A Sector Duke is the Duke in charge of a Sector. This is a title that, in my opinion, arose as Traveller – the roleplaying game – ran into Traveller – the roleplaying game setting.
As I have stated before, originally in Traveller – the roleplaying game – there was no formal background setting. Every Games Master was free to create whatever Universe they liked and then get on and have fun in it. The sixth characteristic that defines a character’s physical and mental existence within the game is called Social Status and in Traveller – the roleplaying game – there is a small section that states that a character with a Social Status of 11 or higher is a noble, and then gives a list of ranks up to 15 – Duke/Duchess. This section then goes on to say, “Ranking above duke/duchess are two levels not reflected in social standing: prince/princess or king/queen are titles used for actual rulers worlds. The title emperor/empress is used by the ruler of an empire of several worlds” – Traveller Book 3: Worlds and Adventures pg 22.
Strangely enough, Traveller Book 3: Worlds and Adventures also includes an 8 hex by 10 hex map sheet and the discussion on mapping the universe describes this map as a “subsector”. The connection between the “map” and boardgames (the creators of Traveller had released a space war boardgame called “Dark Nebula” just prior to the release of Traveller) is rather obvious, and the two-dimensional mapping of space has been one of Traveller’s endearing quirks ever since – even if it drives hard science-fiction aficionados nuts.
Within a year or so of the release of Traveller in 1977, the concept of the Third Imperium spanning 11,000 worlds was firmly established, and with it the rather vague idea that the Imperium was subdivided into Sectors (a term with a very long association with science fiction). Around the same time, or a little later, each Subsector came to be ruled by a Duke. By the early-to-mid 80’s, the concept of Sector Dukes seems to have been established and then we see the division of the Imperium into Domains under Arch-Dukes and the information that the Sector Duke is actually the most powerful, or the most popular, of the Subsector Dukes within each sector.
The implication of the later concept was that whichever Subsector Duke could muster enough support would then be confirmed as sector Duke by both his/her peers and the Emperor. This “democratic” feudalism initially struck me as rather odd until I began to do some reading on Medieval German History and the History of the Holy Roman Empire.
Thus, when I came to form the ideas behind how my Traveller campaign area – the RimWorlds – was settled, I already had the concept of comitatus. The driving force behind the establishment of the RimWorlds, Kolin Venuraski, was a scion of a Noble House in the Spinward March. Seeing the opportunity to establish settlements in a newly mapped area of space, he gathered relatives and friends – usually siblings of heirs to various titles – who either had resources, or access to resources, and little opportunity to use them.
With this initial comitatus gathered around him, Kolin Venuraski was able to accumulate further resources, build the deep space refuelling stations that enabled colony ships to cross Rifts, and launch the colonisation of the RimWorlds. As the momentum of settlement grew, Venuraski was able to secure Imperial recognition of both his colonisation effort, and his position as first Sector Duke of the RimWorlds. This in turn, gave him the ability to distribute patronage and continue to attract resources and people to his comitatus.
Anyone interested in reading about this part of the History of the RimWorlds is welcome to peruse the history section of my campaign notes here, under the Imperial History link at the top of the page.