OHS Dragon Age
Royalty, Commoners, and Slaves
In Ferelden, unlike nearly all other countries in Thedas, members of the nobility are not considered to be intrinsically better or afforded more rights than any other class; they just have different ones. It is true that nobles are generally treated with deference, but this is often due more to the (correct) assumption of martial ability than social status. Nobles from other lands frequently find Ferelden commoners to be phenomenally insolent in comparison to the fawning treatment that they are used to.
The primary purpose of the nobility of Ferelden is to fight for their people against all threats—human, darkspawn, or otherwise. While nearly all Fereldans boast some level of martial ability, nobles are expected to excel at warfare—it is, literally, their “job.” The nobles of Ferelden do not own the land. They likely have some small holdings, with more powerful or influential lords controlling progressively greater keeps or fortresses, but it is the freeholders that actually own the farms, the crops they produce, and the profits that come from selling their goods. In Ferelden this matters a great deal, because it is the commoners who are actually the patrons of the nobility. Each freehold chooses which bann or arl it gives allegiance to and the decision is renewed each year. A group of freeholders dissatisfied with the protection they are getting from their local bann can remove their patronage and give it to another bann—though likely one within a fairly short riding distance.
At the top of the noble structure sits the King of Ferelden, whose court is in the capital city, Denerim. The King is entrusted with advancing the interests of all the people of Ferelden in both war and trade. While the King can suggest new laws for the land, the “King’s Law” is in fact generally dictated by precedent and voted on by the Landsmeet, a legislative body made up of all the nobles of Ferelden that meets once a season within Denerim to deliberate on issues and bring grievances before the King.
Directly beneath the King are the teyrn, warlords of such power and influence that they have multiple banns sworn directly to them. There are two teyrn in Ferelden at present, Teyrn Bryce Cousland of Highever and Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir of Gwaren.
Beneath the teyrn are the arls, powerful banns who control critical fortifications or regions of land along the borders of Ferelden. Banns make up the bulk of Ferelden’s nobility. There are a great many banns with widely varying levels of power throughout the kingdom. When the banns speak with one voice, they are the greatest power in Ferelden, but this is rare, for they’re a quarrelsome lot. Trivial feuds, which occasionally give rise to petty wars, are far from unknown among the bann.
The least of the nobility is the Fereldan knight, a heavy infantry soldier sworn to serve a greater noble. The prestige of a given knight (Title: Ser) is greatly influenced by whom he is sworn to serve. They have no particular code of conduct, valuing fighting skills and leadership abilities before all else. While some knights do control land, it is never very significant, as anything more would mean they would be regarded as a bann. In Ferelden, commoner soldiers of exceptional fighting skill have a very real chance of being knighted and joining the ranks of the nobility. Fereldans are proud of this “social mobility,” which is rare in Thedas.
Because Ferelden’s social system developed directly from the Alamarri tribes, it carries their barbarian values within it. A hunter is certainly a valued member of his tribe, but there are many other hunters. A man who can craft a fine weapon, on the other hand, has a rare skill and is thus more respected. The craftsmen of the Alamarri tribes, the woodworkers, the smiths, the builders, and so forth, organized themselves over the years into semi-formal groups known as “ crafthouses” that shared knowledge and trade secrets with one another. They truly became a power unto themselves, though, when they made their members swear to put crafthouse before tribe. While the crafthouses have no formal political power, only a fool ignores them as they have total power over their particular craft in Ferelden.
Beneath the crafters are the freemen, who make up the bulk of the common classes. Scholars split the freemen into “High Freemen”—freeholders, soldiers, innkeepers, and other employed persons; and “Low Freemen”—criminals, prostitutes, elves, and other riffraff. Freemen are exactly that in Ferelden—they have the right to go where they will, live where they choose, and earn such a living as they may. There are no serfs in Ferelden; all are paid in coin or barter for their work.
Slavery is outlawed in Ferelden, but this is not true of the rest of Thedas. After the elven homeland was invaded and destroyed, the elves were enslaved by the Imperium, and were looked down on as less than the average human. This view has survived the actual institution of slavery into the present day, and manifests in the existence of alienages and other forms of discrimination directed against elves. In rare occasions, humans are also enslaved. Most Thedosian nations outside the Imperium have either outlawed slavery or at least have developed a negative view of the institution.
In ancient times, during the height of this practice, slaves were millions.
Slavery in Tevinter was briefly abolished, an act that had the potential to cause untold damage to the Imperial economy. The ruling Archon who had ordered the abolition was quickly assassinated, and slavery reintroduced. It is one of the few places where elves are still literal slaves, as opposed to alienage elves who are not technically slaves, but are still in the bottom of the society and it is common practice for alienage elves to sell themselves or each other into slavery to provide for their families.
Because of this, the condition of alienage elves in the Imperium is slightly better, but for the slaves it is significantly worse, compared to the elves of other countries. Slave hunters may capture elves in other nations (where, for the most part, slavery is illegal) and smuggle them into the Imperium, but those who are caught doing so are executed and made an example of. Those slaves who are sold on the black market are considered “non-contract” slaves, and have the worst living conditions of all.
Although slavery is illegal in Orlais, it is still not unheard of for wealthy nobles to own elven slaves. In recent years, though, the laws against slavery have become more strictly upheld.