Kzinti Patriarchy: An Analysis and History of Kzin

The history and evolution of the Kzinti Patriarchy. The rise and fall of the most feared warriors in Known Space.

Warning: Highly technical material. Content does not adhere to Flesch Reading Ease test standards by any means. Subject matter includes conquest, slavery, genocide, war, bloodlust, savagery, patriarchal domination, spaceships and futuristic military jargon. Parental guidance advised. Recommended for Larry Niven and hardcore science fiction aficionados only.

Kzin Pilot

Where Kzin Came From

The Kzinti Patriarchy began as a band of Kzinti (then still at TL~5) hired on Kzin ca. 8,000BC by a single trading conglomerate within the TL10 Jotok sub-light interstellar civilization. That particular Jotoki trading conglomerate needed muscle to help 'open new markets', enforce ‘trade agreements’ with competing Jotok conglomerates and other species, and perform similar military tasks at which the Kzinti proved much more proficient than their Jotok employers. Within a few centuries, however, the Kzinti mercenaries turned the tables on their employers, stole their technology, conquered their worlds, and then killed off all of the Jotok they did not directly enslave.


The formal Jotok Script surrounding the official Patriarchal Crest, even into the Ringworld Era (for those few erudite Kzin who can read Jotoki) reads ‘From Mercenary to Master’. Over the following ten millennia, the Kzinti conquered an empire well over 70 lightyears in diameter, based upon slower-than-light (~0.75c) interstellar transit via Jotok gravitic polarizer technology. The Kzinti enslaved or exterminated the sapient alien races they encountered, and settled anyplace that their acquired TL10 technology allowed them to thrive. Few of the half a dozen-plus sapient races they encountered gave them much trouble. By the time they came across Humans in the middle of the 24th century AD, Kzinti society and civilization had stratified into a stable mode of slow expansion that had functioned across lightyears, generations, and millennia.

Kzin Patriarch

The Kzinti Patriarchy

The Patriarch, ruling from His stronghold on Kzin, is the Clan Leader of All Clans. He is the One from Whom all honor flows and to whom all feats of honor are dedicated. He is more or less interchangeable with the Kzinti Fanged (‘Father’) God. As such, He and His appointed Servants dispense rewards for honorable deeds and command punishments for transgressions against honor and His rule from his Patriarchal Lair on Kzin. The young hotheads of each generation of Kzintosh on every Kzinti-inhabited world went forth into the interstellar deeps to gain honor in the Patriarch’s eyes and settle or conquer new worlds for His glory, or (mostly) died trying. This exodus of the impatient young and hot-blooded Kzin Heroes, however expensive, has directed the most fractious elements of Kzinti society ever outwards to expand the domain of the Patriarchy.

The Patriarchs are careful to send trusted minions through the Kzinti colonies out to the leading edges of the expansion. These Minions carefully guide the restless hot-blooded hordes of each new generation that leaps across the long lightyears towards farther stars to seek honor, glory and lands of their own full of slaves and vassals on new worlds under new suns--instead of turning inwards to challenge the Patriarch or the other established lesser though noble Prides for their territory.

The ‘Rrit’-meaning ‘The Ruling Ones’ in the Hero’s Tongue, also rendered as ‘Riit’- Clan were once a few disaffected Kzinti from a low-status clan serving a regional Patriarch on Kzin, just a few decades after Contact with the Jotok. Some say they were game-keepers and range-wardens for a minor proto-Patriarch on Kzin and took the Jotoki shilling as mercenaries when no others would. They later became known as the ‘Mage-Kzin’ for the high technology they brought back and used to conquer all of the other Kzinti clans. They quickly transformed themselves into the ‘Clan Over All Clans’, the rulers of the star-spanning Patriarchy across almost a thousand Kzinti generations, in a nearly unbroken chain of sire and son--or least uncle and nephew, and at times even second-cousin to second-cousin--though the modern Kzinti gloss over these dynastic irregularities as unimportant. There has always been one with the true ‘Rrit’ blood seated as the Patriarch on Kzin, Lord over all Kzinti.

Those Kzintosh with the ‘Rrit’ designation in their Names commands respect among all other clans, anyplace where Kzinti pledge undying honor and allegiance to the Patriarchy. Iron bands of honor, obedience, and the promise of the fulfillment of commands in obligation unto the fourth generation of Sire-to-son have kept the Patriarchy together over the millennia. The Rrit Clan has always managed to stay on the top of the heap; first by carefully making the rules, and then interpreting them in their favor.

An Enraged Kzin

Pre-Space Kzinti

Not much is known of pre-space Kzinti social structures or the development of their society in those times. The earliest reference in attested Kzinti history is to the overthrow of a local ruler of a probably Neolithic city-state named ‘Rrit-Chutash Five-Eights and One’, circa 33,000BC; twenty-five millennia prior to the coming of the Jotok to Kzin. The deeds of mythic heroes such as Lord Chmee, the Band of Eight, Meerkowi’sk the Lone, etc., come from somewhat later though still pre-Jotok times. This pre-space Kzinti culture is known only through the legends, myths, and hero-tales upheld, re-told, and embroidered over dozens of millennia as fitting examples used to instruct each new generation of Kzintosh in proper Heroic behavior. The Kzin homeworld had long been reasonably stable politically and had a low-tech (TL~5) though more-or-less unified and low-population planetary society by the coming of the Jotoki; with a single major language, a unified cultural identity, and a few proto-Patriarchal leaders over a planet-wide population of about 20 million Kzin.

Kzin and Human Society Similarities

Kzin at Scale

In Human terms, Patriarchy society is best described as a feudalistic loyalty structure, though it has some important differences from Human Chinese, Japanese, or European feudalism per se. ‘Modern’ Kzinti society is closest to First Millennium Arab feudalism. Obligations laid upon a Kzintosh by his family and social superiors are enforced unto his fourth-generation descendants, a necessity given the immense STL travel time from Kzin to the outlying parts of the Patriarchy and back again, even with coldsleep and moderate tau factors. Individual initiative is rewarded, though it is rigidly channeled through the paradigms of correct social behavior and various cultural rituals. This social norm is instilled in every young Kzintosh by the example of his father, his clan’s elders, his superiors, and the lessons purveyed by the ancient and Patriarchally-approved 'Hero-tales' told and interpreted by the Conservators of the Patriarchal Traditions--which by their very nature have the precedent of Law.

Kzinti Evolution

New territories were conquered and pacified by encouraging the outward impulses of the young members of the Kzinti clans living on the borders of the Patriarchy. A few generations after the initial Conquest, a Voice of the Patriarch’s Blood coming into the new areas (himself perhaps generations removed from the current Patriarch ruling on Kzin) would appoint Governors over them, either from one of the most stable of the local warlords, a member of a nearby noble Pride who moved in earlier to take control, or sometimes even a Kzintosh far from noble background but of proven honor--‘honor’ being synonymous with ‘loyalty to the Patriarch and Traditions’--and political acumen.

Change percolated glacially through the slower-than-light interstellar empire of the pre-hyperdrive Patriarchy. The basic Patriarchal honor-culture of Sire, great-Sire, Clan, Pride, and ‘the Patriarch above all’ has persisted almost unchanged for almost ten millennia; ever since the period of rapid consolidations early in Kzinti interstellar history. However, it has developed minor regional variants such as the Conundrum Priests of Wk’kai, the Weird-Mind Seekers of Chunquen, and the Mage-Kzin Followers of Kzin along with the more wide-spread and orthodox institutions of the Keepers of the Patriarchal Rituals, the Conservators of Patriarchal Tradition, and the various branches of the Priesthood of the Fanged God. That Priesthood operates its own hierarchies outside of the Family-Clan-Pride succession of Kzinti fealty to the Patriarch. All of these groups profess loyalty to the Patriarch. Despite the inevitable internecine competition, in the long run, they work together as a whole to enforce conformity at all social levels according to the overall precepts and morals of Kzinti culture.


Kzin Dogfight

Kzinti Technological Advancements

Kzinti technical innovation had to be balanced with the need for overall standardization of equipment manufactured lightyears and perhaps generations away from where it might have to be serviced or repaired. Technological change thus took centuries. An innovation had to work its way to Kzin, be evaluated by the Patriarch’s Masters of Technology, and then propagated outwards as a rolling change to the ‘Patriarchal Standard Technology & Equipment Set’ maintained at all current and future Kzinti colonies, bases, and outposts; at three-quarters of the speed of light.

Kzinti settlements had to be self-sufficient both technologically and materially because few things beyond technical plans and a few master manufacturing machines could be hauled from star to star economically even via gravitically-driven STL transports. Everything else needed to build up an industrial base at a new settlement had to be fabricated according to those basic plans from locally-acquired raw materials. Every Kzinti settlement thus had to be able to repair, service, and eventually build all equipment and items in the Patriarchy’s Standard Technology & Equipment Set; from personal sidearms to polarizer-driven interstellar dreadnoughts and everything in between, though first the support technologies and manufacturing equipment. All technicians, slaves and managers also had to be trained in the ST&E’s production and repair methods. The constant expansion of the Patriarchy, coupled with the population pressures in its core, was the only thing driving its interstellar economy. By its very nature, that economy had to be command-driven instead of rising and falling at the whims of a ‘free’ competitive market made impossible anyway given STL communications and shipping.

To survive in the face of an enemy with FTL travel--to outwit the Human’s United Nations Space Navy after 2410AD, and later the Interworld Commission’s Military Forces--the Kzinti Patriarchy had to face change at a rate measured in mere years instead of generations; and along with that the only real bar to its continued expansion. The Patriarchy is still adjusting to the effects of major innovations such as hyperdrive and Hyperwave (in addition to ‘minor’ innovations, such as transfer booths), even though it has possessed them for over three centuries by the Ringworld Era. The Kzinti and their slaves are artificers and engineers at least as good as Humans--in some ways even better--but their millennia-old cultural paradigm, static economic order, and lack of basic research still resists the underlying changes brought about by the introduction of FTL travel and communications to the Patriarchy and its society. Furthermore, the Patriarchy does not indulge in anything more than carefully-controlled low-volume trade with other interstellar entities, since to do more would consign its carefully balanced and fragile command economy to overwhelming competitive market forces moving at FTL speeds.

The Patriarchy in the Ringworld Era

The Ringworld

The Patriarchy in the Ringworld Era is a mere remnant of what it once was at its height ca. 2400AD, halfway through the First Man-Kzin War. Fully a quarter of its spatial volume and a third of its habitable worlds have been taken by Human fleets or ceded as post-War reparations to the Interworld Commission since then. Furthermore, the Kzinti have all but given up on taking the rich twin Reticuli worlds now contested by the Pierin, who have had hyperdrive since 2550AD courtesy of the Interworld Commission (arguably the true casus belli leading to the Fourth Man-Kzin War). By the Ringworld Era the Patriarchy’s population has recovered to something near its levels prior to the Man-Kzin Wars; currently around 4 billion adult Kzintosh, with 8 billion adult kzinretti and perhaps 10 billion members of various slave races. Kzinti expansion to Galactic North has been forestalled by the Trinocs, who independently purchased hyperdrive technology from the Outsiders ca. 2500AD. The Patriarchy has thus been forced into the uncomfortable and unprecedented position of having to ‘negotiate’ with other powers who are its grudging equals, if not (never spoken in public by even the rashest young or oldest cynical Kzintosh) perhaps even its military superiors.

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For all of the reverses and changes forced upon it during the four-plus centuries from the Human acquisition of hyperdrive in 2406AD up to the Ringworld Era, the Patriarchy is still the third most powerful entity in Known Space. It is easily superior in raw armed strength to the Interworld Commission’s Military Forces, if not including the UNSN or the Trinoc military forces. It embarked upon a program of producing very effective hyper-capable warships and modernized combat forces during the Second, Third, and Fourth Man-Kzin Wars, and its Navy continues to refine its ships and technologies apace even into the Ringworld Era, hampered only by the Patriarch’s need to control his direct underlings in the System Prides and thus limit their access to hyperdrive warships. Because of this the Patriarchy’s operational doctrine and strategy still lags behind the real abilities of hyperspace travel, seriously enough to have finally convinced the Patriarchy that it cannot prosecute another full-scale interstellar War against Humans--let alone one that might pit it against hyperdrive-capable modern Humans, Trinocs and Pierin--until it can change its paradigms and come up with a force doctrine and grand strategy that will allow it to act effectively against N hyper-capable opponents all across Known Space; unless the perfect opportunity presents itself. Once it does, though--look out!

The Kzin Patriarchy 2850AD

The ordinary lives of Kzinti living on and in the nineteen Kzinti-habitable worlds, their stellar systems, and the additional 60+ settled stellar systems lacking Kzinti-habitable worlds remaining in the Patriarchy of 2850AD have not been changed appreciably by the Man-Kzin Wars. At all levels save the highest, the ancient bonds of loyalty and honor to the Patriarch and the pursuit of glory and conquest still persist. The Kzinti still maintain huge populations of alien slaves, including Jotok, Kdatlyno, Pierin and several other races, even those whose homeworlds were ‘liberated’ during the Wars. Among these slaves are millions of Humans whose ancestors were captured from Wunderland and other places during the Man-Kzin Wars and then transported deeper into the Patriarchy. New technologies have spread across the Patriarchy and down into its lower mercantile and overseer classes, though much more slowly than they have among Humans and other races.

Effectively a command economy, the Patriarchy does not use money, per se; individual Kzintosh get and give goods and services through a system of honor-based exchange known as strakh (‘honor’). Kzintosh can be considered to have ‘buying power’ equivalent to their Starting Wealth and ‘Job’ equivalent, including one level of Wealth per 3 levels of Social Rank (see Jobs, Ch. 6). Failure to pay debts, either by reciprocal favors or barter, is seen as a serious violation of honor. Kzintosh have no legal courts for debt resolution, and the Kzintosh who feels he is slighted can always ‘scream and leap’ . . . Only a Clan leader (Status 4+) can settle debts among Kzintosh in his clan, usually to forestall a blood feud; and so on up the Status hierarchy. The Patriarch, for example, serves the same function among the system Prides about once per Kzin generation.

The Kzin Navy

Though the Patriarchy has not even partially mobilized its ‘Navy’ (officially known as the ‘Conquest Fleet’) since the Conflict (aka the ‘Sixth Man-Kzin War’) of 2670-71AD, the sheer size and tactical ability of its space and ground forces still makes it a power to be reckoned with in Known Space, if only militarily and not economically. The Prides, who each control a single Kzin inhabited system in the Patriarchy, maintain huge ground forces and sub-light naval units; though hyperdrive warships are allowed only to the Patriarchy Navy, itself under the Patriarch’s direct control. The Patriarchy Navy maintains squadrons of hyper-capable warships in each inhabited system of the Patriarchy, as well as more at bases scattered along its borders with Human and Trinoc space. All are staffed by Kzintosh drawn from all of the System Prides, and crews are mixed and rotated frequently to keep them from developing any ‘local’ loyalty.

Kzin in Battle

Squadron rotation forestalls rebellion even if it increases friction and thus communication ‘difficulties’ between the Squadron commanders and their subordinate officers. Additionally, each of the closest inhabited systems to those borders have a few additional Squadrons of ‘turn-key’ hyper-capable warships maintained by the local Prides, with hyperdrives that can only be activated by an Admiral of the Patriarchy Navy (of minor though pure ‘Rrit’ ancestry) with codes issued by the Patriarch via Hyperwave. The Patriarchy Navy aggressively patrols its frontiers both with sub-light and hyperdrive craft, especially on the borders with Human and Trinoc Space.

Kzinti Squadron

The State of the Kzin Patriarchy

Penetration of Patriarchy Space is always met with extreme force. The Kzinti have effectively quarantined all of Known Space to the Galactic East of 59 Virginis to settlement by any but Kzinti concerns. The Patriarchy’s Intelligence service (the ‘Patriarch’s Eyes’ and ‘Ears’) and its Security service (the ‘Patriarch’s Hands’) have extended networks of covert agents all across Known Space. They employ members of practically every race found within the Patriarchy, though with limited effectiveness due to the constant counter-intelligence activities of the ARM and General Products, Inc. Patriarchy Intelligence and Security agents are slightly more effective within expatriate populations of Kzinti, such as those on Wunderland, Canyon, and Shasht.

More About Known Space

To read more about the creator of the Kzin and Known Space read our article about one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time in A ‘Mythology’ Of Larry Niven’s ‘Known Space’

John Waterman lives in Colorado with his wife, daughter, a variable number of cats, and a neutron star surrounded by a dog-shaped accretion disk. He doesn't always drink whiskey; but when he does, he prefers Irish single-malt. He served in the United States Army during the end of the Cold War, last with the Eleventh Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, Germany.

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