We know of 3 recent Shadow Wars. One 10,000 years ago, the second 1,000 years ago and the last/current in the 2260s.

So the question is what are the restriction that need to be fulfilled for a Shadow War to start?

Do the Shadow forces need to be replenished? The number of societies and/or their populations reaches a critical level? A technological level is achieved? Or is the sole trigger truly only that some poor schmuck visits Z'ha'dum?

Any answer that also tells how a Shadow War can be delayed or be brought about sooner is welcomed.

  • I think the wiki blames the shadows waking early, triggering the current war, on the Icarus crashing on Z'ha'dum. Nor sure if we have any canon sources for that. Mar 9, 2016 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


The three most recent wars appear to have had different aims/goals/causes but it's important to realise that the Vorlons and Shadows have been at each others throats for hundreds of millennia. Pointing at any specific event as being the "cause" of an attack is to ignore the centuries of buildup.

1 (Circa 8,000BC).

In this war, the Shadows and Vorlons openly opposed each other. This war appears to have been largely triggered by the Vorlons creating an alliance with the Minbari and sharing technology but it's hard to say who struck first. There's also some chatter about the Shadows regaining their strength and the damage caused by an earlier combined attack from the Vorlons and the other Elder races.

2 (Circa 1000AD)

This war seems to have been caused by the Vorlons actively seeding planets with telepaths. The Shadows then attacked and occupied as many of those worlds as possible (including Narn) but it's notable that a state of cold war had existed for thousands of years before, with the Shadows covertly attacking/supporting the younger races in order to keep them bickering among themselves.

3 (Circa 2260AD)

This latest (and last) round of conflict was was triggered by the Icarus landing on Z'ha'dum. This action, and presumably the fact that IPX was an interplanetary organisation) seems to have convinced the Shadows that the Babylon Project; uniting the various powers in the galaxy, was a clear and present threat to their goal of evolution through conflict. Even then, it was only down to the action of Sheridan that the Shadows were brought out of hiding and exposed as the architects of the present conflict.

JMS has shared his thoughts on the Shadows and their motivation.

Q. ... why are they [the Shadows] attacking the younger races directly?

JMS: Well, look what happened when the shadows came out and attacked a couple of places...first they did so without anyone knowing it was them doing it, as we've shown. So now everyone's running around like ants, scurrying for cover and trying to figure out what the hell's going on, accusing one another...then the Centauri got the credit/blame for it, causing further conflict...then they came out and sent everyone scurrying again, some to make alliances they thought would protect themselves (and thus enable them to make war on their neighbors, as shown), only to have that fall apart and they turn on themselves/each other.


Q. Aren't the Shadows defeating themselves by giving everyone a common enemy?

JMS: Nope. First they attacked careful to not let anyone know who was doing it, so they'd accuse each other. Then they'd let another take the credit/blame for it, the Centauri in this case. That'd spin off new alliances and new...wars, and everyone's scurrying for cover. THEN they reveal themselves, and now you've got re-scurrying, some who try to make deals, and then attack others (as stated) thinking they have an unbeatable ally....most of the killing up until this point was done by the others, not the shadows. This current campaign would also lead to scattering the pins, and watching as they restructure, and they'd pull out again to let them scurry...and keep chewing at each other, only coming out when necessary to tip things over, then recede again into the....shadows.

  • It's not clear to me the Minbari participated in the great war 8000BC when the first ones mostly left. They are aware of it certainly. But this could be information from the Vorlons, legends, and archaeology as far I can tell. The centauri have been in space for about a thousand years but seemed to have missed Valen's shadow war. The minbari during Valens time seem about as advanced as the modern centauri. Being in space for 9000 years before Valen makes them seem stagnant. Aug 15, 2020 at 6:24
  • @lucasbachmann - It's certainly worth asking how long the Minbari have been a space-faring society as a separate question.
    – Valorum
    Aug 15, 2020 at 7:16

I think early on it was implied the Icarus woke them up but I think out universe the story became more sophisticated than hibernating spiders. The shadows returned to Z'ha'dum but we don't know where they were. And this was already starting when the Grey council decided to go to Z'ha'dum to investigate leading accidentally to the Earth Minbari war. The Icarus incident was nearly 9 years later concurrent with "the Gathering".

Valorum quoted JMS they come out when there are enough players in the galaxy to have a proper war.

I for one don't believe anymore that the Shadows need time to rebuild. They have likely never fought a war to win - not even against the other first ones that they were presumably like a bullying older brother to - the Shadows would even think their role was to help even the Vorlons advance when they were young.

Did the war with Valen end because a multi-billion year old ancient evil was beat and short on ships. I'm sure that's what they wanted us to think. But I think it really ended when the younger races had gotten to the point that Z'ha'dum got bombed hard and made the Shadows proud enough to stop the training exercise and let the kids heal for a few centuries.

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