One of the things that seems, to me, a bit weird about a lot of conversations about The Elder Scrolls is the necessity of an empire on the continent. Although the continent as a whole was only unified for a short time, there has pretty much always been an Empire in Cyrodiil, which is the heart of the Empire, and the heart of Tamriel. But before we get into that, I think we need to talk a little bit more about what Tamriel is.
The Nature of Tamriel
Tamriel means “Dawn’s Beauty” according to the book Mysterious Akavir, alongside the withdrawn name of “Starry Heart”, which MK and some fans have continued to use since the initial reveal of the Mysterious Akavir text before the release of Morrowind. The book suggests that Tamriel is the centre of creation, that drives all things. In particular, we have this passage:
The Nords left Atmora for Tamriel. Before them, the Elves had abandoned Aldmeris for Tamriel. The Redguards destroyed Yokuda so they could make their journey. All Men and Mer know Tamriel is the nexus of creation, where the Last War will happen, where the Gods unmade Lorkhan and left their Adamantine Tower of secrets. Who knows what the Akaviri think of Tamriel, but ask yourself: why have they tried to invade it three times or more?
We also have this rather more zoomed out perspective from the Third Edition of the Pocket Guide to the Empire, which has something closer to an answer to our overall question:
As Cyrodiil is the center point of Tamriel, taking the best of what surrounds her, so Mundus is the center of the spiritual world, blending the darkness of Oblivion with the searing light of Aetherius. It is sometime called the Arena here, for forces are eternally at struggle. Wealth and subjugation, love and loss, life and death and undeath, inviolate laws of nature, and conversely, magickal means of breaking those laws. There are some who even speak of good and evil, but these concepts are subjective and not spiritual. Still, they suggest one more of the many struggles in the Arena of Mundus.
The Importance of Cyrodiil
Both the above texts suggest that conflict is an important aspect of what Tamriel is, and the quote from the Pocket Guide implies that Cyrodiil is the summation of Tamriel, a blending of all the aspects of Tamriel into one thing. This is something it shares with Rome in this world, from which Cyrodiil takes a lot of inspiration.
Rome was called “the Eternal City” from the first century BC, when the poet Tibullus used it in his poetry. This more or less put into words something that the Romans had felt for a long time; that their city was an expression of their empire, and if Rome fell, the empire would go with it. This is largely based on historic memory, at least if you follow Mike Duncan’s logic in his excellent History of Rome podcast; the cultural memory of the Gallic Sack of Rome in 390 BC influenced a lot of the policy of the Republic, and later the Empire.
In a similar way, Cyrodiil is seen as an expression of something that is central to the governance of Tamriel, even when there is no Empire. The book Folly of the Northmen, written during the Interregnum of the Second Era, expresses this most clearly, I think:
The Pact cannot be allowed to conquer Cyrodiil and the Imperial City: at a time when all Nirn is threatened by Daedric corruption, trading one cabal of Daedra-worshipers for another is just a different road to destruction.
Even when Tamriel has fractured into three power blocs, this text acknowledges that the seat of power over the whole continent is Cyrodiil. This isn’t typically how power works when unifying nations; typically it will go to the capital of the faction that “wins” the negotiations, or war or whatever. This isn’t something that this text even considers. Rule from Ebonheart or Windhelm isn’t the problem; it’s that they could take the Imperial City. Which is weird from a geopolitical standpoint, unless Cyrodiil has some sort of power over Tamriel that other places don’t. There’s clearly something else going on with what Cyrodiil is, rather than simply being the seat of power for the only conquerors of Tamriel.
The role of the Dragonborn Emperors
The most obvious answer to this is the notion of the Dragonborn Emperors; Alessia created a royal line that was tied to the pact with Akatosh to keep the Daedra out of Nirn. With the line of the Dragonborn Emperors needed to keep the Daedra at bay, and associated with the Dragonfires in Cyrodiil. That was the reason for Varen wanting to become dragonborn in ESO, so as to secure a right to the Ruby Throne. Although that doesn’t really seem to factor into the mind of the various faction leaders rationale in the Three Banners War. It’s not the nature of the throne that is the issue, but the focus on Cyrodiil as the province that rules the Empire. Keeping the Daedra out by installing someone who can light the Dragonfires is something that is necessary for the safety of almost all post-Ayleid people on Tamriel, and so while the Dragonfires are needed, it makes sense that Cyrodiil would run things to a degree.
However, there is part of me that would expect a ceremonial dragon-blooded to light the fires, in the same way that the Emperor of Japan was an almost entirely ceremonial role for much of the country’s history. With the fall of the Dragonborn Emperors at the end of the Third Era, that ceremonial role has diminished. There’s also part of me that expects that Cyrodiil won’t be necessary for the future of the Third Empire as a result, although the ruling class still in Cyrodiil would suggest otherwise. The Elder Council is there, for one thing, which has persisted through multiple interregnums. One way or another, Cyrodiil as always been at the centre of power on the continent to date.
Cyrodiil as a Microcosm of the Aurbis
The province seems to be pre-programmed into the centre of everything, right down to the structure of the territory itself. The Imperial City is eight islands in the middle of Lake Rumare, in the same way that the Wheel model of the Aurbis suggests there are Eight Gift-Limbs of those Et’ada that gave themselves up for the creation of Mundus. Cyrodiil mirrors the structure of creation, and that’s one of the reasons that the Ayleids settled there. This is partly why the White-Gold Tower has the power it does over creation; that of sympathy, because it’s an eight-and-one Tower, situated in the middle of eight islands that mirror the same structure. The same way that the Imperial City itself is eight islands but one city.
The first known inhabitants of Cyrodiil, the Ayleids, seem to have been clued into these patterns, as they were doing several things to manipulate both the structure of Cyrodiil and the Aurbis, most notably the White-Gold Tower as a model to use to manipulate the Aurbis, but also the Staff of Towers. Anumaril created that with the foreknowledge of what was to come, as it was made up of the material of each of the Towers, including those that weren’t built at that point. Cyrodiil imitates the whole Aurbis, and encourages more imitations to be made.
I’ve had it suggested to me that the people also represent various things. Most notably the enantiomorph, the repeating pattern of the Rebel defeating the King and becoming the new one. If you want to know more about the enantiomorph, check out my previous cast on it. This cycle has often been reflected in the people itself; the Aedric Ayleids allying with Alessia’s rebellion, the Colovians performing the function of what feels like a ‘back-up Imperial line’ and taking control of the province ever and anon, if you listen to the First Edition of the Pocket Guide. These actions are an expression of the duality above the Eight that the land represents. The people inhabiting Cyrodiil represent the IS-IS NOT, and the repeating duality of the Enantiomorph. Or, if we want to take a different tack on it, the Sermons’ Number of the Master, 11, one and one. Being able to hold both in balance, which Cyrodiil has done repeatedly, is the note of a Master. The coexistence of two cultures is another way of expressing the Mastery required to rule Tamriel, maybe? I notice that the Khajiit, who also have something of an observer role on Nirn, were a gradual process of winnowing down towards unity, with two ultimately becoming one.
Cyrodiil’s history represents this to a degree, at least if we listen to an argument made by /u/TheInducer, and if we follow the text The Adabal-a. This was supposedly one of the texts closest to Alessia’s time, so I’m inclined to follow it in this case, as the idiom is likely to match how it was talked about then. The text has the phrase that “Cyrod is still ours” and Alessia being given the title “Queen-ut-Cyrod”, which feels like “Queen in Cyrod”. Coupled to that, in various places, we have the “iil” or at least the double-i representing a people, rather than a place. Think Khajiit and Lilmothiit. We also have the ESO: Morrowind theme tune that renders “Resdayniil” as “Resdayn folk”. Just to qualify, this is said to be Ald Chimeris, the language of the Chimer, rather than something explicitly tied to the Ayleids, but it apparently shares roots with Ayleidoon. That being the case, I think we can assume that “iil” means “people” in the Aylied tongue and its probable descendent, Cyrodilic.
This puts an interesting inflection on Reman’s famous words, “I AM CYRODIIL COME” from the Remanada. If it’s the people that he’s referring to, he’s claiming to be a representation of the Cyrodilic people, of Man, as well as possibly the land, if we take the circumstances of his birth into account. TheInducer claims that it’s at this point of assertion of Cyrodilic identity that it really becomes its own thing, its own culture. I think there’s a case to be made for that, partly because Reman was known as Reman Cyrodiil, and the First Empire had a ton of different influences in there, like the Ayleids that still held lands in the province until the Alessian Doctrines started to bite. This is the point when Cyrodiil became Cyrodiil, rather than Cyrod. As the Ayleids were disunited, it would make sense that they wouldn’t think about Cyrodiil in the sense of being a unified people, but Reman clearly had designs on that. Except it never really happened, because the Colvians and Nibenese remain relatively distinct peoples.
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