Let’s face it: There’s a lot more going on in Skyrim that we travelers can reasonably shake a stick at. Also, a lot has happened in the past 200 years since the Oblivion Crisis. All I can attempt to do is give you an overview of events that should hopefully clear up any ambiguity we inevitably face when we blunder through our first play through of a TES title.
Let us begin with a brief summary of the events that transpired since the Dragonfires were last lit:
When we last left our heroes (heh)… When the Oblivion Crisis came to a close, the Dragonfires were lit and the Elder Council ruled the Empire under Chancellor Ocato in the absence of an Emperor. Although there has been a long run of relative peace between the Tamrielic nations, certain nations begin to take advantage of the lack of a heir to the throne, and the Empire’s weakened ability to govern. The civil unrest begins in Black Marsh, and if we remember correctly, most people of Argonian lineage were recalled during the Oblivion crisis. Black Marsh therefore had strength and numbers and used this opportunity to secede from the Empire. Emperor Titus Mede I, a conqueror and father to Attrebus Mede, is crowned and soon after, Red Mountain in Vvardenfell, Morrowind erupts due to the instability and crashing of the Ministry of Truth, due to Vivec’s absence. This destroys the island, and also makes much of mainland Morrowind uninhabitable. As if their desertion by the Nerevarine, the disappearance of Vivec, and fall of the Tribunal weren’t enough. As you can imagine Morrowind isn’t fit for fighting when Black Marsh decides to invade what’s left of it. At this point, and over the years, many Dunmer fled for Skyrim, specifically Windhelm hold.
Black Marsh isn’t the only nation with their hands in the cookie jar. A long-running Altmeri political group in the Summerset Isles, called the Thalmor, eventually enact a hostile takeover of the nation, with the intent of re-constructing the ancient and long fallen Aldmeri Dominion of the second era. Valenwood was next on the Thalmor’s to-conquer list, and a successful coup and overthrow of the government was achieved. With the successful annexation and take over of Valenwood, the Aldmeri Dominion is officially declared, and named Alinor to pay respect to the long-fallen kingdom. This can only mean outright war between the Tamrielic Empire and the newly re-founded Aldmeri Dominion.
During the Void Nights, a time when Masser and Secunda disappeared, the Khajiit of Elseweyr were deeply disturbed. When the moons finally did return, the Thalmor claimed responsibility for their return and won the hearts of the Khajiiti nation. Elseweyr officially secedes from the Empire and is divided into two states called Anequina and Pelletine, and basically get in bed with Alinor. Civil war begins in Hammerfell, between ancient Crowns and the Forbear sects. It seems that civil war is cropping up on all sides.
At this time, Emperor Titus Mede II, son of Emperor Attrebus Mede (allegedly– we’re not sure how many emperor’s were crowned between Mede I and Mede II, or if Attrebus was was emperor at all [NOTE: The Infernal City mentions Attrebus as "crown prince."]) inherits a broken Empire that is only a shell of its former glory. There is little he can do to repair the damage that has been done in Tamriel’s outlying nations. As if things weren’t bad enough, the Thalmor threaten an invasion of Cyrodiil (simply to cripple the hub of the Empire) and Hammerfell. For the moment, Emperor Titus II refuses to make concessions to the invading forces to stop the war; one of the chief demands included the relinquishment of southern Hammerfell, which seems to speak to the true intention of the war. Camps of enemy forces are holed up in Elsewyer and execute a sneak attack on Cyrodiil, causing Leyawiin and Bravil to fall almost immediately. Similar troops are hidden in Valenwood and launch a successful attack on Imperial troops in Hammerfell.
The true shock comes when the Aldmeri forces invade the Imperial City in Cyrodiil and take the palace and the adjoining tower (once the White-Gold Tower). The Emperor was able to escape to Skyrim before the city was sacked, but many of its civilians were left defenseless.
The culmination of the Imperial war effort comes a year later in the form of a battle called the Battle of the Red Ring, which references the circular road of the same name that encircles the Imperial City. With this brilliant strategy, which included surrounding the captured city on all sides with Imperial troops, Tamriel was able to take back its capitol. Afterward, it became apparent to Emperor Titus II that the fighting could no longer continue if he was hoping to still have a nation and people to rule when it was finished. He begins to seek a treaty with Alinor to end the bloody fighting. Surprisingly many if not all of the demands of the Alinor were identical to the demands that were presented before the invasion of Cyrodiil. The two chief conditions of the White-Gold Concordat were that southern Hammerfell be given to the Aldmeri Dominion and the worship of Talos (Tiber Septim) of the Nine Divines be outlawed. Emperor Titus II had no choice but to accept these terms by this time.
Hammerfell refused to accept the Concordat and cede much of their land to the Dominion, despite already being heavily occupied by their forces. The Emperor was forced to relinquish Hammerfell as an Imperial province in order to maintain the parameters of the peace treaty. The Redguards’ war with Alinor ends in a stalemate after five years, and the signing of the Second Treaty of Stros M’kai. The Aldmeri Dominion withdraw their troops as per the treaty and Hammerfell is left to govern itself, orphaned by the Empire and decidedly angry about it. This hints that perhaps the war could have been won for all of remaining Tamriel if Titus II hadn’t given in to the demands, which leaves a sense of bitterness all around. By the end of it, the Blades, the Imperial bodyguards to the Emperor, are all but extinct.
Twenty years after the signing of the Second Treaty of Stros M’kai, Skyrim breaks out into civil war between those loyal to the Empire and the nationalistic Stormcloaks, led by the Jarl of Windhelm, Ulfric Stormcloak. Civil war officially begins when Ulfric allegedly “shouts” the high king of Skyrim, Torygg, in Solitude to death. Some say it was a fair duel; others say an assassination. The truth has yet to come to light. Either way, the stationed Imperial forces will not stand for it.
One may ask where High Rock stood in all of this. The Bretons are a hybrid of both men and mer which originated from the union between the ruling Aldmer and Nedic slaves during the first era. We can assume present day Bretons have a high distaste for elven rule, and are firm supporters of the Empire. The Bretons were responsible for supplying supporting troops to help fight for the Imperial City during the Great War as well as providing support to the Redguards during the March of Thirst in which Hammerfell fought to maintain control of their land. It is rumored that the Aldmeri Dominion has gained control of the island Balferia in High Rock, but other than that High Rock is thought to still be relatively prosperous, or at least as prosperous as a nation in decline can be.
The Thalmor’s Game Plan
The Aldmeri Strategy:
The main goal of the Thalmor was to re-establish the glory of the Aldmeri Dominion of the second era and expand their territory further if possible. Alinor once consisted of both the Summerset Isles and Valenwood during its 70-year reign, and its influence stretched out across most of the would-be nations of Tamriel. The Aldmeri Dominion took hold of Valenwood when they discovered that the Bosmeri people were planning to cede some of their land to their Colovian enemies. The Dominion then stepped in and using a thousand year old treaty’s clause, claimed stewardship of the nation and added it to their territory. The political transition was also made easier due to that the Bosmer were fighting over which son of the Camoran Dynasty should be appointed as king. Amongst the chaos the Aldmer were able to slip in and “dissolve” the problem.
The territories of the Aldmeri Dominion were robbed from them when Tiber Septim conquered and united the lands of High Rock, Skyrim, Cyrodiil, Elseweyr, Black Marsh, Hammerfell, Morrowind, Valenwood, and the Summerset Isles under the Empire.
The present-day Aldmeri Dominion holds a large grudge against the the races of men who established the Empire, since the land of Tamriel was once largely populated by elves and the men arriving from Atmora in the late Merethic era were subjugated and terrorized by the elves. To have men essentially turn on them and succeed is a fatal wound to their pride. Because of this, in addition to reclaiming their lost territory, the Thalmor make their mission to make the races which were the descendants of Atmora (which may or may not include the Redguards, as they’re from Yokuda, but still considered a race of men, not mer) suffer defeat and anguish at any cost. Therefore, the Aldmeri strategy is half reclamation and half spite work. The revival of the Aldmeri Dominion is as much a political movement as it is a cultural revival for these elves. Elven supremacy is declared openly, and the treatment of men recalls a darker time since Aldmeri agents are determined to force the races of men to submit once again.
Why the Dominion is after southern Hammerfell is ambiguous at best. It is clear that they want it, as it was listed in the initial ultimatum demands as well as a stipulation of the Concordat. Southern Hammerfell was named Hegathe by the ancient Aldmer and Ayleid elves that lived in the area. Its close vicinity to the nations of the Aldmeri Dominion suggests that it would be of interest to the Aldmer, as well as the nature of the population, but it does not seem that the Hegathe region of Hammerfell was ever officially a part of the Aldmeri Dominion. Perhaps the Dominion was trying to obtain land that it felt it had almost attained before Tiber Septim crushed the Crown sect (and the civil war) in southern Hammerfell at the end of the second era. Needless to say the current Yokudan inhabitants of the area want nothing to do with that.
Thalmor: A political group which originated in the Summerset Isles and now controls the Isles, Valenwood, and Elseweyr’s states by subjugation. There influence can be felt throughout the remaining occupied Tamrielic nations in accordance with the White-Gold Concordat’s demands.
Aldmeri Dominion: A term for the Aldmer’s ancient kingdom of the second era which ruled Summerset Isle and Valenwood. The recapture of these two nations by the Thalmor signal the reappearance of the Aldmeri Dominion.
Aldmer: The Aldmer were considered to be the first elves and the forefathers of all resulting elven races. They allegedly hailed from the lost city of Aldmeris and settled first in the Summerset Isles and eventually inhabited and settled most of mainland Tamriel. They are considered to be long extinct and instead evolved to be the present day elven races of Nirn. The Altmer are considered to be the most similar to the original Aldmer, as they first settled the Summerset Isles and remained largely unchanged. Modern-day Altmer revere the wisdom and power of their elven forefathers, and strive to become more like them. An example of this is the Thalmor political group and their agenda.
Alinor: The name of the Aldmeri nation of the second era that consisted of what was Summerset Isle and Valenwood. Alinor is also the capitol of the Summerset Isles.
Camoran Dynasty: One of the most ancient dynasties in Tamriel. The Camoran family rules Valenwood, and is both the home of the Camoran Usurper and the lovely Mankar Camoran, his alleged son. It is unclear how Mankar is an Altmer if both his parents were Bosmer, though, suggesting that they are either not the same person, or that he was truly born to an Altmer woman.
Void Nights: A time during the first century of the fourth era in which the two moons Masser and Secunda disappear for two years. The disappearance of the moons was particularly stressful for the Khajiit of the Empire because they link them to their gods, and even their consumption of moon sugar is linked to communing with them. The Khajiit are also subject to the lunar cycle as it determines the breed of Khajiit at the time of birth.
Emperor Titus Mede II: The Imperial descendant of Emperor Titus Mede I, he is the current Emperor of Tamriel. Titus Mede I was a warlord and king of Cyrodiil before he became Emperor. It is likely if not certain that there is no Dragonblood in this bloodline.
The Battle of the Red Ring: This was the battle that lead to the treaty that ended the Great War. Titus Mede II had fled the Imperial City as it was sacked by the Aldmeri Dominion and traveled to Skyrim. There the war plan was formulated that would constitute this battle. It included surrounding the city on all sides, unbeknownst to the Dominion, and all out attacking the enemy troops holding the city. This battle ended with the suspending of the Aldmeri general from the White-Gold Tower for 33 days.
Talos and the ban of Talos worship: Talos is a favorite deity of the people of Tamriel who is part of the pantheon of the Nine Divines. He is also known by the names Ysmir, Tiber Septim, and Wulfharth. He was a great Nord general during the second era and is responsible for uniting the lands which became the Tamrielic Empire and the ejection of the elves from their seat of power. Following his installment as Emperor, prosperity abounded and it was truly a great time to be a part of the Empire. Upon his death he is said to have been honored by the Eight Divines for his great deeds and transformed into a god, the god Talos. The names listed above may also be individual people who were assimilated as aspects of the god Talos upon their death. Nonetheless, Talos is viewed chiefly as a son of Skyrim and a great general.
As per the White-Gold Concordat, Talos worship was outlawed. This created discontent all across the remainder of the Empire, and severely stressed and angered the Nords, who regarded him as their personal champion. At first it was doubted that worship was actually outlawed, until the Thalmor began to enforce the ban by persecuting worshipers. The Thalmor regard the worship of Talos a mistake on the part of the people, rather than cultural warfare meant to extinguish the pride of men for their conqueror of the elven peoples. The Thalmor “ideology” is that it is erroneous to worship a man who is not a god, but simply a great man in Tamriel’s history. To worship him is actually an act of heresy in regard to the other Eight Divines.
(Ulfric) Stormcloak: Ulfric Stormcloak is the leader of the Stormcloak nationalist movement and the Jarl of Windhelm hold in Skyrim. He possesses the knowledge of the Thu’um, or The Voice, and therefore can use shouts. He uses his power to kill the king of Skyrim, presumably because he feels that he is weak in submitting to the Empire’s puppet government which is being controlled by the Thalmor. The Stormcloaks consist of nationalist and often racist Nords who are determined to seize control of Skyrim, break away from or otherwise destroy the Empire, and establish their own sovereign nation.
White-Gold Concordat: The treaty that ended the Great War which is named for the tower at the center of the Imperial City which was once the Ayleid elves’ palace long ago. The main stipulations of the treaty which was a great cause for alarm was the relinquishment of southern Hammerfell to Alinor and the ban on the worship of the Divine, Talos, or Tiber Septim.
Balferia: An island in the Iliac Bay which is home to the Adamantine Tower, which has been present for time immemorial. When the Aldmer arrived to Tamriel the tower was already standing, and it has long been an inspiration to civilized nations to replicate such a structure (ie: the Ayleid’s White-Gold Tower). The tower also has religious significance as it is the famed location at which the Aedra met to discuss the creation of the mortal realm. For the Dominion to hold this island it not only grants them a sense of religious legitimization, but also links them to the nature of this ancient structure: ever present, grand, and to be emulated.
What it means for contemporary Skyrim:
Even the blind can see that the once prosperous Empire is on the verge of ceasing to exist. Whether the citizens of Skyrim are pro-Empire or pro-Stormcloak, neither of them want to lose their nation to the Aldmeri Dominion, which burned down the first Nord city in Skyrim eras ago. Many of the citizens are distraught over the ban on Talos worship, but some resign themselves to it being necessary for the time being, while others are in outrage and wish to proclaim an outright revolution. The people at the same time fear capture by Aldmeri forces if they are discovered as Talos worshipers or otherwise plotting war. With the return of the dragons to Skyrim, tensions have risen even higher. Men were once slaves to dragon overlords, particularly Alduin, many eras ago, and their resurfacing calls back ancient and frightening times. They are essentially facing the same kind of dominating enemy on both sides. However, with the rumors of the legendary Dragonborn which could potentially reintroduce the Dragonblood back into the Empire, the weary Imperial forces and sons of Skyrim are hopeful that order will be restored, the Thalmor will be crushed, and the dragons banished from whence they came.