BG were the epitome of soft power - influence in every court via servants such as truthsayers, concubines, and even female family members. But did they have any hard power, such as standing armies, or de jure economic control over planets?

What's puzzling for me is how easily they were defeated in the Fremen Jihad, when they had the best fighters in the universe. If they really tried, they could raise an empire-conquering army. Whether this army can defeat the Weirding-Fremen is debatable, though.

(I'm referring to the first book - obviously they had formidable armies commanded by a Bashar Teg in Heretics/Chapterhouse)

2 Answers 2


The Bene Gesserit were, first and foremost, manipulators.

They saw themselves as protectors and guardians of the racial destiny of humans, rather than rulers.

The distinction between "hard power" and "soft power" is largely semantic, in my opinion. Power is power, and the specific mechanisms of the power are secondary to the outcome of exerting that power.

I don't believe there was any indication of Bene Gesserit armies. Indeed, the intensity and level of training that the Bene Gesserit initiates underwent would make it difficult to field large enough numbers to maintain a coherent army, while simultaneously maintaining their existing network on field agents (ranging from concubines and wives involved in the breeding program to House Truthsayers, mediators, diplomats, and agents of the Missionaria Protectiva).

While I have little doubt that the Bene Gesserit could raise an army, given suitable motivation, the normal training initiates receive lend themselves much more to elite commando squads (and indeed the prequels and sequels published by Brian Herbert make explicit mention of such Bene Gesserit squads and training). This is in keeping with the general theme of more subtle action by the Bene Gesserit organization; even their more direct interventions are generally as discreet and covert as possible.

As far as economic power, they were a silent partner of CHOAM (along with the Bene Tleilax), so it is highly probable that they had a significant presence in the economy of the Imperium, and were likely to be able to exert considerable economic influence should the need arise. Generally, however, it seems they prefered to stay within the theme of manipulation and indirect influence, using their resources more often for bribery than overt pressure.

The defeat of the Bene Gesserit by the Fremen really wouldn't be that puzzling. The Fremen (and even the Imperial Sardaukar) were not far behind the Bene Gesserit in terms of hand-to-hand combat abilities. However, by the time the Jihad had reached the point where Bene Gesserit would be part of the conflict, the Fremen had become veterans of coordinated mass combat. The Bene Gesserit, however, were still scattered, and those who were combat trained (arguably all of them, although it seems likely that only some of them received more than basic combat training, as the levels of abilities varied; e.g. not all sisters were trained as Truthsayers) were not trained for coordinated combat. Rather, the combat training was as individual fighters or as semi-autonomous members of small squads.

Even the best trained commandos will fall against superior numbers.

However, I don't recall the Fremen actually explicitly fighting the Bene Gesserit during the Jihad. While the fighting raged on every planet (except for Caladan), I don't believe the Bene Gesserit were explicitly targeted, nor do I recall mention of an active resistance by them.

Instead, the Bene Gesserit are still relatively intact after Muad'Dib's Jihad, although their power gradually dwindles up until The Scattering, at which time they re-emerge as one of the major powers competing for the power vacuum left by Leto II's demise.

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    There was a fair bit of time between The Jihad and The Scattering and the BG were heavily manipulated by Leto in the mean time. I'm not sure if becoming a major (hard) power was even their doing or if it was Leto's. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:00
  • @muistooshort Good points. I've edited the last paragraph in what I hope is a better description of the BG's status after Muad'Dib's Jihad.
    – Beofett
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:20
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    @muistooshort "I'm not sure if becoming a major (hard) power was even their doing or if it was Leto's" - Arguably, everything that happens after Leto sets foot on the Golden Path is his doing. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 19:43
  • It's reasonable to say that BG simply were not prepared to face a coordinated army. Having said that, even BG adepts were superior fighters to Fremen or Sardaukar. How many adepts did the sisterhood have? It seems they didn't lack numbers. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 23:52
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    Not knowing the story much, but from your description of the BG, I would wonder why they should oppose any new force in town, as whoever would have power could again be manipulated in their favour in the long term.
    – flq
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 15:14

The Bene Gesserit have several forms of hard power:

  1. They own Chapterhouse as a fief of the Order. (It is unclear if this predates Leto II; if it does, it dates back to the end of the Butlerian Jihad.)

  2. Wallach IX is owned by the sisterhood from the era just after the Butlerian Jihad, per the prequels.

  3. They have troops to defend Chapterhouse. By the time of Heretics, this includes standing armies; Bashar Miles Teg is one of the general officers of the Sisterhood's army.)

  4. The Sisterhood had huge spice reserves. Sufficient to last through the Fish Speaker era.

  5. The sisterhood had its own mentat schools during the reign of Leto II; one of the Idaho Golems suppressed the school on Wallach IX.

  6. Certain men are assets of the Sisterhood during the reign of Shaddam IV. Hasimir Fenring is a not terribly reluctant pawn of his wife (Margot — a BG sister), in convincing Shaddam to marry Anirul (also a BG sister). (Prequels)

Non-canon sources also show that the Sisterhood has troops at the time of Muad'dib's war against the Harkonnen.

  1. The Avalon Hill Dune boardgame shows the Sisterhood has troops and could deploy them on Arrakis.

  2. The Dune Encyclopedia names Chapterhouse as Wallach IX. It explicitly notes that Wallach IX is the fee of the Sisterhood. (Fee is a near synonym for fief.)

  3. The boardgame also lists the Sisterhood's world as Wallach IX.

Since they own at least one world (and in later periods, the whole system is explicitly theirs), they have defensive troops, economic power, and a population base. Further, they have extensive reserves of the Spice Melange, as well as other awareness spectrum narcotics, extensive textual records, and other valuable assets that can be used in lieu of capital assets. They also potentially have their own lighters.

By the time of the renegade Siona, they have their own hyperspace capable No-ships.

So, yes, they do have hard power, albeit limited by comparison to the great houses, but present none-the-less.

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