Fantastic Caste System

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"The faultless and immaculate castes form the lower tiers of elvish society, with the exquisite caste above them. At the pinnacle is the perfect, a consummate blend of aristocrat and predator."
Elvish Promenade flavor text, Magic: The Gathering.
"They build. You pray. We fight."
Neroon, Babylon 5

In real life, social inequality and social stratification can be problems. However, in science fiction, things are often a lot worse. Fantastic Social Inequality is what happens. This type of fictionalized society generally consists of some measure of central planning by elites, with all of the "dirty work" being done by workers. Expect for the latter to be thought of as a different culture, and in some cases may even be a different species. Rest assured that if this system is particularly oppressive, the heroes are not about to let this lie without trying to reform the system by convincing the rulers to change things or if necessary, instigating or at least supporting a lower caste revolution.

This trope might owe a debt to both Plato, whose Utopia in The Republic was highly socially stratified, as well as Karl Marx, in his conception of the relationship between bourgeoisie and proletariat. When a fantasy or alien race has specialized castes with physical dimorphism, as with worker and queen ants or bees, that's Hive Caste System. India's caste system also provides ample analogies. Compare with Urban Segregation which has some overlap as well as Divided States of America which similarly extrapolates on a real-world situation.

Examples of Fantastic Caste System include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Though barely explored, the aliens in NieA 7 has a caste system. The underbar in the title actually contains the words "under", which refers to eponymous character's caste level: "Under Seven", a very low caste. The highest is called Plus Five; a minor character is a Plus Five and is a TV presenter. At the end, he regresses to Under Five and is drinking in a roadside stall.
  • The caste system of Tanagura in Ai no Kusabi where the elite are genetically engineered humanoids called Blondies. The humans born naturally with dark hair are "mongrels" treated as the lowest of the low that can't even attain citizenship.

Comics[edit | hide]

  • The Kalen in Atavar have at least a combat and science caste. The combat caste is bigger, broader, and have more square faces than those of the science caste.
  • The current[when?] version of Krypton has society divided into Guilds. While it's possible to choose a Guild, most people are expected to enter the same Guild as their parents, especially the Workers' Guild, who seem to have less opportunities to qualify for the others. (The others are Religious, Artist, Military, and Science. Science is, of course, the most important.)
  • In the Furry Comic, Xanadu, the society is divided into three castes in descending order, "Noble" (Fantasy Animals), "Freeborn" (Wild Animals) and the Domestique (Domestic animals). Dealing with this system is the feline Gentleman Thief, Tabbe Le Fauve, who is determined to find his own way against this system and finds that the seemingly flighty Empress Alicia agrees with him, and is determined to reform the system in a politically astute way that will have a real impact.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured film, The Mole People, featured a race of evil albino Sumerians ruling over the titular mole people (who looked nothing like moles) and "Marked Ones" (people with normal complexions) in an underground kingdom.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is one of the creators of this trope, having the protagonist explicitly comment that the two species, the Eloi and Morlocks, were a result of social inequality reaching an extreme. It does differ from later examples though, in that both the elites (Eloi) and workers (Morlocks) are dehumanized and there's more "quid pro quo" (Morlocks hunt Eloi).
  • Brave New World has different classes of people produced through embryonic manipulation (specifically oxygen starvation and alcohol poisoning of Delta and Epsilon caste embryos to physically and mentally retard their growth) and the manual laborers of the lowest class are created to be practically simian. (And everyone is psychologically conditioned to accept this ranking, as applied to self and others, as obviously and unquestionably justified.)
  • 1984 flirts with this idea, as while the Proles are the neglected underclass, this has the advantage of freeing them from Big Brother Is Watching, and in this way they are better off than the middle class, or "Outer Party" individuals like Winston Smith (assuming they're not sent to die in the war).
  • Early in his career, Piers Anthony wrote a short story, "In The Barn", about a parallel Earth where all non-human mammals had gone extinct millenia ago. Rather than go without milk, the inhabitants developed breeds of humans to serve as milk cows, with too-bloated-for-anime breasts and tongues clipped at birth to ensure they'd never learn to communicate. An Anvilicious parable by a vegetarian, it would've been followed by two more stories—one set in a slaughterhouse (eek!), the other at a rodeo (urk!) -- if he could've sold them at the time.
  • In Isaac Asimov's short story Strikebreaker, an entire inhabited asteroid is on the verge of death, as the man who runs the world's septic treatment plant goes on strike, sick of his family being ostracized for his job; putting the planet at risk of dying from the backup of waste. A visiting reporter from offworld, not willing to let everyone die from their bigotry, volunteers to go operate the machinery. With the knowledge that the asteroid can get someone from offword to operate the plant, thus his strike has failed, the worker goes back to work. At that point the reporter is told (over radio) to go directly to his ship, and not to interact with any citizens; thanks for saving the entire asteroid, now piss off, you disgusting outcast.
  • The ship in Sandy Mitchell's Dark Heresy novel Innocence Proves Nothing is full of hereditary jobs with fancy titles.
  • Played with in CS Lewis' Space Trilogy: The three species of Mars each have different roles, but oddly, this is presented as simply being based on their own natures; each species simply acknowledges that the others do certain tasks better. (The fact that they're "unfallen" and thus not inclined to evil probably helps keep things peaceful.) It may not count as a "caste" system, however, especially since they tend to keep their societies separate, making their cooperation more akin to different nations trading with each other.
    • The fact that they are so physically different would make it more of a Bug Caste System anyway.
  • The Canim from Jim Butcher's Codex Alera novels. There are three known castes: The makers (farmers, blacksmiths, etc.), ritualists (sorcerers), and warriors (Exactly What It Says on the Tin). The warriors are the ruling caste, something which the rituatlists resent, but both warriors and ritualists claim that their class is actually subservient to the workers; they fight (and work magic) for the benefit of the populace.
  • Merry Gentry's Faerie Courts are highly stratified. All the sidhe and only sidhe are nobles. Demi-fey, brownies, and other magically strong but physically weak types fill domestic servant roles. The incredibly strong but magic-less goblins are designated shock troops. Though some of the lesser fey can be nobles in their own courts, they are all subordinate to the sidhe nobles of the high court.
    • There are instances of humans becoming fey, and fey becoming sidhe, but the subject's taboo (and in the case of humans kind of overlaps with Ambition Is Evil). There are also strong hints that the caste system's so strict as a result of human population crowding the supernaturals together; there are fewer sidhe Courts and fey societies than there should be.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, the populations of most of the the major countries are divided into darkeyed common people, and the lighteyed leaders. Within these categories the people are further divided into ten nahns (the darkeyes) and ten dahns (the lighteyes) with the tenth being the lowest and the first the highest. It's possible to work your way up the ladder, through work (such as military service, or through marriage, well-off darkeyes can sometimes marry into a lighteyed family, and thus possibly have lighteyed children. Also anybody that has a Shardblade and/or Shardplate is automatically important regardless of their birth (it's even commonly believed in-story that if a darkeyed man wins a Shardblade in a battle, his eyes will actually change colour although whether this is actually true is unclear).
  • In Star Trek: Vanguard, alien Precursors the Shedai are divided between the ranks of the Nameless, each confined to only one body, and the elite Serrataal with individual names, e.g. The Maker, The Wanderer, The Myrmidon, who can take multiple forms simultaneously.
    • Also in the Star Trek novels, and as a result of the Quch'Ha plague seen in Star Trek: Enterprise season four, many Klingon families of the 22nd-23rd centuries lost their forehead ridges. A division between those who retained them and those who lost them resulted in an unofficial caste system within the Klingon Empire. The ridgeless Klingons - the Quch'Ha, or "unhappy ones" - were somewhat undesirable in the social hierarchy. Some Quch'Ha disguised their status with artificial foreheads. The two Klingon races are discussed in depth in Star Trek: Forged in Fire and Star Trek: Seven Deadly Sins in particular.
    • In Star Trek: Typhon Pact, the Gorn caste system is explored in some depth. It includes Political, Warrior, Technologist and Labourer castes. The Tzenkethi also have a caste system of sorts, with different echelons into which their citizens are placed after testing in youth. However, they dislike it when people use the term "caste system" to describe it.
    • The Yrythny in the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Relaunch are divided between the Houseborn and the Wanderers. Yrythny breed by laying eggs in the water, which develop as tadpoles before coming ashore later in childhood. Those young which come ashore at the same House at which they were laid are Houseborn, and make up the ruling caste. "Wanderers" are considered inferior on account of having gotten "lost". Tensions between the castes are high, and a full-blown revolutionary war was seemingly brewing among the Wanderers as of This Gray Spirit.
  • In Star Trek: Stargazer, there's the Balduk, with their High Order, Middle Order and Low Order militaries. Also the Pandrilites, whose elevated and lower castes are supposedly now united by their adherence to the Three Virtues. Pandrilite protagonist Vigo has come to question this, though; an old mentor became involved with a radical sect insisting oppression of the lower castes is ongoing, and Vigo's faith in his people was shaken.
  • In the New Jedi Order books, the Yuuzhan Vong use a caste system: there are the Intendents (bureaucrats, basically), Warriors, Priests, Shapers (Mad Scientists with Organic Technology), and the Shamed Ones, outcasts who basically share the same level as the Vong's slaves. Interestingly, there is no leadership caste, but the Supreme Overlord usually comes from the warrior caste.
    • The Supreme Overlord is actually considered a caste unto himself, combining elements of all the other castes barring Shamed Ones. He also usually shares his caste with a dozen or so potential successors identified by the priests, but the current Supreme Overlord, Shimrra, had them all killed in a fit of paranoia sometime before the series began.
  • Transformers: Exodus starts with a caste system that ends with the uprising. Interestingly the lower caste workers fill the Decepticon ranks
  • The Final Empire from Mistborn has a very strict and oppressive social system that goes, in order from least to most influential, skaa (peasants / slaves) --> Terrismen (a subjugated nationality who serve primarily as elite servants) --> nobility --> Obligators --> Steel Inquisitors --> Lord Ruler. There's a degree of movement in the upper levels- the Obligators recruit from the nobility, and the Inquisitors from the Obligators- but the lower levels are absolutely static. There's also a couple of nonhuman races that fulfil specialized functions- Kandra are spies, and Koloss are shock troops.
  • In the tie-in book Bogus to Bubbly about the Uglies series, Scott Westerfeld tells about the strict age-deffined hierarchy in the society. Littlies (age 0-11) lived with their parents and were the only people allowed to have traditional family bonds. In fact, parents were encouraged only to have one child every 10 years to keep the population down and stop sibling bonds from forming. Uglies (12-16) were forced to move away to dorms and socially programmed to hate themselves and anticipate the upcoming "Pretty" surgery. New pretties were people who had just had the surgery to make them prettier and more complacent, and they were encouraged to live a crazy lifestyle. Middle pretties were pretties with children and jobs. Late pretties or crumblies were the elderly, who often lived to their middle hundreds.
  • The Garth Nix series Seventh features a large, towerlike complex which is home to an entire society with a color-based caste system, based on their color-based magic system, where a more powerful color in magic equated to a higher rank in everything else. A person who was designated Green, for example could use magic, visit floors of the complex, and engage in hobbies associated with Green and all lower-ranking colors, but couldn't do anything or go anywhere more highly ranked without special dispensation. At the bottom of the stack (and on the bottom floors of the complex) were an uncolored servant caste; being made a member of their ranks was considered the ultimate punishment.
    • It is at least more meritocratic than most caste systems, since the higher levels are based at least in part on competence and promotion up them is quite common.
  • Mythal from Hell's Gate has a caste system. At the top you have the Shakira: the magic-using caste which totally dominates and controls the culture of Mythal. They are the researchers, theoreticians, etc., and control virtually all of Mythal's "white collar" occupations. Next you have the Multhari:the military caste and the second most important caste group of Mythalan society. Some members of multhari are also shakira. These normally tend to dominate the upper ranks of the Mythalan military. Lastly you have the Garthan: the non-magic users of the Mythalan culture. They make up at least eighty percent of the Mythalan population but possess only extremely circumscribed legal rights, handle all the "blue collar" work and serve as cannon fodder for the Mythalan army.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Genome is set around the idea of people in the far future being set into a specific career path before they're even born via the use of genetic engineering, essentially turning them into Gattaca Babies. While parents can buy their unborn children whatever specification they can afford, in practice, most parents usually go with their own spec for their kid. This is because each Spec loves his or her job implicitly. There is plenty of bad blood between Specs and Naturals (the un-modified). There is also a planet called Heraldica, populated by the descendants of aristocrats and the Spec'ed servants. And yes, the servants love their jobs and turn their children into servants as well. The nobles often have hunting games, chasing servants and shooting them with stun guns.
  • Futuretrack Five, a 1983 Dystopia by Robert Westall has Britain divided up into the Ests (establishment or established persons), the Unmentionables or Unnems and the Techs, who keep the country's technology functioning. Unnems are further sub-divided into the six different 'futuretracks' or careers of Singer, Fighter, Pinball Player, Thief, Racer and Harlot.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Cloud Minders". The Stratos cloud city dwellers believed the "troglyte" (troglodyte) miners had race-based inferior intellects and used them as slaves, but the miners were actually suffering from zenite gas poisoning.
  • The Minbari caste system in Babylon 5. The Minbari have three castes: Religious, Soldier and Worker (as per the page quote), which each have three representatives on the Minbari ruling council. The Religious and Soldier castes constantly fight each other for dominance while the workers are ignored or even forgotten, including by the story. The Minbari system was consciously modeled on the Medieval European idea that society was divided between those who work (peasants, serfs, and craftsmen), those who fight (knights and other members of the aristocracy), and those who pray (priests, nuns, and monks).
    • Though amusingly enough, the working class ends up the dominant caste.
    • Word of God says that most of the Minbari warships are owned by the worker and religious castes and chartered to the warriors. This explains why the Minbari were able to keep their end up against the Shadows without the help of the Warrior Caste. It also hints that the system is probably complex involving turf wars and assignments of jurisdiction to castes that have little relation to their nominal purpose. Delenn is more a stateswoman then a priestess though she was one of the Sisters of Valeria in her youth.
  • The Bajorans in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine once had a caste system in which one's caste dictated one's profession. During the Cardassian occupation, the caste system was abandoned so that everyone could devote themselves to the task of fighting off the Cardassians, and the Bajorans did not return to the system after the occupation ended.
    • One episode has a time traveling Bajoran, claiming to be the Emissary, try to restore the caste system, which would have cost Bajor its chance at Federation membership. Sisko eventually challenged the time traveller for the Emissary title after caste-based discrimination lead to violence on the station.
    • Founders > Vorta > Jem'hadar > "Everyone else" was the most basic rule in the Dominion.
      • Though, if you ask the Jem'hadar, they don't feel the middleman is strictly necessary. But, as the Founders wish it, they go along willingly.
  • The Decade version of the BOARD Corporation from Kamen Rider Blade uses a caste system modeled on playing cards to determine your privileges, pay scale, and even the kind of lunch you get at the cafeteria. Promotions and demotions seem almost arbitrary and sometimes run against common sense; in the first episode of the story arc, Kazuma/Blade is demoted because he went out of his way to protect Mutsuki rather than focusing entirely on fighting the Undead.
  • Stargate SG-1 had a pyramidal system with Goa'uld as rulers, Jaffas as priests/warriors and Humans as workers. The Goa'uld life cycle involved both of the lower species.
    • There is this within the Goa'uld too. The Supreme System Lord rules on top, followed by the System Lords, each System Lord has a retinue of Underlords, who have their own retinues of Goa'uld Scientists and courtiers. Queens are generally not "true" lords, and are often regarded as prizes for actual lords to be kept as mates.
    • There was also an episode where the worker caste were forced to mine and provide energy for the higher class and didn't even know that the upper caste existed. It wasn't explored if the common upper class people even knew there were workers, as SG-1 were sent to the mines for wanting to explore the frozen tundra.

Oral Tradition[edit | hide]

  • Examples include mythological pantheons, kings and queens of The Fair Folk, and so on.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Magic: The Gathering
    • As the quote above shows, the Elves in Lorwyn aren't just smug, superior jerks to everyone else, but also to each other.
    • The Bant shard (the shard composed mostly of White mana with Green and Blue supporting it) in the Shards of Alara series/trilogy employs a rigid caste system based on the acquisition of sigils, marks of great valor. While it is possible to move up depending on how many sigils one obtains, it's still monumentally difficult. The lack of black and red mana—meaning virtually no magic can cause unnatural deaths or aimless destruction, but at the same time no magic that supports ambition, desire, or emotional content—doesn't help.
  • The Tau Empire in Warhammer 40,000 have four castes loosely based on the four Hindu Varnas but with Elemental Theme Naming: the "Fio" (Earth) caste performs manual labour as well as scientific research, the "Kor" (Air) caste covers piloting and transportation, the "Por" (Water) caste deals with politics and diplomacy, and the "Shas" (Fire) caste serves as the Tau military. There is also a fifth caste: the "Aun" (Ethereal) caste, who govern the empire. In addition, caste members have a rank for their place within the caste. In ascending order from lowest to highest: Saal, La, Ui, Vre, El, and O. For example, a "Fio'La" is the equivalent of a factory labourer, a "Shas'Vre" is the equivalent of a military veteran or officer, and an "Aun'O" is the equivalent of a king or emperor. A Tau's caste and rank make up part of their name.
  • In Traveller the entire Third Imperium depends on the team spirit of the ruling class. Unlike other empires the Third Imperium does not have an ethnic group as it's cadre. Instead it has a caste.
    • The Zhodani have psionics, semi-psionics, and "proles". The proles are always happy because if they are so presumptuous as to be unhappy arrangements can be made.
    • The Vilani Ziru Sirka was divided into the food-producer caste (Naashirka), the industrial caste (Sharurshid) and the government caste (Makhidkarum) but their relationship is complex and tangled. This system bears some resemblance in concept with the Minbari religious, worker, and warrior castes respectively of Babylon 5 especially when one considers that chefs double as priests and medics in Vilani society. Like the Minbari the Vilani were engaged in constant turf wars between castes and clans.
    • The K'kree group their castes into servants (farmers, factory workers, unskilled labor), merchants (skilled workers, scientists, merchants, businessmen), and nobles. Unlike most systems members of all castes are expected to serve in the military.
    • The Droyne are classed into workers, warriors, drones, technicians, leaders, and a "jack of all trades" sport caste.
  • Exalted has a few examples, namely because most of the titular Exalts are split up into Castes as a result of the Exaltation (save for the Dragon-Blooded, who merely take on "Aspects"). A more mundane example is the country of Varang, however, which believes so strongly in astrology and the importance of time that a person's role in life is determined mainly by when they were born.
    • While not so much social castes as power-based strata, the whole setting can be divided into four levels, basically; mortal non-Essence-Wielders (basically Muggles), Terrestrial-level Essence-wielders (Enlightened Mortals, Dragonblooded Exalts, Lesser Gods and First Circle Demons), Celestial-level beings (Lunar, Alchemical and Sidereal Exalts, Major Gods and Second Circle Demons) and Solar-level entities (Solar Exalted, the Celestial Incarnae, and Third Circle Demons). Primordials hover somewhere around Solars, with more inherent power but nowhere near the flexibility.
    • The Realm is basically divided into slaves, peasants, patricians (wealthier mortals with blood ties to the Dragon-Blooded host) and Dynasts (Dragon-Blooded families). Dynasts who don't Exalt are usually treated like red-headed stepchildren, and members of lower castes who become Dragon-Bloods are adopted by the Dynastic Houses ASAP. And of course, any who Exalt as Solars or Lunars are hunted down like dogs, this is the Realm we're talking about.
  • The Clans in BattleTech have their own caste system, with the genetically engineered warrior caste obviously at the top. The scientist, technician, merchant, and laborer castes all basically exist mainly to provide for the warriors so they in turn can keep their attention focussed on their calling without undue distraction.
  • New Horizon has the Medeans, who have established a sort of monarchy.
  • Paranoia enforces a strict caste system with color-based security clearances applying to everything: what your job is, what you can eat, wear and own, who you defer to, even what rooms you can be in. If you're yellow, you eat yellow food in a yellow cafeteria, obey the greens while you yell at oranges and reds, carry a yellow laser, wear yellow clothes or armor (good against anything up to yellow lasers), and can read anything written on yellow stationary. If you're infrared, you're a heavily drugged prole who can be shot for looking funnily, then shot again for bleeding above your clearance. If you're ultraviolet... you're basically a living god and legend, lives in the lap of utter luxury, can commit treasonous acts in full view of anyone with no risk of getting caught, and is permitted to reprogram The Computer for your own designs.
  • Legend of the Five Rings mirrors feudal Japan's.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Protoss from StarCraft have three castes: Judicators (priests and rulers), Templar (warriors) and Khalai (workers, mostly unheard from in the game).
    • The only manual labor in the game is done by automated probes. This begs the question of why you even need the Khalai.
  • The Chozo from the Metroid series have got several castes, most of them chose Scientist. Adopted human Samus was the first one to pick Warrior in eons.
  • Halo, the Covenant work this way, which each race being in a certain rank. Before the Brute Uprising, Prophets were the leaders, followed closely by Elites, followed by Brutes, followed by Jackals, followed by Grunts. Hunters and Drones were somewhere in between Brutes and Grunts. Grunts received the worst treatment, and were treated as a slave race by everybody. Prophets, as their name implied were in charge of the operations and the brains behind everything.
    • There's also the Engineers, the non-combatant Covenant race, and the only one to not appear in games, until ODST. Due to their non-combative nature, they're neither discriminated against, nor are they given special privileges. All they desire to do is fix and build machines. They do have a rivalry with the drones however.
      • Also, within each race, there are specific classes. For instance, Brute Chieftains outrank Brute Captains, who outrank Normal Brutes (Elites and the Brutes are given more complex hierarchy than other Covenant races). This plays in to Authority Equals Asskicking, as higher ranked Covenant have better armor and weapons.
    • The Jackals are not true members of the Covenant. They're privateers at the employ of the Prophets. They don't give a wooden nickel about the Great Journey. Winston from Ghostbusters said it best:

If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say.

  • The dwarves of Orzammar in Dragon Age practice a system in which each newborn is sorted in to one of eight castes dependent on the caste of their same sex parent. Elevation is all but impossible, barring two very specific methods. Those without a caste (criminals, exiles, and any children of the above two groups) are considered to be worth less than dirt and barred from obtaining any work or housing legally. They will not be recorded in the histories, and so are deemed to not exist. Even aiding the casteless is considered a major social taboo for most dwarves, effectively ensuring that the casteless have to become criminals to survive.
    • The Qunari also have a form of caste system as their religion prescribes distinct roles to members of the race that are inseparable from their personal identity. As far the Qunari are concerned, if you reject your given role you reject your identity and might as well be dead. They are utilitarian and believe that individuals are essentially tools with assigned functions, a sword cannot become anything other than a sword and a warrior cannot become anything other than a warrior.
      • Qunari names are equal to their role. However, unlike other races, the Qunari don't discriminate against members of other species. If a human, an elf, or a dwarf wish to follow the ways of the Qun, then they are seen as equals.
  • The batarians in Mass Effect have a society that works using this, according to the Codex. The major reason it's not clear in-game is that the majority of batarians outside of their space are either criminals or military; the totalitarian Batarian Hegemony restricts civilian travel to batarian space.
  • In Sword of the Stars, according to the appendix at the end of The Deacon's Tale novel, the Tarka are divided into three castes, which have some subspecies traits: the Urduku ("Common" caste) are the warriors and professionals (they predominantly speak Urdu Kai, "common speech"), the Gutter caste are the workers representing the majority of the population (they speak various Gutter dialects collectively called Horodu Kai), and the Kona ("Exalted" caste) are the ruling class (speaking Kona Kai, "high speech"). The appendix does not mention if there are any social unrest due to the inability of persons to move from one caste to another.
    • The Hivers also have castes, but these are clearly defined by biology. Unlike your typical Bee People, the Hivers do not possess a hive-mind. Each Hiver is a complete individual. The Warriors are best suited for high-risk tasks, such as warfare and security, and have varied physical shapes. The Workers cover the vast majority of jobs in the Hiver Imperium and are physically smaller and lighter than humans. Their jobs range from menial work to artistry and craftsmanship. The Royals consist of Princesses, Princes, and Queens. The Princesses and the Queens are the only females of the species. The Queens are fully matured and are able to bear not only Warriors and Workers, but also Princes and Princesses. The Princes are the fertile males who are also generals. Unlike the Tarka, it's possible for a Hiver to move to a different caste, although this involves dying. When a Hiver dies, most of his memories are stored in chemicals in his head. If it's eaten by the Queen, she can then lay another egg, imprinting the new Hiver with the memories. In effect, the Hiver is reborn. For example, one of the main characters in the novel is a Hiver Prince named Chezokin, who used to be a Worker named Chekin (the "zok" infix is added to a reborn Hiver's name). This is only done to those who have honored the Queen with their service. The Hivers also have three main written languages, although these are not restricted to castes. K'en-k'en is a phonetic language (like Japanese katakana and hiragana), known by all Hivers. Ri'kap-ken represents words with complex symbols based on an ancient writing system (like Japanese kanji) and is mostly used by Warriors and bureaucrats. Tcho'to-ken is mainly used by the Royals to write poetry and personal diaries and is a form of calligraphy.
  • The Polaris in Escape Velocity: Nova have an occupation-based caste system; citizens are assigned to castes based on aptitude tests. The Kel'ariy are the governing caste, the Ver'ash are doctors and medical researchers, the P'aedt do most other science research, the Nil'kemorya are the military, and the Tre'pira are the labor caste (which ranges from construction all the way up to ship captains). Oddly the Tre'pira are the most honored caste because they're seen as the backbone of Polaran society.
    • The Sixth Ranger caste is the Mu'hari, a caste created after the Polaris Civil War. These are made up solely of citizens who failed the tests to enter another caste. They learn a little of everything, but their primary duty is to ensure the survival of Polaran society, which in practice makes them the Polaran diplomatic and intelligence service, as well as providing internal security.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • MSF High: The legion are something of these. the Divine even more so.
  • The trolls of Homestuck are arranged into one called the hemospectrum (pictured above), based on their blood color. It goes from red-blooded trolls as the bottom caste, through the rainbow to blue- and purple-blooded trolls at the top as the ruling castes. This caste system has biological repercussions as well: lower castes are more likely to have Psychic Powers (while also being more vulnerable to others' psychic powers) while higher castes are more likely to be murderous and psychotic, and the royal castes are amphibious and primarily live underwater. Not all of the trolls care so much about the system though, most notably Gamzee and Feferi, who both have purple blood.
    • Most of them wear clothing and type with colors that signify their blood. Karkat is the only one who doesn't, opting for grey in order to make his blood color anonymous. This is because he is a mutant, and the only one with (human-like) candy-red blood (as opposed to Aradia's rust-red). He doesn't even fit anywhere on the hemospectrum, and is intensely ashamed by this to the point where he is constantly angry.
    • The pre-Scratch trolls also have a hemospectrum, except that it seems to be based on noblesse oblige. The longer-lived higher-castes are expected to serve the needs of the lower castes.
  • The Fox Empire in The Cyantian Chronicles has a caste system based on fur color. Reds are commoners, Blues are scientists, Oranges are high level workers and artisans, Golds are guards and bounty hunters, and Gouttouve (gutter foxes) are those whose colors don't fit their professions. Before King Rashon's coup Whites were the leading caste, Silvers were their advisors, and Blacks were elite guards. During the coup Rashon convinced the Golds to wipe out the Whites, Silvers, and Blacks and declared himself a "Royal Red".
    • However, in the time of Campus Safari Rashon's "son" Kiet has made moves to abolish the caste system in the wake of a plague that killed 90% of the species. He also rescinded the order to kill all surviving Elites (as well as any kits born with those colors as the genes are somewhat recessive) and actually became engaged to a White princess.
  • Terinu has the Vulpine, who divide themselves into Farmer Lord (the Rulers), Military (the Fighters) and Commoners (everybody else). Fortunately there's some give to the system, with Commoners able to marry up into the Farmer Lord class, usually by gaining recognition during their mandantory military service.
  • The people from Alderode in Unsounded are divided in castes related to their hair color.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Unlikely Eden all Coalition soldiers are engineered to be one of four castes. Visibly they are indistinguishable, but their abilities are all specialized for their combat roles. This governs everything from authority, to the acceptable formation of friendships. The main characters are somewhat unusual for their cross-caste friendship.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The titular machines in Rollbots are divided into "tribes" by function. Main character Spin is an oddity, having no known tribe.
  • ThunderCats (2011) features a caste system in a medieval Standard Fantasy Setting with Catfolk. In Thundera, there's a ruling class at top, a servant class of priests and warriors, a working class, and a low class (slum residents, bums, and ruffians). Per the manual, a Cat's status is determined by whether or not they have a tail. Tails are considered undesirable, marking one as a mongrel and 'genetic freak' which confines them to the Fantastic Ghetto of Thundera's slums.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, both the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom's capital feature caste systems.
    • The city of Ba Sing Se divides its classes into three concentric zones, with war refuges and the poor crammed into the Lower Ring, merchants and the middle class in the Middle Ring, the nobility in the Upper Ring, and the Earth King's palace at the very center of it all.
    • The Fire Nation's system is partly tied to its colonial empire. In descending order from highest to lowest on the pecking order, you have: the Fire Lord, the royal family, the nobility and Fire Sages, the managerial middle class, peasants, and then colonials at the bottom. In turn, the colonies divide into Fire Nation citizens and Earth Kingdom non-citizens, although in the colonies even earthbenders (otherwise disparaged by their Fire-supremacist occupiers) can become Fire Nation citizens if one of their parents was a citizen.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • India had, and to a lesser extent still has, a caste system. While the castes were bound in Hinduism, they weren't a part of the original Hindu creed, which only had three castes and fair bit of mobility between them. Hinduism's official texts never say anything about the caste system, but higher castes used the Hindu idea of karma to justify it, to the point where the two became inseparable.(In any case, Muslims were also part of the caste system to a degree.) The system only reached its ultimate complexity with British colonialism in the 19th century, when the colonial masters favoured certain castes over the others. Today the caste system is declared illegal, although its use in practice has not died. Hinduism itself remains strong as a religion regardless.
    • If you're going to talk about "caste" in Hinduism, you need to make a distinction between "varna" and "jati." The four varnas show up in the oldest texts: brahmans (priests), kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (landowners), and sudras (laborers). Just how rigid these originally were is open to much debate. Jati refers to the hundreds of regional-, occupational-, and ethnically-bound groups throughout India that govern human interaction and behavior. Each jati is treated as a subset of a varna. Some of the laws surrounding it are written in scripture, but most of them are local tradition and customs. While in traditional society it was mostly impossible to leave one's jati (save perhaps by joining a religious order), it was more than possible for an entire jati to gradually move into a different varna, i.e. a sudra jati could become a kshatriya jati. So in fact the whole system was in constant flux; the modern breakdown of caste discrimination is just another element of change in a fluid hierarchy.
  • Although perhaps the most famous caste system, the Hindu system is certainly not unique in the real world. Very similar systems existed in East Asia and Africa at one point or another.
  • One of the strongest remaining caste systems in the world exists in one of the most economically and technologically advanced nations, Japan. While most of the historical (and fairly complex) caste system has faded away since the Meiji Restoration; it still exists de facto with regard to immigrants, Japanese of mixed ancestry; and most glaringly in the case of the indigenous Ainu, and the "pure" Japanese Burakumin. The Burakumin, originally dubbed "Eta" (spelt with kanji that meant "heavily polluted"), are equivalent to the Indian "Untouchable" caste; and constitute around 2% of ethnic Japanese, and the vast majority of Japanese poor. They were historically undertakers, those who worked with dead animals (tanners, butchers, etc.), and other "polluted" or "impure" occupations; and work mostly in similar industries today, as well as farming, unskilled labour. Until very recently, Burakumin have had few, if any, official legal protections; and what protections do exist have been seldom enforced. Most major employers and industries blackballed common Burakumin names, as have many renters; and having a Burakumin ancestor has been considered a valid reason to deny or annul a marriage. The odd thing is that, unlike most "untouchables", they tend to accept their marginalization, and do not fight as hard to improve their status. The Japanese preoccupation with fate may have something to do with this.
    • The term has actually come to be an insulting term for people who work in some modern professions, even without the heritage. Many migrant workers who perform labor at nuclear plants, for example, have been termed Burakumin despite lacking the heritage.
    • A disproportionately large percentage of those involved in organized crime are of Burakumin heritage; and form roughly 70% of one of the largest Yakuza families. This is probably because unlike other traditional crime syndicates who often limit membership to certain ethnicities (e.g., Mafia, the triads), historically the Yakuza have been open to even the most marginalized members of Japanese society, including burakumin and Koreans.
    • There are a few organizations that are working to change this situation, but they're often too small or too radical (most are associated with communist or socialist organizations) to have much effect. There has been anti-discrimination legislation passed since the 1980s, and more since 2000; but improvement is still slow. It doesn't help that discussion of the plight of the untouchable classes is considered taboo in Japanese society, so few Japanese are aware that the problem still exists to this degree. Most burakumin also prefer to hide their heritage, as they aren't racially or ethnically different from the majority of the Japanese. Because of this there also is no nation-wide burakumin community that would back up the anti-discrimination organizations. They may change their names to avoid being identified as burakumin, something that members of the Dalit ("Untouchable") caste of India are also doing.
    • This also depends on region. In Kansai, for example, treatment of burakumin is still relevant, while in Kantou (which included Tokyo), the whole thing is largely seen as a historical oddity.
  • Europe also used to have a caste system of sorts, where people were born into the castes of serfs, free farmers, craftsmen, nobility... In some countries and times it could be very strict, while in other places some social mobility existed. It all went away during the industrial revolution.
    • In practice the contest for power in Europe was a three way contest between the nobility, the clergy, and the merchants (the rich commoners). Some families had a foothold in more than one of these especially as for a long time becoming a cleric was the only career allowed to a nobleman who didn't want to be a warrior. Arguably the caste system in Europe was less rigid than some examples because Europe was less isolated from outside influence. It varied in different places in Europe.
  • You know about the Hutus and the Tutsis of the Rwandan Genocide? Yeah, that one. They spoke the same language and lived in the same society. The difference between them? The Tutsis were technically (very technically) the ruling class. Though usually presented as tribes, "Hutu" and "Tutsi" are more accurately considered castes.
  • The term "caste" itself comes from Spanish America. However, it had a different meaning: the castas were racial classifications, measuring degrees of "whiteness" in descending order: peninsulares, those born in Spain; criollos, purely-white people born in Latin America; all kinds of mestizos and mulattos, half-Indian, and half-black, respectively, and indigenos, pure-blood natives. Additionally, one could buy "whiteness" if you made enough money, particularly in the Viceroyalty of New Granada (modern Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela).