19
$\begingroup$

first question here (but not last I think). I'm currently thinking about ideas I have to form the base of a book I'll then write, and I need some insights/knowledge about exploration.

I'm looking for realistic (or the closest it can be) answers.

For now, let's set up a bit the universe.

We're talking about a centralized, united empire, spreading from a coast to another. It's technological advancement is quite similar to the Renaissance, 17th century in particular.

Until then, the good soil was enough to feed the population, the herds had enough grass and wild plants to feed on, and forests were still standing. Yet, for some years, it became clear that harvests were not what it would have been. Fungic infestation spread and the empire, saw as a giant, was now on the verge of dislocation.

Philosophers, thinkers and scientists emitted the idea that a cure to these plague could be found where the known man never stepped. So exploration parties were sent, braving danger.

I'm wondering: what could be a good way to explain a late exploration of neighboring lands?

We know that Vikings landed in America quite early (10th century or so), so oceans seems to be a no go. Mountains and desert doesn't sound like an impassable terrain, as humanity spread with or without these limitations.

I hope my question fits for the stackexchange format, and I wan't wait to read your ideas.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ if your empire was alone on his continent with no food problem or ennemies, they didn't need to find a new place to colonize, viking had poor land for example (snow and mountain) that's why they seeked new land or pilage europe. $\endgroup$ – hcocox Jan 27 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, yet if food become a problem, as i stated, finding lands to colonize or a solution to your problem become a life or death question $\endgroup$ – OyuunKha Jan 27 at 16:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What have you searched on your own? There are examples of what you are looking for in our history $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 27 at 16:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I searched mainly in european history as it is the more accessible in the languages I speak (french and english). I found plenty on informations on why it was expensive, risky and difficult to travel by sea until the 16th century and why europe had to wait for the Ottoman to cut their access to silk road to find another way. Yet as I stated in my question, the vikings succeeded far earlier than the reste of Europe. If you have any informations on similar problematics in history, I would love to read about that! $\endgroup$ – OyuunKha Jan 27 at 16:15
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Vikings didn't really go through the Atlantic Ocean. They went to Iceland, then Greenland, then "Canada" and went down from there. Remove Iceland and Greenland and they would never have been able to cross. So a big ocean isn't necessarily a bad idea. $\endgroup$ – Echox Jan 28 at 12:36

14 Answers 14

49
$\begingroup$

Isolationist Culture

Tokoguwa Japan willingly shut itself off from the rest of the world in the 16th century, going as far to burn their grand fleet.

After the voyage of Zheng He China basically gave up on maritime exploration, with the late Ming and the Qing Dynasties becoming extremely insular.

Korea has had a very long history of inwardness.

In short you can have a 17th century civilization with good conditions and it won’t expand due to a culture that highly values its traditions, is distrustful of the world and thinks it’s especially important.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Slightly more recent example was American Isolationism in the 18th century and lasting until WW1, with a brief return in between the world wars. I remember it being called isolationism when I was in school but wikipedia calls it Non-intervensionism. Now, to be fair America was born from another country and had considerable trading so a lot of information-sharing, but not much self-originating exploration until Matthew Perry, ironically, forced Japan to open their ports to American trade $\endgroup$ – DreadedEntity Jan 28 at 22:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DreadedEntity I would like to take issue with the idea that America was truly isolationist in the 18th century. We might have not intervened in European affairs, but we were extremely busy conquering natives, most of Mexico, and shenanigans in Latin America $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 29 at 0:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We were also trading and sailing ships around the world. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Jan 29 at 9:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The isolationism of China likewise didn't hinder trade - only the Chinese considered their land as being "enough world for us" $\endgroup$ – eagle275 Jan 29 at 12:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium that might be why we're retroactively calling it non-interventionism now $\endgroup$ – DreadedEntity Jan 29 at 13:59
15
$\begingroup$

Expansion and direction would be dependent on need and resources.

If your kingdom butts up against some sort of natural barrier, and there are no currently useful resources just beyond said barrier, It probably won't expand much in that direction. There is no real incentive to do so.

That is really all you need to set up the circumstances for an empire to spend a long time within certain confines and then have a sudden need to expand.

So your empire runs coast to coast and has plenty of natural resources. Say the northern border is very mountainous and has high deserts. If there isn't any resources in the mountains or just beyond the mountains, the large bulk of your society is going to be just fine staying put. The semi adventurous will be fine moving around within your borders. Only the super adventurous, the loners, the hermits, and maybe a few other nutjobs will voluntarily go beyond into the mountains. That is, until they find something.

It would take a major resource of some kind, or a threat, to cause a mass influx of people. You can look at the push of the Romans into the Rhinelands for examples of going after a Threat. You can also look at the California Gold Rush for an example of going after a resource.

In your case, it looks like a Fungus is your motivator. The desired resource is land free of the fungus. Mountain ranges often have some fertile fields and valleys to be exploited and a full scale push through the mountain range may be in order to find more fertile fields.

So you could easily have centuries of stagnation as long is there is no real incentive to go exploring, followed by a logical rush into unknown territory later .

$\endgroup$
11
$\begingroup$

The recent invention of a medicine that protects explorers from previously deadly diseases.

Neighboring lands had extraordinarily deadly native diseases that would all but wipe out anyone from the empire who dared to venture there. Maybe they are spread by insects, which make them all but impossible to avoid. But this fungic infestation has had one silver lining: someone was able to develop a medicine from the fungus which allows explorers to resist the effects of these native diseases.

It all began with a young farmboy who foolishly wandered into a plague zone. Stranded out in the jungle and sick, he had little to eat but some unappealing fungus-infected crops intended for disposal. Astonishingly enough, he recovered from the sickness and made his way back home to tell everyone the story.

So now the people are free to venture into lands previously inaccessible to them. So long as they don't run out of medicine.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Quinine really did make the scramble for Africa possible $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 27 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ Western Africa was known as "the white man's grave." $\endgroup$ – mr.zog Jan 30 at 16:28
5
$\begingroup$

Because barbarians are more trouble than they are worth

When nations become imperial, they only want to conquer peoples who are worth conquering. Conquering a neighboring kingdom with lots of resources or technology can be worth the sacrifice of war because when you win, you get new lands with lots of stuff to plunder while simultaneously eliminating a major competitor. In contrast, less advanced civilizations can form armies that are just as much work to subdue, but come with much less payoff; so, you freeze your borders once you reach barbarians (people with more weapons than wealth).

When you take Rome for example, they conquered all of the richest and most advanced civilizations in the european/mediterranean area including Greece, Carthage, Egypt, Pontis, Gaul, Capadocia, etc. but from 18-118AD the nature of their aquiasions changed. When they started pushing into places like Germanian, Dacia, Thrace, and Britannia, their wars started costing them more than they could squeeze out of their newest territories which lead to the practical freezing of their borders in 118AD. Rome did not try to make any significant push out past these borders again in the hundreds of years that followed.

When an empire's borders become fixed along a barbarian-front, it draws a line in the sand both literally and figuratively. Everything past that line is considered "not worth it". The people, the land, the culture, the technology, etc. and it forms a strong prejudice against those peoples. To this day, many people maintain the image that the ancient Germans and Celts were just a bunch of warlike nomadic tribes wandering around the woods in bear pelts armed with crude axes and spears because that was the story told by Roman propaganda. This view that forms of Barbarians is generally so negative that it not only keeps people from wanting to conquer those lands, but it also keeps them from wanting to visit, trade with, or study those peoples as well.

Once an empire becomes fully surrounded by "barbarians" like you see in the case of 1st century Rome or 3rd century China, you tend to see isolationism become the status quo of that Empire. Not only do you not want to interact with any of your barbarian neighbors, but you come to the assumption that everyone everywhere else in the world are barbarians, and not worth interacting with.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ This is actually the reason that the Vikings gave for abandoning Vinland (north America), they determined that they could never be at peace with the “skraelings”. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Jan 29 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ I think you mean the borders of the Roman Empire didn't change much after 118, when Trajan died while conquering Mesopotamia. And the borders did change afterwards -- only to contract. $\endgroup$ – llywrch Jan 30 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ Eww, what was I on when I wrote that? What I was trying to say is that their expansion after the Cappadocian acquisition 16-18AD stopped being profitable, but I don't even know where I got that end date from. I must have just copied the wrong date for when Rome officially fixed its borders. Answer updated, thanks. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 16:40
4
$\begingroup$

Are you looking for a scientific idea or a psychological one? Isolationist Japan did exactly that for centuries so that one is easy.

If you want some science fiction ideas:

• A massive undersea volcano range belches up bubbles of CO2, methane etc that lower the density of water enough to sink ships. Large, multi-hulled vessels or even gas bladder based systems would have to be developed.

• This world has multiple moons, maybe some with highly elliptical orbits that cause extremely intense waves, currents and tides that were impossible to navigate until someone properly plotted them all by figuring out gravity, telescopes and orbital mechanics such that they discovered safe passages that only appear at certain intervals and constantly shift.

• This world has a very broad but shallow sea that's full of constantly shifting sandbars that are nearly impossible to chart and wreck ships until either depth sounding radar or a very shallow, multi-hulled vessel is invented to cross it safely (see the Doom Bar).

• The planet has an incredibly hazy upper atmosphere (highly active volcanoes, high altitude ice mist, weird light scattering high atmosphere algae eking out an existence on the edge of space) making navigation by stars impossible.

• The planet was bombarded by nickel iron bolides early on and has massive magnetic anomalies that make compasses unreliable at best, dangerous at worst. This can be circumvented with the eventual development of an inertial compass.

• An era of incredibly intense, near constant hurricanes or cyclones lasting for hundreds or thousands of years is finally tapering off. This isn't without precedent, there were periods in Earth's recent history where you would've had dozens of category 5+ storms a year.

• Similar to the above, an extremely intense ocean current circulated around the continent creating hostile conditions.

• Maybe there's one landmass in the far north or south hemisphere with a band of ocean that has a clear circle around the globe creating a Screaming Sixties effect

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Extreme ocean currents were a significant part of Subsaharan Africa's relative isolation, since they forced travelers to go through the Sahara. Europeans did work out how to get around these by the period the question references, though. Maybe if waterways on this continent aren't as supportive of the necessary innovations in seafaring as they were in Europe? If waterways are important to the Empire's existence, they would be minimal,, very easy mode. So something like Ming China wrapped in Africa? $\endgroup$ – CAE Jones Jan 28 at 12:08
2
$\begingroup$

To build off of what @NixonCranium said, the Tokugawa shogunate and Ming Chinese isolated themselves because they both wanted to stop foreign cultures from mixing with their own. For example, China had thriving trade before this period, but after a short Mongol rule, wanted to restore its own culture. Japan, on the other hand, was threatened by cultures such as the English and Portuguese, who travelled to their land and tried to force technology and Christianity on them. Both were, like your civilization, forced to modernize and industrialize when they were pushed even more by outside sources. So you could base your civilization off these real-world examples--maybe they are threatened by some other people and are trying not to interact with them, or maybe they want to focus on internal issues. Or maybe the government is preventing people from knowing what's beyond your borders for some reason. Either way, I think that it's probably a good idea if you make it so that your civilization has interacted with another at some point in time, even if they've forgotten about it. Hope that helped!

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Interdiction.

Unbeknownst to the isolated civilization, they are, in fact, surrounded by much more advanced civilizations.

Every time they send out an exploration party, an advanced civ scoops them up and they are never heard from again.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Dangerous wildlife. It's possible that previously incredible animals and plants killed everyone that explored these lands. But now that the fungus is starting to kill off these dangers exploration becomes possible.

Plague Early european settlers in the Americas had hideous death rates to illness and the natives also suffered from our diseases. Lands where plague and climate kills are realistic.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

The oceans could be much rougher than on our world (because moons or something) so a Kontiki or Santa Maria would get hammered if they strayed far from land. So nobody bothers.

Or there could be nasty nasty monsters in them.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Or wood could just be significantly denser or less robust (Fall apart in water), or there are no trees... We may have given up on water travel if our first rafts failed. $\endgroup$ – Bill K Jan 28 at 18:12
1
$\begingroup$

They didn't have to, and they didn't want to.

Maybe I misunderstood the question and it is really about the discovery but there are many realistic reasons why such an empire would not want to explore/expand to new lands.

From what I gather your story does not necessarily take place on Earth so you can modify the continent layout as you wish.

1) The empire wasn't always unified. I imagine there were some military conquests involved to get everyone under one banner, at that time no leader/regional lord wanted to waste energy and resources on exploration.

2) Other continents are very far away (as you can choose where they are) which makes any voyage more dangerous and requires bigger and better ships to transport all the provisionings (which delays any exploration by a few centuries).

3) Make the "new world" hard to reach, to the east you will encounter a desert, in the west there is a mountain range, south and north are covered in ice and snow. Mix in inaccessible coastlines (like they can be in England) and it would deter exploration quite a lot.

4) Cultural/Political reasons: other answers covered that quite a lot but in therms culture imagine a scenario like this: During a time of peace a leader of a coastal province decides to fund some adventurers to find out what is beyond the ocean. A lot of money/resources and time are put into the undertaking. Many ships are sent out, weeks go by and none return, one of the scout ships comes back (later as planned but still) and reports of terrible storms, some sea monsters and a whole lot of nothing/ocean. More time passes, months go by and finally after almost everybody gave up on them, one ship returns. Result: a terrified and traumatized portion of the crew came back, babbling of demons, sea monsters and terrible curses. Nobody really gets any useful information out of them and all, including those who came close to them, died (of some unknown disease). So something like that happens and gets recorded in history. People then just "know" that traveling there is a bad idea and the prominent religion capitalizes on the situation and spreads rumors about the demon lands in the distance, a proof to their hell/heaven concept.

5) The development of ships happens slower than in our world. It's hard to imagine a continent where ships would be completely useless but let's say none of the seas inland are big enough or have an ocean connection to warrant big ships and most water-based transportation takes place on rivers and canals the development on ships would definitely be slower. Most ships that exist are either fishing boats or are not designed to go too far out in the ocean.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

In 1974 replica of Han dinasty junk "Tai-ki" attempted to cross Pacific. After 3 month at sea it started to fall apart thanks to shipworms - traditional tung oil wood treatment was good enough only if you sailed coastwise(fresh water in bays kill borers).

In 1503, shipworms honeycombed the vessels Christopher Columbus brought on his fourth voyage, sinking at least two of them.

We are lucky that shipworms can be stopped by simple application of tar. If they were just a little less picky then ocean going ships would appear much later.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Religion can be a determining factor. If the God said that there is no land beyond the ocean, then there just isn't, don't bother to search.

But as the empire is forced into technological advances due to resource limitations, and the culture evolves to a point where enlightened thinkers question everything including religion, there will be brave explorers pushing through the limits of the known world.

They go... and they return with wondrous stories of a new world.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't a stable situation. Even if the religion says there's no land to be found so don't bother exploring, that doesn't stop fishermen venturing out into open ocean to find new fishing grounds. If the other continents are close, as OP specifies, fishermen would find it and there's no way it could be kept a secret. It also requires an unrealistically strong religious monoculture, with no heretics or reformers who challenge the doctrine. $\endgroup$ – dain Jan 28 at 22:01
0
$\begingroup$

The nearby lands are a different kind of biome where your people's style of agriculture doesn't work.

For example, your nation might farm potatoes in a warm climate. The next land over is fertile, but too cold and wet to grow them. Instead, any settlers would have to learn how to grow and process barley, from scratch, since whoever already lives there isn't interested in teaching you.

As long as there are other directions to expand, your nation won't put in the high investment needed to colonise that area. Until it runs out of room that is.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Comfort

If the world itself is large enough relative to the size of the civilization, and if the people are not extraordinarily enterprising -- say, they are like hobbits who prefer the comforts of home -- then the amount of unexplored territory surrounding the civilization could be large. If it is an abundant and adequately comfortable land, they might simply never have seen a need to step into the great beyond. Furthermore, the populace could have a significant amount of hubris, such that their stoic preference would be to die trying to be self-sufficient in their mother homeland rather than to depend on anything external. Only the recent plague of discomfort threatens their traditional lifestyle and their pride begins to wane as desperation for a cure increases.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.