Why are the Romulans so powerful?

Or to put another way, why are the humans so important in the Star Trek universe when we are clearly so weak compared to other species?

This question was prompted by a couple of things:

  1. Star Trek is coming out on DVD, and Emily and I have it on our Netflix queue.
  2. Emily (my wife, in case you missed that point) has, never until recently, seen the Next Generation.
  3. Something my students brought up in class a few weeks ago (about who would win in a fight: the Federation or the Star Wars Empire)

And yes, I realize that this question is neither timely nor, strictly speaking relevant to Physics, but it’s holiday weekend, and I figured we could all use a nerdly break.

So, a couple of pertinent Star Trek facts:

  1. Humans are but one species in the Federation. According to the Star Trek Wiki, by the 24th century (the “now” for the rest of this discussion), the United Federation of Planets consists of over 150 member worlds (forgive the verb tense), not including colonies. That’s 150 planets, including Earth (which despite only having developed warp technology in the past few hundred years) which inexplicably is the home to Starfleet and the Vulcans.
  2. Vulcans have had warp technology for at least 3,000 years, and broke away from the Romulans only about 2,000 years ago. Moreover, they are stronger, smarter, longer-lived, and more disciplined than we (or the Romulans) are.
  3. Despite all of this, the Federation and the Romulans, Ferenghi, Klingons, and Cardassians (each of whom independently discovered warp technology hundreds, if not thousands of years before we did) each have a comparably-sized single-species empire:

These combined facts do not make sense to me:

  • Why are the humans so special? 3,000 years of a head-start is an awfully long time. It’s roughly like putting King Solomon (wise though he may be) in charge of a modern U.S. government. Why are we so dominant? Why does Q think we’re so important?
  • Why are the Vulcans so weak? Yes, I get that they aren’t conquerors, but presumably they should have a (non-military) territory comparable to that of the Romulans, and would have had to defend themselves more than once historically. And remember, they’re only one of 4 founding members of the Federation (along with us, the Andorians, and the Tellerites). How can the Federation and the Romulans be more or less evenly outmatched?

Help me, internet. You’re my only hope.


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8 Responses to Why are the Romulans so powerful?

  1. Jacob Zettlemoyer says:

    After playing Star Trek Online(it’s amazing!!!), I have determined that the Federation could definitely beat out the Empire in a battle because they have more firepower and better technology. Now, in a ground battle, the Empire would definitely win(lightsabers), but in a space battle, the Federation could defeat the Empire using their advanced weaponry and various forms of ships. Also, the Federation is composed of many factions of different races while the Empire only consists of a not as large amount of forces so the Federation has much more manpower. I am now finished injection my amazing nerditude into the discussion.

  2. JD says:

    This is all speculation based on nothing more than a love of sci-fi myself, but here we go.

    The federations technology would definately give them the upper hand in a battle. Transporters alone would open a range of possibilities. Cloak technology too is well researched, even illegally by the federation. So that is my opinion there.

    Now why is the federation such a big player in the political game of the future? My guess would be that a) humans are annoyingly innovative and quick to incorporate technology, so perhaps even with several millenia in catching up to do, humans shocked the galaxy with their speed. B) humanity isn’t set apart so much by their technology as by their curiosity and ideology…we are explorers and empowerers. Perhaps we were again quicker than most to expand and make friends, thereby making us contenders in the galactic games before anyone knew what happened…something might be said here for our ability to play politics and ally ourselves with key groups. Which brings us to c) our friends and mentors, the Vulcans. Why were they never snuffed out by the Romulans? Perhaps a sense of kinship, like the US and Britain in various terrestrial engagements during the 1800s. Or perhaps the vulcans were content to let the Romulans do their thing, as opposing them was not logical, and the Romulans didn’t perceive Vulcans as a threat, especially with the Klingons on their doorstep. And they lo, the humans show up…a primitive species that the Vulcans show some interest in. So what, no big deal, who cares? There are bigger things to worry about in Romulan eyes than peace-loving vulcans and a rag tag bunch of weak and primitive cultures. Let them have their little club and plan to check in on it in a century or two…

    …but then, before you know it, the federation has a foothold and so our Star Trek saga begins. What do you think? Can you swallow all that? 🙂

  3. easy says:

    Well it’s quite easy.
    1. Humans expanded sa quickly because they used Vulcan technology.
    2. “they are stronger, smarter, longer-lived, and more disciplined than we (or the Romulans) are” – yes, but they do not have such an intuition. They go strictly by the rule, which may be wrong sometimes.
    3. “Why does Q think we’re so important?” – because he knows future. He knows that Q is nothing more, than developed and transcended human-vulcan-klingon-romulan hybrid, and for him time has no meaning (at least not such as for humans).

  4. Nick says:

    Jacob, that comment was pure preening. You have no “amazing nerditude,” if you can’t even understand the question. Besides that, your grammar is atrocious. “Nerds,” are smart. You’re just a “Geek.”

  5. Dan says:

    Hi Dave,

    Considering this article was made back in 2009, in 6 years the most intelligent post has been to compare Vulcan and Romulus with the United States and the United Kingdom. Bravo *slow claps*

    Well, I do not know if you are still monitoring this article but I did want to finally give you an answer worth having.

    Let’s start with Vulcan.
    According to Star Trek: Enterprise, Vulcans are non-expansionist and non-violent (At least not since the Time of Surak). It is also mentioned several times that Vulcans do not like to explore for the sake of exploring.
    Just from these two facts we can clearly determine that Vulcans could not have territory on par with the Romulans who share many aggressive traits with Humans and early Vulcans.

    So to answer your first question, Vulcans are not weak, in fact the opposite is quite true. Until the two were joined by Andorians and Tellarites, Humans were the weakest, but they added to the mix something none of the other three founding members of the Federation could, ambition.

    As to your second question.

    By the time the Federation was founded, Humans still dominated Starfleet and were in fact quite weak. It wasn’t until the Romulan-Earth war that The Federation really began tapping into the strengths and technological superiority of its other member worlds and began pumping more resources into military R&D.
    Now, you may be familiar with the alliance between the Romulans and the Klingons that existed briefly around that time. Klingons were already known to Starfleet who had been in sporadic conflict with the Empire before the Federation was created and Humans were already discovering newer and better ways to combat that threat.
    The easiest answer is that Humans were on a level playing field with the two great powers on the galaxy (see Romulan Star Empire and the Klingon Empire) because they had to be. The Federation, even before its existence was an unacceptable threat to both the Romulans and the Klingons who wanted nothing less than total control of the Galaxy. So, we can see how it was this threat which brought so much conflict to Humanity and forced them to adapt.

    I hope that this has adequately answered all of your questions, and I hope you had as much fun reading my conclusions as I have had in making them.
    Thank you.

  6. franisco says:

    Long story short, I think China was more advanced than most of Europe for thousands of years, but the most they ever did was launch a fleet of eunachs on a fact finding mission across the world, opting to stay within their boarders. Maybe the Vulcan’s thought a similiar tactic to be logical, given whatever situation they found themselves in. The unathorized, but very well researched Star Trek Axanar fanfiction goes into the war with the Klingons, and how the Vulcan’s nearly left the Federation because of Earth’s expansionist vision. That might have been pure speculation, but one of the main people in charge of the production is like a Star Trek historian, like a mega-odama super fan. Anyway, the Vulcans had warp technology for thousands of years–although they might have lost it and re-discovered it throughout there history. There’s evidence that the Vulcans/Romulans have discovered warp more than once–both canonical and non-conincal, such as a race of primitive, pre-warp, proto-Vulcan species from TNG and Sargon’s people from TOS, as well as a series of novels detailing the great Romulan migration at sublight speeds utilizing generational ships that lucked out and found a wormhole that turned out to be unstable, but which put them within striking distance of Romulas and Remas, the worlds on which they would later discover (or re-discover?) warp independently of the Vulancans. I actually came here looking for an answer to a different question, and now I’ve gone on a weird tangent. I effing love Star Trek.

    • franisco says:

      Oh, I can’t correct my grammar. Sorry. But I’d like to make also make one last point, regarding the Klignon’s and the Prime Directive. The Klingon’s seemed to have discovered warp, or gotten access to it, within the 20th century, based on a DS9 time travel epsiode, where Quark travels back to 20th century Earth and half jokingly comes up with an idea of giving the Ferengi warp before the Klingons. You know how the Japanese went from Feudalism to capitalism, and became an Empire within less than a century, and how the Russians tried to go from Feudalism all the way to Socialism, and how their fedualistic mindset made for some awesome sociological growing pangs? Well, maybe the Prime Directive exists because advanced technology is super easy to implement on one level, so space-faring empires or Federations can spring up over night, but the people running those organizations might not be ready for implementing such technologies on an ethical level…So the Vulcan’s might have been looking at Earth like….ARE these people ready? For all we know the Vulcan’s have witness countles Klingon Style Empires come and go, whie the Vulcan’s where playing a deeper game. I thank you.

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