The idea of a great past Golden Age that had far more advanced magic and perhaps even technology is quite common in fantasy, but one that has never really worked for me. It explains how the heroes find all those amazing magic items deep in ancient ruins, but current archeological understanding casts serious doubt that any such cultural apocalypse has ever really happened in history, and usually the idea pops up in the context of nostalgia for a past that never was, in which the person in question would have been one of the few people who supposedly benefited from the injustices and inequalities. And in recent decades, a consensus has been emerging that empires in general are a horrible thing that are to blame for most of the greatest evils in history. Not really something to celebrate romantically in fiction.
Kaendor is a world of vast open spaces and barely explored wilderness, with society consisting largely of various city states and tribal confederacies. There aren’t really any major kingdoms comparable to nation states and certainly no great dominant empire. However, the concept of empire and conquest is not unknown to the people of Kaendor. But it is one that is widely feared and despised and inherently associated with sorcery and demons.
The coastal lands of Kaendor have seen a number of empires in the past, and all of them are seen as dark periods in the myths and stories of their current inhabitants. The first mythological empire is that of the Tower Builders, who destroyed the civilizations of the Rock Carver and the Tree Weavers with their sorcery and the help of demons. The Tower Builders ruled the coastal lands for many hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, keeping the early clans of the mortal peoples hidden deep in the forests and mountains, until they came into contact and conflict with the Naga empire of the southern jungles. The Naga eventually emerged victorious, commanding terrible sorcery of their own, and destroyed the civilization of the Tower Builders. But they had suffered greatly in the centuries of war as well, and when mortal shamans rediscovered the secrets of sorcery from the ruins of the Tower Builders, they conquered the coastal lands for themselves. Inevitably, these mortal sorcerers desired to create an empire of their own in the lands that they had conquered. But unable to agree which one of them should rule over the others as emperor, they soon turned on each other, continuing the endless wars and unleashing more demons and corruption upon the world.
It was only when priests of the moon goddess Temis led an uprising against the Old Sorcerers that spread throughout the coastal lands that the demonic influence was finally banished from Kaendor. With the Old Sorcerers gone, numerous small kingdoms formed around the remaining cities, each of them weary of becoming the next target for a new conqueror who was dreaming again of an empire. This common fear has brought rivals and enemies together many times to join forces and shatter the forces of any new potential new conqueror showing ambition that went beyond securing a few towns and river crossings along the borders of their realm.
The mortal people of Kaendor have seen enough of Empires in the past and it is seen as a great evil that should never be allowed to return back to the world.