ATLANTEAN SOCIETY AND THE CLASS SYSTEMAt the very beginning of the First Empire, every male inhabitant had a particular Class corresponding to his social status, which was closely linked to his birth and profession. It was impossible to change one's status and progress up the social scale. During the third century, this Class system was simplified considerably over the years, and all Atlanteans, from both the home Province, and then the newly conquered ones, were categorised first into 42 Classes, then 20, 12 and finally 6 in 367. Their Class was still determined almost wholly by accident of birth, and the professions they might enter were also limited according to their Class.
The highest nobles were those in Class 1. These owned large amounts of land and were often in a high position in government or Court. Their lineage often went right back to the time when Atlantis was just a patchwork of competing aristocrats. As the centuries wore on, these Class 1s retained their land, often scattered throughout the Empire, though mostly still in the "inner" Provinces (Atlantis, Atlantid´eh and Th. Thiss.), but gradually lost political power to the lower Classes. This process began with the very first Emperors, who rather feared the power of these old and rich aristocrats, who even had their own armies. Emperors alone had the ability to promote or demote people from one Class to another, and gradually the Emperors began to favour Class 2s and later Class3s.
Class 2s, who represented the "middle" nobility after 367, included the moderately well-off aristocrats, who also held considerable land. Originally all of them were nobility by birth, but after the fourth century, some attained this Class by Imperial promotion, as a sort of honour for loyalty or good work. Also, as the organisation of local and national government was built up during the First Empire, it became possible to advance one's Class through education and career progression.
Class 3s were the lower nobility, also usually holding some land, and, in later years, important positions in government or the army.
The bottom three Classes represented the vast majority of the workers of the Empire. Class 4, often split into upper and lower, were what later became the middle class, and included merchants, lawyers, civil servants, small landowners and the self-employed. Most would also employ other workers at lower Classes. Class 5 were the better-off working classes, and included employees of all sorts, artisans, and small farmers, whether independent or tenants. Finally Class 6s were the peasants, servants and workers.
By the reign of Atlaniphon I, progression up the Class system was much easier than had been the case in earlier times. Promotion at work, self-improvement leading to the acquisition of more land or employees, or even, still, promotion by Imperial decree, were possible at all levels, though Class 6s tended to be stuck where they were, and there remained a great divide between Class 4 and Class 3, the "people" and the "nobility". In the sixth century, under the liberal Emperors, all positions in government had in theory to be attained through education and progression up the job-structure through examination and interview. But the higher posts always remained the prerogative of the traditionally well-off upper Classes, who could enter the whole structure at a higher level than the lower Classes. At the top, peers by birth gradually lost their positions in government to those who achieved their position through merit and education. Class 1s indeed became a dwindling breed, who now lost all real influence and retired to their vast estates.
After 526, much of this changed, and things regressed to the position in the earlier 300s. Classes became more fixed, education was cut back, and senior positions again went to hereditary nobles. Numbers of Class 1s revived suddenly as this was used as an honorary grade for the Emperor's closest Advisers, relations and friends. The power, land and prosperity of these high grades, above all the Class 1s, with their swathes of land and property in the inner Provinces particularly incensed the revolutionaries in the 560s to the 580s. After the Revolution of 587, it was they who were targeted by the republican leaders and the lower Class masses.
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE EMPIRE
One of the most interesting features of the Atlantean Empire is the highly complex and well-organised system of local and imperial government which was gradually created throughout the First Empire and into the Second. The initial impetus to set up local councils to run the everyday government of small towns developed in the late second century from the clash between the king and the powerful nobles, who had power-bases and fiefs of their own throughout the kingdom. The king - later Emperor- encouraged municipal councils, and granted a degree of power to local officials on grade 3 and below, thereby removing the Class 1 and 2 nobility from their strongholds. The growing Empire was divided up into urban district councils, and after about 250, country districts were also given local councils, initially under the aegis of the local landowning noble. These local authorities were responsible for law and order, local building, and for a time education and some local taxes.
After 300, Regions were set up, consisting of a number of smaller Districts, from which representatives were elected for the Regional Councils. Gradually a career structure was built up, whereby a person could begin as a Councillor on his local district council. After two or three years, he, with about three others, might be chosen for promotion by his immediate superior at Regional level. After 330 he would have to take an examination, but if successful, he, with others, would progress on to the Regional council. Regions became responsible for much local government, such as local taxation, entertainment and education.
At this stage the ambitious Regional Councillor had a number of choices he could make for the shaping of his future career. Firstly he might in due course move up to become a deputy or assistant to the Provincial Governor (Civil and Military), appointed by the Emperor. Secondly he could try to move to Atlantis or Cennatlantis to apply to get on the staff of the Imperial Controllers, who helped to run the Imperial Government. Finally he could move sideways to join the Great Council, which is discussed below. Whichever path he trod, he would, during the Second Empire, automatically be granted the status of honorary Grade 3 once he was successful
Imperial Government was headed by the Emperor, of course, and beneath him, the Empire was originally organised into Provinces ("Ruh´ehix" in Atlantean), and run by Provincial Governors. After the beginning of the fourth century, there were two types of Governors - Military, who were in charge of Provincial Armies, and took precedence in wartime, ("Ruhixano" in Atlantean) and Civil Governors ("Ruhieh´ens"), who were responsible for the civilian government of the Province - these areas included national taxes, social welfare, law and order and local foreign relations. The Emperor also had a number of Imperial Advisers, hand-picked to help him run the Empire, and they all also chose the Provincial Governors.
THE GREAT COUNCIL (BOUR YMELHUATSO)
From 150 there had existed in the area that was later to become the Province of Atlantis an Atlantean Council, consisting of non-nobles, which acted as a counterbalance to the strong influence of the nobility, who had long had their own forum in the Council of Nobles. As more Provinces were added to the Empire, Cao-Mel´ondecided in 278 to form an Imperial or Great Council which would include representatives from all the Imperial Provinces. The Council was of course purely advisory at this stage, and met only when the Emperor convened it. It gradually overshadowed the old Atlantean Council, as far as the Province of Atlantis was concerned, and Atlantis itself sent members to the Great Council as well as to its own Council, which then gradually dwindled over decades and centuries into an ornamental relic with few real powers. After 320 recruitment for the Great Council came from the Regional tier of the career structure. "Councilmen", as they were termed, were elected by the other Regional Councillors, and also had to pass examinations later on. A small and senior part of the Great Council was the Inner Council, led by the Leader of the Council, who gained great power at the end of the Second Empire, and effectively led the Revolution of 587, and later the Republic.
To start with, Councilmen had to live from their own means, but after 470 a salary was introduced. Gradually the Council developed or was granted more powers - it sat at certain specified times and gained a voice in the appointment of Civil Governors and other Imperial appointees to a lesser extent. Later in the Second Empire, as the Emperors became more conservative, the Councils grew more radical. One reason was that some Councilmen were now appointed directly from District level rather than Regional level, and as such represented points of view closer to grass roots populism. This led ultimately to the Revolution of 587, which saw the Council pitted against the forces of the Emperor.
THE CONTROLLERS AND THE ADVISERS.
During the main part of this period, the central direction of policy, - the "executive function"- was carried out by the Controllers, who reported directly to the Emperor himself. The number of these officials fluctuated over the decades, as did the areas of policy for which they had responsibility. The earliest Controller was for Atlantean Affairs, established in 240. Others were later appointed by Cao-Mel´on - Education, Imperial Affairs, and Treasury. Later came Transport and Trade. They were appointed essentially by the Emperor, in theory in consultation with the Inner Council, from either the upper reaches of the Civil Service, or from Imperial Advisers or relations. In the sixth century, after the Great Civil War of 524-526, the numbers of these Governors were reduced in favour of the provincial Governors.
The Imperial Advisers were in theory a group of "elders", retired Controllers, Governors or Councilmen, who formed the Emperor's closest circle, but in practice they often included younger friends or relations of the Emperor of the day.
THE RULING OF THE EMPIRE
Of course, the way in which the Empire was governed depended very much on the character and feelings of the Emperors. In the heyday of the Second Empire, under the Atlaniphons, the Emperor stayed at a distance from the process. Atlaniphon I's famous words about himself show his feelings :"I shall be a god, but if possible, an inactive god". Emperors in the sixth century would be much more interested in playing with the levers of power themselves.
Finally there were of course a number of other institutions closely connected to the government of empire. The legal system was originally in the hands of a Controller, but after 405 Atlaniphon I gave it more independence under a Chief Justice. The Official Church was led by the Chief Priest of Atlantis, and under the overall supervision of the Emperor. The armed forces were controlled by the Emperor directly, who alone could declare war and make peace. Lastly the Court of Ethics, formally established by Atlaniphon I in 368, was in the last resort under the aegis of the Emperor, although one of its chief purposes was to act as an independent "think-tank" on a wide range of matters from a legal court of appeal, to an arbitrator on ethical government, morals and the value and social admissibility of new inventions or ideas. (See the separate article on the Court of Ethics).
To read the next part of this history, click on Government and Society- (2)630 - 749