What sort of empire is the Klingon Empire?

In the Star Trek: TOS, from “Mission of Mercy” on, it was made clear that the Klingon Empire was an empire in the oldest sense, like the Assyrian Empire or the Persian Empire or the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire, conquering and ruling and looting and exploiting non-Klingon races who had no voice in the Empire’s government – much, in fact, like the Terran Empire in the “Mirror, Mirror” universe. And I recall that when Kirk did time in a Klingon penal colony in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, there were a lot of non-Klingon prisoners there. In NG the Klingons got a Proud Warrior Race makeover – which is not incompatible with that, but since it was clearly meant to make them more sympathetic, has the nature of their state also been Heel-Face Turned?

I always assumed the Warrior houses we spent most of our time with on the show were the elites of the Empire and fighting was basically like their version of Golf. The rest of the Klingons and the worlds they conquered did all the busy work of running the Empire.

As far as Governing, I kind of assumed basally the worlds they ruled essentially just had to pay some kind of tribute in resources back to Kronos but for the most part were left alone.

This pertains to the 24th Century version. The 23rd Century version seemed much more brutal.

I kind of imagined something like the Mongols. The Mongols loved fighting and taking over kingdoms, but didn’t like governing. They left conquered peoples alone except for resource and “tribute” and/or absorbed the bureaucrats into their system to help administer the kingdom.

I assumed the Klingon Empire was more an “empire” in the sense of Japan - it originally consisted of numerous ethnic nations that a long time ago were unified under a single ruler (Jimmu Tenno in Japanese history, Kahless the Unforgettable in this case), though with the passage of time the imperial identity has replaced those old identities entirely.

Well, we’re not talking about “ethnic nations” here, we’re talking about different sentient species. If the Romans conquer the Veii, the Veii can become Romans, and eventually forget they were ever anything else; but the Vulcans cannot so easily become Klingons.

I always wondered about that – except in certain rare cases, we never seem to meet any Klingon who does not self-ID as a warrior, and there is never any indication (AFAICR) of the existence of a specialized warrior caste of Klingons analogous to samurai or Spartiates. But even among the Klingon species, they can’t all be warriors, can they?! You can’t run an industrial or even an agrarian economy on that basis.

Right - remember that Worf himself was from a noble family, his brother was on the High Council, etc. They’re samurai, basically. A few noble houses spend their time pretending to live by a strict code of honor while engaging in palace intrigue, meanwhile the rest of the Klingons are busy fixing spaceships and teaching algebra and such. In DS9 there’s even an episode where a Klingon lawyer (!) shows up.

The subjugated/conquered races in the Empire likely have somewhat of a mutually beneficial relationship. They get defense and protection from the imperial forces, in exchange they have to provide resources and probably labor. It’s definitely one-sided, but no empire sticks around very long if they just show up and kill everyone.

When Kahless united the people of Qo’Nos and became the first Klingon Emperor, we weren’t talking about different sentient species; they didn’t achieve space travel until about 500 years later (c. 900 AD for Kahless, c. 1400 AD for Klingon warp drives).

Right, but by the time the Klingons appear in the ST canon they have become conquerors of non-Klingon species.

Actually, that would work perfectly; the empire gets no subject labor to exploit, but it gets land and resources, unencumbered by any pesky rebellious ethnic minorities.

On trial by the Klingon Empire in Star Trek VI, Kirk and McCoy were provided with a defense attorney (Michael Dorn, playing Worf’s grandfather and namesake).

That was suggested as far back as the Klingons’ first appearance in “Errand of Mercy” – Kor puts “Baroner” (Kirk’s cover name) in charge of keeping the local population in order.

In TOS, it was pretty much a given that they’d enslaved every sapient species they could reach. Now that they’re Honorable Proud Warrior Guys, that seems to remain up in the air. And since there don’t seem to be much in the way of canon maps of the empire…

Without a local population to subjugate, their resources would be spread extremely thin, and whatever space-faring civilization shows up next (the Romulans, say) would easily eat their lunch.

I have a book recommendation for the OP (and for everyone else, really): Diplomatic Implausibility by Keith R.A. DeCandido. It tells of a subjugated Klingon Empire world that’s trying to overthrow their oppressors. It’s also the prequel to the excellent Star Trek: I.K.S. Gorkon series of novels that was, in my opinion, cut far too short.

While there have been several good Star Trek novels, they remain, regrettably, noncanon.

Hadn’t thought about the pressure from the Romulans, though. They’d have to subjugate SOMEONE in order to keep up with the neighbors… either that, or colonize like mad. And Klingon farmers likely get no respect.

Which brings to mind the idea of Klingon livestock…

The conquered-and-depopulated world could be colonized on a “settler state” model, like Australia and Canada.

Would the Federation be all that willing to play nice with a bunch who routinely commits genocide and colonizes their planets?

Can Klingons even eat cereals or vegetables anyway? They seem to be strict carnivores – even their booze is “blood wine.” If so, they would have no farmers, only hunters and herders.

I dunno. The ONE time we saw what the Klingons do to subject planets was on Organia, where John Colicos set himself up as Imperial Governor, and it was made pretty clear that from now on, a percentage of Organian assets and production were now Imperial property… and that production had durn well better continue, and even escalate, if the Organians knew what was good for them.

But that was back when all they had was Mongol makeup. Times change.