Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead from most iterations of Star Trek. The article also references details from the production of Star Trek: Picard, including the trailers.
In past articles, we’ve looked at some episodes and films from Star Trek’s back catalogue which may or may not be relevant to Star Trek: Picard, which premieres next week. Before the show kicks off I wanted to take a look in a little more detail at a few of the factions that we’re likely to encounter in the new series. This time we’ll look at the Romulans.
The Romulans are, biologically speaking, the same race as the Vulcans. Around what we’d call the 4th Century (1,700 years before today) the Vulcans were a warlike people, and had begun to develop atomic weapons. They were even on the cusp of faster-than-light travel, but their violent ways threatened to destroy them and their planet. A Vulcan named Surak began to teach Vulcans how logic could be used to suppress their emotions, and they soon evolved into the peaceful, contemplative race that we know today.
However, a large group of Vulcans were not swayed by Surak, and after a war they left the planet and ventured out into space. These renegade Vulcans – “those who march beneath the raptor’s wing” – would eventually become the Romulans.
The twin planets of Romulus and Remus, in the Beta Quadrant, were chosen by this group to become their new home. The planet Remus was home to a native sentient race – the Remans – who the Romulans conquered and subjugated.
By the mid-22nd Century (i.e. the era of Star Trek: Enterprise), no one besides the Romulans themselves were aware of the connection between Vulcans and Romulans. The Vulcans knew of the Romulans only by reputation, and first contact between humans and the Romulan Star Empire occurred when the NX-01 Enterprise inadvertently stumbled upon a planet that the Romulans had annexed. There was no visual contact between Enterprise and the Romulans at that time, so their identity remained unknown.
As an interesting aside, it seems by this point that the Romulan language had entirely diverged from Vulcan, such that the two were not mutually intelligible or even recognisable – even to Enterprise’s Vulcan science officer T’Pol.
Also around this time, early attempts by the Romulans to conquer Vulcan – under the guise of “reunification” – were ongoing. Covert Romulan agents were present on Vulcan, and attempted to push the Vulcan government into war with Andoria and Earth – but these attempts were thwarted.
The Earth-Romulan war broke out a few years later (this was apparently one storyline under consideration for the never-produced fifth season of Enterprise) and resulted in the establishment of the Neutral Zone between territory controlled by Earth and Romulan space. The Neutral Zone remained in place after the founding of the United Federation of Planets (the war having taken place prior to this).
The Romulans seem to have entered into a period of isolation following the war, at least from the Federation’s perspective. There was no contact from the Romulan Star Empire for almost a century – until a ship armed with a new type of cloaking device and plasma torpedoes began attacking starbases across the Neutral Zone in Federation space. This ship would be defeated by Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, but not before the Romulans were first seen and their links to the Vulcan people exposed for the first time.
Around this time, the Romulans worked jointly with the Klingons – trading their technology for the Klingons’ successful D7 battle cruiser design. The Romulans built and used these Klingon-designed ships as part of their fleet. The Enterprise, still under Kirk’s command, was twice caught in the Neutral Zone by the Romulans, but neither occasion led to war.
Nimbus III – the “planet of galactic peace” – was established in the mid-23rd Century to be a place where Romulans, Klingons, and the Federation could cooperate peacefully. This planet was later attacked by Sybok, who commandeered the Enterprise-A.
By the latter part of the 23rd Century, the Klingons and Federation were moving closer to peace. The Romulans attempted to disrupt this, assassinating Klingon Chancellor Gorkon and attempting to disrupt the Khitomer Peace Accords. Kirk and his crew stopped the plot, and the peace agreement went ahead.
In 2311, an event known as the Tomed Incident led to a peace treaty with the Federation. Under the terms of the treaty, the Federation agreed not to develop cloaking technology, and the Romulans again withdrew behind the Neutral Zone. They would not re-emerge until several of their border outposts – as well as several Federation outposts – were mysteriously destroyed. According to the producers of The Next Generation, it was supposed to be the Borg who were responsible for this, but this was never confirmed on-screen.
In the mid-24th Century the Romulans and Klingons still engaged in skirmishes. One such battle saw the Enterprise-C destroyed while defending the Klingons. Thanks to time travel, this saw an alternate timeline version of Tasha Yar captured by the Romulans. She later gave birth to the half-human/half-Romulan Sela, who would go on to become a senior commander in the Romulan military.
The crew of the Enterprise-D, under the command of Captain Picard, tussled with the Romulans on a number of occasions. Geordi La Forge rescued an injured Romulan on the planet of Galorndon Core; Jarok, a senior admiral, defected to the Federation to try and prevent war; a Romulan agent escaped after impersonating a Vulcan ambassador; and the Romulans attempted to capture a space-dwelling lifeform.
The Romulans also used experimental technology, including a type of cloaking device that would allow a cloaked ship to pass through solid objects. The Federation, in violation of the treaty mentioned above, also attempted to develop this technology – but both factions were unsuccessful.
Perhaps most significantly in this era, Spock – now an ambassador – travelled undercover (and without permission) to Romulus, to see whether genuine bilateral reunification would be possible with the Vulcans. Unlike Romulus’ attempts to conquer Vulcan, this would have been a peaceful coming together – but Sela hijacked the attempt and tried once again to invade. Spock’s movement, which brought Vulcan teaching to Romulus, had gained somewhat of a following, and Spock retained a connection to the Romulans even years later.
After the discovery of the Bajoran Wormhole, the Romulans and Federation began a collaboration effort. In exchange for the use of a Romulan cloaking device aboard the USS Defiant, the Federation agreed to share data with the Romulans regarding what they found in the Gamma Quadrant – including the Dominion. The Romulan intelligence agency – the Tal Shiar – allied with the Cardassian Obsidian Order to attack the Founders of the Dominion because they deemed them to be a threat – but this turned out to be a Dominion trap and the Tal Shiar lost dozens of ships.
When the Cardassians later allied themselves with the Dominion and war broke out between them and the Federation-Klingon alliance, the Romulans remained neutral. Captain Sisko and former Cardassian spy Garak hatched a plan to bring them into the war using a fake recording of the Dominion planning to invade Romulan territory, and it worked – though Garak had to commit murder to cover their tracks.
In the Dominion War, the Federation, Romulans, and Klingons worked together, and eventually the alliance was successful in defeating the Dominion and liberating Cardassia from their rule. Shortly before the war’s end, shadowy intelligence organisation Section 31 managed to place a Federation collaborator in a powerful and influential position.
Friendly relations didn’t last, however, and shortly after the end of the Dominion War, a new leader rose to power. Shinzon was a clone of Captain Picard, and had a plan to attack Federation worlds using a new form of cloaking device and a powerful radiation-based weapon. Picard was able to stop him, but in the process Data was killed when he sacrificed himself to prevent the weapon being used to attack the crippled Enterprise-E.
A few years later, Picard – now promoted to Admiral – put together a rescue armada to aid the Romulans. A nearby star went supernova, and the supernova threatened not only Romulus and Remus but a number of other systems in their Empire. At least part of the intended rescue fleet was destroyed when a faction called the “rogue synths” attacked the Federation shipyards on Mars.
The supernova could not be stopped in time, and ultimately destroyed Romulus. Ambassador Spock was able to use something called “red matter” to create a black hole and stop the supernova spreading further – but was attacked by a Romulan mining ship commanded by Nero. Both ships were sucked into the black hole, and ultimately travelled into a parallel universe – now known as the “Kelvin timeline”.
Society, Culture, and Technology
From a production point of view, the Romulans have two significant influences. First is the Roman Empire – much of the way Romulan society is organised, as well as the name “Romulan” itself, is derived from ancient Rome. Second is America’s Cold War adversaries, Russia and China. The concept of a Neutral Zone between the Romulans and Federation was based on both the Iron Curtain dividing Eastern and Western Europe and Cold War-era demilitarised zones, such as those in Korea and Germany.
The Romulan Star Empire wasn’t governed by an Emperor – at least, one is never seen on screen. Instead, a deliberating body called the Senate, led by a senior official called a Praetor, ran things in the Empire. A committee of the Senate called the “continuing committee” was seen as especially influential.
Despite these hints at democracy, the Romulan Star Empire was not a free society by any means. Being seen in public saying or doing the wrong thing could lead to imprisonment, and the Tal Shiar operated as a secret police as well as an intelligence agency. Because of the autocratic nature of the Romulan state, as well as the ever-present secret police, many Romulans became paranoid.
The Romulan military was powerful, and their technology kept pace with, and in some ways even surpassed, the other major powers in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants throughout their appearances on Star Trek.
Unlike their Vulcan counterparts, the Romulans never embraced Surak’s teachings, and as a result they held on to their emotions. Compared to Vulcans in Surak’s time, however, the Romulans seem to be more methodical and less quick to violence. They’re a faction who prefer to manipulate from behind the scenes rather than launch into a full-on conflict.
Romulan Ale was one of their more famous exports, but was illegal in the Federation. Not that that seems to have stopped plenty of officers indulging in it!
The Romulans used a different type of warp drive from the Federation and other factions. Their warp cores contained a “singularity” or a mini black hole, capable of powering their vessels. Their weaponry was similar to that of the Klingons, as shipboard and handheld weapons were called disruptors, not phasers.
The Romulans are a difficult faction to nail down when considering Star Trek: Picard, simply because we don’t know the extent of the damage the supernova inflicted upon them. Nor do we know what happened in the aftermath of the supernova regarding their relationship with the Federation.
Logically, it would make sense that the Romulans set up a new capital on one of their colony worlds. As of the 24th Century, it’s implied that they control a vast expanse of space including potentially hundreds of worlds, and we’ve seen them assemble fleets with dozens if not hundreds of ships.
However, it isn’t clear what proportion of their population was on Romulus, nor how many other core Romulan worlds were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, and all of these factors could affect the Romulans and put them in a much weaker position.
To use a real-world example, if the UK lost London, the government would set up a new capital in another city like Birmingham or Manchester. It would be bad, but ultimately survivable. But if several major cities were lost it would be much harder to recover. Without knowing the extent of the damage to other Romulan worlds and their population, as well as significant infrastructure like shipyards and factories, it’s hard to estimate the situation they will be in.
Regardless, I hope the details above give you some information about this faction, given that they’re set to have a significant role in Star Trek: Picard.
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