History of the Korlian Empire
Note: Unless otherwise noted all dates are taken from the reckoning of the Imperial Calendar (IC), which places year 1 at the founding of the Empire
Founding and Early History
Prior to the founding, the area now encompassed by the Empire was divided between the tribal kingdoms of the Korlian peoples: the Vulgs, the Torovians, the Kerls, and the Polards. The Korlians shared a common linguistic and cultural heritage, and so facing military and economic pressure from more unified kingdoms to the west and south, the Kings meet to select one of their number as a leader. They acclaimed the Vulg King, and Belg VI of Vulgheim became Emperor Belg I in 496 by the Lumbrian reckoning.
The goal to unify the Korlians was only partially realized. Almost immediately, Belg faced opposition from the Kings as he attempted to increase the influence of the Imperial Throne over the realm. The Kings constantly ignored or outright repudiated many of his decrees, and in some ways the union seemed destined for failure. As Belg increased his aggression, the Kings retaliated in the Great Subinfeudation of 5 IC, wherein they attempted to "shelter" many of their feudal powers by granting and diffusing them to underlings. The end result was a tremendous decentralization of authority in the Empire, even moreso than in other feudal realms, which has plagued it ever since.
Growth and Prosperity
Upon his death, Berl's son Karl was elected Emperor, thus establishing the tradition of father-to-son succession to the office. This tradition was further cemented when Karl created the seat of "King of he Korli", which was designated for the heir apparent of the reigning emperor, and installed his first son Aeldwulf into it. Since then, of the twelve men to hold the Imperial diadem, eleven hail from the House of Berl.
After his father's death and his confirmation as Emperor, Aeldwulf set about on a policy of modernizing the Empire. As the Imperial House had ceded much of its land holdings to lesser nobles, it's wealth was limited. Instead of looking to rents for income, Aeldful turned his eye towards the growing middle class. He granted town charters, which gave the citizens of certain towns autonomy from the local landholders, leaving them answerable to (and taxable by) no one but the Imperial Crown. While many nobles cried foul at this collusion between the Imperial House and the common merchant class, the most vociferous objections were assuaged by new titles and "gifts" from Aeldwulf's nigh overflowing treasury. Where Berl had tried to cling to political power, Aeldwulf ensured Imperial authority through sheer economic force.
Aeldwulf died in 120 IC, but his successors carried on many of his policies and added many of their own. As the towns grew larger and larger, a seismic shift morphed the Empire's economy from agriculture to textiles. The craftsmen in the towns demanded copious amounts of wool, and the rural nobility were only too happy to oblige them. Common lands and fields were seized by the avaricious nobles and turned over to sheep pastures. This land grab left thousands of peasants destitute and landless. Their appeals to their old feudal rights fell on deaf or ineffective ears, and a massive glut of unskilled laborers descended on the towns. Meanwhile, as the nobles aggrandized their holdings, they kicked off an arms race in bids to dissuade their grasping neighbors from seizing lucrative pasture or rustling their herds. With less land available for crops, bread prices soared, and only Imperial intervention staved off widespread famine and food riots.
The situation was ripe for a revolution, and indeed, there one sees he beginnings of the modern social reform movements, but they would have to wait for their day in the sun.
The Cult War
As a patchwork of relatively autonomous fiefdoms with a rather unclear set of laws on migration, the Empire attracted all sorts of immigrants and adventurers from the surrounded lands, including large numbers of nonhumans. These people brought their traditions, their languages, and their faiths to the Empire.
Since its founding, the official religion of the Empire was the Imperial Cult, a civic religion which revered the Emperor as something not quite a god, but certainly something more than a man. While the law forbade all other faiths, the de facto policy of the Empire was to tolerate other creeds so long as everyone paid their tithes to the Cult. This nominal tolerance persisted until the reign of Emperor Rudismund began in 145. On his election, Rudismund began a campaign of intimidation and forcible expulsion of heretical sects.
As Rudismund's persecutions became harsher and harsher, even members of the Imperial Cult's clergy began to question his wisdom. But with him as the titular head of the Cult, they could do nothing. So when a rogue votary published a tract repudiating Rudismund's many "excesses" in furthering the faith, the heads of the clergy tacitly backed it. Rudismund had the votary put to death, but his example emboldened dozens of others, many from heathen faiths, to bring their own grievances forward. Many targeted their screeds directly at Rudismund, declaring that such a man could not be a divine representative, attacking the foundation of divine right.
It would've amounted to little, but the nobles of the Empire, ever seeking to expand their independence, saw another opportunity in the heathens and heretics springing up. The implicit authority granted by the Imperial Cult could be shaken, and the Emperor's grip over his subjects further weakened. Several princes in the north gave shelter to the dissident clergy and religious leaders and publicly embraced heretical faiths. The Heresiarchy was formed.
War seemed inevitable, but the sudden death of Rudismund left the Empire in a brief limbo. His son Karl II was well known as much more even handed than his father, and there was thoughts that he might broker a peace. In the end, though, Karl's authority was too weak to influence the "Loyalists", who were only rallying with the Imperial Cult because they hoped to carve up the Heretics' lands between them after the war was done. Karl had no choice but to march against the north.
After some initial successes, Emperor Karl's campaign quickly took a turn for the worst. His overzealous commanders, Tzerclas and Koppheim, went rogue. As unable to control his generals the Emperor was, they were likewise unable or unwilling to control their soldiers. Troops on both sides became notorious for their thievery and abuse of the peasantry, and many mercenary "armies" sprang up. While in name they were employed to fight in honorable field combat, in practice they tended to run protection rackets against cities and play the two sides against one another.
After eighteen years of this chaos, all notion of a "war" was lost, and the Empire was a near lawless country populated by roving, leaderless "armies" that were more mobs of armed brigands than collections of soldiers. Koppheim had been killed in battle and Tzerclas murdered by his own men, and without his two most powerful generals Karl's already tenuous control of his army slipped away. It was unclear who was fighting who, and when, and why, but still there were battles though no one truly claimed victories. Armies took to pillaging for food rather than riches as a run of poor and destroyed harvests took their toll. In some of the free cities, people resorted to eating dogs and then cannibalism to stay alive.
With his realm on the verge of disintegration, Karl turned to desperate measures. He bankrupted the Imperial Treasury buying off the mercenary armies--many of them were willing to be paid in enough grain to last them for the march out of the Empire to their home countries. This did nothing to curb the squabbling nobles. For several years there had been a looming threat from the neighboring nations, but mere rumors. Karl convinced the nobles that their neighbors were planning to partition the Empire between them at its weakest by concocting a fictional "Butchers Conference" taking place. In a rare show of solidarity, many nobles, heretical and orthodox alike, pledged to put up their arms, though the heretics price was an Imperial decree of religious toleration. They got their wish in 162, when Karl drafted the Edict of Lorges, which officially codified the previous policy of religious tolerance in the Empire.
The Summer Rising
While most chroniclers point to the Edict of Lorges as the end of the Cult War, when the nobles put their seals to the Edict the Empire was far from peace. Renegade armies still roamed the land. Weakened by starvation, the already depleted populace fell in droves to plagues. With acres of farmland destroyed and many granaries plundered by hungry soldiers, bread prices soared.
Again desperate to stave off further unrest and horrified to witness the suffering of his people, Karl imported a great deal of grain on his personal credit. By all accounts, there was enough to feed the Empire. The trouble was getting it to the hungry mouths. The marauding mercenaries often hijacked the convoys, selling back the bread at exorbitant prices. Avaricious merchant cartels hoarded the foodstuffs and many people sold themselves into indentured servitude to pay back their bread debts.
There was a third group interfering with Karl's humanitarian missions, however. With the Cult War over and the issue of religion ostensibly settled, the movements for social and civil reform stirred again. The revitalized revolutionaries found many sympathetic ears in the populace, especially in the towns and free cities. Some of the more "dedicated" groups saw Karl's efforts to feed his people as a threat to their goals, and so they too seized and destroyed grain shipments, all the while excoriating Karl for his failure to protect his people and feed them.
In spite of Karl's best efforts, and an unprecedented show of support from many nobles, the people went hungry in many places. Early that Summer, rebellions kicked off all across the Empire. They began in rural areas, with commoners rising against their feudal overlords. Many nobles and their families were gruesomely killed, and the peasants targeted the manor houses which held the documents detailing the terms of their servitude. It was not long before the insurrection spread to the cities, but there it took on an entirely different character. Much more organized and ideologically driven, the uprisings in the cities were spearheaded by coalitions of the various reformer groups still active in the Empire. In Bulgstady and several other cities, these groups formed governing bodies and even drafted constitutions.
It was a startling and sudden change, but it did not last long. After initial surge of successes, the revolutionaries began to squabble over their divergent goals and philosophies, weakening them from within. One by one, the rebel cities and districts fell to Imperial forces. Bulgstadt held out the longest, and might have done so for much longer if not for serious tactical errors made by its military leaders. When Imperial forces reclaimed Bulgstadt, the Summer Rising was over. In the end, tens of thousands had perished and no lasting change had been made. However, it was a high watermark for the reformist movements, and today they still hearken back to the Summer Rising and hope to see it repeated once again.