I need an advice about creating an independent city (a city state) in the middle of a desert (the stony kind of wasteland). I will scratch what I have in my mind so far and I would be glad to hear if this is a realistic scenario and how to make it as realistic as possible.

My world is quite hot and around the equator, there are extremely hot wastelands. Some distance from the equator, the conditions in terms of temperature are compatible with living, though still hot (imagine Egypt or Libya during summer). The land is quite hostile and there are little to no settlements or villages.

However, there exists an oasis and one or two big rivers surrounded by some area of fertile soil around which big (50-100k) cities formed.

In terms of history, these cities were formed by outcasts from more habitable zones located in north and south of the desert (imagine how Australia was originated) and grew at these few habitable places simply because there was nowhere else to go for the citizens (everything around is a desert or a very hostile land, though the population is limited by the ability of the city to produce food at its location).

I know I have to consider several things, like water (oasis or river + maybe some underground source), food (basic agriculture based on irrigation), shelter (mainly stone) and access (occasional caravans but besides that, the city is quite isolated). There might be two or three such cities in the desert in quite big distances from each other.

Is this a realistic setting? What other things I have to keep in mind when designing such city state?

What are your tips for agriculture in terms of basic groceries and plants?

  • $\begingroup$ Edible succulents are a thing... $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 17:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "Is this a realistic setting?" Have you heard of Egypt? $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 17:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind if your territory is on average hotter than Egypt in the summer, you're going to start running into limits due to heat, specifically there'll be zones of temperature above which it will be impossible to live in outside of shelter without burns, were exposure to the open air and sun could cause plants and animals to die of heat exhaustion if not protein denaturing ( Those effects start to occur after 41* Celsuis, which is experienced in places, but if the temperature is permanently above 40C, and the extremes reach into the high 50s, then you're going to struggle ) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ "Is this a realistic setting?" = well, you did mention Australia. :) $\endgroup$
    – DA.
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Can you please assist us by mentioning the tech-level or "time" that this is occurring? As in, are we talking modern technology and setting, just on a different world? $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 6:51

4 Answers 4


In order to have dry conditions at the equator, you need to have either a very large landmass (the size of Asia) or a very low % of the world covered with water, or both of these.

But besides this, yes, the setting is acceptable. My assumption is that the rivers are flowing toward the equator from the more humid places. These rivers are a very good mean of transportation. The water can be used for irrigation and if the water is plentiful, it can give a very high agricultural production. If it's like Egypt, you should expect a very high density of population on the banks of the river.

Oasis cities can be linked, although, I doupt we could have many cities of 50k people built around oasis. Several roads existed in these areas on Earth, such as in the Sahara and the Silk Road crossing the Tarim basin. The city would likely need to be self sufficient on food and water but it's not necessary since they are on a trade road, they can trade what they are not producing.


Yes, your setting is reasonable. Apart from describing where the people came from, your description sounds very similar to the setting of Mesopotamia created by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Some of the early great civilizations originated there, so you should have no troubles building a believable world with that kind of geography.


I agree that the setting is believable, and indeed is similar to the Mesopotamian example given by Green. However, I think this similarity would make the region very attractive to indigenous groups - potentially long before the outcasts arrived. This may be an opportunity to deepen the region's history.

Considering your example of the settlement's history being similar to that of Australia, an indigenous presence is a fundamental part of the story - it was the source of much violence and continuing racial tension.

There are also other things to consider, as it is simplistic to see Australia's colonisation as simply a collection of convicts or outcasts choosing to relocate.

There were many factors which made it possible, which included vast support from the British Empire who had widespread colonial interests. This support included experienced governance, resources and volunteer migration schemes offering land or passage to non-convict settlers.

Additionally, there are other examples of migration which you could explore. The Ostrogoths are one example of an entire tribe who were forced into migration and resettled several times, coming into conflict with the regions they resettled in.


I recommend reading "Dune" by Frank Herbert for some ideas on this type of setting - he creates a brilliant dessert planet and accounts for everything in it.


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