This answer to another question indicates that several of the showrunners of Star Trek had an interest in the Roman Empire, and that influenced their design and construction of the Romulan Empire. Terms like "consul," "romulan," "reman," and more are direct references to the Roman Republic and Empire.

But is there an in-universe explanation for the heavy use of terminology from Earth's history to refer to an alien race? Did some history nerd in Starfleet notice some similarities and decide to apply some historical terms to the newly discovered species? Or perhaps did the Romulans themselves, upon reviewing Federation history, choose their own "English" names to match an empire they identified with?

Or is this simply not discussed, in-universe?

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    The third-party-factor answer below is good, but coincidence is also well accepted in-universe. IIRC in a TOS episode Kirk beams down to find a planet that is identical to Nazi Germany. Same insignia and everything. And they drive gasoline-powered cars and carry handguns and look suspiciously human. Let's not forget that everyone magically speaks English. Spock explains it as being a statistical inevitability in a vast galaxy.
    – geometrian
    Oct 15, 2014 at 4:40
  • I kind of felt like it was meant to imply that they were originally analogs of the roman empire, complete with accompanying intrigue and a taste for timely betrayals. Oct 15, 2014 at 4:58
  • Fun fact: that episode was never shown in Germany. Oct 15, 2014 at 8:38
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    @GraphicsResearch Wasn't that justified in universe by the fact that the people on the planet were introduced to nazi ideology by a stranded starfleet officer?
    – Erik
    Oct 15, 2014 at 10:41
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    @Jörg W Mittag: that episode was shown in Germany. Maybe it wasn’t in the first airing. But it definitely was in one of the reruns.
    – Holger
    Oct 15, 2014 at 10:52

6 Answers 6


I've always assumed that it was simply a reasonably-equivalent translation of the actual Romulan military ranks, based on the Universal Translator's available vocabulary.

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    I think this is, by far, the most realistic answer. In Romulan their planet may be called grwakkkeffskljhr. How does the universal translater translate a name? It can't just leave it the same, given how different each species' sound production abilities might be. Perhaps it finds a viable local equivalent and translates it that way to aid understanding during the initial few contacts with an alien society. "Romulas" is both easier for humans to say and understand, as well as providing a historical equivalent to work off of.
    – Nicholas
    Oct 15, 2014 at 14:13
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    The awkward standard spelling of "Qo'noS" would seem to argue that names are rendered fairly close to their original sounds by the Universal Translator, but yeah, I suppose you're right. In the absence of any other comments within the canon, this is the default answer.
    – Nerrolken
    Oct 15, 2014 at 16:24
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    @Nicholas The Romulan word for "Romulan" is Rihansuu according to various non-canon sources. Oct 16, 2014 at 8:04
  • @ApproachingDarknessFish: Or at least the word for (the English term) "Romulan" in one Romulan language/dialect. Jan 12, 2015 at 20:15
  • That feels a lot like giving people English names because people can't be bothered to learn their actual name. Would it really be acceptable in the future? And wouldn't it be corrected, such as when modern countries and cities change their official English names to be more accurate, e.g. Peking became Beijing.
    – user
    May 2, 2023 at 12:25

I haven’t seen the episode in question, but the Wikipedia entry on Romulans suggests one possible explanation:

In TOS episode Who Mourns for Adonais? it is revealed that the classical Greek and Roman gods were actually a race of advanced beings who had visited Earth thousands of years ago. It has been postulated that the same beings had visited other worlds as well – such as Vulcan, or Romulus. The theory did at one time appear on the Star Trek web site, and would explain the connection between the Romulans and Roman mythology, as well as the institutions of Roman government.

We recognise these words as references to the Roman Empire, but that doesn’t mean they had the same causal relation in-universe. I find the idea that they both got the terms from a third-party quite plausible. Edit: For example, suppose this third-party has an impressive figure called Romulus or similar, and the name gets assimilated into both of their cultures in parallel but separate events.

However, as Wikipedia states, this is just a theory. I’ve looked at several episode summaries, and none mention the Romulans specifically. It may be that it’s never tackled explicitly in-universe, but these seems as good an explanation as any.

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    The answer I linked to in the original question would seem to indicate that the gods in that episode are unrelated to Romulan development. "Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development" (link in that answer) can explain the similarities between the Roman and the Romulan cultures, but the terminology still seems significant: Romulus was a human historical figure (at least theoretically), not a god. Therefore, it seems like some Human would have had to apply the term to the Romulans, rather than it being a native term in their language.
    – Nerrolken
    Oct 14, 2014 at 22:18
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    @Nerrolken: Hmm. Romulus was one of the founders of Rome, which could plausibly be a visiting alien. And while we could potentially explain the similarities in name without resorting to third-party aliens, I don’t think it completely rules out that possibility.
    – alexwlchan
    Oct 14, 2014 at 22:25
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    But why would visited Romulans consider those beings in any way relevant enough to be that deeply influenced? After all, they are definitely a civilisation capable of interstellar travel at that point, considering they left Vulcan behind. A Romulan visit seems more likely (at least the timeframes for Suraks lifetime and the development of the Roman empire seem to roughly match up), but such a Romulan most likely would have encountered the "gods" on earth, as well. All a bit strange, but this opens up HUGE possibilities for interesting ancient Romulan history... ^^
    – Layna
    Oct 15, 2014 at 6:46
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    @Layna I’m not saying the Romulans found the Roman Romulus significant, I’m suggesting this third-party had a significant entity called Romulus who visited them both. That’s my guess, anyway.
    – alexwlchan
    Oct 15, 2014 at 7:17
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    @alexwlchan ahh, all right :). I may have been wandering down speculation-lane there a bit myself... Romulans meeting those Greek god would certainly have been... interesting!
    – Layna
    Oct 15, 2014 at 7:27

I always simply assumed that Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development described the similarities between the Romulan and Roman Empires, much as it did the similarities between family units in multiple species, such as humans and Vulcans. That Memory Alpha page also lists other theories that could account for Hodgkin's Law, such as the existence of the Ancient Humanoids. Still, with the information currently available in the Star Trek series, Hodgkin's Law, combined with the Universal Translator finding Earth-appropriate terms for certain words (it's not like 'Senator' is the correct word for that position in Romulan, but it is an appropriate human analogue) seems the most plausible explanation for the similarities.


We saw in Star Trek Enterprise how Hoshi had to program the universal translator using her own linguistic cues until the translator picked up enough correspondences to go forward on its own. It's almost certain that, given the shared history between Romulans and Vulcans, that the Vulcans themselves made these correspondences between their language and English in their own translators, and we just used their linguistic database in Romulan first contact, with those connections already built-in.


It is possible that Romulan society is a mixture of Vulcan-descended colonists and ancient Romans brought to the planet by the Preservers.

The Preservers may have been Vulcan descended themselves, since they used an alphabet based on musical notation like some Vulcan offshoots did. And the Preservers were interested enough in preserving Humans to create a mixtue of three different Native American cultures on one planet. So perhaps they might have decided to mix a Human culture and a Vulcan-descended culture on planet Romulus to see what happened.

Of course if any Romulans are Humans descended from ancient Romans they haven't been seen or mentioned onscreen. It is possible that there has been enough intermarriage over millennia to make everyone look like pure-blooded Vucanoids.


How about this - Vulcans have been studying Earth for centuries. Considering that even 2000 years ago, they had a primitive interstellar capability and an insatiable curiosity... could it be that Vulcans of that period performed extensive research into Earth culture of the time, close to the pre-Surakian era?

Consider that even at half the speed of light, a trip to earth and back which might take 3 or 4 decades isn't really that bad as compared to an average 250-300 year Vulcan lifespan.

Now, when the Vulcan disidents left, they may have seized upon ancient Roman culture as a potential blueprint for their new society. It's a far more mundane explanation than using Hodgkins Law, considering that this applies to naturally (as far as we know) evolving cultures.

Also, along that vein, a better example than "patterns of Force" would be the TOS episode, "Bread and Circuses" where Hodgkins law applies to a literal Roman copy culture.

I still like the sociological adaptation theory though.

  • You seem to be assuming that it was the Romulans (or the Vulcans) who picked the English words that would be used to translate Romulan terms. It is far more likely that it would be the Federation, or the Federation's universal translator that picked the English words that should be used. In any case, it is highly unlikely that the Romulans decided to model there hierachy on that of ancient Rome just because the happened to be aware of it.
    – Blackwood
    Sep 7, 2016 at 1:26

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