Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at new and interesting scientific terms—but today, we’re making an exception. Today’s word is actually a historical term, although it may have some relevance for futuristic space-faring societies.
Thanks to the ideal rocket equation, launching yourself into space is difficult and highly expensive (and will likely stay that way barring enormous changes in science and technology). In fact, it’s so difficult and expensive that, once you’re in space, it might make more sense to just stay there.
Landing on alien planets might not be worth doing unless you plan to settle there permanently. Instead, you could wander through space, harvesting all the resources you need from asteroids and comets and perhaps smaller planetoids like the Moon.
That brings us to the world of ancient thalassocracies. Thalassocracies are empires of the sea, as opposed to traditional land empires. The word is Greek for “rule of the seas.”
Well known examples include the Phoenicians, Athenians, and Carthaginians. The British Empire might also be described as a thalassocracy, except the British controlled a lot of land in addition to most of the world’s waterways.
Traditional thalassocracies possessed enormous navies. They rarely bothered waging war on land, preferring instead to exert their military power through piracy, naval blockades, and near unrivaled dominance of maritime trade routes.
I’m guessing that space-faring societies will end up behaving more like ancient thalassocracies than modern nation-states. This might be especially true for space-faring civilizations still early in their development and still struggling with the high costs of takeoffs and landings.
So what do you think? Will futuristic space empires act like thalassocracies, or is there some other historical model that might make more sense?