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Posted by: Spartan1995324
^The Elites WERE smart. The achieved space flight by themselves.
But that knowledge was lost to the majority of the population over hundreds, perhaps thousands, of generations. The Elites who were in contact with the most advanced technology were the males, and all they wanted to do was fight. The Prophets took care of all the science research. The majority of Elites didn't bother to actually learn how their tech worked, much like how the majority of humans today have no idea how their smart phones actually work. In essence the Elites became users, not creators.
So after all that time of being a user, and then suddenly having a limited supply of tech, things will be tough to run. They don't really know how to make more ships, weapons, etc so they are focused on keeping what they have in tip top condition until they actually know how to build what they need.
There may be some Elites who know a bit, but I'd assume it isn't enough.
Karen Traviss has a couple somewhat new books that would interest you, they talk at great length about the Sanghelli civilization after the war.
The Elites revered the Forerunner artifacts as sacred relics of the gods. To them it was considered sacrilege to take apart or mutilate any Forerunner artifact, heck some even thought they shouldn't even be touched, only worshiped! They advanced in technology at a slower rate, only attempting to mimic, study, and occasionally activate Forerunner tech. In this way they were different than the Prophets, who made all of their technological advancements by studying, using and taking apart artifacts, reverse-engineering any tech they managed to understand to some extent. This put them at a significant technological advantage over the Elites.
This was actually the reason for the original war between the Sanghelli and San 'Shyuum. Once the two races ran into each other while colonizing space, they made contact and brokered an alliance to help one another, and shared in their worship of the Forerunners, discussing and comparing their religions and philosophy. The Prophets welcomed having strong, agile warriors at their sides, and the Elites marveled at and shared in their great technology.
But once the Elite's discovered that the Prophets were defiling sacred artifacts by damaging, using, and dismantling them for study, they grew furious. The Elites believed the sacred artifacts should be revered and protected, the Prophets believed they should be studied and used. This lead to a great war that eventually came to a standstill after great losses on both sides. The Elites were powerful, dexterous warriors, able to overtake the Prophets on the ground and any single combat with ease. The Prophets on the other hand had more advanced ships and weaponry, able to strike harder and on a wider scale as well as dominating ship to ship combat. But over time, a stalemate was drawn and the idea for peace was attempted.
This ushered in the dawn of the Covenant. Sanghelli and San 'Shyuum leaders decided to put aside their differences and band together under a common goal of learning about their gods, discovering more of their artifacts, and finding out how they went from this existence, as well as how to ascend behind them. Thus the Great Journey started, with the Elites as the strong arm, protecting the Prophets as they journeyed the galaxy in search of the Forerunner.
After the events of Halo 3 and Onyx, the Elites were scattered, broken, as we all know. They lack leadership and they are a culture that knows nothing but war, every male a fighter and every female a breeder. Within the Covenant they had no need to study technology, that was the role of the Prophets. Or to grow food or maintain themselves or their tech, that was the role of the lesser races. With this structure gone, they know not how to move forward, and are tasked with relearning how to be independent and grow as they once did thousands of years ago.
So no, Elites did not in fact achieve space flight unaided, they had Forerunner tech to mimic. But neither did Humans, to be fair, as it is suggested that the Librarian's genesong guided humanity along a certain path, seeding us with ideas that sprouted over time, both cultural and technological, so that they would be ready to assume the Mantle when the time was right.