Within my setting, there are many wild and unexplored lands, some of which are very dangerous, some of which are very benign, but few know how dangerous or safe a place is from the outside.

So, there is a very well established Empire, that encompasses all of civilized humanity, with the power of administration distributed via feudalism, with many kingdoms within the empire, and duchies within the kingdoms, counties within the duchies, and baronies within the counties.

One very common thing that happens in many of the county capitals, is that there are fairly common expeditions to the wild lands, in order to claim more land for their suzerain. These expeditions are often sponsored by the local count, sometimes the duke him/herself. These expeditions would include no more than 50 pioneers.

How quickly could these pioneers establish their village and develop into a barony? As for the exact requirements of a barony, there should be at least, a castle, a population of probably at least 5,000, and be able to field at least 1,000 men as retinues, men-at-arms or levies.


  • Tech levels are late-medieval to renaisance, with very ineffectual guns and cannons. By ineffectual guns and cannons, they do little against magically enchanted things, are not cost efficient/practical to enchant their ammo, but a musket still would kill an unmagical person the same in real life.
  • There is magic within the setting, with low powered magic being fairly common and cheap, while high powered magic being very rare and expensive. With the average budget the pioneers are allocated by their sponsor, they generally can have magical hatchets and hammers that allow them to work as if they had modern power tools, but not too much more than that.
  • Most if not all of the towns are actually castle towns, and they generally have their economy based on a certain super magical resource found only or mostly in their region. For example, some regions may have deposits of Non-Newtonian Ingots, or are capable of producing Metal Silk, and things like that.
  • Within the empire, humans fully cohabit with various animal people of various sizes. These animal people are full members of society.
  • For a more details on the politics of the empire, you can look here. Most notable notes are that the crown authority of the empire is very low, so kings, dukes and counts often wage war on each other for more land.
  • The pioneers have good motivations for joining these expeditions, as success means that they can become landed, and be set for life, in peasant terms.

EDIT 1: Yes, this is very much inspired by Crusader Kings II, if there is anything jarring, feel free to point it out

EDIT 2: Many of the counties within the empire were once colonies themselves, that eventually grew to become larger and more important. The reason why they were not all already colonized is because there is a lot of land, all of them unexplored, the more they explore the land, the more land there seems to be, so there will always be expeditions into the unknown.

EDIT 2.5: There are usually no native sentient beings in these unexplored lands. Most of the time, however, there are many creatures, some dangerous, some benign, but they are mostly magical or fantastical in nature. The very few native sentient beings are usually then subjugated into the empire, but they are the exception to the rule.


  • A castle should be minimally have a walled keep, motte and bailey's are an added bonus.
  • Animal people are full members of society, so they do contribute to the population. A town boasting a population of 15,000 means any combination of 15,000 humans and animal people.
  • Animal people live within the civilized part of the empire, same as all the humans.
  • Animal people are better in some ways than humans, and worse in some ways.
  • Recruiting people is going to be generally quite slow, until the town is decently sized, most population growth will be from breeding. Note, as stated in one of notes, that humans and animal people can freely inter breed with no adverse side effects.
  • I would suppose that most of these towns would fill up their ranks with levies first, simply to meet their quota, then slowly fill up their ranks with better soldiers when they become more relevant, and foreign conquest becomes a possibility
  • As for why the expeditions seem to be so terribly underfunded and undermanned, I had not really thought of a good reason.
  • While there is little to nothing opposing the Empire, there is always the neighboring ambitious duke or somewhat, as infighting is a perfectly normal and common thing within the empire. So, their soldier will be needed to defend themselves, as well as to provide the town's sponsor their own troops as part of their fealty.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Takes me about 20 minutes in Crusader Kings II $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa :D Much of what I know of feudalism is based on that game too, great game, but yeah, realistically, I was wondering how long it would take $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So more seriously, why weren't these lands colonized before? Who's the enemy who kept humans out? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ There is no native population ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Sipty no real actual writing/work done yet, and even if I did, I would not share it just yet ._. However, you can feel free to check out my other questions from my profile. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 23:29

4 Answers 4


On Colonization

To start out, you're not really going to get a population of 5000 out of 50 in a reasonable timeframe (less than several generations). Also, 50 people is way too few; it doesn't give you enough workforce to start producing your own food within the same season, much less build a barony.

In my country, we had something we call "internal colonization" in the mediaeval times. The land was mostly dense forests, and when the local lord wanted to develop some of his real estate, he would recruit a bunch of people to start a new settlement somewhere in the wilderness.

The understanding was that the colonists would found a new settlement that would owe feudal taxes to the sponsor. They would, as per the feudal contract, have a hereditary lease on the land, but to get the thing started, they would get a tax break for a period of time (between 8 and 20 years). This period was called a "reprieve", and the villages would consequentally have the word "lhota" in their name to signify that.

Of course, this would start a village rather than a barony; you would at most get a knight ruling there and not much in the way of troops. But it indicates that if you assemble enough willing people with the right equipment (say, 15 families), you'll have a self-sustaining settlement in about 10 years. If we want to have a barony with a castle, troops, and 5000 inhabitants we need to go a bit further.

So you want to start a barony

Let's take a look at your requirements:

  • population of 5000
  • a castle
  • 1000 troops

As they are, the numbers seem to line up pretty well once you reach a stable state. If you're willing accept irregulars as troops (who, with the proper kind of background, can be utilized to great effect), you can hit your levy target if you have that population. 5000 people is also almost a city (as such things were reckoned in the middle ages), so you shouldn't have trouble securing the maintenance of the castle.

The trouble is, castles are frigging expensive and take decades to build. In order to get one, you would need serious motivation to get started on it right away, and a revenue stream to support the construction. If there is such a revenue stream, however, it also doubles as a motivation, and with magical tools, you may be able to cut down on the construction time.

Since we are talking middle-ages level, agricultural efficiency dictates that to keep your barony from starving, the majority of people should be employed in agriculture (see this nice essay on medieval demography for details). What you would eventually get would be a (castle) town as the economical centre and a bunch of villages scattered around, growing the food.

There are three ways that I can think of to get such a barony from expeditions

The long game

Say you're a count living next to the wilderness who wants to expand his domain. You don't have much in the way of money, but you're savvy and willing to play the long game. That's good, because doing it this way will only cost you time.

So you gather a couple of settlers to go into the wilderness and start a village. It will be a bunch of farmes, some woodsmen, maybe a blacksmith; they will go out into the forests, do a bit of slash-and-burn and start an agricultural village. Since it can be dangerous out there, it might be a walled village with a pallisade surrounding it, but a village none the less.

Now, rinse and repeat. Each of these expeditions cost you some money (you get the settlers for free just by offering land; if you only send 50 at a time, you likely won't run out of volunteers), so however much you are willing to spend at once probably sets the limit on "parallelisation".

After 5-10 years, depending on the conditions and what magic you have and such, each of these settlements becomes self-sustaining enough to pay taxes. You're going to need, to eyeball it, about 75 to reach a critical mass, when you have enough people to economically support a city. Now your master plan comes to fruition.

You pick a person you like and authorize them to found a city. You give them town privileges and get a bunch of journeymen specialists to come by promising them head positions in the new guilds you're going to found. You build a town, economically supported by the surrounding countryside, and you've mostly reached your population goal by now, with the only thing left being the fort.

The catch here is that it will cost you. There is probably motivation to build walls, since this is after all wilderness, but it will eat up a lot of the town revenue, and you might end up with a poor-ish city holding rather than a CK2 barony.

If you have a valuable cash crop, you can send in a couple more village expeditions, but these will also require sustenance and drive your population up, and also take time to become self-sufficient.

All told, you can put up a walled city with maybe a citadel for the local lord in 25 years or thereabouts of concerted effort, assuming nothing goes catastrophically wrong. You'll probably end up with a somewhat higher population in order to support the city, but on the other hand, cities will provide more levies (mostly in the way of pikemen and such), because they tend to be more independent-minded and jealous of their privileges. And if you set things up right and the conditions are favourable, it will continue to grow on its own.

The expensive way

On your teritory, there is an important crossroads of trade routes that you want to keep safe (and extract tolls from the traders for the privilege of such security). If you have the funds and magical equipment, you contract a bunch of people to build a full-on castle nearby. You hand it off to someone you like and give them a garrison to go with it.

Lots of castles in Europe were founded this way; the tolls provide a revenue stream (or you can resort to banditry if you're so inclined) which can pay for the upkeep and eventually, your castle will develop a castle town to help with the maintenance and profit off the trade. You can help this process by setting up a few villages in the surrounding countryside, supplying the castle with cheaper food and helping its growth.

This is very intensive in terms of the original investment, but you start out with the castle first and only need to accumulate the population later. The growth here is again going to be driven primarily by immigration, the rate of which will depend on the profitability of the trade route and can be boosted by starting villages.

The castle will have a sizeable garrison, which will provide the core of your army here; the rest you need to recruit from the town or villages. With the equivalent of "power tools", I'm going to guess it will take about 5 years to get the castle fully up and running. The craftsmen who participated in the construction will probably hang around for maintenance and form the core of the castle town; the rest of the population will trickle in depending on how good the business is; this may take anywhere between 10 and 100 years depending on how profitable the trade route is and how much you're helping by systematically founding new villages.

You can also do it this way if there is no trade route and you just want to fortify a strategic location; but without the revenue stream, this will eat up insane amounts of money until you accumulate enough population by systematic settlement as per the previous option.

If you're lucky

Your prospectors have uncovered a deposit of unobtanium in the wilderness in your teritory.

You lease the mineral rights to someone you like and give them a sizeable loan to start a mining town. If the thing you're mining is really profitable, you'll get a bit of a gold rush, so there will be no problems getting volunteers.

An expedition of a couple of hundred miners, craftsmen adventurers and assorted personel venture into the wilderness and set up camp around the deposit. About half of them throw up makeshift fortification, in case someone decides to forget their manners and take the deposity by force; the rest get directly to mining in order to pay for the construction.

Eventually, you have a mining town running. This will be fairly rich, and if you did the smart thing and granted it to a trustworthy, savvy nobleman, he will immediatelly put to building a castle to protect his newfound riches. With the power tools and enough money, he will in a couple of years have a castle with a sizeable courtyard, to house the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside in times of crisis, and probably city walls too.

The wealth of the town will attract more immigrants, and the ruler himself might start founding villages to supply the mining town with cheaper food and drive the population up.

Again, the population will be the limiting factor on how much troops you can field, but with money, you can easily hire professional soldiers until your population grows sufficiently; even then, you might want to keep a stable retinue, because mining towns make tempting targets.

All told, with power tools you can have the mine, city and the castle running in 5 years tops, with the population growing steadily in the next 5-15 until you reach your goal. The mines will run dry eventually, but by then you should've built up enough economical momentum to keep the whole thing going.

Bottom line

Depending on what you want and what your means are, you can probably set up a barony with a series of settlement expeditions in 10 years under the right conditions, or up to 100 years otherwise. The driving force behind the growth is always going to be immigration, though, and the limiting factor will be either food to support the population, or the money to purchase it from elsewhere. Having a revenue stream in the form of cash crops, trade routes or mines helps immensely.

  • $\begingroup$ You don't need a decade+ to build a castle, even in medieval times - if you have the budget and willpower. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ @user3082 That really depends on what you consider a castle. A wooden motte and bailey keep can be thrown up in less than a year, if you have the means; building out of stone is much, much slower. Our ancestors could build impressive structures even without power tools, but laws of mechanics dictate that you either have to use a lot of power or take a lot of time. If a cathedral was built in 40 years, that would have been considered impressively quick. Castle building is of similar scope, but power tools can help a lot because there's less fine work and more heavy lifting. $\endgroup$
    – Mike L.
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ @user3082 By the way, I just looked at that datapoint of yours, and if you only need a small one like that, than sure, 3 years and an insane amount of money can get you that. At that point though, that's king-tier spending for something that only really works as a minor fortification. A proper castle - one that would keep the Mongolian hordes, the Saxons or the Musulmans at bay - will take much longer. So I suppose the actual timeframe for the answer will be somewhere between 3 and 40 years depending on how serious you are about that castle of yours. $\endgroup$
    – Mike L.
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 10:31

a castle,

Stone castles have been thrown up in as little as 15 months using power tools, sufficient labor and available materials (read: money). Average is around 1.5-2 years. Depending on what you mean when you say 'castle'. Inner and outer curtain walls? Motte-and-bailey?

edit, a data-point:

Caerphilly Castle is huge - the second largest in the British Isles, in fact. It was also built at a staggering speed - the place was completed in less than three years.

Castles can be completed quickly - but they often were not, because of money, labor and materials issues. How important is it that the castle be completed? Is it a legal requirement, or are you just thinking it's important to do in order to protect / defend the area? Given an infinite ability to spread, I don't think I'd waste the time building castle-castles, and instead work on spreading maximally, quickly, going for defensible borders with other un-allied barons/kings.

a population of probably at least 5,000

Do animal people count as population? Are they found/recruited from the wild-lands, or do they have to come from civilized lands? Are they substantially more efficient than humans at some tasks?

If you're going to wait for 50 humans to breed up to 5K, instead of importing them - it's going to take you awhile. Depending on disease loads, and how many children live through childhood, etc, etc. This varies a lot by time period, and what else is going on. Even a little bit of magical healing or disease control can improve women's survival rate when giving birth, or children's survival through childhood.

edit: for the British peerage (the most wealthy, and healthy):

The probability of dying by age five in the mid 16th century is around 250 per thousand live births, rising steadily to around 350 by the mid 17th century, before starting a steady decline to below 200 by the mid 18th century and around 100 by the mid 19th century.

To do this fast, you're going to have to recruit people to your domain.

If you can import people, then this requirement is limited by when you want to import that many people.

be able to field at least 1,000 men as retinues, men-at-arms or levies.

This is going to be limited by your population, and how you recruit/coerce them as retinues, men-at-arms or levies. Are you paying merc troops? Are you drafting all men over 14 and putting a (magic-powered) scythe in their hands and telling them to go kill the enemy? Or are you training knights, and outfitting them with armor? Some combination?

Since you'll take anybody, trained any which way, recruited any way - then a population of 5K will have enough men (and maybe women if your society isn't sexist enough - but at the low levels you're giving your starting groups, you'd be better off using your women as breeders than letting them get killed) to field 1K worth of warm bodies with pointy things. Children, elderly (not many of those), maimed, and essential workers (skills) will cut down from the roughly 2.5K you have available (actually, depending on how many women you're killing in childbirth, you may have a surplus of men).

magical hatchets and hammers that allow them to work as if they had modern power tools, but not too much more than that.

This will help. But why so under-funded Batman? If it's dangerous out there, you'd send enough troops to hold down a thrown up camp, and workers to do things as well. I'd guess around 300 people. 100-200 troops*, and some lumbermen. After they've got forest cleared, and a sawmill built, send in the farmers/laborers and castle architect and masons. Put up some motte and bailey for the troops, so you can reduce troop presence and patrols, and be throwing up housing, and some walls around your encampments. Whatever the resource is that's paying the bills should be getting worked, as well as improved. Have the returning troops and lumbermen clear and make space for the road-building crews, build the roads when you've got trade goods to ship. Once you've got housing and whatever, dump in the people to get more work done, and get really rolling.

If you're doing this on the regular, then you're going to have crews, who know what they're doing - forest-clearing lumbermen; rough housing (sawmills, barracks, sheds, warehouses, wooden walls); ditch, drainage and field clearance (big ox teams for removing stumps and rocks); road-building crews; road-maintenance crews; castle-surveying; foundation drilling, big-block laying; wall-building (rubble-fill); interior-finishing (inner buildings) - who'll go site to site, doing their jobs, then going onto the next place within 1 season to 3 years.

You'll also have regular people who go somewhere and settle in, Smith (who'll be there at the beginning - although perhaps initial teams may have specialist smiths), Cooper, Weapon's Smith/Armorer, Animal guy(s) (horse-raising/breeding, oxen, cattle, etc - vet work, training, etc) - you're also going to have to take several herds just to get things going at any reasonable pace - which will also need to get protected in transit, Mage (depending on how your magic system works, maybe magic items might be shipped to needed areas? don't need a spell-caster?), perhaps a Brick-master to run a yard (are you building with brick?), Carpenters, etc.

Eventually, after a year or so - you're going to need a variety of skills; cobbler (can't keep shipping in shoes forever), tanner (cobbler needs something to work with), vintner/brewer, etc, etc.

  • Also, if there are no other humans, or sentient beings who oppose the Empire, I guess they're not really 'troops' but they will be hunters/monster-killers, scouts/rangers, rescue/first-responders, and cops - with training to throw up fortified camps (so some rough construction experience (surveying, digging, rough-cut lumber), like Roman legionnaires).
  • $\begingroup$ alright then, let me clarify some of the points you bring up, I will put it back in the main question, great points all around though $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 13:50

Your primary limfac here is going to be population growth. All the other things you want to do depend upon having people to do them.

  • Build a castle
  • Raise a force of 1000
  • Population of 5000

So lets see if we can't estimate a population growth rate here. This little formula should help you play around with rates to give you an idea of what feels realistic (or what not to mention should you want it to take less time) Keep in mind these are average growth rates, not actual rates. True growth will have a curved, exponential style track.

enter image description here

So. Now you can predict a growth rate. Keep in mind the rate does not take animal attacks, disease, bandit raids or any of the rest into account...people getting killed off early will have a huge impact on the growth potential (not to mention scaring off potential immigration). Keep in mind infant mortality was much much worse prior to modern medicine. My best guess (I do not have medieval growth rates in my brain) would be that a realistic level of growth would range from 1.5 to 3.5 percent. You can probably get away with accelerating that via nomad/wild man settlement, slaves from the empire, things like that.

Once you define your growth rate you simply have to decide what seems realistic. Is this a band of outcasts that have little/no support from the system? Gonna take a while...a long long while. Is this an expedition specifically set up to create a fortress? They probably have more resources.

Which brings me to my next point...resources. What do they have and not have access to? Stone? If not they have to import to build the castle...which means they need a decent economy to pay for it, I think you get the point.

The army and the castle. The army range provided is huge. The difference between 1000 levies and 1000 trained from birth soldiers is monumental and the structure required to support 1000 full time soldiers is complex and expensive.

At a population level of 5000 there is no way you are going to be able to support 1000 knights for example. Levies? Absolutely. Most of the villagers, even at a population of 5000 will be farmers/resources gatherers. Food, wood, stone, fabric, metal, etc etc etc. That means your fighting force will be your working population, just hope you don't get into a long fight during harvest season.

As for the castle...its hard to say. How often do they get attacked...meaning is it really necessary? If it is, what is the threat? The defenses will be designed to cope with whatever the primary concern is.

There is a whole host of other things to keep in mind not the least of which is training. You need masons, you need wood cutters, and smiths, and tailors and builders and and and and and.

So my best suggestion is to start with the rough math for growth rate and then slow it down a bit. Resources from the outside are the only thing that will make this happen within one lifetime...and even then it'd be a stretch.


There is nothing opposing your empire, conditions are good: you will have significant overpopulation, expect 10 surviving children for each couple every 30 years in average. So either accept excess population into new colonies (allowing for very fast growth), or you will have huge areas covered by slower growing (natural rate) colonies, vulnerable to attacks, with long distances to new land.

I cannot find a link, but IIRC French Canadians had in average more than 10 surviving children per couple, in similar conditions like yours: plenty of resources, even in harsh conditions.

For a feudal baron with excess population, it does not make sense to establish a dozen of new weak and vulnerable colonies: instead, march all resources to build new colony with a castle, in a single growing season then send farmers with families next year, and move workers farther to build another colony in a few years when you accumulate enough resources for next one.

IOW you will have exponential growth of population unless you establish some severely limiting factors.

Infighting between barons is VERY strong argument AGAINST sending 50 vulnerable pioneers to establish a colony. Smart baron will send army, build field fort, then start building fortified settlement, as fast as resources of your original lands allows you, while defending against inevitable attacks from other barons. With resources brought for the purpose, except rocks and timber harvested locally.

Taking over new colony (before it build impenetrable defenses) of your opponent makes good sense: not only you saved resources necessary to establish it, but you also stole those resources from your opponent. So your military would try to take over your opponents colonies close to your own during seasons when you try to accumulate resources to build new colony, but don't have enough yet.

So your requirement "recruiting will be rather slow" is a recipe for a disaster. I like chances of barons with more military and common sense.

So smart baron will NOT establish isolated colonies, but try to have strong border fortifications protecting inner lands (which will need less protection, but still produce resources). From strategic point, cities close to the center of the country would be less valuable (and less worth of defense, unless having some very unique resources) than cities close to frontier, which will provide chances of future growth.

Likely you will have at least two kinds of settlements:

  • border fortifications (terrain providing excellent protection, even if not good for agriculture - maybe some hunting)
  • inland farms/mines (with less importance of defense) providing resources (food and material) to soldiers in border fortifications.
  • inland castles - protecting important trade routes and resources

They will have different requirements, size, and you establish them using different rules. But fortification needs to be established and be defendable within few weeks, or it will be attacked and taken over by your opponent.

EDIT: You could have small villages started by just few pioneers, but for different use:

  • small villages in more remote areas inside your country (which will not need protection of a castle) to use resources which are too far from city. These villages would be associated with some city (and hide inside in case of rare war)
  • borderland villages with no fortress, where inhabitants provide you not tax service, but intelligence: early warning about enemy approaching (lit the fire signals, ride quickly to nearest fortress), guide troops using knowledge of local terrain. These people would be not your feudal subjects, but free patriots in style of kossacks, and you will not spend your military resources to protect them - they will not fight enemy directly, but disperse, hide, harass enemy supply lines. These borderland villages might eventually grow into cities, but then these people would move to new borderlands (because they prefer to live in wilder areas and do not want to pay taxes).
  • $\begingroup$ I keep stating it, but many people overlook it, nothing opposes the empire from the outside, but there is much infighting among the kings and dukes, so there is that at least. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ not to mention disease, animals, accidents...and you know...childbirth. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ The average medieval woman had ten pregnancies resulting in eight live births and two children who reached adulthood. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 21:57

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