Welcome to a Star Trek 101 article.
This is a more in-depth history of the Star Trek universe from an in-world perspective. This is the first of two blogs touching on the major historical events of the setting, primarily sticking to canonical sources with some personal extrapolation and gap filling when necessary. This first blog covers the period up to the first couple centuries of the Federation.
For a more comprehensive history, refer to the timeline on Memory Alpha. Or the greatly expanded timeline at Memory Beta that also includes novels, comics, and video games.
Before the Federation
The Federation was not the first nor was it the largest galactic empire.
The first known civilization was an unnamed species of ancient humanoids, who were possibly the first humanoid species to evolve in the Milky Way Galaxy. They formed an empire 4.5 billion years ago, but found no other lifeforms like themselves. Knowing they would die out before other intelligent species could develop, they seeded numerous worlds that held the potential for life, placing a code in their DNA while subtly guiding their evolution to a humanoid frame.
600,000 years ago was the time of the T’kon Empire. This empire had the ability to move entire stars, and had a total population in the trillions. The T’Kon Empire was centered around the southern sections of the galaxy, in the region between Tholian and Klingon space. It’s unknown how widespread they were before a series of supernovae in the heart of their territory ended their reign.
The next dominant empire was a form of synthetic life. Little of this era survived, as these “Destroyers” eliminated any organic beings that opposed them during their reign roughly 300,000 years ago. These artificial life forms eventually left the galaxy but remained active in distant regions of the universe and possess potent technology, being able to create massive transwarp gateways.
Organic life resumed its dominance when the Iconians formed their own empire 200,000 years ago. The planet Iconia was located in what would become the Romulan Neutral Zone, but the massive Iconian Empire stretched across the galaxy, reaching as far as the Gamma Quadrant. The Iconians were destroyed when an alliance of what they described as “lesser races” united against them.
The next large power was the the Preservers, who were an advanced alien race that rescued cultures in danger of extinction, relocating them to other worlds. They were known to have visited Earth several times, and moved several populations of humans. The Preservers operated 10,000 years ago before vanishing.
On Vulcan in 312 the scientist Surak experienced an awakening and began promoting peace during an era of warfare, This led to the founding of the Way of Kolinahr in 319. Surak was killed by the final battles of the war, succumbing to radiation poisoning caused by “those who marched beneath the Raptor’s wings.” Now unwelcome on Vulcan, this faction began their diaspora in 369. A generation later, these exiles found a new home on Romulus in 557.
On the Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS, Khaless the Unforgettable founded the first Klingon Empire in 810, uniting his people and ending the ceaseless war and founding their society. In 1372, during the early years of their industrial age, Klingons were invaded by raiders known as the Hur’q. The Hur’q ravaged the planet stealing many treasures. When they deoarted, the Hur’q left behind much of their technology, giving Klingons warp technology.
By the 1950s, both the Vulcans and Andorians had starships and had made contact. Their relationships were strained, as the Vulcans believed the Andorians to be duplicitous and were wary of their territorial and militaristic nature.
In Earth history, in 1947 a time displaced Ferengi spaceship crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. This is earth’s first contact with extraterrestrials, but it is classified and in later years many doubt the event occured. A similar event occured in 1967 when a timeship from the 29th Century crashed on Earth. When the ship was discovered, its technology was reverse engineered causing the 20th Century‘s computer revolution.
In the early 21st Century, the United States government establishing Sanctuary Districts in major cities to house the unemployed and homeless. While these were intended to provide food and shelter, they quickly became internment camps. The inhumane conditions of these walled off subsections led to the Bell Riots in 2024.
Shortly after the closure of the Sanctuary Districts, World War III began. This conflict lasted until 2053, climaxing in an exchange of nuclear weapons. This conflicts was also noted for using troops whose aggression was augmented (and loyalty ensured) through addiction to narcotics. A major figure during this period was Colonel Green, an ecoterrorist famous for the execution of those he considered impure. His speeches would be used for anti-alien propaganda in the 2150-60s.
(The relationship between WWIII and the Eugenics Wars is fuzzy. Whether or not there were two separate wars or events is unclear. Alternatively, the wars could have been separate but occurred at parallel times. The dates of WW3 have shifted as time has passed, when and it became clear there wouldn’t be a nuclear war in the 1990s, which is also the date given for the Eugenics Wars and Khan Noonien Sing’s departure from Earth. The Temporal Cold War are good justifications for these events shifting. Ditto the Sanctuary Districts which are hopefully not in the current President’s agenda.)
Meanwhile, the planet of Weytahn was terraformed by the Andorians in the 2050s. Known as “Paan Mokar” by the Vulcans, the planet was strategically close to Vulcan. The Vulcans removed the colony by force. Swift negotiation averted war, but the Andorians remained angry over the incident for centuries.
Following the war(s) on Earth, in 2063 a scientist named Zefram Cochrane turned a nuclear missile into a spaceship, the Phoenix. This ship was the first human craft capable of warp speed, enabling faster-than-light travel. His first flight attracted the attention of a Vulcan scout ship, who initiated contact with humanity.
Following First Contact Day, humanity slowly began a campaign of self improvement. With the assistance of the Vulcans, humanity managed to end war, hunger, and poverty. Slowly, Earth begin travelling to neighbouring starsystems, coming into contact with numerous alien people. Humans also began to innovate, building off the limited technology shared by the Vulcans. In the 2120s, the first transporter was invented in by Emory Erickson. Initially limited to inorganic substances, within a couple decades it proved capable of moving organic substances and by the 2150s a few had been approved for living beings.
Following advances in warp propulsion, Earth’s first interstellar exploratory vessel launched in 2151: the NX-01 Enterprise commanded by Captain Jonathan Archer.
Rise of the Federation
During its travels, the NX Enterprise made numerous alien allies, establishing diplomatic and trade relations with multiple new species. All the while, it improved relations with the Vulcans and Andorians, both between Earth and those planets, as well as between Vulcan and Andoria.
In 2152-2153, Earth was involved in a brief conflict instigated by an alien species, the Xindi. Resolved through a mixture of diplomacy and military action, the Xindi Crisis cemented Earth’s position as a growing power in the region. This led to the founding of the Coalition of Planets in 2155, a trade alliance proposed by the Prime Minister of United Earth. This was followed by a mutual defense pact created between United Earth, the Confederacy of Vulcan, the Andorian Empire, and the United Planets of Tellar.
The nearby Romulan Star Empire had long been wary of the strengthening relations between Earth and its neighbours, having failed at attempts to sabotage their relations. This interference escalated into open conflict: the Earth-Romulan War. Also known as the Romulan War, this conflict raged from 2156 to 2160, and was the first major interstellar conflict fought by the forces of the United Earth Starfleet. Despite the Romulans having a larger empire and more advanced technology, humanity managed to claim victory. This successful outcome was in large part due to assistance from the Andorians, Denobulans, Tellarites, and Vulcans. The informal alliance decisively won the Battle of Cheron, which led to the establishment of the Romulan Neutral Zone, entry into which would constitute an act of war.
In 2161, Andorians, Earthlings, Tellarites, and Vulcans formalized their alliance, founding the United Federation of Planets on August 12th, 2161. Longtime allies such as Denobula and Coriban were initially hesitant about the alliance, but the former joined within a decade.
Playing in this Era
I wrote an earlier blog on playing in this era, which expands on this topic.
Campaigns set in the Rise of the Federation can follow the continuing adventures of the Enterprise, or the early missions of its sister ships (such as the NX-02 Columbia or the NX-03 Challenger). It could also involve the Earth-Romulan War: a fairly long conflict that involved relatively few battles due to the distances involved. Alternatively, instead of a United Earth Starfleet vessel, a campaign in this time period could be set on an Andorian or Vulcan ship, perhaps covering their explorations and conflicts prior to joining the Federation.
In the decades that followed its founding, the Federation grew rapidly, adding new colonies and planets into to its ranks. On average, a new world would join the Federation every three or four years. Meanwhile, shipping lanes and the fringes of the nascent empire were the dominion of Nausicaan pirates, Orion slavers, and Kzin marauders, all of whom strained the resources of the fledgling power.
Starfleet continued its exploration of the galaxy with the ships that survived the Romulan War, partially merging the United Earth Starfleet with the fleets of other member planets. A few decades into the alliance, new vessels were constructed as a joint project of various member species.
The Federation initially expanded to the galactic north and east, arcing around the borders of the Romulan Star Empire. This formed the Neutral Zone into a wide crescent, which greatly limited Roman expansion. Following their construction of border defence stations, the Federation focused its exploration southward, charting the edge of the Klingon Empire. The intent was to prevent the Klingons from cutting off the Federation as they had just done to the Romulans, while also claiming valuable planets before the Klingons could seize them.
Because of the technological limits of the era, expansion was slow: constructing ships was a labor intensive process and most ships did not venture far from the Federation’s borders. Exploratory missions were short, with starships seldom venturing more than a few months into deep space.
This began to change in the early decades of the 23rd Century, as starships became larger and more self sufficient, and more starbases were constructed. In the 2240s the Constitution-class was launched; able to operate in deep space for years at a time, these vessels were free to explore far beyond the borders of the Federation.
Playing in this Era
There are very few canon events in this era: at ninety years, it’s the longest undetailed periods of Star Trek’s history. This gives gamemasters a lot of freedom to make the era their own, perhaps detailing first contact with numerous classic species, such as the Deltans, Betazoids, Caitians, and Saurians.
This would be the era when Starfleet establishes itself as a fleet of humanitarian and peacekeeping vessels rather than a military one. This itself is interesting given the still recent wounds of the Xindi Crisis and Earth-Romulan War. There was likely some pushback against this idealism, and a lot of early tension that could be fun to explore.
Unlike the preceding era, challenges of this period are less related to forging alliances and instead maintaining them. The largest threats to the fledgling Federation would not be other empires, but internal ones such as individuals and rebel factions. There would still be many Earthlings who distrust aliens, as well as those questioning the wisdom of exploration versus building warships.
Meanwhile, the smaller Starfleet would still be having troubles defending against pirates and raiders. And it would still be struggling to justify the benefits of memberships to new planets versus the costs. Ships in these early days would likely spend as much time dealing with local problems as they did exploring and making contact with new species. However, in the later years of this era, the raiders would be pushed farther and farther away from core systems, and many planets might join the Federation explicitly in order to gain its protection against such threats. Starfleet might find itself struggling to avoid becoming a peacekeeping force, and having to balance policing with exploration.
First Federation-Klingon War
With the Federation continually expanding along the borders of the Klingon Empires, limiting its growth and pushing into its territory, tensions between the two empires simmered for decades. The Klingons However, with no single leader able to unify the Great Houses, the Empire was unable to coordinate a strike and peace was artificially maintained for a number of decades. This, unfortunately, led to complacency in Starfleet. This peace was shattered in 2256 with the Battle of the Binary Stars, when T’Kuvma of House of T’Kuvma rallied the Klingon Empire to his cause.
The war lasted almost two years, with both the Klingons and Starfleet suffering heavy casualties. By the time peace was negotiated, a full third of Starfleet’s vessels had been lost and many more had been damaged. Despite the Klingon’s successes in the war, at the cessation of hostilities a status quo ante bellum was negotiated and the Federation regained the majority of its lost territory. Many Klingons were displeased by the end of the war and continued to harass Federation ships when encountered, pushing for a resumption of war.
Playing in this Era
Two other blogs were written about this period, one on war and an adventure.
The Federation-Klingon War was the closest the Federation came to destruction, with a Klingon fleet almost reaching Earth.
While the war was relatively short, the large scale of the war meant there was many battles fought in rapid succession. Additionally, very little of it was seen on the screen: only a couple battles. There’s lots of room for stories set before and during the war, to say nothing of the reconstruction that follows. And there’s the potential of other powers taking advantage of the Klingon war to push into Federation territory, such as the Kzin Patriarchy or the Tholians.
By the 2260s, the Federation had grown to 32 member worlds, and it continued to expand. In later years, this period would often be romanticized, given a mystique akin to Earth’s Old West. This is not an in-apt comparison, given the wide untamed frontier surrounding the Federation with scattered colonies that could be many days journey away from other settlements.
Despite still recovering from losses suffered by the recent war, this was an era of rapid growth and expansion for the Federation, where it sought new allies and resources. During this period, Starfleet was forced to make do with fewer starships, which were required to serve multiple different roles and perform whatever missions were required. It was not until the mid-2270s that Starfleet’s numbers returned to their pre-war levels. Similarly, Starfleet itself was short staffed, leading to an intense recruitment drive and accelerated promotions. Meanwhile, the reduced number of starbases and communication relays meant ships had more autonomy and captains were given increased authority.
Recent advancements in starship technology allowed ships to spend years at the fringes of known space, allowing greater discoveries and contact with an increasing number of aliens. In just the next few decades, Starfleet would encounter more new species than it had over the prior century.
Tensions remained high following the Federation-Klingon War, and the Federation continued its southern expansion efforts. The fragile peace was maintained for less than a decade, before a second brief war with the Klingons in 2267. This second war ended with a forced peace, imposed upon the two factions by powerful alien beings. However, even after this ceasefire, small border skirmishes occurred from time to time.
In addition to the continued threat of Klingons, the Romulans returned to the galactic stage in 2266 after a century of isolation, destroying several monitoring stations while advancing their starship cloaking technology. Further adding to the pressures on Starfleet, the Tholians caused additional conflicts while the disastrous first contact with the Gorn in 2267 almost escalated into warfare. In 2270 the Orion neutrality ended following a blatant act of piracy, which unknowingly imperilled an entire colony.
Late in 2267, the planet of Nimbus III in the Neutral Zone was established as “the planet of Galactic Peace”. The United Federation of Planets, the Klingons, and the and Romulan agreed to mutually develop the planet in the hopes that it would create a lasting peace.
Playing in this Era
This is the era of The Original Series and its first movie. Because of damage inflicted during the war and limited technology, starship captains had a large amount of autonomy, being unable to report back to Starfleet Command for new orders. As Starfleet was spread thin, vessels were often on their own, and were unable to call for assistance. Similarly, with few spare officers, Starfleet was more forgiving of bold action and bending of the rules.
In this period, the Federation had well established itself and its borders, likely having eliminated most internal threats. After a largely peaceful century, humanity would be accustomed to aliens and the benefits of membership in the Federation would be well established. However, following the war with the Klingons, there would be increasing pressure to replace lost starships with ones designed for battle. Conversely, after suffering such heavy losses, the Federation would be reluctant take actions that might lead to further wars, and more willing to compromise or acquiesce to demands.
The Growing Peace
Following two bloody wars and numerous smaller skirmishes with neighbouring powers, lasting peace in the Federation increasingly seemed like wishful thinking. Throughout the 2280s, there was renewed hostility between the Klingons and the Federation, reignited over experimental terraforming projects and the actions of Admiral James Kirk. However, this strife was largely resolved diplomatically; as their borders had not shifted in thirty years, the two empires had largely grown accustomed to each other’s presence and fewer Klingons believed the Federation would invade.
In 2293, the Klingon moon Praxis suffered a severe explosion. The moon was the primary supplier of power to Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld, damaging the planet’s ecosystem and causing power shortages throughout that system. The Klingons were forced to choose between maintaining their warships or focusing on recovery. The Federation quickly offered humanitarian aid, which was reluctantly welcomed by the Klingons.
Following the Tomed Incident in 2311, the Romulans broke off contact with the Federation and withdrew behind the Neutral Zone. Peace was only maintained by the Treaty of Algeron which banned the Federation from developing cloaking technology. However, the Romulans continued to court an alliance with the Klingons against the Federation. However the Klingons were never comfortable with the treacherous nature of the Romulans, and relations grew strained. Finally, in 2344, the Romulans attacked Klingon outpost on Narendra III. During this battle, the U.S.S. Enterprise-C was destroyed defending the outpost from several Romulan warbirds. This sacrifice prompted the Klingons to strengthen their ties with the Federation, forming an alliance that would largely endure for the rest of the century.
With less pressure from its enemies to the east, Federation resources were freed for westernly exploration, and venturing deeper into the Alpha Quadrant. There the Federation made formal first contact with the Tzenkethi in the 2310s and Cardassians in the 2320s, although informal contact with both had occured prior. Despite the relative proximity of both empires, the Federation’s preoccupation with the Romulans and Klingons kept their attention away from these neighbouring empires. In contrast, the Ferengi actively avoided contact, having decided relations with the Federation would not be profitable.
Unrelated to the Federation but important to history, in 2319 the Cardassian Union begins its occupations of the planet of Bajor.
Playing in this Era
This is another largely undetailed era, taking place between the original cast movies and The Next Generation TV series. Campaigns in this era are free to invent major conflicts that last entire decades but are largely resolved by the era of Picard and the Enterprise-D.
After decade of worry over the future, the Federation was finally able to be optimistic, daring to believe the years of open warfare were over. Similarly, with Starfleet having recovered from their losses in the previous conflicts, ships were freed to focus on in-depth scientific and diplomatic missions, allowing for more dedicated and specialized crews. While not as exciting or adventurous as the previous decades, this was arguably the “golden age” of the Federation.
Following the rapid wave of exploration during the 2250s through 2270s, this era was largely one of filling in the gaps and strengthening relations with newly encountered species. During this era, the Federation incorporated over a hundred new worlds to its union, almost quadrupling its size and population. However, this staggering growth placed greater pressure on the medical and engineering divisions of Starfleet, to say nothing of the diplomatic corp that was welcoming a new species almost every year while also resolving their local and regional conflicts. It is little wonder the flagship of the era was the Ambassador-class.
Well done!!! Great read that filled in something gaps for me.
Oh man, this was an awesome read! Thank you so much so much for providing it.