Like most intelligent species encountered in the Alpha Quadrant, Cardassians are bipedal humanoids, their defining physical markers are:

  • Grey skin, usually in the lighter tones.
  • A ridge in the center of their forehead, almost always in an inverted tear-drop shape.
  • Twin thick vertical neck ridges that run back from the crown of the head, that serve to sense temperature and are sensitive to the touch, which many Cardassian find pleasurable.

Cardassians have excellent memories which are honed from childhood through a variety of techniques providing them with near Eidetic memories.

Most cardassian senses are in the usual humanoid range, however, Cardassian hearing is generally less acute than the human norm but it is very good at picking up on sharp sounds that indicate danger.

Cardassians are known to be able to interbreed with Bajorian, Kazon and Terran humanoids.


Cardassians evolved on a world that is poor in many resources and it is believed that this led to the development of strictly hierarchical cultures that competed and fought for them.  The one power that succeeded in unifying the planet went on to form what has become known as the Cardassian Union.  It is an unfortunate historical fact that the Cardassian Union has doctored and rewritten all records of early Cardassian history to make its rise to power seem both inevitable and natural.  So what philosophies and forms of government the rival Cardassian states may have possessed are lost to history. This is somewhat ironic as Cardassians are meticulous record keepers, using well-organized files and databases. They are also known for their punctuality. This served the State, which was of utmost importance. The ideal Cardassian life was one of complete loyalty and servitude to the State and family. 

Cardassians are raised to obey and serve their family and the State, which is the family writ large, though when loyalty is tested, the State is the one that should be followed, always.  The system evolved to be rigidly hierarchical, but it has become slightly more flexible and meritocratic following the aftermath of the Dominion War.

Neither Cardassian gender is considered dominant over the other, though each tends to be dominant within certain specific fields within their society. Cardassians do not place any restrictions or limits on a person based on gender, all serve the State in their own way, though women are rewarded for bearing the next generation and the Cardassian Union gives medals and recognition to women who bear more children.  While not imposed, the culture tends to channel men into direct service to the state through military or governmental service while women are directed to science, engineering, and education.

Cardassian society and sense of virtue has been shaped, some might say warped, by a philosophy of complete devotion to the State.  Punctuality, loyalty, and efficiency, as exemplified by the excellent record keeping and maintenance of files and databases, and are extolled as virtues.  Whatever religion and rival philosophies may have existed in the past have all given way before a unitary view of State and society, with families playing the role of substates within the greater Cardassian State.  Cardassian society had abandoned all religion beyond devotion to the State, and their philosophy placed a central value on strength; not necessarily physical strength, but strength of personal and collective will. The philosophy of the union centers on this collective strength and will focused on building a better world . . . for the Cardassians.

Cardassian culture was impacted by the mass destruction at the end of the Dominion War and post war exposure to Federation culture. However, overall, Cardassian culture still extols the State above all and serving it is the highest ideal.  But within that, there are several threads:

Family is very important while, in theory, the love of family should be subservient to service to the State, that is not always the case.

Cardassians find it difficult to disentangle personal ambition and what is best for oneself from what is best for the State.  Many things can be justified in the pursuit of power under this cloak of service.  The will to power is deeply ingrained into Cardassian philosophy.

Suspicion is rife and deception is a constant.  The State in various guises is always monitoring its people, just as ambitious Cardassians are always seeking an advantage over their rivals. Thus deceit and secrecy remain second nature to most Cardassians.  Trust is a rare commodity in the Cardassian Union which makes it difficult for outsiders to gain insight into Cardassians as a people or even on a personal level.

A more individualistic and, almost counter-intuitively, trusting Cardassian subculture is emerging from Federation contact which sees the state as a good but not as the be all and end all of the Union and its people.  These trends are most visible on the worlds near the Federation border and, perhaps ironically, on Cardassia Prime.


Brief Canon History

Due to the almost complete control of the Cardassian Union over all historical records, pre-contect Cardassian history must be viewed with a critical eye.  What is known is that the Cardassian Union achieved unity over Cardassia Prime sometime in the 19th Century (Terran reckoning), all of the elements of Cardassia as it is now known were already established: the Detapa Coucil, the High Command and the Obsidian Order.  It is unclear about the original balance between these factions but they managed to work together to forge the Union.

Cardassian-Federation first contact happened before 2257 but the exact date is not established.  It is known that the Cardassians encountered the Klingon Empire prior to their meeting the Federation but exact dates are elusive.

The Cardassian Union soon found it was outstripping the resources of Cardassia Prime and embarked on a crash course to expand to the stars.  The costs of this program are glossed over in the Cardassian Union history but were considerable and the Union ruthlessly crushed any opposition to their plans.  The effort paid off and new vistas and new worlds opened to the use of the Cardassians, a new golden age was at hand, and the cost was in strip-mined worlds and ruined ecologies to feed the needs of the Cardassian Union.

The first encounter with another intelligent species came as a shock to the Cardassians but they soon realized that a new species was simply another resource to be used by the Union and they promptly used their superior technology to enslave them.

Having established this pattern, the treatment of Bajor was horrifyingly predictable.  The Bajorians were quickly overwhelmed and occupied in 2319.  A formal annexation would follow in 2328 attempting to bring Bajor entirely within the Union but the Bajorian people were not willing to submit, eventually driving the Cardassians out in 2369.

While trying to impose their will on the Bajorian people, the Cardassian Union and the Klingon Empire were posturing for position, drawing Cardassian forces and focus away.  The potential conflict became actual following the Betreka Nebula Incident,  which would spark an eighteen-year long war in 2328, which drained the Cardassion military and treasury.

The end of the Klingon-Cardassian War brought no respite as the Cardassian Border Wars with the Federation began the following year (2347) and dragged on though 2366.  Ending with an armistice and the creation of the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ) and, indirectly, the formation of the Maquis.

The Cardassian Union’s pride, not to mention their economic base, was badly wounded by these conflicts and the escalating conflict with the Maquis.  While all of this was happening, the Obsidian Order, the intelligence service of the Union, were cooperating with the Romulan Tal Shiar to stage a decapitation strike against the Founders in the Gamma Quadrant.  It went disastrously wrong, leading to the destruction of the higher levels of the Obsidian Order along with most of its military resources.

The effective destruction of the Obsidian Order destabilized Cardassian politics allowing the Cardassian Dissident Movement to topple the military government and reinstate the Detapa Council as the leadership of the Union.  This did not lessen the role of the State in Cardassia, only change who was directing it.

The Klingon Empire, partly encouraged by Dominion infiltrators, attacked the Union without warning.  The Klingons were hugely successful and drove the Union into membership within the Dominion negotiated by Gul Dukat in 2373.  Initially, this worked as an alliance, with Cardassia receiving much needed reinforcement and aid.  The Klingons were driven from Cardassian space and known Maquis bases within the DMZ were eliminated.

Federation miscalculations lead to escalation and the outbreak of full-scale conflict between the two powers, the Dominion War had begun.  The Cardassians, treated as full partners, were fully committed to the war effort under Dukat’s leadership.  All of this changed when Dukat was captured during the daring Federation-Klingon assault which reclaimed Terok Nor and the Dominion reinforcements were cut off.  Gul Damar became the leader of Cardasia but was reduced to a puppet ruler as the Dominion began exercising direct control, effectively reducing Cardassia to a client state.  This became obvious when in 2375, the Dominion purchased an alliance with the Breen by giving them a large block of Cardassian territory without even consulting Damar.

This led to increasing discontent within the Union and a brief rebellion against the Dominion that was crushed.  As punishment Lakarian City was wiped out by the Dominion, causing two million civilian deaths, and setting the stage for further atrocities.  As the Federation led forces moved to take Cardassia Prime, the Cardassians rose in revolt and a world-scale purge was ordered by the Dominion resulting in over eight hundred million deaths before it was stopped.

After the surrender of the Dominion focus in the Alpha Quadrant, Carrdassia was once again free.  The Union was restored but their economy, military, and even population had been devastated by the war.

Proposed Post-Canon History

The Federation-led alliance forces occupied Cardassian space only long enough to ensure the removal of Dominion remnants, though both the Klingons and Romulans were accused of unauthorized looting of resources on a few occasions.  Relief efforts, coming almost exclusively from the Federation, assisted with the rebuilding of Cardassia Prime and the other worlds.  A new, theoretically democratic, Cardassian Assembly was formed in 2385 as the governing body of the Cardassian Union with Elim Garek in the office of the Castellan.

The Borg incursion of 2381 into the Alpha Quadrant did not significantly affect rebuilding Union.  Cardassian representatives attended the 2382 conference to discuss expanding the Khitomer Accords.  The Hobus supernova and the resulting destruction of Romulus drew both Federation aid and attention away from the Cardassian project.  Many in the Union considered this a blessing and a chance for the Union to take its rightful place again, free from Federation interference, others missed the support for liberalizing the Union that the Federation presence encouraged.

The new Cardassian state had established trade ties with the Federation and now expanded into commercial exchanges with the Ferengi Alliance.  Cardassian merchants, rather than warships, have become a common sight on the territories bordering the Union.

The Cardassian fleet, while still small compared to its pre-Dominion War levels, is continually expanding and seems to have incorporated considerable technical improvements acquired from reverse engineering technology acquired as salvage in the aftermath of the Dominion War.  Rumors persist of a surviving Dominion shipyard captured and hidden by the Cardassians in the closing stages of the war, but no indication of any vessels from such a shipyard have even been confirmed.

Cardassian politics and society are divided into a Liberal block that seeks to promote ideas of freedom and individualism but they are opposed by the larger Traditionalist block that wants everything back the way it was.  While the Traditionalist faction has the upper hand in politics, the Liberal faction, supported by the new merchant class, has a firm hold on the current mass culture in the Union.  It remains to be seen which side will decisively shape the Union’s future.


The Cardassians are loosely allied with the Federation through a non-aggression pact and trade deals.  Trade with the Ferengi Alliance is at an all time high and Cardassian merchants are even beginning to build trade routes to some of the Romulan successor states.  

The new Cardassian External Intelligence Agency, foreign and domestic intelligence having been at last separated, is aggressive in seeking any advantage for the Union.  They have become quite adept at industrial spying and infiltrating black markets often coming into conflict with the Ferengi and the Orions.

The Union military is doing its best to rebuild and learn the lessons from the Dominion War.  Surprisingly, the military has taken the lead in trying to integrate client species into its ranks as long as they embrace Cardassian virtues.

Key Facts

Facts Table
Home Planet:Cardassia Prime
UFP Status:Non-member


Memory Alpha and Sadler’s original write-up