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If overseeing Arrakis and the extraction of spice is so prestigious, how did House Harkonnen gain the privilege of doing so? I'm asking about before their collusion with the Emperor.

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  • related, possible dupe:scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/15057/… – JohnP Jul 30 '18 at 20:21
  • Its been a long time since I read the book, but weren't the Harkonnen given the chance to take down the Atriedis because the emperor feared the Atredis? – Mark Rogers Jul 30 '18 at 20:22
  • @MarkRogers - That is part of it, yes. Atreides knew it was a trap going in. – JohnP Jul 30 '18 at 20:23
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    @MarkRogers- I was asking about how they got in charge in the years before the conspiracy with the Emperor. – Nu'Daq Jul 30 '18 at 20:26
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    Doesn't seem like a duplicate to me. When the story starts the Harkonnen have control of Arrakis. They lose it on purpose as part of a trap for the Atredis. I interpret this question as why do the Harkonnen have stewardship before the story begins. – Servitor Jul 30 '18 at 20:26
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Prelude to Dune seems to provide a bit of light onto that -it seems it was mix of economical and political reasons:

House Harkonnen slowly risen over the centuries from the infamy they fell into for cowardice during the Battle of Corinn - they turned into a wealthy house of merchants. Yes, often ruthless, but definitely efficient.

Their power peaked during the benevolent rule of Dimitri Harkonnen (father of Vladimir), who decided to abandon the feud with house Atreides. Emperor Elrood IX (father of Shaddam) noticed his political and economical skills and awarded him with the governorship of Arrakis.

Giving Dune to Harkonnens had also another advantage for Emperor: by giving the control over such important planet to such infamous house, he was protecting himself from potential usurper. House Harkonnen couldn't count on popular support in the Landsraad, so they wouldn't be a potential political threat to the ruling House Corrino (like i.e. Atreides were). It was also done to balance the power in the favor of Emperor by keeping Atreides in check - move that is pretty obvious in the decision to appoint Dimitri's firstborn, Vladimir (famous for his hate to Atreides) as a next governor, instead of the more moderate Abulurd Rabban, Dimitri's youngest, yet favored, son.

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