Hello once again, ATT members and guests. 2 years ago I wrote a quick guide to the Septs of the Tau Empire here. Reading that over, I realized that a lot of it was based on assumption and in certain facts were just plain wrong. However I felt that such a guide was needed as there appeared to be nowhere online where a fully researched and comprehensive collection of background for Tau Septs could be found. I found Lexicanum had a reasonable collection, but that most of the Septs are summed up in a single sentence and contained little more information than outlined in the Codex. Therefore I decided to do the research myself and write an article that collected as much background about the Septs as I could possibly find. I wanted to go beyond questions beyond the simple, "What is the Sept like?" and address questions like "What place does this Sept have in the Empire?" and "What have members of that Sept achieved?"
Having sat on my research for nearly a year now, I think I have collected enough knowledge from all of Games Workshop Publications, including those of Black Library and Forgeworld, to truly produce a Comprehensive Guide. It is important that I express that the facts and assumptions I present in the following article are not definitive, I remain open to new information, and in fact I welcome it as it would be almost impossible to address every part of every Games Workshop publication that mentioned Tau on my own. In the article itself I have made a number of assumptions and I have identified and explained my reasoning behind each. That however does not mean that my answer is correct, it is merely the conclusion I have come to through my research and if anyone can present evidence to the contrary I am perfectly willing to edit the article to incorporate the new information.
Finally I must give special thanks to Doombringer, a Tau background god in his own right. He help provide me with a number of background articles that I could not otherwise have come by, including a number of out of print books. I want to give further thanks to a few other members of Advanced Tau Tactica, including Wolfs16 and Mnemonic who helped go over the Article and correct mistakes as well as provide corrections and new sources for the actual content. I also want to thank Didi-et-Gogo for his help on the Home Sept of Shadowsun.
Introduction & Explanatory Notes
First Sphere Septs
Second Sphere Septs
Third Sphere Septs
I shall begin by addressing a number of background points with the intention of explaining and defending some of the assumptions I have made for the sake of this article. These include the birthplace of a number of individuals and justification for the use of a few items of background that some would refute as canonical evidence. I have attached a bibliography which sets out my references in a rough hierarchy, so you should be able to judge the 'weight' of the reference I have used by the reference number (Lowest Number being the most trustworthy). My references do not include page numbers as much of my research was done with PDF documents, whose page numbers were wrong. If there is any question as to exactly what reference I am referring to e.g. page number, ask and I will attempt to find a page number if possible.
There are a few characters who I have placed as 'notable sept members' despite being unable to find any article which actually detailed their home Sept. The first of which is Commander Shadowsun. While there is a tau translation of her name (O'Shaserra) I could find no information that detailed either her birth sept or full name. I have attributed O'Shaserra to the Tau'n Sept, based on the paint scheme done by the 'eavy Metal Team, who paint her Sept symbols in yellow, generally depicts a member of the Tau'n Sept.1 I have heard some claim she is a member of the T'au Sept, based on her white armour, however a high-definition picture of the model shows her colours to be the Yellow of Tau'n and the armour colour should only really be used in the absence of Sept Symbols and even then, with the Tau's habit of changing armour colour to suit the terrain it is not something to be entirely relied on.
Another Tau who lacks background in this regard is Commander Puretide. I could not even find a reference to a Tau name for Puretide. However, Codex: Tau Empire does state that Puretide was Commander of the Armies of Dal'yth.1 There is evidence, in the form of Forgeworld's release of O'Ralai's Experimental Rules, that High Commanders are natives of that Sept.14 While it is possible that Puretide's position as the greatest leader of his era could explain his appointment to command of another Sept's Military, I personally believe the Tau did not see the Damocles Gulf Crusade as enough of a danger to make such dramatic appointments.19 Therefore I have placed Puretide as a native of the Dal'yth Sept for the sake of this article.
Another Tau whose 'nationality' is in question is Forgeworld's O'R'myr. The controversy that surrounds this character is that he is stated to be a Hero of the defence of Fi'rios.10,13 Due to the timeline this could be the colonisation campaign fought against the Orks, or it could be a slightly later action defending the newly founded sept. Either way, some have taken this to mean that O'R'myr is a member of the new Fi'rios Sept. I would refute this assumption on the grounds that O'R'myr is stated to be in command of the Tau Sept Coalition on T'ros.13 Working on the same assumptions I have made for Puretide and the evidence from O'Ralai, It would suggest that O'R'myr would be a native of the T'au Sept, as he is still part of the Military of that Sept after the Colonisation of Fi'rios.
Shas'O'Vior'la'Kais is a character mentioned several times in Codex: Tau and Codex: Tau Empire, twice as a quotation and once in a short story.1,2 There are two other O'Kais mentioned in the background I collected. One mentioned in the Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse supplement, the other is the leader of the Shas High Command on the world of Kronus, featured in the Relic PC game Dawn of War: Dark Crusade expansion. It is reasonable to believe that the Shas'O'Vior'la'Kais' mentioned in the Codex are one and the same. I have assumed that the O'Kais mentioned in the Apocalypse supplement is another reference to the same commander, since there is no mention of his 'sept name'.7 The O'kais mentioned in Dark Crusade is different. He is mentioned as a student of Puretide, and it is reasonable to assume that such a student would be quoted often in the Tau Codices alongside other students of the great commander. the white sept colours shown in Dawn of War show him to be a member of the T'au sept.27 It is possible that Relic made a mistake and gave O'Kais the wrong sept colour, but I am inclined to say that Relic's games are a separate background source to themselves and therefore it is unlikely to be the Same O'Kais in other Sources. Therefore I have set down two O'Kais one for the Vior'la Sept and one for the T'au Sept.
This leads nicely on to another point I want to address: I have used the Relic Dawn of War series PC games. There a number of people who would refute the Relic PC games entirely due to their position outside the Games Workshop Publications. However, I have decided to use them as a source in my article (albeit low down in my source hierarchy). They have Sept colours for a few Septs which are not stated in the Codices and a few characters who I feel relevant. In using these sources I have to refute a point which may crop up in some minds. The Dawn of War Campaigns are open ended and it is possible that the Tau win the campaign and establish a fully-fledged sept world. However in Dawn of War 2, dialogue between the characters suggests that the Blood Raven were victorious on Kronus (dark crusade), so Kronus would not have been established as a Sept World. As a side-note, there is reference also to the Kaurava campaign featured in Dawn of War: Soulstorm. Judging by the reaction of the Space Marines and their refusal to speak of it, the general consensus is that that system fell to the chaos invasion.
A character that appears in the Dawn of War: Soulstorm expansion is Shas'O'Ores'Ka. I have included him as a native of the Fal'shia sept, despite their being no reference to his home Sept. The reasoning behind this being that he is commander of a Sept expedition bearing the Sept colour of Fal'shia (at least, the colour Relic has stated as Fal'shian). His position there is refutable but unless there is evidence to the contrary I am inclined to believe that this is the case.
Finally, I wish to address a number of assumptions made on the geography of some of the Sept worlds. I have seen claims that Bork'an is an Iceworld and D'yannoi is a world of swamps. I believe this notion to have come from page 60 of Codex: Tau Empire. This page displays a number of painted fire-warriors and kroot as examples to hobbyists. A caption for a fire-warrior painted in the Tau dress uniform states that 'the colors worn by the warriors of T’au reflect the arid climate of that world'.1 Many have taken this to mean that the following Bork'an and D'yannoi figures suggest the same, however I would refute this with evidence from the Warhammer 40,000: Battle Missions supplement states that Bork'an has a number of jungles in which the natives engaged a Tyranid invasion. It is highly unlikely that an ice-world is likely to have jungles and so I am believe that these pictures are merely examples of Tau combat dress, rather than representations of those world's climates.
As a side note to the above, I have seen other claims, particularly on other forums and at Lexicanum, that each Sept has its own paint scheme. This is incorrect, the Tau do not have paint schemes in the way that, for example, Space Marines do.1,2 They Tau change their armour and camouflage depending on their environment, only the Sept colour remains the same and this is the part that identifies which Sept the Tau is from. Therefore, you could have a Tau in the standard camoflague that we know to be based on T'au's climate, but have a red Sept Symbol, which would set him or her out as a native of Vior'la.
Septs, Why?, What? & How?
The second part of the introduction shall focus on septs in general. I shall seek to answer two main questions. First "Why do the septs exist?" and second "What is their purpose." The answer to both is interlinked in my opinion and to understand what a Sept is you must explore the inner workings and administration of the Tau Empire as a whole.
The Tau Empire currently consists of roughly 100 colonised worlds, including alien homeworlds such as Pech and Vespid.10 That is about 1/10,000th the size of the Imperium of Man. Although alien, the Tau Empire is no different from any other empire. An empire's existence relies on its ability to control and administrate to its populous. In fact, this is actually the criteria for a modern state in International Law. The ability to control and bring your administration to a group of people relies on one thing: Communication. The ability to react to situations and provide governance is paramount. The Imperium of Man relies on the psyker, specifically the Astropath to maintain communication between Planets, Sub Sectors, Sectors and even entire Segmentums. Using psychic messages to communicate across a galaxy that would take hundreds of lifetimes to cross. Without the psyker the Imperium is blind.
The Tau Empire cannot do this. The Tau have a very low warp resonance and their race is not only bereft of psykers, they barely understand their existence.1,2 They have no equivalent of the Astropath and so cannot send psychic messages through the warp. The Tau get round this by sending messages physically through messenger ships and drones, which move from way-station to way-station like a relay.16 This was how many empires in human history have tackled administration of large areas. This system, in comparison with humanities psychic powers is incredibly slow. The speed of Tau communications is important for the structure of the Tau Empire. To run the Empire from a single central government such as the Council of Highest on T'au with the system of communication that the Tau utilise would be completely infeasible.
To get round this problem the Tau Empire governs through a number of Sept worlds, who act as local government for the empire and central hubs for the communication networks.25 Each Sept is semi-autonomous. While they are subject to the edicts and decrees made by the Council of the Highest, they have their own governing councils, their own bureaucracies and most importantly their own fleets and armies.1 The day to day running of the Empire is carried out by the Sept Worlds of which there are just over 20 unique locations. With roughly 100 colonised planets in the Empire, each Sept world governs and defends roughly 4-5 colonised worlds each, not including any way-stations or listening posts.
Two other questions crop up at this point: "How do Septs come into existence?" and "What makes a Sept World different from others?" Sept Worlds are worlds that are the most populous or the most influential worlds in that given area of Tau space. Each time the Tau Empire goes through one of its periods of expansion, new worlds are brought into the Empire. The most successful of these planets grows to dominate those in its sphere of influence. Either by design or by natural selection, these worlds establish themselves as the hub for the communications network that stretches from the further frontier back to T'au itself and to the furthest frontier again. Exactly how a Sept world is selected remains unknown but it is clear that some worlds develop faster and rapidly establish themselves. Ksi'm'yen and Fi'rios are two examples of recent colonies who developed into full blown Septs in a matter of 1-2 Terran Years.1,10
This system of provincial government as it where, explains how each Sept begins to form its own character, as it is expected to survive without major assistance from T'au itself. This correlates with the Tau's general desire for self-sufficiency that can be seen even in small townships which cultivate their own produce.19 Each Sept's character is affected not only by its relative independence, but also by the varying levels of each caste that make up its population. For example, Vior'la is known to have a huge majority of Shas Caste and is therefore a very militarised sept world. Whereas Bork'an, a predominately Fio Caste world, is known for its universities and scientific research.1,2
In conclusion, A Sept world exists because of the limited communications in the Tau Empire despite the relatively small area it encompasses. It is semi-independent and composed of about 4-6 colonised worlds with a particularly prosperous planet which is the Sept Capitol and eponymous world. Each Sept has varying characteristics based mostly off the capitol world, its population demographics and general climate. They have their own armies and governments, but overall, they answer to the central government on T’au. As a final note, the independence that the septs maintain may lead some to come to the conclusion that Septs may attempt to secede from the empire. I would like to counter this thought immediately; it is simply not in the Tau nature to think that way. The tau have a deep collective philosophy, this applies not only to castes, but also to Septs. We can see that although forces from T'au participated in the fighting on T'ros, they were supported by a fleet mostly out of Vash'ya10 and again we see Fal'shians deployed alongside Tau from Bork'an in the Annexation of Cytheria.5 I do not believe it would even enter their minds that they would be better off on their own, such thinking is a step on the road to the Mont'au.