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The Imperial Legion, also known as the Imperial Army, is the terrestrial component of the armed forces of the Empire of Tamriel. It operates under the auspices and with the authority of the Emperor himself, and, with its vast numbers, quality training, and rigid discipline, is considered one of the most powerful fighting forces ever assembled in history.
While in peacetime the Legion serves primarily as a garrison force, manning forts, patrolling roads, and providing guardsmen for towns, cities, counties, and nobles, in wartime the Legion's responsibilities and powers are greatly increased. During conflicts, the Legion serves as an invading and occupying force, overwhelming opposition with numerical superiority and strict economy of force.
The cause of the Legion's widespread success, and the aspect that makes it the elite military force it is, is its versatility. All facets of warfare are accounted for in Legionary operations, and the Legion employs large numbers of highly-specialised troops in conjunction with one another in order to achieve guaranteed victory, among them archers, light and heavy cavalry, and battle-mages. Tying into this versatility is its non-discriminatory policy of recruitment. The Legion recruits individuals of all races and creeds into its ranks and benefits from the diversity of skills they all bring (although men form the vast majority). Also major factors in its success, however, are the Legion's strict standards, rigid discipline, and effective organization.
The Legion is divided into structured and disciplined military units; the primary, and largest, of which are Legions. Legions are numbered for identification, and each possesses a proud history and sub-culture. Of note, for example, is the 10th Legion, which was destroyed in the Imperial invasion of Akavir.
The Legion's strict standards of recruitment choose candidates for service on the bases of endurance, soldierly virtue, and trustworthiness, among others. Service in the Legion is a model of Imperial citizenship, and as such requires a high standard of excellence. Legionnaires are typically expected to be at the peak of physical fitness in order to weather the rigors of melee combat and long marches in heavy equipment, demonstrate mastery of blades, polearms, and blunt weaponry, and have great skill in utilising heavy armor as well as hand-shields.
In terms of equipment Legionary kit varies, depending on a large number of factors, including climate, location, task, and expectations. Legionnaires were equipped with armors of chain, scale, and plate mail and gender-neutral skirts in the province of Morrowind in 3E 427, heavy steel plate overlying chain mail in the capitol province of Cyrodiil during the Oblivion Crisis, and lighter leather, chainmail, and steel plate armors in Skyrim during the Stormcloak Rebellion. Battlemages tend to wear hoods, guardsmen on loan to nobles wear the vestments of their town, city, county, or hold, and rangers and foresters tend to wear fur or leather apparel in addition to their Legionary armor. In addition, uniform may vary depending on the culture of the local area or province.
The Imperial Legion sprang from the hardy stock of Colovia, the rugged highlanders with their Nordic blood. Complemented by the battlemages and sophistication of Nibenay, and inspired by the methods and equipment of the Akaviri, the Legion became a potent force in continental affairs during the reign of Reman I.
Following the events of the Oblivion Crisis, the Imperial Legion steadily grew weaker. The Thalmor faction of the High Elves on Summerset Isle gained power at the same time, and were able to wrest control of Valenwood and Elsweyr from the Cyrodilic Empire. Growing bolder, the Thalmor sent an ultimatum to the Emperor, demanding the secession of Hammerfell to the Aldmeri Dominion (as the combined lands of Elsweyr, Summerset Isle, and Valenwood were now called), in addition to the banning of the worship of the Divine Talos, whom the elves did not believe in as he was a human before he became a deity. They also demanded exorbitant rights and a tribute from the Emperor Titus Mede II, as well as the disbanding of the Blades. When Emperor Mede refused all their demands, they revealed the wagon that they had brought, supposedly filled with a tribute, was actually filled with the heads of every Blades agent residing in the Aldmeri Dominion. Following this incident, the Great War broke out.
During the Great War, the Thalmor initially invaded deep into the heart of Cyrodiil, capturing Leyawiin and Cheydinhal rapidly before the Empire's Legions could mobilize an effective defense. Meanwhile, more Thalmor armies invaded into Hammerfell, bypassing Anvil, Skingrad, and Chorrol entirely. When they realized the weakness of the Empire's Legions, the Thalmor grew bolder and mobilized an offensive against Cyrodiil as a whole - though their original intent was to capture Hammerfell, they now sought to take the entire Empire. An Aldmeri army attacked and seized the cities of Anvil, Chorrol, and Skingrad, leaving Bruma and the Imperial City as the only remaining cities under Legion control in Cyrodiil. Meanwhile, the Legions in Hammerfell were pressed hard and forced to retreat, leaving the entire southern half of Hammerfell to fall to the Aldmeri. At this time, the Imperial City itself came under direct siege, surrounded on three sides by Thalmor warriors. Though relieved by several Legions of hardened Nord Legionnaires, the Emperor ultimately gave the order to break the siege and abandon the city. The combined Legions from Skyrim and Cyrodiil, in addition to Blades auxiliaries, assaulted out the city and fled through Bruma to the north. An entire Legion sacrificed itself to defend the Emperor's rear; this was in addition to the losses of two other Legions from Cyrodiil and Hammerfell.
At this time, the Imperial Palace was sacked and burned, and the White-Gold tower was plundered. The Thalmor began seeking an Imperial surrender, sending emissaries to the Emperor in Skyrim. He began false negotiations while consolidating his strength; he recalled all the Legions defending Hammerfell and rearmed and refreshed the Skyrim and Cyrodilic Legions. The Legions from Hammerfell, unwilling to abandon the land, left a considerable number of veteran legionnaires to defend the land as they returned to Cyrodiil, while the Emperor stormed south with his refreshed Legions. The Thalmor, caught by surprise, were attacked by the Hammerfell Legions from the west, while the Skyrim Legions swept east and south and the Emperor, along with his personal Cyrodilic Legions, assaulted the Imperial City. The city was again surrounded on three sides, and the Thalmor immediately brought in reinforcements from the southeast, which were unable to break through the Nord legionnaires - Thalmor warriors were unable to march to Cyrodiil from Hammerfell due to the massive resistance put up by the veterans whom the Hammerfell Legions had left behind. The Emperor retook the Imperial City and all of Cyrodiil, but at heavy casualties, having lost four Legions in total and possessing no Legions that were at even half-strength. The weakened Thalmor sought peace, resulting in the White-Gold Concordat being signed - the Empire ceded half of Hammerfell and banned the worship of Talos. The Legion, at this point, was at an all-time weakness, and soon thereafter lost all of Hammerfell, reducing it to a Legion filled with warriors from only Cyrodiil, Skyrim and High Rock.
Unfortunately, the Legion's woes were not yet at an end. With the ascension of Ulfric Stormcloak to the Jarlship of Eastmarch and the death of High King Torygg at Ulfric's hands, civil war broke out twenty-five years later in Skyrim. The Imperial Legion was forced to fight in Skyrim, against many warriors who had previously themselves been Legionnaires, weakening the Legion even further.
- The Imperial Legion was inspired by the Roman Legions who were the supreme military power in Ancient Europe. See here for early concept art.
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the player could join the Imperial Legion, perform tasks for them and eventually rise in rank up to the highest one; the Knight Of The Imperial Dragon.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion gave the player no opportunity to join the Imperial Legion. Though perhaps not an official part of the legion, the Champion of the Order of the Dragon status awarded at the end of the main quest would seem to indicate some status amongst the Legion as it grants the wielder Imperial Armor.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the player can participate in the ongoing civil war by joining either the Imperial Legion or the Stormcloaks.