Aritan: The Imperial Age.
The Principalities of Valgresia
Nobility. Success. Power.
The area identified now as Valgresia has gone through many identity shifts. It was amid the fertile, if volatile, rivers that dominate the landscape that humans first cultivated crops on mass, built cities, and forged iron weapons, and after that more helpful tools. Combined with the sheer numbers of people that live there, the central heartland of Aritan has been a violent and tumultuous place for all of its history. It has historically been divided into numerous smaller nations and states whose borders, leaders, and names changed every generation or two. Within the last hundred years or so seven prominent, ones have managed to survive.
These states are normally engaged in near constant warfare, but occasionally they have been united under particularly powerful warlords, or politicians, forming short lived petty empires. It was towards the end of one of these episodes that the Aurelenian Empire invaded Valgresia. The unified government was on the verge of fracture, as the imperial Faith of Sol had begun to creep its way into Valgresia, and found many willing adherents. The Archduke, a title that has since become used to describe all the warlords and petty emperors over the course of Valgresian history, desperately attempted to unite his disparate, and religiously conflicted people against the empire, until his assassination. His successor quickly capitulated, though Valgresian lords, and self declared kings continued to resist the empire, the momentum of the invasion after the capitulation and quickly spreading religious conversion was ultimately unstoppable.
Valgresia’s near constant internal warfare has had a strong, if not stabilizing, influence on its culture. Additionally, the vastness of its size and population and the constantly changing nature of its governments have caused many cultural and ethnic groups to come together to make up what is now Valgresia. Though the various natural boundaries of the region have allowed a level of homogenization to the point where most of these subcultural groups share enough traits to be identified as Valgresians, their older roots show through in regional cultural traditions, appearance, and language dialects.
Valgresian society is some of the most stratified and feudal in Aritan. The nobility that governs the society is entirely focused on their own ideas of honor, chivalry, and loyalty, disregarding the long and oft forgotten history of backstabbing and bloodletting that got them to where they are now. However, these lords and nobles maintain some of the strongest warrior class in Aritan. Their generations of military struggle with one another, using mostly vast armies of peasants levied from the yet more vast population, have left them with vast amounts of money and time to devote to the honing of the military arts. It is no coincidence that Valgresia is the hearth of metalworking in Aritan, and that their modern steel is considered often to be the best in the world. It needs to be in order to keep up with the constant arms race that the lords engage in with each other, even under the governance of the empire.
Beneath the aristocracy, most of Valgresia’s approximately 100,000,000 inhabitants love simple, and often dangerous lives. As the primary tool of war, alongside the much more commonly praised Knights and Noble Cavalry, a peasant can usually expect to be given some sort of polearm and a helmet and told to stand in a formation at some point in his life. The rest of the time, they are simply expected to till the fields, and maintain irrigation systems that amplify the awe inspiring fertility of the great rivers.
Urban life for the commoner class is a somewhat different story. While they do not have to fear conscription into military service nearly as much as their rural compatriots, they must deal with the travails of city life. These can be especially hectic, considering that Valgresian cities do not easily fit into their social structure, and tend to form out of convenience, feudal manorial trading posts that grew out of control over several generations. For this reason Valgresian cities tend to be horrifically chaotic, have virtually no waste management systems, and have usually inconsistent defenses, relying on their large castles, masses of peasant militia, and the loyalty of neighboring lords who rely on the city for commerce in some way. However, there are a few benefits to city life. The level of unregulated commerce means that they are some of the few places in Valgresian society where there is room for hierarchical movement. A shrewd merchant can make a killing playing the markets in major cities. All of this conveniently paves the way for Valgresia’s bottom rung on the social ladder: Slaves.
A primarily urban occurrence, slavery is practiced mostly by the nobility, and the awkwardly fit in merchant class, though some particularly well off commoners will be able to afford them. Slaves are primarily owned as servants, petty laborers, or as gladiators for the fighting pits that have sprung up to keep the oppressed masses entertained. As cheap labor is available in vast quantities amid the destitute peasantry, slaves are seen as somewhat luxurious, and as signs of power and wealth.
An additional effect of Valgresia’s intensely militaristic agricultural society is a higher level of patriarchy than in other parts of the world. Though the specifics and levels of this varied vastly over the centuries and across the various nations, a greater deal of separation among gender roles has been common. With the introduction of the Faith of Sol, Valgresia has latched onto its own interpretation of many of its tenants, including the role of women in society. In most of Valgresia, these days, it is considered vastly uncouth for a woman to take part in fighting or violence, as her place is to use her holiness to create more life as much as possible. This has caused varying degrees of unrest in certain parts of the country in the last generations, as war continues to ravage every corner of it, and women are often pulled into conflict, particularly among the commoners, whether they want to or not. Discerning and attentive lords are aware of this, and allow their commoners leeway with the issue, supporting them in their needs while maintaining appearances amid their own class. However, many Vlagresian lords are not discerning or attentive.
Valgresia converted to the Faith of Sol hard and fast. Decades before the empire actually invaded, missionaries had found adherents and ardent believers, and the universalizing religion was quick to gain a foothold. It was event he catalyst for several of the civil wars that weekended the fragile control of the Archduke over his territories, and caused many Valgresian lords to quickly change sides in the conflict as it drew on.
The Valgresian version of the Faith of Sol tends to be a bit more extreme then that of the south, particularly among the upper class. Lords were quick to use the church as a tool to further their own glory, and solidify their power. As a result the religious teaching of this particular branch of the religion tend to focus heavily on divine providence, sacrifice, rank, and birthright. For the commoners, the church tends to serve more as a unifying agent then tool. Clerics who work in rural churches tend to stress the ideas of community, and bonding for a higher goal more than authority and glory. However, both of these branches are equally quick to condemn pagans and outsiders.
The religions that preceded the faith of Sol were generally polytheistic with many regional variants. However, most of the current generations do not know any details of the old pagan ways, as practicing them is now a crime punishable by various kinds of death.
Though it is vast and varied, the landscapes of Valgresia can almost universally be defined by a single unifying feature: Rivers. These branch across almost every area of the heartlands of Aritan, emanating from the Snakesback mountains, the great lakes of the north, the Baris mountains in the east, and innumerable other locations. The rivers permeate the countryside to such a degree that boat travel is often capable of bringing a person from one side of the country to the other without touching land, though the circuitous nature of such a route makes walking generally simpler for most folk. Still, the rivers are a staple of travel, agriculture, and society across Valgresia, and the single massive river that most of them ultimately feed into which marks the border of Morlund in the south, usually known simply as the Deeprun, is one of the most pivotal waterways in the world, and contributes no small part to the prosperity of the city of Riverton at its mouth.
Beyond the unending rivers, Valgresia’s size gives it fairly varied terrain features. The lowland southern region tends to be the most fertile, and the warmest. Affected by moisture from the warm Ategan sea, and the common flooding of the many rivers, this heartland of heartlands is among the most fertile in the world, and is where the bulk of Valgresia’s population lives.
Moving away from the fertile heartland, the rest of Valgresia is a fairly different story. The Western portions of the country are caught right in the rain shadow and foothills of the largest mountains in Aritan, and tend to be rocky, dry, and harsh. The rivers here form the absolute center of life and humanity, as beyond the areas affected by them, land tends to be dry rocks and tough grass that does little to support life.
Farther north, the difference is marginal. The region is still fairly dry and rocky, though less extreme, and the prevalence of Lakes makes water more accessible. Still not the fertile heartlands, Northern Valgresia contains significantly more flora and fauna than its desolate neighbors to the west, and the East.
North eastern Valgresia has the misfortune of being the least heavily rivered of all the areas in the land. It is dominated by massive expanses of rocky plains, with human life tending to cling to its rivers in a not dissimilar fashion to the west. Here, however, more semi nomadic groups of people do actually make a life for themselves on the plains, often traveling and trading with the peoples of the great steppes of the east, though most Valgresian lords do not generally believe that such barbarians occupy any of their expansive lands in the region.