The Imperial Nobility comprise of less than 1% of the estimated population, but are widely believed to represent over 50% of the educated population of the Prosperitas Sector. Most Lowborn citizens will never receive anything in the way of a formal education – adult literacy rates in the Prosperitas Sector (and indeed the Imperium) are incredibly low amongst the Lowborn; although this varies from world to world, with Lowborn from more urbanised planets being the most likely to receive primary education. The exact figures are unknown and fluctuate from world to world, marred by the general impossibility of an Imperial census – the estimated literacy levels on Shadowglow and Bachian IV are incredibly high, for example, because abhuman populations are not counted towards the records.
For this reason, opportunities for social advancement are incredibly low. Most Lowborn are born without money; the Imperium prefers to reward labour with the necessities of living, rather than providing the freedom to its citizens that being paid Imperial coinage would give.
Lowborn who wish to accumulate wealth legitimately must do so through great effort. Due to the difficulty of getting out of the position they are born to, many Lowborn who do want to escape turn to crime – though few Highborn families, generations later, will ever admit to beginning as a street gang.
Because getting employment or passing Guard selection is difficult – and crime comes hand-in-hand with a short lifespan – most Lowborn opt not to challenge the status quo or to dream of something bigger. The Imperium is happy with this; Lowborn who keep their heads down and slave away at whatever jobs they are temporary assigned to largely rely on Imperial protection and welfare – and, thus, tend to live unremarkable, impoverished lives.
In truth, the Imperium is utterly terrified of the Lowborn classes. If they were fully aware and mobilised, they would dwarf even the largest of the Imperial armies; and they vastly outnumber the Nobility that claims it has blood right to rule them. Keeping them ignorant and ill-educated is as much a deliberate choice as it is a consequence of the scale the Imperium works with. To this end, the rights of the Lowborn are severely curtailed, and they are often subject to unprompted repression by Imperial authorities terrified of rebellion.
Class Divisions and Employment
Though opportunities are few for Lowborn citizens, work can be roughly divided as follows:
The Serving Class encompasses the personal and household servants of the Nobility, Adeptus Administratum functionaries and the Ecclesiarchy – to be a servant is to live in comfort. Most are paid a small stipend which allows them to access luxuries most Lowborn will never imagine, and are housed in great estates in relative luxury compared to most Lowborn hab-blocks. They have the most friction with other Lowborn, as they often serve as apologists for the excesses of the Highborn – in many ways, the Serving Class is separate from other Lowborn because they are usually born into a life of service, with entire families serving a single House for generations. Still, some Lowborn not born into service might luck out, and find service jobs if they are fortunate or talented enough.
Next to the serving classes, those Lowborn in Planetary Service also enjoy a relatively cushy existence. Most planetary defence formations are formed out of part-time volunteers, who are rewarded with extra welfare rations for training once a week against potential threats; their Officers generally enjoy full-time employment and a stipend, as do the footsoldiers in the Household Guard of Noble Houses. Enforcers, the common police forces responsible for local law, vary in their professionalism, but are mostly Lowborn citizens. Some are employed in formal forces, while some are paid a stipend by local nobility to serve as ‘sheriffs’. Some talented few might be assigned to the Adeptus Arbites, but that ancient body of Imperial law rarely recruits anyone below Schola Progenia graduates.
The Enlisted Ranks of the Imperial military are filled with Lowborn – few will ever see an Officer rank, for those are often controlled by the Highborn; but enlistment guarantees a stipend, an education and a pension, with the potential of other rewards such as prizes of land on captured worlds. The story of many a minor noble began with an ancestor fortunate enough to earn wealth and fame in military service – such are the benefits of the Imperium’s fetishization of the military.
The Mercantile Class encompasses those few Lowborn who possess a trade or a business, be they crafters or shop owners, publicans or common medicae. Able to exchange their services for coin from those who possess it, or barter services and goods from other Lowborn, this ‘middle’ class enjoys some comforts. Mercantile wealth immensely varies, from those who provide ‘common’ services to the lower strata of society, to tailors who own boutiques frequented by nobles.
The majority of Lowborn however belong to the Vassal Class. On some worlds, these individuals are ‘serfs’ bound by feudal laws as the legal property of their planetary nobility, but most are common citizens. Few if any Lowborn of this class earn any profit from their work; most drift between various state-assigned work assignments, occasionally finding employment with members of the mercantile class to earn some coin for luxuries. The greater majority are dependent on Imperial welfare to survive, which keeps them largely obedient to the Imperial state.
Language and Slang
The spoken and written language of the Imperium is the ‘common tongue’ known as Low Gothic, born from pre-Age of Strife human settlement of the galaxy. Because it predates the Imperium, Low Gothic is generally understood on most worlds in the Prosperitas Sector, even those where the Imperium is not in formal control – however, on many worlds dialect differences and slang can create language barriers despite the common tongue they share.
Barely any individuals outside of the higher echelons of society speak the archaic homogenised root language from which Low Gothic sprung, High Gothic, which is used almost universally only in official communication to prevent dialect drifts confounding clarity.
There are places in the Prosperitas Sector where non-Gothic tongues are spoken – like isolated feral populations such as those found on worlds such as Morghull, or the deep swamps of Carthusia. There also exist two ethnic languages: Gair and Niquash. These languages are rare, and the Imperium actively seeks to replace them with the universal Low Gothic tongue where it can.
Ethnicity and Culture
Culture varies greatly from planet to planet across the Prosperitas sector, with the vast majority of the population going their whole lives without considering themselves part of any group larger than their local township or – at most – their planet. However, the Sector population does break down into broad ethnic groups. These are primarily of interest to those who study the Sector’s pre-Imperial history. To describe oneself as “Ruwwad” or “Anfywnn” is often to attract suspicion, since association with those groups and names is seen as dangerously close to independent, seditious sentiments – in Imperial eyes, all are Prosperitan, regardless of genetic or cultural origin.
‘Ethnicity’, meanwhile, has very little to do with any sort of physically expressed characteristic like skin or hair colour. With the exception of abhuman populations like the Raivans of Shadowglow, Prosperitans are physically diverse across and within ethnic groups. There are as many billion dark-skinned Anfywnn as there are blue-eyed Ruwwad; the historical Terran origins of the populations are not reflected directly in their ethnic makeup in the 41st Millennium.
The Anfywnn population of the eastern Secundus and northern Primus Subsectors predates Imperial colonisation by several millennia; they have been present since at least M.25, according to the earliest records. The population’s language, naming conventions and some cultural practices are similar to old Terran Celtic. The language group of the Anfywnn, called Gair, is outlawed by the Imperium; Low and High Gothic are the official Imperial language on all colonised Anfywnn planets. Speaking any variant of Gair publicly, or teaching it to children, can attract heavy legal penalties. On some worlds, particularly those like Kirkcud which suffer from perennial counter-Colonial insurgencies, a few words or a line of graffiti is enough for a death sentence. Despite this risk, local populations on many planets have been reluctant to abandon their cultures and the language which goes with them, and view keeping Gair alive as a form of resistance against Imperial oppression.
Anfywnn names draw from Celtic populations including Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Breton. Common surnames might refer to a clan or tribal federation (for example Mac Aibhne or O Ceallaigh), or may include matronym’s or patronyms indicating the individual’s parentage (such as ‘ap Daffydd’); these are often Gothicised by local Imperial administrations, rendering variants like McEviny and O’Kelly common. Key Anfywnn traditions include generational storytelling, with the oldest present reciting myths and fairytales; singing, particularly around hearths and campfires; unarmed contests of strength and skill such as wrestling, competitive fording of streams and rivers; and a hundred variants of follis played with short sticks on turf pitches.
The Anfywnn population is physically diverse, but stereotypes – often reflected in art and depictions of culture heroes – include light or bright-coloured hair, musical talent (especially singing), and a temperament towards not allowing a challenge to go unanswered.
With a population spread across the Sector, originally inhabiting much of southern Subsector Quartus and now primarily focused across the Tertius subsector, the Ruwwad have their origins in old Terran West Asia. Archaeologists and Sector historians have speculated that the variant naming conventions of the Naximus Prime Ruwwad (whose names and culture reflects old India and the Persian Empire) and the Amenophis Ruwwad (whose name, culture and traditional dress often resembles ancient Terra Egypt) are reflective of a combination of colonist populations drawn from different areas of Old Earth, and a desire for recreationist cultural homogeneity in the early colonist populations.
Loyalty bonds are considered extremely important in many surviving Ruwwad cultures, with ties of familial, tribal, city and professional loyalty all interplaying in complex ways. The Ruwwad populations have typically assimilated better than the Anfwynn; having been conquered, demonstrating loyalty to their new Imperial masters is considered virtuous and appropriate by most Ruwwad tribal leaders. However, pockets of resistance do still exist, and linguistic insurgency – the use of one of the languages in the Niquash group, the Ruwwad’s native tongue before colonisation – is a perennial problem across Subsector Tertius. The population are also known as curious and robust explorers, with many ancient Ruwwad tales focusing around the adventures of expeditions of hardy young folk setting out to discover the mysteries of their native planets.
Ruwwad names tend to have Semitic roots, with auxiliary names often including references to a beloved family member, town of origin or profession. Some, particularly the older generation, will use different surnames in different contexts, to illustrate the different ‘person’ they become when invoking their loyalty bonds to one or other institution. For example, Keje’s birth certificate might read Keje Bat-Rivka (daughter of Rivka); but in different contexts, she might write her name as Keje Umm-Qubad (Qubad’s mother), Keje el-Butoniy (from Butonia), or Keje HaMuhandis (the engineer). Moreover, if she holds a position of authority, she might be known as Sheika Keje, Marat Keje, Keje Khan, Bibi (grandmother) or Haisha (mother) Keje, Keje Saidi or Rebbe (teacher) Keje. There are old Ruwwad superstitions attaching values of spiritual value, or protection from evil spirits, to the use of certain names in certain contexts – these superstitions are habitually and ruthlessly repressed by Imperials wherever they surface.
The Ruwwad population is physically diverse, but the stereotypical Ruwwad depicted in family legends has dark, curly hair, a love of adventure and travel, a very large extended family, and a reverence for the written word.
Arriving in their millions from the Segmentum Solar, the Imperial colonists who arrived in the Prosperitas Sector in the early 500s have intermingled and mixed with the native populations in great numbers. Imperial names – commonly Germanic or Romance in origin – are found on every planet across the Sector. Imperial populations tend to speak only Low Gothic, with High Gothic being the language of the educated classes; cultural assimilation tends to be in one direction, with native populations learning Imperial language and culture, but little absorption the other way.
There is often an economic split between colonist and native populations, with many planets such as Kirkcud and Merewald suffering from a substantial income gap between the technocratic, urban and privileged Imperial populations and the native rural peasantry. This is sometimes a recipe for civil unrest, and accusations of bigotry and bias in favour of Imperial families abound.
Imperial colonist families are as diverse as the Solar cultures they were once drawn from. Stereotypes about Imperials have them stuffy or uptight, bound by rigid social conventions; inclined to enjoy violent, spectator-sport entertainment rather than participating; confident, proud and well-groomed.
Among the population of the Sector, many millions every year are born at void: whether aboard one of the great military and civilian voidships which travel the dark skies of the Sector, or on one of the innumerable stations, asteroids, mining-habs and other artificial structures floating in the black.
Those born in deep space tend to share a certain suspicious attitude towards planets and their populations, often finding it hard to come to terms with habitats where the gravity and atmosphere are not regulated by Mechanicus-maintained equipment. There is a persistent stereotype that Voidborn are unusually flexible, with elongated limbs; this is broadly inaccurate, though some striking examples of that archetypical ‘Voidborn physique’ are found in those who are exposed to low-gravity environments in early youth. Those populations denied natural light and proper nutrition often suffer unpleasant congenital diseases akin to those found amongst the darkest Underhives, with brittle bones, rickets, sallow skin and vision problems common amongst poorer elements of the Voidborn population.
Most Voidborn tend to be drawn from colonist stock, particularly the upper classes, and their names reflect this. Some – such as the increasingly rare Caudican diaspora – hold to the legacies of their planets of origin, and although weakened over time by intermarriage, there are still centuries-old populations which retain names and traditions from their former cultures.