Traveller ATU: Early Colonization: Historical Notes

Early Colonization: Historical Notes

Thinking about the historical reasons for colonies and how this might apply to Traveller.

– side effect of imperialism
– resource colony
– strategic significance
– over population
– religious / ideological exodus
– frontier personality
– genetic security



Up to at least the middle ages border conflict between two neighboring groups was the norm. Neighboring tribes, realms, city-states etc would fight regular wars with their neighbors just because.

If two factions have regular border wars and they wins and lose equally then things remain the same.

If a faction has border wars and wins more often than not then eventually it turns into an empire without trying.

I’d say most ancient empires were like that – a natural consequence of aggression and territorialty with some tribes / nations developing an advantage for a certain time and that advantage leading to winning a lot.

Colonies in this case are often govt created to help control conquered regions e.g. the Roman colonia, where they built fortified towns on conquered territory and settled Roman citizens and ex-legionaries.


If there are no other interstellar species near the home world then this won’t apply.


Resource Colony

A second type of empire is resource driven e.g. the European colonial empires, where the European powers wanted access to resources they didn’t have.

In this case a colony is set up in the resource region with or without local resistance and those resources are traded for, produced or gathered in some way for transport back to the home world. If the resource is bulky some processing of the resources naturally follows as do services for the people involved in the above and often security and support for naval forces and colonial administration. This type of colony often start as a commercial operation but become a mixture of govt and commercial over time.

This model works on a planet and maybe also in a solar system but does it work in an interstellar context because of the abundance of resources available on all the planets, moons and asteroids in a solar system?

It might happen in some contexts, for example

  • a home world that has been mining its own solar system for centuries might find that strip mining a particular metal in a nearby system and transporting it is cheaper than deep mining for it in their home system
  • a very heavily populated world might import exotic food stuff from a nearby world

but generally once a species has access to their own solar system they have limitless “land,” limitless natural resources, limitless food etc and so I don’t think general resource colonies are likely in early colonization outside the solar system.

The possible exception is exotic luxury and novelty goods e.g. strange animals, exotic blue wood, giant fruit etc – so more like Hudson Bay trappers or Ceylon tea farmers than corporate mining.


Some people would pay a premium for the genuine article but i think any discovered exotic item that became popular could probably be grown artificially for a mass market in an orbital habitat in the home solar system so i don’t think resource colonies would be a driving force of colonization.


Strategic Significance

This relates to things like having a repair and supply base part way between home and a resource colony.


This would still apply.


Over Population

Straight forward reason to create a colony – IIRC it happened a few times in Ancient Greece.


By the time people are capable of expanding into space they will have contraception, low child mortality, high longevity and will have gone through the demographic transition so only people who couldn’t control their fertility would be having population problems.

At the same time space colonization wouldn’t be like earlier examples where landless farmers would emigrate to get farmland or low skilled laborers would move to work in colonial factories – colonists for space would almost all be technically skilled people and the farmers would be hydroponic engineers so the least likely people to not be able to control their fertility.

Last but not least the Traveller ships are too small early on to transport lots of people.


This could be made to be a reason for early colonizing by hand waving some of the conditions but generally I don’t think it makes sense for early colonization in a Traveller setting – at least for humans. I think colonies would be initially small and slow growing collections of picked specialists.


Religious Exodus

This has happened often historically for example

  • Carthage is said to have been founded after a dispute over Baal among the Phoenicians
  • Puritans to the USA
  • Mormons to Utah
  • Amish



I think this option makes sense nb it doesn’t just have to be religion it could be ideological and could also be coerced e.g. a dissident group / criminals sent off to a colony.

If the Cthulhu Mythos is part of the setting then could be cults also – possibly to planets which also have some connection to the Mythos.


Frontier Personality

I think there will be a certain type of personality that is drawn to frontiers and they will want to go once the opportunity is available.

Assuming colonists are skilled specialists then unless the home world is dystopian in some way their life on the home world is likely to be okay so average people are less likely to want to go.

An exception might be people who come from a less good background, get skilled in the military and are offered land and citizenship on a colony when they muster out after a certain number of years like Roman legionaries.


I think this makes sense as the main source of colonists: frontier personality types (including rogues) and retired navy, scouts, colonial service etc.

An interesting follow-on from is this process would effectively select for a new sub-species: Homo Astralis or “Traveller” as often the first colonists in a new settlement could be people from an earlier one i.e. as a colony becomes more settled and more like the home world then more average people would move to it from the home world and more frontier type personalities would move further out making colonization self-perpetuating.


Genetic Security

This didn’t really apply in the past but as soon as its possible to avoid then the threat of asteroid strike or some other cosmic disaster becomes something to avoid.

The first step might be orbital defenses and colonizing other planets in the solar system but if/when possible it would make sense to settle colonies in other systems.

It might not make sense to settle thousands but as mentioned above I think the process would become self-perpuating due to the personality effect.


I think this would be the main reason for any initial interstellar colonization – govt directed and aimed at creating self-sustaining colonies for species security.


Other Factors

Standard Traveller-esque premises
– jump drive
– new ships are very expensive
– lots of fuel required for jump
– refined fuel safer for jump
– fusion power as energy source


I’d say the key points are:

  • in the beginning very expensive ships and at the same time limited incentives for commercial activity outside the home solar system
  • limited trade between home wold and colony when colony is small
  • the need for infrastructure to be built in advance of trade developing

These all point to an initially govt directed colonial effort.


Government Surplus

In this scenario we’re assuming there’s a commercial incentive for private shipyards to make commercial ships for the home system but there’s no reason for them to make jump capable ships. The jump capable yards would be govt funded so initially the only star ships would be govt.

If we assume that star ships can last centuries and that the govt ships are replaced with upgrades over time then a market in government surplus jump capable ships would develop.

Once a second hand ship market develops the balance of some of the factors discussed might change.


For example wild Belter clans might become viable once ships become cheaper.



In creating an early colonization ATU (Alternative Traveller Universe) I will go with

  • prime directive is govt directed search for settlement colonies (genetic security)
  • truck stop refueling and repair colonies along route to the settlement colonies (strategic significance)
  • some larger repair and resupply bases along route if needed (strategic significance)
  • some religious exodus to settlement colonies
  • some religious exodus to non govt directed alternative colonies off the main routes
  • some resource extraction non govt directed alternative colonies off the main routes
  • slow rate of colonists – frontier personality and ex govt service



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