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Within the backstory of my world, I’m trying to justify the preeminence of a smaller nation as a result of its abilities with metalworking. We’re working under the assumption that this nation happens to, by luck, have significant reserves of Titanium, Aluminum, Vanadium, and Iron, which they may have not discovered the elemental properties of, but still understand to be different types of metals.

I’m wondering how realistic it would be for such a civilization to stumble upon something like Grade 38 Titanium (an alloy of smaller amounts of Aluminum, Vanadium, and Iron, mixed with pure Titanium), and to consistently be able to produce this alloy.

There are a few issues that I was wondering if there are workarounds for: namely if the existence of Titanium in ore makes it unlikely for a medieval civilization to be able to refine (same idea for the other metals) or differentiate from other metals like Iron or Silver. If it was stumbled upon by accident we can presume there’s a sort of alchemist guild dedicated to production of Grade 38 Titanium or something similar.

If this is impossible, is there any other type of metal alloy, stronger than steel, that could theoretically be stumbled upon by a medieval society? Titanium itself is not particularly strong for armor due to its brittleness.

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    $\begingroup$ You aren't going to get usable amounts of titanium with medieval tech. Indeed, it's highly unlikely that you're going to get any at all. Look up titanium refining (Kroll process), and remember that medievial society doesn't even have the concept of elements. You might get a little aluminum, but remember that aluminum was a precious metal - on a par with silver - until the invention of electrolytic refining (Hall-Heroult process) in the late 19th century. More plausible would be the invention of modern high-strength steel alloys. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 14 '20 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ Highly related, possibly a duplicate: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/147112/55824 $\endgroup$ – BBeast Jun 14 '20 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it be easier to just follow the implication in the question: this society is great at metalworking, they have the most and highest-skilled craftspeople. Therefore they attract more of the same, etc.. This is enough to give them a huge economic advantage , making them the dominant power. Making weapons and armour would be a very crude approach as these have relatively little impact on military strength until you get to the era of cannon. $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Jun 15 '20 at 17:26
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The difficulty of Titanium and Aluminum is that they oxidize very rapidly. Thus they can be pretty abundant as an element in throughout the earth, but are hard to separate from their oxides.

The likelihood of finding the metals in elemental form in significantly amounts is probably vanishingly small, I think even meteorites as a source would be unlikely. However, I think titanium was discovered as an oxide impurity in iron. And with the high abundance there is no problem with there being a source of titanium or aluminum if the geology is right.

On the alchemy side, there could be routes that you could consider making small amounts of titanium or aluminum, it would be nasty, smelly and dangerous. But if for some reason they had developed methods to obtain chlorine, then you use the chlorines to bind with the metal element and then reduce the reaction using sodium or magnesium to obtain the titanium metal. If some form of electrolysis can be done it would be easier since you could produce chlorine and sodium from salt, and also use current to drive the reduction reaction.

https://www.chemguide.co.uk/inorganic/extraction/titanium.html

Keeping oxygen out of the process, and also carbon out of the process would be difficult. If carbon is around very hard Titanium Carbide could be a product.

In terms of time period and knowledge it is really late 1700s to early 1800s where the technology pieces started to come together.

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  • $\begingroup$ Electrolysis would be a prerequisite for the production of chlorine or other reactive metals required in the process, there is no other option. It does not sound remotely likely to me. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Jun 13 '20 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Slarty I agree it is a stretch, but I think electrolysis just makes it a lot easier. I think chlorine was discovered by reacting hydrochloric acid with magnesium dioxide that resulted in gas. I think chlorine was the first gas to be liquidated. Perhaps having good glassware is the first important step.... Not sure if I believe this but sodium without electrolysis hackaday.com/2019/02/26/… $\endgroup$ – UVphoton Jun 14 '20 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Probably discovered as a practical material as they were mapping out the periodic table, and realizing something must go there! Being that it's in the middle of a range of metals, it would be investigated. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 14 '20 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ Remember that in addition to all the chemistry acting directly on the titanium oxides, there's chemistry you don't want acting on it either. At those temperatures, atmospheric oxygen or nitrogen (or hydrogen, for that matter) will ruin it; early shaping has to be performed in a noble gas atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jun 15 '20 at 0:32
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You will face three heavy problems here:
First: a society with medieval-like technology will not be able to refine titanium as the process is highly complex and needs some adcanced chemistry to understand. The same problem occurs with some other metals you mentioned.
Second: There is a reason medieval metal technology developed in really small steps. Without deeper chemical knowledge and different metals available the smiths just could experiment a bit with heat, smithing techniques and different substances for cooling the freshly worked parts (the most chemical part of the process as here could some other elements find entrance into the alloy).
Third: Special knowledge doesn't stay special for ever. You can try to hide some new techniques, recieps or else for a while, but sooner or later there is someone who will tell it others (for money, because of pride or whyever). So knowledge spreads. Your country had to invent something new to stay ahead (thats some problem most fantasy backgrounds have with realism, for example dwarves knew more about smithing than humans and so on).

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On the bones of a predecessor society.

  • A predecessor society had a devolution (nuclear armageddon etc.) that literally bombed everyone back to the Stone Age, followed by a religious war where all the tech was hauled to designated junkyards, and then that too was forgotten...

  • Alien activity involving a base, mine, or crashed super-starship at that location. (suppose the Galactica missed their jump and went splat into the surface; 2000 years pass.)

The residents of this location are able to dig up pre-refined special metals that are well-preserved for some geological reason. As noted, aluminum and titanium (and many metals) don't rust uncontrollably; the first few days of corrosion creates an oxide coating which in many conditions stops further corrosion.

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to add to the comments, medieval industry would not find Titanium very useful. Like what the others have said, it corrodes easily, Plus, it doesn't hold an edge for long. even for use as a hilt, i doubt you'd want to have the part of your sword to which you publicly display showing signs of corrosion. A surefire way of damaging your prestige as a knight or the like.

for the medieval period, people put a lot of effort into appearances. so Titanium would be quickly found to be useless.

but if there was a way to get titanium, it's only use would be as a semiprecious metal, which were mostly of novelty status. It was that way with aluminum before better refining technique flooded the market.

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  • $\begingroup$ Titanium does not corrode easily- if inland and just coastal areas it is basically inert. It doesn't signs of corrosion. Its real problem is that production easily introduces gases such as hydrogen and that leaves it brittle. Before vaccum degassification, Titanium was considered like a metaloid. $\endgroup$ – user2617804 Jun 14 '20 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, both aluminum and titanium oxidize so fast that the surface oxide protects against corrosion. Having really good vacuum would be hard for the medieval technology. $\endgroup$ – UVphoton Jun 14 '20 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Titanium would be useful as armour material. For a medieval society it would be basically Mithril... $\endgroup$ – leftaroundabout Jun 15 '20 at 1:19
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Titanium was discovered in 1791, Unlike other metals Titanium doesn't exist in a dense ore like state, most are harvested from ore rich sands. Titanium also does not occur in a pure state in nature, but in chemically locked oxides. Unlike steel you cannot smelt it into purity. For a society to have titanium they must have a grasp of the chemistry needed to make titanium chloride and magnesium.

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