How could, and why would, the Fremen's jihad kill 61 billion people and conquer the known universe?

Their leader Paul was already emperor. What was left to conquer? How could they force this onto Paul when they had no relationship with the Spacing Guild except through Paul? If Paul didn't arrange for transportation then how would they get off Arrakis?

How does a small population of hardened, rugged, but not technologically advanced people do that much conquering in that time?

Is there any explanation about how Ix, Tleilex planet and Bene Gesserit planets hold off the wave of jihad?

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    he who controls the spice controls the universe, the spice must flow.
    – Himarm
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 16:24
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    IM(ns)HO the Dune books are so heavily loaded with mistycism that trying to explain (or even to expect) something logically is almost impossible. Everything goes. Kinda like Lost, but in a book series.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 18:25
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    My understanding was that Paul's armies conquered the known galaxy, deposed all of the existing great houses and imposed the fremen religion on every planet, destroying those that refused to submit.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 18:41
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    The Fremen were far from "not technologically advanced". They did live outside of the "overground" society of Arrakis and were banned access or lacked the ability to manufacture some technology, but this doesn't mean they weren't familiar with it. Remember that some Fremen lived in the cities.
    – runlevel0
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


Short Answer: He was breaking a few eggs to make an omelette.

Long Answer:

Once Paul and the Fremen had control of Arrakis, Paul took steps to confirm that he had the universe by the short 'n' curlies from two different angles:


Paul had the ability to destroy the spice. During the war on Arrakis, Paul had the Fremen plant "water-bombs" under all the major spice caches. With the touch of a button, Paul could destroy the economy of the entire universe in one fell swoop. This ensured that most of the major Houses would not attempt to seize power back using violence.


Paul took Princess Irulan as his "official" wife and thus became Emperor by marriage. This ensured that the major Houses could not overthrow him using political or legal means.

Once he had a firm grip on the big chair, he then began enacting his plans on a grand scale. Spoilers, though, in case you haven't gotten this far yet:

Both Paul and his offspring could see the full range of time - all possible timelines save for one led to the eventual stagnation, decline, and extinction of humanity. The ONE timeline that led to humanity's eternal survival as a race required Paul (or one of his descendants) to take "The Golden Path". Essentially, the only way for humanity to survive long-term was to make them scatter to the four corners of the universe.

The Jihad - Paul's "Holy War" - had a single goal, which only a select few individuals were aware of:

to make humanity so sick of despotism that they would literally flee to all corners of the galaxy to get away from it. The Golden Path required humanity to first become like a coiled spring that would later explode, ejecting humanity to every square inch of the universe in such numbers that they could never be endangered again as a species.

Paul's Jihad was the first major step of this plan. To answer your question more directly,

Yes, killing 61 billion humans was an evil and inhumane thing, but compared to Paul's knowledge of what was coming it was but a drop in the bucket. He was doing it to save humanity as a whole in the long run.

There were other phases to the whole thing, but you'll need to keep reading to find out what they are. The books can get a little wordy and hard to follow at times, but the above is essentially the overall story arc for the first five books.

As for HOW the Fremen did this, it is often stated in the books that the Fremen army - especially once trained with the Atreides' "Weirding Way" - was, quite simply, the most effective fighting force the universe had ever seen. Paul had the deadliest army in history, the means to move them anywhere (via his control of the Spacing Guild), and a mission to use them for (prepare humanity for The Golden Path). It took them over a decade, but they eventually conquered every known world - even worlds that previously didn't answer to the Emperor Corrino. The religious aspect of the war made him not only a tyrant, but a malevolent God who must be worshipped or else.

Paul hated what he had to become, but felt he had no other options because of the reasons above. It was not something the Fremen had "forced" on him so much as he had regrettably allowed (and even encouraged) for these reasons.

EDIT: You may want to see the following question as well. It has many good answers that expand on The Golden Path and why it was needed in the long-term.

In Dune, was the Golden Path really necessary?

UPDATE: Just noticed the question at the end about the major houses. As part of the Jihad, the major houses were essentially reduced to fiefdoms or destroyed outright. The other major players like the Ix and the Bene Gesserit saw which way the wind was blowing and quickly tried to ally themselves or curry favor with Paul. Several of them were allowed to exist as long as they remained useful, and the main ones (Ix, Tleilaxu, Bene Gesserit) still existed in some form millennia afterwards.

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    I find it disappointing that your answer fails to make any mention of the religious aspects of the jihad, imposing fremen religion at the point of the sword.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:16
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    He didn't ask about the religious aspect. It seems the answer is exactly what was needed, no more or less; efficiently done. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:18
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    @Omegacron - The fremen motivation was wholly religious. I think it deserves vastly more prominence/
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:24
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    Keep in mind, though, that the Fremen religion built in intensity throughout the jihad. Originally, Mua'Dib was seen as a savior, yes, but not the God he was seen as later - his legend was something that grew with each victory, each planet conquered. And they weren't conquering the galaxy of their own volition, but on Paul's explicit orders.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:28
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    @Himarm: That's a great point. Stilgar shrugs his shoulders upon finding out that Hitler killed 6 million. It's not a large number to a galaxy-spanning empire with a population of trillions. Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 0:30

I'd say the post above does a good job explaining this but does fail to address 1 element. The fremen are the decendants of Arab/ Muslim communities that through out the history of humanity's planetary colonization had been the recipients of pogroms and genocide. They fled from planet to planet and lost family members along the way. Their religion and oral history kept those stories alive. They eventually take refuge on dune, an inhospitable planet no one really wanted, that is until spice was discovered. Part of the mantle Paul takes is tied to retribution for the atrocities committed against their people.

Paul can't actively stop the jihad since it would lead to humanity's death so he really has no choice since he can't come to terms with the golden path and what that means for himself.

The Fremen on the other hand do not respect weakness and by their standards the entirety of the universe is undeserving of leniency, so their conquest of planets, if exceedingly harsh, is again stemming back to their original goal of retribution for historical wrongs committed by the rest of the universe. The only group they seem to have any respect for are the sardukar and even then fremen children are more than a match for even the best of them.

As to how the fremen became this unstoppable fighting force, it is really simple. Arrakis was a crucible that weeded out all weakness from the baseline population. To just survive in that environment to adulthood required a toughness and discipline that could never be attained through life in a more hospitable environment.

If you know any soldiers that actually fought hardened Taliban in Afghanistan they will tell you they are some of the toughest men to walk the earth....70 years of continuous warfare in a desert will do that to you. Where US servicemen have the advantage was in tech and training. This is what Paul, Jessica and Gurney brought to the table. Once they took a baseline fremen and applied prana bindu muscle conditioning, military tactics, and the fighting training gurney and Duncan (2 of the universes' best swordsmen) the fremen army was able to defeat armies exponentially larger than they were.

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    Fremen are not descendants of "muslims" or "arabs" but zensunni slaves. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 15:25
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    I think the Muslim overtones of the Fremen culture speak for themselves. "Zensunni" is a Dune invention, not a real thing. That both Zen and Sunni are real things says a lot about what Herbert was thinking to convey with the name: A syncretic religion that has definite roots in Islam. The choice word "Jihad" is also telling, among other Arabic words.
    – user15742
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 23:26

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