A glossary of people, places & objects in Earthsea

Now showing glossary items relating to social & economic issues

Accounting & mathematics

Also known as: Mathematics

In the Archipelago, business accounts are kept by book-keepers in ledgers in a counting room. Wooden tablets are used for reckoning by marketers. The peoples of the Kargad Lands are said to be 'expert mathematicians, using base twelve'a; they keep accounts 'in weavings of different colors and weights of yarn'a

Sources: Mending the Green Pitcher, OW; Darkrose and Diamond, TfE; A Description of Earthsea, TfE (a)

'…she found her son in the counting room going through ledgers. She looked at the pages. Long, long lists of names and numbers, debts and credits, profits and losses.'

[Darkrose and Diamond, TfE]


See Education


Archery is used for military purposes in the Archipelago; archers defend the New Palace in Havnor City and the Armed Cliffs of Gont Port, and a band of archers on the king's warships are suggested for combating dragons. However, the arrows used by villagers from Ten Alders on Gont to fight off a Kargish raiding party in around 1012 are said to come from hunting bows. Lebannen mentions archery among his courtly accomplishments as a youth in Enlad, whether for military or hunting purposes is not stated. Ogion is mentioned making a longbow on Gont, presumably for shooting game. Warriors of the Kargad Lands are not described as carrying bows

Sources: Warriors in the Mist, WoE; The Masters of Roke, FS; The Dolphin, T; The Dragon Council, OW

Related entries: Weapons


Beggary is said to be uncommon in the Archipelago during the main period of the Earthsea cycle, though the existence of itinerant beggars is mentioned, eg on Gont and Semel. Wandering wizards own few possessions and often beg for food and shelter, though this seems to be closer to an informal trade of services for hospitality; other itinerant professions may operate in a similar fashion. Beggars, sometimes violent, become common on Gont during the few years of unrest immediately preceding the restoration of the Archipelagan monarchy; they were also common on Havnor, and probably elsewhere, during the Dark Years

Sources: The Shadow, WoE; The Western Mountains, ToA; Going to the Falcon's Nest, T; The Finder, TfE; On the High Marsh, TfE


Wizards and mages in modern times normally practise strict celibacy; this is perceived as a means of conserving their power. It is achieved with spells of chastity, which bind both the wizard and observers not to think of sexual matters. This was not always the case: as powerful a mage as Morred was married, with a child. The sorcerer Ivory uses seduction spells on women, and disparagingly refers to the practice of celibacy as turning wizards into eunuchs, castrating themselves with spells to be holy. Most witches and many sorcerers do not practise celibacy, and sometimes have families (though witches rarely marry). The priestesses at the Place of the Tombs on Atuan promise their virginity to the gods they serve

Sources: Hawks, T; Dragonfly, TfE; A Description of Earthsea, TfE

'…"that's the power of 'em, dearie. You don't think! You can't! And nor do they, once they've set their spell. How could they? Given their power? It wouldn't do, would it, it wouldn't do. You don't get without you give as much. … it's an uneasy thing for a man not to be a man, no matter if he can call the sun down from the sky. And so they put it right out of mind, with their spells of binding. And truly so. Even in these bad times we've been having, with the spells going wrong and all, I haven't yet heard of a wizard breaking those spells, seeking to use his power for his body's lust. Even the worst would fear to."'

[Hawks, T]


Also known as: Money-lending

No general system of money-lending is mentioned. Taverns are said to offer credit to their customers. Farmwoman Emer offers Irioth lodging on the strength of a gold crown's surety. The Roke-trained sorcerer Ivory receives an advance payment on his wages from his employer. Credit counters are mentioned on Gont

Sources: The Master, T; On the High Marsh, TfE; Dragonfly, TfE


Crime appears relatively uncommon in the central Archipelago during the main period of the Earthsea cycle. Hort Town on Wathort and the Hosk interior are described as lawless. During the few years of unrest immediately preceding the restoration of the Archipelagan monarchy, theft, poaching and violent crime, largely perpetrated by gangs of men, become substantially more common on Gont, though the murder, assault and rape committed by the group of tramps to which Handy belongs is still considered exceptional

Sources: The Shadow, WoE; Hunted, WoE; Going to the Falcon's Nest, T; Winter, T


Also known as: Money

Ivory pieces/counters are the main currency in much of the Archipelago, including Roke, Way, Havnor, Gont & Andrad; one design from Way is described as having the Otter of Shelieth on one face and the Rune of Peace on the other. In rural Gont, however, ivory pieces are used only for buying land or livestock, or dealing with city traders. Gold pieces appear to be the standard in the north, for example on Osskil & Enlad; a gold Enladian crownpiece is mentioned, of which it is said '"The whole village together couldn't change that!"'a Silver trade-counters are also mentioned. In rural areas, low-value copper pennies appear to be the usual currency; barter is also common. No form of banking is mentioned; Flint keeps his savings in a money-box on Gont.

Ged is paid ten ivory counters for his work on Low Torning and the same amount is advanced to Ivory for his work at Westpool; Lebannen pays four ivory pieces for a silver brooch in Thwil; Flint's lifetime savings from a prosperous farm on Gont amount to seven ivory pieces; Ged pays two trade-counters of silver for several days' lodging in Lorbanery; Irioth is (under)-paid six copper pennies for ten days' healing animals on Semel; Ged offers two coppers for accommodation on Semel

Sources: Mice, T; The Master, T; On the High Marsh, TfE (a); Dragonfly, TfE

Related entries: Trade; Credit

Death-related customs

Burial is used both in the Archipelago/Reaches and the Kargad Lands. In the Archipelago, a vigil is held over the body, with words recited, candles and burning of oils. Village witches usually prepare bodies for burial, termed homing; the corpse is laid on the left side, with the knees bent, and a charm bundle is placed in the left hand. The Agnen rune of Ending is inscribed on coffin lids. Family graveyards are mentioned on Gont, both for the farmer Flint and for the Lord of Re Albi; Ogion is buried alone by the Old Mage's House. Rites of Mourning are enacted in Atuan for the deaths of priestesses; the ceremonies of burial and purification for the One Priestess last one lunar month

Sources: The Wall around the Place, ToA; Light under the Hill, ToA; The Dry Land, FS; A Bad Thing, T; Ogion, T

'…with Tenar and the others [Moss] had watched the night by Ogion's body. She had set a wax candle in a glass shade, there in the forest, and had burned sweet oils in a dish of clay; she had said the words that should be said, and done what should be done. …When she had laid out the corpse as it should lie to be buried, on the left side with the knees bent, she had put in the upturned left hand a tiny charm-bundle, something wrapped in soft goatskin and tied with coloured cord.'

[Ogion, T]


Also known as: Schooling, Apprenticeship

In the Archipelago & Reaches, learning the songs and rites, usually from village witches, is the predominant non-vocational education received by most children. A school is mentioned on Sattins island; meeting out of doors or in a hayloft, it has a single schoolmistress and takes 30 children under twelve years. The curriculum includes the Rules of Names; reading & writing do not appear to be taught. The base crafts & high arts of magic are taught at the School of Wizardry on Roke to boys sent from all over the Archipelago/Reaches who have a strong gift; presumably a similar school exists on Paln. The isle of Taon has schools of music. A school is mentioned for children at court in the New Palace on Havnor, and Lebannen mentions a schoolmaster & fencing-master at the court on Enlad. Colleges are mentioned on Ea and the Enlades. Vocational education appears to be largely via apprenticeship (eg Ged with Ogion, a young girl with Weaver Fan); trade guilds such as the Seamasters also teach certain trade-specific skills.

At the Place of the Tombs on Atuan, female novices of four to fourteen years learn sacred songs & dances, histories of the Kargad Lands and the rites & mysteries of the god of their dedication from priestesses; they are also taught more prosaic tasks including spinning, weaving, farming and cooking. Forms of education elsewhere in the Kargad Lands are not detailed

Sources: The Rule of Names, W12Q; The Shadow, WoE; The School of Wizardry, WoE; The Wall around the Place, ToA; Sea Dreams, FS; Orm Embar, FS; The Finder, TfE; Mending the Green Pitcher, OW; Palaces, OW; The Dragon Council, OW

Gender roles

Many industries/professions are traditionally gender specific in the Archipelago: mining, building, midwifery, spinning and domestic weaving being performed by women, ship-building, wizardry, sailing and the military by men. On Gont & Semel it appears unusual for men to perform household tasks, such as washing dishes or clothes. Other occupations, including farming, appear to be engaged in equally by both sexes. Though women were instrumental in founding the Roke School of Wizardry, the high arts of magic were restricted to men in 730. In Tehanu, a woman's roles are described as wife, mother and housekeeper, with men being said to hold the power. However, women form part of the island government on several islands in the East Reach, and Lebannen's King's Council contains multiple female councillors; historical rulers of Earthsea include many queens, though Ged dismisses them: '"A queen's only a she-king."'a On Gont, property appears to pass exclusively in the male line.

Division of labour by gender is said to be stricter in the Kargad Lands than in the Archipelago, but few details are available. Though the highest religious functionaries are female, by the time of The Tombs of Atuan, their power appears to be entirely token

Sources: Kalessin, T; Bettering, T; Winter, T (a); The Finder, TfE; On the High Marsh, TfE; A Description of Earthsea, TfE; The Dragon Council, OW

'…what a woman should do: bed, breed, bake, cook, clean, spin, sew, serve.'

'"Both manhood and magery are built on one rock: power belongs to men. If women had power, what would men be but women who can't bear children? And what would women be but men who can?"

[Kalessin, T/Winter, T]


Bowing the head or holding both palms open before the heart are traditional greetings across much of the Archipelago, while touching right hands palm against palm is a traditional greeting in Ea and the Enlades. In both the Archipelago and the Kargad Lands, bowing and curtseying are used in greeting royalty, and a stately embrace is used by royalty and nobility for bidding farewell in public. A Havnor courtier's gesture of respect involves kneeling on one knee and briefly touching the forehead to the recipient's right wrist, and a deep bow, with one knee touching the ground, is used in approaching the One Priestess on Atuan. Pointing the thumb, first and last finger of the left hand at someone means 'may you never come back!' in the Archipelago. During the Dark Years, women of the Hand identified each other by a hand gesture involving raising the first finger and then the other fingers, clenching the hand into a fist and finally opening it palm outwards.

Hand or arm gestures are common components of magic spells. A hand gesture meaning 'avert' is in common use across the Archipelago, and an unspecified gesture to avert defilement is also used on Atuan. Pointing the right arm out and down is used to turn curses on Atuan, while lifting the arm with the hand stiffly outstretched accompanies a curse there

Sources: The Prisoners, ToA; The Man Trap, ToA; Names, ToA; Finding Words, T; The Finder, TfE; Mending the Green Pitcher, OW; Palaces, OW; Rejoining, OW


See Trade guilds


Marriage appears to be a universal custom in Earthsea. Polygamy is practised by the Godking of Kargad and by the Children of the Open Sea (raft people), but not in the main Archipelago. Marriages appear to be exclusively male--female, although informal witch marriage between two witches is relatively common. With some exceptions, at the time described in the Earthsea series, wizards and mages usually keep celibate and do not marry; sorcerers and witches do sometimes form marriages. The raft people are judged to marry very young at fifteen to seventeen, suggesting that elsewhere marriage is normal rather later (despite the fact that adulthood is attained at thirteen in the Archipelago and fourteen on Atuan). Customs and rituals associated with marriage are little explained. Lebannen & Seserakh are betrothed an unspecified period prior to their wedding in a ceremony in the throne room of the New Palace, in which the future bride is given the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. Arranged marriages among the middle-classes are mentioned on Taon, and are the norm for noblewomen on Hur-at-Hur. In the Archipelago, a harpist is mentioned as playing for a wedding, and noble weddings involve dancing. In the Kargad Lands, a returned bride is considered dishonoured and may even be killed

Sources: The Ring of Erreth-Akbe, ToA; The Children of the Open Sea, FS; A Description of Earthsea, TfE; Mending the Green Pitcher, OW; Palaces, OW; Rejoining, OW


See Accounting & mathematics


See Currency


See Credit


Appears to be a relatively common practice in the Archipelago, increasing in the years immediately preceding restoration of the Archipelagan monarchy. The islands of Gont and Wathort are famous for their pirates, and the Lords of Gont, as well as the former Lords of Pendor, are said to engage in piracy. Egre and the wizard Hare are mentioned as a famous pirates

Sources: Magelight, FS; Mice, T


Whores are mentioned in the town of Oraby on Semel

Sources: On the High Marsh, TfE


See Education


See Witch marriage


Slavery is practised across the South Reach, Osskil in the north, and the Kargad Lands at the time of The Farthest Shore. It appears to be outlawed in other parts of the Archipelago, such as Enlad. Slaves are transported in oared galleys in the South Reach, and sold at Amrun, Showl and Sowl. Ged comments that Lebannen would ' "fetch the price of a farm in Amrun market." 'a Named Archipelagan slavers include Egre and Gore. After coming to the throne, Lebannen fights the Siege of Sorra against slave traders of Wathort, and subsequently abolishes slavery across the Archipelago. Slave-labour, however, appears to remain a punishment for serious crimes.

The Kargs employ slaves on Atuan and Hur-at-Hur, and also make slaves of the lands they conquer, such as the people of Spevy

Sources: Warriors in the Mist, WoE; Hunted, WoE; The Wall around the Place, ToA; Magelight, FS (a); Winter, T; A Description of Earthsea, TfE; Dolphin, OW


Shipping (and possibly other) taxes are raised from merchants of the Inner Lands by the King of All the Isles, subject to the vote of the King's Council. The lords and Ruling Princes levy local taxes and, after the restoration of the Archipelagan monarchy, village councils on Gont also levy local taxes to employ bailiffs

Sources: Home, T; The Dragon Council, OW


Items traded in the Archipelago and Reaches include ivory and fur from the northern isles, fleecefell from Gont and the Andrades, wine from the Andrades, turbie oil from the Ninety Isles, silk from Lorbanery, gauzes from Sowl, pearls from the Isles of Sand, slaves in the South Reach, timber on Havnor and from Gont, glass beads from Venway, and tin, ox hides and sapphires from the West Reach. In the Kargad Lands, opals, turquoises and cedar are traded from Hur-at-Hur. Trade in foodstuffs other than wine, oil and grain is not mentioned, possibly due to the long travel times between islands. Great markets are found in Hort Town (Wathort) and Amrun (South Reach), and presumably also on Havnor and at Awabath. Trade routes are threatened by piracy at the edges of the Archipelago (eg the northeastern seas around Gont) during the years immediately preceding the restoration of the Archipelagan monarchy

Trade guilds

Also known as: Guilds, Workers' guilds

Organisations of people working the same trade; examples include the Seamasters and the miners' guild

Sources: The Dragon Council, OW

Travel & transport

Ships are a major method of transport in Earthsea, and the only way of travelling any distance, as bridges between islands are rare. Despite this, it is said that many islanders have never been on a boat; presumably they never travel more than a few miles from their home village. For the villagers of Woodedge on Havnor, for example, 'Mount Onn was the world, and the shores of Havnor were the edge of the universe.'a Ged is famous as an explorer and sailor, as well as a mage. Havnor City has a network of inland canals.

Paved or cobbled streets are found in cities and wealthier towns, including Havnor City, Havnor South Port, Gont Port, Hort Town & Thwil. Though many rural roads are probably little more than a muddy cart track, some constructed roads link towns and villages, such as the zigzagging wagon road with long cuttings covering the 15 miles between Gont Port & Re Albi on Gont. Horses are rare except on Havnor, Semel and Way; even on those islands horseriding seems largely confined to the relatively wealthy and cowboys. Donkeys and mules are commonly ridden on various islands. Some people, such as peddlers and itinerant wizards & entertainers, walk long distances. Carts or wagons drawn by mules, donkeys, oxen or occasionally cart horses are a major method of transporting both people and goods inland, especially on large islands such as Havnor. A 'closed, gilt-bedizened carriage'b drawn by four grey horses carries Seserakh in state in Havnor City

Sources: The Shadow, WoE; The Great Treasure, ToA; Finding Words, T; The Finder, TfE (a); Darkrose and Diamond, TfE; On the High Marsh, TfE; Dragonfly, TfE; Palaces, OW; Dolphin, OW (b)

'Farmer, goatherd, cattleherd, hunter or artisan, the landsman looks at the ocean as at a salt unsteady realm that has nothing to do with him at all. The village two days' walk from his village is a foreign land, and the island a day's sail from his island is a mere rumour, misty hills seen across the water, not solid ground like that he walks on.'

[The Shadow, WoE]


Various devastating wars are mentioned during the early history of Earthsea. Around two thousand years ago, Morred fought the Enemy of Morred, leading to the ruin of Enlad and the engulfment of Soléa. Kargish raids were common in the time of Heru and Maharion, with several north-eastern islands falling; Maharion and Erreth-Akbe defeated the Kargs with the loss of the entire Kargish fleet in 430-440. Erreth-Akbe defeated the Firelord in around 440, at cost of the burning of Ilien. Raids from dragons, including Orm, were also common during the period from around 350 to 450, with the burning of several islands including Paln and parts of Havnor. The Dark Years following Maharion's death without heir in 452 were full of minor battles between warlords. In 620, Roke was sacked by the Lords of Wathort, while in 665, the fledgeling School of Wizardry of Roke defeated the fleet of the mage Early.

Outright war between the different peoples is, however, uncommon during Ged's lifetime (from around the year 1000) and the immediate history. Enlad is said to have been at peace for at least three generations in The Farthest Shore, though swordsmanship and archery are taught in the Court at Berila. The rural people of Gont are said not to be warlike and do not store weapons, though Gont Port, the capital, is guarded by soldiers. The Kargad Lands appear more organised in military matters; soldiers guard the Place of the Tombs on Atuan and even a relatively small town on Atuan has watchtowers and guards on the gate (see Kargish architecture).

During A Wizard of Earthsea, the Kargish Empire is in expansion, with raids on the islands of the Torikles, Torheven, Spevy and Gont, raiding in fleets of red-sailed longships. Relative peace is restored for a time after Ged remakes the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, and restores the Bond Rune, or Rune of Peace; however by the start of The Farthest Shore, between eighteen and twenty-five years later, matters are said to be worse than ever. The restoration of the Archipelagan monarchy in around 1051, and particularly the rise of Thol a decade later, leads to a cessation in raids, with Thol sending peaceful ambassadors to Havnor in around 1066.

Some years before the events of The Other Wind, Lebannen fights at the Siege of Sorra

Sources: A Description of Earthsea, TfE; Palaces, OW

Witch marriage

Also known as: She-troth

Two witches living together in an informal marriage. As witches rarely married men, such arrangements were common

Sources: Mending the Green Pitcher, OW

Workers' guilds

See Trade guilds



WoEA Wizard of Earthsea
ToAThe Tombs of Atuan
FSThe Farthest Shore
OWThe Other Wind
W12QThe Wind's Twelve Quarters
TfETales from Earthsea

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