When we think about Esrolia as a culture, a few things to keep in mind:
Esrolia is 90% rural villagers. Let’s focus on that before thinking about its urban centers. Rural Esrolia is DENSELY populated – around 130 people per square km. That’s Nile Valley or the Low Countries in the Renaissance levels of population density.
If you travel in Esrolia, every 4 or 5 kilometres has a village, surrounded by farms. If we think of each village having about 16 km2 agricultural land, that means we have clusters of about 2000 people, with lots of little farmhouses, but most of the folk living in a large village, with its Ernalda major temple (with shrines to the other Earth goddesses) and minor temple to Barntar or Orlanth Thunderous and shrine to Argan Argar or Lodril. And then 4 km away is another one. And another 4 km there is another one. And so on.
This also means that most farms are small, much smaller than in Dragon Pass. Instead of the 50 hectare sized free commoner farms in Dragon Pass, the average Esrolian peasant might only have 3 to 5 hectares. Which means they must work temple fields as tenants or even as peons and debtors. The Ernalda temple provides food, seed, and tools – in exchange, they get the half or more of the peasants’ harvest, plus the right to demand additional labor. It is no wonder that most outsiders view the rural population as oppressed peasants and slaves.
Esrolia is incredibly fertile, producing great surpluses of grain and other foodstuffs. There’s enough to feed the cities, and even enough to export elsewhere. As a result, the Ernalda temples are rich with agricultural goods. The agricultural tax in Esrolia is paid in kind, with wheat, barley, fruits, salted pork, whatever. This is brought to the Asrelia temples (which are big storehouses and granaries), to be released upon demand from the priestess-queens – for support of the priestesses, her household, payment to followers, distribution against famine, etc. Scribes and grandmothers oversee all of this, and everyone is kept plenty busy.
This material culture reinforces the primacy of the Earth temples – they have the resources to keep themselves on top. This makes Esrolia a matriarchy. The priestess-queens are perfectly willing to pay rivals off to maintain their autonomy (see Broken Council, EWF, etc.).
However, the majority of the rural community – both male and female – are semi-free or even unfree. They are sharecroppers or debtor peons, working the land of the temple.
The problems of the Esrolian system is not misandry – it is that it is a very densely populated agrarian society where the temples have most of the resources.
Although the rulers of Esrolian society are women, Esrolia is quite egalitarian in gender relations – and pretty similar to other Orlanthi societies.
Do the temples delegate oversight of the land to the noble Houses? Or do the Houses dominate the upper hierarchy of the temples? A young woman from a powerful family is expected to be VERY loyal to her temple or devoted to Ernalda. She is taught how to worship Ernalda from a young age, and is given spiritual instruction and training. She is taught how to Read and Write, how to speak Earthtongue, and how to manage a household (or temple). She is also expected to take lovers and have her first child in her late teens. That way she might become a priestess as soon as possible.
Since the high priestess of the temple is likely a kinswoman, it is pretty likely the temple will have a vacancy for a member of her kinship group. In this way, most of the temples end up being dominated by noble kinship groups, and have for centuries.
When older, she can buy a position in the Asrelia temple. Or even better, she can arrange for her temple to buy her a position in the Asrelia temple.
2500 L is an awful lot of money (125 cows!), but pretty easy for these Esrolian temples to come up with. And an Asrelia priestess controls serious bank.
In practice, I assume this usually takes the form of outfitting Asrelia with precious stones and metals, which the priestess then wears once acclaimed. The temple might “loan” this, requiring the new priestess to continue providing resources to the Ernalda temple.
Obviously, a noble family is going to be able to better support this than the rest of society.
Esrolian agriculture is FAR more intensive than that in Dragon Pass. There is also far less pastoralism except in Longsi Land.
Esrolia might well have a seed productivity of 20 or more to 1. Sartar is probably 5 to 1 (and with a much smaller percentage of assigned land devoted to grain). And of course, there are a LOT of Bless Crops going on.
They also use far more of their acreage for agricultural, with far less land used for grazing (or with rocks and other obstacles). Irrigation gives us access to water, and the climate is better. Again, the numbers do actually work out.
So with all that in mind, let’s think about some of the other prominent cults. Orlanth is the second biggest cluster of cults in Esrolia. He gets wealth from his initiates – largely male peasants and free commoners. This is probably less than a tenth of what Ernalda’s temples get, but it is still enough to build lovely temples, have scores of priests, etc.
The Orlanth cult is a loyal ally of the Ernalda cult and I am sure the Thunderous and Barntar aspects are strongly favoured. Adventurous is a troublemaker and probably embraced by those who seek to flee mother’s stifling embrace. Vinga is found here, and she is likely a popular outlet for those women who seek adventure outside of the Earth Temples.
So imagine this as the second biggest network of temples. It is very decentralised and closely tied to the Ernalda network but also very closely tied to the other Lightbringers temples.
After Orlanth, Argan Argar and Lodril have the largest cults in Esrolia (although each are less than a third the size of Orlanth’s cult). Lodril’s cult is most popular in South Esrolia, while Argan Argar’s is most popular in North Esrolia and the North March (near the Shadow Plateau).
Again, both are popular rural men’s cults. They might appeal more strongly to labourers and crafters (especially Lodril with his access to the Lowfires). Argan Argar is essential for those who need to deal with the Shadow Plateau, and I am sure there is just a long tradition of the cult in much of Esrolia.
One would think that given the nature of Esrolian society as you describe it there would be a history of peasant rebellion? Not particularly. Peasant rebellions are far rarer than one might think – what is far more common is jostling between kinship groups. Couple of reasons for this. First, is that even the lowest rural peon is able to get enough to eat. Second, is that social inequality is largely within kinship groups and their dependents.
So let’s imagine the temple of Flower Girl, home to a local nymph called Beloved Hara, who is also ancestress of the clan. This is a major temple to Ernalda, a minor temple to Orlanth Thunderous, and a shrine to Lodril.
There is a priestly-family that dominates the temple affairs and literally traces its genealogy to Beloved Hara. The family is led by the temple high priestess and includes a score or more priestesses. There are also two or three Asrelia priestesses, a few scribes, etc. The daughters of the priestesses are raised by the temple, taught to read, how to perform ceremonies, and given spiritual training as well. The boys are given over to the Storm Voices, or sent to the city as apprentices with Issaries or Lhankor Mhy. Let’s say some this group totals about 100-150 women, men, and children. Not all are Rune masters of course, but all are involved in running the temple.
The next group are the free farmers and crafters. They have a say in the affairs of the community although defer to the temple leaders most of the time. Say some 700 women, men, and children. This group hopes to have a daughter become a priestess or a scribe or a merchant. Some might even become adventurers.
The bottom group are the sharecroppers, peons, and landless labourers. They work for a share or payment, and do not have a say in the affairs of the community. Say some 1100 women, men, and children are in this group. This bottom group is unlikely to rebel against the temple, unless the temple leaders become particularly greedy or incompetent.
You are much more likely going to have riots in the Esrolian cities than peasant rebellion in the countryside.
The Lunars have a bigger problem with rural rebellions than Esrolia because:
- They have a large foreign slave population – from the Redlands, Dragon Pass, etc. These are people who were captured in war, or forced to move. In Esrolia it is mostly locals in debt to other locals.
- There is a strong religious conflict between the peasantry – exacerbated by the White Moon Movement – and its rulers. This is the trigger of the most dangerous peasant rebellion.
- There is a cultural/religious gap between the rulers and the ruled. Heck there is even a linguistic divide.
- The Lunar Empire needs to squeeze its peasants because of wars (and imperial folly – the Extra Full Moon year was stupidly expensive).
And of course this is worse in the areas where the Orlanth cult has a long history with.
If history is a guide, would the Lunar invasion and subsequent war have dramatically thinned the population? There would be some impact, but honestly this stuff likely just moves up the percentage of children. Greg and I played around with thinking through the impact of war, but it really is not worth the effort. At least not at this stage of the Hero Wars.
So what happens if I am sick and tired of being an Esrolian sharecropper? Well, unlike many agricultural societies, I am free to leave. I can go to the edges of Esrolia and join Orlanth Adventurous bands and fight in Dragon Pass or Maniria. I can become a ship rower in a port city and get paid. I can become a sailor and leave altogether. But the most common thing to do is go to Nochet, where there is an endless need for laborers. Or so the stories go. This is an important safety valve in Esrolian society.
As a final comment – in rural Esrolia, famine is very rare. Initiates of Ernalda (and her associates) do not go hungry except when caused by outside invasion, as the temples take care of their own. This goes a long ways towards explaining why many people are content with working for the temples, and accepting the rule of the Earth priestesses.
And as said before, those who are discontent are free to leave. They can move to the cities – especially Nochet. They can join a mercenary band in Dragon Pass or become a rower on the seas. But there is no guarantee of being fed in these professions – so might just stay in your village.