…wild and uncivilized

What is a barbarian? Etymologically, it supposedly comes from the Greek word barbaros; bar-bar being the Greek variant of the modern english blah-blah-blah. In essence, then, one might say that barbarian simply means “people who speak funny”. This is why, to the ancient Greeks, anyone who was not a Greek was a barbarian – whether they be Roman, Carthaginian, Indian, Persian or Celt.

In modern pejorative use, the word Barbarian has more often tended to adhere to people considered more uncivilized and nomadic. Modern usage usually follows the Roman-Hellenistic roots of our civilization (ignoring that most of our ancestors were considered barbarians by those same people). In game terms, as Douglas comments, this usually leads to the idea of the more “civilized” states (clearly modeled on the Romans/Greeks) having to “civilize” the unfortunate barbarians; a victory that is always more or less inevitable.

I have a problem with this on several counts.

One is the whole idea of one Civilization being inherently superior to the other. Consider Gallic civilization: tribes were governed by elected magistrates, with the popular assembly (consisting of the free men of the tribe) responsible for most decision-making (at least in theory – in practice, of course, the leading noble men had most of the power). Men of religion (the druids) and arts (bards, artisans) consisted of a separate class, outside of the regular hierarchy. Like the Romans, the Celts had an elaborate system of patron and client relationships, with the lower classes depending on the upper class.

Viewed objectively, one would be hard pressed to claim much of a cultural superiority of Roman-Hellenistic civilization. In any comparison, Celtic arts and crafts would have to be considered highly advanced (consider, for instance, the immaculate Gundestrup cauldron). Celtic warfare – though tribal in nature internally – was not just a mad rush of warriors as Roman and Hellenistic sources would like us to think. Celtic arms and armor was among the finest in the world, and was widely copied; the mail armor adopted by the Romans appears to have been a Celtic invention, and the ubiquitous thureos adopted in all Hellenistic armies during the third century BC was a Celtic shield. Pretty much every charge that can be leveled against Celtic society, can equally be leveled against the cultures we consider “civilized”. Much is made by Roman sources of the existence of human sacrifice by the Celts, but most of our evidence indicates this as being mostly ancient tradition (of about the same dating when Romans and Greeks themselves performed human sacrifice); and it conveniently ignores the Roman’s own use of ritual sacrifice by strangulation (the fate suffered by Vercingetorix ) and the ritual significance of gladiatorial games.

Yet, in modern sensibility, the Celts are barbarians, and the Romans, the civilized. Just once, I’d like to see an “uncivilized” culture reflected in a game, without pandering to our modern cultural belief that just because “our culture” is the “winner”, it was somehow superior. One aspect I really loved about Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was the way in which it made widely different Social Engineering paths viable for different factions. In contrast, pretty much every other game that includes culture as an in-game factor, makes specific alternatives (usually culminating in the free-market, monotheistic, democratic ideal of our times) out as the best.

I don’t intend to make Imperium a “Civilization” game in the traditional sense, so I need not be too occupied with trying to evaluate various social engineering methods against each other. What I would like to reflect in Imperium, is the way many different cultures ruled their countries in a way that does not make out one to be the obvious superior of the other. This is the idea of political systems that I have discussed on the forums somewhat; having several different political models to reflect the various ways in which states are governed and trying to model their essence with as little modern prejudice as possible.

The ancient civilization for our setting definitely provides a great number of fascinating systems; the militaristic Republic of Rome, where martial glory was a great (if not the only) source of personal prestige, the mercantile Republic of Carthage, the direct Democracies of the Greeks, the various forms of Monarchies (balancing the “spear-won” Monarchies of Hellenism with the religion-based monarchies of the East), Despotism, and Oligarchy. And this is without even delving into the various forms of tribal structures that mixed Kingship, elected magistrates, and tribal assemblies.

The limits on my time will make it impossible to implement modules for all of these; as I’ve stated in the past, the game will probably contain the Roman Republic (obviously) and a Monarchy. If I get the opportunity, though, I would be looking to introduce the Carthaginian Republic and a Celtic-style Tribal assembly.

Carthage is obvious; you get the political complexity and dealings similar to Rome, but with a slightly different slant (aimed at making money, rather than engineering military glory, if we follow the stereotypes). There is obvious scope for some excellent gameplay here, similar to the setting of Merchant Prince in Venice or Merchants of Amsterdam.

The Celts, however, could be even more fun. The Chief Magistracy would be elective, based on military reputation and stature, but the structure would include considerable freedom of action for minor nobles (thus resulting in the appearance of instability to more regimented Roman and Hellenistic societies). It would also be interesting to model the low-scale internal feuding and cattle raiding that was such a feature of Celtic society. So, whereas a Roman noble would be working to progress through the Cursus Honorum (Aedile, Praetor, Consul), your Celtic Noble would first work up respect in cattle raiding, perhaps taking a stint abroad as a mercenary, before becoming a respected war leader (and perhaps chief magistrate) of the tribe.

It would also, quite nicely, reflect the “problems” that Celtic society had from a diplomatic perspective. Without a strong tribal leader, the minor nobles would be able to raid with impunity into neighbouring lands, leading to the kind of inconvenient wars that a player would otherwise not permit. It would also open up those states using this government to the historical strategy of supporting one chief against the other.

The intent of this, of course, would be to provide the player with a “feel” for the culture (let’s not argue historical reality). Though obviously, one could also argue that Imperium is simply preaching an alternative creed: that Corruption, Greed and Hypocrisy is a feature of any societal rule – regardless of how civilized it claims to be. Even – as Mahatma Gandhi recognized – of our modern democracies.