This week is Charr Week on the Guild Wars 2 website!
Reading through today’s offerings from writer Scott McGough, I was struck by the way that aspects of Charr society at the time GW2 begins resemble the beginnings of the Roman Empire. I’d made the connection before, from the disciplined military organisation and the careful use of words like ‘legion’, but some of these new details draw much clearer parallels. Let me lay out what I mean.
I was tipped off this morning by the use of one specific word – imperator. The imperator of the Iron Legion is Smodur the Unfliching, who is portrayed as the first among the Charr, since they are not united to have an actual leader. Primus Inter Pares – first among equals – this may tip some of you off to start with. ‘Imperator’ is a Latin term meaning someone who has imperium: power or command, roughly. It is also the basis of the English word emperor. I assume that among the Charr imperator is the title of the leader of a legion’s “primus warband”, and thus the highest ranking person in the legion. All these Latin terms are no coincidence, but I think ArenaNet’s writers paid more attention to Roman history than just “military imperialist state”.
Once, long ago, the Charr had a single ruler over all four legions: the Khan-Ur. This history is elaborated here for those interested, but in short, the Khan-Ur was assassinated and the legions have never truly united under one leader since. Challengers emerged periodically, claiming lineage from the old king, but none have been successful in taking the position of Khan-Ur, not least because each of the four legions naturally wanted one of theirs on the throne if anyone was going to be. In recent history (GW1) the Flame Legion ruled in the shamans’ regime, but they have been overthrown and repressed. Among the other three, the Iron Legion leads, due perhaps to the nature of the virtues they encourage, but largely because of their focus on industry and technology.
Enter Smodur of the Iron Legion. You’d think he’d read of Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and the transition of the republic of a king-hating people to an autocratic empire. Smodur doesn’t claim the title of Khan-Ur (at least not yet; he is trying to get his hands on the relic that would strengthen his right to that throne). He’s happy to remain a leader amongst the equal legions, and keep himself seperate from the tyranny of the Flame Legion which is still fresh in the minds of Charr. Essentially, he is Augustus – he could act as a king in everything but name, all the while denying he wanted any such thing. Primus Inter Pares. If he made a direct bid for the throne, it is likely that major factions within the other legions would react violently. Better to let the transition happen gradually, do good things for your country and earn your countrymen’s respect, and take up rule once everyone has accepted it, perhaps without realising it.
The Charr don’t have the explicit hatred of kings that the Romans of the republic did. The Flame Legion, however, are a good parallel to the Tarquins, the kings whom the Romans overthrew (in moral outrage, according to their own legends) to establish their independence. As an example, see the audio clip labelled ‘Charr Diplomacy’:
“We are stronger, we should concede nothing.”
“So you agree with the Flame Legion?”
“I’ll cut you for that!”
“I’ll take that as a no.”
The Flame Legion’s control placed one legion above the other, and I suspect some Charr despise it for making a mockery of their people – making them worship false gods, when Pyre Fierceshot’s mantra still holds power: “The Charr have no gods. The Charr need no gods!” They will not easily suffer dominance again. Smodur is taking Augustus’s approach, working his way into power without making arrogant displays, and let us remember, Augustus Caesar is known to history as the first Roman Emperor. He may become Khan-Ur yet, whether the Charr name him thus or not. By following the shape of Roman history, the writers have given Charr politics complexity and depth, with just enough uniquely Charr qualities to keep it interesting.