I need to generate some characters for my world, and at the moment, inspiration fails me.

Now, before you reach for the 'Close' link, I'm not asking for the WB community to help me with character design - that's my job. I'm looking for character design resources.

What resources - preferably online - exist that provide lists of occupations for various time periods throughout history? Preferably with the percentage of the population that engaged in that occupation at that time, but a simple list will do.

Additionally, are there any resources that provide similar occupation data for a fantasy/magic - based world?

I am looking only for a list of occupations for any given place and time. Nothing else. While my setting is similar to renaissance Europe, and includes magic, I can extrapolate from a non-magical setting.

  • $\begingroup$ Must the resources be online? $\endgroup$ – James Feb 22 '16 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question. I'll be quite interested in the answers. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Feb 22 '16 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @James, no, the resources need not be online if they are readily available elsewhere, but online resources are typically the most readily available. Availability is the most important factor here. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 23 '16 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ I dunno Aify, this is pretty detailed info Monty is looking for, you can probably find pieces via google search but finding a source with that much detail will be tough. I have one book on my shelf that comes to mind but I am not sure if it covers population of specialists etc. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 23 '16 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ Farmer / peasant. 90+% of people for 95% of human history. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Feb 23 '16 at 10:18

I don't have a global answer for any time period. But some specific instances of lists of professions follow in somewhat chronological order.

Stackexchange won't let me post more than two URLs, so I can't list the other links directly, but I will post the google queries that will lead you to the links (should be the first link showing)

EDIT: I was not able to find a good translation online for the Mesopotamian occupations list, but here is a partial list from the Esagil archives in Babylon: royal administrator (several levels), architect, baker, bitumen-carter, bleacher, boatman, boatbuilder, brickmaker, bricklayer, brick-stamper, basket-maker, cavalryman, carpenter, charioteer, cook, doctor, doorkeeper, engineer, exorcist, farmer, fuller, furniture-maker, gardener, goldsmith, guard (several kinds), herder, horse-trainer, jeweler, King, laborer (agriculture), laborer (wage), leather worker, merchant, miller, musician, overseer, overseer of cattle, paymaster, potter, priest (several levels), ration-dispenser, rope-maker, scribe (several kinds and levels), servant, ship's carpenter, silversmith, smith, tax collector, temple cleaner, weaver, wheelwright, wine-maker, workman (construction).

  • $\begingroup$ I have added the links, could you check I've picked up the right ones in all cases. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 23 '16 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks very much! They are all correct except the Aztec lob list. The URL should be: legendsandchronicles.com/ancient-civilizations/… $\endgroup$ – WestOfPecos Feb 23 '16 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Updated that one $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 23 '16 at 16:07

This is quite brief and relates to a later stage of industrial development than your world, but taking you at your word that you are interested in occupations throughout history, you might find it useful. It's an Excel table compiled from UK census returns by the UK Office for National Statistics giving the percentage of working people employed in each industry group from 1841 to 2011: 170 years of industrial change, 1841-2011, Data Tables.

The ONS press release giving a commentary on the results is here: 170 Years of Industrial Change across England and Wales.

I found it interesting that as early as 1841 manufacturing employed more people than any other sector, services was a very close second, and agriculture and fishing, which I would have expected to dominate, were only in third place.

Given that the Industrial Revolution took off in the UK, one would expect it to be a special case. Most countries at that time were far more agricultural. However a world such as yours containing magic might well follow a path which an industrial revolution (powered by magic rather than steam) took off at an earlier stage of technological development than in our world.

By the way, census returns generally are probably a good source of the type of information you seek. Seeing that you are Australian I had a quick google and found this portal from the Victorian state library: Get Started: Early Australian Census Records; just one of a wealth of similar resources. I am sure the same is true for the US and other countries.

Added later: Further searches have turned up what looks like a very relevant and much more detailed resource from the [University of] Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure: The occupational structure of Britain 1379-1911

Finally, although it does not directly give a breakdown by occupation, there is fascinating detail in the earliest ever comprehensive analysis of England by social class and land use that is contained in the Domesday Book compiled from the findings of the survey that William the Conqueror ordered to be made in 1085-86:

"...They inquired what the manor was called; who held it at the time of King Edward; who holds it now; how many hides there are; how many ploughs in demesne (held by the lord) and how many belonging to the men; how many villagers; how many cottagers; how many slaves; how many freemen; how many sokemen; how much woodland; how much meadow; how much pasture; how many mills; how many fisheries; how much had been added to or taken away from the estate; what it used to be worth altogether; what it is worth now; and how much each freeman and sokeman had and has."


I am going to suggest some written (and reasonably priced written works)

First, The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference (ISBN-13: 003-5313107108)

This is one of my go-to books for developing settings. It covers various forms of government, magic, militaries, social hierarchy, gods and more. It should cover you on the list of professions but it does not (to my recollection) provide #/Population figures. Here are some pics of the table of contents for reference:

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Second, the D&D 5th Edition DM Guide (ISBN-13: 978-0786965625)

This is a great book for helping fill gaps in the world. It provides tables that you can choose (or randomize via dice) government types and much much more. Secret organizations...and a whole host of other things.

I have a few more in mind, I will add them later.


Most role playing games will have some material for you to use. Just choose a world close to yours and you'll have a lot of ideas popping around. Specially if you look for campaign settings or campaign books.

One of the biggest online store would be drivethrurpg.com.
Fan sites are a bit more scattered and you didn't gave us any hint on what you are looking for, so Google is your friend.


I can't help you with the non-historical, but your best bet for historical data is likely to be your local library. If they don't have the books you need, they probably know a library that does, and can get the books sent to your library for minimal charge.

Libraries have access to anything from history books to encyclopedias to peer-reviewed journals that cost a small fortune to buy for yourself.

My local university library allows non-students to get a card. I'm not sure how typical that is, but it's a good place to start, since universities may have subscriptions a standard library might not pay for. Not that the renaissance has changed in the past few centuries, but you may find recent studies that give you better information than something from the 70s.

For something simple, you could try this world-building resource I stumbled across. I have no idea how authentic it is, and it's medieval rather than renaissance, but it looked interesting. He says "this article is a distillation of broad possibilities drawn from a variety of historical reference points", and has a bibliography at the end for example resources.


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