The Tau Empire is an interstellar nation-state in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Located in the Damocles Gulf, it includes several species, the most notable and dominant of which is the Tau.
Tau are blue-skinned Humanoids with hooved feet, no noses, and four-digited hands. Tau can see a greater range of of the electromagnetic spectrum than humans can; are well adapted to hot, dry climates like those prevalent on their homeworld; and can outrun a human; but they are on average physically weaker than a comparably sized human. Similarly Tau have greater fine motor control than humans, but slower reflexes. Unlike many sapient races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Tau have no psionic abilities and have a minimal effect on the warp. The species is divided into five distinct castes, with interbreeding between said castes being forbidden. Each caste has a particular role in Tau society. There are also various vassal species in the Tau Empire, including the Kroot, the Vespid and populations of conquered humans. Most Tau only live around forty years, but breed, mature and reproduce more quickly than humans. A few individuals are known to live much longer lives. They also make large-scale use of robots.
The Tau Empire is notable for its rapid technological growth in a galaxy where progress is largely non-existent elsewhere. The Imperium of Man first discovered the Tau at a neolithic level of development six thousand years ago and had planned on conquering them, but a series of freak warp storms destroyed the Imperial Fleet en route and isolated the Damocles Gulf from interstellar traffic. During this time the Tau were divided into various factions that warred with each other in a period of Tau history known as the Mont'au (the Terror). Four thousand years later, after considerable technological evolution, the various Tau clans were united under the rule of the Ethereals and -- shortly after that -- the Tau developed their own interstellar travel and established themselves as a small but powerful empire able to resist a crusade by the Imperium of Man. Currently, the Tau Empire maintains an uneasy peace with the Imperium; the Tau Empire continue expanding onto the Imperium's various fringe worlds, but the Imperium pays little attention due to the larger and more pressing concerns posed by the Orks, Tyranids, and forces of Chaos.
As stated above, the Tau themselves are organized into several castes.
- The Earth (Fio) Caste, serving as engineers, scientists, technicians, and farmers.
- The Air (Kor) Caste, serving as spacers, both for civilian merchant ships and for the Tau Navy, the Kor'vattra
- The Water (Por) Caste, serving as administrators, merchants, ambassadors and bureaucrats
- The Fire (Shas) Caste, serving as soldiers
- The Ethereal (Aun) Caste, serving as the leaders of government in the Tau Empire
Each caste is specialised for it's role in Tau society. For example: Tau Firewarriors are physically stronger than Tau from the other castes, while members of the Air Caste are tall, lightly built and well adapted to spending most of their lives in zero gravity. Vassel species exist outside this framework.
On the whole, Tau society is highly collectivist in it's operation. The Tau believe that they should work for for the Greater Good of the Tau Empire as a whole in their own way -- be it as an infantryman or an engineer -- and that all shall benefit from this collectively. The Tau Empire generally believes that this applies to other species as well and that they can and should be brought into the Tau Empire to help each other strive for the Greater Good. Tau Society is highly structured, this makes Tau civilization hard to infiltrate and when combined with their lack of psionic abilities makes the Tau very hard for the forces of Chaos to corrupt.
As the Tau Empire is not generally xenophobic towards other races, is willing to accept some foreign concepts, and is in not overtly brutal, they may be perceived as "good guys" in Warhammer 40,000. Nevertheless, the Tau Empire can be quite intolerant of deviant beliefs, forcibly re-educating those who adhere to incompatible belief systems, and are more than willing to eradicate entire populations who do not submit to the Greater Good.
In terms of administration, the Tau Empire is divided into provinces known as Septs consisting of a primary starsystem and subordinate small-scale colonies. The capital of the Tau Empire is the Tau Homeworld of T'au. T'au is a more dry and arid world than Earth.
Tau names are long and -- unlike those of most human civilizations -- are not based off family lineage. Instead they are based off the individual's Caste, Rank, Sept of Origin and a personal name to which they are informally referred, generally based off a combination of personal qualities and achievements.
The Tau Empire on the whole is a minor power in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, controlling a relatively small part of the galaxy. This is somewhat offset by a level of technology that surpasses that of the Imperium of Man at it's current state (barring a few scarce exceptions) and is constantly being refined. The average Tau Firewarrior is far better equipped than an Imperial Guardsman. Tau tactics are geared towards mobility and long-ranged firepower. Along with Fire-caste forces, the Tau Empire makes heavy use of non-Tau forces, including Gue'vesa (human helper) militias -- the decendants of captured Guardsmen -- and forces of combat robots.
Besides their numerical limitations, the Tau Empire's biggest weakness is FTL travel. Lacking psionic navigational abilities, the Tau are only capable of making short-ranged jumps through the Warp, severely limiting their capacity for force projection. Never-the-less, the Tau Empire is still expanding and claiming new worlds for colonization.
While their forces are small on the scale of Warhammer 40,000, they wouldn't be in many other settings - the largest of their military space stations are stated to have populations comparable to continent sized cities, implying a military strength of billions.
In terms of general power, it is widely believed that despite its small size in comparison to other Warhammer 40,000 powers, the Tau Empire could easily conquer the entire Star Trek galaxy.
Tau of Note
- Aun'o'T'au'Acaya'Va'Denta (Master of the Undying Spirit): Highest and most revered of all Tau
- O'Shaserra (Commander Shadowsun): Current commander of the Tau Military
- O'Shovah (Commander Farsight): Legendary Tau Commander notable for the creation of a renegade splinter faction on the borders of the Tau Empire