Main agricultural products

Subsistence in Gehennum is based on the cultivation of rice. Upland species of rice are grown in better-drained fields. Swamp rice species are grown in swampy land and (at least in the advanced parts and later periods) in specially-constructed paddies and on terraced hillsides. Other crops include fruit (such as pineapples, coconuts, durians, jackfruit, custard apples, mangoes, mangosteens, and bananas), drugs (tea, coffee, coca leaf, bhang, and opium), spices (including pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and mace), vegetables, and fibre (hemp, copra, and some linen).

Rice cultivation

In Gehennum's climate there is ample warmth, light, and water. A rice paddy will produce a crop in about 105 days. Gehennese farmers usually crop their fields on a 112-day cycle, producing one harvest every three-and-a-half months (the Gehennese month is 32 days long), or a little over three crops per year (the Gehennese year is 361 days). Most farmers have several fields on staggered cycles, with the offsets designed to keep the water and labour requirements of the farm constant as different fields go through different stages of maturity.

Despite the steady rain, wet rice agriculture still requires the storage and control of large quantities of water. When one paddy is drained the water is generally used to flood another at a lower level and an earlier stage in the maturity of the rice. Irrigation schemes and (in the Classical and Decadent Periods) the terracing of hillsides represent a huge investment. Farmland, being productive, is very valuable, and returns colossal rents. Dams and aqueducts also produce lucrative returns through charges for irrigation and drinking water.

Animal foods

The fields are ploughed by ox-drawn ploughs, but fish, fowl, and game are more widely eaten than beef. Oxen are generally too valuable to eat. Ducks, which feed on pests in the fields, and fish and vermin (frogs, snakes, etc.) that are netted when the paddies are drained are the most common animal foods of the rural population.

Pork is a food for festivals and special occasions. Fish is the protein staple of divers and of coastal and urban people. Game from the forests is eaten by the rich, by hunters, and as an occasional luxury.

The Gehennese do not milk their cattle, and would think dairy foods disgusting.

Marine products

Marine resources are harvested by fishermen from boats and (rather more successfully) by divers, who have a considerable advantage in hunting reef fish and gathering shellfish and the like from the bottom of the sea.

As well as fish, the seas yield abalone, oysters, sea-cucumbers, sea-urchins, and so forth, a broad array of foods. They also produce pearls, mother-of-pearl, valuable shells, and purple (a kind of dye got from murex, a species of marine snail). In the Classical Period there is some shortage due to over-exploitation, but in the Decadent Period most diver communities guard and husband private beds of peal-oysters, murex, abalone, and other valuable products of the lagoons and reefs.

Divers easily get their rice, fruit, tools, cloth, and rope by trade with land-dwellers.


'Unskilled' labour

Occupations that require little skill and few resources, and frank labour such as stevedoring and rowing, are very unrewarding. A farmer may produce enough rice to feed fifty people: but after paying the rent of his farm and the hire of his plough and team he is lucky to clear two obols per day, and a subsistence diet costs one obol per day. The same is true of timbergetting, charcoal-burning, fishing, hunting, or panning for gold and gemstones in the Eurotas sands. Two obols per day (or one obol per day plus board, or five sequins a day plus bed and board) is about the wages of a porter, rower, builder's labourer, or household servant.

It is not possible to support another adult on such wages, and it is a struggle to raise children on two such incomes. The wives and children of the poor must work, either in paid employment, helping on the farm, or in some cottage industry such as spinning, weaving, or small manufactures.


Occupations that require some skill and a small investment in tools are rather more comfortable, but they require sufficient capital to study the trade, which sometimes takes years, and to buy at least a minimum of tools. Wealthier craftsmen are able to do very well out of operating facilities, such as foundries, kilns, and even smithies which their less-well-heeled colleagues pay fees to use.

Gehennum is a very rich society, and employs a bewildering array of different crafts and specialisations within crafts. The following list is far from complete, and is sorted in rough order of opulence:

Potter, carpenter, glass-blower, barber, shipwright, cabinet-maker, wood-carver, butcher, bowyer, armourer, lens-grinder, scribe or letter-writer, apothecary, surgeon, artist, sculptor, alchemist, blacksmith, clock-maker, bronze-caster, gem-polisher, jeweller, goldsmith.

At the top are healers, professionals of the mystic disciplines of healing and yoga.


Gehennum doesn't share our clear distinction between trades and professions, but the occupations requiring education (reading, writing, figuring, geometry and so forth) are rather more respectable. A man of good family might work in one of these professions and gain credit by doing so (so long as it did not interfere with his military and political career):

Secretary, engineer, architect, speech-writer, interpreter of dreams and omens, and navigator.

Similar status attaches to dreamweavers (professional proponents of dreaming), and to shamans (who use spiritualism professionally).


Traders range from wealthy merchants, often the owners of fleets of ships and vast investments, down through intermediate scales to shopkeepers and poor peddlars. Trade is respectable: even Gehennese rulers and nobles do not consider it a degradation of their station to engage in trade. Shopkeeping is a skilled occupation, demanding that a person be able to read, write, and do arithmetic, as well as having a little capital.

Invested wealth

The most important assets of the wealthy are farmland, plantations, and irrigation infrastructure. The only form of wealth that even approaches farmland is mines. Iron and copper ores, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, silver and gold are rich, of course, but mines are limited, while farmland goes on forever.

Other significant assets include fish-weirs, fish-sauce breweries, wind and water mills (used for polishing rice and for fulling cloth, crushing ores, and extracting oil from seeds), and (in cities, and chiefly in the later periods) residential and commercial real estate. But these never match the colossal rents of farmland and irrigation monopolies in the Classical and Decadent Periods.

The forests are indeed productive, of timber, charcoal, bamboo, spices, fruit, and game, but their products are never scarce enough to return more than the barest of premiums over the cost of their extraction.


Barter is still a common means of exchange in the Archaic Period, but money, consisting of special shells and minted metal, is sufficiently well-established that a man lacking other goods need not go without his needs, and is gaining ground. In the later periods and advanced areas, people are expected to have or get money to pay their taxes at least. Gehennum has a sophisticated cash economy.


The standard unit of value is a five gram bronze coin called an obol, which will buy a cooked meal, a man's rations for a day, or a 100 gram iron spit. Six oboloi are worth one silver drakhma. Twenty drakhmai are worth one gold mina. A sequin (a type of small shell) is worth one tenth of an obol.

Copyright © 1988-2004 Brett Evill. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.