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- "Two years I spent on the Cardassian border. Two years fighting Guls and Legates and Glinns. They were cunning enemies. Always had us chasing holo-projections and sensor ghosts. Everything was a game with them. Always had a plan within a plan within a plan leading into a trap. It was an honor to kill them."
- ―Leskit, a Klingon, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Soldiers of the Empire".
|Habitat||Prefer dark, tropical environments|
|Height||Same as Humans (approximately)|
|Behind the Scenes|
|Universe||Star Trek Universe|
Cardassians are a spacefaring humanoid species with reptilianoid traits and a militaristic, totalitarian government which controlled the Cardassian Space surrounding their homeworld of Cardassia Prime. The Cardassian Union was one of the main powers of the Milky Way Galaxy's Alpha Quadrant during the 24th century, until the Dominion War.
Cardassians are a typically humanoid species: bipedal, about the same size as Humans and possessing similar external anatomy. However, they also possess typically reptilianoid traits, both in biology and sociology, perhaps hinting on a synapsid-like nature.
Their skin color ranges from light grey to dark, brownish grey and their hair is always black, smooth and combed. They possess scaly ridges running on the head, neck, shoulders and chest. The head ridges may have a smoother or stonier appearance, depending on the individual; and are located on the forehead and around the eyes. Two smaller ridges also occur on the chin region and a vertical ridge runs from the nose up to the center of the forehead, where it forms a spoon-like structure. The "spoon" is blue colored in adult females, although this might be due to cosmetics.
Cardassians prefer a hotter, darker and more humid environment than Humans. It has been hinted that they are cold-blooded, which could explain their intolerance of cold. Their preference for darker environments, however, could be best explained by a more sensitive eyesight. While little is known about the Cardassian homeworld, it is not unthinkable that it might be a tropical planet covered with dense rainforests. Cardassian hearing is not as acute as that of Humans, although this was stated during the episode "Distant Voices", which later proved to be only a fantasy of Dr. Bashir, so the accuracy of the statement is still unclear. There is little reason to believe that it is false, however, since Bashir does know a lot about the biology of other species. What's also rather strange is that they have brown blood based on magnesium, similar to some of Earth's clams.
This species has excellent photographic memory. Some Cardassians also have the ability to resist a Vulcan mind meld, although it seems that these are not as much natural abilities as they are gained by intensive training and experience.
Cardassians are omnivores and have a peculiar taste for food, so much that following the Cardassian withdrawal from Deep Space 9, Quark was left with lots of Cardassian foods which he found simply impossible to sell. The Cardassians are very vulnerable to cobalt diselenide, a substance not considered toxic by most other species. However, they are immune to trilithium resin, which is deadly toxic for Humans. They are also more resistant to alcohol and able to withstand doses of triptacederine which would leave even an Algorian Mammoth unconscious.
Culture and societyEdit
Cardassian sociology and moral values differ greatly from those of Humans and other species. The Cardassian society is highly hierarchical and is more centered on the good of the state than the individual well being. While they value a comfortable quality of life as much as any other species, they will favor justice, order and loyalty to the government over things as individual freedom and equality.
According to Andrew Robinson, who played Garak, a Cardassian character in Deep Space Nine, Cardassian philosophy bears some resemblance to the reptilian portion of the Human brain. He once stated about Garak's view of Humans: "Bashir is the best that humanity offers. Garak's curiosity is 'What is this compassion about? Why do you care about people like that?' The Cardassians have a whole different ethos, there's a whole different attitude about life, and the value of life. They have a very organized society. I always liken it to the reptilian brain dominance, but in terms of caring about whether people live or die, they go by a very strict code of justice. If it's time for you to die, you die, if you've broken the law, you've broken the law, and you must suffer the consequences. Mercy is not a big item in their world."
Cardassians are also a naturally suspicious people, who will think twice before deciding to trust someone, even someone they know well. After watching Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, Garak found the protagonist a fool and stated that in the first act he'd already noticed that Brutus would betray Caesar.
Like Klingons, Cardassians place a high value at loyalty, both to their families and their government. Unlike Klingons, however, Cardassians have little to no concept of honor. As much as they value loyalty to their families and to the state at large, most Cardassians will have no problem at betraying friends or acquaintances if they believe this will benefit themselves. Cardassians place a high value on children, and favor a strong, rigid education system.
Cardassians also share the Tellarites' love for arguing, be it in the form of polite discussions or violent debates. Sometimes, Cardassian spies will use apparently trivial discussions as a way to learn important information. They also won't mind lying ordinarily, and think that telling the truth first place is foolish, another result of the suspicious nature which also makes them a very xenophobic species. These xenophobic tendencies cause Cardassians to often treat other species with disdain.
Cardassians have little to no tolerance for those who they consider criminals, especially if they are aliens or traitors. One can hardly be considered innocent in a Cardassian tribunal. After being accused of a crime, the penalty is almost certainly death. The trial itself is publicly broadcast and serves mostly for giving the public what they want: justice.
Overall, Cardassian philosophy is virtually devoid of ethics and they believe that the benefit of the state can make practically any action justifiable. Though they were once a deeply religious people many centuries ago, modern Cardassians are atheists and do not believe in superstitions or in luck. Nonetheless, they do practice traditional and organized funerals. Before death, a Cardassian will traditionally reveal all his secrets to his close relatives, allegedly enabling them to use the information against their enemies. Whenever possible, Cardassians will not allow members of other species to see the corpses of their dead.
The modern Cardassian government is known as the Cardassian Union. Although Cardassians believe in no deities, their philosophy portrays the government in an almost religious fashion. Cardassians should always assume their leaders are omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent. The government is administered by the elected Detapa Council, under which is the Cardassian Central Command, which deals mostly with military matters. The Cardassian state intelligence agency is an extremely powerful organization known as the Obsidian Order. Through the years, the Order became so powerful that even the Central Command would fear it.
Cardassians are known throughout the quadrant for their xenophobic aggression, arrogance and lack of compassion, but also for their intelligence, organization sense, efficient archival methods and punctuality.
Despite their militaristic nature, Cardassian technology, including warfare, is not as advanced as that of the Federation or Klingons. A fair explanation for that would be that Cardassians only became a major interstellar power on the 24th century, while the Federation has been one since the 23rd century and the Klingons since the 22nd at least. It should also be remembered that the Federation technology derivates from at least four distinct founding species: Humans, Vulcans, Tellarites and Andorians, and at least one of them, Vulcans, have developed space travel before the 18th century.
Nevertheless, the powerful Cardassian intelligence service masters espionage technology, genetic engineering, memory wiping and even torturing techniques.
Cardassian engineering standards are usually lower than those of Starfleet. Since Deep Space 9 is a Cardassian built station, some of its systems were not working as smoothly as they could (the main fusion power plant was operating 13% below efficiency peak, for example) and were improved by Human engineer Miles O'Brien.
Despite this, the Cardassian military fleet is strong and worthy of fear and respect from their enemies. Even having inferior technology, their elaborated war methods, often leading to complex traps, enabled them to sustain wars with the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
Before the Cardassian Union was established, the Cardassian people were known as Hebitians. Hebitian civilization differed from the modern Cardassian Union for being deeply religious and generally peaceful towards other species. Hebitians had a deep love of arts and architecture. Unfortunately, this ancient Cardassian civilization was short in natural resources and ended up devastated by plagues and famine, leading the remaining Cardassians to adopt a new philosophy of space expansion. This resulted in the formation of the totalitarian, militaristic government and general policy of capturing other planets and fighting other species for natural resources. A powerful space empire resulted, with the Cardassian species achieving a much more comfortable lifestyle on their planet, but this would later pay out as the resulting bad relationship with other species resulted in Cardassia Prime being involved in several interstellar wars, often against opponents with far superior technology, which Cardassians nonetheless managed to outfight thanks to their superior war tactics.
Ultimately, these conflicts combined with the Cardassians' never-ending ambition would become the main reason for their empire's fall, as it led them to join the Dominion in a devastating war against their fellow Alpha Quadrant neighbors, resulting in the destruction of Cardassia Prime and near annihilation of their species.
Due to discrepant references given in different episodes of the series, Cardassian history is hard to explain. Some episodes' dialogue gives the impression that the modern Cardassian Union is very recent, dating to the beginning of the 24th century. At least one The Next Generation episode, however, refers to the Cardassian Union as being more than 500 years old, having thus formed somewhere in the 18th century. A likely explanation is that the Cardassian unification under a single government happened during the 18th century, but the modern, militaristic, expansionist and totalitarian government is much more recent.
Cardassians have always had a particularly difficult relationship with the humanoid inhabitants of planet Bajor. First contact between the two species occurred during the 16th century, when ancient Bajoran explorers stumbled upon tachyon eddies which lead their ships to Cardassia. Likewise, the Cardassian species have been known to the Federation as early as the 22nd century, although conflicts only started by the 24th. During the 21st century, Cardassians experienced a moment in their history which would later be known as the First Republic. The name indicates that there were others later, but these have never been mentioned in canon. Practically nothing is known about this republic era except that many of the Cardassians' most famous literature works come from it. Exactly at which point the Cardassians passed from a planetary to an interplanetary society is also unclear, but is known to be sometime before the 22nd century and likely much longer.
Occupation of BajorEdit
After the formation of the militaristic Union and the beginning of the expansion program, Cardassians conquered many planets in order to take mineral and food resources for their growing population. This eventually led to an increase in conflicts with native populations of the planets, including Bajor. The Cardassians practically enslaved the Bajoran species, forcing them into labor and committing brutal genocide against them due to the Bajorans' resistance.
Terrorism and organized resistance increased in Bajor and the Cardassians were eventually convinced to end the Bajoran occupation, though political pressure from the United Federation of Planets was a pivotal factor in the Cardassian withdrawal. Interesting enough, a Cardassian space station orbiting Bajor fell into Federation administration and became known as Deep Space 9. Due to the existence of the Bajoran Wormhole, a stable wormhole leading to the distant Gamma Quadrant, Deep Space 9 later became the first spot of contact between the Alpha Quadrant races and the Gamma Quadrant's Dominion, beginning a relationship which would later play very important roles in the Cardassian history.
Federation peace treatyEdit
Before the occupation of Bajor ended, however, the Cardassian Union's expansion program had already led to a war against the Federation and a small array of conflicts against the Klingon Empire. The Federation War ended in 2368 with the signing of a peace treaty and the establishment of a demilitarized zone. However, the new borders imposed by the treaty were not wholly satisfactory to either side, as a number of Federation worlds ended in the Cardassian territory and vice versa. Most inhabitants of these worlds refused to leave and were thus forced into becoming citizens of the Cardassian Union. Due to the Cardassian's well known mistreating of other species, most of this ex-Federation colonists rebelled against Cardassians and formed an outlaw terrorist group known as the Maquis, which became a frequent annoyance to both the Federation and the Cardassian Union, but mainly the latter. The Maquis' actions in the demilitarized zone led the Cardassian Union to secretly militarize it again, increasing tension with the Federation for breaking the treaty. To make matters worse, the suspicious nature of the Cardassian species led many of them into believing that the Federation was supporting the Maquis terrorism and supplying them with information and weapons.
Assault on the DominionEdit
Meanwhile, as relationships with the imperialistic Dominion of the Gamma Quadrant, ruled by the Changelings, became worse, the Cardassians allied with Romulans in an attempt to destroy the Changelings' homeworld, thus eliminating the Dominion. But the whole operation proved to be a trap created by a disguised Changeling agent. The Changelings' homeworld was destroyed, but had been evacuated prior to that, and a huge armada of Dominion ships arrived to destroy the Cardassian and Romulan fleets. This whole disastrous war movement had been organized by the then overpowered Cardassian intelligence service known as the Obsidian Order. After this fiasco, the Order ended up losing its power and the Cardassian dissident movement was able to take over the central command, resulting in a less totalitarian government.
This change in government, nonetheless, would prove to be disastrous for the Cardassians. The Klingon Empire suspected the government takeover had happened due to infiltrated Changeling agents in the Cardassian dissident movement. Believing Cardassia was now being secretly governed by the Dominion, the Klingons started unprovoked attacks on the Cardassian homeworld, leading to the Klingon-Cardassian War. The Federation interfered in this conflict, believing that such wars would make the Alpha Quadrant powers weaker and less prepared for a Dominion invasion. The new government, the fall of the Obsidian Order (which used to have a virtually total control over Cardassian internal issues) and the Klingon War lead to severe political and economical crisis on Cardassia. An extremist Cardassian organization known as the True Way appeared, proclaiming that the Federation and the Bajorans were the main enemies of Cardassia and attempting to end the peace treaties.
Joining the DominionEdit
Gul Dukat; former leader of the Obsidian Order; resolved to restore the Cardassian Union to its earlier glory by making Cardassia officially join the Dominion. With their new powerful allies and no longer fearing a Dominion invasion, Cardassians were able to defeat Klingon fleets, ending the war, and virtually annihilate the Maquis organization. Shortly afterwards the Dominion War erupted with the Dominion (Changelings plus Jem'Hadar forces and Cardassians), allied with the Breen Confederacy, fighting against an alliance consisting of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan empires and supported by Bajorans and other minor Alpha Quadrant species.
Changing sides and destructionEdit
Although the Dominion got a better start, Federation ships managed to get support from the Prophets, a race of non-corporeal beings residing within the Bajoran Wormhole and whose existence was threatened by the Dominion War. The Prophets destroyed several Dominion ships and the Federation-Klingon-Romulan alliance was able to turn the table. This turn of events, combined with the fact that the Dominion was taking all power away from the Cardassian government in their own territory, disrespecting the Cardassian people and treating them with inferiority rather than equality; resulted in the Cardassians changing sides once again and abandoning the Dominion. The whole Cardassian population was united for good in an act of rebellion against the Dominion, where they cut all power from Cardassia Prime, damaging the Dominion fleets' communication with their headquarters. After the resulting chaos, the alliance was able to defeat the Dominion and a treaty was signed, confining the Dominion back to the Gamma Quadrant. Before the war ended, however, the betrayal act against the Dominion proved the most devastating to the Cardassians. Jem'Hadar and Breen fleets attacked Cardassia Prime with full power, devastating the planet and killing most of the population. Cardassians, though not completely annihilated, became an endangered species and it seems unlikely that their empire will ever return to the old days of glory. At least not soon.
In the alternative universe known as the Mirror Universe, the Cardassians allied with the Klingon Empire giving birth to the Klingo-Cardassian Alliance, which came to defeat the Terran Empire, enslave Humans and Vulcans and become the major political and military power of the mirror Alpha Quadrant during most of the 24th century. Ironically, in the Mirror Universe's timeline, Bajor had been occupied by Humans and the Bajorans achieved freedom thanks to the Cardassians, which they became allies with. The Alliance also seems to have conquered the Trills and the Ferengi. No references to the Dominion have been made in the Mirror Universe, although a mirror version of Odo proves that they do exist in this reality.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation (9 episodes)
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (71 episodes)
- Star Trek: Voyager (19 episodes)
- Several non-canon novels and comic books