Home (Main Index)
The Basic Structure Of Eldarin Society
The social structure of the Eldarin race is in some ways rather hierarchal, and yet it is not fully so, certainly not in a greedy or harsh way. What class differences there are are the result of inner nature and instinctive will to dominate or not, and are generally loosely structured. The hierarchy is not so much one of power over others as it is a matter of leadership.
Serní (singular sarné) are the natural-born leaders of the Eldarin race, Quendi and Cwendi alike. The trait appears to be somewhat of a genetic thing, carried in a family line, although upbringing most likely has something to do with it as well. A sarné tends to have a natural predilection toward a great amount of self-assuredness, at times bordering on the arrogant if such a child is not raised by parents with a strong enough will to teach him respect for others. He does not usually expect to ever be challenged in a decision, and such an action will likely arouse first shock, then anger.
A sarné commands the respect and obedience of those around him without thought, not so much by his own desire for power as by the instinct within all others to follow one who can care for and protect them. His command is absolute in most situations, but he cannot become a tyrant for his people are free to leave his lands any time they might wish, or even to choose another to supplant him. In this sense, his rule depends as much upon their will as his own. If he does too great a wrong in their eyes, he will be without subjects, however if he has earned their trust and respect, their loyalty and love will be difficult to break.
When two serní meet, it is not as though they are incapable of speaking or even working together, but any perceived threat to their own rule or offense to themselves is taken quite badly. If one sarné actually challenges another for his place, or two demand the same vacant position, a rather primal hand-to-hand battle will be very likely to commence, with each struggling to make the other submit to him. No weapons are allowed in such a match, but teeth are often used, a bite being a symbol of dominance in itself, and injuries of some kind are certain. Such a Fight, as it is known, takes place under a set of rules, though they vary a bit according to culture, and is a public event with each opponent usually having followers of his own who are not allowed to interfere in any way, however do have an interest one way or the other. In fact, if a majority of the people are not happy with their current leader, they will actually choose a "champion" to challenge him, should there be a sarné available to accept the position. The winner of a Fight becomes (or remains) leader, and the loser is self-exiled in shame. Such Fights are thankfully very rare. Serní make up a very small percentage of the race, and this is most likely a good thing since they tend to have the aforementioned difficulties in easily getting along.
Well-known serní in history are, from the Awakening to the First Age, the Mínnon Finarphir, his son Finwë, and his sons Fëanor and Fingolfin; also, in Ennor, Turgon of Gondolin and Thingol of Doriath. In the Second Age, Ereinion, son of Fingon, reigned as High King over all the Eldar of Ennor west of the Misty Mountains, and the Sinda Oropher fought to claim the reign of Eryn-galen (Greenwood). In the beginning of the Third Age, Thranduil succeeded his father Oropher as king of Eryn-galen, and at the start of the Fourth Age Thranduil’s son Legolas was encouraged to challenge his own father but instead set up a colony of his own in Ithilien.
Those of the second level, the niun, are much more numerous than serní. Nearly all those who hold leadership positions tend toward being niun. Unlike the other levels, there is a sort of spectrum among niun as to strength in instinct and willpower, and therefore height of position, with some having (and wishing) command of only a few and others, on the other end of the scale, becoming lords of entire lands.
Most niun will submit to a sarné, and even have a fierce loyalty and love for one whom they choose to follow. Any neun dislikes being ordered or dominated in any way by one of his own ranking however, and minor "scraps" of fights over such issues are a common occurance. Most of these are of little more concern than a fistfight among Men would be, although a (relatively rare) struggle for a true position of leadership is a more notable thing, at the highest level sometimes nearly approaching the level of a Fight. In fact such is often the way, especially among Silvan or Avari, that leaders under a sarné are chosen; warrior captains for example. The sarné or ruling neun could of course simply appoint whom he chooses and deny others the right, but more often he will allow a challenger to his choice to come forward, and will not interfere. A leader, especially among warriors, who cannot prove himself capable will not be as trusted or loyally followed, therefore it is actually in the interest of all to allow the stronger of the challengers the position.
Sometimes niun follow no sarné of their own at all, leading their own, usually relatively small, groups of followers. In the Beginning Time, many semi-nomadic bands lived under the leadership of niun, with the same happening again with some of the Quendi who survived the Helkaraxë, and also among Avari. Even by the Third Age similar though permanent small settlements of Sindar and Silvan exist. As mentioned before, there are also a few larger lands which are ruled by the highest ranking of niun. Some of these "lords" actually even have a lessened respect for serní not of their own land. Known examples of this are Celeborn of Doriath and Lórien, who has never bowed to another since Thingol’s loss, and Elrond of Imladris, who held himself loyally under Ereinion but after the High King’s death accepted no new leader.
Niun, unlike serní, are quite capable of getting along if no open and unretracted challenge is made from one to another, and muindyr pairings of such are common. Usually one of such a pairing will slightly bend to the other’s dominance, but not always. Also often one neun will choose to serve under another of slightly higher ranking, although his own leadership spirit tends to rise in his quickness to speak his mind. Obvious examples of this are Laurefindë of Imladris, who keeps his bond-partner Elrond on his toes and openly scolds him should he feel it’s needed, and Haldir of Lórien, Marchwarden (Captain of the captains) of the Guard who does not interact on quite such an intimate scale with his lord Celeborn but is his friend and seems quite content to remain under his rule.
The third level of any Eldarin society incorporates everyone else, all those who have no particular leadership desires or strengths. Status at this level is not an indication of lessened worth, merely that such an independent spirit and will to command is not present in the same way. Nor is the term “common” a denegrating one, rather simply referring to the fact that this level makes up the majority of the Eldarin race. Healers, bards, craftsmen, and non-commanding warriors can be of the common people just as easily as they can be niun.
Some among this group hold positions in service to those of the leading levels, similar to servants, yet this is not the same situation as exists among humans. Each of these chooses to serve the sarné or high neun that he or she does, often out of a certain sense of love and trust for protection.
A brief note: although this essay so far has referred to males, that is mostly because the Eldarin females do not appear to have such an obvious level-separation of personalities or dominances as the males of the race do. Generally, they tend to interact as equals and usually friends. However, those destined to be mates of serní and sometimes high niun do tend to show a certain spunk and leadership of their own.
Differences among cultures
The levels of society, coming from an instinctive rather than learned basis, are visible in all Eldarin cultures, if slightly different in each. Among the Vanyar and Teleri, it would seem that other than being an automatic choice of leadership when needed, they care much less than do the Noldor or the peoples of Ennor. Among the Noldor, a sarné tends to hold the place of a king with his court, leading a large number of people visibly, while many of the niun are titled as lords under him and are more the ones who interact with each other and the common level. The Sindar as a whole tend not to have serní it would seem, instead setting up separate realms and settlements under the command of niun of various rankings.
In the purely Avarin/Silvan culture, the society levels follow similar to the image of a wolf pack. There can be only one ruler of a single realm. Always this leadership position has been held by a sarné called king, who is closer to his people than his counterpart among the Noldor. He is a daily part of their lives, and yet a fierce ruler who demands an absolute respect. While close to their ruler in interactions, the Silvan are certainly not familiar to the point of friendship or banter with him. Commanding niun among warriors are respected for their leadership skills, but not looked up to as lords or anything resembling such. A Silvan sarné is a single, absolute ruler, and is more quick to defend his position to the point of combat than in any other culture. And the ancient Avari were actually more fierce even than their Silvan descendants.
Main roles in society
Warriors are the soldiers, the fighters and protectors of their people. Most males know how to defend themselves and others, but not all call it their position in life. The exceptions here are the Vanyar and Teleri, who hold few who could be called warriors, since Aman is not a land beseiged by any enemy. Among the Noldor there are also a good number who never choose a warrior’s life at all, preferring study or artistry of some sort. The males of the Sindar are generally all quite skilled in defense, but some only act as fighters if there is dire need. The Avari/Silvan, born in Ennor and survivors from the start, are ultimately skilled at battle; even females can act in self-defense, and children’s games teach such skills from a very young age. Females however are never true warriors, too valued to be placed in such danger.
Healers can be either male or female, and deal with injuries and sometimes injury- or poison-caused sicknesses incurred by others (usually warriors and children), as well as often hover nearby during a birth just in case of trouble. Also some, such as Elrond of Imladris and a few of the Sindar, aid humans in times in trouble or need. Healing is an art of natural things, such as herbs, and also techniques for dealing with wounds and even some basic surgery practices in certain situations of need. Magic plays no part, although by some of the stronger-gifted a mental connection can be employed if necessary, such as to call to a shielded mind or weakened soul. Those with this ability can become healers of soul as well as body. The Master Healers are those most skilled in their craft, but by the late Third Age only two were known in Ennor, Elrond of Imladris and Galadhen of Eryn-galen.
Bards can also be male or female, and are the poets, singers, songwriters, musicians (although all Eldar learn as children to sing and many play some sort of music), and often teachers of history and lore to the young. Among the Noldor this is a singular profession unto itself, unrelated to the life of a warrior, although some famous bards have been warriors as well, especially from the First Age. Sindar bards are like all their people capable fighters, but prefer to avoid it if possible. Among the Silvan, Vanyar, and Teleri, there are no true bards as opposed to other professions; all take part in music and teaching, which for the Silvan especially is important as most knowledge is passed by mouth. Few things are written down in the Silvan lands.
Craftsmen, or artisans, come in many forms, from the farmer and herder, to workers of wood and stone, to smiths of metal or jewels. Most are artists to some extent with their work, and some even produce artwork as their primary task. The craftsmen are the basis of Eldarin economy, and in a way therefore the entire society, in the way of buying, selling, bartering, and even some production of food. Most craftsmen are males, but their mates often are involved in their work as well to some extent.
The servants of higher levels, or “servers” are they are more commonly called, are just as proud of their profession as any others. Usually the position is passed on through family lines, but no one is required to take up duties if they wish another path, since any Elda is free to choose any profession they wish. Children are never given official duties although sometimes they aid in a simple manner, such as if a mother should send her son to fetch water. These servers are not usually directly paid, though they would always be given something to help them were they to leave employ, but they are full members of a sarné or lord’s staff and household, under his care and protection. They are treated with respect and thankfulness for their relatively menial duties, and given everything they might need.