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An ancient kingdom covers a several rivers in a desert basin all converging on a central, hypersaline, lake. Because of its central location, and the importance of the salt, the lake has important religious and cultural significance. In particular, an island in the middle of the lake.

I thought about making the island the capital of said kingdom as a fusion of civil and religious power, but I ran into trouble of the feasibility of it. How would one get sufficient amount of water into middle of the lake?

  • In war time. A capital that can withstand siege would be ideal - especially that it is very hard to assault, and a central location allows them to project force through 'army in being'.
  • In peace time. Just as Rome was largely unprotected during its Empire, during a golden age, the capital might have been moved there for symbolic reasons.

The closest thing I come up with was either shipping it (probably too labor expensive in the Bronze Age for anything but the palace of the god king) or create a juicy plant which either is farmed on the lake or on land (but probably hypersaline lakes are too salty and I don't know how much farmland would need to be used).

Does Bronze Age civilization have the means to obtain water for a large city in the middle of the hypersaline lake and, if yes, how would they obtain it?

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  • $\begingroup$ What are you asking? How to transport the lake water or how to purify it. And what do you mean by farming plants? $\endgroup$ – Jefferey Dawson Jul 14 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffereyDawson would a bronze age civilization have means and resources to sustain capital in the middle of hypersaline lake and if yes how would they do it (I edited the question to make it explicit). $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jul 14 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Maciej, I edited your post for grammar but please check it over to make sure I didn't change the meaning of anything. In particular, the first line. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 14 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking for a way to have drinking water (~4 liters per person and day(lppd)) for a metropolis, or are you looking for drinking water & use (~10 lppd) or all the water needed for the crops and livestock (hundreds lppd)? $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jul 15 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ Also, rivers converging on a hypersaline lake, sounds like there is no outgoing flow, meaning evaporation takes care of the inflow, leaving the salts behind. - With a large settlement, there will be a lot of, ahem, non-NaCl stuff in the wastewater (which will float on top of the hypersaline water...), which will accrue as well. You may save on guards in lieu of smell... or exports? 'Holy s--t, fresh from the capital!' $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jul 15 at 9:17
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Water is an essential resource, especially in bronze age. You can't have a city without supplying it, that's why the first civilization have arisen next to big rivers (Gange, Yang-Tze, Nile, Tigris and Euphrates).

In your case the hyper-saline lake looks like a nasty environment even for a tribe.

If you however want to have a city there, a way to have fresh water is to have an underground aquifer, more or less like in the North of the Sahara desert. A rather simple well could provide access to the fresh water and thus allow a city to sustain itself there.

However, such a city would massively rely on external supplies of food, since farming in an hyper-saline lake is out of question.

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    $\begingroup$ The tribes might stop there for food, salt lakes often have abundant shore birds, especially filter feeders like flamigo. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 14 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine that the most of the population would live in farms and cities along the rivers which bring fresh water and nutrients for plants while the city is just a capital. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jul 14 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ @MaciejPiechotka I think generally capitals were originally the most important cities, which doesn't really make sense if the city is next to a nasty lake. Anything is possible of course, but that is a bit odd. $\endgroup$ – Riker Jul 15 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Riker You could have it as a capital "in name only". Rome was still considered the capital of the Roman empire even when the actual government resided in other cities. You could do the reverse, and have the capital be nothing but the official seat of government. You could even sell that as a way to fight corruption - one of the reasons people want to live in the capital is so they get closer to the government, and gain more influence over it (and since the most influential people live in the capital, other people quickly flock in). $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 16 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Riker I think historically there were a lot of capitals that weren't most important cities. IIRC Warsaw was relatively small compared to Krakow when it become capital. Washington was just swamps IIRC. Versailles was small comparing to neighbouring Paris (was just hunting cabin when it become capital). Istambul is 3 times as large as Ankara and in more strategically important location. And that's just examples I though about. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jul 16 at 16:47
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Your lacustrine island is pretty much akin to a marine one in terms of salinity, so it will have access to fresh water in the same way that maritime islands do.

Rainfall over the island will create fresh groundwater that floats above the hypersaline waters due to being significantly less dense.

In hydrology, this is known as a freshwater lens.

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    $\begingroup$ Reading on the topic it seems that it requires regular rains to replenish the amount of water which would be rare given the surrounding desert. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jul 15 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ It does require there to be rainfall, yes. Despite being in a desert, the island is in the middle of a lake, so assuming the lake is big enough, there should be rain. The fresh water lens may be quite seasonal. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Jul 15 at 20:05
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Actually this has reminded me of a very interesting culture. The Aztecs built a huge city on an island in the middle of a lake, albeit a freshwater lake. The island was connected to the surrounding land by long floating bridges, and keep in mind that Aztecs didn't smelt iron and used bronze as your question outlines. This island city was their capital as well, called Tenochtitlan. They farmed crops on this lake with floating gardens. Now for applying this tactic with your hyper saline lake, as L.Dutch said, forget about it. There are no halophile crops even remotely worth harvesting.

With the Aztecs island city, there were also a myriad of other small islands surrounding it, all interconnected with each other through a series of floating bridges. What I suggest is have a central hypersaline lake which would be surrounding by small town-islands that contain wells/underground aquifers for water to be transported quickly and easily between these towns and the main city, and for crops to be grown somewhat near the lake, but not close enough to damage the crops. The crops will then be transported through this bridge network throughout the islands.

In preparation for war or just as a precaution, grain stores will be made as to keep themselves self-sufficient for the time needed. If under siege, simply destroy the floating bridges. The enemy will attempt to starve you out, but if the empire is large, simply ask for assistance from your myriad city states and conquered territories. Animals can be farmed on the town-islands and capital city with ease.

Hopefully this answers everything!

*If the rivers are freshwater and not hypersaline, simply grow crops there and transport them through the bridge network

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    $\begingroup$ Instead of Aztecs it's better to look to the Mayas next door: they had a lot of problems with fresh rain water escaping deep underground, too deep, so they had to make complex systems to intercept it and store it to be able to survive as civilization. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Jul 15 at 9:54
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how would they obtain it

Probably the same way the Romans did it: with arched stone aqueducts. (There's nothing particularly complex about them. If you can build a big stone pyramid, you can build an aqueduct...)

Stone aqueducts this early aren't historically accurate, but... close enough. After all, the Henge Builders hewed hard stone and moved it long distances, and historical fiction, is, after all fiction!

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ @Mark there are stones in the ocean, no? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jul 15 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark Be more specific please. Dried salt is bad for brickwork (particularly where there may be frosts) because of the way it encourages water to more in particular directions - but I don't think it would be a problem in a desert. $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jul 15 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinBonner just as importantly, stone isn't brick. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jul 15 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ Note: At least historically, sophisticated, long distance aqueducts (of the sort needed to supply a civilization in the middle of a desert beside a hypersaline lake) date to the Iron Age, not the Bronze. The Assyrians were the first to build them in the 9th century BCE, with the Iron Age beginning in the Middle East beginning a few hundred years before then. Not saying it's physically impossible in the Bronze Age, but I suspect there is a reason pyramids preceded advanced aqueducts, despite the obviously greater utility of the latter. $\endgroup$ – ShadowRanger Jul 15 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ And when that occurs, you tell the people that they have displeased the gods, sacrifice a few virgins and rebuild them. As long as you have multiple redundant sources the city will be fine. And it'd only be the section crossing the water that would collapse. $\endgroup$ – Stephen Jul 16 at 1:33
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Solar stills.

Basically, they would build a cone of glass over a section of the saltwater lake, allowing sunlight into the water to heat it up and cause the water to begin to evaporate. The top of the cone would be connected to copper or bronze tubing to a shaft that's dug into the ground at an angle, where the water begins to condense and collect, with a different shaft that's been dug straight down to form a well, where the condensed water can be collected.

The Wikipedia article on them has a nice image depicting such a structure, though I can't directly include it in this answer because its filetype is incompatible with StackExchange's image functionality.

Apparently similar devices were constructed by Stone Age Native American tribes, though they used wood and leaves to construct theirs, since they lived in a climate where dews condensed naturally overnight, so they just needed to construct a device to capture this water, rather than one that generated it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea - I imagine a salt for export is a nice by-product. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jul 16 at 16:41

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