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In a time period with medieval technology, what would be the most important local resources? I've put together a small list and broken it down into categories, but I'd like to know if there's anything major I've missed.

Sustenance:

  • Fresh water
  • Wild game
  • Fish

Minerals (Mines)

  • Coal
  • Iron
  • Tin
  • Salt
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Gold, Silver, and Gems

Minerals (Quarries)

  • Sandstone
  • Limestone
  • Marble
  • Granite

Natural resources

  • Wood

For what it's worth, I'm putting together a medieval world generator. Image below.

screenshot

source

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    $\begingroup$ Gems are utterly irrelevant. Coal had very little use in the Middle Ages. Europe has never have much gold extracted locally. And you have missed the most important resources: arable land (to grow food), wood (both to burn and to make things -- it was much more important than iron), and pasture (to grow animals, both for food and for leather and wool, other extremely important materials). Even today a lot of stuff is made out of wood. On the list of metals you need to add tin, to make bronze. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 5 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ Imported gems and imported gold and most usually imported silver. Europe has no sources of gems, very little gold, and many European countries (e.g., England) have no silver to speak of. And jewelry is in no way an "important" -- they are small and can easily be imported. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 5 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ "A goldsmith or a silversmith in a town": depends on what Middle Ages you are thinking of. Even the word "economy" is dubious for quite a large part of the Middle Ages. By far the largest amount of silver was used for coinage, even if coins were not really widespread things during Early and High Middle Ages; the amount of gold and silver (and, very occasionally, gems) used by a jewelry maker in a year can easily be carried by a person from overseas. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 5 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ @OlinKirkland Not necessarily, gold, silver and gems would still be highly prized by the wealthy and well-to-do types. Spanish conquistadors famously traded with the Aztecs for these ‘worthless yellow rocks’ (also known as gold) as the Aztecs did not know of the value it had in other countries. This shows that gold must have had at least some measure of value, at least to the Spanish. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris - Reinstate Monica Apr 5 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ @OlinKirkland Thanks for the accepted answer, but it's usually good practice to leave it a day before accepting something as we've got good people in different timezones who might come up with a much better answer than mine ;) $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 5 at 9:59
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In roughly descending order for a non-hunter/gatherer culture (remembering that 'medieval' doesn't just mean 'northern European':

  1. Arable land/water/pasture
  2. Shelter/survivable temperature/resources for clothes
  3. Salt/food preservative/preservative spices (good foraging might go here too)
  4. Suitable domesticated animals
  5. Wood/mudbricks/wattle and daub/other simple construction material (can be replaced with hides from domesticated animals)
  6. Something for cordage
  7. Medicinal plants (if you have some, and perhaps I'm overblowing their importance, but a lot of people get sick in pre-modern cultures)
  8. Perhaps metals/other materials for tool-making here? If they can refine iron that's pretty ubiquitous. If they need bronze then the location of tin mines would be important. And although having something for tools is vitally important (bone, stone etc.), it's generally quite readily available.
  9. Defensibility (having big ol' mountains or raging rivers between you and the head-hunting barbarians next door is pretty valuable in a location)
  10. Stone for building (not really that important. Pretty much the entirety of anglo-saxon Britain was built from wood).
  11. Precious metals/non-preservative spices/other high value luxury goods (way down the list, given that you need a fair bit of the stuff above before you can start to make use of your precious metals).

I've very open to additions/repositioning, but it's a start :)

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    $\begingroup$ Usually, Dark Age starts when long-distance trade fails (Bronze Age Collapse, Roman Crisis of Third Age, Fall of Western Roman Empire). So, all claims like X can be traded quite readily are most likely false. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Apr 5 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ @user28434 True. Although what I was aiming for is steppe cultures. There have been a large number of sophisticated metal-using cultures on the Eurasian steppe without direct access to mineral ores themselves so I'm not convinced of their immediate importance. It doesn't necessarily need to be long-distance trade for iron. Bronze yes, as most of the tin for bronze in eastern Eurasia came from Britain. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 5 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ @user28434 Continental-scale trade absolutely, but regional trade certainly was still taking place (just not on anywhere near the same scale). I'll edit it though with knowledge of the scale of the map. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 5 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ Bronze is not really necessary once you have iron working, the materials for bronze are so rare it tends to fall out of use once people know how to make and use iron. Their are also plenty of methods for preserving food that does not rely on salt. you do have to have either metal for tools, importing basic tools was pretty rare, of course iron is ridiculously common in continental crust . $\endgroup$ – John Apr 5 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @John Good points. Iron being common is part of the reason it's so far down on the list (people would likely consider many other things before choosing somewhere on the basis of metals for toolmaking (especially if it's iron). And the other methods for preserving food thing is why I put 'salt/food preservation' ;) $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 5 at 14:16
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Flax

Flax is a plant that was often farmed in Medieval and Pre-Medieval societies around the world. It was an important resource to many societies for several reasons:

Food

Firstly, its seeds can be turned into a meal or used for linseed oil, a finishing used on wood to protect it from weathering or it can be injested as it too can be edible. The meal produced can be eaten, used as feed for livestock or ground into flour to make bread.

Linen

Perhaps the most useful use of flax was to create linen, a textile. This could be used to make clothing, bedding and pratically anything that cotton can make, flax can make too. A huge feature of linen though is its ability to produce extremely protective armour. By layering pieces of linen, you can create a gambeson, a type of armour used by both rich and poor for its protective value.

String

Because flax is string. Flax is used to make string, even today, by twisting the fibres of the plant together. As you can imagine, string is highly useful for temporarily holding things together. You can also keep twisting the fibres together until you get rope, which can be even more useful if you need larger, heavier objects holding in place, such as a ship or drawbridge.

Other Uses

The same fibres used to make string can instead be used to make canvas, slightly less useful but can be highly valuable with paint on them. It can also be used to make paper, flooring, inks, paints or just be grown as a decorative plant.

Supposedly its specific epithet, usitatissum, means “most useful”. The plant has been cultivated since at least Ancient Egyptian times and has been grown all over Europe and Asia for its numerous uses.

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    $\begingroup$ side note, you can likely buy flax seed at your local supermarket as a cheap food additive $\endgroup$ – Reed Apr 5 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Note if they are bringing livestock and crops with them they could easily bring a cordage crop like flax or hemp, cordage was usually farmed not collected wild. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 5 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @John True, i thought that i was implying it was farmed in my answer, i will edit it to make that clearer. However, it does not change the answer, flax was still a highly valuable resource, hence why it was farmed to get more of it. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris - Reinstate Monica Apr 5 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ A gambeson is quilted and often of wool, so perhaps you are thinking of the linothorax (iconic armor of hoplites)? That is specifically referring to laminated layers of linen. Obviously a gambeson could be called layered linen, but quilted cloth is a more accurate description for it. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 5 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ Note that flax isn't the only efficient way to get fibers for ropes and cloth. In Polynesia a number of trees were used to gain strong fibers for ropes, another ones gave some cloth equivalent, u.s.w. $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Apr 6 at 19:37
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Most of your list is irrelevant. You need the big three and maybe two more things. The first and last thought in your head has to be FARMS, farming is everything, it is the source that supports everything else in the society and most of your population will be farmers. If it it not used on a farm it will not have much use.

Drinkable water

arable land

A robust supply of lumber

Assuming the people bring crops and livestock with them. Everything else is a product of these three things, or incidental and not really required. Ideally there would some clay and iron deposits as well but these tend to exist everywhere that has the above. Of course you also need crops and a livestock but people tend to bring those with them. Farming is the basis of society it supports everything else and the majority of your population will be farmers. Regular rain will be important if people can't farm they are not going to live there.

water is self explanatory, rivers and ground-water can supply that. Arable land is the basis for food, hunting occurs but it is not a huge focus of society. Wood is the basis for all technology tools, homes, cooking, all are wood resources, even the charcoal used for metalworking is made from wood. the few things that cannot be made of wood are usually made of clay or a metal usually iron or copper. A naturally occurring plant useful for cordage like hemp or linen may be helpful, but people will farm these plants as well.

Some other things would be nice to have but they are by no means necessary, fishable waters, source of salt (either mines or bays), good harbors, limestone, these are nice but my no means necessary. Stone is used when available, but is generally too labor intensive to get much use.

If you want to get an idea of what life would be like There is a great BBC series available online called, the tudor farm that is about a group of experimental archeologists and historians recreating a Stuart farm and living there for a year. It can give you a great idea of what is really needed for civilization of that time. A later program by the same people is about building a castle using all period techniques, (secrets of the castle) and you will notice that even there the only other resource they use is occasionally lead and chalk. Shapeable stone like granite or sandstone are nice but only really necessary if you want to have stone buildings it is not necessary. you tend to have some source of stone anyway, arable land needs a mineral source to refresh soil which is usually nearby mountains.

Tin, coal, precious metals, gems, and marble are more or less useless in such a society, or so hard to use or get that they are only used for expensive showy non-essential uses. They may be used if available but they are by no means necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer, and clear in the priority of resources, but it's a little northern-European centric. Eurasian steppe nomads have continually produced sophisticated cultures throughout recorded history without relying on arable land or farming. Change it to 'arable land/pasture for livestock' and you have my vote ;) Oh, they have also done so without ready supply of wood, so I'm not convinced that is a solid requirement either. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 5 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Dark age technology does not say steppe nomads to me, the dark ages was a european occurrence, a time and a place. Specifically eastern europe after the fall of the roman empire. Also even the steppe people needed quite a lot of timber, there migratory patterns always included forests. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 5 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ True, although I really do struggle with that cultural perception. The level of technological development in the Dark Ages was roughly similar throughout Western Eurasia so the relatively arbitrary exclusion of steppe nomads seems bizarre to me. It's something that flags 'undeveloped worldbuilding' to me if people are basing things heavily on medieval Europe on the scale that should heavily involve steppe nomads...and for some reason doesn't. Good point about forests though, hadn't spotted that ;) $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 5 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ If the OP had said medieval civilization I would use a much broader set, including the Chinese, Callifates, as well as the steppe peoples. More likely would have asked for the OP to narrow it down a bit to what type of culture they were looking for and then gone from there, Dark ages is pretty narrow medieval is not. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 5 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @John To me "Dark Ages" means the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East in 12th and 11th century BC until the rise of the Neo-Hittites in the 10th century BC. That is when history went dark post-collapse as writing largely disappeared and we know very little. What the OP probably meant was Northern Europe in the Migration or Early Medieval period (which is hardly "dark" to me as we know lots about it). As for the fall of the Roman empire, when exactly was that? 1453? $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 5 at 17:57
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Arguably, the most imporant resource was land.

Arable land provided a way for the local lords to gain economic power: by providing protection for the local populace in exchange for food and good that they produced. Whilst the food itsef is not likely to make them a fortune, they would not be able to make the money if they and their men were starved half to death constantly. Land was often given to wealth lords or knights by the ruler as a reward for various things.

Even non-arable land would have some uses, such as being ideal to build upon as you would not need to worry about losing out on useful, farmable land. You might also be able to house animals on there, assuming you have some way of feeding them.

Additionally, hills and mountains would be highly valued for their defensibility. Castles and fortresses were often built on them where possible in order to have a staging point and fortified poition in case of an attack. This also allows for you to defend other resources that you own, such as forrests, quarries, rivers etc.

Access to coastlines and large rivers was also extremely important. If you have access to the sea, not only do you have a source of fish for your local population, you can create docks and ports to allow for trade with other regions or even other nations. Alternatively, having sea access meant you could defend your country from invasions via ships, intercepting them before they landed.

Alternatively, you could argue that the most important resource was people. Without the backs of labourers, the hands of artisans and the swords of soliders, the lords, and indeed countries, would not be able to gain the wealth and influence that they had and nothing would ever get done.

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Good points all and valid.

Civilisations of the past have failed when they outgrew their local resources, usually wood in the limit as it is impractical to transport over large distances.

However you show a medieval island that is small if the features that look like mountains are mountains.

So the most important requirement is a human gene pool. There are various theories and numbers that are bandied about, but in the end you need to have enough people and enough land to feed them. A small island nation will not survive indefinitely with a fenced population.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think that those mountainous stuctures are meant to be mountain ranges rather than just individual mountains. Addimittedly, they are still rather large considering the scale but perhaps that is a limitation of the medium. If they were to scale, they might be so small on that map that you would not be able to see them, hence making them substantially larger. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris - Reinstate Monica Apr 6 at 0:10

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