The Pre-History of the Order is a lie - What is the truth?

In my original thread The History of the Order is a lie. What is the , I asked:

And got one answer that has really been rattling around in my head below that I want to use specifically for my game since it is currently in 801AD, not 1220:

So. Suppose that the Order of Hermes is fact built not on the ruins of the Cult of Mercury, but in fact built on the pillars of smaller magical orders that were more specialized and likely did not have a fully unified theory of magic, but did have Parma Magica, but a weaker, less improved version... For some reason this is concealed from the Order. It isn't just mere ego - why would the Order whitewash it's actual history?

I have an idea.

I'll go with the concept of a Cult of Mercury in the Roman Empire, but also Cults of Jupiter, Mars, Venus, etc each with their own specialized area of magic. Perhaps the Cult of Mercury was the largest. We can go with the roman equivalent of the 12 Olympian gods, maybe with a couple other major Roman gods included. All with some level of feuding with each other over various types of resources, but cohesive, perhaps exclusive to certain regions and existed with state support directly by the Emperor.

But the Romans weren't the only ones to have state magi. The Parthians (247 BC–224 AD) and their successor empire Sasanians ( 224 - 651 AD) had their own magi too.

The Christianizing of the roman world in the 300s and 400s combined with the fall of the Western Empire in the 400s did cause problems for the Cults - in the Western Empire. (Personally, I think the original writers of Ars Magica, ReinHagen and Tweet, had a poor understanding of Roman history and thought that the entire empire "fell" when in fact the better populated Eastern Empire endured for another 1000 years.) The eastern emperors realized how useful the Cults were, and to avoid theological problems, had them secularize, become christian holy magi, or, go underground as reclusive "monasteries". In fact, a whole order of Christian Magi serving the Emperor and Empire was created.

Then there were the apocalytpic wars with the Sasanians. ... 2%80%93628

In the final war, Heraclius, didn't just melt all the church silver and gold plate for mundane armies, he made as many wild and outlandish, but believable promises as possible to the existing cults within the Empire, and in the former Empire. The final war in 602-628 saw the near annihilation of every single surviving in Cult in Europe and any other "Order" of magi.

The Order of Hermes was built on the very few survivors and scattered remnants of other traditions of the final war. It also explains the reticience of the magi at the time of the founding to get involved in the affairs of state. For me, it also gives a good story foil - the subject of the "role" of the Order is a big theme in my current game.

Any other ideas, suggestions, sinister plots/ideas etc?


Well, I like it :smiley:

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I think you'd need quite a lot of survivors, otherwise you run into the same problem I posted about earlier - timescale. Even with another 200 years, you still don't have enough magi to need whole Tribunals. You'd need about 200+ magi, to get about 1000+ by the dates the Tribunals are founded. (Anyone with actual math skills/simulations please correct those numbers which I just made up).

You could have each House being the remnants of formerly seperate 'Cults of Whoever', not necessarily based on gods but possibly based on a founder's personality. If you base them on location, you need a reason for the current Houses being intermingled so much.

I prefer to just put the foundation date back to about 400 AD, after the Vandals/Goths/etc ravage the Western Empire. The Order of Hermes becomes the survivors of those wars avoiding getting caught up in the mundane world in the absence of a clear and appropriate authority figure. That gives them enough time to grow and explains why they aren't more established in the Eastern Empire/Levant compared with the Western.

If you are setting a game in 800 or so, the presence of Charlemagne is very important. Perhaps he is seen by some magi as the natural successor to the Roman Emperor? Perhaps the Diedne thought this, or perhaps they opposed this idea? Perhaps the Schism War which is about to happen/has already happened will be totally different and nothing to do with Charlemagne?

Each saga can be completely different, and so can the Order. I wouldn't necessarily stick with the same pre-history every time I play AM, just as the nature of the Diedne varies from game to game.


There was an article in Sub Rosa issue #14 titled "Demography of the Order of Hermes", by Mark Shirley, which takes a very thorough and interesting in-depth look into the (as the title suggest) demographics of the Order accross the centuries. You should really give it a read, because it's the result of a demographics simulation that gives very reasonable numbers. According to that article, and with a starting population of 13 magi in 767AD, the Order reached around 200 magi by 816AD, and at your saga date (801AD) the population would be a mere 78 magi. By the Schism War, the total population was around more or less 760 magi. All of this, of course, according to that article and, thus, not canon (but extremely reasonable). Do give it a read.


I have for a long time toyed with the idea of pre-Bonisagus Hermetic Magic, resulting in a Mythic Europe in which the OOH lacks a monopoly. My approach is a little different than yours, in that I assume Hermetic Magic Theory is ancient and Bonisagus's contribution is the Parma, but in terms of the early history of the Order we have similar results.

One thing you might consider is limiting the Order to Latin Europe and having smaller, recognizably Hermetic, cults and societies in the Greek and Arabic worlds. In my conception they lack the size and organization of the OOH, at least in part due to their lack of the Parma, and perform their magic in more idiosyncratic ways. For example, I've sketched Egyptian alchemists that only use ritual and ceremonial magic, astrologers from Syria that can cast spells but lack spontaneous magic, and a Greek order that only uses Theurgy. On the other hand, all of these groups have access to appropriate Mystery virtues that the OOH lacks.


The Diedne were actually expunged because Hermetic Magic is founded on Infernalism and they wanted to purge the satanic influence of Formulaic and Ritual magic! The current given reasons are just propaganda given by the higher-ups of the Order so their superior power isn't called into question!

... What, are Diedne conspiracy theories too cliche? Okay, I'll move along :laughing:


I'm figuring about 150-200 magi by this point in my games history. It's not that I'm making the Order a whole lot bigger, but trying to make more sense of the backstory of the game more. I want to have some conspiracy.

And yes, as for Charlemagne, he is a big deal in the west... But there have already been AU events triggered by the PCs in making the Eastern Roman Empire stronger and less weak. (Backing Constantine VI against his mother Irene)