Hello and thanks to everyone who answered my other question, it's been really enlightening reading them all (unfortunately as I posted as a guest it seems that account was lost to the void). I've been trying to find the answer to this next one myself from historical sources but had no luck in terms of a concrete answer.

Premise: A city-state existing in a 'Dark Age' following the collapse of an empire. Trade is minimal due to lack of trust and banditry. The city is led by a democratically elected Council and there is no established ruling class. Based on technology equal to Classical Antiquity.

Question: As the title says, would it be be feasible to have farmers live in a city but commute to their plots? I don't mean landlords or those commanding slaves/servants, but an average farmer who would work the farm with his family (obviously this assumes he can afford a home in the city and a plot for farming).

Would there be any particular reason a farmer would need to reside constantly at his farm? Perhaps to rise early enough to make the most of the workday? Could a precarious security situation outside the city walls, especially at night, make living within the city more feasible? Or would this render farming too difficult/ineffective? Many thanks again for any answers.

  • 2
    Hi Harkadian. If you do a search and find your prior question, and ask them, the moderators can combine that into your new named account. – Willk Oct 20 at 15:49
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    Supporting Willk, click here for more info – JBH Oct 20 at 15:50
  • Wasn't this how the Romans lived in the Kingdom and Early Republic period? – vsz Oct 20 at 20:46

This is pretty much how hamlets came to be. Farmers on adjoining lands would pool housing, storage, etc., for mutual protection and commercial benefits (like everybody working together to get all the hay to market).

The further the farm is from the "city," the less likely the farmer will want to live in the city. Horses were precious, and using them to ride when you need them to plough isn't preferrable. Thus, you're balancing things. The greater the crisis, the further away the farmer will be willing to travel.

Note, though, that there will come a point where the distance is such that it's as dangerous to travel to the farm as it is to live on the farm (think "highwayman"). Though it might not have happened (at least, much) in real life, a hamlet is also someplace the local Lord could station a few men on rotation to help with protection. Remember, building large rock walls (keeps and castles) is expensive and time consuming.

Thus, hamlets. The larger the hamlet, the larger or better equipped the marauders must be.

  • If the farm is close enough to the city though, it seems a hamlet wouldn't be necessary? Ideally I want the farmers to live in the city for the purposes of my scenario, I'm just concerned whether it's realistic for them to do so. – Harkadian Oct 20 at 18:24
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    It's realistic. The closer the farm to the city, the happier the farmers will be to live in the city. As mentioned move verbosely in my answer, f(danger / distance) = %willingness to live in city. – JBH Oct 20 at 21:43

That is more or less what happened in the dark Ages. Living on isolated farmsteads was an invitation to getting murdered/robbed if not worse. Most farmers either lived in large communal farmhouses, if they were rich enough to afford it, with their extended family, friends and trusted labourers and within eyesight or a shout of a neighbour doing the same; or lived within the walls of the town and left in the early morning, if they couldn't. Serfs, of course, lived in whatever hovel, under whatever protection their lord offered them. Most sensible lords did offer some support, as it gets troublesome to replace them, especially during late summer/autumn, which was when robbing them would be most attractive.

For the sort of context you're after you may want to take a look at Saxon period England, which is basically everything from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Norman conquest. You may also want to take a look at the context in which the Arthurian legends are based, local warlords competing for power, invading Germanic tribes and locals being forced from their lands by foreign invaders. To answer your question directly it really depends on how much money they've got. If they're poor they'll rent their land and share a home with their animals, living off what they produce and selling the surplus. This is nothing like the farming industry today and most of their "labor" would probably just be their immediate family, another reason why it was so important to have large families in the middle ages. If they're rich they'll either live in a homestead protected by a local militia from the closest town, or they'll live in that town if their land is close enough that they've only got to walk a short distance to reach it.

"Could a precarious security situation outside the city walls, especially at night, make living within the city more feasible? Or would this render farming too difficult/ineffective?"

Think about it. If the security situation is that precarious, who or what will protect crops and livestock during the night? Animals, of course, make for good barbeque for the bandits. As for crops, that is, at best, in invitation for a classic protection racket. "Nice crop of _____ you've got. Pity if somebody trashed it during the night while you're in the city. Me and my boys are civic-minded, so if you pay us half the crop we'll make sure nothing happens to it."

Well, that is apparently how "legitimate" government got started, so it clearly works.

  • While I agree that the strongest local mafia eventually became the local government, once the government was in charge of a town, it would be in their best interest to ensure that the crops were protected. That is what would feed the inhabitants (and their soldiers for that matter, and a hungry soldier is a mutinous soldier) after all. – nzaman Oct 21 at 15:07

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