The Dulama inhabited a collection of minor cities on the eastern outskirts of the world as they knew it. But one city, Dula, managed to gain the upper hand over its neighbors, conquering them in quick succession. Center of a sacrificial religion, their warriors were motivated like no others, and they coupled fanaticism with a reformed, sophisticated military system. With this army, they defeated the much larger forces of the Tollanaugh Empire, and within a decade had created the largest empire that had existed in the world to that point, which stood for centuries before a gradual decline, culminating in its demise in 609 SR.
The Empire of the Dulama reached from the western boundaries of the cradle of civilization all the way to the western ocean, over a thousand miles in length. Most geographers prefer to divide it into four quarters, laying in the four cardinal directions from the capital.
The city of Dula itself lies in an unnamed range of hills and highlands in the center of their empire, along with two other major cities -- Tara and Anraugh. All three are significant, but naturally Dula the most of them all; with over a million people at its height, the city was for the majority of the empire's history indisputably the centerpiece.
East of these highlands was once a trackless jungle, avoided by all civilized men, but the Emperor Teigha II conquered several jungle tribes, establishing several settlements on the River Yensai, and destroying the Ndeos civilization with relative ease. Here they bordered the Uggor and Satar empires.
South of the highlands lay little but ocean, jungle and a meandering chain of mountains running to the west of the Yensai; it was one of the few areas the Dulama never fully tamed.
North lay the Toasha Desert, arguably the second largest in the known world, rimmed to the north by the crags of the Kothai. This area was typically known for its desert or steppe tribes; in time, the Dulama built chains of settlements and outposts deep into the desert to contain their migrations, and establish trade and control over this barren region.
It was to the west of their homeland that most of the Dulama realm lay, and it can most easily be understood in the terms of its two longest rivers.
Flowing southwest from the region of their capital, the River Abrea ran to the great ocean in the south; its banks were home to at least seven major cities, the most notable of which was easily the great trading center and capital of several previous empires, Tiagho.
To its west ran the River Thala, draining the far western branch of the Kothai. Its basin was the third great population center of the empire, with numerous cities (Aeda the most populous), and was the center of the Dulama's immediate predecessor, the Tollanaugh Empire. The rump state of the Tollanaugh lay in the far west for a time, but it soon itself fragmented into many more minor states.
Between these two rivers lies the Taidhe, a long and level plain, fertile and ancient, traditionally a pastureland supporting numerous livestock for the cities around it. As a savanna of sorts, it is home to animals we might call exotic -- zebras, antelope, and elephants -- but unlike their Uggor neighbors to the east, they do not use these beasts for military purposes.
The Dulama originated in the highlands at the northeast corner of the western cradle of civilization. A number of cities were settled here in the fertile valleys, growing immensely off of the great harvests of maize. The largest, Dula, emerged as the center of a sacrificial religion that would later become the state faith of the Dulama Empire. Nearby, Anraugh, Tara, and Nechta maintained independence for most of their early history; while the Amure Empire and Tollanaugh Empire rose in the far west, the Dulama squabbled over their lands.All that came to an end in a series of unifying wars between 180 and 190 SR, roughly contemporaneous with the Satar march against Krato in the east. Led by Cairl the Great, a brilliant military reformer and strategist, the armies of Dula crushed those of the other three cities in quick succession, and united the highlands under their rule.
Even unified, the Dulama were far smaller than their enormous neighbors, the Tollanaugh, who stretched from the sunset ocean to the Airendhe, and nearly to the city of Tiagho as well, though that center clung to independence as a minor city state. Cairl began his wars of conquest here, reducing Tiagho in a now-legendary siege that lasted four days, overthrowing the defenders using a combination of treachery and skillful negotiation, and proceeding down the River Abrea with haste.
Before the Tollanaugh even knew what had really happened, the Dulama had seized the entire river valley, and proceeded to march on the older Empire's capital at Aeda. Naturally, the Tollanaugh were hardly beaten -- they raised enormous armies of hundreds of thousands, though logistically they were limited to fielding only fractions of their total force at any one place. Cairl's army smashed each in turn, routing the poorly led and trained Tollanaugh, reaching Aeda, and besieging that city for nearly a year before it finally fell to an assault.The Tollanaugh remnants were left alive around the River Thuaitl, as a rump state. Cairl had larger concerns.
With the west almost entirely unified under his rule, Cairl declared that one quarter of the earth had been subdued. He then began a new campaign, regrouping in the Dulama highlands, and plunging into the mysterious jungle valley of the east. There, the Dulama encountered almost no resistance initially, conquering the barbarian kingdom of Ndeos with incredible ease. Continuing down the River Kiyaj, they encountered the Algoli Exatai and the Empire of Krato, both of which had only just emerged from the exhausting War of the Crimson Elephant.
Despite the apparent weakness of Krato, Cairl, by now an old man, noticed that his soldiers were falling en masse to tropical diseases. Concerned at his enormously expensive military machine falling apart to an enemy he could not fight, he accepted the fealty of the Algoli, and extracted a promise from the Kratoan Council of Chiefs that the latter would never expand up the Yensai.
Under Cairl's immediate successor, the unimaginatively named Cairl II, the Dulama reached their greatest extent, sending expeditions to north and south to claim the last two "quarters" of the earth. The former founded the city of Anhatl, later named Amhatr by the local tribes, while the latter drove deep into the jungles, reaching what would later be the lands of the Dziltocampal.
In the ensuing two centuries, the Empire would gradually lose many of these gains. The expansion of the Holy Moti Empire around 340 SR erased the westernmost of their domain, while a civil war in the Empire saw the rebellion of a general Laitra, who would go on to found an eponymous state in the jungle. In the north, the incursions of the Hai Vithana eventually took Amhatr, and the northern frontier would extend little further than the highlands and mountains where they had begun.
In fairness, the Dulama focused westward, conquering the last remnants of the Tollanaugh Empire and driving the scions of that dynasty to the tiny peninsular state of Ther. These lands, much richer than those they had lost in the east, ensured the Empire remained unquestionably the greatest in the world to that point.
By 500 SR, however, the empire started to feel the effects of its size. Emperors in Dula had difficulty maintaining a hold on the frontier near the Thuaitl, and nobility, especially in the far west, had something of a free reign. The arrival of the Eastern Plague had not made matters better -- the disease swept through the empire, killing millions before it had run its course. The reigning Emperor Orlaugh Saghir took a number of steps to combat these problems, moving the capital from the ancient city of Dula to a much more centrally located one, Mora. He tightened many bureaucratic loopholes, and attempted to stifle growing aristocratic entitlement.
By 520 SR, however, he had overreached somewhat, relative to his own power base. The old nobility, strongest in the historical capital of Dula, began a rebellion of their own, sweeping the highlands, taking Tiagho, and threatening to split the Empire in two. Only hasty negotiation by Orlaugh's successor would stanch the wound, keeping the Empire intact, but the imperial faction was forced to make numerous concessions, including a host of aristocratic privileges, and a promise not to patronizing the growing faith of Machaianism over that of the traditional Dulama beliefs.
Even though the Empire looked quite secure, territorially and economically, the compromise really only worked as a temporary one. Tensions between the imperial family and the aristocracy continued, not to mention within the imperial family itself. Around 553 SR, the Empire was suddenly invaded from several sides by their smaller neighbors in Naran, the Hai Vithana, and Ther. All this would be compounded with the assassination of the Emperor Cairl XVI, who died without an heir.
Immediately, his brothers Aidren, in Aeda, and Tlara, in Mora, attempted to seize the throne, while a distant cousin, crowning himself Cairl XVII, set up shop in the old city of Dula, appealing to traditionalist elements. Tlara would be the most successful of these, defeating Aidren and eventually counterattacking against Naran and Ther, but the damage to the Empire had been severe. The Hai Vithana had established the Vithanama Empire in the east, which would force Tlara to the peace table, while Cairl would remain crowned in the Kingdom of Dula. In the south, a pirate, Paitlo, would seize the city of Saigh and establish the Paitloma Empire.
The Empire, it seemed, had fallen, but the western rump state would stand for another forty years before its final collapse at the hands of the Trahana in 609 SR.
It has sometimes been said that Dulama culture consists of little aside from the ripping out of human hearts during festivities. This is a somewhat unfair characterization, as these people are the inheritors of a rich line of thought and tradition that has developed completely independently of the eastern cradle.
Dulama food usually centers around their most staple of crops: maize. An astoundingly useful crop, it has been made into quite a few dishes: corn on the cob, corn flour tortillas, fluffy egg bread, and so on. Typically, this is complemented by several strains of beans, protein-filled and good for the soil, often growing in the same field as the corn itself.
Chicken is probably the most popular meat here, often slathered in corn flour, braised and then steamed, and then slathered in a sweet and sour sauce that is the culinary specialty of the Dulama. One favorite is a sort of pastry, called a oire, that consists of a thick tossed corn bread, filled with grilled chicken, vegetables, and this sauce, and baked to perfection; one can find these at any of a thousand street vendors in the major cities. Often the sweet and sour sauce is complemented with black or red pepper.
Recently foreign foods have begun to make their mark on the culture, especially rice from the north, sweet potato from the southwest, and cattle from the east.
Naturally, since the Taidhe is home to a veritable menagerie, there are exotic dishes as well: antelope leg, zebra tongue, and so on, but these are eaten less for their taste and more for their cost.
Most people here drink tea, beer, pulque, or, increasingly, sake.
As with anywhere in the whole world, traditional music is beloved. For these people it mostly means a plucked stringed instrument with a shimmering sound, the agheir, a collection of drums with various timbres and pitches, bells, and a bowed string from the northern steppe called the obaish.
Melodies are usually in the Lydian mode (raised fourth scale degree), often hexatonic in some way or another. No standard harmonic system is used, while most pieces are driven by some kind of steady, pulsating rhythm.
How unfortunate for this civilization that its system of religious thought has been boiled down most frequently to simply "killing people." For the Dulama religion is much more than that; its beliefs extend far beyond the idea of human sacrifice (which, contrary to most foreign supposition, is typically viewed as a "liberation of the soul" rather than anything else) to ideas about the nature of the world, worlds beyond, and worlds congruent to ours but unseen. Numerous gods and spirits inhabit their pantheon, most negative in some way or another; to a large extent the Dulama religion can actually be seen as a struggle against the gods themselves.
Indeed, this is a theme common in western cosmology. Where gods or other supernatural beings make their appearances in other ancestral faiths in the region, they are typically quite evil in one way or another. Noaunnahan and Naranue practices to the far north revere certain spirits, but very few of them can be called fully-fledged gods. Most strains of Dulama philosophy posit that the existence of gods -- if they can be believed at all -- would be a profoundly awful thing for humanity, robbing them of free will, existing primarily to inflict suffering on the human race.
While the traditional center of the Empire primarily adhered to their sacrificial religion, to the far west another, somewhat more "benign" religion holds sway. This is popularly known as Machainism, an almost animist system of belief that attributes numerous powers to the various spirits that inhabit our world, but believes that none of them have any sort of divine power, and that such power rests instead inside the souls of men themselves.
In the east, Iralliam made significant inroads as well, converting most of the inhabitants by the River Yensai, and also starting to gain some steam in the central regions as well. By the time of the fall, large Iralliamite churches had been constructed in Dula and Anraugh, while smaller communities existed as far west as Tiagho.
Religious diversity was typically tolerated, a tradition that continued among each of the successor states.