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Land tenure in the Empire

The Empire is the Empire in the Reincarnation Cycle, an interactive fiction in which participants move through a multitude of lives in a great circle of time. The focus of the Cycle are the personal lives of the personae and the decisions that they make; the background is there as a setting for the stories. Like many hydraulic civilizations, the structure of the Empire is critically affected by land tenure and inheritance rules.

In the Empire title to all land belongs to the Imperium. As usual in such situations all is not as it is purported to be. The administration of agricultural lands is either managed directly by the civil service or is delegated to the landed nobility. The right of administration can either be for a fixed period or (more commonly) in perpetuity. Land administration rights are heritable with the permission; they cannot be bought or sold. If a rights holder cannot administer their lands properly the right of administration escheats to the Imperium. Nobles collect rents from the peasantry and pay taxes directly to the Imperium.

The duties of land administration include maintaining order among the peasantry working the land, constructing and maintaining the relevant public works such as water ways and roads, ensuring transport of goods and produce into and out of the lands, and ensuring that all proper rituals and ceremonies are performed. The benefits of land administration include the collecting of taxes and (for the nobility) place and position.

In lands administered by the Imperium the actual administration is performed by the civil service. The situation in lands administered by the nobility is more complicated. The lands of the petty nobility are small enough so that the noble can manage his lands by himself or with the aid of an agent. Nobles managing larger lands either make do a staff of their own or else contract out the actual administration to companies that specialize in land administration. The availability and competence of these companies varies widely. They frequently are less than scrupulous.

The actual work of constructing public works, e.g., water ways, dams, roads, and public buildings, is performed by the labor conscripts. The peasantry pays its rents/taxes in two ways, with labor and with produce. In addition to the conscripted peasantry there are labor camps that are filled with people convicted of various crimes. Conditions in the labor camps are harsh. The Empire does not waste money on long term imprisonment; criminals are regarded as a resource to be used and thrown away. The conscripted peasantry are treated rather better - they are an ongoing resource and are sheared rather than butchered.

The nobility is not supposed to maintain labor camps. However the natural tendency of the nobility is to extend its authority and control. In troubled times the power of the Imperium is weak and much happens that supposedly is not permitted. In bad times war lords and bandits establish themselves as nobles and thumb their noses at the Empire.

The peasantry is divided into villages. Each village is a cooperative; villagers do not own land as such. The village lands are divides into common lands and garden plots - each villager gets their own garden plot. Villages have a standard social structure. There is a village chief, a priest, a few artisans (e.g., a blacksmith), and many peasants. Although most of the work is communal there is a small services and money economy. There are strong social pressures to work hard for the community. More than that, trouble makers and slackers can be kicked out.

Evicted peasantry have a few choices. They can turn to banditry, they can move to a city, they can move to another village, or they can appeal to the Office of the Landless Ones. This is an Imperial service provided for those who are not part of a village and wish to become part of one. At any particular time there will be villages with a population surplus or shortage so there is always a certain amount of movement going on. Most of the movement is informal; people go to another village and try to be accepted there. Moving to a city can be rewarding but there are many pitfalls. Banditry can be rewarding but often leads to the loss of one's head.

Villages exist in perpetuity; the land administrators have no right to evict them. However perpetuity can end if the village is no longer viable. Ways this can happen include being a victim of plague, being decimated by barbarians or civil war, being abandoned because of drought and crop failure, being cursed, and natural disasters such as flood.

The village system is used in agricultural production. The majority of villages produce staple crops such as rice and wheat. They are essentially self sufficient except for manufactured goods. They have have garden areas and some domestic animals, e.g., pigs, chickens, oxen, cats, and dogs. They may have some fruit and nut trees, and possibly a fish pond. The village economy is mostly a produce and barter economy with little money changing hands.

However there are also villages that raise plantation crops, e.g., orchards and vinyards, that are not staple crops. Plantation crop villages have a money economy; villagers get piece work wages from the village cooperative and a share of the village profits. In turn they purchase food and other staples from outside the village. There are major variations in the profitability and extent of the plantation crop system, depending upon the economic health of the Empire.

Land rights within cities follow entirely different rules.


This page was last updated October 1, 2007.

Richard Harter's World
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October 2007
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