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In Isaac Asimov's Robot/Empire/Foundation series of novels, the Galactic Empire is an empire consisting of millions of planets settled by humans across the whole Milky Way Galaxy.


Author's creation of the empire

Asimov created the Galactic Empire in the 1940s based upon the Roman Empire, as a proposal to John W. Campbell, after having read Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The concept evolved through short stories and novellas in Astounding Science Fiction magazine over the next 20 years, culminating in the publication of the Foundation stories as a trilogy of books.[1][2]

The Galactic Empire of the Foundation series comprises some 25 million worlds. It comes into existence somewhere around 10,000 CE, and is made possible by the ability for humans to travel through hyperspace. The capital of the empire is the planet Trantor, and the novels in the Foundation trilogy describe its fall, over a period of centuries, and a period of anarchy and decay, in which two foundations are instituted in order to restore the empire back to its former glory, a parallel to the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages. Through the use of psychohistory, a hypothetical science invented by Asimov, a scientist on Imperial Trantor named Hari Seldon predicts the fall of the empire, and institutes the two foundations.[2][3]


A complete list of Galactic emperors and their dynasties does not exist, however a number of names and their rule are known:

Name Dynasty Notes
Franken I Kamble first Galactic Emperor
Loris VI
Aburanis introduced the "Law Codes of Aburanis"
Kandar V transplanted the last inhabitants of Earth to Alpha
Agis VI
Wyan followed by Entun dynasty in c11830
Manowell Entun nicknamed "Bloody Emperor"
Cleon I assassinated by his chief gardener
Interregnum between 12038 and 12058GE, rule by a military junta
Agis XIV
Daluben IV ruled during the time of the Seldon Trial
Stannnell VI died 104FE
Cleon II the last strong Emperor
Dagobert IX possibly the last emperor, resided on Neotrantor following the Great Sack of Trantor

Consensus cosmogony

Asimov's Galactic Empire was the first example of one of the eight stages of a "consensus cosmogony", identified by Donald A. Wollheim in the 1950s, which science fiction writers needed only hint at in their stories for experienced SF readers to slot into their perception of future history and envisage the background to the tale without the writers having to expend time and space explicitly laying it out. These stages are:[4]

  1. The initial exploration, colonization, and exploitation of the solar system, including plots modelled on the American War of Independence
  2. The first flights to the stars, with plots similar to those of the preceding stage
  3. The rise of a Galactic Empire, and contact with empires of alien species
  4. The Galactic Empire at its height, with exploration occurring at its Rim
  5. The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire, as explored by Asimov
  6. The Dark Ages, an interregnum with worlds reverting to barbarism, as also partially explored by Asimov
  7. The Renaissance, where a new Galactic Civilization arises, including the restoration of civilization to and communication with worlds that were isolated during the Fall
  8. The Challenge To God, an effort to solve the last secrets of the universe, the end of time, and the beginnings of new universes

Other authors and Asimov's universe

Bondanella (listed in Further reading) analyses Asimov's Galactic Empire as an example of the influence of the myth and history of the Roman Empire upon modern fiction. Asimov himself wrote two non-fiction books on the subject of the Roman Empire, aimed at the mass market and young readerships, The Roman Republic in 1966 and The Roman Empire in 1967. After the cinematic release of the first Star Wars trilogy, another parallel to the Roman Empire that presents the negative view of the empire that is widely prevalent in 20th and 21st century popular culture, Asimov revisited his Galactic Empire and wrote further novels in the Foundation series. Other writers to have been influenced by the Roman Empire include, of course, those who have written novels set in Asimov's universe of the Galactic Empire, such as David Brin's Foundation's Triumph, and Robert Silverberg, who wrote of an alternative universe in which the Roman Empire never fell, and who edited Far Horizons (listed in Further reading) which contains several examples of Asimov's influence upon science fiction. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's Dune: House Atriedes (1999) is, similarly, a Greek parallel to ancient Rome.[5]

Other works to have been influenced by Asimov's Empire include Donald Kingsbury's Psychohistorical Crisis, whose galactic empire, and the scholar-empire that succeeds it, are clearly based upon Asimov's Galactic Empire and the Foundations, albeit that Kingsbury was not granted permission to set his work directly in Asimov's universe. Seed calls this work "perhaps the most remarkable homage that any SF writer has received from another SF writer".[6]

Asimov's Galactic Empire, its decline, fall, and rebirth, in particular, is characterized by Perelman as a simple repetition of the history of Western Civilization from the fall of the Roman Empire to the 20th century, borrowing freely from Toynbee, and a validation of postwar American culture of the 1940s and 1950s, with the Second Galactic Empire being "definitely suburban".[7]

Other writers to explore the cycles of civilisations in their works include James Blish, who studied the works of Oswald Spengler and whose novels Cities in Flight, They Shall Have Stars, A Life for the Stars, Earthman Come Home, and The Triumph of Time portray the rise and fall of the galaxy as an inevitable cycle, of which (unlike in other dystopian SF stories of the 1940s and 1950s) the use of machine technology is merely a symptom not the actual cause, and culminate, as in Wollheim's eighth stage, with the end of the universe and the birth of a new one.[2][8]

Colin Manlove characterizes Asimov's description of the Galactic Empire, its people, its culture, its history, and its planets, laid out in the Foundation novels as an aesthetic monotony: "persons are usually seen as typical rather than special, even as clichés … the mutant Mule […] is not given a personality, he is merely a powerful anomaly … Nor do we hear much of landscapes, apart from Trantor and one sea-scape … we do not know how one planet differs from another, as, say, Ursula K. Le Guin differentiates the desert Anarres from the lush twin Urras … Nor are we given details of battles, lingering accounts of love, different customs of civilisations. There are no animals, only man. … Thought-processes and conversations largely fill the trilogy, and nearly all these are confined to finding things out and with gaining power."[9][10]


  1. ^ Neil Goble (1972). Asimov Analyzed. Mirage. pp. 32–34.  
  2. ^ a b c Gary Raham (2004). Teaching Science Fact With Science Fiction. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 27,96–97. ISBN 1563089394.  
  3. ^ Nikos Prantzos (2000). Our Cosmic Future: Humanity's Fate in the Universe. Cambridge University Press. pp. 151. ISBN 052177098X.  
  4. ^ Edward James (1999). "Per ardua ad astra: Authorial Choice and the Narrative of Interstellar Travel". in Jaś Elsner and Joan-Pau Rubiés. Voyages and Visions: Towards a Cultural History of Travel. Reaktion Books. ISBN 1861890206.  
  5. ^ Martin M. Winkler (2001). Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema. Oxford University Press. pp. 273. ISBN 0195130030.  
  6. ^ David Seed (2005). "Isaac Asimov". A Companion to Science Fiction. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 371. ISBN 1405112182.  
  7. ^ Les Perelman (1990). "Science Fiction Novels and Film". in Susan Gushee O'Malley, Robert C. Rosen, Leonard Vogt. Politics of Education: Essays from Radical Teacher. SUNY Press. pp. 172. ISBN 0791403556.  
  8. ^ Milton T. Wolf (1997). Shaw and Science Fiction. Penn State Press. pp. 83. ISBN 0271016817.  
  9. ^ Colin Nicholas Manlove (1986). Science Fiction: Ten Explorations. Kent State University. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0873383265.  
  10. ^ Adam Charles Roberts (2000). Science Fiction. Routledge. pp. 77. ISBN 0415192048.  

Further reading

  • Peter Bondanella (October 1987). The Eternal City: Roman Images in the Modern World. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807817407.  
  • Robert Silverberg, ed (1999). Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction. New York: Avon Eos. ISBN 0060817127.  
  • Damon Knight (1956). "Asimov and Empire". In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction. Advent Publishers.  
  • Donald A. Wollheim (1971). "The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire". The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today. Harper & Row.  
  • Oliver Morton (1999-05-17). "In Pursuit of Infinity". The New Yorker: pp. 84–89.  


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