This country has very low mortality rates and basic medicine, it is also very well-connected with a strong government and homogeneous culture and people. The country is self-providing of all resources. The army doesn't engage in massive battles and is mostly border guard and garrison.

The events are set in a late renaissance-like world(not specific to Europe), minus the gunpowder. The country has political feuds growing with a nearby nation but doesn't have enough troops to challenge them military, why would that be?

They haven't had any major war for decades, the population is about 100 million, while their military force is 250k in total (the age demographic of the population is evenly mixed). Consider forced conscription unavailable.

some extra clarification 250k is small because of its size, (something like the former USSR, but the land is more of the weather of western Europe) there are thousands of castles bordering other nations and a huge navy that protects the trade routes, the number also includes the police force.

Note: i keep seeing people using the "The events are set in a late Renaissance-like world" as a reason to compare it to Europe. i used that term for the lack of a better term to symbolize the technology, the weaponry, the advancement in sailing, governmental structures of that time, and chain of command.I am mainly referring to the time period. also, the population count shouldn't matter, what matters is that i am saying that in this case it makes sense that they can have a 100 million and that a 250k army is small. what would be reasons that they wouldn't be able to mobilize further

extra clarification: consider transportation across the country to not be a problem, there exist a series of channels that interconnect all parts of the land (dosent matter how they were built) they can cut travel times by half.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 19 '20 at 19:16

13 Answers 13


Fielding a big army takes money. Money takes taxes. Your population doesn't want to pay them.

What you've described is a big, prosperous country that's gotten fat and lazy off of generations of not having had to fight for anything. Our own history is full of that kind of thing. A nation like that will offer enormous internal resistance to anybody who wants to try to build a big army for aggressive purposes all the way from the poor farmers who would be the first people conscripted to fight, to the wealthy merchants and nobles who would be the first ones expected to pay for it.

This is basically exactly what the United States was like in the 30s. The vast majority of the country had no interest at ALL in participating in World War 2 until the Germans and Japanese respectively forced the issue. Unless the other country that they're feuding with in your scenario starts actually killing people, your prosperous nation will be irrationally committed to peaceful diplomacy at all costs.

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    $\begingroup$ While the US certainly was reluctant to join the war, the characterisation as a prosperous country that got fat and lazy seems a tiny tad off given that this was the time of the Great Depression. Since - just peeking briefly at some stats - the US seems to have recovered around 1940, the opposite argument could be made in fact: That once they got prosperous enough to finance a foreign war they did (I'm not making that argument, I'm just saying that would seem better supported). $\endgroup$ – Frank Hopkins Jan 16 '20 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ Even the Great Depression was prosperous if you compare it to medieval times. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jan 16 '20 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you know what "respectively" means. $\endgroup$ – Acccumulation Jan 17 '20 at 5:37
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    $\begingroup$ @FrankHopkins, some allege that the war was part of the recovery. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jan 17 '20 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ "irrationally committed to peaceful diplomacy" - It's a mixed up world when peaceful diplomacy is considered irrational! $\endgroup$ – Glen Yates Jan 17 '20 at 20:27
  1. "The events are set in a late renaissance like world, minus the gunpowder."

    Fine. Let's take this as given, and let's assume that by "late Renaissance-like" we understand western European Renaissance, about 1550 to 1600.

  2. "The army doesn't engage in massive battles and is mostly border guard and garrison."

    Nope, that doesn't work in a western European late-Renaissance country.

    It doesn't work because there were no border guards the way we understand the term. There was no such thing as a passport. People came and went as they pleased; one didn't need a state-issued travel document to travel from, let's say, Naples to Uppsala, or from Bristol to Vienna. They needed money, and may have to register with various local authorities on the way (not necessarily, but it was occasionally possible, especially in the Germanies); but documents they didn't need, and definitely there was no such thing as immigration control at the borders.

    As for garrisons, I don't even understand what is intended here. Nobody kept soldiers around, inside the country, in peacetime, as garrisons in their own cities. What would have been the purpose of such great expense? To do what?

  3. "They haven't had any major war for decades..."

    Well, that's one small western-European late-Renaissance country; for example, the Bishopric of Würzburg. But no major western-European Renaissance country went five years without being engaged in some war. But OK, let's assume that somehow this late-Renaissance-like world is not really quite so late-Renaissance-like and this country somehow avoided war for a decade or so.

  4. "The country has political feuds growing with a nearby nation."

    To avoid useless arguments, let's assume that by nearby nation the question means a nearby country.

  5. "Doesn't have enough troops to challenge them militarily."

    Well, that is to be expected, isn't it? They did not have wars for a decade. Nobody in their right mind kept soldiers around for fun. Soldiers are expensive. They need to be fed, they need to be housed, they need to be clothed, they need equipment, and they need to be paid; and in exchange they don't produce anything. Don't project imperialistic ambitions of a handful of 21st century countries into the 16th century. Of course they don't have enough troops.

    What a 16th century sovereign did when they planned to go to war was gather an army, because nobody had masses of soldiers just standing around consuming resources. Gathering an army implied either recruiting some of their own subjects, or, quite commonly, hiring professionals. By and large, countries such as France, England or Sweden preferred recruiting French, English or Swedish subjects, while German or Italian countries preferred hiring professionals. (Spain is special; they actually had a permanent professional army of their own, but then, they cannot serve as an example because they never went through a whole year without being engaged in some war somewhere.)

    Gathering an army for war was a very expensive proposition, and risky; money needs to be found, a plan to raise the immense war budget needs to be developed and executed, and the king my lose his head in the process: just ask Charles I of England. Provisioning a war budget takes time.

    But how could a country defend itself if they didn't keep large armies standing by?

    16th century wars were not like modern wars. A country would have ample time to prepare in the event that a nearby power wanted to make war upon them. You notice that your western large neighbor is recruiting soldiers? That takes time. You then duplicate the effort. Then, 16th century armies were slow. Let's say that the Ottoman Empire wanted to attack Austria; Austria could count on a full year between the Sultan issuing the order and an Ottoman army actually showing at the gates of Vienna.

  6. "The population is about 100 million, while their military force is 250k in total."

    Wow, that's one extremely large army. As in unbelievably large.

    You seriously need to understand better how warfare was practiced in the late Renaissance or even the Early Modern periods.

    • That's about the total size of the combined armies fighting on the "Protestant" side in the Thirty Years' War. (And remember that this is war-time strength, not peace-time strength, that at least half of that force were foreign professionals, and again that this was an actual relatively modern war with firearms and with plenty of innovations.)

    • That is larger than the total size of the army which the Ottoman Empire, a notoriously bellicose and very large power, mustered for their war against Austria in the 17th century.

    • That is about the total size of the Roman army during the rule of emperor Augustus; and that was the army of a large empire, always fighting some war somewhere.

    What could they possibly plan on doing with a quarter of a million soldiers? In a war without gunpowder? Not even the Romans ever concentrated such an awesome force against one single enemy, in one single war. How do they plan to keep this army fed and equipped on campaign? It's the 16th century! There are no railroads, overland transportation of food, equipment and ammunition is a vast exercise...


  • Of course they don't have enough troops; nobody kept large armies standing idle in peacetime. They need to gather an army, and, anyway they do it, it will cost a lot of money. Money needs to be planned into the budget.

  • An army of a quarter of a million soldiers is immense for the late Renaissance. This is about the total size of the armies of the Roman or the Ottoman empires.

  • This is actually comparable with the total number of soldiers they could expect to be able to sustain in war time. A population of 100 million means some 25 million men of military age; in war time they could maybe sustain 4% of them under arms, for a total war-time strength of one million. (4% is a very high percentage of men in the army, given the general level of technology in the 16th century.)

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 19 '20 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ note that 250k soldiers would be the army of weak chinese emperor dynasties... $\endgroup$ – Trish Jan 27 '20 at 15:59

Political traditions cripple their military.

Pick one or several:

  • The parliament or the nobility really doesn't like the monarch to control too many troops. The monarch doesn't want troops under the nobility. The commoners of the cities are expected to provide defensive garrisons, not expeditionary forces. Each craftsman and apprentice owes two days of service per month, guarding the gates and training. After that, the next one reports for his shift.
  • The army is still feudal, with nobles owing their overlords that many lances (a knight with a squire, a sergeant, an archer and a couple pages) in time of war only. Turning that into a modern pike-and-crossbow block is all but impossible.
  • Tradition and law regulate what taxes the central government may raise, and for which purposes. A long time ago the tax on wool exports was entirely adequate to fund a strong army. Now everyone exports cotton. The political factions have been arguing for decades about a complete revision of government finances, but somebody would have to pay more than they pay now.
  • Once an officer makes colonel, all promotions are strictly by time in grade, and there is no mandatory retirement. Unfortunately, resignations are seen as dishonorable. So it is possible to deploy a few companies under the command one of the company captains, but sending a full regiment means having an 80-year-old in overall command. Anything else would be a grave insult to the honor of a powerful family.
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, OP says very low mortality rates but aging until 80 is very rare in late-renaissance, nevertheless +1, nice ideas $\endgroup$ – atakanyenel Jan 16 '20 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ @atakanyenel, average live expectancy doesn't matter for this. The field command goes to the oldest living colonel, who could reasonably be expected to be 80+. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jan 16 '20 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @atakanyenel That's actually a misconception. The low life expectancy of that age is mainly due to a huge child mortality rate and many people dieing under the age of 30 due to wars, famines and epidemics. The average life expectancy of someone who managed to get to 50 was not extremely different from today. Especially if you are someone who did not die as a child, did not have to fight in frontlines (because you are an officer), did not suffer hunger (because officers get paid well) and managed to dodge epidemics (just needs a bit of luck) getting to age 80 was not that uncommon. $\endgroup$ – Dakkaron Jan 17 '20 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ @atakanyenel If you, for example, have a look at ancient greek philosophers (which were in a similar situation, suffering no hunger, not being affected by war or dangerous jobs) many of them reached ages of 70 to 80 years. $\endgroup$ – Dakkaron Jan 17 '20 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ And if the OP wants a world with very low mortality rates, that also means that the population is likely much older than they were in renaissance Europe. $\endgroup$ – Dakkaron Jan 17 '20 at 10:58

People are too old to go to war.

Your /country has very low mortality rates/. They have very low fertility rates. The populace is old. That also accounts in part for why they are stable, rich and peaceful. It is a country like Belgium, or Japan. The old people are rich and sensible. The young people are busy - or foreigners, who are happy to live and work there but by no means are going to go to war for this country.

In the past, to field a proper army this country has leveraged ts wealth and used mercenaries. But this time their reliable mercenaries are unavailable, hailing as they do from the same neighboring country with which these people are feuding.


Hedonistic Population

Basically, a stable population that gets used to not having struggle with resources or wars gets to the point where the populace likes that situation (I mean, what's not to like about it?) and then decides to see how much of this 'plentiful food and minimal work' thing they can get away with.

Fast forward, and you wind up with a hedonistic civilization that only cares for personal gratification (cough Roman Empire cough), which will basically make all the people in it fat slobs who refuse to work.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess a mix of an aging military and a hedonistic population is what I might be looking for $\endgroup$ – Hasan Alsudani Jan 15 '20 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ It's what happened to Rome! ...Among other things. Lots of other things. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jan 15 '20 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ I prefer the “lead poisoning” theory for the fall of Rome. There are decadent societies elsewhere in the world that sustained just fine for long time periods. $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 15 '20 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ This is a typical scenario of a civilization in decline. Look at America today. There are people seriously suggesting putting women in combat roles while we have tens of millions of military-age men sitting at home in their underwear playing videogames! However, it's nothing that a good apocalyptic world war wouldn't solve. People get serious when there's a need to get serious. $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Jan 17 '20 at 15:42

The country has political feuds growing with a nearby nation but doesn't have enough troops to challenge their military

This could be due to various factors:

  1. Other country has a bigger army: Your army of 250k can't do much against another of 1m, assuming similar equipment and training.
  2. Terrain differences: This country is a fertile low-lying plains, while other one is a mountainous region with precious mines. Its fairly easy for the enemy army to march on flat ground, but much harder for their army to adapt to mountain warfare.
  3. Long training time: Tensions have spiked up only recently, but there is a need for time & budget to add new soldiers - it can't just happen overnight. Given a few years, they could grow their army enough for a military campaign, but it just isn't ready today.
  4. Workforce unavailable: Unemployment is super low, and most people eligible to join the army are busy with farming (avoid starvation), trading (acquire needed resources), construction (roads, naval bases, defensive fortifications) etc. and can't be easily reassigned for army training.

A Little Internal Division Goes a Long Way

You describe a happy, homogeneous society. If you're willing to relax that a little, you can easily explain away any manpower issues.

If you have a favored minority with your country, and a disadvantaged majority, it can lead to manpower issues. Both Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Syria under Assad had this issue, although you don't necessarily need to make your nation a brutal dictatorship to make it work.

Being in the army has power - you might be able to choose who passes through a checkpoint, or arrest people arbitrarily, or even kill people without a lot of scrutiny. So a ruler cannot allow too many people from the disadvantaged majority into the army - they will gain too much power and may start a revolution.

But at the same time, the favored minority is a finite resource. If you lean to heavily upon that community, they will become restive and the ruler will lose their support. The favored minority wants to have some of their young people at home, running their shops and plowing their fields. If they're all enticed or conscripted into the army, that's a problem.

So in this case, the ruler is performing a careful balance, trying to pull from both communities in just the right amount to staff their forces without giving too much power to the majority or abusing the good will of the minority.

In Syria and Iraq, these divisions fell along ethic lines, but you could choose something more subtle. Perhaps the country is ethnically homogeneous, but some core part of the country favored, and the large portions that were conquered two or three generations back are regarded as not yet fully part of the nation.

Or it could be a nobility vs peasantry thing. Or one of several other dividing lines.


The general population is hard to mobilize. There's no reliable census data to start with, so noone knows how many troops could/should be mobilized from a given village or town. This is not far from reality, James Scott "Seeing like a State" goes into the history of censuses a bit if your interested.

More relevant, laws are a hodgepodge or local customs and a general levy is simply not part of it. Trying to start one would lead to riots - peasants and artisans don't give anything away for free, especially not their life and especially not to their nobles. Silvia Federicis "Caliban and the Witch" goes a bit into working conditions and resistance strategies late medieval peasants and artisans employed, you could transpose some of those into a renaissance like setting.

Troops that can be mustered usually stay until the first payday, before deserting. I don't have a good source but again that is not entirely fictional.


Short answer: You need those men for other works.

Long answer: Your country is quite advanced for a late-Renaissance one: even if you have numerous population, you need to be self sufficient (as you said in your plot), so it already takes out a great part of the population. If you choose a non-common way to satisfy the need of the country, such as fishing and tropical cultures, then you will have a manpower tied to farming works all the year.

You can also choose that the major part of population is tied to work part of the year, and the rest of the year they have no habit to go to military work.

These principles apply with other features of your country: sanity of cities, long range trade, cultural activity to integrate everything that could come from the outisde...

Those principles all work because you are in a not-modern country, so you lack the machinery technology/industry that could replace men by machine.


Work expands to fill workforce. In modern countries we have incredible technological wonders compared to just 60 years ago. Manufacturing is highly automated. Yet we work just as many hours as we did back then. We just invented new tasks in retail, middle management, advertising, and entertainment. Some of these jobs make life easier for everyone, others are inherently competitive and zero-sum.

In the long time of peace that your people have had, these type of jobs have expanded to fill your workforce. Now that you need to 'trim the fat' it isn't clear what is excessive. For example, maybe you have many ad driven news sources, the optimal solution would clearly be to cut all the ad departments by half (everyone's ads are half as good, no net loss to society). But untangling all that is a big mess, and of course in your country with little martial tradition, everybody will try to appear to be necessary for productivity (to avoid drafting).

And even then, retraining is a massive issue. Your workforce is made of scribes, messengers, clergy, etc etc. They've mostly never seen a spear. Good luck training them. You might have better luck with the next generation, but the older they are, the more they've specialized. So for the next year your army is going to be made up of dudes who are 5% soldier, 95% scribes. 8 years from now you'll have 50% soldiers, and so on. And that doesn't even get to how you'll be training these dudes, and I hope your generals have been wargaming with each other for the last couple decades...


The country has political feuds growing with a nearby nation but doesn't have enough troops to challenge them military, why would that be?

The populace may have a good sense of self preservation and a lack of identification with the desires of their "masters".

Between WW1 and WW2 the English were on average far more pacifist and anti-war than in the subsequent period after some guy you know in Europe decided to get expansionist. Strong anti-war statements were published by the academic intelligentisia proclaiming their refusal to ever get involved with UK warmongery. Despite this, many subsequently went to their deaths in furtherance of such a war, with a will and as happy to do so as one can reasonably hope anyone to be.

Pre 'Pearl Harbour' the general US feeling was 'isolationist' and the prospect of the US fighting a war in Europe seemed small, to many. Not to all.

Some our-world countries have a reputation (deserved or not) for not for their individuals not wanting to get involved militarily, for generally having soldiers who retreat and surrender at the drop of a hat and ... .
One could put this down to high intelligence and a lack of dedication to their rulers' desires. [I note that the classic example country (tanks with 1 forward and 10 reverse gears, ...) has people, who when they decide to take up arms as 'resistance' forces, have a reputation for immense warlikeness, formidability and nastiness - ie the actions of the people when they are fighting for what they really believe in and their perceived "normal style" may not be the same].


Some possibilities:

  • Low birthrate in the last few decades means the population, while healthy, is of advanced age, with most of the citizens long beyond the young adulthood of their 20s and 30s, which is the ideal for frontline troops. Sure, that 80-year-old still runs marathons, but can he do it with almost 100 pounds of armor and pack? This isn't a great solution, especially in a pre-birth-control era when kids were a natural and very frequent consequence of marriage, but it's an option. Keep reading for better.
  • Training to be a true soldier doesn't happen overnight. If you grew up in a time of peace, in a culture that grows its food, where hunting for sport is barbarism, and where the military is viewed as (or openly operates as) a last resort for those who don't fit into mainstream society (something akin to the French Foreign Legion), it would naturally follow that the military is understaffed for the population it serves. There may be additional "anti-patriotic" social taboos against taking up arms for your country (unpopular political leaders, perhaps; "I'm not risking my life for those idiots in the Grand Council") that would stymie efforts to staff up.
  • No gunpowder means your projectile weapons are significantly harder to learn to use effectively. Pikemen were a dime a dozen, any farmhand could sharpen the end of a pole and be on his way to battle within the hour. Archery, in contrast, was its own trade, with archers learning not only to use bows and arrows, but to make them. Fletching arrows is an acquired skill, especially when you're dealing with medieval materials and methods, and they do break, leaving you to make more from whatever you can. Archery commonly overlapped with hunting, and archers were commonly kept busy hunting game or predatory animals on behalf of the local feudal lord.
  • Along these lines, numbers alone do not win battles; the type of forces you field make a difference. Infantry, archery and cavalry all had strengths and weaknesses against other fighters; archers could break an infantry charge, but armored cavalry turned aside and closed the distance too quickly. Massed pikemen wielding halberds or other purpose-built polearms were an armored cavalryman's biggest threat, but there weren't many of those; light cavalry could flank a pike line, and archers could pick them off at far greater. You can put your entire country's able-bodied male population on the battlefield, but if they aren't skilled at riding (or their horses aren't conditioned against the chaos of battle), and you don't have many archers because your food economy doesn't require much hunting, all you have are a lot of infantry, and you become vulnerable to a more balanced armed force. The French won the Battle of Hastings in much this way, despite being outnumbered by almost half; Duke William's professional force including trained cavalry and archers made the difference against King Harold's hastily-assembled force of English foot soldiers.

The population might be extremely pacifistic. They simply refuse to fight in a war


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