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Old 11-06-2002, 05:06 PM   #1
Lomelinde
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Silmaril Elvish Class Systems?

This may be a rather inane question, but I've been curious about it for some time now.

Did a class system exist among the Elven communities in Middle-Earth? There were rulers, lords, and advisors to them, but were there also, say, middle and lower classes as well, or was everyone equal?

I know there weren't any financial issues to divide the Elves into consecutive "haves" and "have-nots," but did other societal traditions place some Elves above the others?
Were those who ran the kitchens and stables treated differently from those who served in the courts? In another words, did Elvish societies divide themselves into hierarchies like those of Men?

Although the answer is probably ambiguous, as Tolkien never (to my knowledge) said much on the subject, but it's still an interesting speculation.
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Old 11-06-2002, 06:53 PM   #2
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Good question! I don't have any concrete proof of my theroy, having not read the UT and all of the HoMe, but I think that the elves did have a slight class system, which would consist of the ruler and the ruled. Most times you find a community of Elves,they have a king or master, who rules the rest. As for the ruled having a class system, I really don't think so, as you said, they are all of equal prosperity and isn't that what establishes the class systems? as for elves with different occupations being treated differently, I get the impression that they all pitched in to help, or at least many of them. They all seem to be able to care for themselves and their animals without any servants, so why would they need them at home. Legolas is a good example, he is a prince, but holds out just as well as the hobbits, maybe even more so. And now that I think about it, there were a lot of royalty in the fellowship, Aragorn, Legolas, Boromir, and I guess you could count Gandalf, were all of royal heritage(Gandalf was a Maia, I think that counts)

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Old 11-06-2002, 08:04 PM   #3
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If you can call it a class system, then I would say it wasn't based on econimic status but rather birthright and wisdom.
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Old 11-06-2002, 08:29 PM   #4
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There also did seem to be some sort of aristocracy among the Elves. And they had butlers and such like.
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Old 11-06-2002, 10:15 PM   #5
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Actually, by Gandalf being a Maia, that makes him part of the servant-class, not royalty.

I believe there were "working-class" Elves...since there is a butler in the Hobbit. But I wouldn't refer to it as "lower-class", because of what has been mentioned already: the lack of monetary differences.

How it would be decided then, I don't know. Once it got started, of course, you would have hereditary lines of royalty and servants or workers, but how would it begin? Who said to the first Elves, "You are the kings and you are the servants"? This excludes the whole Noldor/Sindar situation, of course, because in Mirkwood, for instance, they're all of the same kind.
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Old 11-07-2002, 08:16 PM   #6
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I am taking an educated guess that the first elves to becomes kings were the elves who showed natural leadership, control, wisdom, and the ability to persuade. I have not read the Histories, so someone may be able to prove me wrong, but I am quite sure that is how it worked out. From those first leaders and those close to those leaders came the heredtary lines of elves born into leadership, sub-leaders, advisors, middle-class, and possibly even a warrior class.

[ November 07, 2002: Message edited by: Cúdae ]
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Old 11-07-2002, 10:07 PM   #7
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Not the way that you mean it. I can't say it much better than that.
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Old 11-07-2002, 10:21 PM   #8
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While each community had tasks that had to be done, I feel sure that they didn't have class systems as in upper, middle, and lower class. Most of the stories we're presented with deal with elves in command...the royal family. Of the male elves we're told about, I can only think of a few that weren't in a position of leadership, like Eol and his son. The majority of the elves that play a major part are of royalty. Finwe down to Earendil, Elwe down to Elwing, Olwë's house mixed with Finarfin's, and later Elmo's with those two.

Because of all this, we aren't given much of a glimpse into the society of the Eldar, but we're never told of elves being treated as lowly peasants, nor do we encounter any. All elves were so alike...fair in appearance, with the same interests in dining and music. It would seem logical that, apart from the royal house of the given settlement, everyone would be treated equally and subsequently pull their part of the load that is involved in running a community. Of course, some elves handled different jobs, but as far as designation of "who is better than who" goes, I can't see it happening in a group of such civilized beings.

[ November 07, 2002: Message edited by: Legalos ]
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Old 11-07-2002, 10:26 PM   #9
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I don't know of much information about the inner workings of the elvish society fromwhich to get a decent idea of how things worked.

Here's what i'll set as premises and then suggest what seems to me the most likely answer, pure speculation mind you.

1. All Elves seemed to be very content with their life and the workings of their society. (Aside from the troubles of war and such)

2. The line of rule went from father to son, so it wasn't a democracy, atleast not at the top.

3. Ambition, the desire to move up the ladder of importance, seems to be virtually non-existant among the elves. I believe this because, especially with immortality, ambition among elves would likely throw the society into a neverending fray of stepping on one another to get to the top, putting the society into a tailspin.


I would expect all the elves to consider the land that they occupied to be shared equally, like one big happy family, with each member doing whatever was needed of them for the family to function best, one need not be unhappy or feel lowly for doing something that must be done, there is no more glory in building castles than there is farming, each must be done or things crumble

At first I thought a caste system was likely, but that may not be the right term, since it means that you are stuck where you are born, I think it more likely that the elves had some system of getting the right people into the right jobs according to their interests and abilities.

Pure speculation.

[ November 07, 2002: Message edited by: Mhoram ]
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Old 11-08-2002, 03:45 PM   #10
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Every society, not matter how "special" they are must have a functioning government and social structure.

Now status does not necessarily mean it is based on monetary value. The greeks, they based it on how much land you owned. It was not until the reforms of Solon then did the greeks come into basing status on wealth.

Now the elves, I get the impression that they are a fuedal society where you have a lord who owns land and serfs were are tied to the land. Monarchy with a clan structure beginning in the Silmarillion under Fingon.

Tolkien never goes into detail about elven culture or any other culture in fact. He most famous stories focus on the noble and well off. Though those would be the only ones who would travel and be on "quests".

Someone has to do the work. Examples: Cirdan and the contruction of ships. The construction of armour and weapon under Feanor and later other leaders. There has to be a social structure, a pecking order.

It is nobler to think it is a one, big, happy family. However, it would quickly get out of hand unless you break it down.
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Old 11-08-2002, 05:50 PM   #11
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Silmaril

Sorry, didn't see this thread. They said I could just put my other answer in from the other thread (where another girl asked the same question).

Quote:
Although I cannot speak with any degree of certainty, I would guess that there were peasants of sorts among the Elves. If you remember, since there were "kingdoms" among the Elves and that means that there were probably towns, at some point, at least, there must have been common townfolk. And, while, even in "The Silmarillion", the Elves maintained an air of superiority (at least to me), I am sure that, in order to function, they did need some of the more basic jobs in their towns. So, I am sure there were commonfolk and peasants of sorts. They all couldn't be nobility or servants. There had to be some middle ground.
I do not know what the lowest position would be...

If I am wrong, anyone can feel free to pummel me and/or correct me.
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Old 11-08-2002, 08:10 PM   #12
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Quote:
Sorry, didn't see this thread. They said I could just put my other answer in from the other thread (where another girl asked the same question).
Ditto. Actually *hangs head in shame* it was my thread. But anyways, were any of the elves peasants? If not, what was (or would be) the lowest class of elves? Somehow, I don't think all the elves in Middle Earth were royalty.

[ November 08, 2002: Message edited by: Nevfeniel ]
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Old 11-09-2002, 02:00 PM   #13
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One thing that hasn't been addressed in this thread is the issue of Elven immortality. In mortals, a "class system" is much easier to maintain. We only have a few short years on this planet to progress and grow. Due to a combination of inate intelligence, birth, location, health, natural interests and inclinations, and a dose of "luck" or "destiny" many of us may not rise to our highest potential before we shuffle off this mortal coil.

But if you had "all the time in the world"? Things might be a lot different. For one example: the handmaidens of Galadriel are mentioned in the book, who assisted her in the weaving of the Elven cloaks. Obviously they could be regarded as part of the servant class, and were not on an equal footing as Galadriel. Also I think I read that Elrond was once a lowly Standard Bearer.

I'm sure Elrond and the handmaidens served well and faithfully, but would anyone be satisfied with being a handmaiden or standard bearer for three, four, or five thousand years?

I like to think that Elven society was based on a vast, interelated mentoring or apprenticeship program. When an Elven child starts developing an interest in a certain idea or skill, they were probably sent to learn more about it to an older Elf who was an expert in this area and was willing to teach. Perhaps the younger Elf would act as a servant to his or her mentor in exchange for this teaching. (You could learn alot when you never age and seldom sleep).

But eventually you would want more information, or perhaps you felt that you had learned all you could on a particular subject and wanted to "move on". Well, then you would move on to another mentor.

I'm imagine that some Elves would "dabble", seeking knowledge of various crafts and lore, but never really settling on one interest. Others would stay within certain circles, and become known as master artisans, warriors, healers, statemen, or whatever. But a master musician, say, if she wanted to learn more about weaving, might agree to "lower her status" and become a handmaid, in exchange for learning more about this particular art form.

And so it would go, everyone becoming either teacher or student for as long as they wanted. And either serving or leading depending on the times and their own inclinations.

Gee, it sounds like a lot more fun than "12 years and out the door", doesn't it?

[ November 09, 2002: Message edited by: Birdland ]
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Old 11-09-2002, 03:56 PM   #14
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Quote:
Also I think I read that Elrond was once a lowly Standard Bearer.
That's a perfect example. Elrond was born noble, he comes from Thingol, but still he was a herald (which really isn't a very low position). Elves seem to generally do just exactly what they want, so long as it is within their ability, whether it be holding a flag or being a Lord.
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Old 11-09-2002, 08:06 PM   #15
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Oh please folks, Elrond was a standard bearer or herald for Gil-Galad, as Eonwe was for Manwe. He had earlier been sent to lead forces during the Second Age. So, this role was not any way a lowly one, but rather like Cirdan, second only to Gil-Galad.

I think you have three basic and simple classes:

Royalty, which is most of those that we meet. They are decended from the leaders of the three great houses, Ingwe, Finwe, and the Elwe/Olwe/Elmo trio. Or, nobles that had come to rule significant, independent realms, such as Thranduil's father.

Nobility: which would be the heads of houses within three kindreds. These would hold less "wealth" than a king, and they would be on a military footing, as the household retainers of the King. Examples, probably, include most of the elves that we meet: Gildor, Glorfindal, Ecthelion, the elves that accompanied Finrod & Beren, Mablung, Beleg, all of those at the Coucil of Elrond.

Common Elves: That raise crops, artisans, scribes, and others who do other things for the community and their lords, whom they love, and who fill the ranks of the army. These might include Voronwe, the Butler and Raft Elves in "The Hobbit", Haldir.

This would be a natural nobitity and social structure, not needing rules and means to be enforced and maintained.

The two top classes had jewels and stuff, but everyone lived well. There was not the snobbery, status, superiority and so forth that typifies human societies. Social mobility would be a moot issue.

There would be no one to call a serf or slave, and as for peasants, the right term might be yeoman elves. Land was probably held in common and was not the basis of feudalistic system, at worse certain elves may have freely paid rents to the local lord.

There was probably no Gentry or Middle Class. Merchants, traders and so forth, unless of a noble house, probably lived no better than other common elves. Noble households may have maintained some common elves as permanent warriors or knights, who may have had a somewhat elevated status, as might have been true for "royal guards" who might have been recruited from among common elves, too.

But was lacking was any sense of social strata or arrogance. Galadriel and others were rightfully loved and respected for their lineage and abilities; life was generally communal beyond these leaders.

Consider the example of Legolas. The fact that he was a son (eldest or not) of Thranduil made him a "Prince." This may explain his favoritism from Celeborn and so forth, but this princely status is not of much significance.
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Old 11-09-2002, 08:08 PM   #16
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1420!

Um, Just how low a position is a herald?
Elrond was also Gil-Galad's minstrel from what I hear. Not the best position either.
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Old 11-11-2002, 10:09 AM   #17
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Pipe

As Gil-galad's standard-bearer, a position of very high honour, Elrond would be recognised by the elven military as the person closest to the High King. In action, he would normally be at the King's side, acting as adviser and counsellor. He would also be responsible for relaying the King's orders to other commanders. Elrond spoke with the King's voice and would be obeyed as if he were the King.

As Gil-Galad's herald, Elrond would be the Last Alliance's senior diplomat, negotiating alliances and treaties with allies and terms of surrender with enemies.

Elrond was, in effect, Secretary of State for War and Secretarty of State for Foreign Affairs to Gil-Galad, just a heart-beat from the leadership of the Free World.

[ November 11, 2002: Message edited by: Selmo ]
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Old 11-11-2002, 12:42 PM   #18
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I think I am about to go somewhat against what I said in my last post, but others have enlightened me!
The example of Legolas seems to show that though there had to be a type of class system, it wasn't all that important. Tolkien never referred to Legolas as a "prince." But this could be saying that although Legolas was the son of the king, he was not considered part of the ruling or royal class.

[ November 11, 2002: Message edited by: Cúdae ]
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