Although only the bureaucracy has a strictly specified hierarchy, there is an informal hierarchy to Imperial life. At the top of the ladder is the Emperor, his family, advisors and even servants of the Imperial Palace. Next comes the Bureaucracy, although most high level bureaucrats would consider themselves above the Emperors kitchen boys. It is here, in the upper echelons of Imperial society, that one's position relative to everyone else is most important.
Below the bureaucrats come the artisans. These are those with specific and difficult skills. They are the people who not only create things, they create things of beauty. Doctors and ceremonial priests are also included in this class, but not the mendicant priests who tend to local shrines. Magicians are sometimes thought of as part of the artisan class.
Below the artisan class comes the provider class. These are the commonfolk of the Empire, the farmers, fishers, miners and labourers. Those who perform physical work and produce a useful product at the end of it.
The merchant class are often considered below the providers since they produce nothing themselves but live off the work of others. At varying times in history, however, the merchants have moved up and down the hierarchy.
Near the bottom of the ladder there is an untouchable class of people who deal with dead or otherwise unspeakable things. Butchers, undertakers, tanners and sewer-cleaners fall into this class.
There is technically no outcast rank, since the Empire considers that the law covers everyone, even beggars and thieves. The very poor are effectively ignored by the powers that be, but in theory they have the same legal protection as any other.
Foreigners, however, are outside Imperial law. There is considerable snobbery towards them, unless they accept Imperial citizenship. Thus a Moa-Ruaki craftsman may be thought of as an ignorant savage unless he gains citizenship, at which point he is accepted as a member of the artisan class.
These class divisions are formally reinforced, by modes of dress and in language. There are fabrics, styles and colours of clothing that mark one's social rank, and there are laws governing who may or may not wear what. The language of High Imperial has grammatical rules that must be followed depending upon one's rank in society. There are five different ways of using pronouns depending on the relative ranks of the speaker and listener. The whole structure is supported by the concept of rao-shimvar, a term that roughly translates as "duty to society".
What should be stressed, however, is that a person's position in life is determined by profession, not by birth. If the son of a tanner has great skill as a cameo painter, he will be treated as part of the artisan class. Similarly a farmer's daughter is fully entitled to take the exams and enter the bureaucracy. There is snobbery to such upwardly mobile individuals, of course, but there is no law that holds a person to the same station all of their life.
In the former Imperial provinces, like Llaza, this kind of stratification is crumbling. The clothing styles of the different classes have intermingled (although price is always a determinant, of course) and it is considered highly insulting to address another person as a social inferior. A clerk in Reflected Glory could refer to a labourer as "You there, little man!" and get away with it. The labourer may not like it, but he will still respond. In Llaza the clerk would get ignored, laughed at, beaten up or pushed in the river (or all four).