# How to calculate a village's population size

I have the two largest towns of this smallish Kingdom's populations, but the first place the protags of my story are going to encounter is going to be village or hamlet sized. Most of the resources I am coming across seem to focus on the big cities, which is nice, but not needed for another few chapters. (Also, MDME seems to give very high population numbers ...)

Stuff I have already come across: Medieval Demographics Made Easy (and the donjon calculator); Worldbuilding Mega Tutorial; Notes on Medieval Population Geography

Some particular notes about this particular country is that it is the home to Fairies and their longer lifespan (and also been around for about 2000 years, maybe, max), but I am probably going to need this answered again once the protags come across a human (Been around longer but shorter lifespans compared to the Fairies.) based kingdom and some of it's villages.

My World Anvil Entry for the Fairy Kingdom

Update: The Village in question is situated in between two rivers with a mountain range to the north. This village is the northernmost village on this side of the kingdom, but it's not against the mountain range itself. The region is somewhere in the temperate zone. Fairly Straight north of the capitol of the tiny kingdom. One of the youngest villages, Tiny lake to the south where the two rivers meet. Closest village is southeast. Capitol is also a port. The entire kingdom is set in a forest. The equivalent of an Earth element Deity resides in the capitol.

The village's story purpose is more of a first encounter for the protagonists who have lived in said mountains their entire lives.

• Welcome to Worldbuilding. A population has a lot to do with local resources, commercial trade centers, government/police/military installations, etc. For example, whether or not a village has an ocean port has a massive impact on population. In other words, there isn't a simple step-by-step method of doing this. So, to avoid the question getting closed, you need to tell us everything you possibly can about it. We'll ask a lot of questions in comments. Please edit your Q with updates as quickly as possible.
– JBH
Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 23:06
• I'll start: what is the specific geography/geology of your village and the area within 5 miles/8 km surrounding it? Is there fertile farming? Good fishing? A river? Lakes? Ocean? Are there local mountains? hills? forests? Are we arid? jungle? desert? Take a paragraph or two and tell us all you can.
– JBH
Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 23:15
• you are doing this backwards, the things that control an individual settlement population size are entirely under your control and mostly irrelevant to a story, (even things like how old the village is has a huge influence) so you are better off figuring out what size you need for your story, or figure out what things you want in your village then ask how big it has to be to support them. .
– John
Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 1:09
• @JBH: Maximum population size depends on resources (local resources, pre cheap transport), but there is no reason why a particular town has to be anywhere near that maximum size. Consider e.g. the historic population of Paris parisinsidersguide.com/population-of-paris.html or San Francisco sfgenealogy.org/sf/history/hgpop.htm or many another town. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 18:42

Thanks for the extra info, FangirlShadow, and I apologize that you're not receiving better support.

A town is a larger and more complex place, which includes structural achievements like castles and walls, but you're asking after a young village, which will be small.

Any community in a fantasy medieval setting has or may have...

1. Government (including law enforcement and taxation)
2. Trade/Crafts (skilled people such as blacksmiths, farriers, etc.)
5. Artistry
6. Entertainment
7. Education (possibly, fantasy stories often follow the apprenticeship model)
8. Religion
9. Banking/Financing (possibly, it depends if there's monetary currency or if you're using barter)

So, working with this and what you've told us...

• You said your capitol had something akin to an Earth Element Diety residing within it. Let's assume there's a process of worship, which always means a basic bureaucracy. A village could be expected to have a priest or adherent of that worship. Though he/she might double with another task (e.g., they might also be a fisherman), such people were often local counselors and leaders. So, population +1. We'll say no family, either an older person or celibacy.

• Two close rivers mean fishing as a staple industry. This means we can use supporting specialized trades like net manufacturing and repair. Fishing as an export was easier than other proteins because they were easily smoked for preservation. (You can jerk red meat, too, it's just easier with fish.) So if you want an export, you can export fish, and that means supporting workers for preservation, packing, transport, and security (hungry people and hungry animals). This sounds bigger than it really is. How many is based on other rolls, but with a small village, let's say 10 fishermen + families, another 15+families for all the supporting trades and commerce. An estimate of the average family size in medieval England is 3.5 people. So, population = +87.

• There are basic needs in any village: entertainment (often just a pub, but it can be more), blacksmiths, thatchers and carpenters. (Larger towns need masons and a host of other things.) And, of course, their families. Let's say two each for population +28.

• You have a diety living in the capitol, which would suggest a reasonably well formed bureaucracy, meaning taxes and law. Your village will need a leader and sheriff for law and order. Our village is getting a bit large and there's those wild animals to consider, so the sheriff has two deputies. Population +14. (BTW, it's true that not everyone has a family, but the average statistic does well for giving us a starting point.

• I mentioned before hunters and farmers. Agriculture was well established at any point during Medieval Europe's years. As the northernmost village you'll likely favor hunting over farming (more settled areas tend to have an element of being over-hunted). We don't need a lot of farmers because a square kilometer can support approximately 2,000 people. However, I'm a bit wary of that answer because it assumes a top caloric output and medieval farming was rarely that efficient and it does depend on your climate (length of growing season) and the quality of your soil. Let's assume your village can achieve half that. So far we have 130 people in your village, suggesting we need .13 square km (130,000 square meters), but that was just the people. You also have horses, goats, cows, dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, chickens, and who knows what domesticated critters needed for everything from food sources (e.g. milk and bacon) to lowering your blood pressure (pets). There's also the need for a little future planning, so you want some excess that's stored against the proverbial not-rainy day (drought). Animals often outnumber humans by many:1, but it's a village. Let's assume 3:1. So our "population" for the purposes of calculating supporting farmland is closer to 400 for about two-fifths of a square kilometer or about 49 acres. About a person per acre or 49 farmers/work-hands and another 10 for supporting activities + families. Population +206, but now you need more farmland. let's avoid the calculus. Population +300 to support the community's people and animals.

Total basic population: 430 people.

From this point you can adjust the size of your village to suit the needs of your story. The largest population variable is your group of farmers, just remember that as you adjust that count, your other counts need to adjust with it. Cut your farming in half and the rest of the town must cut in half, too, or there won't be enough food to feed everyone.

Note

There were medieval villages as small as a couple of dozen people all the way up to formal cities with tens of thousands (the population of London in 1200 is estimated to be 20,000-25,000). Remember that Europe was feudal, so there really weren't many (if any) independent villages, towns, or cities. There would have been a manor with a knight or other peer to whom everyone was basically answerable. But when you got away from the central manor and into the land controlled by the manor, those villages were on average 250-300 people in size, so my estimate isn't far off (bit on the high side).

• LOL now THIS cracks me up. You're saying almost exactly what I did, except you're adding a lot of "let's say" assumptions where I gave credit to the OP for being able to manage it (because it's their world and not mine), and fabricating numbers that may or may not be relevant, INCLUDING the statement that they should adjust the size to suit the needs of your story. I'm VERY disappointed in you, sir. Honestly, I don't care how you answer, but since you were so adamant about discrediting me... shrug Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 20:03
• @CeliaFate Amazing, isn't it? The OP asked for a procedure. Why didn't you give her one? Instead you gave her nothing.
– JBH
Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 20:13
• I did, you just got nothing out of it. Your procedure consists of arbitrary numbers based on the same criteria I cited. Like I said below, I don't care what you write and I have no burning need to be the best answer, I'm only here to help. I DO, however, take exception with your hypercritical replies and downvotes to comments you don't agree with. I'm not in competition with you and It's not your job to choose which feedback is most helpful to the OP. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 20:23
• Hmmm, You know, the ways these numbers go, you could go Agriculture - 15d20 Trades - 8d12 Entertainment - 2d10 Bureaucracy - 2d8 Religion 1d4 Granted, these are just an initial guess, and I dunno if I should make a separate post/question for this sort of thing ... since I would imagine these numbers get adjusted for accounting for local resources ... Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 22:27
• @FangirlShadow It isn't just random. When you research medieval villages you'll find that certain trades/crafts/jobs make up a natural percentage of the whole. You'll note I left out things like bakers, confectioners, weavers, etc. A village is straight forward - but you need a systematic baseline to work with when designing your world. It isn't simply random (as you'll find out the hard way should you publish and people start pointing out that something's not right). When I was a publisher, we received letters from readers both praising and complaining. People pay attention.
– JBH
Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 22:49

I'm going to break with worldbuilding tradition here and say it doesn't matter. Find the purpose of the city/village/location and populate it accordingly. Ta daa! Done.

Except you're not done, you need to make sure that every thread you pull on connects to something. So if it's a hamlet there's PROBABLY not going to be a bank there. If the protagonist needs to visit a bank they have to go somewhere else. Maybe it's the distant city of Poombah (no relation) which is a thriving port city, which also means it's on a trade route, which means it's not just a native population, but there are also itinerants, which means higher crime, which means a legal system designed to mitigate it and guards to enforce it, which means a local governor, which means taxes, which means unhappy citizens who will move away because the burden is too high, which means the population is continually in flux.

In nearly every case, the population of a city isn't as important to a protagonist as all of those other factors in addition to size and population density, which are all up to you.

If you DO run into a general population question, like how large a military can this city/country field, it's also up to you but you have to have a reason for it. The size of the army is important to the story. If you need to put 30,000 soldiers on the battlefield, you have to assume at least 60% of the population is at home, and that's if it's a desperate struggle and you're shoving every able body you can find into a boiled leather shirt and handing them a sharp stick. Maybe 5-10% of any given population in a hostile area would be directly involved in the military. During peacetime, that number would be closer to 2-3%. But you know what else? That's also up to you because it will depend on the local culture - do they value military prowess? Are they nationalists who are proud to fight? Or are they conscripts who do it only reluctantly? Are they warmongers looking for an excuse to die in glorious battle?

Realizing I didn't really answer the original question very well except to say "it depends" ... a small village would probably max out between 1,000 and 2,500 if there's a residential area with outlying farms.

• This was disappointing. Rather than helping the OP to develop a repeatable procedure for arbitrarily building communities - you suggest the OP just slap together whatever support the story needs at the moment. I ran a micropublisher for a decade and worked with hundreds of authors and dozens of writing groups and I've never met a successful author who would agree with this. Readers can tell when the author didn't put any effort into the details or the backstory - especially when developing the details and backstory often contributes to the story in ways the author couldn't predict.
– JBH
Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 1:41
• @JBH The only problem I have with your critique is that you apparently didn't read what I wrote. Slapped together? I've worked in publishing too and few authors spend the kind of time connecting the dots that I suggested. The pop of a fantasy locale is a feature of the story, not the other way around. The strings need to connect, yes, absolutely, and once established you can't change it, but if you need to be in a hamlet the difference between 5 sq mi and 10, or 500 and 1,000 people? No. That's up to the author. Procedure and arbitrarily together is a bit of an oxymoron, btw. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 2:03
• I agree with you to a great extent. Not sure why you are getting down votes. This whole place loves to close questions and argue against every part of a question and so on anyway. Oddly enough this is not actually breaking that much. A lot of authors don't bother with insanely detailing all those aspects and just do the important stuff and that's it. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 5:35

Since people seem to be having trouble reading the entirety of my previous answer, let me paraphrase.

The population of a city is less important to a protagonist than population density, access to goods or resources, or local government.

The actual population would require access to a number of factors that are decided on and weighted by story and plot, so no calculator or formula is going to provide you with an easy answer. The simple (and in my opinion lazy) answer is anything between 30 and 150 people per square mile, and that number is nuanced by the reasons people have for being in that location. See the mention above on what's important to the protagonist because they're also important to everyone else in it.

It will also depend on an endless number of mitigating factors - for example, does the region have access to people with the skills to construct buildings higher than 3 stories?

If you want to use real-world metrics to define your fantasy world, then a medieval hamlet, defined as a small settlement, would be anything between 1,000 and 2,500 people. The same location in the early renaissance would be considerably smaller (depending on the exact region) since the Black Plague cut the population of Europe as a whole by 1/3.

Pull a string, see what it tugs on, make a decision, pin it down.

• Possibly a more relevant question is how many people could X square miles of land sustain? Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 5:13