“Towns are like people. Old ones often have character,
the new ones are interchangeable.”
— Wallace Stegner
Our recent discussion on fantasy world governments made us want to dig a little deeper into our bronze age starting point— Mesus. Our city-state is roughly 10,000 people, with 7500 of them crowded around either side of an ancient canal that connected an inland lake (now a polluted, monster-haunted cauldron) to the ocean.
The canal and many of monumental building of the town pre-date the cataclysm, and the devastation it wrought nearly destroyed the town. But its modern era founder Syron — a child of early gods — pulled up the roots of the mountains through the canal and stopped the poisonous waters from flooding its streets.
These “Seven Sentinels” that stop the flow of the Bitter Sea, now form the western edge of the city-state. Only a trickle of water runs along the bottom of Mesus’ massive canal, and most of that vanishes into sewers before the third lock that holds back the ocean. Most of the commercial activity of the town is built on the ancient stonework anchorage and on jetties reaching into the ocean. Gathering the goods of this small fertile stretch and trading it with the wider world is the center of Mesus’ existence.
The Mesean worldview reflects their geography; danger and death lie in the past and interior, and the future is held by the sea. They have turned their back on the land of their forebears, and turned toward the sea. They welcome traders of all stripes and races, and work to build alliances rather than subjugate other cities.
The Power Elite
Mesus is ruled by the Soma, a council of leading citizens, chosen from a score or so leading families. They number 18, and rarely does any one family have more than one member. When great questions lie before the council, they will convene an Omada of 180 members that represents a much broader cross-section of society
But Mesus’ true power lies in the Syronides — descendants of the great Syron. Their leader (chosen by the families in private) carries the maul of the master and guides policy fro the entire city-state. The Syronides control much of the land on the anchorage, and are heavily invested in sea trade. It is said that a large part of why the Meseans are so committed to trade is that it lines the Syronides coffers.
The current leader of the Syronides (often called the Syronide) is Aktion. As a boy he was the image of his semi-divine ancestry. Tall, broad, and athletic with a quick smile and great love for his friends and community. He traveled widely in his youth and swept into power over his family when he retired from the sea. In recent years he has been afflicted with a strange recurring illness, leaving him bed-ridden for weeks at a time and turning his hair and short beard a premature white. These attacks breed chaos among the family, as members try to take advantage of his absence.
Factions to Factor
Other families are also involved in the sea trade, including the Marteis who control most of the shipbuilding and their allies the Otoros who manage the bulk of the lumbering and milling of great timbers from the northern hinterlands. Still others mine tin and copper from the hills, or produce finished goods for trade.
The power of these old families is not unchallenged, however. Foreign trade has brought new faces and new ideas to the bustling port. Guild masters are rising in influence, and wealthy captains and their investors rarely seek approval of the Soma for their actions. In particular, the master of glassblowers guild, Ertis Zhemaastis, has amassed quite a bit of wealth and power as the work of his craftsmen has become prized the world over.
Mesus is very open regarding religion. Her patron goddess Diomae has a fairly loose priesthood, with most being chosen from the wealthy class and serving only part-time in this capacity. Syron has no priesthood at all, and only the Syronides are allowed beneath his greta open temple. Other religions and cults have dedicated priesthoods and more extreme agendas, but as long as their beliefs do not impinge on each other they are allowed to practice.
Another power lies in the shadows that cut through the heart of Mesus. The great canal hold ancient secrets, and sewers and other forgotten passages connect it to many parts of the city. It is said the mysterious magics are practiced in the depths of the canals, and the noxious fluids that seep between the sentinels can be channeled into evil power. It is a capital crime to be found within the depths, but the city’s thieves — and perhaps others — risk the punishment for greater rewards.
While many reside in Mesus, only those who can claim three generations, or who own their own land are truly citizens. Citizenship can also be granted by the Soma. Roughly one-third of the populace can claim full citizenship. They pay an annual fee and may be called upon for greater donations at need. The rest of population are taxed 1 in 50 of the earnings four times a year, or 8% of their income. All trade within the city-state is also taxed at a rate of one in ten.
These funds go to maintain the Soma, the public spaces and festivals, and to keep a permanent force to maintain law, protect the borders, and enforce the peace. In times of war, additional levies may be called for, and citizen are required to serve their country. This service may be paid ‘in-kind’, but it largely expected that the young and healthy of both sexes will represent themselves in these times.
Note that Mesus only offers citizenship to humans. Elves from the wilder woods, or visiting dwarves or even reptile-men from beyond the Veil of Mitera are welcome in the city, but will never be considered as part of it.
The military is drawn largely from the lower classes, who gain citizenship for 10 years service. They are housed in the upper city, near the villas of the finer families. There are also townholds in individual neighborhoods with 10 guardsmen under a watch captain living an patrolling the area. In surrounding villages and strategic locations, there are also holds to keep the peace and collect taxes. These are often fortified and built to house more than just the basic garrison. In times of war, the leadership is drawn from the Soma and Omada, and is often a political appointment. Field command is often held by career officers, who rarely attempt to upstage their noble commanders.
Power is held by both sexes by law, but it is usually the female who retains financial and domestic control, while the male focuses on commercial and political aspirations. This often leads to perception that women are subservient to men, but anyone who has negotiated with a shrewd Mesean matron knows better.
Do we know what we need to build a character in Mesus? Is there some aspect of civic society we overlooked? Or something just plain wrong?? let us know in the comments below: