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The First Empire existed long before the events in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It was contemporaneous with the Kallorian Empire which fell 119,739 years before Burn's Sleep.[1] It was an empire of humans, born from the legacy of the T'lan Imass, from whom it took its name.[2] The Empire was formed on the continent that eventually came to be known as Seven Cities and expanded to other continents. The Holds were first discovered in the Empire, and the Nameless Ones originated from this time as well.

It was a vast and diverse empire, spanning many peoples, cultures, and religions.[3] From its birthplace in northern Seven Cities,[4] it expanded to absorb neighbouring city-states and tribal territories through wars and treaties. Once its expansion was constrained by enemies it could not force to bend the knee, it launched an age of colonisation to distant lands.[3]

"[Its] vast fleets had sailed forth to map the world. The coasts of all six continents had been charted, eight hundred and eleven islands scattered in the vast oceans, ruins and riches discovered, ancient sorceries and fierce, ignorant tribes encountered. Other peoples, not human, all of whom bled easily enough. Barghast, Trell, Tartheno, Fenn, Mare, Jhag, Krinn, Jheck… Colonies had been established on foreign coasts. Wars and conquests, always conquests. Until… all was brought down, all was destroyed. The First Empire collapsed in upon itself. Beasts rose in the midst of its cities, a nightmare burgeoning like plague.

The Emperor who was One was now Seven, and the Seven were scattered, lost in madness. The great cities burned. And people died in the millions.
―Description of the First Empire[src]

It began to crumble under the rule of Dessimbelackis. Wars raged in the west, and a misguided attempt by some of its citizens to control the magic of shapeshifting led to the transformation of nearly an entire city into Soletaken and D'ivers. This alerted a group of T'lan Imass to the source of the sorcery, who then slaughtered as many afflicted citizens as possible.[5] The Soletaken and D'ivers who escaped became known as First Heroes. The threat was also present on the continent of Lether, leading to the creation of the Jheck. The colonists succeeded in driving them away to the northern ice wastes, hoping they would die there.

After the Empire started crumbling, its colonies became isolated. The Empire's colonies on Lether lost contact with their progenitor, leading to a short period of independent city-states, eventually leading to the Kingdom of Lether. Many people believed King Diskanar would, at the end of the Seventh Closure, ascend and assume the title of First Emperor, making the First Empire reborn.[6]

Remnants of the original First Empire people remained as a subjugated people living in the ancient cities of Guran, Halaf, Karashimesh, and Omari. They shared many of the same physical characteristics (blonde hair, heart-shaped faces, blue eyes) found among the people of Lether.[7]


According to the historian Vilara in the book The Dessilan, humans fought the 'Sar Trell' (the Trell), and defeated them with the help of the future Emperor Dessimbelackis, whose arrival turned the tide of battle. The battle was fought south of Yath-Ghatan, known in contemporary times as Y'Ghatan, on the Nineteenth in the Month of Leth-ara in the Year of Arenbal. The immediate aftermath of this victory was the founding of the First Empire.[4]

Osseric stated that Dessimbelackis made a pact with the seven Deragoth, much to the Nameless One's dismay.[8]


The number '7', which originated from the number of the Deragoth,[8] was holy to the First Empire. Examples could be found in the seven avenues of each city, the seven scorpion-sting thrones (which were seventy-seven arm spans high), the Seven Holies, and more.[9]


First Empire cities were built around seven broad colonnaded avenues which curled like scorpion tails as they approached the city's center. Where the avenues converged was an enclosure containing a circle of sand where offerings and tributes were placed by worshippers. Towering over the enclosure and facing inward were the seven massive sorcery infused scorpion-sting thrones. Marble statuary depicting stiff, stylized human figures was commonplace. In one such city, the offerings also included an enormous mechanical device with a marble faced disk, iron gears, and Omtose script designed by Icarium. This was the city that the Jhag had leveled in one of his rages ninety-four thousand years ago.[10]


The First Empire divided its calendar into months of at least nineteen days and named their years. Examples included the "Month of Leth-ara" and the "Year of Arenbal".[11]

First Empire words[]

Languages of Lether and Ehrlitan[citation needed] originated from the language of the First Empire. A scholar familiar with ancient First Empire tomes would be able to recognise some modern Letherii words.[13]


Remnants of First Empire pottery showed a style of red glaze decorated with images of chariots as well as stilted figures wearing ornate headdresses and wielding strange hook-bladed weapons. The massive olive-oil jars still used in Y'Ghatan inherited these same characteristics.[14]

In Deadhouse Gates[]

Mappo and Icarium stumbled across the ancient First Empire city to which the Jhag had donated his timepiece. Mappo quickly realized the shattered and leveled city had been destroyed by Icarium in one of his rages.[15]

Felisin Paran, Heboric, and Kulp took shelter in a cave in Raraku that led to a buried and largely preserved city of the First Empire. The first room they entered contained the remains of a ritual gone awry, the bodies of the participants turned to stone where they fell. Heboric's enhanced sight revealed that the fallen had attempted the Path of the Soletaken.[16]

The rest of the city's torturous streets and alleys were filled with the bodies of humans, Soletaken, and T'lan Imass from some cataclysmic battle. Elsewhere within the city's streets they discovered a temple whose entrance was framed by columns carved to resemble tree trunks. A frieze depicted and Elder version of the Deck of Dragons, which used Holds instead of Houses.[17]

Mappo and Icarium discovered an ancient room below Tesem that seemed to be of First Empire construction. It shared a similar design to the temple found by Felisin and company and contained the gate sought by the shape-shifters following the Path of Hands.[18]

In Memories of Ice[]

As the Soletaken First Hero, Treach, lay dying, he recalled how the First Empire's Soletaken ritual had unravelled, causing many of the more powerful Soletaken to go mad and splinter into the first D'ivers. Their act also tore a Warren to pieces turning the eastlands of Seven Cities into molten rock that defied sorcery when it finally cooled. When the T'lan Imass arrived to correct the error by exterminating the participants, it was the end of the First Empire. Treach and his friends, Ryllandaras and Messremb, were among the few survivors. The last Imass, Kilava Onass, claimed that the shattered warren had eventually been repaired by "others".[19]

Notes and references[]