8
$\begingroup$

There is a highly militarized nation of 300k people between 0 and 60 years old – technology level similar to the Romans. For climate, think the Mediterranean with plenty of freshwater (streams & therefore irrigation) and sunlight.

Military service starts at 10 years old. Everyone is enlisted. This is a highly controlled society with very little migration, living under highly regimented rules. These rules are enforced by an external organization so corruption at the state level is non-existent.

They need to produce 61% of the calories required for their own 300k people plus (via trade) another 200k people.

It meets this obligation via wheat, sheep and goats.

They have 100,000 full-time farmers and 77,000 people that never farm (including the children). All other soldiers farm 3 days a week on average

Assuming there is no limit to quality farming/grazing land available, is it possible for essentially 139,000 farmers to produce enough wheat, sheep and goats (milk/butter/meat) to produce an average of 1,400 calories for 500k people?

Thank you for the comments and answers. To try to answer some of them:

The entire landmass is approximately the size of the island of Ireland. About half of that belongs to the nation in question. They garrison the border but there are now wars so they train and farm.

Whilst working on the farm they would live there so food would be consumed locally for 139k out to the 300k. Of the rest 77k would be within a few days travel and the rest within a weeks travel. They have good transportation by road and water.

Women are treated no differently than men, unless pregnant, partially making up the 77k non farmers. Children are raised much more by the community than now so parents can continue to work and train.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 5 at 9:44
3
$\begingroup$

I think its largely doable, though your farmer would need to stretch himself a lot to look after all those herds and farms.

139,000 farmers to produce enough wheat, sheep and goats (milk/butter/meat) to produce an average of 1,400 calories for 500k people

It implies that the average farmer needs to feed 3.6 people (500k/139k) every year.

Which implies that average farmer needs to grow 3.6 X 1400 X 365 = 1839600 calories per year.

Case I : Goats / sheeps

1 goat in medieval era weighed ~50kg (based on primitive British goat); goat weight to meat ratio is 83% (based on current goats); and 100 gram of raw goat meat has 109 calories. Thus 1 goat is worth (50 X 10) X .83 X 109 = 45235 calories. Thus, a farmer needs a new herd of 1839600/ 45235 = 40.67 goats per year minimum. At litter size ranging between 1-2, and gestation period of 150 days, there would need to be another ~20 goats for replenishment. 1 acre land supports 6-8 goats, so you need approx 10 acres of land for the goats to feed upon.

At 139K farmers, thus, your country must have 139K X 10 = 1.39 million acres = 5625.2 square km of good feedable land.

For comparison, size of Great Britain is 209331 square km.

While your average farmer is hard pressed for time, the military training should have helped drill better sense of time management and purpose in him/her to manage a flock of 60 goats.

Case II: Wheat farm

The average yield of wheat was ~300kg per acre in medieval era. 100 gram of modern wheat flour has 329 calories, we can assume something similar for medieval era. Thus, 1 acre could produce 300 X 10 X 329 = 987000 calories. approximately a fourth would be kept for replanting, and half the land would be kept fallow at a time. Thus, per acre yield = 987000 X 3/4 X 1/2 = 370125 calories

The average farmer would thus need: 1839600/370125 = ~5 acres of land.

Conclusion:

Hence, seems like a dexterous farmer would be able to pull it off. Both the above calculations do not account for storage, transmission and other losses, such as due to rodents, carnivores, climatic condidtions, thefts, etc.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ they need a lot more than 5 acres, if you farm the same piece of land year after year without stop the soil will give out fairly quickly. It is closer to 20 acres, historically you only planted about a quarter of the available land and left the rest fallow to recover. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 3 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @John I accounted for leaving half the land fallow while calculating. Based on other variables, I think this could definitely increase. The point was to demonstrate maths can work out in this case. In practise, a farmer may mix both goats and wheats to get the required calorific outputs, which all are upto OP to define. There is also the case of goat milk and its calorific content, which I have not calculated as I couldn't see data on that. $\endgroup$ Mar 3 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ Your own source gives a reasonable estimate of 50kg of edible grain from 1 acre. That would be 16,450 calories. Also keep in mind a farmer a farmer needs to be feeding their work animals which will take either grain or pasture land. history.stackexchange.com/questions/9044/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 4 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ @John For 50 kg, the value would be 164500 calories (factor of 10). Also, that answer contains some data points for dark ages (Carolingian times ~800 AD) as well as during middle ages. I think the 50kg number is for the former, the author does suggest that this increased during the middle ages. I will try to see if I can get better numbers here. But yes, this (5 acres) is a fairly optimistic calculation and can go higher depending on other variables (Even 20 like you mention).. $\endgroup$ Mar 4 at 0:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks @mu無. That tallies with my calculations. I am aiming for 423k calories from Goat/mutton and 1.42M calories from crops $\endgroup$
    – Hukk2010
    Mar 4 at 9:16
6
$\begingroup$

Having done more research on this topic, I've found enough evidence to have to completely retract my previous statement that this would be possible.

It is true that Romans were much better farmers than most other civilizations prior to the industrial revolution, but they were still pre-industrial. While some estimates say that the Roman Empire was as little as 65% sustenance farmers, the actual evidence of this is highly debatable.

The region of the Roman Empire that produced the greatest excess of food was probably Egypt. According to ancient tax records, Roman occupied Egypt at one point had a population of about 7.25 million people, an urban population of about 1 million, and exported enough food to feed at least 300,000 people (though this last number may have been larger if they were also exporting to places other than Rome itself). So, the Romans could with the labor of 6.25 million people feed ~7.55 million about 2300 calories a day. That is ~2780 calories a day per farmer. Since your population's consumption represents only 1,400 calories a day, you are looking at a maximum sustainable population of 276,000. So your population could maybe sustain itself, but not maintain that level of trade.

Another Roman Farming model to look at is that of Sicily and Carthage. These areas had more access to Roman technology, so they produced more food per capita than the much more populated Egypt. The grain tax of these regions was 33% meaning that the farmers here would have had a higher grain production per capita than Egypt despite a smaller total excess. So by this model you are looking at a farmer producing 3450 calories a day which could sustain ~343,000 people.

Another way to look at this is to examine the total urban population of the Roman Empire as a whole as this will tell you more about their averages. Analysis of their Urban populations show that about [25-30%][1] of their population lived in cities. That said, not all rural people are subsistence farmers, especially in the Roman Empire. Many rural people would be engaged in occupations like mining, lumberjacking, cotton/flax growing, etc. By this estimate we can probably say that only about 65% of the Roman population was needed for sustenance farming, and that many of our other projections that say higher are simply mistaken due to incomplete records of accounting. Based on this model (assuming you are importing all of your cloth, wood, metals, etcs.) your population could support ~352,000 people using your reduced rations.

All of this said, there is one HUGE monkey wrench in all of these numbers. A person who lives off of 1,400 calories a day is not nearly as productive as a well fed worker. So all of these numbers are probably too high. I do not have any concrete evidence about how much less productive a malnourished farmer would be, but according the the writings of Cato, the most productive farmers were well fed; so, reducing your calorie intake may actually lead to a smaller excess of food rather than a larger one. So I will say your farmers need to eat 2300 calories, but everyone else you feed could do 1400. In this model, you are looking at 139,000 people on full rations at any given time supporting about an additional 114,000 people for a total population of 253,000.

$\endgroup$
17
  • $\begingroup$ most estimates put roman farmers as ~11% of the population. Roman farming was less productive than feudal European farming due to poorer crops, interior plows, and quite frankly the inefficiencies of slave labor. oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 4 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @Nosajimiki. The population in the scenario had a hundred years of war with the Romans which would have allowed them to pick up a lot of the communal techniques, further enhanced with military discipline. Milling and transportation is much more efficient than would usually be expected due to a magical aspect of the world that I didn't want to divert attention to but it would be on par with water powered milling. $\endgroup$
    – Hukk2010
    Mar 4 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ @John, "poorer crops" was not because they did not have good staples, but because they could afford to grow more luxury crops. As for "better" farming tools like plows, I think you will want to double check your research there since nearly every technological farming improvement that happened in the medieval period was a rediscovery of old Roman technologies, and many Roman technologies did not really come back until the Renaissance period. The Romans had ox drawn plows, oxe drawn baling racks, scythes, scyles, rakes, pitchforks, hoes, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 4 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ Further evidence of this can be seen in city sizes. At the height of the Roman empire, it had about the same total population as medieval Europe, but its cities where much larger. Rome itself had a population > 1 million and 5-8 other cities >100k whereas Medieval Europe did not have a single city > 100k outside of the Byzantine Empire (AKA, what was left of the Roman Empire) until about 1250, and there were never more than 3 cities at a time > 100k until the Renaissance. These larger urban populations per capita in the classical period are a great indicator of better overall agriculture. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 4 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Rome had a population of 450,000, please do more than take the first result google pops up. medieval Europe had a similar or greater level of urbanization. the late medieval period had more than 200 cities with 100K plus populations. Also saying outside the byzantine empire is problematic as that is about half of Europe at one time. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 4 at 17:23
4
$\begingroup$

It sounds unrealistic. It wasn't until modern times, with the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and mechanized production, that the number of farmers has been reduced with respect to the rest of the occupations in every state. And even today it's hard if not impossible to be a "part time" farmer.

To have 139k farmers be able to feed 500k people you need way more than Roman level technology. For example in 1820 USA, farmers were still 72% of total workforce.

In one table, for example, figures on the number of Americans in ''farm occupations'' go back to 1820, when they were reported at less than 2.1 million, or about 72 percent of the American work force of 2.9 million.

Total population of USA at those times was 9.3 million people, thus farmers were 22% of the total population, close to the ratio you want to have.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I am not trying to feed 50k people entirely from the 139k as 38% of their calories come from the other nation. I am aiming at 1400 calories from the 139k. As the farms are run by fit military service personnel, with good logistics and planning then I am expecting to achieve a slightly higher efficiency than the usual set up, even given the low tech background. Something akin to the roman empire. $\endgroup$
    – Hukk2010
    Mar 4 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Hukk2010 that still means you need farmers to produce a 50% excess, which we don't see until the industrial revolution. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 4 at 23:55
1
$\begingroup$

Per PBS

In the 1800s each farmer grew enough food each year to feed three to five people.

If you have 100k full time farmers for 300k people, you should be good without having any kind of army farm conscription like you plan. Romans had roads, aqueducts, which are probably as important. It doesn't matter how much a farmer grows if there isn't a safe, easy way to get water and food to your city where the non-farmers live.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ 1800's and ancient rome are VERY different technological levels. 890% of the roman labor force were farmers. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 3 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ @John You A: accidently put an extra digit it there, and B: are not quite right regardless of which number does not belong. 80-90% was the Medieval standard, but Romans were, much better farmers than most medieval civilizations. Some estimates say that Rome was closer to 65% agricultural workers which is a big part of how they urbanized so well. They utilized a system of plantation style farming that was much more efficient than anything else you see before the 15th-16th century. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 3 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki do you have a source for that number becasue every estimate I have ever seen that takes slaves into account come up with much higher numbers. Estimates that rely on roman census are flawed becasue they did not count slaves which made up a large percentage of the population. Most sources say medieval crop yields were better than roman ones. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 3 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ @John I added my own answer so as not to crowd comments $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 3 at 22:56
1
$\begingroup$

Goat milk!

Anshul Goyal's answer only counted the calorie value of the goat meat itself, but goat milk and derived products like cheese are a huge source of calories. Goat milk is ~70 kcal/100 mL and a goat might give ~2L/day in milk (looking at the low end of the range they give). So each goat that you're milking is, on average, giving you the 1400 calories/day needed for one person. If your 139k farmers can tend about half a dozen goats apiece, that alone would be basically enough, even accounting for some goats not giving peak (or any) production.

Of course, in actual practice you'd have a smaller proportion of your farmers tending larger herds of goats, while others raise other crops to diversify diets and support themselves (and the goats). Given that the real-world nation of Ireland currently has something like 4 or 5 million sheep, I'd expect that your country would have more than enough land to keep less than a million total goats.

$\endgroup$

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.