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A quick rundown on the zombies:

  • The Zombies essentially just Walking Corpses, nothing more special to them than that
  • They are 100% obedient, and have limited intelligence (about the same as something like a moderately well-trained primate, but without emotions)
  • They do not require resources of any kind

  • Almost all of the zombies that are running around are from the city's own graveyard

  • The zombies are used as slaves would be, such as for mining, construction, even domestic servitude in some cases

Long story short, this fantasy world is full of kind necromancers who felt all those dead bodies were going to be wasted just sitting in those graves and not helping anyone.

So now it's a common occurrence for every city to have its own personal Necromancer, who simply revives the corpses of anybody who died within or near the city limits and puts them to work for the good of the people.

Obviously having a bunch of walking corpses shambling around dropping pieces of their limbs everywhere is going to present some issues, like for instance the smell.

So my question is: what issues do these Zombie Servants cause, and how can I mitigate them using late-medieval technology?

I'm okay with advancing technology that is needed a little bit (like for example developments in deodorant technology) if it is a technology that this world would have an increased reason to develop due to the zombies.

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  • $\begingroup$ "just Walking Corpses" - what do they do, what do they need? Do they want to eat people's brains? $\endgroup$ – Alexander May 21 '18 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander just made it clearer as to what I mean by that. They don't need anything to survive, and have no will other than serving their humans $\endgroup$ – Sydney Sleeper May 21 '18 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ I have an hard time figuring a zombie, who can easily drop an arm, working as miner or constructor $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 21 '18 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ Could these zombies be mummified? $\endgroup$ – Sasha May 21 '18 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy I did. The first book was good. Then it went downhill fast. $\endgroup$ – Keltari May 22 '18 at 18:53
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First problem: Disease

If the magic doesn't stop them from rotting then you have a whole flock of walking Typhoid Marys. Once the immune system shuts down then all the diseases that like to live in humans just go to town.

If the magic that animates the zombie stops the rot then that solves that problem and they shouldn't smell too bad.

Second problem: Control

  • Whose orders do they follow? If someone walks into a factory and yells go to the river, do all of the zombies leave?
  • When will the stop performing an action? Watch the Disney short "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" to get an idea of one of the control issues.
  • How literal are they? Do you need to micro manage them?

One possible solution would be a control medallion. The commands are issued mentally and the zombies do more what you want than what you say. You could give different orders to different zombies if you can identify them as individuals with the medallion. Also, if you have to maintain some conscious link to the medallion, you prevent the runaway zombie scenario. If the overseer falls asleep or gets distracted, the zombies stop after completing their current action.

Side Note: Zombie animals

No need to feed the zombie horses pulling the carriage. The best horses are kept for breeding and are only sold (at a high mark up) after their breeding days are over. Inferior horses are used by the lower classes and killed when they can no longer work and sold for prices that are higher than a live horse but much lower than prime zombie horses.

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Cholera, other bacterial and fungal diseases as well but that's going to be a big one if you having rotting bodies doing domestic chores since they can come into contact with food and water. Worse than that, if the Zombies are largely locally sourced and you have an outbreak of something like Plague then they'll stay infectious long after they're dead.

If they're used exclusively for heavy labour outside the city limits, mining and the like, and the goods they produce, ore, coal, timber, firewood, don't come into direct contact with people but are rather either left for a long time in storage or in the case of wood to season and dry or burned with fire before people get near them then you could be pretty safe, barring rogue necromancers.

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Medieval cities were not that scented: there were no sewers and those not living next to the river (if there was one) used to dump the content of their night pots on the street.

Add to this that the animals used to move things around (horses, cows, donkeys) used to empty their intestines and bladders on the street, too.

Last but not least, garbage was also thrown on the street.

To make things worse, if possible, bathing was not common at all, and in certain culture it was considered fashionable to use butter as hair ointment.

Honestly, I don't think some rotting arms or legs in this pout-purry are going to make a huge damage to the city fragrance or bring any arm to the city health.

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  • $\begingroup$ to be fair the bathing thing was mostly due to the churches influence, communal bathing was common and the church frowned on that as encouraging immorality. If they are OK with walking dead then bathing may be very common. $\endgroup$ – John May 21 '18 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @John, I have read somewhere that it was common to hide small bags stuffed with herbs and spices in the clothes, to mask the bodily odor. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 21 '18 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ they also believe bad smells caused disease so that may have been similar to the people take large vitamin C today. Cities actually had a negative population growth because disease was so bad, of course that is also the reason they were able to take out nearly every other culture they met, they had been unintentionally breeding the most horrendous diseases for generations. $\endgroup$ – John May 22 '18 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @john, to be fair, it wasn't until almost Napoleonic times that they started actively doing anything about believing that bad smells carried disease. it had been documented many times throughout history that it was believed, but unless it was in times of plague/disease they didn't actively do anything about the bad smells $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith May 22 '18 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ It is also worth noting there is a huge difference between the smell of raw sewage and the smell of large scale rotting human flesh, Anyone who has ever visited the body farm will tell you sewage is positively aromatic by comparison. $\endgroup$ – John May 22 '18 at 14:58
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Free unlimited labor is going to have a massive effect on society. There are going to be both positives and negatives for having a zombie workforce.

First off the negative. If this a recent occurrence, what will happen to the unskilled living workers? If an employer has a choice of a paid living worker, or an unpaid zombie worker, why would he pay for a living worker? There is going to be a large portion of unskilled living workers that have lost their ability to make money. What will happen to all the construction workers, miners, and servants in the short term? This could lead to civil unrest and class warfare.

Another issue is acceptance and religion. Perhaps there are those in this society that dont like or accept their dead father toiling away in the mines and their deceased mother picking crops. Perhaps they want them to rest in peace and go to an afterlife.

As for the positive, you have effectively created a "more Utopian" city. With unlimited free workers, there should be no food or housing shortages. Public works projects, such as plumbing and sanitation will be available to all. Large scale projects, such as dams are far more attainable, with no risk of living casualties. Citizens can spend more time learning in schools and receiving a higher education, pursuing the arts, leisure time, etc. With the abundance of goods and services, the cost of living should decrease, while standards of living increase.

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Zombie 'preadators' modern cities have a bad enough bird problem with bin scraps being left all over the place add to that rats, mice, house hold pets, insects and water based critters if the zombies work in rivers or sewers. That's not only a constant maintainance problem for your 'automation' but a major public nuisance. It could perhaps be fixed by 'spiking' zombies with poison or flavour.

Fires! Decomposing flesh releases flammable gas which if zombies work indoors could build up and become a problem without ventilation. Its unlikely and not horrendously dangerous but still a problem.

The many obvious psychological ramifications of the dead walking the city streets. (Though to be honest people would probably adapt).

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Rot and smell would be an issue, but you could fix that with the same magic that animates them. Maybe say the spell makes all flesh act as though it was alive, so rotting only occurs in bloodless limbs? That might ruin your aesthetic, but you get the idea.

Alternatively, embalming (draining the corpse of blood and replacing the blood with a preserving fluid like formaldehyde) would slow decay to more manageable levels. This just takes a pump, a hose, and something sharp, so it should be possible with medieval-level technology. Maybe the servants are stored in salt when not in use?

Rats and (especially) scavenging birds would be a huge problem for all kinds of hygienic and preserving reasons. Other than paying for bird-hunters and putting spikes on everything, servants who work outdoor could wear iron masks and thick clothes to prevent birds from eating their bits. This might also help against being baked into jerky by the sun, so win-win. (Plus the spikes and clothing would be creepy as all heck, and that's just fun to write).

Dropping bits would be a major source of disease and would definitely clutter the streets. In medieval times, they could just grin-and-bear with it, but hiring some street sweepers might be prudent. There also might be an issue with stray dogs and cats learning that the zombie (and, by extension, humans) can be eaten.

Socially, this would have some huge effects, but that would be depended on what religions you have in your world, if and how veneration of the dead takes place, and whether zombies can be used in warfare. If the last point is true, that's a massive world-building can of worms.

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