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In The Wheel of Time, the Aes Sedai seem to travel throughout the entire main continent (up to the Aiel Waste), and from what I have seen, have absolutely no concern for money. They also seem to be tasked with bringing back any women with the potential to channel the One Power to the White Tower in Tar Valon.

In the White Tower, the recruited women are trained to use the One Power, and the ones who complete the training go on to be Aes Sedai. This training process can easily take over a decade on its own, depending highly on the ability the woman has with the One Power.

We never hear Moiraine or anyone at the White Tower discuss tuition with the girls that I remember. Given the way Moiraine discusses how few novices they have, and the lack of payment mentioned, I assume that the White Tower pays for the teaching while one is an Novice and Accepted (if not paying for the women afterwords).

I'm thinking the White Tower must have a large amount of money. The only other remotely plausible explanation that comes to mind is Moiraine is rich due to her noble past, and paid for the girls to attend the tower behind the scenes. That seems unlikely to me though.

So to summarize: how did the White Tower/Aes Sedai have so much money?

(I'm not going to lie, this is a blatant rip-off that came into my head when I saw a very similar question about ASOIAF on the Hot Network Questions and realized this is something I've never seen the answer to)

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    Perhaps they've just got really good credit? – Valorum Feb 11 at 19:11
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    The White Tower is easily one of the most powerful and influential organisations in the world. With that much soft power, I imagine they could get a lot of things without direct cash payment. Also, they've been around since before the Age of Legends, which is a lot of time to invest and consolidate ... not to mention all the precious artefacts they've got their hands on. – Rand al'Thor Feb 11 at 19:22
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    I seem to remember mention of kingdoms who give money to the tower each year. Sort of like a tax. Am I making that up? – Newbie12345 Feb 11 at 19:26
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    Also, a lot of Aes Sedai are (a) personally wealthy, either coming from rich families or making successes out of their Aes-Sedai-ship, and (b) lacking in families, umarried with no kids. Where do they leave their money when they die? The White Tower seems an obvious choice. – Rand al'Thor Feb 11 at 19:26
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    @Newbie12345 You are correct. As one example, there is an entire sequence (a minor one, granted) right around the time that Elaida's White Tower learns to Travel: a nearby village is revealed to have been giving its tribute to the wrong Aes Sedai. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Feb 12 at 1:41
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Banking.

It's revealed in chapter 13 of the prequel New Spring that:

The White Tower has its own bank where many Aes Sedai deposit their annual stipend.

-- source

Banking, in the real world or a fictional one, is a great way to make yourself loads of money.

Trade.

Tar Valon is well situated for trade across the continent - slap bang in between the Borderlands, Andor, Cairhien, and the southern powers, as well as being on both a major river and several major roads. They can be a hub for trade between all those nations and reap the gains in taxes.

Bequests?

I don't recall the books ever mentioning what happens to an Aes Sedai's assets after she dies, but given that most of them are unmarried and childless with no family, the White Tower seems an obvious choice for them to bequeath their money and possessions. Add to that the fact that quite a number of them are personally wealthy, either coming from noble families or making successes out of their Aes Sedai skills (I guess all those Aes Sedai advisors to kings and queens get a respectable salary?) and you've got quite a lot of money flowing into that White Tower bank over time.

Soft power and longevity.

The White Tower is one of the most powerful and influential organisations in the world. It's well known that you don't f*** with an Aes Sedai - even one, let alone the whole pack of them. They can probably get a lot of things without using cash directly.

Last but not least, consider what an ancient institution it is. It's existed, at least in some form, since before the Breaking. How many organisations have survived so many wars and upheavals in the world? I'm guessing none. Just as in the real world, it's easier to become ridiculously wealthy if you have a lot of time to consolidate. That Tar Valon bank is probably the oldest bank in the world, which makes it arguably the most secure - which it probably would be anyway, with hundreds of One Power wielders all around it. Time enough to make a lot of investments and watch them come to fruition, to lose some and surmount the setbacks, to continue sitting on their piles of assets and artefacts as kingdoms and empires rise and fall.

As is often the case with the White Tower, it's helpful to consider the Catholic Church as a real-world analogue. They're both organisations which are older than any countries in the world surrounding them, whose purpose is technically not for profit but which have acquired an awful lot of wealth, with influence and assets all over the world, ...


The same question has been asked on a couple of other forums:

  • Not to discount the usefulness of long-term investments, but I'm pretty sure no investment survived the Breaking, and it probably took several hundred years after for there to be anything worth investing in. That puts a cap of about 2500 years on how old any investment could be. – chepner Feb 11 at 21:47
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    @chepner I suspect that still makes the White Tower's investments older than anyone else's. Also, an obvious example of assets that survived the Breaking (although Tar Valon would probably rather hoard those than trade them, hence why I didn't add it to the answer) is ter'angreal. Perhaps other Age of Legends rarities too? – Rand al'Thor Feb 11 at 21:54
  • Oh, absolutely. Just saying that the fact that the Ans Sedai existed prior to the Breaking is probably irrelevant, aside from giving them a head start at recovery after the Breaking. I'm not sure ter'angreal et al. count as assets that could generate money, though; the Tower is never go to sell them or use them as collateral. (Unless they find someone naive enough to think the Tower would actually give it up in the event of a default.) – chepner Feb 11 at 21:59
  • @chepner You don't think artifacts designed for specific purposes; made for those with and without the One Power; and which can no longer be made, could generate money? – JMac Feb 11 at 22:35
  • No, because the White Tower tended to confiscate any such items should they be found, not sell them. If you mean using them (like, a plow ter'angreal to make farming easier, to make up an example), I don't really recall anything that practical being mentioned, or any suggestion that such items could be used openly. (The general populace was too suspicious.) – chepner Feb 12 at 13:14

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