I no longer believe in the Order of Mercury

OK, so, for those who haven't seen the notes Ben and I have been knocking back and forth, he'd like me to consider a patronage model project, and I think it's a good idea, but doesn't suit Tin Islands. So, I went looking for some research for some other stuff. So, I'm listening to the Librivox version of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and I have come to a startling discovery.

There was no Order of Mercury.

Let me expand that.

One of Gibbon's main premises is that the Praetorian Guards were responisble, as a major contributing factor, in the fall of the Empire, because they alone had the power, at one point, to make or destroy emperors, so they did, and were in turn rewarded by the emperors they had made, until it reached a point where they were not able to be reformed or replaced.

Now, at what point is the Oroder of Mercury active? Why don't they stabilise the Empire? Or did they, like the Praetorians in our world, destroy it through a mixture of kingmaking, corruption through donatives, and factional war? Basically, can you find me a hundred years of peace in the history of the Order of Mercury? If it is called togther by Augustus, I find it hard ot work out how the Year of Five Emporers happens. If it peaks during the Antonines...then what is it foing during the great chaos after the death oif Marcus Aurelius? There basically isn't any time for the Order of Mercury to claim as a time of greatness.

So: I think the people suggesting its existence were lying, for political reasons. It explains to me why, for example, House Verditius, House Jerbiton and House Tytalus, who are all said to be offshoots from the same rootstock, are so different: it's because the Order of Mercury as presented, is a convenient lie. I think the Orderof Mercury was little more than a couple of covenants, at best. When we say the Mercurians were wiped out in the Schism...and that the golden tablets of the Order of Mercury were lost, well, I find that very difficult to believe.

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A central element of a conspiracy is a powerful group who has an interest in falsifying history.

Perhaps they were an offshoot of the Praetorians... :smiling_imp:

So instead of the Order of Mercury , we have Josephus Smithatis and The Mormons combined with Scientology.
Golden Plates

The Order of Mercury has always had the feel of a Medieval legend about Golden Rome, almost on par with the Virgil Magus stories, far more than it has the feel of something authentically ancient and Roman. It's a good story but not one that should necessarily be taken literally within the game world. The Founders were 8th century people and were unlikely to be experts in history.

My own view of the Mercurians, for what it's worth, is a bit similar to Timothy's. They were a small group of Roman aristocrats who discovered Hermetic secrets in the East in pre-Imperial days and set up essentially a Mystery Cult within the city itself. For me, holding together a huge long-term society of magicians is THE accomplishment of Bonisagus and I don't see the Mercurians doing the same. The OOM would have been unstable and prone to faction, like Roman government itself, and because it was tied closely to the Senatorial families never made it out of Rome along with the 4th century emperors and then eventually faded away as things were Christianized. Some of the founders could have either been members of a remnant OOM or, as the Bonisagus story seems to indicate, discovered their books.

Heck, run with it. In canon, not having Parma is bad because of the social fallout. Forming the Order of Mercury (which did not, of course, have Parma) might be the real cause of the fall of the Rome Empire. Thinking about it more, wizards are a luxury item, as it were. You really can't have these men of learning until you have a surplus. The fall of every other Empire could be caused by a "critical mass" of wizards coming together as the Empire is powerful, successful. Giving us the cycle of History the East is so familiar with, until the Founder created (With the blessing of God?) Parma Magica, allowing Christendom to become the biggest, most powerful, most advanced Empire the world has seen......

I have nothing more to say than +1.

Now comes the spinning to generate the stories with this. :smiley:


Exactly. +1

Sounds like dangerous talk designed to destabilise the Order in the lead up to the crucially important Grand Tribunal. I myself can trace my lineage back to the Order of Mercury. Why, the evidence is right there in our grimoires - the Wizard's Communion is a testament to the grand communal rituals of our ancestors. Perhaps your Germanic lineage of hedge-mages makes it difficult for you to cast such rites.

(of House Bonisagus)

I would say that the OoM belongs to the Republic, not the Empire. IIRC the period of massive road building and foundation of cities corresponds more to the republic than Rome. Scipio and Caesar were mad about creating roads. The expansion of the Romans ends with Trajan, but it is fairly stable since Augustus (the first Emperor).

So I would say that it is a Republican institution, that got quite mauled under the Emperors, and was probably full of factionalism during the civil wars. Each (the important ones) Patrician families would have had their own branch of Priests of Mercury. During the republic the interests of the families and the republic were pretty much the same, so they worked in concert. During the Imperium that changed, and each coven of Priests of mercury would have worked for the itnerests of their own families.

Since the existence of ungifted magicians in hedge magic I have been thinking that most cult members would not have been gifted at all, but been only acolytes. Probably slaves. Only the head priests would have been Gifted Patrician Romans, and most of those would not have collaborated gladly with other Mercurians unless ordered to do so by the State. The tradition of fosterage and adoption in Rome takes on a new light under this premise: you sell me your Gifted (plebeian) son and I further your political career....

So, to me the Order of Mercury existed, but it was far from a unified body.


I've always prefered thinking about the Order of Mercury as the group of the priesthoods of the Roman gods. I know it;s not a good source but using info from wikipedia:

College of Pontiffs: The buearacracy of the Order, The Pontifex Maximus at it's head, the flamines are each spirit magi who are specialized in communing with their specific god, the Vestel Virgins keep attendance on the sacred flame in the temple of Vesta. These are the magi who act more like priests, communing with the gods of Rome and carrying out their required ceremonies, and presumably being taught their magics in return.
The Quindecimviri: The Scholars of the Order. Their duties appear to be keeping records of prophecies for consultation and for recording and appropriating foreign magic as the Empire expanded. These would be most like the Hermetic magi, with a wide variety of spells of different natures and flavours that they attempt to master without fully understanding, some involving placating faeries, daemons or demons that the orginal worshippers they stole it from prayed to.
The Augurs: Diviners pure and simple, probably second sight, visions and premonition talents, no actual spellcrafting.
The Epulones: Seem to be mundanes who organized the worship aspects of any public festival, helping the real priesthood channel that power.

Above all else these priesthoods were tied so much into the roman political society with it's original members all being patricians and it automatically including the Emperor of it's time as a titular member, that they would be powerless to oppose the political swings that occur. They don't give up their family ties or their political allegiances and were probably as deep in meddling as any other noble, and as likely to die in any coup.

To my way of looking at it, the bulk of the political order was based in Rome itself. Any covenants you find elsewhere were the Quindecimviri heading off with the armies and setting up bases to study the local cultures powers and how to steal them. Possibly with an Augur sent along to assist. So any old temple of Mecury you find or branch of their learning reflects whatever local spin you want to give them, based on what rituals the Quindecimviri had managed to locate and adapt.

That's a view that, I think, was well supported in earlier editions of the game. As I recall pagan priests were typically portrayed as dealing with magical numina in various ways. I'm not sure how well this fits now that the Gods are all Faeries but I certainly like the concept of magical Augurs and Pontifices. I see a variety of Roman magical traditons feeling into the medieval OOH, as Timothy suggested in the first post, and I can certainly see the medievals looking back and imagining all of these were part of one great Roman "Order".

Parallel to or within the Roman priestly colleges I also see a tradition of hermeticism, originally from Egypt but perhaps obtained via Greece, that practiced magic in ways recognizably ancestral to the OOH's "Hermetic Magic" and which was the source of Bonisagus's use of "Hermes" rather than "Mercury" or another Latin term.

To bring this back to story seeds, an implication of my interpretation is that other proto-Hermetic magical orders existed in the antique Mediterranean and may have left Mysteries or living cults behind into the medieval period. I'm especially taken with the idea of an order of Hermetic Alchemists in Egypt.

In Guardians of the Forests, page 8, it says:

"In the pagan days of the Empire, temples dedicated to Mercury were common in these frontier towns, and his priests worked their magic to strengthen the integrity of the Empire through a 'barricade' of magically-linked temples along the boundary."

It does not specifically state it was the Order of Mercury, but until I read this topic, I thought the implication was clear.

If the Order of Mercury "never existed" in the past, then something appears to have existed, and been widespread, organized, and well-funded. Just because it wasn't the "Order of Mercury" as popularly understood by the Order of Hermes, does not mean that there was nothing.

This past organization's history, to my way of thinking, quite probably followed that of the Empire at large. More cooperative and capable early on and more corrupt and ineffective later on.

I've always thought of the Order of Mercury as being a cabal within the mainstream priesthood of Rome. Sometimes, it might have been virtually the entire priesthood (including perhaps even the Emperor) at other times, it was just a minority cabal. After Constantine, at least, it is clearly a secret cult --- unless they converted, I guess.

If you are trying to fit them into real history then I would say The Order of Mercury was probably at its height in the early Republic (say, prior to 200 BC), and again during the massive revival of Roman state religion under Augustus (31 BC-14 AD), and probably remaining strong until at least the reign of Nero.

I don't see why the Year of Five Emperors is a problem --- this instability is over 200 years after the end of the civil war between Octavius and Anthony (i.e. the beginning of the "empire" under Augustus). Either The Order of Mercury is just one of the political factions active during this period, or it is a period where The Order of Mercury loses control and instability like The Year of Five Emperors is just a consequence of that.

Of course, The Order of Hermes might be a bit wrong about the details of what The Order of Mercury was.

It's not very surprising that Gibbon doesn't mention the Order of Mercury...

To me, the Order is equivalent to Roman Roads. When the rpoads were being built, the Order of Mercury was expanding and "doing their stuff". Once the road system deteriorated the Empire-wide magic deteriorated as well. Range: Road is the range of the OoM. I would say that the height of the Roman Empire was the first centry BC up to the end of Augustus, more than previous periods, but that is me :slight_smile:


This is a very interesting idea and worth exploring further.

+1 for me.


I don't like the credit afforded to Mercury for all things great about the Roman empire. Specifically, I think of the spread and sustenance of the empire to have been accomplished through pagan priests serving the main Roman pantheon and local spirits, aligned with Faerie. This aligns well with the fact that Faerie Magic allows the Road range and with the Cult of Vesta in HoHMC. The Cult of Mercury was a marginal necromantic and divinatory cult serving the nobility, its main advantage being that it used Magic and thus worked outside the bounds of piety demanded by the gods. Possibly, it also offered immortality to key figures through Egyptian rites of post-mortem apotheosis, allowing emperors to become deities much as the pharaohs were.

It depends on whether or not you find it useful to have the Order of Mercury existing at one point and in what form.

I like the idea that the "modern" Order of Hermes only thinks it knows the truth about what happened. What that truth is, is anyone's guess.

This could be the primary reason for the part of the Oath which forbids the meddling with mundanes. As a lesson learned by unchecked manipulation of bloodlines and frivolous use of magical resources, the madness of Caligula(then subsiquent murder) and exhaustion of the empire's gold mines(due to mining terrem vis sources to much to allow minerals to breed propery), could be magical consequences to bad decisions on their part.

It would make for great story, in their effort to create a grand and perfect Republic, they inadvetantly destablized it's foundation. So all was for not.