Solarae is a militaristic kingdom that has long guarded the northern passes against the hordemen (think the Germanic migrations/migrants), but Solarae is also a rich kingdom due to the abundance of metal both within the highlands, but also through trade with the dverg (think dwarves). Because of these factors Solarae faces both invasion by the hordes, but also it's fellow kingdoms jealous of its wealth (this animosity isn't helped by Solarae frequently being the "bully" of regional conflicts).

Long ago the "King of all Sol", Merovech the Stern created a system of corvee labor within his kingdom. The system is as follows:

For every 3 weeks the peasantry (serfs) are at their manors they must for one week labor for the crown. In order to have a constant flow of labor the serf population will be divided into roughly 4 groups with each having a different labor week within a given month. This means that 1/4 of the serfs would be laboring for the crown while the other 3/4 are at home.

The royal labor itself revolves around the building of fortifications or gathering the resources to build the fortifications. This means most serfs would be employed in quarries, or as wood cutters, brick layers, or other menial roles.

Would this system be effective or at least be moderately successful as "quickly" building or repairing fortifications and castles across solarae (as well as other building projects like roads, bridges, and so on)?


Late Medieval to Early Renaissance technology is in use.

Solarae itself is a abolitionist monarchy hence it's centralized nature.

The Kings of Solarae enforce their rule via the control of the mines and thus armor, weapon, and tool making of the kingdom as well as a small, but professional army of enforcers that beat lords who's heads get to big.

Solarae is in a near constant state of warfare dealing with invasions from the north and incursions by the other kingdoms from the south. However on the southern front it is minimal skirmishes at best.

The peasants are paid in rations, tools, and other necessities for their work.

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    $\begingroup$ One week out of three works much better than one month out of three. (Note that as written the question implies that years have sixteen months.) The peasants will be mostly engaged in agriculture, and in agriculture there is rarely an opportunity to go away for a full month. Note that this amount of unpaid forced labor makes your peasants into outright serfs. Beware the bloody uprising. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 28, 2019 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP fixed. Forgot to edit the number right after seeing it. I did change it too weeks and honestly it works out better that way. Thanks for that. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP well, a famous example of real-world corvee was ancient egypt, as each summer, the Nile would flood for more than a week $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ How big is your kingdom, how far from where they live do the peasants have to walk to,get to the work site? Does the weeks labour include the time they travel in which case they might arrive somewhere just to turn around again or is it a week from when they get there in wwhich case they spend far more away from their on labours. The shorter the time they work the greater in proportion travel time is 3 days walk is half a weeks work 3 days out of a month still leaves another 28 for working. $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Sarriesfan approximately the size of modern spain. The peasants would have to travel however it would be likely that their work site would be roughly a days travel away upwards to 2 or 3. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 17:19

5 Answers 5


One of the advantages of being a serf vs a slave is that you get to choose (more or less) your own family structure, living arrangements (within limited options), and community governance (again, with strict limitations).

Slaves may have tastes of these relative freedoms, but basically they are told who to have children with (perhaps not in all slave societies), where to sleep, and what to do day after day. Both slaves and serfs are not free to leave their community without permission.

If you are the ruler/master and you are using slave labor, you will pick who and when. But with serf labor, you may instead institute requirements on the community and allow them to decide how to fulfill them. Even with a specific Corvée system, the obligation was on the "tenant farmer" and not on individuals per se.

In many, maybe even most, cases, the requirements extended to every able-bodied person (or man), but if you may not need that. It would be more practical and less of a burden if you issue weekly requirements for the workers you need and allow the community to decide who to send. You might even pay an older person in the community (who can't do hard labor anyway) to oversee it.

You will need skilled workers for the tasks you describe and they are specialty skills; most may know more than one but no one can do it all. A bricklayer probably can't oversee felling large trees and vice versa. You'll also need some workers with experience who aren't yet able to lead the tasks. And some general labor.

Your needs will change week to week. This week you might need 25 bricklayers with another 50 to help them, no lumber jacks, and 5 farriers. Next week you want 20 lumberjacks with 30 helpers and 10 metalworkers.

If your workers' families end up starving because you've taken away the people who were supposed to harvest their winter's food supply, you shoot yourself in the foot because you lose workers (either immediately or in the future, if the deaths are of children). If this happens because you conscripted workers you didn't actually need and they just did general labor as busywork while their fields rotted away, the level of hate and resentment goes up 100 fold and you'll probably have revolt on your hand.

Most Corvée and similar labor is agricultural and must be done at specific times and your workers are already trained in it since it's similar to what they do for themselves. Though there is certainly public works and other labor. The type of work you need is specialized and has different on/off seasons from agriculture (with different things you can and can't do in various types of weather). Plus individual projects are mostly time-limited and/or change in what type of work needs doing (if you're building a wall, you won't need the same number of workworkers vs masons every week).

If the community chooses who to send, they can balance out who needs to stay behind the most with those who are most likely to complete the work to your satisfaction. If you pay them (in money or extra food for their families, etc) you might even get volunteers. Allow the fastest workers to go home early and the community is more likely to send the best specialists for the task at hand.


Historically serfs would actually pay a part of their taxes in form of labour, mostly farming-related stuff on their lords land, but also otherwise.

But I found points why your system may wouldn't work: For one, there is the problem that you want a constant stream of labours, while the work the servs have to do on their own farmland isn't equally distributed. During harvest-times every hand will be needed, while other times of the year there might be a low.

My solution would be to either only let them work during their "free" times or, since you say you have communal farming redistribute the work so some people of each farmstead will be full-time working on your fortifications etc.

Another point, most of the work you are suggesting can't be done by untrained workforce. Stonecutting and masonry is something you need professional craftsmen. What you can use your peasants for are earthworks and transport (actually you need their carts and workhorses, not the serfs themselves)

  • $\begingroup$ maybe have a few "Harvest Months" where they are exempt from royal labor? Could have a few cool festivals $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ as a society develops and they necessary structures become larger and more complex, trained craftsmen become more necessary. I medieval Europe, the middle class grew as more skilled labor was required to a point where the serf system no longer worked. Eventually, as the nation develops, this system will disappear. It may work at first on simple public work projects, but not later. $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Mar 29, 2019 at 1:19


This type of corvee was important in Russia through XVII century and contributed to Russia's successful territorial expansion. But, like any other types of corvee, it has limitations.

  1. Feudal vs crown duty. It was common for serfs to work for their lords. It was much less common for them to work for central government (if feudal serfdom system is already established). There would be significant pushback from lords if their serfs are required to spend their time somewhere else, and serfs themselves are just humans, and having to share their time for crown, lord and their families may turn out to be too hard.

  2. Logistics. "Crown corvee" works well only when the work is required to be done locally. If we need workers to travel days to build some distant fort, and then travel back, this would turn out to be very inefficient. And serfs can't leave their land even for a week without their own farm starting to suffer. Any time we have to pull peasants from the land (like at wartime), production will suffer.

  3. Natural trade. Corvee system is in many ways inferior to tax system, and serves as a necessary replacement when population is so poor that people don't have money to pay taxes. If peasants do sell their crop for money, corvee is becoming an anachronism.


First, I think Solarae needs to establish some peace treaties. It would be in their interest. Rich or not, it'll eventually fall if its constantly being attacked!

Furthermore, I think the system would work quite well in some regards.

I have a few questions though. Are the serfs paid for their work for the crown? Because if they are not, I doubt this system would ever work. Let's take a look at the example of Jim the farmer. Jim is already quite sour that he has to work for the rich for free, for a month straight sometimes, but he sucks it up. Though one cycle, it so aligns that the month that Jim has to go labor for the crown is around the time of the harvest of his crop. A lot of his crop would probably go unharvested, and Jim would either suffer a very cold, poor winter, or he would try to arrange some sort of revolt. If he does get paid, then we'll come back to this.

Question number 2; does Jim have to work a whole month out of each 4 months? Wouldn't a week out of each 4 weeks work a lot better? I believe that system to be a lot more effective. If he doesn't get paid, then losing a week of his harvest may not be the end of Jim, and if he does, then the question becomes "how much"? But again, we'll come back to this.

I think the longer the labor time frames are, the harder of a time you'll have to make the system work. Imagine if instead of working 5 days on and 2 days off (as is convention in at least Western civilization), you instead worked 5 months on, and 2 months off. Most people would burn out rather quickly, even if that two month vacation seemed appealing. Granted, Jim works one month on and three months off. But you have to remember that Jim is a farmer, so hes working quite a bit more than that.

So lets get back to pay. Say Jim gets paid enough that he's not angry about working for a month straight for the rich. Well, come harvest, he can hire hands to do it for him if he's caught laboring. He may lose most if not all of the money he makes laboring, but he sees this as the norm, as a sort of "tax" to the crown. But at least he doesn't lose his harvest.

Now what if Jim gets paid handsomely? Then he would yearn for his month to come, hiring some common work-hands is a small feat with the money he makes from the crown. He gets his harvest gathered up for him, and he even brings home some extra coin after paying his own laborers.

I'd say to put yourself in the shoes of some of the common folk that need to do this kind of work and see how they'd feel about it.

Let me know if I missed anything or if there's any other details I should take into account and I can edit my answer to reflect that.

  • $\begingroup$ I changed to 1 week out of three for his royal labor. Also in my kind the crown would compensate Jim with payment in tools and rations so Jim wouldn't starve. On top of this Solarae encourages communal farming so the serfs do their royal labor in shifts having 3/4 of the farmers still at home while 1/4 are doing their royal labor. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ if it's communal farming then you could go back to longer work periods, treat it like national service and make everyone work a year or two for the crown before going back to their normal lives, you would get less disruption from the entire workforce changing every week $\endgroup$
    – mgh42
    Mar 28, 2019 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ That could world, sort of like forced military service, in a sense. Though I would still be careful about burning people out. Give them breaks, even one day a week, to make sure they dont grow frustrated. Also if you treat your people well, then they might just not cut off the heads of the royals. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 13:49

No, I don't think that it will work.

As @Sebastian mentioned, the jobs that you are considering are skilled labor. The productivity of untrained skilled laborers will, at best be half.

Also, as has been mentioned, the travel times will mean that the workers will likely get 1 week of labor for each of their two jobs out of every month. You just cut the productivity of your work force in half for no gain. Then you have the infrastructure needed to support that much travel. And the losses, injuries and deaths that will occur during those travels. A group of raiders hitting the travelers will bring the whole thing to a halt. You now have to either guard the travelers (more manpower over every road or you have to have the troops necessary to force the serfs into risking their lives to get to the areas you need them.

So, by using untrained labor that must constantly travel, you get very little production for a much greater cost.

It is much better to use trained stone masons, etc. I would train a specific labor force of masons, stone cutters, architects, etc. Give them better living conditions and give the farmer family some incentive to send their kids off to try to be masons. Maybe, a bit of coin to make life easier.

Off topic addition:

Maybe capture the surviving attackers and use them as slaves. That will both help your economy and decrease the willingness to attack you.


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