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So I have this planet in an alternate dimension, which is Earth-like but slightly larger, much more volatile, and orbits an orange star. This planet's name is Geios (uninspired I know) and has three major continents, two ice caps, and two major islands along with some smaller island chains. So large landmasses but also lots of ocean. The total population is about 2 billion. They have advanced technology, however air travel is rendered all but impossible due to the very volatile atmosphere, and fossil fuels are very rare, so automobiles are not common either. The climate is harsh, with large deserts and mountains being common on all three continents, and as a result the primary form of civilization is a group of massive independent city states and several more nomadic tribes.

So why would independent city states be preferable to larger but obviously more spread out nations? I had ideas that putting everyone together in one place made it easier to protect them from harsh weather and even harsher raiders, but what other advantages are there?

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    $\begingroup$ Independent city states are countries. Small countries. Like Singapore today, for example. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 6 '18 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding brings up an excellent point. "Countries" only exist because someone whipped up an army and took over a lot of "cities." If your technological balance was good enough, your resource allocation was magically equal, no one was ever greedy, and if you never, ever, under any circumstances, ever had a charismatic leader of any kind whatsoever (religious or political), then you could have a world filled with city-states. It's a bit unbelievable, but I suppose it could happen. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 6 '18 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ The Roman Empire was a loose alliance of city states spanning many regions. Countries as we know them today are a renaissance invention. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Jan 6 '18 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ For many thousands of years the only "states" in the world were many tiny bands of hunter-gatherers or tribes. Even after the rise of civilization there were usually thousands of city states, small kingdoms, tribes, etc. etc. in the world besides a few large countries. Over thousands of years countries grew larger and fewer and then colonialism reduced the number of countries to about 54 c. 1902 which has now increased to about 200. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 8 '18 at 6:42
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The key piece of information needed here which isn't present is technology level and lines of development.

Most countries on Earth were never as big as they are now. Even the USA which is approximately the same geographical size as Australia is comprised of 50 'states', each of which (like Australia) has independent sovereignty and only passes some of its control to a federal government. Many European countries are similar insofar as they are a collection of smaller fiefdoms that have consolidated at some point in their history around a strong monarch. The United Kingdom is just one example, where Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all under a single monarch (even though the various original 'states' are starting to get more independence from London going forward).

The only reasons that countries can consolidate like this is technology; both communications and transport. The only reason they will consolidate is conquest borne of need.

Starting with technology; first it was Horses that allowed empires and city states to expand and consolidate. Then ships, radio, cars, planes, the internet...

If your land masses are rugged terrain (lots of mountains and such) that restrict trade, and their technology levels are such that they haven't invented radio or computers, then simple awkwardness of travel and communication will keep nations from consolidating.

As far as conquest goes, if population levels in each of your city states are relatively stable and each city state has access to all the resources it needs (no food shortages, droughts, etc.; plenty of minerals and forests to exploit) then there's no need to take anything off your neighbours, which would mean that they would all live in relative peace with each other and not consolidate through one city conquering another.

In other words, split your world up into many areas of plentiful resources, and make it hard for people to cross those boundaries. Then you have your city states and relative calm between them.

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This idea can be approached in (at least) three, possibly cumulative ways :

  • Politically, you could design your world so that no social group on the planet is powerful and influential enough (yet) so as to unit several city-states under one banner (by military means or otherwise). Looking at History (e.g. city-states in Italy, or Hansa cities in Germany), city-states thrived particularly in countries where a central power was weak or non-existent. Countries with strong, centralised power (such as France, England, etc) did not have city-states. Historically, most countries nowadays that have emerged from the unification of several states/city-states have done so by force, aka by conquest.
  • Culturally (which also ties into the political aspect), you could design your world so that people from a given area simply don't want to unite with other areas. Nationalism as an ideology doesn't exist on the planet, and individual cities/regions have strong rivalries against each other, thus preventing unification. This was for example the case with the early Roman epoch (as well as later throughout pretty much all of Italy's history right up until half of the 19th century), where every powerful city had a strong antagonism against the other.
  • Technologically, you could simply design a world where communications and travel are difficult (similar to what you already have in mind), effectively isolating regions from a geographical aspect. That way, individual social groups would converge towards local, not nation-wide centers of power (hence the city-states).
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The major issue is resources. At some point a city-state is going to require resources it can't get itself, even if it's just land, so it has to get them from someone else. Trade works, but if that other city-state that has the resource is nearby, someone is eventually going to start to wonder if it wouldn't be easier to have direct control over that resource. And if it works, now you have the resources of two cities, and hey, that third one over there has something we want, and so on and so on until eventually some other cities have ganged up to stop the aggression and you know, it would make more sense to have a unified approach to some things and then...

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