Elder authority stipulates a form of governance over a single rural community that's most commonly tribal and illiterate. The term "elder" is used to describe those oldest members of the community, who are perceived to be wiser than others and therefore most qualified to make decisions. Elders oversee the general welfare of a hamlet or village. Where elder authority exists, nearly all members of a community are related to one another, either by clan or tribe, or bound together by religion.
The next eldest community member is elevated to an elder role upon a death, though the remaining elders can agree to bar the investiture of a new member. The number of elders is typically five, seven or nine, always an odd number; very, very rarely the number might be eleven, but it's never less than five.
The eldest is not necessarily the leader of the community; often, the council of elders choose from their members whom they feel possesses the best skills in providing stability.
In cultures lacking guards, civil law or personal inheritance, the local elders are tasked with adjudicating disagreements, assigning persons to act on the elders' authority, redistributing lands to ensure everyone has enough to support themselves, denying the right to build or clear land, protection of the community, the payment of debts — if so desired for those who cannot — and the making of many lesser decisions.
Land is rarely taken away from a family, but marriages are arranged and land for such unions is often awarded from the community share. No single person "owns" their property outright. Communal ownership is seen as a good and proper thing for all.
Most judgements are firmly precedent-determined. Persons are allowed to act when doing so keeps with standards of action that have been defined in the past. In recognition of this, present-day elders cannot vote themselves privileges that past elders didn't possess. Rigorous tradition acts as a stabilising force, ensuring that younger, stronger members don't themselves seize power if the elders prove too ambitious.
Elders provide a community with cohesion, acting as intermediaries with outsiders, maintaining oral traditions and mentoring young persons. Elders are expected to share experiences as storytellers. They provide a sense of oneness, while acting as the spiritual embodiment of tribal beliefs.
The power of elders falls by the wayside as the control of a community falls to a bourgeosie. When control of the area outside the hamlet or village comes under the sway of a squire or baronet, this has considerable repercussions upon the elders' authority.