of Terran civilization and founded an Intersteller Empire so large that it could withstand decay simply through it's size and had been a Vestigial Empire for centuries when the Terrans discovered it. However, the Second Imperium, created by Terran conquest, quickly succumbs to phase 4, suffering The Long Night, because it inherited all problems of the Vilani Imperium. In the Megatraveller timeline the Third Imperium lasts about 1120 years before Emperor Strephon is assassinated and in the resulting Succession Crisis a weaponized Contagious A.I. tears apart not only the Imperium but the neighboring alien empires as well.
  • BattleTech is set during Long Night following the demise of the Star League. Each of the four Inner Sphere Successor States and the Crusader Clans have ambitions of becoming the next Empire.

Video Games

  • In The Elder Scrolls back story, there have been three major empires spanning most of the Tamriel continent: the short-lived First Empire of the Nords, the Reman-Akaviri Second Empire, and the Septims' Third Empire. The first four main games are set in the Decay stage of the Third Empire, and before it finally collapses in Oblivion. In Skyrim, the Long Night is already in effect: the Mede Empire loses control of a province after province, barbarian insurgents are everywhere over the place, and agents of the rival Aldmeri empire (which is in Phase 1) walk around like it's their backyard.
  • The X-Universe has gone through The Cycle of Empire twice. In both cases, the Decline and Fall was due to somebody creating artificial general intelligence. The first time around, the Terrans nearly destroyed themselves, only surviving because the commander of their space navy lured the terraformers through the Earth jumpgate, which was destroyed behind them. The survivors of said commander's fleet created a new civilization in the X-Universe, the Argon Federation. In the 2940s, threatened by Earth's superior military, the Argon created AGI warships and unleashed them on the Terrans, sparking an interstellar war that forced the Community of Planets the Argon were a part of to divert the military forces holding the terraformers (now called the Xenon) at bay. The Xenon went out of control, forcing the Old Ones to shut down the jumpgate system. This caused Galactic/Societal Collapse. X Rebirth is set during the Interregnum about a thousand years later.

Web Original

  • Orion's Arm has gone through the empire cycle at least once, after the fall of the First Federation Terragen space was divided into several "sephirotic empires". And it's indicated that the Sephirotics are fragmenting. That's despite they are ruled by Mega Giga AIs without human weaknesses. The authors never get tired of elaborating by how ludicrous a factor are their minds above puny human ones, but it seems that preventing the Cycle of Empires from completing is beyond their ability, too.

Real Life

  • This is more or less the basic model for the study of Chinese history. A dynasty is founded with the mandate of heaven; it renews/maintains the roads, dykes, levees and other infrastructure necessary to the health of the empire. Gradually, corruption and decay set in, the dynasty loses power to the eunuchs, literati, and local governors, and the infrastructure is no longer maintained, costing the dynasty the mandate of heaven. After some kind of exchange of power, the mandate passes to a new dynasty and the cycle begins anew.

  • Russia also works like that. Let's recount: First cycle: Rurik to Vladimir the Saint - expansion, Vladimir to Yaroslav the Wise - stability, Yaroslav's sons to Monomakh - decay, Mongol yoke - Long Night. Second cycle: Ivan the Great - expansion, Ivan the Terrible - stability, Boris Godunov - decay, the Time of Troubles - Long Night. First Romanovs - an uncreative restoration of the second-cycle Muscovite Tsardom, back to Decay. Third cycle: Peter the Great - top-down revolution and expansion, Catherine the Great and Alexander I the Blessed - stability, Nicholas I to Nicholas II - decay, Provisional Government and the White Guards - Long Night. Fourth cycle: Bolsheviks and Stalin pre-WWII - expansion, Stalin post-WWII and Khruschev - stability, Brezhnev to Gorbachev - decay, the Federal regime - Long Night. However, that last part needs some hindsight; it's possible that perestroika and The New Russia are merely decay, and the real Long Night is yet to happen.

Community Feedback Replies: 60
  • October 24, 2011
    wanderlustwarrior
    The Gundam Wing movie Endless Waltz referred to the ...endless waltz of war, peace and revolution.
  • October 24, 2011
    Gatomon41
    Standard Sci Fi History is similar, only on an interstellar scale.
  • October 25, 2011
    aurora369
    The Soviet Union was phase 1 in 1924-1953, phase 2 in 1954-1984, and phase 3 afterwards. The New Russia is a continuation of the Soviet Union's decay phase, not a new empire.
  • October 25, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    In The Republic Of Trees it is discussed as "historical gravity" - everything that rises, from empires to revolutions must fall one day. And yet people keep trying, hoping that they will be the first to get lucky.
  • October 25, 2011
    Shnakepup
    Related to Eternal Recurrence, if the cycle has repeated many times and looks like it will continue to repeat.
  • October 25, 2011
    TooBah
    Literature:
    • In Steven Brust's Dragaera series, the empire (called, naturally, "The Empire") goes through "the cycle," a series of rulers based on their clan (each ruling several hundred years). It has gone through several cycles, always starting with the ascendant Phoenix, through all 17 clans, and ends with a decadent Phoenix. The cycle is then repeated. Recently the cycle was broken by a catastrophic event, but has started turning again.
  • October 25, 2011
    VioletOrange
    • Trantor in Isaac Asimov's stories, loosely based on the Roman Empire go through the entire cycle
  • October 25, 2011
    jatay3
    The Third Imperium in the default setting of Gurps Traveller is in phase 2. The Vilani Imperium in Intersteller Wars is in phase three and the Terrans in phase 1.
  • October 25, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    The asimov story is based on the story of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  • October 25, 2011
    Trotzky
    Spoilt Brat Emperors come at the Decline stage? No. Caligula was at 40 AD-ish, Nero was 70 AD-ish. Commodus was 250-ish and Rome fell in 450-ish. When the Empire is mighty, the occasional tyrant don't hurt it much.
  • October 25, 2011
    PrimoVictoria
    ^ I didn't mean that caligula was reason for Roman Empire's decline, but the archeotype is mostly associated with that phase. I'll add this bit about occasional tyrants, somethign like that was when I was writing this but I deleted it because it soundet off, your line if what I was looking for.
  • October 25, 2011
    jatay3
    Except the Byzantine empire managed to recover and wane several times before finally being destroyed in 1453.
  • October 25, 2011
    BooleanEarth
    This is such a minor quibble, but I think it would look/sound better if it were "The Cycle Of Empires."
  • November 2, 2011
    Koveras
    • In The Elder Scrolls back story, there have been three major empires spanning most of the Tamriel continent: the short-lived First Empire of the Nords, the Reman-Akaviri Second Empire, and the Septims' Third Empire. The main games are set in the Decay stage of the Third Empire, and before it finally collapses in Oblivion.
  • November 3, 2011
    surgoshan
    • This is more or less the basic model for the study of Chinese history. A dynasty is founded with the mandate of heaven; it renews/maintains the roads, dykes, levees and other infrastructure necessary to the health of the empire. Gradually, corruption and decay set in, the dynasty loses power to the eunuchs, literati, and local governors, and the infrastructure is no longer maintained, costing the dynasty the mandate of heaven. After some kind of exchange of power, the mandate passes to a new dynasty and the cycle begins anew.
  • November 3, 2011
    bradpara
    Arguably for the United States, Stage 1 was 1785 (Independance) to 1945 (Allied Vistory in WWII leaves them as the undisputed most powerful nation in the world) and Stage 2 is either still going or ended sometime between 1975 (Fall of Saigon) to 2008 (Housing Bubble Burst).
  • November 4, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The Korean drama Emperor Wang Guhn was type 3 and type 1. Taking place in the 9th century AD, it shows the decline & fall of Silla and the rise of Koguryo (modern day Korea).
  • December 10, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Literature
    • Isaac Asimov's Foundation setting tells the tale of multiple empires:
      • Earth itself is still in the expansion phase when the first fully sentient robot is developed. By the time of the Robot novels with the character Detective Bailey, it is already in decline. In the Empire novels we see Earth has become an unimportant backwater. By the Foundation era, it has been abandoned and forgotten.
      • The spacers are at their height, on the cusp of stabilization and decline, in the novels featuring Detective Bailey. In the empire novels, they are already gone, except for robots that have infiltrated human society, and Solaria, the most extreme of the spacer worlds, where the robot:human populaton ratio is over 1000:1.
      • The empire ruled from the planet Trantor is going through late expansion and early stabilization in the Empire novels. By the time Hari Seldon, the man ultimately responsible for the Foundation, is born, it is entering decline; by the end of the Foundation novels Trantor is a galactic backwater.
      • The Foundation itself is in expansion through most of the Foundation novels; however, the final book reveals that the Foundation will not succeed in restoring the galaxy to stabilization; humanity's future lies in a different direction.

    film
    • In Star Wars, the Galactic Republic is in decline at the start of the Episode I, but Emperor Palpatine, rather than squandering it, restores it to expansion, but at the cost of turning it into, well, The Empire. By Episode IV, it is at the end of the stabilization phase. As Leia had predicted, the decline of his empire is rapid: "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." However, in the Expanded Universe, the First Galactic Empire persists, in shattered form, for many years after the Emperor's death. Meanwhile the New Republic has a rather rough road through its expansion phase.
  • February 23, 2013
    aurora369
    Phase Four: The Long Night. What was once a mighty Empire is now a failed state, a gray zone of squabbling independent shards, or sub-factions. Only a small part of the former empire's territories are under control of the former capital, where utter ignoramuses try to simulate the old Empire in a Cargo Cult-ish fashion. The decadence of the old Empire is now concentrated around a few select oligarchs per shard, and the rest of the populace is struggling hard to get something to eat. The majestic and titanic constructions of the previous imperial phase turn into ruins or are resettled by bandit gangs, marauders or folks more sinister still. The Emperor of this era is Authority In Name Only with a Zero Percent Approval Rating. Adjacent empires can see the rotting carcass of the empire ripe for plundering; they may directly intervene, send troops and cut the dead empire into colonial or semi-colonial pieces, or they can use hegemonism and make the petty states of the ex-empire their puppets. Eventually, the Long Night ends with either total disappearance of the empire, its shards growing from petty and self-proclaimed to true nations, or fading culturally and becoming just governorates of neighboring nations, or a climactic Civil War in which it is reforged in fire and steel and re-enters Stage One.
  • February 23, 2013
    aurora369
    I ask the op's permission to take care of that YKTTW.
  • February 23, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Strauss and Howe's Generational Theory runs along similar lines with its four "turnings" per saeculum (cycle of about 80 years):

    First Turning, called a "High"--lots of infrastructure building (or rebuilding, after previous crisis), consolidation of a new governing consensus, expanding prosperity and maximum optimism. Most recent U.S. analog--1945-1963.

    Second Turning, called an "Awakening"--prosperity from the High at its peak, but new generation seriously (and sometimes violently) questions the governing consensus or point out what it sees as its moral or spiritual shortcomings. Most recent U.S. analog--1963-1984.

    Third Turning, called an "Unravelling"--Breakdown of the previous governing consensus becomes increasingly apparent, neglect of infrastructure and growing dysfunctionality of society begins but can be papered over for awhile (or distracted from with more trivial issues), or society can coast from sheer inertia. Most recent U.S. analog--1984-2000s (arguably either 9/11/2001, or Katrina aftermath in 2005, or the Housing Bubble Burst in 2008, marked the end of the turning--might become clearer with more hindsight).

    Fourth Turning, called a "Crisis"--dysfunctionality becomes too obvious and/or affects too many people to be ignored, old institutions and paradigms held since the last High become exposed as useless to deal with problems that have now come to a head, a mandate ("regeneracy") slowly builds for clear and decisive action--including that "outside the box"--to deal with these problems. What will become the governing consensus of the next High is decided in this era, either by what is seen to work, or what faction wins if an actual internal war is involved (or, both). Last U.S. analog--1929-1945; Currently in this mode now (although still not quite at regeneracy--this doesn't happen right away).

    The three-stage Empire cycle described in this proposed trope would somewhat parallel thusly:

    1st Stage: 4th Turning after regeneracy

    2nd Stage: 1st and 2nd Turnings

    3rd Stage: 3rd Turning into pre-regeneracy 4th Turning

    ...although the cycle of an empire often spans many centuries, not an 80-year, 4-generation period. (Though perhaps fitting a Megasaeculum pattern--a super-saeculum of four saecula that are analogous to the turnings in a broader sense.)

  • February 23, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    .
  • February 23, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    .
  • February 23, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Also there's a sort of old conventional wisdom about wealth and inheritance, not sure if this is embodied in a trope (didn't see it in the Will And Inheritance Tropes index), which also parallels this:

    1st Generation--the person who builds the company or makes the fortune.

    2nd Generation (his heir)--dutiful son (or daughter) who remembers the hard work and possibly even pre-fortune struggles of his father, diligently runs company, jealously guards and protects father's legacy, and expands family fortune.

    3rd Generation heir--knew only the fat times in the family, "playboy" heir who mismanages and may even squander family fortune (unless wiser minders within company management--or the corporate board--can contain his influence over the company and its finances; but at any rate he doesn't contribute or build on the fortune).

    .... Although it may play out over more than three generations.
  • February 23, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    @aurora369

    This YKTTW has been inactive for more than two months, so it's already considered Up For Grabs.

    • In mothy's Daughter Of Evil series, this is what happened to the kingdom of Lucifenia...in two generations. King Arth's phase is the first phase. He focused on expanding Lucifenia's territory. After his death, his wife Queen Anne took over as ruler, beginning phase 2. She paid less attention on conquest and more to the well-being of the country. Then she died and the ruler role fell to her daughter, fourteen year old Spoiled Brat Rilliane...The kingdom fell in about one year.
  • February 23, 2013
    zarpaulus
    You know, this entire cycle is included on the page for Standard Sci Fi History
    1. Formation of Empire
    2. Empire at its Height
    3. Decline and Fall
    4. Interregnum
    5. Renaissance

    • Traveller: The Third Imperium falls as well in the original timeline (GURPS is an alternate), following the assassination of the Imperial family and a civil war where a viral AI is used as a weapon and takes out most advanced technology of both the Imperium and the surrounding empires. Some 70 years later a few planets form the Reformation Coalition.
  • February 23, 2013
    Specialist290
    You might also want to take note of other existing "Empire" tropes (The Empire [of course], Rising Empire, Hegemonic Empire, Vestigial Empire) and incorporate them into your description.
  • February 23, 2013
    jatay3
    Poul Anderson's Technic History.
  • February 23, 2013
    aurora369
    ^^ On that page it's too space-specific.
  • February 24, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ The empire-cycle section is not space-specific and I think more detailed than what you have.

    Examples mined from the page:

    Literature
    • The Co Dominium was an alliance between the United States of America and the Soviet Union that took over earth and colonized most of known space, it collapsed when the founding states finally sterilized earth in a nuclear war. Then the former American colony Sparta decided that humanity must be united under a single rule and conquered the other surviving colonies forming the Empire of Man, some centuries later this Empire falls thanks to a rebellion by the Sauron supermen. After a few more centuries of dark age a Second Empire emerges.
      • In The Mote In Gods Eye the Second Empire contacts an alien race that due to their ridiculous breeding rate experiences the empire cycle frequently, so much so that they've depleted their system's supply of fissionable material. However they're restricted to one system because the only Alderson Point in their system of origin leads into a red supergiant.

    Live Action TV
    • Andromeda takes place in the Interregnum of the Systems Commonwealth, with the titular ship's crew trying to establish a new Commonwealth.

    Tabletop Games
    • Battle Tech is set during an Interregnum following the demise of the Star League. Each of the four Inner Sphere Successor States and the Crusader Clans have ambitions of becoming the next Empire.
    • Fading Suns has gone through two corporatocratic Republics and is slowly emerging from a dark age as a feudal Empire.
    • Warhammer40000: The first human and Eldar empires were torn apart by the birth of Slaanesh, the Eldar because their homeworlds were consumed by the Eye of Terror and the humans because the resulting warp storms made interstellar travel difficult. Humanity was re-united under the God Emperor but the Eldar are still scattered.

    Video Games
    • The X-Universe has gone through The Cycle of Empire twice. In both cases, the Decline and Fall was due to somebody creating artificial general intelligence. The first time around, the Terrans nearly destroyed themselves, only surviving because the commander of their space navy lured the terraformers through the Earth jumpgate, which was destroyed behind them. The survivors of said commander's fleet created a new civilization in the X-Universe, the Argon Federation. In the 2940s, threatened by Earth's superior military, the Argon created AGI warships and unleashed them on the Terrans, sparking an interstellar war that forced the Community of Planets the Argon were a part of to divert the military forces holding the terraformers (now called the Xenon) at bay. The Xenon went out of control, forcing the Old Ones to shut down the jumpgate system. This caused Galactic/Societal Collapse. X Rebirth is set during the Interregnum about a thousand years later.

    Web Original
    • Orions Arm has gone through the empire cycle at least once, after the fall of the First Federation Terragen space was divided into several "sephirotic empires". And it's indicated that the Sephirotics are fragmenting.
  • February 24, 2013
    aurora369
    ^ On that page, only four or five lines are devoted to each stage, instead of a full writeup we have here.
  • February 25, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ Still might want to use the names they have. The only times I've heard the term "The Long Night" was in Andromeda (specifically the first season opening, though not the show itself) and Traveller.
  • February 25, 2013
    Frank75
    I have the impression that the pattern doesn't fit that well for Chinese history: There was an expansion long ago in the past, but afterwards the empire was mostly quite stable, and although there have been phases of decay, there never was a really Long Night - and whenever a new dynasty took over, they relatively soon switched back to stability.

    This trope rather seems inspired by the example of Rome. Not coincidentally.
  • February 25, 2013
    aurora369
    Wasn't the Warlords period and the Civil War a Long Night, Maoism an Expansion, and modern PRC a Stability?
  • February 25, 2013
    aurora369
    ^^^ Yes, Traveller is the sub-Trope Namer here.
  • February 25, 2013
    aurora369
    For my own country, Russia, it fits quite well. First cycle: Rurik to Vladimir the Saint - expansion, Vladimir to Yaroslav the Wise - stability, Yaroslav's sons to Monomakh - decay, Mongol yoke - Long Night. Second cycle: Ivan the Great - expansion, Ivan the Terrible - stability, Boris Godunov - decay, the Time of Troubles - Long Night. Third cycle: Peter the Great - expansion, Catherine the Great and Alexander I the Blessed - stability, Nicholas I to Nicholas II - decay, Provisional Government and the White Guards - Long Night. Fourth cycle: Bolsheviks and Stalin pre-WWII - expansion, Stalin post-WWII and Khruschev - stability, Brezhnev to Gorbachev - decay, the Federal regime - Long Night. However, that last part needs some hindsight; it's possible that perestroika and The New Russia are merely decay, and the real Long Night is yet to happen.
  • February 25, 2013
    jatay3
    Long Night was in the Technic History as well, Zarpulas.

    For Chinese history substitute "dynasty" for empire, Frank. China was always an empire ruled by ethnic Chinese; but the history of individual dynasties was looked on in an almost deterministic manner that was similar to the Cycle of Empires trope.
  • February 25, 2013
    jatay3
    Though if I remember, Mongol Yoke could be a Rising Empire period under another interpretation Aurora. It was then that the Muscovites were consolodating power under the Tartar's radar until they became large enough to take them on head to head. No wonder your national sport is Chess.
  • February 25, 2013
    aurora369
    However, the real expansion was started by Ivan III the Great. The Long Night does not preclude one or more shards and sub-factions of preparing their versions of Expansion; the Expansion proper starts when one of them emerges openly, unambiguously challenges the bleak status quo and starts annexing its neighbors by force.
  • February 25, 2013
    Omeganian
    • Fredric Brown's Letter to a Phoenix, where a 180 000 year old man claims he saw Humanity bomb itself into the stone age six times already.
  • February 25, 2013
    jatay3
    Barryar in Vorkosigan Saga is in phase 2. It is becoming more cultured and less violent and has more or less halted expansion but it still retains memories of old ways. The present Emperor is a Reasonable Authority Figure who was apprenticed by one of Barryars greatest statesmen in history.
  • February 25, 2013
    jatay3
    In Traveller the First(Villani) Imperium arose thousands of years ago at the dawn of Terran civilization and founded an Intersteller Empire so large that it could withstand decay simply through it's size and had been a Vestigial Empire for centuries when the Terrans discovered it.
  • February 25, 2013
    elwoz
    Literature: this is a recurring theme in The Voyage Of The Space Beagle (with a slightly different, five-stage sequence, iirc) and probably appears in other works by AE Van Vogt.
  • February 25, 2013
    aurora369
    ^^^ Oh, and Ezar's last order is also an example of purging hotheads.
  • February 26, 2013
    Frank75
    @aurora: I don't think an example counts if the "long night" only takes a few years. As horrible as the Russian Civil War was, I don't think it compares to several centuries after the end of the Roman Empire.
  • February 26, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • In Ars Magica magicians' covenants are stated to go through this cycle, with the stages being given the names of the seasons.
      • A Spring covenant has just been created. It is low on resources and its mages are weak and low on experience.
      • Summer covenants are firmly established and still growing. Their mages have a reasonable amount of resources and experience.
      • Autumn covenants are at the height of their power. They have ample resources and their mages are experienced and knowledgable. However, over the course of the season the covenant starts to decline.
      • Winter covenants are in decline and on their way to collapse and oblivion. They have lost (or are losing) their resources and their mages are old and weak.

  • February 26, 2013
    aurora369
    ^^ It's because the Western Roman Empire had no successor faction, and the Russian Empire had one. Presence of such a faction can shorten a Long Night significantly, yet it still counts. Plus it's different ages; the XX century had everything happen way much faster than the antiquity.

    Compare to the Mongol Yoke: the successor faction of that time, the Grand Principality of Moscow, had not yet formed when the Mongols invaded, and it only managed to form after a century of political chess with those same Mongols until it became bold enough to defy them. Hence, a really long Long Night. The Bolsheviks, however, were readily available right at the onset of the Long Night of this cycle (whether you count the start of WWI or the February Revolution as one). Hence, short Long Night.

    If we count The New Russia as a Long Night (which requires hindsight to tell precisely if it is the case or not), the picture is more like the Mongol Yoke, with nary a successor faction in sight; that's why it is still there after 20 years from the fall of the Union. Or maybe it was resolved like the Time of Troubles, by trying to restore a likeness of the pre-crisis regime without truly revitalizing it. As I said, this needs hindsight.
  • February 26, 2013
    Frank75
    @jatay: "China was always an empire ruled by ethnic Chinese"? The Mongols and Manchu will disagree.

    @aurora: Still not sure whether this is what the OP meant with "long night". And I wouldn't be surprised if future historians will count Putin's rule as the start of a new empire.
  • February 26, 2013
    ChunkyDaddy
    In The Hunger Games, the Capitol is in Phase three, and the civil war started by the 12th district plunges it into Phase 4.
  • February 26, 2013
    aurora369
    ^^ I was the one who wrote the Long Night in. Op's version was with just three phases.

    Sorry for offtop, but I will be surprised. Because I'm a political scientist who lives in Russia and observes everything, and can tell if a regime is rising or eking the last years of its existence. Okay, okay, got it, closing offtop.
  • February 27, 2013
    Frank75
    ^ You can contact me by PM, it's an interesting topic. Tell me more details.
  • February 27, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Now that there are four parts of the cycle given rather than three, there's a more direct anaolgy to Strauss and Howe's Generation Theory turnings (see long-winded post several posts above):

    Expansion--> 1st Turning (High) (think of Spring)

    Stability--> 2nd Turning (Awakening) (not so stable socially, but definitely stable economically and structurally) (think of Summer)

    Decay--> 3rd Turning (Unravelling) (think of Autumn)

    Long Night--> 4th Turning (Crisis) (think of Winter)
  • February 27, 2013
    aurora369
    The generation theory is about a shorter cycle, which is also less drastic in its effects. In 1929-1945 the U.S. did not abandon democracy, did not face a secession of states, and post-war, after the cycle restarted, it was the same union with the same constitution.
  • February 27, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    ^ True, although that was a time period where we probably came closest to the possibility of that happening (be it success of "the Business Plot" for a coup against FDR, or a fullblown Communist or Fascist revolution). And if Germany's cycle ran roughly similar to ours, we saw the Weimar Republic unravel and Fascism emerge. Russia's cycle being a turning ahead saw the fall of the monarchy and the Bolshevik Revolution in its 4th Turning (and the fall of the USSR in its next 4T). And the U.S.'s previous 4th Turning was, of course, the American Civil War. So sometimes they work themselves out without total upheaval of the system (but major paradigm and institutional shifts--the whole New Deal and rise to Superpowerdom (and the Military-Industrial Complex) was one of those), sometimes they don't--but if total collapse or revolution happens due to internal causes, it will most likely be during a 4T.

    It is a shorter cycle though, but there are interesting parallels to the Empire cycle. It may also be part of a longer cycle relating to total life of an empire (say, four saeculae or so).
  • February 28, 2013
    jatay3
    Do we want to launch it now?
  • February 28, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ Might want to sort the examples by medium first.
  • February 28, 2013
    jatay3
    good idea
  • February 28, 2013
    jatay3
    For organizational ease, works that have not been sorted are marked unsorted. They can then be transferred until sorting is done.
  • February 28, 2013
    PaulJohnson
    I think the formation phase can go two ways.

    One is for the Great Founder to die and his sons or court to break up the Empire with their squabbles. Genghis Kahn's Mongol empire suffered from this, as did the Muslim faith and proto-empire founded by Mohamed. The Empire may or may not survive this.

    The other is for the Great Founder to have left a power structure that survives him and continues to grow. Or of course in the case of the various European empires of the last few centuries the power structure already existed.
  • March 1, 2013
    jatay3
    It's sorted. Is it ready to launch?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=3rklclxo7orct8ntk9hm6g46&trope=TheCycleOfEmpires