Bel Riose is a fictional character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. He was the last strong General of the Galactic Empire, Commander of the legendary Twentieth Fleet, who eventually came to be known as "the Last of the Imperials", and earned this title well. His tactical genius was compared with that of Admiral Peurifoy, and his skill at handling men to be far greater. A man of great military genius, he was also brave, competent, good looking, neither too young nor too old, a taker of calculated risks, and good to his men—in short, he was a popular general.
He was born at a late point during the slow fall of the Empire. Riose yearned for the days when generals proved their worth through the addition of new territory to the empire.
War with the Foundation
Riose got his chance when he heard rumors of the "magicians" from Ducem Barr and others, in reference to the scientists of the Foundation. At this time, the Foundation held a large portion of the periphery in economic control and word of the Foundation was beginning to reach the Empire at the Galactic Core.
As a stalwart and patriotic defender of the original Galactic Empire, Riose was shocked by the legend of Hari Seldon's plan to create a new Empire which would take over from his own; the Foundation was a real threat.
With several of the last great "ships of the line", pinnacles of Imperial technological and military prowess (of which few remained in those degenerate times), Riose set out into the barbarian Galactic Periphery to claim the Foundation in the name of Empire and Emperor.
Seldon had predicted that the Foundation would survive all trials, and Bel Riose knew this, but he bet his living will against the "dead hand" of Seldon's psychohistory.
In combat, Riose repeatedly defeated the Foundation through brilliant tactical and strategic planning. Eventually, Riose's fleet came within a day's travel of Terminus. Before he could complete his conquest, however, he was recalled by Emperor Cleon II, tried for treason, and executed.
All had gone as Seldon predicted. A weak General could clearly never threaten the Foundation due to a lack of adaptability and innovation (the Galactic Empire had begun to stagnate in all things, including military strategy, and could have easily had its pre-planned and often repeated attacks thwarted). A strong General under a weak Emperor would overthrow the Emperor rather than make new conquests since control of the Galactic Empire is obviously more enticing than control over the so-called "barbarian hinterland". Riose, however, served under Cleon II, the last strong Emperor. When both General and Emperor are strong, the General can only keep his attention on outward conquest: that is why Riose was the only Imperial in many years to pose a threat to the Foundation. However, this situation also meant that the strong Emperor would never let the strong general become strong enough to dethrone him. Paranoia ran high in the Galactic Empire due to the staggering number of revolutions and political assassinations. Emperor Cleon II had Riose executed out of fear of his popularity and success.
Ironically, General Riose never had any designs upon the throne and never did anything except to serve his Emperor faithfully.
According to Golan Trevize, in later years Riose was largely forgotten by the people of the Foundation, as their national mythology required that the Mule be made the sole central threat to the rise of the Foundation.
Asimov loosely based Bel Riose on Flavius Belisarius, a great general of the Roman Empire during the 6th century AD. Like Riose, Belisarius served a strong emperor, Justinian the Great, in an empire that had declined from its peak (Belisarius was one of the people, along with Justinian, known as "the last of the Romans", i.e., imperials); helped it to recapture much of its lost territory; and was called back on baseless suspicion that he was angling for the Imperial throne. Unlike Riose, Belisarius was not executed but retired (and, according to unsubstantiated legend, was blinded and cast out of Constantinople as a beggar).
- Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION Novels: Historical Materialism Distorted into Cyclical Psycho-History Charles Elkins, Science Fiction Studies, # 8 (Volume 3, Part 1, March 1976)