Kings and queens in stone-walled castles. Armies engaging on sweeping fields of battle, and armored knights leading infantrymen to victory.
It’s incredible how many titles in the Fantasy genre the above blurb could be describing, begging the question: What if all that changed?
Whether in books, movies, graphic novels, or video games, the tried-and-true system of kings, castles and armies has become a staple of Fantasy. In previous posts, I’ve examined fictional cultures from an anthropological perspective. Today, I’ll explore how environment affects society, and we’ll see what happens when battlefields, castles, armies, and kings are replaced with oceans, islands, navies and admirals. In other words, when the monarchy becomes the thalassocracy.
Rule of the Sea
In the ancient Greek language, the word thalassocracy means “rule of the sea,” and implies supremacy by naval might. The ancient Mediterranean world was made up of islands, shorelines, trade routes and archipelagos, meaning an army was only as good as the land on which it could fight. Consequently, naval power was of the utmost importance.
Historians once gave the title of thalassocracy to the powerful and highly organized society of Minoan Crete, but use of the word in reference to the Minoans has since become criticized. (The term has occasionally been used interchangeably with the concept of naval supremacy, but the defining quality of a true thalassocracy is its absolute dependence on its navy; without a naval presence, the entire system would collapse.) A better example is the Mycenaean society, who controlled the Peloponnese and its surrounding archipelago from 1600 – 1100 BC and dominated the Aegean Sea. But perhaps the most well-known example of a thalassocracy is that of the Phoenicians, whose trade routes extended across the entirety of the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Lebanon with Egypt. They ruled city-states along the shorelines of Asia Minor, Africa, and even parts of modern-day Spain.
The Mythaean Thalassocracy is a political entity within the fantasy world of the novel The Fallen Odyssey. With a logistical network of sea lanes and vast navies to protect them, the Mythaeans control the subtropical Raedittean Sea, along with any and all trade that passes through it. The word Mythaean refers to the society as a whole, as well as the ethnic/cultural group of its people. In its early days, the thalassocracy was an empire, with the entirety of the archipelago consolidated under centralized rule to repel barbarian invasions from the north.
“Through wind and tide and squall and foe, we shall ever journey on.” – Mythaean motto, from The Fallen Odyssey
In the time of The Fallen Odyssey, the Mythaean Thalassocracy has become a loose confederation of city-states ruled by noble-blooded Counts and Admirals. As with Greek city-states in the ancient world, most Mythaean colonies pay tribute to mother cities but are otherwise left to govern themselves. This makes disputes common, and naval skirmishes between city-states are an ordinary occurrence. Coupled with their proclivity for driving out and sometimes enslaving native island populations, infighting among the Mythaeans has given them a reputation as a cruel, barbaric, and warlike people. It is a reputation they not only embrace but actively cultivate.
Ever journey on.