I love anthropology—the study of humans—but sometimes it gets in the way of writing the way I want. I wrote a lot of the Argetallam culture while taking a cultural anthropology class. This highlighted some practical problems.
Culturally, Argetallams have faced genocide multiple times. It’s why they have trust issues when it comes to outsiders and why they culturally emphasize survival and greater good of their race. As a result, they have a perpetual war mindset and live in a state of readiness—which brings us to Problem #1.
Problem #1: Argetallams are all warriors
I’ve ranted before that it takes 100 civilians to support a single full-time fighter. While Argetallams spend time managing their vineyards and caravans, there weren’t enough leatherworkers, potters, weavers, masons, and other miscellaneous productive persons to make this work.
Solution to Problem #1: Lots of foreigners
The merchant and worker classes in Staspin are comprised almost entirely of foreign nationals and slaves. Argetallams are at the top of the hierarchy and make up the noble/ruling class. Even the lowest Argetallam is still legally ranked higher than the richest foreigner (though in practice the foreigner may enjoy greater privileges).
Problem #2: Lots of foreigners
Practically, I couldn’t just say that a few thousand people, who outnumber their Argetallam overlords 100 to 1, were happy with being second- and third-class citizens. What was to stop them from overrunning and revolting against the Argetallams?
Solution to Problem #2: Low birthrates for Argetallam/Argetallam couples
Because of low fertility among “pure” Argetallams, Argetallams take mates from foreigners as a standard practice. Most the foreigners in Staspin have an Argetallam relative. This is where the Argetallam emphasis on clan loyalty can provide these relatives with favor.
Problem #3: Low birthrates for Argetallam/Argetallam couples
This takes me back to needing lots and lots of foreigners. Couples made up of two Argetallams suffer high incidence of infertility—I haven’t explained why yet. Besides that, the rare children born from these unions are no stronger or more powerful than Argetallam with a non-Argetallam parent.
Doesn’t this take us right back up to Problem #2? Doesn’t that clan loyalty to non-Argetallam relatives in the last section make more problems? After all, division of loyalty between your family and your magical kindred could be difficult.
Solution to Problem #3: Equality Among Argetallams + Solution to Problem #1
We have the non-Argetallams to meet the workforce need, but they’re still unilaterally subjugated Argetallams.
But because of equality between Argetallams, even though many mates—especially female concubines—of Argetallams may be mistreated, Argetallam children will have the same rights, privileges, and upward mobility of any other Argetallam. Argetallams make no distinction between men or women and a minimal class distinction among their own.
Equality Among Argetallams encourages Argetallams to embrace their own, excel among their own, and for their non-Argetallam relatives to help them succeed.
As they say, the tide raises all ships. If your Argetallam cousin becomes a general, that’s a trickle down of resources and standard of living for you.
Anyone born an Argetallam in Staspin can start anywhere and work up to anywhere. The royal family is the exception.
Problem #4: Equality Among Argetallams
We now need to explain why there’s such a huge power distance between the Presiding Argetallam and everyone else. Also, why would a society with so many options for some limit the majority of their population?
They value individual merit and advancement. Why wouldn’t that include people besides Argetallams and why do they have a ruling dynasty at all?
Solution to Problem #4: Magic
We go more into the importance and power of the Presiding Argetallam in books #5 and #6. (You’re in for a ride in #6!) But ultimately, the Presiding Argetallam is the magical axis of the power matrix that binds their race.
Being born an Argetallam makes you a part of this matrix, regardless of rank, lineage, or location. This is both the reason for their group equality and the solution to it. This is the reason Argetallams can set themselves so far apart from everyone—including their non-Argetallam relatives.
Bottom line: magic solves all your problems.
In the end, only another Argetallam can enjoy the power of being one. It’s the reason for both their elitism and their egalitarianism.
In the end, the thing that defines the Argetallams is their immunity to and power to steal magic. Having that explain all their cultural idiosyncrasies is just logical. Therefore, my inner anthropologist is appeased.
Hopefully, this sociological obstacle course makes sense.
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In a world where magic is revered, what could be worse than the power to steal it?