What ultimately caused the decline and fall of the Malazan Empire?

While the stature of the Malazan Empire and its holdings throughout the world of Wu experienced instability and relative decline in the years following the mysterious deaths and disappearances of the Old Guard, beginning with the loss of the Emperor Kellanved and his associate, Dancer, in 1154 BS (Burn's Sleep), historians tend to view the empire as a persistent entity. While its stature has changed over time, it has not truly "fallen," or ceased to be an empire in the original sense of the word.

Looking at that decline, however, historians often point to the reaction of the Old Guard to the Empress Laseen's rule as the main cause. Surely, her rule occurred during a period of instability for the empire, convergences of ascendents reached an all-time high, not only did gods walk the world, and even die, but the Elder gods returned in force as well. At the same time, historians often argue that it was Laseen's mismanagement of the empire that precipitated its decline, emphasizing the internal, rather than external, factors. According to these interpretations, it was her treatment of the Old Guard, and subsequent loss of their support that weakened the empire and deprived it of the leadership that it needed to deal with the worldly and external crises that it faced.

But this perception of Laseen's rule as a failure is one that has been heavily influenced by the writing of contemporary historians like Duiker, as well as the poetry of Fisher Kel Tath in the "Malazan Book of the Fallen." As such, and as a result of the instability during her reign, and the historical revisionism that occurred during and afterwards (as an example, I point here to the Empire's well-documented attempts to revise the historicity of its support and endorsement Coltaine's Seventh Legion and his "chain of dogs"), there is little reliable information about the true political conflict that occurred during this period.

Some revisionist historians have gone so far as to argue that the Empress Laseen had no choice but to take over rule and administration of the empire after Kellanved and Dancer's long disappearance. They argue that Laseen was simply dealt a bad hand, and did the best that she could for the empire with the tools that were available. It was unfortunate, for her and the empire, that the Old Guard did not see things this way and abandoned their positions by feigning their deaths.

So, given the facts available, and those are always uncertain in this case given the sources, it is safe to conclude that the Malazan Empire did decline during Laseen's reign, but it certainly did not "fall."

/r/AskHistorians Thread