In the first Dune book, we see House Atreides pack up and move permanently to Arrakis, even though they clearly have deep ties to Caladan. We also learn that the Harkonnens were allowed to maintain Geidi Prime as their homeworld, even as they had full control of Arrakis. Why couldn't Leto stay on Caladan with Jessica and Paul, and send Duncan or Gurney to govern Arrakis, the way Raban was doing so on behalf of the Baron?

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    Caladan was home to Shaddam IV’s favorite sushi place. Besides who really wants Geidi Prime besides a Harkonnen? Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:13
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    Other than that it was a trap intended to wipe out House Atreides? Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:27
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    But what was the legal rule and precedent used by Shaddam IV when granting Arrakis on different terms to the Harkonnensand to the Atreides? Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:53
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    @M.A.Golding The actual question is did there need to be one other than ‘the Emperor ordered it’? While Leto did assume it was a trap, most lords would probably consider losing their old world as the price for Dune to be worth it. Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 19:00
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    @suchiuomizu The answer to that question obviously is "yes". Otherwise, he could have just, like, ordered Leto to commit seppuku or something. The plot of Dune is fundamentally dependent on the emperor having not much more power than being the head of the most prominent house among many. Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 3:10

1 Answer 1


The Harkonnen were simply under contract to supervise the mining of the spice on Arrakis whereas the Atreides family were given the planet entire, including the responsibility for mining the spice.

Since the rules seem to be that you can only have one planet as your fiefdom, this meant that they had to give up Caladan.

Thufir Hawat, his father’s Master of Assassins, had explained it: their mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, had been on Arrakis eighty years, holding the planet in quasi-fief under a CHOAM Company contract to mine the geriatric spice, melange. Now the Harkonnens were leaving to be replaced by the House of Atreides in fief-complete — an apparent victory for the Duke Leto. Yet, Hawat had said, this appearance contained the deadliest peril, for the Duke Leto was popular among the Great Houses of the Landsraad.

Note that the Baron's plan was not to gain the fiefdom of the planet (since no House Major can have more than one planet) but to gain a sub-fiefdom, independent control in all but name.

Piter shrugged. “If matters go as planned,” he said, “House Harkonnen will have a subfief on Arrakis within a Standard year. Your uncle will have dispensation of that fief. His own personal agent will rule on Arrakis.”

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    Just what does Herbert mean in calling it “geriatric spice,” that old people take it while putting on their Depends? That it promotes longevity, or is this just some zensunni gobbledegook flair given to spice to get the mind racing? Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 20:59
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    @SillybutTrue - "relating to old people, especially with regard to their health care". It prolongs life
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 21:04
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    In other words, Fiefdom of Arrakis is a massive Albatross of an honour. On paper, House Atreides is receiving an enormous honour and responsibility as befits their high status in the Landsraad. In reality, they have been removed from their seat of power, placed off-balance and vulnerable in a way the Harkonnens never were, and they know it. Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 8:58
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    @Valorum I always found the name really confusing, I just associate "geriatric" with infirmity and old people, not just age (I know it doesn't technically mean that) and also the use of "melange" as it's actual name - a melange of what? Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 9:42
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    @Ruadhan2300 - Now this is incorrect. Arrakis is sole source of spice, supply of which must not stop. This supply was threatened by de facto war of rebellion on Arrakis (between Harkonnen and Fremen). Atreides were ordered to take over planet as a fief and end that war (even if no one really knew the extent of it), which came with CHOAM directorship (which means LOTS of money), due to Leto's status in Landsraad, which was [essentially] in political opposition to the Emperor. I think Emperor was more or less forced politically to give Arrakis to Atreides.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 13:29

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