The Imperium was the political entity of the Old Ones, sometimes called The Great Old Ones. The Old Ones were an advanced society of humans who ruled All-World thousands of years ago. The Old Ones developed advanced technologies and disappeared after they began to war between themselves. The Old Ones never actually appear in The Dark Tower books. Their empire is referred to simply as The Imperium throughout the series.
The Old Ones' society advanced for thousands of years before the age of Roland Deschain and Gilead. They built impressive cities such as Lud, and machines such as Blaine the Mono, which could travel well over 800 miles per hour, and were powered by the Dark Tower itself.
According to The Man in Black, they were able to cure cancer, travel to the moon, and made use of artificial insemination. The Old Ones became overconfident in their technology, eventually gaining an almost godlike mastery over sciences from mechanical engineering to nuclear physics, and began using their technology for destruction rather than the betterment of their species. Fueled by greed and the desire to advance scientific discoveries at any cost, they founded great corporations such as North Central Positronics, which became focused primarily on personal profit to such an extent that the world as it was became poisoned by pollution and radiation - byproducts of their endeavors. As a result, most of the Old Ones became sterile. Failing to anticipate the possibility of their own class extinction, they made no provision for the maintenance of the technological systems they had put in place to maintain the integrity of the world. Instead, their knowledge vanished with them and their works fell into disrepair and ruin. Maerlyn was instrumental in provoking these attitudes and ambitions, and convinced them to build the Dogans for the fusion of technology and magic.
The Old Ones developed the ability to manipulate the fabric of the multiverse with North Central Positronics at the front of their research. One of their chief projects was to replace the magical Dark Tower and its Beams with technological replicas intended to serve the same purpose, and their efforts to merge technology and magic appeared to make this possible, again under the direction of Maerlyn. The Old Ones began using the Dark Tower for travel between different times via the various Doors they had built. The places they visited were usually momentous and tragic events, such as the Circus Maximus, the play "Our American Cousin", where US President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and even the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Susannah Dean found posters during her journey underneath Fedic and Discordia which advertised these events as entertainment.
This travelling between worlds may account for some of the similarities between All-World and the Keystone World, especially the presence of North Central Positronics in both. After Roland visits New York City, he states that the city looks like a young and vibrant Lud.
One of the long term effects of the Old Ones' negligence was the advent of the several mutant species that resided in Mid-World. The culmination of their endeavors appears to be the great nuclear and chemical catastrophes which led to their decline and fall . As mutant species wandered the world, the society of the Old Ones fragmented and most of their knowledge was lost, bringing a 1,000-year Dark Age which endured until the rise of Arthur Eld.
The passing of the Old Ones left many technological artifacts in its wake, some remaining functional to the time of Roland and end of the series, such as Shardik, Andy, and the tower watch station near the Dark Tower itself.
Virtually nothing is mentioned in the series about the culture of the Old Ones. However, Rhea in The Gunslinger Born mentions that they carried out something called 'Proving Honesty' in which a person was checked to ensure they were physically and spiritually intact. It is also known that they worshipped the Can-char.
Examples of Technology
Some of their technology mentioned in the books include:
- Di-polar computers
- Slo-trans engines
- Blaine the Mono and his counterpart, Patricia
- Andy the Messenger Robot
- Stuttering Bill
- Water pump at The Way Station
- Shardik, Maturin and the other Beam Guardians
- The artificial Beams that hold up the Dark Tower
- John Farson's war-machines
- Psychic Enhancer Assistant inside a Dogan
- Daria, a GPS that Tim Ross travelled with