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Map of Malazan Empire

Map of Malaz Isle

The Malazan Empire [ma-laah-zen][1] was a prominent human nation originating from Malaz Island but eventually based on the continent of Quon Tali. Among its holdings at the time of Gardens of the Moon were the sub-continent of Falar, substantial portions of the continent of Seven Cities and the coasts of north Genabackis as well as major cities there. Additionally, attempts had been made to subjugate Stratem and Korel.[2] The Malazan Book of the Fallen series largely revolves around the military conflicts of the Malazan Empire.

The flag of the Empire was coloured burgundy and grey.[3] The Malazan Imperial sigil was a taloned hand holding a crystal globe.[4]


The Malazan Empire was founded in 1058 Burn's Sleep.[5] In the years (and possibly decades) leading up to this point, the continent of Quon Tali had become embroiled in a series of power struggles between the feuding city-states, with the Kingdom of Unta establishing itself as a considerable military power on the continent. When Unta annexed the Napan Isles as a prelude for its planned invasion of Kartool Island, many refugees were displaced, some landing on Malaz Island to the southeast. At this time, Malaz Island was ruled by a cold-blooded pirate lord named Mock, whose formidable criminal organization controlled the whole island and had many contacts on the mainland. Mock sold many of the refugee Napans to the Untans, aside from a few who escaped with the help of factions on the island opposed to Mock.

Foremost of these factions were Kellanved and Dancer, a powerful mage and a master assassin from the mainland who had settled on Malaz Island and opened a bar. They recruited among the island's criminal element and employed refugee Napans, offering them the chance to take revenge against Unta and liberate their homeland. Kellanved, Dancer, a boy working for them named Dujek, and Napan refugees Amaron, Hawl and Nok managed to achieve the impossible and gained an unassailable base of operations in the Deadhouse, the Azath House of Malaz City. This group continued to expand their 'family', recruiting the Napan brothers Cartharon and Urko Crust, a Napan barmaid named Surly, a formidable Dal Honese sword fighter named Dassem Ultor, a soldier named Duiker plucked out to become a historian and a refugee high priest of D'rek from Kartool named Tayschrenn. With this family Kellanved overthrew Mock and his criminal organization and established himself as the supreme ruler of Malaz Island. Using the refugee Napans, hungry for vengeance against Unta, as the core of his military and magical forces, Kellanved led Malaz in a war against the mainland, against the odds seizing Unta and expanding across the continent of Quon Tali. The Napans were initially pleased, having used Kellanved to liberate the Napan Isles, but became disillusioned as the Napan Isles swapped the yoke of Unta for the yoke of the swiftly growing Malazan Empire.

Over the next century, the Malazan Empire sprawled across Quon Tali, eventually seizing control of the entire continent. The Empire's trading fleets were soon growing rich from trading with Korel to the south-east, Seven Cities to the north and Genabackis to the north-east. Explorations of the landmass immediately to the west of Quon Tali (south-west of Seven Cities and part of the same landmass) were curtailed by the unrelenting hostile intransigence of the Shal-Morzinn Empire, whose formidable magical might gave even Kellanved pause. Instead the Malazan Empire expanded into Seven Cities, seizing control of the subcontinent in a bloody war. During this time Emperor Kellanved discovered the former First Throne and took seat upon it, gaining control of the clans of the undead T'lan Imass. Despite the vast and formidable power of the undead army, Kellanved used the undead warriors sparingly. During one incident the Imass - apparently acting on the orders of Clawmaster Surly - believing the orders to come from Kellanved - brutally sacked the Holy City of Aren, slaughtering the inhabitants en masse. After this incident, Kellanved apparently did not use the overwhelming military might of the Imass again. By the war's conclusion the subcontinent was subdued, but wore the Malazan yoke uneasily. A massive rebellion erupted some years later, a rebellion during which the Empire's First Sword, Dassem Ultor, was lost at Y'Ghatan.

By 1154 Burn's Sleep the Empire was conducting military incursions into both Genabackis and Korel. By this year Kellanved and Dancer had been missing for several years, having undertaken ambitious and extensive explorations of the Azath Houses in an attempt to map them and the bewildering connections between them. Upon their return late in this year, they were promptly assassinated by Surly, who named herself Laseen and took the royal throne herself. Many of the loyal old guard were demoted or scattered to distant parts of the Empire to reduce their threat to Laseen.

By 1163 Laseen's control seemed secure, but in reality the Empire was badly overstretched, its armies on Korelri facing serious reversals, its army on Genabackis bogged down in a stalemated siege of the Free City of Pale and Seven Cities hungry for vengeance against the 'Mezla'. It is at this point that the Malazan Book of the Fallen series begins.

Malazan Empire as of 1163 BS[]


By 1163 Burn's Sleep, the Malazan Empire extended across four continents: Quon Tali, Seven Cities, Genabackis and Korel, plus numerous surrounding islands. Although born in Malaz City, on Malaz Island off the south-eastern coast of Quon Tali, the Empire's capital was Unta on the mainland's eastern coast.

Quon Tali

Quon Tali[]

The continent of Quon Tali was the smallest of the major landmasses and contained several major cities other than Unta, namely Cawn, Li Heng and Quon City. There were two major wilderness areas of plains, controlled by native horsewarriors. In the west the plains of the Seti and in the north-east the Wickan Plains. The plains of Dal Hon in the south-west were relatively tamed in comparison. The most significant island off the coast of Quon Tali other than Malaz was Kartool due east from Quon Tali and to the north of Malaz Island. Off the north-eastern coast of Quon Tali lay an extensive chain of islands, the Falari Isles, which were the Empire's first major overseas conquest.

Seven Cities detail

Seven Cities[]

A few hundred leagues north and west of the Falari Isles lay the subcontinent of Seven Cities. The landmass it was attached to was vast, also consisting of plains in the west and desert to the south-west. Beyond these wilderness regions were remote nations known to the Malazans only on maps or through brief contacts, namely Perish, Nemil and powerful Shal-Morzinn. Seven Cities itself was a vast, dry land of open plains and dusty wastes known as odhans, filled with hostile tribes. The Malazans controlled Seven Cities by maintaining a strong standing army (the 7th Army, based at Hissar; another army was based at Aren), commanding local militias loyal to Unta (the most notorious being the Red Blades) and holding onto their continental capital - Aren on the south coast - with an unshakable grip. The Malazan Empire also claimed Otataral Island off the north-east coast (where slave camps mined the valuable magic-resisting otataral mineral for the Empire) and numerous islands off Seven Cities' north coast, the strongest of which was Sepik.



Nearly 1,600 leagues east of Seven Cities lay Genabackis. The Malazan Empire controlled a wide swath of the north of the continent, including eight of the ten Free Cities which dominated trade on the continent. However, the Malazan conquest was incomplete. The 2nd Army under High Fist Dujek Onearm - was bogged down in the siege of Pale, whilst the 5th Army was having problems holding the north against repeated attacks by the Crimson Guard, the Mott Irregulars and the other local armies and mercenaries commanded by the Warlord, Caladan Brood, and his formidable ally, Anomander Rake of the Tiste Andii of Moon's Spawn. The Malazan continental capital on Genabackis was Genabaris on the north-western coast.

Lands of Fist


Many hundreds of leagues south-east of Malaz Island lay the continent of Korel. According to legend the continent was shattered in the fall of the Crippled God, leaving two island subcontinents (named Korel in the north and Stratem in the south) filled with lakes and surrounded by thousands of islands. The Malazan Empire's conquest began with the island of Theft off the north coast and then moved onto the mainland. However, the north of Korel was a nightmare to hold with vast stretches of open territory surrounding the Malazan occupation zone. The nations and cities of Korel had united against the Malazans to form the Korelri Compact and in later years have managed to stall the advance of the Malazans under their commander, Greymane. Attempts by the Malazans to rescue the situation subsequently failed. The Korelri also maintained the Stormwall, a defensive fortification along the north coast that defends the continent from attack by the Stormriders, sorcerer-spirits of the Sea of Storms.

The Malazan Empire was aware of the existence of continents lying to the east of Korelri, including Assail (and presumably Jacuruku), but made no further explorations or military adventures in those areas.


"Conquer as a rogue wave, rule in quiet ripples."
―Emperor Kellanved[src]

The Empire was ruled by the Empress Laseen, who ruled through an extensive bureaucracy. The second in command was the Adjunct, who was seen as a direct extension of the Empress herself. Each continent was governed by a High Fist (Pormqual on Seven Cities, Dujek on Genabackis and Greymane on Korelri) who disseminated orders via the Fists. Fists were both military commanders of armies and also governors of cities and strongholds. Where possible the Malazans used local rulers, religions and customs to rule, creating a continuity of control from the pre-Imperial regime which should reduce the risk of natives banding together patriotically to eject the foreigners. In some areas, however, a more direct subjugation by force was necessary.

Alongside this formal structure, the Empire also employed a network of spies and assassin called "Claws", who were used to monitor and control both the subject population and the imperial soldiers and bureaucrats. They had their own chain of command outside the normal Malazan military system, and answered directly only to the Empress herself. The Claws were created by Laseen before she became empress and were her answer to Dancer's Talon's.

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about Return of the Crimson Guard.

Rulers of the Malazan Empire[]

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Click here to reveal section for
Return of the Crimson Guard.


One of the Empire's more valuable coins was the Imperial Sun.[6][7] They also traded in Imperial gold[8] and silver Jakatas.[9]

Gold Imperial Sceptres were a newer coin created during Kellanved's reign.[10]


The common dialect spoken across the Empire was Talian.[11]


Although many religions flourished or were tolerated within the Empire, both Kellanved and Laseen made a point of rejecting any attempt to make a specific god or faith the foundation of the Empire. This was both to avoid religious wars and to ensure that any chosen faith was not spread at the point of a sword. It was hoped the multitude of faiths would balance each other out.[12]


Imperial law granted the right of a trial to those accused of a crime.[13] The rich could not buy their way out of a charge if the crime was serious enough.[14]


Slavery was common in the Empire for debtors, petty criminals, captives of war,[15] and enemies of the state. Slaves were required to be branded to identify their status.[16]

Funerary customs[]

Malazans buried their dead.[17]


Malazan pottery was less elegant than its Seven Cities equivalent. They created squat, black-glazed pots with fragmented images. Common motifs were Dassem Ultor's death outside Y'Ghatan, the Empress on her throne, the First Heroes, and the Quon pantheon.[18]


Main article: Malazan Army

The Malazan imperial military often confronted numerically superior enemies and triumphed over them. The secret of this success lay in its superior organization, training, weapons, and tactics. Unlike almost all of its opponents (except some mercenary companies), the imperial military was a professional force. Despite its relatively small size (considering the size of its empire), it had a formidable and well earned reputation.

The army was organized to the designs of the master tactician Dassem Ultor. The Empire maintained roughly 100,000 men under arms, divided into ten armies. When an army was destroyed or disbanded, a fresh army was created rather than an old number re-used.

The 7th was in Seven Cities. The 14th was assembling in Unta. The 3rd Army was used in the conquest of Seven Cities and may no longer have existed. The 1st Army had been disbanded.

Malazan military formations included skirmishers, scouts, heavy and medium infantry, heavy cavalry, lancers, marines, and sappers. Sappers were equipped with alchemical munitions, which originated from the Empire's enigmatic allies, the Moranth of Genabackis. The Empire's use of munitions, which no other nation possessed, had been of significant help in its ongoing wars. The Empire also used crossbowmen. As well as dedicated missile formations it also trained many regular infantry in the use of crossbows, allowing the infantry to rain fire on the enemy before closing to engage.

Onearm's Host also employed javelins which were thrown into the enemy ranks just before engaging them in melee.[19]

The Malazan method of warfare favoured large-scale field engagements. In guerrilla warfare situations, such as those that existed in Blackdog Forest and Mott Wood in northern Genabackis, or on the plains of Korelri, it was less effective.

It was widely believed that the Malazan Empire had control of at least one clan of the T'lan Imass, 20000 undead warriors who were virtually impossible to kill without magical aid, did not require food or rest, and could turn into dust and in that form travel vast distances quickly, even over seas. The Imass had not been used since the brutal sack of Aren. However, the truth was that Kellanved had kept the location of the First Throne - which controlled the T'lan Imass - totally secret and Laseen did not know where it was located. Thus, for the time being the Malazan Empire did not control the T'lan Imass legions.

The Empire employed powerful Mage cadres in battle, but with High Mages and even less powerful mages at a premium, not every engagement could count on magical support.

System of Conquest[]

The Malazan Empire had a systematic and effective set of rules for bringing new territories under control. The Claw were used to infiltrate a chosen area and assassinate enemy rulers[20] and mages while the military neutralized enemy armies. Victorious Malazan armies, not trained for long-term civic control, organised peaceful transitions to local Malazan-style bureaucracies and then departed. These bureaucracies, along with Claw infiltration and control of the local black markets, manipulated the economy to cement Malazan authority.[21]

Notes and references[]