Cardassians, a spacefaring race in the fictional Star Trek universe, and the Cardassian Union were introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Wounded". Cardassians were one of the main parts of the storyline in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Cardassian homeworld is Cardassia Prime in the Alpha Quadrant.
Cardassians are roughly humanoid in appearance, but have distinctive ridged arches connecting their shoulders to the top of their necks. This characteristic might be compared to the Vaadwaur. They also have ridges on either side of their forehead, ridges surrounding their eyes, and protrusions on their chin and below their nose. They also have a spoon-shaped feature starting in the center of their forehead and running down the length of their nose. This has earned them the derogatory name of "spoonheads." The spoon shape is also on their chest. This odd feature has also been described in gynocological terms and inspired an infamous Saturday Night Live skit making the satirical point that the facial features of some Star Trek aliens resemble non-facial human body parts.
Their skin is tan or gray in color and hair is dark brown or black.
Compared to humans, Cardassians prefer warmer and darker climates.
Cardassians tend to be predatory in nature, like wolf packs, always seeking out the dominant position in any social gathering. In normal courting behavior, Cardassian couples routinely act bitter and snap at each other. Cardassian society is generally non-sexist - both men and women can rise to high ranks in the military, for instance. However, other fields are not so diverse, such as the scientific community which is mostly female.
Cardassia's educational system is legendary throughout the quadrant. From a very young age, Cardassian children are trained in techniques such as photographic memory which allow them to retain vast amounts of information. It is rumored that deep hypnosis also plays a role in Cardassian schooling. Cardassian mental disciplines are rumored to be so complete that a Cardassian will prove almost totally resistant to torture; a Vulcan mind meld is also usually ineffective against a Cardassian who is properly trained.
Cardassians generally believe the state is more important than the individual and thus have been described as fascist. Certainly their government is powerful and the intelligence service, the Obsidian Order, excells in ruthless efficiency. Cardassians seen on Deep Space Nine are generally proud and patriotic, and reference is occasionally made to their xenophobic tendencies, although they are often seen co-operating with other races with no apparent friction. When representatives of the science ministry visited DS9 in "Destiny ", they were noticeably less patriotic and more liberal than most Cardassians seen previously.
They are generally cunning and suspicious. This is evident in battle, as evidenced in "Soldiers of the Empire " in which a Klingon speaks admiringly of Cardassian adversaries who always had 'a plan within a plan within a plan leading to a trap'. A popular Cardassian board game is 'Kotra', which, as Garak describes it, favours bold tactical manoeuvres over defensive play; hence Garak's criticism of Nog's attempts to regroup his pieces during a game they played in the episode "Empok Nor".
In Cardassian criminal trials the defendant is presumed guilty and in fact the punishment is already decided before the trial begins; the purpose of the trial is merely to help the defendant acknowledge his wrongdoing. In Cardassian mystery novels, everyone is always guilty, the puzzle being to work out who is guilty of what.
Cardassians are also very concerned about their families. For example, Garak enters a Dominion prison camp to speak with his father, Enabran Tain, one last time before Tain died. In another incident Gul Dukat is driven insane when his daughter Tora Ziyal dies. In Cardassian society, advanced age is seen as a symbol of power and dignity; in Cardassian families, it is common for many generations to live together under one roof.
See also: Gul (Star Trek)
Known Cardassian starships include the Galor class, a medium-sized cruiser which throughout The Next Generation was the most powerful vessel in service. The Galor is armed with a very large forward-mounted phaser cannon (or it may be a plasma cannon). They may also be armed with secondary phaser cannons mounted at other points across the hull, and they may carry a complement of photon torpedoes. Estimates vary, but it is thought a Galor class vessel would be roughly the equal of the Federation Intrepid class light cruiser in a conflict. It is not currently understood by those Trekkers with an eye for detail how a fleet of such ships would be powerful enough to seriously threaten the Federation.
All Cardassian warships seen so far are painted ochre, and have backwards-swept delta winged hulls; the delta wings resemble fins, giving the Cardassian ships the appearance of predatory sharks. They are all protected by force fields.
They were once a peaceful, spiritual people who collected works of art from all over the Alpha Quadrant, but their home planet Cardassia Prime lacked natural resources. The entire planet was stricken by famine and disease until the military took control of the government and expanded Cardassian borders, building fleets of warships and invading nearby worlds. Of particular note is Bajor which was occupied for fifty years, and the end of whose occupation destabilised the Cardassian government.
Sometime before 2347 the Cardassians attempted to expand into Federation territory and war broke out, lasting around twenty years. Captain Edward Jellico spearheaded successful attempts by Starfleet to negotiate a peace treaty which ended the war.
Shortly after the Cardassians withdrew from Bajor, a Federation presence was established aboard Terok Nor, renamed Deep Space Nine, to assist the Bajoran Provisional Government in rebuilding Bajor. However, the Federation officers discovered a wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant close to the station ("Emissary"). Roughly four months later, the Federation-Cardassian borders were redefined, with the two sides buffered by a demilitarized zone. However, the Cardassians harassed the Federation colonists in the DMZ who then retaliated by forming a resistance movement known as The Maquis.
Around the same time, the Obsidian Order (the Cardassian intelligence agency) began to gain power. However, it was destroyed when it allied with its Romulan counterpart, the Tal Shiar, in a preventative strike against the Dominion, a new threat from the Gamma Quadrant ("The Die Is Cast ").
In January of 2372 (Stardate 49011), the Klingon Empire attacked the Cardassians believing the Detapa Council of Cardassia had been infiltrated by the Dominion ("The Way of the Warrior"). The attack was led by General Martok who, it turned out, had been himself replaced by a shapeshifter, one of the leaders of the Dominion (first revealed in "Apocalyse Rising "; see also "In Purgatory's Shadow ").
Then, sometime between October 2373 and February 2374, with a Dominion attack on Deep Space Nine imminent, Gul Dukat announced the Cardassian Union's entry into the Dominion, shocking not only the Federation but most Cardassians as well. At the same time, Gul Dukat announced his ascension as leader of the Cardassian Union. Five days later, nearly the entire Maquis movement was slaughtered by the Dominion (except for those on the USS Voyager, that was lost in the Delta Quadrant at the time). Otherwise, nearly all the other Maquis who had not died were in Federation prisons.
The Cardassians (as members of the Dominion) captured DS9 ("Call to Arms"), but the Federation managed to block the Bajoran wormhole with self-replicating mines, preventing the Dominion from sending reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant.
Unfortunately for the Federation, Gul Damar discovered a way to disable the self-replication of the mines and completed the procedure and fired on the minefield seconds before Rom and Kira disabled DS9's weapons in hopes to prevent just that. The USS Defiant attacked DS9 and managed to take it back when the Bajoran Prophets destroyed an entire Dominion fleet on its way through the wormhole. Gul Dukat was captured after his daughter Ziyal was killed by Gul Damar, who was then promoted to Legate ("Sacrifice of Angels ").
Under the leadership of Damar, the Cardassian Union, along with the Dominion, continued to gain ground over the Klingon-Federation alliance, and even after Benjamin Sisko and Garak tricked the Romulans into breaking their nonaggression treaty with the Dominion and joining the alliance ("In the Pale Moonlight") they still managed to keep the upper hand.
Opposition to the Dominion
Damar, however, was not happy. While he had hoped that Cardassia's joining the Dominion would strengthen their power, he felt that they were no longer in control of even their own planet, having to report to the Dominion representative Weyoun and the Founders, and Cardassian troops were being sacrificed seemingly meaninglessly without his permission. For a time, Damar sank into heavy drinking. Shortly after the Breen joined the Dominion, almost guaranteeing the Dominion's victory, Damar organised a revolt. A Cardassian named Broca became Legate and puppet ruler of Cardassia.
The revolt started out as just a small legion of troops headed by Damar, but during the final assault on The Dominion by the Federation-Klingon-Romulan alliance, Damar managed to get an open revolt started on Cardassia itself with the civilians joining in and the Cardassian fleet turned during battle and assisted the alliance. The Female Shapeshifter ordered every Cardassian on the planet killed.
With the Cardassian fleet helping the alliance and the rebel's attack on the Dominion headquarters on Cardassia, the Dominion surrendered, ending the Dominion War.
The Cardassian cost due to the Dominion War was the highest of all the major powers. The homeworld was severely damaged by the Dominion. Cardassia was in much worse shape than Bajor. The long term effect on the ecology of the planet remains to be seen. Over 800 million Cardassians had died on Cardassia alone. It remains to be seen if the Cardassian race will be able to recover from this disaster.
Mirror universe Cardassians
In the Mirror Universe, the Cardassians formed an alliance with the Klingon Empire after destroying the Terran Empire.