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Malazan Wiki

Interpretation of Malazan soldier with non-standard uniform items and accoutrements by slaine69

"The so-called Malazan ‘empire’ began as a thalassocracy. That is, rule by sea power. In the undignified scholarly scramble to identify and distil the empire’s early stages this truly defining characteristic is usually overlooked. Yet the Malazan expansion was undeniably one of sea power and this was the key to its early successes."
―Imperial Campaigns (The Korel Occupations), Volume II, Fist, Imrygyn Tallobant[src]
"The Malazan professional soldier is the deadliest weapon I know."

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. It was organized to the designs of the master tactician Dassem Ultor. The Empire maintained roughly 100,000 men at arms, divided into ten armies. When an army was destroyed or disbanded, a fresh army was created rather than an old number re-used.[1]

Under the Malazan system of conquest, victorious armies organised peaceful transitions to local Malazan-style bureaucracies and then departed. Their armies were not trained for long-term civic control.[2]


Land forces[]

Naval forces[]

Rank structure[]

Rank Comparison Table
Army Navy Mages
First Sword of the Empire Imperial High Mage1
High Fist Admiral2
Fist/Commander3 High Mage
Colonel4 Commander Mage Cadre commander5
Captain Captain
Lieutenant Lieutenant? Cadre mage
Master Sergeant
Corporal Squad mage6

1Appeared to report directly to the Emperor or Empress.
2It is unknown if a High Fist outranked an Admiral or not.
3These ranks seemed to be roughly equivalent.
4Possibly a garrison rank only. Appeared once only (see Tras).
5The name of this rank is conjectural, but the rank was real enough.
6Not a true rank. Position conjectural based on observed authority, but had no command power.

  • First Sword of the Empire (Imperial Champion) – supreme commander of all military forces, second only to the Emperor/Empress.
  • High Fist (Continental/sub-continental theatre) – highest ranking officer in a theatre of operations. They were assisted by Adjutants.
  • Admiral (Ocean/sea theatre) – an Admiral would be the naval equivalent of the High Fist.
  • Commander – second-in-command of an Army
  • Sub-commander – ranking military officer reporting to a Commander.
  • Fist (Major-city garrison or army, division or legion) – leader of an Army, Division or Legion.
  • Sub-Fist (Minor-city garrison) – Pell
  • Colonel (Outpost garrison) – leader of a garrison outpost. (Tras)
  • Captain (Company) – leader of a Company or Regiment of soldiers. At sea, the commander of a vessel.
  • High Mage (Mage company) – leader of a mage cadre.
  • Lieutenant – second-in-command of a Company or Regiment, or a group of squads.
  • Master Sergeant – highest ranking non-commissioned officer, usually in charge of training.
  • Sergeant (Squad) – leader of a squad of soldiers.
  • Corporal – second-in-command of a squad of soldiers.


  • Armies
    • 1st
    • 2nd, the Host
    • 3rd
    • 4th
    • 5th
    • 6th
    • 7th, the Chain of Dogs
    • 8th
    • 9th
    • 10th, not mentioned in the books
    • 11th, not mentioned in the books
    • 12th, not mentioned in the books
    • 13th
    • 14th, the Bonehunters

Malazan Military Tactics[]

"Strategy belongs to the commander, but tactics are the first field of battle, and it is fought in the command tent."
―Dassem Ultor[src]
"What makes a Malazan soldier so dangerous? They're allowed to think."

Most of the Malazan Military tactics were formulated by the First Sword of the Empire- Dassem Ultor. The Malazan military rules of engagement were formulated to inflict optimal damage.

The Malazan military easily adapted to whatever conditions it was put into, since their campaigns included warfare against enemies ranging from the Tiste Andii to Desert guerrilla warfare. Overall, the Malazan Military Command structure, barring a few individuals, was highly competent with many talented individual commanders who closely analyzed the enemy and efficiently used counter tactics to negate advantages that they might have. Most commanders also knew the wisdom of utilizing their veterans and would allow them some room to act if they felt it was for the better of the army. This factor was quoted by Temul, in his treatise Malazan Warfare, as a deciding factor in the Malazan success against various opponents.


Malazan infantry sketches by slaine69

While the Malazan empire might have had its origins on the basis of a Thalassocracy (see the quote from the historian at the beginning of the page), the main Malazan military might was based on its infantry. The hierarchy given above determined the Infantry and its ranks. Recruitment was based on consent, not by draft.

Although the tactics used by the military are not detailed explicitly, the military relied on the knowledge that a unit of a solid wall of disciplined men was always much stronger than any individual, no matter how talented. This is the reason why the Malazans were able to conquer and build an empire that spanned several continents. Most of the local military of states such the Seven holy cities, Falari states, Quon Tali and others fought in a tribal style without any focus on military discipline. They depended on the battle lust and fervor that seized the fighters during a battle. They also never fought as a unit, instead every man seeking glory for himself.[4]

"Now he knew better. For the warrior fights as one, while the soldier fights all as one. No single warrior, no matter how skilled, can defeat ten, or fifty."

Armour was a huge part of the Malazan infantry. It also depended on what type of infantry a soldier came in. Chain mail, leather vests, Hauberks etc were the regular armor for the Medium Infantry. The heavy infantry usually wore heavy cuirasses and vambraces. The Marines, on the other hand, were armored lightly since they relied more on mobility and since their primary purpose was deep infiltration. Sappers, on the other hand, focused primarily on demolition of walls during sieges, and some basic construction work along with the Malazan Engineers. (See Sappers).

The Malazan Infantry usually formed a shield wall before an attack, absorbed it and counterattacked with ruthless efficiency. They used Javelins (Pila) which were thrown when the enemy was just a few yards away to a lethal, destructive effect, destroying the enemy ranks' coherence. They also employed soaked wooden shields which would embed weapons thrown by the enemy so that these weapons could not be used by the enemy again. The marines called it "pulling the teeth". These shields were usually discarded after a few minutes of the fight. [5]

Finally, while pursuing the enemy, the Malazans would break up into small units. This enabled them to run down the enemy units much quicker than it would have been possible had they stayed in formation.[6]

The Malazan Marines were a unique unit type created by Kellanved[7] with a completely different purpose in mind. The marines were meant to be a sort of guerrilla force, their primary aims to sow confusion, cut lines of supplies and keep the enemy off balance by forcing them to react rather than take the initiative by operating deep within or behind the enemy territory. The shock factor of the Marines was accentuated by taking into account the fact that the marines contained sappers in every squad who were ideally meant to be supplied with enough Moranth munitions. The marines depended on the shock factor created by the destructive explosive power of the munitions to keep the enemy guessing about their intentions. This strategem freed the rest of the army to hit the enemy from different places and sides, while the enemy was fixated on quelling the marines.[8]

The Malazans made use of horns, drums, and standard-bearers to direct actions across the breadth of the battlefield.[9]

Malazan Cavalry[]

During the period of events described in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Malazan army relied heavily on allies (technically auxiliaries or alae) for much of their cavalry. This was evidenced by the use of the Seti horse warriors, who had almost single-handedly been recruited by Toc the Elder,[10] the Wickans who were brought under the fold by negotiations during Empress Laseen's rule and Mathok's light cavalry which served under Ganoes Paran's host. Despite the availability of such resources, the cavalry was not fully utilized as it might have been (using their mobility and speed) due to the relative scarceness of such resources. When in evidence, the cavalry units were used for charge maneuvers, as seen at the Sekala crossing where the Wickans armoured themselves and turned themselves into heavy cavalry. They had to be used, however, in concert with the Malazan Engineers who had prepared walkways and ramps for the horses to be able to charge in the slippery sand of the desert environment.[11] The Wickans did use their cavalry to decisive effect towards the end of the Battle of the Plains, where their thundering charge broke the Crimson Guard forcing them into a rout.[12]

More usually, the Malazans seemed to use their cavalry for speedy transport, scouting and skirmish purposes.

The Malazans did however know very well how to counter such massed charges, as evidenced by the tactics used by Martal against the Jourilan cavalry.[13] In effect, they knew how to use pikes (elongated spears) and other Phalangite (Phalanx) tactics. These tactics, coupled with the effective use of short bows, and other defensive strategies (such as the use of ditches and moving enforced wagons) were highly successful in repelling cavalry.[14]

The reason for the infrequent use of cavalry might have been the availability of faster means of maneuver and transport. Distances could easily be traveled by Warrens whilst the Malazan command possessed the use of the Moranth Quorls for speedy conveyance of messages. Nevertheless, we can only speculate to their role and tactics in warfare (due to the lack of information about the early Empire campaigns).

Malazan cavalry was organised in units of fifty, a hundred, and three hundred.[15]

Malazan Navy[]

The Malazan Empire started out with the members of what became known as Kellanved's family. The original family included the later Admirals Nok and Amaron, both of whom used to work on a corsair prior to joining Kellanved. They were then joined by, amongst others, Urko and Cartharon Crust who also eventually became Admirals of the Malazan navy.

The expanded family's first conquest was Malaz Island and the establishment of a Navy that could rule the seas and allow freedom of movement to Unta and other places would have been a priority. There was no documented sequence of events from which we can say how the Malazans achieved their superiority, however, they did produce some of the great legendary figures of Naval warfare. These included Urko Crust, Cartharon Crust and Nok.

By 1163 BS, the Malazan Navy was regularly used for transport. The Malazan marines were the primary soldiers for the Navy. They were lightly armoured and very well equipped for short and medium range combat. The ships were well constructed and included equipment that could be used to ram and batter other ships, or allow its soldiers to board other vessels with ease. While not the fastest ships, they were certainly reliable and did move fast enough.

At times, the Malazan Navy worked in concert with other naval groups. The Malaz 14th Army formed an alliance with the Perish Grey Helms which saw them sail alongside their huge ships called Thrones of War. On another occasion, a Moranth Navy element under their Admiral Swirl supported the Navy with custom build, catamaran type, vessels. One of the more unusual craft taken over and used by the Navy was the Silanda.

Magery and Warren magic were widely used during naval warfare. See the section on Warren warfare. Although it was possible to travel by warren to a moving ship, few were able to do so.[16].

Warren warfare[]

"The Warrens of magic dwelt in the beyond. Find the gate and nudge it open a crack. What leaks out is yours to shape. Open yourself to the Warren that comes to you—that finds you. Draw forth its power—as much as your body and soul are capable of containing—but remember, when the body fails, the gate closes"
For more detailed information about Warrens and their uses, please refer to the Warren page.

Warren warfare was one of the biggest facets of Malazan warfare. Undoubtedly, while the navy and the land forces played a big role, without an effective mage cadre, there couldn't have been much that the armies or the navy could have done to counter the enemy's magery. During the early empire's conquests, especially during Kellanved's time, the empire possessed huge resources in the form of mages whose capabilities could rival the best mages of their times. In fact, the likes of Tayschrenn, Hairlock, Calot, A'Karonys, Nightchill, Bellurdan et al, were themselves counted as among the very best.

Many of the Malazan mages had been recruited during the Malazan campaigns in Seven Cities or Genabackis. For example, Tattersail had been a former mage serving Mock. On the other hand, Hairlock was from Seven Cities, and had fought against the Malazan Empire. After Aren fell he was given a choice between death and service to the Empire, and he chose the latter.[17]

The Malazan mages mainly used Warrens for magery and warfare, rather than the archaic Holds that were used by the Letherii. Several of the mages were able to access multiple warrens at a time, unleashing vast amounts of power. Quick Ben, for instance, could access up to seven warrens at one time, while he had access to twelve different warrens. However, there were mages in the Malazan army (Bottle and Beak to name two) who could access and manipulate Hold magic.

Several instances of mage battles show that whilst the different warrens could have different flavors, they could still counter one another. However, the magic from different warrens reacted to different materials differently. For more detailed information, please refer to the Warren page.

While most mages preferred to fight Warren magic head to head, subtler manipulations and tactics were used through out. For instance, creating an illusion to make the enemy throw its attacks elsewhere, and attacking from a different position was a tactic that Quick Ben employed with delicate finesse.

Over the years, the Malazan infantry developed several methods to counter mages to gain a competitive edge. Where possible, agents of the Claw might be sent in to take out any magic opposition as seen for example during the hostilities against Pale and Darujhistan. Another tactic involved identifying enemy mages as soon as possible before or during an attack and taking them out by Moranth munitions or any other means at hand. Digging in was one of the tactic used to evade mage attacks as most magery rolled over the earth and very few types of mage attacks could do them harm in such a position.

Military camps[]

Generally, a Malazan army's command tent was placed at the centre of an encampment. This did not mean the camp had to be in the shape of a square or circle. In one case, an encampment outside a city was in the shape of a half-ring. Armed guards prevented unauthorised persons from approaching too closely to the command tent and mounted messengers stood ready nearby to deliver the commander's instructions. Officer and soldier tents were organised along a large main avenue leading to the command tent with other minor avenues amongst the tents easing travel around the camp. A captain's tent was constructed around a central pole and was large enough to receive visitors. The captain slept on a cot and kept their belongings in a travel chest. Large encampments usually included stockades for prisoners and stables for horses. Pickets surrounded the encampment to monitor and control the approach of outsiders.[18]



Emperor Kellanved and Dassem Ultor designated merit as the sole means of advancement within the ranks.[19]


The standard Malazan salute instituted by Emperor Kellanved was an open hand to the chest, although it could be performed with a closed fist as well.[20][21] Salutes were not performed on the battlefield so as to not identify officers to the enemy.[22]


When circumstances allowed, it was common for Malazan soldiers to wear grey surcoats.[23] Officers' helmets were marked with symbols of rank.[24]

An Outpost detachment uniform consisted of a light-gray leather jerkin with a dark-gray surcoat. A captain's rank was denoted by the surcoat's clasp.[25]

A commander's rank was denoted by a torc on the left arm.[26]


It was known among the Empire's soldiers that clasping the hand of another in peace while wearing the gauntlets of war was the rarest of gestures.[27]


Rivalries between elements of the Malazan military were expected and seen as the military's "lifeblood." The crude taunts and gestures directed at rival armies could startle outside observers.[28]

Discipline and Military Justice[]

"The Malazan Army shall know but one set of rules. One set of rules, and one ruler."
―Emperor Kellanved[src]

All soldiers were subject to a code of discipline as delineated by Imperial Military Law.[29] Subordinate officers were expected to speak their minds even if doing so conflicted with the positions of their superiors. An officer granted his or her commission by a High Fist could not be stripped of rank by a Fist of lower rank without adjudication.[30]

Malazan military law held enemy combatants responsible for acts considered war crimes, and would try and execute those who violated those standards.[31] Torture of prisoners was not countenanced no matter what the crime.[32]

Deserters from the military faced execution.[33]

Wages and benefits[]

Soldiers received wages that were often sent back to their families and pensions after they left service. They also received tax relief.[34]

Death benefits[]

The Malazan Empire paid ten coins a year in benefits to those widowed by the death of a soldier. The same amount was paid to parents whose child died while in service. If multiple members of the same family died in service, then the survivor received ten coins for each family member lost.[35]


Emperor Kellanved sent talented artists with every army on every campaign to record the details for history. Artists were required to record events accurately under pain of death. The artist Ormulogun created over 800 sketches in his ten or eleven years with Onearm's Host.[36]

Notes and references[]

  1. In 1164 the three legion force organized in Unta was planned to support the 7th Army in Seven Cities, but replaced it in fact as the 14th Army, due to destruction of the the 7th Army.
  2. Memories of Ice, Chapter 4
  3. For decades the Malazans had been clever in building their armies. They used horse-tribes to create their cavalry, mountain-dwellers for their scouts and skirmishers, and farmers for their infantry. City folk for sappers and coastal folk for marines and sailors. ―Rafala • Dust of Dreams, Chapter 23
  4. Stonewielder, Chapter 4
  5. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 10
  6. Memories of Ice, Chapter 18
  7. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 13, US HC p.350
  8. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 17
  9. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.920
  10. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 2
  11. Deadhouse Gates
  12. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3 Chapter 1
  13. Please note that Martal was originally a Malazan field officer of high rank, and while it is quite possible that the tactics she used had been authored by herself, it is highly unlikely that a trained officer would test her strategical theories on the field when so much was riding on the battle itself. We therefore infer that she used her training as an officer of the Malazan military to implement above mentioned tactics. It is, furthermore, quite possible that these tactics had been used by the Malazan military earlier during its expansion days, when they had to face cavalry based military forces in environments that suited such mounted warfare (Seven Cities, Genabackis etc)
  14. Stonewielder, Chapter 11
  15. The Bonehunters, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.811
  16. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.94
  17. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.73
  18. The Bonehunters, Chapter 13, US SFBC p.516-518
  19. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 15, US HC p.399
  20. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 5, US HC p.210
  21. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 5, US HC p.427
  22. Memories of Ice, Chapter 13
  23. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 1, US HC p.273
  24. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 5, US HC p.471
  25. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 9, US HC p.232
  26. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 21, US HC p.544
  27. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.754
  28. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.836
  29. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 9, US HC p.232
  30. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 15, US HC p.397
  31. Memories of Ice, Chapter 18, US SFBC p.615-616
  32. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.778
  33. The Bonehunters, Chapter 13, US SFBC p.516
  34. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 13, US HC p.354
  35. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 1, US TPB p.32
  36. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.750/754
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