From FreeSpace Wiki
The Ancients are the fourth and final canon species within the FreeSpace universe. Though their empire was at one point extensive, they are believed to have been made extinct by a massive Shivan assault around 8,000 years prior to the events of FreeSpace 1 (i.e. circa 5,500 BC, note that this is also near the time the Crab Nebula would have been a supernova, hence leading to the question of whether the Shivans used their anti-stellar weapons on the Ancients). Though they have never been directly encountered by modern Terrans or Vasudans, their influence on Terran and Vasudan affairs have been considerable. It was Ancient knowledge of subspace tracking that allowed the Lucifer to be destroyed, and the Ancient built Knossos portals that provided a link between Shivan and GTVA-held space, which allowed the Second Shivan Incursion to occur in 2367.
Though Terran and Vasudan archaeologists have been studying Ancient ruins for many years, and presumably have at least some understanding of their culture, very little of this knowledge has been passed on to the player. We know that they were arrogant, warlike, and expansionist, and that they enslaved and destroyed many other less advanced species in their rise to galactic prominence.
Again, while the GTVA probably has a degree of understanding in this area, very little data on the level of technological sophistication has been given in game. We know that their knowledge of subspace exceeded that of the GTVA, and allowed them to create both the subspace tracking technology and the Knossos portals. Beyond that, no official canon data is available, though comments by Volition developers state that the Ancients were no more than a few decades ahead of the GTA and PVN at the time of FreeSpace 1, except in the area of subspace.
Relationship to the Vasudans
The existence of a relationship between the Ancients and the Vasudans is based on compelling evidence, including what nearly amounts to a canon confirmation by Volition. The written language of the Ancients is similar to that of the Vasudans (FreeSpace Reference Bible cutscene "Act 3 Misc 2A"). The same cutscene refers to how "this lends credence to Vasudan legends about their ancestry".
- The Ancient homeworld is described as being "near to Vasuda".
- The prophecies referenced by the Hammer of Light speak of predictions of cosmic destroyers, and may have been referring to the Shivans. The only way the primitive Vasudans of the time could have known about the Shivans would have been for a more advanced species to have told them about them. For this knowledge (and presumably dire warnings) to be mutated into prophecy is not unlikely.
- The climate of Vasuda Prime is far from conducive to the emergence of technologically sophisticated sentient beings like the Vasudans. It is theorized that they had outside help in their development.
- The Ancient ruins that have been found are centred around systems near to Vasuda (Altair, Deneb, etc.). It is unlikely that the Ancients could have avoided passing through Vasuda, and therefore encountering the Vasudans. Since they obviously did not destroy the Vasudans entirely, it is possible their relationship was more complex.
- The FS1 techroom description of the Vasudans states that Vasuda had been ruled by the same dynasty for 10,000 years. Bosch Monologue 1 states that the Ancients were destroyed "eight thousand years ago". This implies that there may have been period of about 2,000 years during which the Vasudans and Ancients coexisted.
- The Vasudans are said to be obsessed with preserving and studying history in FS1 and FS2 techroom briefings, perhaps because of their previous knowledge of the Ancients.
FreeSpace Reference Bible on the Ancients
"It is suspected that the Vasudans may have actually been visited long ago in their past by another race, simply called 'the Ancients'. Not much is known about this race, but from archaeological digs, it seems that they originated from a system nearby to Vasuda Prime. Since it is unlikely that Vasuda Prime could have sustained a primitive race for long enough to develop space travel, it is not unfeasible that 'the Ancients' may have helped Vasudan culture develop enough to allow them to survive."