According to Vorin teachings, lighteyes have been given a holy calling to rule others and are considered the ruling class, while darkeyes are their social inferiors, virtually synonymous with peasantry.
- Dahn - Ranks for the lighteyes ruling class. There are ten ranks of dahn; the lower the dahn, the higher one is ranked. For example, tenth dahn classifies one as being almost as low as a darkeyes.
- Nahn - Ranks for the darkeyes. Darkeyes of the first or second nahn are citizens of very high rank and usually provide an essential function.
- Slaves - Sas nahn is the mark of a slave, branded on their foreheads. Alethi slaves get paid, although according to Kaladin, it's unlikely a slave would actually ever be able to pay off his debt.
There are certain societal rules in place around the hierarchy and the benefits of different ranks:
- 1st Nahn - Worthy even of marrying into a lighteyed family.
- 2nd Nahn - Full citizenship and the right of travel.
Men and their apprentices who served an essential function in towns were afforded special protection, even from lighteyes, including exemption from conscription.
- Ardents - Since anybody can become an ardent, regardless of birth, Ardents are outside of the ranking system. They are technically slaves (although they are certainly not treated as such), but they are allowed to use Shardblades when helping lighteyes train.
- Amaram - 3rd dahn
- Bashin - 1st nahn
- Dalinar Kholin - 1st dahn
- Elhokar Kholin - 1st dahn
- Hoid/Wit - Not ranked, even though his eyes are blue.
- Jakamav - 3rd dahn
- Kaladin - 2nd nahn by birth, sas nahn after being branded a slave, 4th dahn militarily (due to his rank of Captain), and 4th dahn officially after becoming a Shardbearer.
- Kaladin's family - 2nd nahn
- Lin Davar - 4th dahn
- Moash - 4th dahn
- People of Hearthstone - 4th and 5th nahn
- Rind - 10th dahn
- Shallan Davar - 5th dahn, 4th dahn after officially becoming a Shardbearer.
At this point, no one in-story really knows for sure whether or not a darkeyed man will become lighteyed if he bonds a Shardblade, but one thing happens immediately: he becomes fourth dahn. While it doesn’t sound like much on the surface - fourth dahn, out of ten - it ranks an individual above roughly ninety percent of Alethkar ... and the number is actually higher. If only the King, Queen, heir apparent, and the King's immediate family are in the first dahn, and the second is made up of the Highprinces and (presumably) their wives and heirs, that makes a total of at most 33 people in the top two ranks. The third dahn would be made up of the rest of the Highprinces’ children, along with their spouses and children, plus an assortment of other landholders. Maybe a few hundred people? That means Kaladin, Moash and Shallan are now ranked equal to or higher than all but a few hundred people in Alethkar.
Q. What are the mechanics of rising or falling in dahn/nahn rank?
Let's say somebody from a very low nahn, who is basically a serf, right? I mean, they don't have the freedom of movement. So, what if a man like that rises to a sergeant and serves 25 years with distinction, does he go back to being a serf when/if he retires from the military? Would he be required to return to his village/town of origin? Can something like this be properly controlled, even? I mean, do they check travelling people's papers?
A. There's a lot of parts to this. Rising within nahns and dahns happens more easily in Roshar than rising in social status did in most societies that had similar things in our world - for instance India, or even England. To an extent, it is very easy to buy yourself up a rank. What you've got to remember is the very high ranks are harder to attain. By nature, the children of someone of a very high rank sometimes are shuffled down to a lower rank - until they hit a stable rank. There are certain ranks that are stable in that the children born to parents of that rank always have that rank at as well. Your example of the soldier who serves with distinction could very easily be granted a rank up. In fact, it would be very rare for a soldier to not get a level of promotion if they were a very low rank - to not be ranked up immediately. The social structure pushes people toward these stable ranks. For the serf level, if you're able to escape your life of serfdom and go to a city, often getting a job and that sort of thing does require some measure of paperwork listing where you're from and the like. But if you were a serf who was educated, that would be pretty easy to fake. What's keeping most people as serfs is the fact that breaking out of it is hard, and there are much fewer of those ranks than you might assume. The right of travel is kind of an assumed thing. To be lower ranked than that, something has to have gone wrong for your ancestors and that sort of thing. There are many fewer people of that rank than there are of the slightly higher ranks that have the right of travel. It's a natural check and balance against the nobility built into the system. There are a lot of things going on here. Movement between ranks is not as hard as you might expect.
Q. Ditto with the lighteyes - does exemplary service raise one's dahn?
A. It's much harder for a lighteyes, but the king and the highprinces can raise someone's dahn if they want to. But it is much harder. In the lower dahns, you can buy yourself up in rank. Or you can be appointed. For instance, if you're appointed as a citylord, that is going to convey a certain dahn, and you could jump two or three dahns just by getting that appointment. Now, if you serve poorly, if a lot of the people who have the right of travel leave - which this doesn't happen very often - if your town gets smaller and you're left with this struggling city, you would be demoted a dahn, most likely. If a lot of the citizens got up and left, that would be a sign. They could take away your set status by leaving. That's something that's built into the right of travel. So these things happen.
Q. If parents have different nahns/dahns, how is a child's position calculated? For instance, if Shallan had married 10-dahner Kabsal, what dahn would their children belong to?
A. The highest dahn determines the dahn of the child, though that may not match the dahn of the highest parent. For instance, there are certain dahns that aren't conveyed to anyone except for your direct heir. The other children are a rank below. I believe that third dahn is one of the stable ranks. If you're the king, you're first dahn. Your kid inherits. If you have another kid who doesn't marry a highprince, and is not a highprince, then they're going to be third dahn, not second, because that's the stable rank that they would slip down to, along with highlords and the children of highprinces.
Q. Or, and another thing - what happens if a lighteyed child is born to darkeyes or even slaves? Which should happen often enough, given that male nobles seem rather promiscous. Anyway, are such people automatically of tenth dahn?
A. The situation is very much taken into account in these sorts of cases. Normally - if there is such a thing as normal with this - one question that's going to come up is are they heterochromatic. Because you can end up with one eye of each color, both eyes light, or both eyes dark. That's going to influence it a lot, what happens here. Do you have any heirs? Was your child born lighteyed? This sort of thing is treated the same way that a lot of societies treated illegitimate children. The question of, do I need this person as an heir? Are they born darkeyed? Can I shuffle them off somewhere? Set them up, declare them to be this certain rank. Are you high enough rank to do that? Are you tenth dahn yourself? What happens with all of these things? There's no single answer to that. The most common thing that's probably going to happen is that they are born heterochromatic. Then you're in this weird place where you're probably declared to be tenth dahn, but you may have way more power and authority than that if one parent is of a very high dahn, just as a bastard child in a royal line would be treated in our world.