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In the land of Szerika, there lives a society of people who live peacefully. There are no other groups of people anywhere nearby, so the Szerikans have no worries of war. They do, however, fear dragons.

In Szerika, dragons appear for raids on settlements about once every year. The Szerikans have no defenses, and indeed have chosen to not fight the dragons, in keeping with their practice of nonviolence. The dragons are, after all, far too powerful against the medieval technology the people have.

As an alternative, the Szerikans have chosen to create movable cities. There may be other alternatives to fending off dragons, but these ones are pretty powerful.

The chosen method for moving the city is modular building. The thing is, it's hard to build buildings and floors of buildings that can be attached together, moved a few dozen miles, and re-assembled - all with medieval technology.

Is this possible?

Here are some specifics:

  • The city has a population of about 5000 people, with perhaps 750 buildings.
  • No buildings are higher than three stories. Most are houses and businesses, built mainly with wood.
  • The construction/assembly materials available are those found in the Middle Ages.
  • The people need to move about ten miles in one week.
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    $\begingroup$ What time frame are you considering for the moving? Also, a dragon in flight (I assume these ones fly) is going to notice any route capable of supporting the movement of an entire city and probably the city's new location, so I don't think this is as feasible a defense as you might think. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 15 '15 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre They plan on moving about ten miles within one week. The dragons are predictable to about that timeframe, and they know where to go to hide. The reason they don't simply stay hidden all the time is that that would limit their access to resources, e.g. water and open fields. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 15 '15 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ Since this is a city-design question, I won't let this get side-tracked into a discussion on fantastical viability and common mythology (though it would be fun). However, I do have one question: What's the average wealth of the population? In order of expense: brick, stone, timber, adobe were the common building materials of the Middle Ages, with thatch roofs. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 15 '15 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre They're peasants, mostly. I don't have stats on the average income, but those should be simple to find. I can dig something up. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 15 '15 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ Would it really be necessary to move the city? Couldn't you just build a second one and switch between the two? $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Apr 15 '15 at 19:05

12 Answers 12

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Maybe the people of Szerika would choose to live in tents?

Tents are easy to set up and pull down, they are assembled from smaller pieces, and they are made from materials (wood, rope, hides, cotton, ...) that is easy to transport because it is relatively light and not bulky. It is harder to imagine lots of multi-stories buildings made from tents, so I guess this only works if the population density of the Szerikan cities don't require multi-story buildings. Now since the Szerikans are so peaceful, their cities don't need city walls, so they could afford less densely populated cities than the usual try-to-live-inside-the-walls city of the European middle ages.

Some sources on living in tents:

Historically, the Roman army was able to setup a new (somewhat town-like) camp every night when marching. According to the Wikipedia article "Castra", "[t]hey could throw up a camp under enemy attack in as little as a few hours".

In my own scouting experience, it is quite possible and not even too hard to build multi-story buildings just from timber and rope. Not worth the effort for sleeping places, but for community buildings, maybe so. Here is a website that has some pictures of a tent cathedral built by boy scouts for the catholic World Youth Day in Cologne, 2005: http://www.jurtenland.de/jurtenkathedrale.

Another historic reference you might want to look into is the mongolian yurt.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice answer Toxaris, welcome to the site. $\endgroup$ – James Apr 15 '15 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ Man, I've been getting a lot of awesome first-post-answers to my questions. I may end up using this idea. . . $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 15 '15 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ Medieval mongol horde settlements could be a historical inspiration; not really a city with buildings, but it had tens of thousands of people living (and moving) for years in, as far as I know, movable yurts. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Apr 15 '15 at 23:57
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People should live in boats. When they want to move to another place, they only have to built a temporally port in the desired place until they decide to move again. For that reason, cities in Szerika may be built in a lake areas or in the coast.

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    $\begingroup$ Or on rivers <<<<<<<< $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Apr 15 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea, but it does run into trouble with "we sailed somewhere to hide from a dragon" - perhaps there's a cove or somewhere that they hide in? $\endgroup$ – Allen Gould May 11 '15 at 18:38
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I'm a fan of tumbleweed tiny houses - they're neat. And while the tiny house isn't directly applicable its not that far off.

A house is made up of a number of rooms. Each room is built on a wagon (we're not talking spacious, but adequate). Multiple rooms are then fastened together (wooden pins) and a tent pitched over the structure on which the roof and exterior rain proofing is placed.

When it comes time to move, the external tent is taken down and tucked into one of the rooms, the pins removed, and wheels once again affixed to axels. Hitch the rooms up to the horses and away you go.

Houses themselves aren't that complex - there's a sleeping room, and a cooking room. If the family has a trade, there is likely a craft room (blacksmithing, wood shop, brewery). It really doesn't take much to make a small house.

As the family grows, it is simple to add on another room to the family's caravan. You can even have fun with marriage customs (the husband's side of the family makes a kitchen, the wife's side makes a bedroom and the newly weds go off with their own home).

This is crazy you say? Well, there is some historical precedent for a mobile home in days of yore... Just pull up a search for 'mobile yurt' and you find things such as:

enter image description here

That's not exactly modern technology.

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After a little bit of thought, a simple solution occurred to me that is quite viable with any level of technology after the hammer and chisel. If you've ever played with Lincoln logs, you'll notice that the ends are specially cut so they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. With proper planning and engineering, I imagine an entire city could be built using carefully-cut timber. When the time comes, simply remove the contents to a wagon, dismantle the building, put the logs and thatch roof on another wagon, and off you go.

Just make sure you number the logs correctly for reassembly at the other end!

Of course, the buildings could be designed so they could serve as either buildings or wagons, reducing the number of dedicated wagons needed.

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    $\begingroup$ The Tabernacle described in Exodus fits thus description perfectly. It was designed to be moved and reconstructed at a moments notice over a span of over forty years. They had instituted the whole "insert panel a into socket a and connect to b." $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Apr 15 '15 at 20:59
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I endorse this answer, and add:

gypsy wagons

You typically think of a "city" as being a collection of buildings, infrastructure, and people, which is usually fixed in place because some of that stuff is hard to move. While people today may enjoy "roughing it" (camping) for a week or two at a time, that's not a great way to live long-term. However, we can learn some things from groups that set up temporary "medieval-oid" cities today and extrapolate.

yurt

The Society for Creative Anachronism is a group that, very loosely, tries to re-create aspects of the middle ages and renaissance. Its largest annual event is Pennsic, a two-week-long gathering of 10,000+ people on a hunk of (mostly) open land. Most people camp in tents, but some use Mongolian-style yurts (which the nomadic Mongols moved, too), a few set up pre-fab buildings, and a very few have gypsy wagons or buildings on trailers. Most attendees bring their tents and yurts, with furnishings, in their cars; the larger items require trucks. Rigid structures on trailers are the hardest to transport and the most susceptible to problems of terrain. I'd say that things we can transport in passenger vehicles could most likely be transported in horse-drawn wagons.

pre-fab building

That covers individual residences, but what about infrastructure? A medieval city probably has a church, one or more inns, craft/guild halls, and some shops. It also likely has a smithy. And don't forget that you need stabling and support for horses, and some provision for livestock. That stuff...adds up. And can be kind of heavy and cumbersome.

A city that is designed to be mobile from the start would have to prioritize and economize on common structures. You could still have some; they might be smaller and less elaborate than otherwise. You'd also want buildings to be multi-purpose where possible.

Other infrastructure just wouldn't happen in a mobile city. Farms are obviously going to be a problem; there'd also be less in the way of roads. You'd still need a water supply, though, which might require digging wells.

Moving a collection of structures and 5000 people, even with many of them children, ten miles in a week seems quite doable evan when traveling across open fields rather than roads. Armies covered that in a day, though with tents and not buildings.

house on trailer

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Although it may not be immediately obvious, buildings are simply too heavy to be moved via medieval technology.

Clearly you need wheeled transport, presumably powered by horses or other pack animals. You don't have modern bearings, greased axles around very imperfect smooth surfaces will be very hard to transport under the best of conditions. However, the best of conditions is also not possible. Medieval roads will not be smooth, even a very small gradient will make the building simply too heavy with animal transport. The road will also deform given the load making it equivalent to be stuck in a rut all of the time.

You do not have the technology to distribute the ground pressure load enough to really make the necessary difference, tracked vehicles are out, large width wheels are not practical to build.

If you work very hard on the medieval engineering, you could perhaps have some success, but the inevitable breakdowns would occur on the road and it would be impossible to make repairs in-situ, certainly not in a timely manner.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't think wagons with spoke and hub wheels - go more primitive. The big structural timbers are round, not squared off, so they can be used as rollers. As the heavy load moves over the rollers, pick the one off the back and move it to the front for the load to roll on top of. Massive stone statues have been moved great distances by primitive people using this method. That said, I do agree that solid buildings are far too heavy and cumbersome for a constantly nomadic community. Yurts all the way. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 16 '15 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ Actually I thought of this. Timbers are going to be high friction as well altough probably about the same as spoked wheel and hub . However there is a very severe limit to how fast you could move buildings this way i.e., too slow for the intended purpose. Just like yurts are the obvious solution, but appeared to be irrelevant to the question as posed. Thanks $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Apr 16 '15 at 21:28
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Another alternative is to just have multiple cities built, and move the population to and fro in a convoy of tent-wagons.

I'm not sure why a dragon can't just follow the moving city 10 miles, though.

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I think the best answer in this case is to make the buildings mobile.

  • This would eliminate the time needed to dis/reassemble homes and businesses which would be a major undertaking even if the design was simple.
  • Keep in mind these people do not have plastics and other lighter weight construction materials nor the mobile lifting tech we have.
  • You could maintain stone infrastructure at the various sites the city sets up shop (unless it is totally random). This would be immune to fire and durable for the times the city is else where.
  • Buildings would have to be generally small as the effort to move larger buildings would be to great with the level of tech they have. This goes back to the stone infrastructure idea, major buildings, inns/town halls/markets/clinics could all be built and left at the various sites.

TLDR: Basically I am talking about a medieval, horse-drawn city of motor homes.

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  • $\begingroup$ While stone buildings are fairly impervious to fire, it's not the stone that's the weak point, but rather the mortar holding the blocks together. The common mortar of the time was vulnerable to both fire and water. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 15 '15 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Moving rigid buildings on wheels across bumpy terrain, or even open fields, can be challenging, but if you can make walls and roofs at least partly out of cloth instead, like covered wagons or gypsy wagons, that's easier to transport. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Apr 16 '15 at 1:34
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This answer assumes there is a certain degree of 'magic' in this world

-Or at least some handwavium-fantasy like properties. I mean we are talking about dragons.

I agree with the motor-homes being pulled by horses being unpractical. And while the lincoln logs are a nice idea, I think it would make the buildings either too simple or it would simply take to long to set up shop or to leave a location. (So unless there are like 'Dragon seasons' it wouldn't work, and at that point you might as well just have 2 cities and migrate between them)

Having boat buildings seems like a good choice although you are limited to waterways and lakes/seas. It is still rather risky because if the Dragons come from the open water, they are trapped. (Or from downstream on a river)

Now for the magic-handwaving-madness :

People in this world build and live in highly mobile establishments that add permanent structures every time they establish in a different city. Cities are formed by several people grouping and grow from others joining them until they disband upon hearing of a Dragon threat.

Some take the risk and have homes built on barges, traveling rivers and lakes and sometimes even risking open water.

The poor stick to land and travel by chariot and horses (like gypsies caravans)

The rich(or crazy) fly away in the face of danger, deploying blimps(I very much doubt this would be actually possible but there are dragons so why not) above their homes and travel the land unrestricted.

In some locations, people have decided to dig underground cities, these cities rarely last after a few dragon attacks as the people living underground become dependent on others returning with resources and food, but a few well located for trade and travel constantly see themselves resurrected.

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Steppe peoples used yurts on wheels and tent cities. So have armies, and medieval tents could be very large and multi-room, albeit with a whole lot of interior poles and trusses. For your large buildings, consider the 1800s circus tent transported on wagons, not only the canvas but the king pole, half poles, quarter poles, and all the ropes and pegs, tools and seating to boot.

Now, speed. The usual wagon animals on the steppe and in China were oxen. They are the strongest, so you need the fewest animals (which have to be fed grain on the march as there isn't time for them to graze. Crazy as it sounds, the Chinese ox drawn army travelled c. 3 miles per day. Horses and mules are faster, but you need 3 or 4 times as many. Look into gigantic English road waggons of the 1700s and early 1800s right before railroads. They made about 20 miles/day on good roads. So figure 10 m/d.

This is a good walking speed for humans.

Still, you will need advance parties to start out weeks early to put down depots for food, fodder, forage, and firewood for everyone else.

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Domesticated dragons could be used to carry or drag buildings or parts of buildings. And when they aren't doing that, they could pull plows through fields, act as sentinels, scare away other predators, etc.

( * This is an answer about where to get the strength to move buildings. It's obviously not a mechanical / construction answer like most of the other answers on this page.)

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Ideas :

https://film110.pbworks.com/f/1260166790/howls%20moving%20castle.jpg

http://i.stack.imgur.com/u3fLY.png http://i.stack.imgur.com/ezgqB.png

  • There is many legends about animals carrying cities (yeah another turtle !)

http://i.stack.imgur.com/lybSA.jpg

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