The Klingon Empire (also sometimes referred to as the Imperial Klingon Empire) is the official government of the Klingon race, founded approximately 1,500 years ago (1,000 years by the Klingon calendar) by Kahless the Unforgettable, who first united the Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS. Since then the Klingon Empire expanded its sphere of influence by conquering numerous systems and incorporating them in the Empire. (See also: List of Klingon planets)
Like its people, the history of the Klingon Empire is violent but colorful. Around the year 900 CE, Qo'noS was ruled by Molor, a tyrannical ruler who was generally unpopular among the people. Kahless emerged as a champion of the people, and slew Molor in single combat using the first bat'leth, the Sword of Kahless. This event continues to be celebrated in the Empire in the Kot'baval Festival. (TNG: "Firstborn") Kahless ruled together with his wife, the Lady Lukara, as Emperor of Qo'noS, despite the fact that he was not of noble birth. (Qo'noS had an established nobility even at this point in its history.)
Kahless was not just a warrior, but also a philosopher of sorts. During his rule, he established a strict warrior code that was adopted into Klingon tradition and culture. His words are frequently invoked by warriors about to enter battle. Among his sayings are, "A leader is judged not by the length of his reign but by the decisions he makes." (DS9: "Tacking Into the Wind")
Over the next thousand years, the Klingon Empire would slowly expand, despite a devastating conquest and sack by the Hur'q, a powerful race from the Gamma Quadrant. The Hur'q did not stay long, however, either because of their nomadic way of life or because of fierce resistance from the Klingons — but they did not leave before taking many valuable cultural treasures, including the revered Sword of Kahless.
First Contact with Earth
In the late 2140s and early 2150s, the Klingons were engaged in a fierce internal struggle that, while not amounting to actual civil war, threatened to become a more intense conflict. Numerous attacks had taken place throughout the empire that were blamed on various Klingon factions; it was not realized at the time that the attacks had actually been launched by the Suliban Cabal, who were taking orders from a mysterious individual who was an operative in the Temporal Cold War.
Although the Klingons had had occasional contact with the Vulcans prior to 2151, they had not met Humans until a courier named Klaang crashed on Earth while pursued by two Suliban soldiers. After dispatching his two pursuers, Klaang was shot by a frightened local farmer named Moore. Although Vulcan ambassador Soval advised that Starfleet authorities withhold medical treatment and allow Klaang to die, Captain Jonathan Archer intervened and insisted on returning Klaang to Qo'noS aboard his ship, the Enterprise (NX-01).
Archer, however, did not understand the complexity or importance of Klingon tradition, and did not realize that returning Klaang to Qo'noS was a grave dishonor and insult. However, Klaang carried with him proof that the attacks were in fact launched by the Suliban, which averted a civil war. For this service, Archer and his ship were allowed to leave peacefully. However, the incident did not leave Klingons kindly disposed towards Humans. (ENT: "Broken Bow")
In early 2153, the Empire again encountered the Enterprise when the Human ship rescued a Rha'daran refugee ship that was attempting to flee Klingon territory. Captain Archer chose to render assistance to the refugees, but failed to realize the ramifications of his actions, particularly the embarrassment he would cause the Klingons. When the Klingons demanded that the refugees be handed over for trial, Archer refused to comply. Captain Duras of the IKS Bortas intercepted the Enterprise and attacked it, unsuccessfully. Archer was later captured and brought to trial on Narendra III, a Klingon colony, for being an "enemy of the state." In an incendiary tribunal, Archer's "interference" with Klingon affairs earned him a life sentence to Rura Penthe. However, Archer managed to quickly escape from the prison, further embarrassing the Klingons. (ENT: "Judgment")
The Klingons launched several further attempts to recapture Archer, including hiring bounty hunters (ENT: "Bounty") and sending Duras himself to track the Enterprise and recapture Archer. However, Duras was unsuccessful in three different attacks against the Enterprise, and he was finally killed when the Enterprise destroyed his ship during the third attack on the edges of the Delphic Expanse. (ENT: "The Expanse")
- As of the time of this writing, the situation with the Klingons and the Enterprise remains unresolved. We will have to wait and see if the show's fourth season provides more information about the Klingons.
- Author's Note: Based on dialogue from the Star Trek movies and The Next Generation, it was originally believed that First Contact between the Federation and the Klingon Empire took place around 2218 (TOS: "Day of the Dove"), and immediately led to the state of cold war that lasted until the events of Star Trek VI. Most notable was a reference to the first contact with the Klingons in TNG: "First Contact", which implied that the events of that "disastrous" meeting directly caused decades of near-warfare. However, all this speculation has been contradicted by events seen on Enterprise.
By the 23rd century, the Empire and the new United Federation of Planets, founded by an alliance between Earth, Vulcan, and Andoria, were engaged in a tense cold war. The Federation was quickly expanding, and its territory began to approach that of the Empire. Disputes over ownership of various star systems arose, particularly over worlds such as Donatu V, Sherman's Planet, the Archanis Sector, and Organia. Although numerous skirmishes were fought between the Federation Starfleet and Klingon forces during this time, both sides refrained from committing to open warfare.
However, in 2267 negotiations between the two sides broke down, and the Federation officially declared war against the Empire. The Klingons launched an immediate offensive, seizing several planets including the strategically important Organia. Unexpectedly, the Klingon-Federation War was brought to a sudden conclusion just days after it had begun when the Organians, a race of massively powerful noncorporeal beings, intervened and forced both sides to end hostilities. The Treaty of Organia was then imposed, establishing a neutral zone separating the two powers and establishing a procedure, to be overseen by the Organians, through which planets along the border could be claimed and settled by both sides. (TOS: "Errand of Mercy", "The Trouble with Tribbles")
A number of skirmishes and hostile encounters occurred over the next decade, including encounters at Capella IV, Tyree's Planet, and Elas in which the Klingons tried to gain strategic advantage and secure mining rights for valuable minerals such as dilithium. (TOS: "Friday's Child", "A Private Little War", "Elaan of Troyius")
In 2268, the Klingons entered into a brief and ill-advised alliance with their long-time blood enemies, the Romulans. This alliance included a technological exchange, in which the Klingons received cloaking technology in trade for D7-class battlecruisers. (TOS: "The Enterprise Incident") The alliance came to a quick and violent end with the Battle of Klach D'Kel Brakt in 2272. (DS9: "Blood Oath")
- The terms of the treaty are partially speculation, but based on the fact that the Klingons were using cloaking devices and ships called birds-of-prey in Star Trek III. The significance of Klach D'Kel Brakt is in part speculation, but based on the timing (a century before the DS9 episode), seems to fit the background as a celebrated battle between the Klingons and the Romulans.
A brief but ultimately unsuccessful thawing in relations occurred in 2268 between the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Empire, with the founding of a jointly-managed colony on Nimbus III. Dubbed the "planet of galactic peace," the colony quickly became an embarrassing failure for all three governments, although regular meetings between representatives did take place at the colony for at least the next 20 years. (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)
Tensions between the Klingons and the Federation again came to a head in the 2280s with the revelation of the secret Project Genesis, a scientific program developing an advanced method of quickly terraforming worlds — but a method which also had great potential for causing destruction. The Klingons sent a bird-of-prey to secretly obtain the secrets of the Genesis Planet, while at the same time negotiating openly with the Federation. The Klingons planned to accuse the Federation of duplicity in developing Genesis as a weapon of awesome power and using the negotiations as a cover. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) However, when the crew of the USS Enterprise, commanded by James T. Kirk, managed to capture the bird-of-prey, the Klingon ambassador proclaimed a vendetta against Kirk, vowing, "there will be no peace as long as Kirk lives!" (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
Détente and peace
Although negotiations had proceeded intermittently since the imposition of the Organian Peace Treaty, no major progress was made in establishing any firm relationship between the two powers. The most notable meeting, however, were the Korvat Negotiations at the Korvat colony in 2289 in which Federation mediator Curzon Dax met with Kang. No lasting agreement was reached at this meeting, but Dax did manage to gain grudging respect from the Klingons and established a lasting rapport. (DS9: "Blood Oath")
The situation abruptly changed with the explosion of the Klingon moon of Praxis in 2293. The disaster caused major problems for the Klingon economy and military, as well as a major ecological crisis on Qo'noS itself. The Chancellor of the Klingon High Council, Gorkon, took the controversial move of proposing a full peace treaty and establishing a process for dismantling the military fortifications and outposts along their mutual border — the military emplacements and warships that the Klingons could no longer afford.
However, peace would not come easily. While en route to a meeting with the Federation president on Earth, Gorkon was assassinated by Starfleet conspirators from the USS Enterprise-A, who were working in cooperation with Klingon counterparts who also opposed any peace treaty between the two enemies. Gorkon's daughter, Azetbur, was appointed as the new chancellor in her father's place, and despite enormous pressure from her advisors to abandon the peace initiative, she chose to press forward and see her father's vision fulfilled. The ensuing Khitomer Conference resulted in the signing of the Khitomer Accords, a treaty which became the foundation for peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
The relationship between the two great powers, however, remained rocky for the next several decades. By the early 2340s, the two powers once again stood on the brink of war. However, a single courageous act by the crew of a Federation starship would finally change relations for the better. The starship USS Enterprise-C responded to a distress signal from the colony on Narendra III, which was under attack by the Romulans. Despite overwhelming odds, the Enterprise-C rushed to the rescue, and the crew's conspicuous heroism in attempting to protect potential enemies left a lasting impression on the Klingons. A few years later, the Treaty of Alliance was signed, finally establishing a firm friendship between the two former enemies — just as the Organians had predicted almost eighty years before. (TNG: "Yesterday's Enterprise", DS9: "The Way of the Warrior")
Despite the establishment of a full peace treaty with the Federation, the Empire would not remain at peace for very long. During the reign of Chancellor K'mpec (the longest-lived chancellor in Klingon history), two rival factions developed in the Klingon High Council. One, led by Gowron, favored continuing the peaceful relationship with the Federation, while the other, led by Duras, advocated setting an independent and aggressive policy that would. Duras was also secretly allied with Romulan interests who were seeking to split the Federation-Klingon alliance. By early 2367, the two factions were on the verge of starting a new civil war. (TNG: "Reunion")
Although Duras was killed by Worf an his relationship with the Romulans exposed, Duras's sisters, Lursa and B'Etor continued the struggle in their brother's place. They presented Toral, the illegitimate son of Duras, to challenge Gowron for leadership of the Council. Because the majority of the Council had been corrupted by the House of Duras, they sided with the Duras sisters and walked out of the Council when Arbiter of Succession Jean-Luc Picard rejected Toral's claim, making official the division of the Empire. (TNG: "Redemption, Part I")
The civil war, when it finally broke out, was as bold and bloody as any other conflict in Klingon history. The warriors of the Empire threw themselves into the fight with typical zeal — for example, Kurn was heard to shout, "Our time for glory is here!" In the first three engagements, the forces allied with the Duras family decisively defeated Gowron's allies. However, it was not generally realized at the time that the Duras forces were secretly receiving material aid from the Romulan Empire. The Romulans hoped that a victorious Duras family would end the Federation-Klingon alliance and create a new Romulan-Klingon alliance to shift the balance of power in the quadrant.
However, interests in Starfleet recognized the probability that the Romulans were interfering in the conflict. Jean-Luc Picard and the USS Enterprise-D led a fleet of starships to the Romulan-Klingon border, establishing a blockade and preventing the Romulans from sending the Duras forces further assistance. When the Romulan connection was finally revealed, support quickly fell away from the Duras family, and Gowron successfully reunited the Empire under his leadership. (TNG: "Redemption, Part II")
See also: Klingon Civil War.
The Federation-Klingon alliance would be sorely tested in the 2370s, after the Federation made first contact with the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant. The leaders of the Dominion, the Founders, had the express goal of conquering all of the powers of the Alpha Quadrant in order to prevent them from threatening the Great Link. (DS9: "The Search, Part II") In late 2371, the Dominion captured Martok, a trusted advisor to Gowron, and replaced him with a shapeshifter impersonator. (DS9: "Apocalypse Rising", "In Purgatory's Shadow")
The Changeling posing as Martok convinced Gowron that the recent civilian uprising in the Cardassian Union had been engineered and supported by the Dominion, and that the uprising heralded an imminent invasion by the Dominion into the Alpha Quadrant. To prevent this invasion from occurring, Gowron launched a massive assault against the Cardassian Empire in early 2372 with the goal of conquering all Cardassian territory to ensure that it could not be taken by the Dominion.
When the Federation Council protested Gowron's actions, Gowron took it as a betrayal of the alliance and withdrew from the Khitomer Accords, ending the Federation-Klingon alliance. Although no declaration of official hostilities was made, a state of near-war developed between the two powers; the Klingons even launched a preemptive attack against the Federation outpost Deep Space 9 in order to capture the remaining free members of the Cardassian Detapa Council. However, DS9 captain Benjamin Sisko pointed out to Gowron that a war between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Cardassians was exactly what the Dominion wanted — a divided Alpha Quadrant that would be ripe for conquest in the future. Faced with this reasoning, Gowron called an end to the invasion and halted the attack against DS9. (DS9: "The Way of the Warrior")
However, peace would not return. The Federation had refused to fight alongside their allies and had actually sided against them in battle, and the Klingons could not forgive or forget this transgression easily. A tense stand-off developed over the next year, with the Klingons attempting to make political inroads against both the Cardassians and the Federation to justify their offensives. (DS9: "Sons of Mogh", "Rules of Engagement")
Finally, in late 2372 and at the Martok Changeling's suggestion, Gowron demanded that the Federation relinquish claims to a number of territories along their mutual border, or face war. When the Federation Council refused the demands, the Empire launched a massive invasion of the Federation. The Second Federation-Klingon War was brutal, but short — only a few weeks after it began, Gowron called an end to the conflict after a Starfleet covert ops team revealed that Martok was actually a shapeshifter, and the entire war had been engineered to divide the two former allies. (DS9: "Apocalypse Rising")
The Dominion War
When the Dominion annexed the Cardassian Union in mid-2373, the Klingons were quickly defeated by the Jem'Hadar and driven from all of their Cardassian conquests. Faced with the prospect of a larger war against a much more powerful enemy, Gowron agreed to re-sign the Khitomer Accords and renew the alliance with the Federation. (DS9: "By Inferno's Light")
The Empire and the Federation would ultimately fight side by side in the ensuing Dominion War that broke out in late 2373; many of the most important engagements of the war were conducted in concert, including the Battle of Deep Space Nine, the attack on Torros III, and the Battle of Bajor. (DS9: "Call to Arms", "The Sacrifice of Angels")
The anti-Dominion alliance gained new, unlikely allies in mid-2374 when the Romulan Empire declared war against the Dominion. Although the Romulans and the Klingons both harbored deep hatred for the other, the two former enemies managed to put aside their differences in order to successfully fight the Dominion. (DS9: "Tears of the Prophets")
However, ultimate victory would eventually come at a very high price. When the Breen Confederacy entered the war in late 2375, the use of the previously-unknown energy dampening weapon effectively nullified the power of Starfleet and the Romulan forces, leaving the Klingons to fight on their own, outnumbered twenty to one. Rather than fight a holding action, however, Gowron ordered that Martok (the real Martok, who had been rescued from a Dominion internment camp in 2373) launch a full-scale offensive against the enemy, claiming that they had the advantage of surprise. (DS9: "When It Rains...")
Ostensibly, Gowron hoped to achieve quick victory against the Dominion and claim all of the glory for the Empire in winning the war without the assistance of the Federation or the Romulans. But Gowron's real plan was much more subversive and political. Gowron feared the growing popularity of Martok, who had commanded the Klingon forces on the front lines and was rapidly gaining heroic status among the soldiers of the Empire. Gowron hoped to reclaim some of that popularity for himself by personally commanding the Klingon war effort from Deep Space 9, and by discrediting Martok in sending him on numerous hopeless missions.
When no other Klingons would protest, Worf challenged Gowron to single combat, claiming that Gowron was a coward for jeopardizing the very existence of the Empire (and indeed the safety of the entire Alpha Quadrant) in order to satisfy his need for political security. Worf killed Gowron in the fight, thus claiming the right to rule the Empire himself. However, Worf declined the position and nominated Martok instead. (DS9: "Tacking into the Wind")
Officially, the Klingon Empire is a feudal monarchy, with power residing in the Emperor, who is traditionally a descendant of Kahless. In reality, however, the power lies with the Klingon High Council, which is led by the Chancellor. The position of emperor was abandoned (but not officially abolished) in the mid-21st century, but was revived in 2369 when a group of clerics created a clone of Kahless, who was accepted as the new Emperor, albeit only as a figurehead. (TNG: "Rightful Heir")
The true power of the Empire is held by the Chancellor and the High Council, which consists of 24 members representing various Great Houses (essentially, the nobility). Women are not permitted to hold seats on the High Council. (TNG: "Redemption, Part I")
Various factions almost constantly challenge the leadership of the Empire, and so over time the Klingons have developed a strict and rigorous Rite of Succession to determine their leader. According to tradition, one may challenge the leader on the grounds of cowardice or dishonorable conduct and fight in single combat. Should the challenger slay the incumbent, he assumes the role as the new leader. (DS9: "Tacking into the Wind")
Because of the Klingon propensity for violence, some shrewd Klingon chancellors have redirected hostilities outward, when they would otherwise cause a civil war. In the 2150s, the Klingon chancellor instructed Duras to recapture Jonathan Archer after the latter escaped imprisonment on Rura Penthe. In this way, the chancellor focused the blame for certain internal problems on an external cause. (ENT: "The Expanse") Likewise, Gowron focused his soldiers' energies on invading first the Cardassian Union and later the Federation in order to avoid internal conflicts at home. (DS9: "The Way of the Warrior", "Apocalypse Rising")
Aside from challenges to the primary leadership of the Empire, there is also frequent feuding between the various Great Houses. Most often, the challenge is made on the floor of the High Council and resolved on the battlefield. However, on occasion, some "dishonorable" House leaders have chosen to make more insidious attacks by undermining the standing of their enemies; D'Ghor underhandedly attacked the House of Kozak in this way in the early 2370s. (DS9: "The House of Quark")