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How many cities are too few / too many for a kingdom?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by TheCatholicCrow, Jul 28, 2017.

  1. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    I was looking at an old map & counted a definitive 18 (over the course of 3 books) with additional lands beyond "civilization" which also harbor more people/creatures but won't be developed at least until the 3rd segment.

    It all makes complete sense in my head. There are 6 main cities and I could easily add in another dozen but I got to thinking about whether or not a reader would even be able to keep up with it all. You know ... is there a limit?

    How many cities do you use in your world?
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    As many as needed. Never did sit down and count them. I try to keep the number of cities in each tale to a minimum, to avoid confusion. Many, as far as the reader is concerned will never be more than names on a map.

    Names on a map...that was one of the reasons I started the 'Empire' series of novellas. Most of my stories to that point took place on the Empire's periphery - or beyond. I wished to explore the Empire's heartland a bit more, and I had ideas bouncing around more suited for urban, or at least civilized settings anyhow. But even so, those stories remain tightly focused on just a few metropolises and fiefs.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    In my WiP, there is one city. It is huge [well over 100k people] but now it is also deserted/abandoned. No one [in the story] really knows why.
    I know there are dozens and more cities elsewhere, around the place, but they are usually just names of places that people come from. Or not mentioned at all, I know a ship came from somewhere but the reader doesn't need to know the place...
    There is a small town/village of a couple of hundred people that I have pretty much worked out, almost but not quite to the level of who sleeps where [something happened "suddenly" and I needed to know who was with who in the middle of the night]. The village started out at about 50 people and now I'm heading towards 250 individuals, so by the time I'm done... who knows?!?!?
  4. Phyphor

    Phyphor Acolyte

    In my head, it works like this:

    IRL, I'm a geo in the oil and gas industry. There's a basic rule of thumb which we use in exploration, that when a new oil or gas deposit is discovered, the fields are often formed of a 'king', 'queen' and 'princes'. In other words, we quite often find one huge field, one 'pretty big' field, and lots of little deposits surrounding them. If that were reflected in fantasy cities, it'd feel quite realistic to me. I.e, a huge capital, and a 'second capital' almost as big, and a bunch of other cities/towns that are nowhere near the size of the king and queen. Just a thought, really.
    artsyChica likes this.
  5. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Of course, a lot will depend on what you mean by "city"... I tend to think of cities as large relatively dense urban centers with relatively high populations (50k or more). Other definitions may vary. (Some I've read say as few as 1500 people --- to me, that's a rather small far-suburban neighbourhood.)

    By my definition, the Roman Empire had perhaps a dozen actual cities, and only perhaps three or four of any real size. So 18 is not at all out of the question.

    In The World, large realms have perhaps eight or ten largeish cities. Smaller countries maybe one or two. Most places have perhaps a number of smallish towns. But I haven't counted the number of cities and don't even know where all the cities of any size are, so the actual number is rather nebulous.
  6. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    Geography would play a role, wouldn't it? In a relatively flat, open country, folks might congregate in a relatively few large metropolitan areas. In a mountainous region, we might find lots of smaller, scattered cities, like the city-states of ancient Greece.
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  7. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

    If you want to really look into it you can look at central place theory - originally by Christaller but with some more recent (although barely) modifications - combine this with Zipf and Berry's thoughts on Rank size rule and you'll get some idea of how many cities and of what size they should be.

    Consider the reasons for each settlement to be located where it is. The majority will be close to large rivers, smaller settlements can be on smaller tributaries. The size of the city will also depend on natural resources and other transport and trade routes. Trade is a massive reason for the size of any settlement. The other things to consider are smaller strategic settlements that are located for defence or suitability of harbours etc.
    skip.knox likes this.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    What you've got there, Phyphor, is what is called "central place theory." You can look it up if you're interested. It's an explanation for how cities get distributed the way they do.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    As for the original question, think how many cities are in Europe or the U.S. People seem to keep track of them, despite the geographical howlers.

    Better yet, though, look at the number of cities in any pre-industrial culture. (old, pre-WWI maps are great for this) That might give you a frame of reference.
    TheCatholicCrow likes this.
  10. Peat

    Peat Sage

    Completely made-up mostly spurious theory -

    I remember being told in the Army that officers would only be given three elements to command at any time because that's how far their attention could stretch. Generally, this seems to hold true for how well people pay attention to things.

    So have as many cities as you want. But in the story, there should only be three major locations - so you should only be focusing on three cities max. The rest are window dressing and travel spots.

    I'm quite possibly wrong there, but it seems an interesting starting point for debate :p

    In terms of working out what a realistic proportion would be - pick a good historical analogue. Although I'm pretty sure most examples would show some variation of Phyphor/Skip are talking about. I've just tried five minutes to come up with a good smartass rebuttal for a geographic location with a lot of settlements of similar size and failed. I'm sure they exist! Just not easy.
  11. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

    3 to few I'd say
    Maybe 200 would be to many?

    Kingdoms can be big.
  12. AngryMidget

    AngryMidget Acolyte

    The amount of cities generally depends on the geography. New cities will be built near resources that benefit them in modern times (Oil, coal) while older ones generally stray to older resources (agriculture, mining.) Waterways play a major role, they tend be often the site of many cities. In truth, you must take into account the type of land of the nation. Nations with many mountains and inhospitable regions lack cities while ones with fertile land and high resource counts have more.

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