Prior to 1616, the Esrolian queens’ main source of revenue was a combination of agricultural taxes, rents, workshop taxes, a city head tax, associated and other temple contributions, and market tolls. The biggest revenue source of them all – port fees and road tolls on caravan traffic into Dragon Pass or Maniria – belonged to the City of Wonders.
A crude sense of the scale here. The agricultural taxes (remember the goddess owns the land here, and everyone pays rent) usually brigs in some 2000-2500 talents per year. The urban taxes on workshops, head tax, temples etc., brings in another 2000-2500 talents per year. Other resources brought in another 500-1000 talents per year. So even without the port fees and trade tolls, the royal revenues were vast, some 4500-6000 talents a year, or about a third of what the Lunar Emperor lives off.
All of this revenue was collected at a “provincial” or “queendom” level and then the queens (advised by the Asrelia priestesses), allocated it among themselves. About half ended up at Nochet, a little over a quarter at Rhigos, and the rest split between the North March and Longsi Land. In the event of a dispute, they appealed to Belintar, who always wisely resolved the issue, sometimes paying out the City of Wonders vast treasuries.
Unlike the empire or Sartar, much of this was paid in kind. 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 queen – 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.
Around 1615, Queen Hendira had about 3800 talents of revenue. She spent somewhere around 2000 talents on her court and administration (dancers, poets, artists, scribes, scholars, etc), maintained Nochet and temples, hired mercenaries, and built and maintained triremes.
All of this fell apart in 1616 when Belintar disappeared from the mundane world. Barbarians plundered and pillaged much of South Esrolia. The queens, led by Hendira, hired mercenaries (many of them from Dragon Pass) to fight the Ditali and Solanthi), and disputed about revenues. It took a few years to begin, but once it was clear that Belintar was truly gone and was not coming back, the queens began fighting with each other, and with the other leaders of the Holy Country. A lot of this conflict was over revenues of course – especially over who would control the vast amounts of trade revenue coming into the Mirrorsea Bay from all over the world, and then sent into Dragon Pass and beyond.
Hendira allied with the Lunar Empire, her primary trade customer, and ruler of Dragon Pass. However, she was overthrown in a coup d’etat in 1622 and forced to flee Nochet. The new queen, Samastina, was allied with the Hendriki rebels, and made an uneasy alliance with Rhigos against the Lunar Empire. The following year, the Lunar Army moved against Nochet and placed it under siege. Here’s where those vast grain reserves came in handy – Nochet was incredibly well supplied and simply waited out the siege, which lasted over a year. When the Wolf Pirate armada appeared in the Mirrorsea, Samastina allied with Harrek and Argrath, and together they defeated the Lunar Army at Pennel Ford. Harrek’s price for this was to be given entrance to the City of Wonders, which he plundered and looted (no doubt causing thousands, maybe tens of thousands of talents to find their way into the entertainment industry of Nochet, Rhigos, Karse, and Casino Town – but that’s another story). Samastina meanwhile moved to installing friendly rulers in Karse, and to seize the toll and trade revenues.
So let’s skip ahead to now. By 1625, Samastina of Nochet has established herself as the paramount queen in Esrolia, maintaining strong alliances with the Right Hand Islanders and Karse. She accepts the de facto, if not de jure, independence of Rhigos. Her revenues are likely somewhere around:
- Agricultural taxes and rents – 1100 talents
- Urban taxes – 1250-1500 talents
- Trade tolls – 500-1000 talents (thanks to Wolf Pirates interference)
- Other revenues – 500 talents
So that puts her in the 3350 to 4100 talents range. She spends around 2000 a year on her court, although that is growing, but leaves about 1000 to 2000 talents for military and diplomatic spending. If she can secure peace in the Mirrorsea, she can easily gain another 2000 talents. And that of course is her proposal to Argrath in 1627 – protect me from Harrek, I’ll give you money and even split the new trade revenues with you and sell grain to your cities.
Interestingly, Samastina is demanding more of this to be paid in silver, a reflection of the demand of mercenaries to be paid in cash not kind.
Meanwhile, the Demivierge of Rhigos also has a lot of revenue rolling in. Her revenues are about 1500 talents a year, and spends at least 1000 talents on her court and wild parties. With that, she maintains her alliance with Porthomeka, who provides her with soldiers.
Remember! 300 lunars per talent, and a talent is only an accounting measure. Nobody mints talents.
But you can imagine the splendour the court in Nochet, comparable only to that in Glamour. Perfumed dancers, silk, musicians, art, sculpture, literature, and the like. Hundreds of scribes, and black robed Asrelia priestesses. Rich merchants returned from Pamaltela or the East. Philosophers and foreign emissaries. Babeester Gor Axe Maidens and Humakti mercenaries. Opulent, sensual, and terrifying if you think what is going on.
To put this in context, your average tribal king probably lives on somewhere around 7-10 talents. Maybe half of that goes to his armed companions or thanes, and the rest to support his household. Samastina spends twenty times that on her court.
So send your Sartarite adventurers there and have them stand around slack-jawed and amazed. Give them a silk outfit as a gift just for showing up.
The main point of this article is that your Sartarite tribal king is looks like a bandit chief next to the queen of Esrolia.
Silk is particularly important here because most of the silk in Central Genertela comes through Nochet. Almost all the spices, unguents, and exotic luxuries that you see in Glamour came here first. And Nochet took its cut right off the top.
You can also see why, given the financial difficulties the Lunar Empire already had by 1623 (yes they are far worse now, but I am sure it was noticeable even then), why Nochet was an appealing target. Just take the city, seize the treasury and plunder the rich, and problem solved for a few years!
One key expense is triremes. It costs 10 talents to build a trireme, and about 10 talents a season to put it and its crew out to sea. So let’s say Samastina wants 50 triremes. Building them is no problem, that’s “only” 500 talents. But keeping them at sea year is 5 times that or 5000 talents! Instead, she likely keeps about 10 triremes out at any time, but that means she can’t hunt down and try to fight the Wolf Pirates fleet.
So Martin Helsdon can probably run the numbers, but you can see that maintaining a fleet big enough to deal with the Wolf Pirates is probably outside of the resources of Nochet.
The cost of paying 170 rowers, and 30 officers/sailors is far more expensive than the cost of the trireme. If we say it costs 50 talents to keep a ship at sea for a year, that’s about the same as raising 200 professional soldiers. A fleet of 50 triremes is as costly as 10,000 soldiers.
All of the sources I have been using are from the 6 to 3rd century BCE. I’d also say that the palace-driven systems that I’ve been describing is hardly proto-capitalism. We are still at the priest-king and bandits stage of development.
One more thing to think about. Esrolia is densely populated- too dense according to most other Orlanthi – with a thick network of irrigation to support intensive agriculture. But that makes harvest taxes easier (and let’s you tax or rent at much higher rates). Almost all farmers are tenants. Half of that harvest goes to the cities and temples, not the peasantry. And sometimes more.