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Fantastic Caste System

"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.

India's caste system is a popular provider for ample analogies. This trope might also 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. Compare with Urban Segregation which has some overlap as well as Divided States of America which similarly extrapolates on a real-world situation.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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 and the highest ranking are called Blondies. The elites themselves are ranked by hair color to distinguish their classes. The humans born naturally in the slums are "mongrels" treated as the lowest of the low that can't even attain citizenship.
  • In Dawn Of The Arcana, humans with black hair are nobles or royalty. Humans with other hair colors are peasants, although red hair is considered the lowest. Ajin- humanoids with the ears and tails of animals form the lowest caste below that.

    Comics 
  • 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 Infinite Crisis-to-Flashpoint 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.
  • Requiem Chevalier Vampire: Your actions in life determine your fate on Resurrection: Infanticidal mothers become harpies, religious fanatics become werewolves, rapists become centaurs, Mad Scientists become Archeologists, people doing evil thinking they did good become ghouls. Vampires form a superior caste (the criteria seems to be general evil, including such individuals as Attila the Hun, Nero, Vlad Tepes, Elizabeth Bathory, Alistair Crowley and Robespierre), whereas zombies are generally those who didn't do much with themselves in life and keep doing so in death.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: What was done in the Exodus book, is expanded on here. All Transformers are built/born into a class based on their alt-modes. Construction workers are the lowest class, along with other workers, Science class are higher, and the elite class rule with sleek alt-modes. Before that memory sticks were the lowest form of people, and Rewind may have fallen in love with the (higher class) bot who actually treated him as an equal. Momus was notable in this, because he was a Mine boss who's workers found something really important to the government, the agent sent to collect it rewarded him by telling him he was exempt from all the connotations of his alt-mode and could do what he wanted in life he became a Senator. Megatron was a worker, and he sought to beat this system so all could be equal, this devolved to the point where he became a Knight Templar.
  • Five Weapons is set in a universe where assassins are famous celebrities and community leaders, meanwhile it's illegal for domestic servants to own weapons or even fight.
  • The alien Evronians from Paperinik New Adventures have a somewhat fluid one. In theory, the system has, from top to bottom, the two-headed Emperor, the Imperial Council, the High Caste, the Medium Caste, the Lower Caste, the members of subjugated species that for whatever reason weren't drained of all emotions to feed the Evronians and power their technology, and the Coolflames (the members of subjugated species who were drained of all emotions, transformed in Slave Mooks without any intelligence and recognizable from the cold, blue flame around their head), with Evronians of the High, Medium and Lower Castes furterly divided into Warriors and Scientists and gifted with emotional ability and intelligence that grows with their caste (Evronians of the High Caste and above have above-average and sometimes genius-level intelligence, and the Emperor and the Council have a full emotional spectrum). In practice, however, the Evronians have made adjustments depending on the situation, with two-headed Evronians in the Council and Councillors and even Medium and Low Caste Warriors (in the latter cases it was Super Soldiers who, due their mutation, had full emotional ability) making a grab to the Imperial throne (usually unsuccessfully), generals put in change of scientific researches and scientific branch chiefs commanding military operations, and, in one notable occasion, the Emperor putting a slave in charge of the operations to defeat Xadhoom (admittedly, only after military force and native Evronian scientists had miserably failed, at which point they were ready to try anything), with the only thing remaining forbidden being an Evronian that is not a member of the Council showing excessive decisional autonomy (outside of extenuating circumstances, the Evronians answer to that with overwhelming military force to put down the guilty party).

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • The MST3K 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.
  • The Soviet cult sci-fi/satire film Kin-Dza-Dza! featured a caste system based on arbitrary colours appearing when you point a machine at someone, the number of match-sticks you possess, and the colour of your trousers. Yeah, it's that kind of film.
  • In Planet of the Apes, the gorillas are the military, the chimpanzees are scientists, and the orangutans are lawmaking aristocracy. It's mentioned that the caste system was abolished, but that only pertains to it being officially institutionalized. In practice it's still very much in effect. As Taylor observes, "Some apes seem to be more equal than others."
  • In Man of Steel, Kryptonians aren't merely sorted into a caste system (leaders, soldiers, scientists, etc.), they're genetically engineered and raised within these castes. Kal-El represents the ultimate rebellion against this system: he is Krypton's first natural-born child in centuries, and is able to choose his own path.
  • The Painting takes place inside an unfinished painting with various inhabitants. The Alldunns are fully painted and the elite, the Halfies are partially painted (no matter how close to complete) and are the poor, and the Sketchies basically sketches and are reviled by everyone else.

    Literature 
  • As mentioned above Plato's The Republic suggested a caste system based upon a "noble lie" that when the gods created men they infused some with gold, silver, bronze, or iron. The castes are divided into three: the lower-class common people (viewed as animals but allowed basic pleasures), the guardians (who are not allowed to have any freedom at all, and conditioned from birth to only have nothing but State loyalty) and the philosopher-kings.
  • 1984 uses a caste system similar to Plato's Republic (make the philosopher-kings psychopaths and you have the Inner Party). It also flirts with this caste idea, as while the Proles are the underclass neglected as animals, this has the advantage of having unlimited Bread and Circuses and freeing them from Big Brother Is Watching, and in this way they are better off than the "no pleasures allowed" Party members such as Winston Smith (assuming they're not sent to die in the war).
  • 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 slaves 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.)
  • 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.
    • In Issac Asimov's novel The End of Eternity, the Eternals (time travelers) are stratified into Maintenance (the largest group and lowest caste), and each Specialist (Sociologists, Computers, and Technicians). The protagonist becomes a member of the Technician caste. Said caste performs ALL of the actual time changing work, but as a result is despised by all other castes. Since Eternity is a male-only organization, it becomes rather unhinged when an attractive woman named Noys takes up temporary habitation in Eternity...
  • The ship in Sandy Mitchell's Dark Heresy novel Innocence Proves Nothing is full of hereditary jobs with fancy titles.
  • Played with in C. S. 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.
  • In the Merry Gentry series, 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 the Spaceforce books, the Taysan Empire has developed this trope to an extraordinary degree. Everyone is born into a specific caste which determines their occupation for life, from street sweeper to imperial, and nobody is permitted to convert to another - whether they have an aptitude for the profession of their caste, or not. Of course, the series' Taysan protagonists end up subverting this system.
  • The Star Trek Novel Verse is full of them:
    • 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.
    • 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 is threatening to erupt.
    • The Naxerans from Star Trek: The Lost Era have three castes, named for mythological figures that also correspond to the stars and moons of their home system. The G'Dok are the clan of the stronger brother (and the first star), and rule the planet with a great deal of arrogance; the Leahru, clan of the weaker brother (and second sun), are subserviant and tread carefully around the G'Dok. Then there's the Efram, apparently wretched slaves who are seemingly identified with eclipse.
    • The Orishans in Star Trek: Titan have a caste system developed by their mysterious Oracle. It involves (among others) Weavers to do the building, Dreamers to study science, and a Guardian caste to oversee the others and protect Orishan culture.
  • 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 The Seventh Tower 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.
  • Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series has the Grik, most of whom are the Uul, more beasts than sentient beings, whose only wish it to hunt and kill. Those who live long enough gain a measure of intelligence and become the ruling class called the Hij. The Hij do not allow themselves to descend into the beast-like mindset and give over to the hunt and claim it's a great sacrifice for them. At the top is the Celestial Mother, a large female Grik who rules all. The Hij spend their time running the Grik Empire and finding more prey to hunt (otherwise, the Uul will get restless and turn on each other).
    • The Lemurians had a pretty rigid guild system, with each guild hoarding its secrets from the others. On the other hand, there doesn't appear to have been a restriction on who could join a guild. They had to abandon it when the Grik arrived en masse.
  • The Faata in Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark are a race of Human Aliens from the Perseus Arm of the galaxy. After a second The End of the World as We Know It, returning Faata astronauts found their planetbound brethren in a state of savagery. Using genetic engineering, they have restructured their society into a rigid caste system, where each caste is, essentially, a Human Subspecies. On top are the Bino Faata, the fully-sentient caste (it's heavily implied that they're all males). All servant castes are collectively known as T'ho, which stands for "partially-sentient". The Bino Faata live for centuries, while the T'ho have extremely reduced lifespans. Among the named castes are the Ksa (fertile females perpetually kept in gestation-inducing stasis) and the Olks (the warriors/guards). After discovering a Precursor organic computer, they have further refined their castes to have the Bino Faata be those with great psychic potential. Naturally, there is a hierarchy among the Bino Faata as well. The leader of a colony or ship is called the Pillar of Order. The next in line is the Strategos (AKA Guardian of the Skies), the military leader. The Intermediary, or Speaker with Bino Tegari (sentient aliens), is third. The Holder of Communications is fourth in the chain and is responsible for the telepathic communications with the organic computers and, through them, the T'ho.
  • The foundation of the society of Pangaea, by Lisa Mason. People of different "pures" are born to specific career fields and have a measure of genetic engineering to suit them to it, and the various purities are not supposed to mix; in the books, we see angels (the highest caste, priest-artists who create dreams and share them with all of Pangaea), magisters (government officials), physicians, academes, servs (who do menial tasks) and druds (who do jobs even the servs won't take), as well as the un-engineered, naturally-born "impure" and various Human Subspecies who are even lower than the druds. Meanwhile, within each pure are several "subpures" of distinct status, and keeping the status of the various subpures straight is a large part of Pannish etiquette. When the first book begins, though, the system is already starting to break down.
  • Clocks that Don't Tick has one. Though it's not legally enforced, the distinctions are pretty clear. The Bosses, immortal oligarchs who live in mountain mansions, are at the top. Under them are their mercenaries. Then there're Thralls and Travelers. Thralls were once normal people asides from their paralyzing fear of death. Said fear lead them to take out an enormous loan in order to pay for the setting's procedure to become immortal and immune to disease. However, the loan is impossible to pay off due to its high interest rates, making Thralls essentially undying slaves. Travelers are clones of historical figures made for the Bosses' amusement. They go from place to place, passed from oligarch to oligarch and treated as they see fit. At the bottom are common people, diseased, bitter, and short lived.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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, 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).
    • The Grey Council has always been made up of three representatives (or satai) from each caste. Then the Warrior caste makes a power grab and forcibly replaces Delenn (a Religious representative) with Neroon (a warrior), unbalancing the Council. After the civil war between the Religious and Warrior castes, Delenn remade the Council to have five representatives from the Worker caste, two from the Religious caste, and two from the Warrior caste, with one spot left open for a future messiah. Thus, Delenn ensures that everything the Religious and the Warrior castes do is in the service of the people, as it should be.
  • In Crusade the Drakh are shown to have a caste system, with the type who turned up on Centauri Prime in several Babylon 5 episodes as the leaders and a better-designed version of the variety who appeared as the "speaker" in their introductory episode as the grunts.
  • 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 as long as the Vorta don't go so far as the question their loyalty.
  • 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. Originally Tsukasa more or less got Kazuma demoted for the lols, but with some prompting from Yuusuke, they all end up changing the system so it's fairer.
  • 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 SG1 were sent to the mines for wanting to explore the frozen tundra.
      • Stargate Atlantis had its major villans the Wraith situated in a system with a queen at the top ruling a hive consisting of drones (warriors), the commanders who run the ship, the keepers who maintain the ship and the scientists. The queens themselves have a hierarchy with a You Kill It, You Bought It mentality.
  • In Defiance Castithans are born into one of several "liros", the system is apparently highly complex but barely explained. And it was somewhat fragmented by the arrival on earth, with many of the younger generation (at least in Defiance) showing little regard for it. Crime boss Datak Tarr was born into a low ranking liro while his wife Stahma was a bit higher up.
    • At one point, Stahma points to Datak's origins in the lowest liro and asks if this is really the sort of culture he wants to maintain on Earth. Datak angrily replies that, yes, he does, since he is now on top, "pissing on those below".
  • Dominion has the Number system that organizes all life in Vega. While not fully explained in-show, the virtual handbook created by SyFy lists exactly how the Numbers are organized and how the system operates.

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

    Radio 
  • When ensemble comedy group The Burkiss Way performed a parody of George Orwell's {{1984}}, protaganist Winston Smoth listens to an explanation of how the brave new world is socially structured:
    (Robotic Voice) Alpha: Big Brother. Beta: The Party. Gamma: the Proleteriat. Delta: People who read books by Jilly Cooper. Ipsilon: People who write books by Jilly Cooper...
Smoth is eventually introduced to members of the lowest caste of all, Omega Double-Minus, who are trained from birth in their destined role as underarm perspiration.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • 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 Signet of the Orzhov Syndicates states that if it's worn as a trinket, the bearer is a master. If it's worn as a tattoo, the bearer is a slave. Interestingly, other than this little tidbit, Ravnica as a whole is freed from any sort of caste, with a person from any species or vocation very much welcomed to join another guild or job without much prejudice (well, except from their former guild).
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Tau Empire 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.
    • The Craftworld Eldar, unlike most depictions of fantasy elves, live very strict and disciplined lives, according to a "Path", which is basically a career choice. There are several, but of course, the civilian paths tend to fall by the wayside in favour of the Path of the Warrior, the Path of the Seer and the Path of the Outcast. They need to do this because the last time they acted like loose and free-spirited elves, their civilisation fell into barbarity and caused the creation of a Chaos God.
    • In Dark Eldar society, your position is directly related to birth; natural-born Dark Eldar are so treasured that they're automatically elevated to elite units regardless of their combat prowess, while vat-cloned Dark Eldar must work their way up (assuming they survive that long). Hellion riders also occupy one of the lowest, but most dangerous positions within Dark Eldar society as they are a combination of Street Thugs and small-time Mafia in Commorragh.
  • 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:
    • The setting as a whole 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.
    • There's also the nation of Varang, which uses an elaborate caste system based on astrological prediction. Newborn children have their stars read to determine what their talents will be when they grow up, and they are given a caste and corresponding tattoo to identify them. The ritual actually does work, in mechanical terms identifying what the child's favored ability will be. However, the ritual is not always performed by a competent astrologer, who are loath to admit when they realize they can't do it. As such, some unlucky individuals are mis-casted, or even denied a caste altogether, leading to a permanent semi-exile in their own nation.
    • Autochthonia employs a caste system, consisting of Populat (workers), and the Tripartite (threefold ruling caste) of Olgotary (secular administrators), Theomachracy (spiritual and morale maintainers), and the Sodalities (technical experts), with caste being assigned at birth through an assessment based on aptitudes displayed over one's past lives (one nation also has a professional military caste, the Militat). Differs from most, since there's actually a fair degree of social mobility within the actual castes (high ranking Populats can have more authority and privilige than low ranking Tripartites), and many nations incorporate a noteworthy degree of caste mixing; relationships between members of different castes are not uncommon, major social events tend to be shared experiences, and familial kinship (although generally a minor concern) can connect different castes (and, in the one nation that places strong emphasis on family bonds, even the highest ranking Tripartite can be dominated by their lowly lever-pulling parents). They also have the Lumpen, the lowest caste who are given the most degrading jobs, have few personal rights, and are often victimised by others. Unlike the others, nobody is born to that caste; assignation to it forms the main criminal punishment (for any caste) in Autochthonian society.
  • 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.
  • The "security clearance" system in Paranoia is essentially a caste system. One's security clearance determines not only what information one has access to and one's level of authority within the system but the quality of one's food, one's living and working conditions, and how much the regime values one's very life. The system is meritocratic, with everyone starting at the lowest level and working their way up, but corruption is rampant and the "merits" by which one advances in practice include butt-kissing ability and aptitude for political scheming and skulduggery. It's based on an interpretation of the light spectrum, starting at Infrared (the lowest, rendered as black for practicality's sake) and working up through Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet and Ultraviolet (rendered as white, to contrast Infrared).
  • Legend of the Five Rings mirrors feudal Japan's.

    Video Games 
  • The Protoss from Starcraft have three castes: Judicators (priests and rulers), Templar (warriors) and Khalai (workers, mostly unheard from in the game).
  • 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 Hunters, followed by Jackals, followed by Grunts. Drones are 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 Halo 3: ODST. Their place in the caste system isn't easy to identify, but it's safe to say that they are higher than drones, at least by virtue of being more useful, but lower than brutes, who have no second thoughts about strapping bombs to them. All they desire to do is fix and build machines.
    • The Forerunners had a caste system all their own, called the Rate system: on top were Builders, responsible for construction and design. The Master Builder is arguably the true power behind their empire. Next up were Miners, who obtained materials for the builders. Then came Lifeworkers, the doctors and biologists of the empire. Finally came Warrior-Servants, soldiers who are seen as technically necessary, but distasteful to the Forerunners, as they see themselves as without conflict. Coming in dead last are the Engineers, (the same ones used by the Covenant millennia later) but as they are engineered to just maintain and fix things, they probably don't mind. A Rate called Juridicals ranked somewhere in the system, but as their job was to investigate especially heinous crimes, they certainly didn't rank highly either.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The Dwarves of Orzammar 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. 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 (unsurprisingly, this means the only work open to them is criminal in nature, thus intensifying hatred towards them). 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 only way to ascend the caste system (and the only way for the casteless to be less than dirt) is to marry a member of a higher caste and have a child of the sex of the higher caste parent. Since there's only a 50% chance of this method working, it's not surprising that the slums are full of single parents raising a child of the wrong caste. The only other way to break the system is to achieve some great recognition and become a Paragon. The elders then elevate that Paragon's family to Noble or semi-Noble status.
    • The Qunari 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.
  • Mass Effect: Batarian society is built on a highly rigid caste system, although the only thing known about it specifically is that slavery is integral to it.
    • The Turian hierarchy also has 33 distinct tiers of citizenship and service. We don't learn very much about it, but it's unusual in that advancement is possible and even expected. For example, completing mandatory universal military service grants you the 31st tier.
  • 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. They are semiofficially the lowest ranked caste, no matter what they are doing they are required to drop everything to assist any other Polaran who asks them to do anything. They are not shown as looked down upon by other castes, but many of them consider their Casteless Caste a mark of shame for themselves and their peers (one usually bubbly Mu'hari is seen depressed on the day she must swear in new members to the caste)
  • The Burning Legion from World of Warcraft are arranged into a caste system based on species, since the demons come from corrupted remnants of other races. Man'ari eredar are leaders and powerful spell casters, Shivarra serve as priestesses and military chaplains, Nathrezim are tacticians, Mo'arg are mechanics and engineers, and other races like ered'ruin and felhounds are used as cannon fodder.
  • The Dremora in The Elder Scrolls have a complex multi-level caste system, divided into three "soldier" classes (Churls, Caitiffs, and Kynvals), two "officer" classes (Kynreeves and Kynmarchers), and two "noble" classes (Markynaz and Valkynaz). Oblivion features one Dremora Feydnaz, but where this caste fits in is unclear (though he functions as a stronger Valkynaz.)
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV has Luxurors and Casualries. Luxurors are nobility, priesthood and Samurai. Casualries are peasants, levies and serfs. There is only one way to leave your caste: if you're a Casualry, pass the Gauntlet Rite to be inducted into the Samurai. Luxurors are forbidden to intermarry with Casualries, and there's a lot of racism involved in the system. There's also Unclean Ones, but their existence is a closely guarded secret, for many more reasons than are readily apparent...

    Webcomics 
  • 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, are also being more vulnerable to others' psychic powers, are shorter lived and weaker. Higher castes are more likely to be murderous and psychotic, have greater physical strength and longer lifespans, and the royal castes are amphibious and tend to live underwater. Not all of the trolls care so much about the system though, most notably Gamzee and Feferi, who both have purple blood. In fact, the one troll who does religiously follow the caste system (Equius) is regarded as a conservative weirdo by the others. 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 system as a whole is regarded as rather patronizing by both high- and low-blooded members.
  • Be the Sea Dweller Lowblood: A fan adventure based on Homestuck, the concept of a caste system based on blood colour is explored by imagining what life would be like for a, well, sea dweller lowblood if the Sufferer had succeeded in turning the hemospectrum backwards. In this Alternate Universe, the world is lead by Red Bloods, with orange, yellow, and green being nobility and the sea dwellers being at the absolute bottom. The comic starts off focusing mainly on Eridan trying to survive in a world where pretty much everyone is against him just for having fins on his face. The whole demographic seems much more harsh and better kept than in canon, though it's unclear if this is because the Sufferer just made it more strict or because it takes place several sweeps after when the events of the original story would have happened, on a different planet, with everyone being much older than the teens in Homestuck.
  • 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".
  • Terinu: The Vulpine are a people who divide themselves into Farmer Lords (the Rulers), Military (the Fighters) and Commoners (everybody else). 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.
  • In Quantum Vibe Terra has developed into a caste system through genetic engineering, with the attractive Execs on top and the short, ugly Associates on the bottom. As well as several castes in between such as managers, geeks, artists, and enforcers. Their primary means of enforcing this system is pheromones.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • in Lucky Day Forever, Whites are the lazy, hedonistic upper class and the Proles are the hard-working under class.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender :
    • 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.
  • This was originally the case in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns. They hated each other and stayed away from each other as much as possible, only interacting because they relied on each other for growing food, moving weather, and raising the sun respectively. However, with a dose of emotion eating hate spirits, they came to live together.


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