Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 10,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 1518

Demography, Polity, Society and Economy
By Cristian Sildan
I'm one of these fans who likes to deepen and overanalyze the structure of an imaginary world when he sees a good one. Barsoom is one of the excellent ones. But it's not like ERB's a prophet and his cycle a holy book or something. We fans have to work with the good ideas of the Magister, add and make them more precise when not sufficiently well expressed, and to counter them when not good enough. Den Valdron, with whom I’ve exchanged some ideas, has already done that by demonstrating that Korus cannot possibly be at the South Pole, for example.

Many aspects of Barsoom already have been treated with surprising detail, including religion and linguistics. I'm interested in demography, polity and socio-economic stuff, so that's what I'll discuss in the following material. I’ll take into account what other "barsoomologists" have written.

Very important to me will be the map of the planet and its canals, by Rick Johnson. It may be criticized for being too simplified compared to Lowell's but on the other hand, ERB himself doesn't present us a world that's too criss-crossed with canals. There are quite few in fact, having many hundreds and even thousands of empty miles between them. As a consequence I’ll take it for accurate. So let's see.

What would be the population of Barsoom and its repartition?
What would be its ressources and its economy, society and politics?

First, let's analize the feeding capability of the planet. Considering the map, the total length of the canals is around 100,000 km (66,000 miles or so). Their width is around 25 km (16-17 miles): that’s what Lowell says, and besides if it takes five hours to cross one at caravan pace (PM) that should be the distance. Now, this should make the total irrigated surface of Mars, if we add some more to it for the cities, be around 3,000,000 sq km or about 1,400,000 sq mi. We must add to this some cultivated areas in the Toonolian and Kaolian marshes, around Korus, in the hothouse cities of the North and also the pasturelands of Gathol, Amhor -- which seem to be quite consistent, hundreds of thousands of sqkm of semiarid but still, usable pastures -- and the several areas that don't seem to need irrigation, like Invak and others. How many people would all this nourish? Well, after all this little calculus, it appears that the situation is far from being that desperate. The fertile areas cover maybe as much as 4 million sqkm -- size of Western Europe -- and the semiarid ones, another 1 or 2 million. Besides, it's almost never a total desert, the moss and other plants, some of them very nourishing, being almost everywhere. The global image is much more like a mossy Australia than like Sahara. In fact it is said (PM) that the Greens are 5 million – it's a pity ERB didn't give other data, but it's also true he gave us work to do by not being precise -- which would make their density, considering the area of the planet, be 0.03-0.04 inhabitants/sqkm (0.01-0.02/sq mi), quite comparable with that of the Inuit or the Australian aborigines before the modern age.

But how many do the fertile areas sustain?

Well, if we consider that the Egyptians manage to feed the equivalent of some 50 million from 40,000 sqkm of land, the 4,000,000 of Barsoom could easily feed 4 billion people. Could they? Yes they could, for Marentina and Manator can feed hundreds of thousands just with what grows within the quite limited surface of their walls (WM and CM) the first being surrounded by snow and the other by total desert. Kamtol feeds 200,000 people from a rift valley that cannot be more than some hundreds of sqkm big. So yes, the possibility is there. Besides ERB himself doesn't stop praising the Barsoomian agriculture. OK. This much for the possibility. But, is it the reality on the field?

Does Barsoom have billions “teeming-buzzing-rabbiting-termiteing-cockroaching” along the canals and in the oasis?

The answer is a very obvious NO. Let's see some more numbers, as proof of that: Almost no one mobilizes armies bigger than 2 million, except Jahar which destroys its ecosystem in the process. One million is considered a surprisingly big force (LG).

Helium is said to have 10 million people, and it's the biggest political entity upon Mars! (PM, GM)

Helium is hegemonic upon Mars while its population is only 10 million. From what we see on Earth, the USA struggle to keep their hegemony while they account for 4.5% of the world population. In the past, Athens and Sparta were 8 to 13% of the Greeks each, the Romans were maybe 10% of all Italians and the Italians, 18% of the Empire . . . You see where I'm going. Kamtol is 200,000 strong and it is considered a respectable city. (LG)

Most of the population inhabits cities and only slaves and celibate poor guys work and live along the canals (PM).

There does never seem to be an endless list of cities and polities, on the contrary they seem to be quite scarce upon the surface of the planet: maybe 15-20 "jeddak-ates" and maybe 100 "jed-archies," if we may say so. Various clues about the emptiness and the scarcity of life and human presence, all along the cycle.

The general isolation of the political entities, which wouldn't be very realistic if they were connected by overcrowded ribbons teeming with activity. To this we must add the fear of exploration which is only explainable by a sort of general agoraphobia and which accounts for the too many white areas on the map of a planet that knows flight since 1000 years ago.

The very existence of the Greens, normally would be wiped out with little effort by such a human mass. In the same way the white Australians wiped out and forced the Aborigines to accept their conditions despite not settling or using most of the interior desert, the Red Martians should have cleansed their deserts without much effort, just to get rid of a problem. But it seems that the 5 million Greens are a big and very serious problem and not easy to deal with, which means the Reds are not that many after all.

Briefly, the general image doesn't fit at all with a very populated planet. But how on Mars to know their numbers?

The way things are shown, not 4 billion, but even 400 million seem too much. On the other hand 50 million would be too few for, since the Greens are 5 million and a Green is worth 10 homo sapiens in war (PM), 50 million normal humans wouldn't resist the Green tide. So let's set these two limits for now, and continue with our investigation.

What if we take the size of the armies as a way to estimate the total populations?

We know Helium to be about 10 million since "10 million people wept over Dejah Thoris" at a moment. Since she's loved by all the citizens, there's no reason why only some of them would weep. On the other hand, the people from the conquered cities like Zodanga are reported to harbor long time ressentment towards Helium, so we can safely suppose that the 10 million are the size of the old core of the heliumitic state.

What about Zodanga?

It appears to have "almost 1 million foot soldiers" (PM) let's say 900,000. There must be another 100,000 or so upon the ships, another 100,000 remaining in the capital and maybe at least another 100,000 along the canals and in the other cities. Total, 1,200,000 or so. So what's the total population? Well since the blacks from Kamtol can mobilize a full third of their free population (LG) there's no reason why the others wouldn't do the same. After all, one has to keep the same pace as his enemies. Besides it is written that this army was obtained by mobilizing all that could be mobilized, "from pole to pole" (PM). So Zodanga must have something like 3.6 million free people. How many are the slaves? Kamtol is a city of black pirates and the slaves are 2.5% of the population (LG) and the pirates are big slavers. True, Kamtol is a bit special and hasn't done raids since quite some time, so let's suppose a good 10% of slaves in a given population. This would mean a total of 4 million for Zodanga.

What about Ptarth, Kaol, Dusar?

In TMM, it is said they form an alliance against Helium and hope that, altogether, they could overcome their rival. Helium comprises Zodanga and some other smaller cities by then, meaning 15 or 16 million. So let's suppose the three together have the same size, otherwise they wouldn't calculate their chances in the described terms. Which means 5 or 6 million for each.

Amhor and Duhor?

Amhor is described as "small" although Kamtol is described as "beautiful" with its 200,000 population. True, beautiful doesn’t necessarily mean big, but if it's small and beautiful, one uses words like "cute," "cosy little town," etc. Methinks Amhor is smaller than Kamtol, maybe as small as 100,000. As for the Amhorian state in its entirety, we know it's a state of villagers and shepherds, and the capital must represent around 20% of the total so, let's say 0.5 million for Amhor.

Now, Amhor attacks Duhor (MMM). This happens while the army of the latter was far, true, but still, no dog provokes an elephant even when he battles another elephant. Size matters, so if Amhor did it, that means it could afford it, therefore Duhor must not be much bigger. One million seems fair enough for Duhor, enough to have some weight in front of Helium (though it's very probable Duhor allied with some other states before warrying with Helium) and enough not to scare Amhor too much.


Well that's a tricky one: all we know is that it has 1 million slaves and dependents. If we stick to the idea that the slaves must be 10% of the total, this would give it 10 million total population, equal to Helium and totally impossible since it's an archaic state, placed in a wilderness, that cultivates mostly big but limited surfaces inside its walls (CM) and obtains slaves from plundering its neighbors while remaining secret. Let's rather say it must be a peculiar polity, relying much more than the others upon big slavery. My opinion is that it must be around 2 million total, for everybody's a fighter upon Mars and so it would be difficult to control a majority of slaves while not being a true Spartan himself: the Manatorians don't seem to be much more militaristic than the others, and they have even a very artistic inclination. So they don't look like Spartans to me, so they must be at least as many as their dominated people. But not much more for the population of such an entity must be small by the very force of things.

What about Gathol?

I'd say another 2-3 million, just guessing. Much smaller than Helium but not a dwarf, after all it must be the main source for the Manatorians to plunder. It's logical to be at least the same size as Manator but not much bigger otherwise it would enter the group of the big fishes like Dusar, Ptarth, Kaol . . . .

Phundahl, Toonol?

About the same size with Toonol a bit bigger I'd say. Don't seem to be described as great powers to me, but not small either. Toonol seems to be quite sizeable and modern. Let's say around 3-3.5 for Toonol, 2.5 –3 for Phundahl.

Jahar, Tjanath?

Jahar appears to have gathered like 10 million fighters or so, at its height (FMM – Helium usually mobilizes 1 million and Jahar is said to outnumber them 10 to 1) so it must be able to feed them, at least for awhile. Let's suppose they have destroyed the female eggs all this militaristic time, and that they might have another "normal" core of population besides this abnormal demographic bulge that is the army. Whatever their assets are they can't mobilize more than 2/3 of the total human mass, so they must be at most 15-16 million just before the campaign. By then the land must have been forced to its maximum capability, and everybody must have faced severe shortages of food. Still, one cannot starve severely a population for long time without this population to collapse.

If Jahar reached 15-16 million it means it must have been relatively easy for it to feed something like 7-8 million. Anyway the scenario is forced, ERB wanted obviously more like a strong image and a metaphor rather than a realistic situation. Normally, once U-Gor collapsed, the entire system should have gone down, or the war to be declared as an ultimate means to calm things down. Let's say 7 million prior to the militaristic adventure.

Tjanath, well, must be small enough to give the impression it gives in FMM, and big enough for Jahar not to attack it at once. Smaller than Toonol I'd say. 2.5 million or so. Invak, Onvak, Lothar, Horz, Bantoom, Ghasta? Probably less than 100,000 altogether.


They have 1 million soldiers. Plus maybe 200,000 doing other things. But they are much more parasitic and warlike than the others so things might be more complicated with them, as with the Black Pirates by the way. First, let's digress a bit:

What percentage of the population does what, upon Barsoom?

On that, I've had a small controversy with Den Valdron, who said that according to him and to what history shows us, nobody mobilizes more than 10% of the total population. True. For Jasoom. But here we discuss Barsoomian things. Upon Earth, mobilisable forces comprise the men between 18 and 55 or so, which means around 25-28% of the total human population. From which you send to the front 10% at most, because the other 15% have to operate the economy. For us it's well known. Even ERB forgets that he talks about Barsoom when he describes Kamtol: he gives a quite earthly statistics (33% of kids ?!). Upon Barsoom, all the men between 10 (see Carthoris in GM) and 950 or so are mobilisable. Meaning something like 95% of them or so. And 47% of the total free population. Which allows the jeddaks to send to battle 33% while keeping the other 14% to continue to operate the economy. Is it enough these 14%, even if completed with 10% slaves? I’d say yes: Barsoom isn't a consumer society, but a very long-lasting product-keeping one. Their producers don't know planned obsolescence. Buildings for example, although the science of the Orovars has faded away, still last really long: not 1 million years but 20,000 surely – see MMM. In a city of say, 1 million people, you have maybe 300,000 buildings. Well if they last 20,000 years and the population is stable, it means only 15 have to be built every year. Which means a very small workforce is needed in the construction industry. Many everyday objects are in stone or strong metal (PM). Furniture can last millenia as well. Textiles, they don’t use many, not even for the beds – they use furrs and skins mostly, which are much longer lasting and can be worked by few people in big quantities. Even light bulbs last for millennia. And so on and so forth. Practically, only the sandals and the harnesses, and of course the food and the armament wear fast. The ships for example, if a ship of 100 years is old and one of 15 is at the limit, since Helium has 1000 or 1500 ships it means it builds 100 of them a year. The industry of warships is probably by far the most active and the biggest activity upon Mars. But anyway, this sort of economy requires much less people than upon Earth.

What percentage of the population inhabits the capital, the smaller cities, the canals?

Well, I don't think ERB thought farther than the England or the London of his time, which were the most developed in the 1900s. England was 40 million strong and London was 8 million big so, 20% of the population was in the capital. For Barsoom, given the scarcity of safe space and the heavy concentration of the population, let's say 25%.

What is the image ERB gives of a big Martian city?

Well it's pretty much the one of an American ideal suburb of the 1920's, with some teeming boulevards, large middle-class areas with little houses with lawns, women staying home chatting with neighbors and pampering the kids and the house, and the man going to work(?!) (TMM).

WTH? It's totally impossible to have that upon Barsoom!!! We'll detail later when we talk society and economy, but for now, enough to say almost nothing of all above is possible: even the lawns are not possible, for in a culture that fights to keep green spaces working, one doesn't waste soil and water and space on stupid lawns. They should grow vegetables and small fruit trees and vines upon every inch.

Kids also should be a very rare sight, maybe 2 or 3 every 1000 individuals, for they grow very fast. By age five or so they are already teenagers. If there is no big need for work around, it's only natural the woman is the first to stay home. But carefree chatting with the neighbors isn't very likely for, though few men assasinate women, there must be female assasins, and kidnappers. Besides, the hubby himself is'nt really likely to work in some office for 10 hours a day upon Barsoom. It's a mixing of autocratic command economy with some aristocracy up there, so the "average Jo-e" upon Mars is more likely to be like a samurai at the service of his shogun than like an American clerk or factory worker. Again, we’ll detail later these aspects.

The average density of the habitat in a big city wouldn't be very big, let’s say that an average house with its garden would be relatively close to the 500 sq. meters of American Suburbia and so there would be around 1900 or so homes per sqkm (4000 per sq mi). That would be for the middle-class dwelling areas. But I think most Barsoomians would be middle-class since the society seems very stable, and the goods very durable. Also, the dependency of a lesser family upon a noble one would be a social safety belt I guess. Let's suppose 70% or so of the city dwellers would live in middle class dwellings. How many live in a household? Well, the Barsoomian family seems very nuclear, in the sense that everybody marries very soon – around 50 or so, as if I married around 4 -- and sets his/her own household. Even the nobles have each his own palace – unlike their Jasoomian counterparts who are generally cramped in one residence, sometimes even 40 at a time. Some still do that. Who doesn't marry goes to work along the canals or as padwar (PM) or, as a woman who stays too much without protection-integration, is probably kidnapped and enslaved.

So pretty much everybody lives in couple. Kids aren't often present since they leave almost as soon as they've arrived, by Barsoomian standards of length of life. Slaves must be relatively scarce among the middle class. So let's safely assume the average urban barsoomian menage is around 2.2 members or so. Per sqkm this would give 4000 inhabitants (9000 per sq mi). OK. There are also poor areas, with much smaller and block-like dwellings. But these must not have that much population since the big majority of it has to be integrated to the militarist system in order for the system to work well. I think that only the "necessary" minimum of scum of the earth is allowed to exist -- 10% of the total at most. The palaces appear immense, and not only these of the rulers. They also appear to have many dwellers inside which occupy huge expanses. They must largely make up for the cramped areas. Then there also are the industrial and hangar areas, the huge plazas etc. The idea is, a Martian city appears to be very spread, a bit like an American city of the Midwest. The density of such a city is difficultly bigger than 5000 to 6000 per sqkm.

The surface of the big cities is something we can also speculate on.

Greater Helium is said to have a boulevard 7-8km (4-5 miles) long from the gates to the Temple of Truth. We can assume this temple is around the center of the city, as almost all important buildings are said to be (PM, GM). The central square with the important buildings around might have a one mile radius so let's say the total radius of the named city would be around 8-9 km.  The total surface then must be around 220-250 sqkm or so. Maybe 400-500 with both Heliums together. The total population could be as much as 3 million. But not bigger. More like 2.5 million. Toonol seems big too, for it takes the heroes (MMM) one hour to float from the airport to near the walls which, assuming they went at walking pace, would mean 8 km or so. The airport, like all important buildings is in the center so the distance approximates the radius of the city. It's almost like Greater Helium, but maybe Toonol is oval, not round, and surely it's less crowded since it has less tall buildings. Still it can have 1.5 million or so.

The countryside can't have much population since only slaves and celibate and soldiers inhabit the canals. This would account for maybe 10-15% of the population of a state. Again we must look for the England of the 1900s that ERB was surely taking for the best model then available.

As we said, usually the capital gets 20-25% of the total population, but this is "average Red state" only: there are many exceptions.

Only capitals should be over 1 million, and not all of them, far from that -- mostly those of the jeddak-ates. Maybe the smaller cities would have anywhere between 20,000 and 200,000, but I don’t think they could be smaller than 20,000 since, except in some safer areas from the north or so, a small population would make them very vulnerable to the attacks of the greens. 200,000 also seem to be a limit, for few areas appear to have the ressources to have more than that. Besides it is not much question of big cities, around Barsoom.

Helium is one of these exceptions for it doesn’t -- at the beginning -- have a long, but a small net of canals -- only hundreds of miles at most, far from the "pole to pole" of the other states. In JCM we are shown it has a semiarid but big valley to rely upon.

Toonol and Phundahl must be much more concentrated as well since they are in the middle of a marshland.

So let’s go back to our populations and let's present a brief general situation:
  • Green -- 5 million, all nomadic, maybe 4 in the southern hemisphere and 1 in the northern.
  • Whites -- around 2.5-3 million, mostly in trogloditic clusters of dwellings around the northern half of the Korus rim. Plus maybe 1-2 million slaves, prior to the Warlord.
  • Blacks -- around 3-4 million, on the southern side of Korus and underground in Omean. Plus maybe 2-3 million slaves, prior to the Warlord. For details on these two see **.
  • Yellow -- around 4 million in 4-6 oasis-hothouse cities, slaves included (not many of them). Maybe 1.5 million in the capital -- 100 miles of circumference means 16 or 17 of radius and around 1900 sq km (850 sqm) of surface. It's probably much biger than Helium in surface but not more populated.
  • Red:
  • Helium -- around 17 million, maybe 2-3 in the capital, 7 in conquered areas(Zodanga, Zor, unnamed others), 7-8 in the valley and immediate cities and canals nearby.
  • Ptarth -- maybe 5 million.
  • Dusar -- maybe 6 million (it has the guts to remain ennemy with Helium, so it must have some weight for that).
  • Kaol -- maybe 5 million. These three must have each 1 million in the capital, 3-4 in other cities and 1-2 upon the canals (or in the jungle in the last case).
  • Gathol -- 2-3 million. Manator 2 million. The first must have 25% of the population in the capital and the rest spread on pastures and small towns, the second must have the same in the capital but almost all the rest in the other 3-4 cities of its land, very few in villages.
  • Toonol -- 3-3.5 million. Phundahl -- 2.5-3 million. These must have maybe as much as 50 to 70% of their population in the capital since they are in the middle of the marshes.
  • Panar -- maybe 3 million (since it couldn't gather by itself 1 million, it means it must be smaller than Zodanga, but still in order to have such ambitions it must have some size). Must have 30% of its population in the capital and the rest in other 2-3 hothouse cities or so.
  • Jahar -- maybe 7-8, Tjanath 2-3 million. Both maybe one million in the capital, quite few along canals, most in semiarid regions, in towns and villages or fortified farms and castles like Jhama.
  • Kamtol, Invak, Ghasta, Bantoom, Horz, Lothar, marshes etc. -- maybe 0.5 million.
  • Amhor -- 0.5, Duhor -- 1 or so.
  • What about the rest? Exum, Raxar, Kobol plus many other unnamed? No data. But we can make some guesses. Where are the remaining un-analyzed areas?


    Taking a look upon the map of Rick Johnson, we see nets of canals spread mostly in the northern hemisphere but not only, and placed in two clusters upon his map, one to the northeast of Ptarth going to the right towards Horz and the other northwards from Helium. So we talk here about canal-organized polities, not exceptions like Kaol or Panar or so.

    Most canal-organized polities should run between poles for the southern ice cap doesn’t give enough water, the south and north network of canals work better if unified. Besides if your northern upstream neighbor shuts down the valve, you're kind of screwed. So the entities placed downstream from the northern source of water are doomed to be dominated by the more northern ones. That's why Helium annexes Zodanga which runs between the two poles (PM) because Helium has a small area and is probably in the difficult situation of having to rely upon its fossil water from beneath its valley for gaining time in case of trouble, and upon its force to remediate the trouble. Especially if it used to have enemies both upstream and downstream of its canals. Maybe this permanent difficulty made it more organized. . . . Speaking of Zodanga, I think the map makes an error about it, showing it isolated at the end of a southwest-northeast canal: in order for it to lay between the poles it should be connected to an artery from the northern cluster of canals above it.

    So, watching the map we see that the three long canals that go north-south from the left cluster should be three separate jeddak-ates, Ptarth being one of them. The other two are unnamed but they should be about the same size as Ptarth so maybe have 5 million each. And since the cluster is a bit bulged between Ptarth and the entity from the canal on its right, maybe we can squeeze another smaller entity between them in the north. Maybe this would have 3 million or so. Then, after the two parallel entities comes Amhor and its space of not-so-dry pastures, which probably go up to the icecap. Then comes Raxar and its maybe three neighbors. Another 10 million altogether? At most, maybe yes. . . . Unless they are underpopulated like Amhor. . . . But I don’t think so, they appear to have more canals than the latter. The cluster north of Helium and Zodanga is smaller, but maybe has three polities or so. Another 9-10 million?. . .

    Exum and Kobol seem to be in difficult positions since they are at the very end of a south-oriented network of canals. But they may have their own fossil reserves. And maybe 2-3 million each.

    So the total population of Barsoom must be around 105 to 115 million. Let's say 7 in the north polar region, 8 around Korus and in Omean, 5 in the deserts, 13-14 in jungles and marshes, 1 or 2 upon pastures, maybe 3-4 in semiarid and non-irrigated areas, and 70-71 in canal-organized polities. Maybe 9 of these live along the canals, the rest in cities among whom maybe 12 or 13 in "millionnaire" cities. Many non-canal polities are very likely to have big cities as well.

    What is the need for wood, textiles, animal traction and meat upon Barsoom?

    In function of this need, we could estimate how much land would be occupied with these things and subtract it from the total surface, explaining a part of the difference between the big irrigated surface and the scarce population.

    Let's start with the wood. It appears there are no fossil fuels upon Barsoom. The mining seems to be confined to metals and gems. And also, although the ships are very modern and made mostly of aluminium alloy, they still have a big part of them made of wood. Barsoom ignores plastic as well. The wood might last for millennia as they say in many places, still it is in high demand. For a population of canal-dwelling Reds, that number in the 70 million, the forested surface should be 300,000 sqkm or 10% of the total or so.

    The pastures exist outside the canals in areas like Amhor or Gathol but people surely raise animals for traction and meat in all the regions. They should have at least 10 million or so thoats and zitidars which would ask for at least 100,000 sqkm. Maybe other 100,000 sqkm are occupied with built areas, walls and roads, mines and quarries and stuff. . . .

    Do they use at least 7% of their surface for industrial and textile plants?

    We don’t know. Still it doesn’t seem the areas that are used for other purposes than growing food are more than 20% of the total. If the Barsoomian agriculture is so good and effective and the fertile lands so many, how does it come that the population is so small, even with what we said above? Well, as much as I'd like to find an excuse to Master ERB, there's none. I can find none. That's simply an error of his, like Korus at the Pole or like Thuria that shrinks people. This is just something that needs correction.

    Other errors?

    Well for example the Pirates appear to remain a naval force even after the end of the Iss system, while they were obviously the most dependent upon it. Normally they would have a hell of a difficulty in adjusting, more than the Therns who appear though to be much more discrete after the events.

    **Also, the idea that each Pirate had one slave at least: if they were a bit more numerous than the Therns, they were like 4 million. This would have made their whole population around 10 million at least, which is the equivalent of Helium and it's impossible since it would have been too much of a great burden upon the rest of the planet. Especially when we add the Therns to this burden. That's why we have to put their numbers as down as possible, to make the picture more realistic. So there should be something like 2.5 million Therns and  3-3.5 million Pirates, plus 1 million slaves for the first and 2 for the second.

    The priest of Tur must have died for much more than 100 years if there's so much skepticism in the air (MMM): again, ERB seems to forget how long his Barsoomians live.

    What about society and political economy?

    We’ve already discussed some topics that touch them but let’s deepen this analysis. The system of property seems to be a mixed one, since it is reported that the farms and mines are State property (PM). But private entrepreneurs have the right to invest their money in these as well (FMM). The ship building also, since it is mostly destined to warfare, must be state property and we know it's the biggest industry around. But we know there are private ships for pleasure and for tourism and trade (PM) -- maybe all these people buy them from the state factories.

    Is the Barsoomian system autocratic, something like the Ottomans or so?

    At the first sight it would appear so -- even the small jed of Amhor has a palace of 70 acres (SMM) and the palace of Zodanga is enormous -- it stretches from the central square to the wall of the city, meaning something like 10% of the total surface of this probably millionaire city. Also it appears the royal palace has the role of exhibition of the riches of the kingdom -- see the one from Manator (CMM). Only Moghul or Ottoman-style autocrats reigning like quasi-gods upon command-economies do that. And the Barsoomian economy is quite a command one, and it is said the jeds and jeddaks are almost worshipped. . . . But, there's a catch. Big nobles also have big palaces and the offspring of the royalty keep their own courts. Autocracies don't tolerate that, and besides they seldom have aristocrats: generally, everybody's the king's slave. Some autocracies select their elite only among slaves -- who are not allowed to show any display of prestige -- and this is absolutely not the case of Barsoom: on the contrary, what we see there is an almost immemorial nobility exerting a control that is quite tight over the royalty.

    It is reported there are hundreds of landing areas in a big city which means quite a lot of power and autonomy for many great families.

    I think that while agriculture, mining and heavy industry are state-owned, with a minoritary part for private co-investors, the trade is totally private and so are the services. A big part of the construction industry has to be state-owned since the walls and the pipes of the canals need a lot of work and so do the fortresses and city walls.

    The crafts seem to be private but the great families must keep many craftsmen for exclusive use in many domains.

    Is there mass industry upon Barsoom? I don't think so, except for ships and probably pipes and weapons. When you produce things that last for millenmia, you don't really need Fordism, not to speak of informatics and such. A single talented individual with a handful of apprentices can craft many things, even fliers for example, for many thousands of customers. Inventive and skillful people able to put together complex machinery exist upon our orb as well.

    True, ERB speaks of fully automatized restaurants once (PM) but only once. Or about the subway of Helium (TMM). Nothing else of mechanical nature appears in other works, nothing to be used by large crowds anyway. Services are not very developed: hostels for example, are very elementary which means tourism is not really booming. The shops seem to be only small, no Wal-Mart upon Barsoom. There's never a question of any big education system either.

    There is some international traffic of people and goods but it occurs only between very close friends and allies. Caravans sound a bit too anachronistic in a world that flies for 1000 years, but progress is slow upon Barsoom, there's no multinational or trade organization or cold war to speed up things. And people from far lands avoid each other usually. It seems the flying ships do a lot of trade and tourism but are kept for interior activities like that, above the canal network of one single state probably, nobody risking to lose a ship to a false friend from abroad. Besides we still do have some caravans ourselves here on Earth, in Africa and India and so.

    What is the work that the population does?

    Women don't work much, if at all. Men, we said 95% of them are of active age. Since so few people are needed to keep the system working, how is the population socially and economically integrated? We have the example of the samurai who were gathered in entire towns to be kept and fed by their daimyo in exchange for loyalty and fighting. Psychologically it works since being a warrior is something most people find exciting, both men and women. Especially when it's a heavily ritualized warfare that they do, which bans the means of mass destruction. But economically speaking, could such a thing work upon Barsoom if the majority of the population plays the samurai and the minority is feeding it? Well, let's think a bit about this.

    Since the agricultural work is done by slaves and people having temporarily lost their rights, these groups have all the interest to work hard: even the Soviet Union got along with the impossibility of the planned economy by massive use of forced labor. It's far from being the best system, but it works. Besides considering the specific setting of Barsoom, it's difficult to imagine the canals being into private hands: no small investor can handle such a thing and no private, however big, is willing to have so many expenses linked to defense and stuff. A state property helped by private investment sounds like the best way possible.

    Since trade and services are mostly private it means they work well. And again there's no "world economy" upon Barsoom so no big corporations. True, there might be favorites of the jeddak who monopolize certain domains like some Chinese big merchants did under the emperors. But ancient China didn't fare so bad.

    Crafts are private and produce good and very long lasting things. They should go well too, despite having few people to do them. So in theory it should work.

    Now, mathematically speaking, how would the system handle the redistribution of the work of the minority towards the non-productive majority? Can this be done? Wouldn’t there be too much fiscal pressure, bureaucracy, etc.?

    The bureaucrary danger could be thwarted by the aristocracy: if each big noble acts as an administrator of a part of the public wealth, he would be as a big boss paying his employees so it should work. But the problem is, the state appears to control more things than the nobility. And is the State and the King the same? Is the King some super-tyrant as it seems in examples like Phundahl where he is also Supreme Pontiff? (MMM) It would appear so, unless the State is the King and the Nobility. If the state is the King then the nobles can be only clerks of his and they have no power and no reason to act much more responsibly than any socialist or oriental bureaucrat of some Ottoman-type disastrous failure. But if the power is shared then they become much more responsible, with the condition to be given precise parts of the patrimony to administer, and for long time. Long time is essential, for otherwise the administrator would be tempted just to plunder and then leave the disaster to the next who comes after him. But the charge shouldn't be hereditary for otherwise the system should end up in feudalism. Some sort of system of shares with each noble having some of them would be probably the closest to what Barsoomians do. A state as a big stock holding where nobles and royalty are the main shareholders and the commoners are the minor ones seems to be the most desirable form for the described situation, and ERB would favor it more than any other for sure. A bit like a Corean chaebol or something like that.

    As for the economic feasibility of it, I think that the products shouldn't have astronomical costs, even if they are long lasting and done by few people,. An average Barsoomian could have a comfortable life while not buying anything new for years, even decades, except food of course and maybe one or two harnesses. He could have a very little revenue and still live ok, especially if his wife and he cultivate their garden as a supplementary activity. So a great lord could have a certain number of families of vassals, some nobles, some commoners, some slaves, and a certain number of shares in the farms, mines and factories. This would provide all this group with a revenue that would be split into family revenues, probably the same for the common warriors, a bit bigger for the bravest, bigger for the officers, much bigger for the big nobles and the lion share for the lord and his kin: we must not forget that jeds and jeddaks and princes appear to be fabulously rich, while even a guy like Tan Hadron, who has a jed's sister for mother, doesn't appear to swim in money (FMM). He's just a padwar with connections, while his uncle or granduncle is the second or third rich man in the world.

    So it's probable that the very rich class has very few members although the nobility seems to be numerous. In the royal palace of Phundahl live 3000 people (MMM) and if many of them are servants, not all the nobles live in the palace either, far from it: many have to be at the farms, fortresses, in their own palaces etc. For a population like Phundahl's (we said in the 2.5 million range) a rich class of 1-2 per 1000 would be enough. Maybe 2-3 per 1000 in Helium. All the rest would have much smaller revenues, including the nobles and officers. Most would have the minimum one. Still, when your house lasts for 20,000 years, your personal objects for 5,000, and you obtain at least ¼ of your food from your garden, you don't really mind about having a small revenue. . . .  As for craftsmen and merchants and liberal professionals, they are probably paid according to the market, minus some tax. This tax is likely to be quite big since aristocracies don't like rich commoners. Still they benefitiate of the long-lasting products too.

    Let's do a bit of dollar-based calculus: what would be the cost of life upon Barsoom?

    A house, first: they don’t appear to be that big since most of them can be elevated. Being made of super-resilient materials doesn't necessarily make them expensive -- the Roman concrete for example, is still there after 2000 years and it looks like it will still stand after another 2000, yet it was just concrete, a bit better done, but just concrete. Not super-something. So if a common house in a big city is worth say 350,000 USD, we can suppose it would cost about the same upon Barsoom. Yes but a Barsoomian dwelling would last for at least 10,000 years. Even the lightbulbs and the furniture in it last for the same time. So you'd have to give on average $35-40 per year for it (the calculus is artificial of course but it's in order to give you an idea).

    What about clothing? Well a harness wouldn't cost more than say $300-500 and it would last for at least 1 year so for a family of two the clothing expenses for a year wouldn't be more than $1000. Briefly, a family of two would fare quite well with a revenue of say $3-4000. They would even be allowed some small fantaisies.

    So if a slave works for say 30,000 worth a year and the master holds for him 3,000, it means that 27,000 remain to be redistributed to the free. Around 6-7 free families can live out of that. Similarly for a merchant or a craftsman, if they work in a year for say $50,000, and they pay say 25,000 in taxes -- sounds much but it's at Swedish level -- they nourish a lot of people too. All this calculus is most superficial. But it does prove that it can work, up to a point.

    It would appear that the royalty keep a lot for themselves. But this is a bit relative: even if a palace like that of Zodanga, stretching upon miles and miles, must be worth around $20 billion, if it lasts for "only" 20,000 years -- like the castle of Ras Thavas does (MMM) -  then it means that no more than 1-3 million a year are necessary to keep it entire and even to add some small stuff to it -- less than 1 dollar per inhabitant, considering the Zodangan population. Less than 1 per thousand of the total GDP.

    Briefly the royalty can live their maharajah-like lives with surprisingly little money. Maybe not even 5% of the GDP is necessary for that. All thanks to the long-lasting buildings and products. If 10% are slaves in the average Martian state, most of them are productive. True, the royalty seem to have a lot of them, doing not much. But the royalty itself is not numerous which means the unproductive slaves must be few too. 90% of all slaves must be productive.

    How many are the bachelors that lose their civic rights?

    We don't have any means to know but we can suppose that in a warlike world of telepathic people it is easy to see what eggs are female and thus to destroy them since the boys are preferred because of their fighting potential and superior mortality. Therefore in the younger generations there must be a strong imbalance in favor of the men until later periods when the wars and duels and crimes make the age pyramid more even. Therefore many young people must be put into a situation of forced bachelorhood and therefore to be semi-slaves for a while. But how many, we can't know. We can only say they must be a pretty source of cheap work too.

    How many nobles in the society?

    If it's a society with aristocratic and ritualistic structure, despising mercantilism and pragmatism, the nobles must form, if not 100%, then at least 50% of the armed forces. Upon Barsoom it would mean they form around 33% of the population. It's a bit much but the Mayas for example had 25% nobles and priests and in medieval Poland, the nobles were up to 20% in some provinces. So it's possible. Anyway, the nobles must be many, especially since ERB has a particular fondness for this class in his literature. Besides it's much better for the society and for everybody's feeling of self-worth to be classified as noble rather than as part-time-cannon-fodder-part-time-unemployed.

    Why doesn’t the Martian society evolve towards a more efficient paradigm?

    I think that, first of all, there's no emergency for them to do it since they have this knowledge of the long-lasting products which accounts for the fact they are pretty satisfied and everybody has pretty good conditions of living while the productive system is rather primitive and with a chronic and massive underemployment.

    The second reason must be the Greens who are not really the type to have dialogues with and who force everyone else to behave according to a warlike mentality.

    The third reason must be the very warlike and aristocratic structure of the Martian society itself, which nourishes upon its own pride and traditions and fears changing.

    Maybe the last factor is also the reason why they are so respectful of inefficient things like despising guns. They must all realize the change of paradigm means the total change for the whole society and nobody wants that.

    Well these are my ideas. There's more of them than I thought when I started writing this material but I hope you’ll enjoy it and add it to your Barsoomian library.

    Cristian Sildan
    Pellucidarian Cogitations 

    Barsoom Analysis Part I: Demography, Polity, Society and Economy
    Barsoomian Analysis II: Sociology and Morality
    Barsoomian Analysis III: Girl, Reconstructed
    More Barsoomologist and Amtorianist  Musings
    Tarzan and Nemone of the City of Gold

    Visit our thousands of other sites at:
    ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
    All Original Work ©1996-2007/2010 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
    No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.