I decided to re-watch Jericho, and I got quite fond of the isolation scenario.

Jericho is a TV-series where...

... there are a few nukes that explode in the US, making all cities that are not affected by the blasts and radiation completely isolated.

How could a city that meets the following criteria be isolated from the outside world?

  • Fantasy setting (no magic)
  • Medieval technology
  • Isolated for at least six months
  • No hoax/lie based isolation (UGH)

Isolation in a medieval/fantasy setting already exists to a certain extent as communications were slow and travel potentially dangerous. In what logical and plausible way can I make a city isolated for longer periods of time?

Please include options for six months, two years, and indefinite isolation in your answer.

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    $\begingroup$ I think too many answers are possible, especially with no information on the fantasy world this plays in. $\endgroup$ – Erik Aug 5 '15 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ Natural causes: storm, flood, avalanches, what-have-you..? $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Aug 5 '15 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Eric, last line "low fantasy" meaning seldom access to magic or other functions but has the flora and fauna accessible. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Aug 5 '15 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ Mouse I made an edit to your question...its a bit more substantial than I had planned so if I went to far please roll it back. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 5 '15 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I think the OP was more looking at a City-State scenario as opposed to a, can't leave the city walls/under siege type scenario. But thats me reading into it. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 5 '15 at 20:12

Okay, these involve very specific terrain, but should work.

Assumption: Medieval Tech people group, previously in contact with other regions, now must be cut off and isolated.

Requirement: region is a valley, surrounded by mountains.

6 months: The region is located reasonably far north (or south, really) and the passes in and out of the region are only clear six months out of the year. At the lower altitudes of the valley, things are more temperate, but high in the mountains the snow starts coming down heavily by November and doesn't clear up until April. In theory, you might be able to work your way through the pass, but at a medieval tech-level, it is extremely unlikely as the snow comes down faster than you can clear it, and you don't have the survival gear necessary to survive it.

2 years+: Massive volcanic eruption (think Yellowstone Caldera) a long way away creates atmospheric disruption and drops global temperatures across the board. It no longer gets warm enough to melt the snow in the passes, barring all passage in and out of the valley. Eventually, the atmospheric disruption will settle down and temperatures will return to normal, re-opening the passes.

Indefinite: This one is much harder, because technology advances and people adapt and get creative with their circumstances. Eventually, they would figure out how to get past most obstacles. Strand them in a desert (rapid desertification), they'll figure out how to cross it. Shatter the land around them and put a huge body of water there, they'll build boats. Perma-freeze the passes around their valley, and they'll work out cold weather gear and mountaineering equipment. Move them all underground and seal the entrance, and they'll dig their way out eventually. Permanently containing a tool-using intelligent race just doesn't work without having some way to prevent them from advancing.

The only possibility I can think of for this case isolates a people-group semi-indefinitely, rather than a region. People group flees from some disaster and take to the ocean. Ocean-crossing isn't really a thing in the Medieval era, but they get lucky and not only does their ship(s) survive the open ocean, they find their way to a large island that can support them and move in. They are now isolated for as long as they remain incapable of building a new ocean-crossing vessel and the navigation equipment to reliably find their way home if they stray too far (or until someone else finds them).

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    $\begingroup$ Easter Island is an interesting case where the population on island actually managed to isolate itself by environmental degradation. They chopped down all the trees to build Moai (Icons) and were left with only tiny trees and no ability to build seaworthy vessels. Who knows how long they would have remained isolated if they had not been contacted by europeans. $\endgroup$ – papirtiger Aug 6 '15 at 0:24

Make the population so hostile that they effectively self isolate.

The Sentinelese people which live on the Andaman Islands in the Indian ocean are effectively isolated from the world by choice. They have been known to respond to any contact attempts with extreme violence.

In 2006, Sentinelese archers killed two fishermen who were fishing illegally for mud crabs within range of the island. When a helicopter attempted to deliver supplies after the 2004 tsunami it was met with a hail of arrows.

The Indian government which administers the island has given up attempts to contact the population and now and generally discourages any access or approaches to the island.

This may not fit your definition perfectly since it is a tiny community (the estimated population is less than 50 individuals) and although they have been know to fashion tools and weapons out of metal which drifts onto their shores they are largely a stone age society.

But it's not totally unthinkable that a larger society either through religion or ideology becomes so hostile and inhospitable that the world just decides to leave them be.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the thought but the idea was it should be difficult to leave, not to enter. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Aug 6 '15 at 6:46
  • $\begingroup$ Well we don't know if it is hard to leave North Sentinel since nobody ever has. Is the ocean surrounding them or do you get whacked by your neighbors for trying to build a canoe? Its not that far fetched that an extremely isolationist culture would bar citizens from leaving for the same reasons totalitarian states do - paranoia that they would be bring with them state secrets. $\endgroup$ – papirtiger Aug 6 '15 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ A somewhat similar example would be Easter Island, where the population deforested the island, so that they no longer had the means to build canoes. Or perhaps the Viking colonists in Greenland, who depended on ships from outside, since the land offered no means to build them. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 7 '15 at 4:43

How about if the surrounding regions hosted an endemic plague (Black Death or some such) that was clearly transmitted from contact? The people in the city might elect a complete quarantine, which would leave them isolated. In fact, it might set in culturally and outlast the plague itself.


I say it should be some kind of global cataclysm. You said "no magic" but I take that to mean "spell-casting" and "enchantments". It could be tied into the mythology of their Gods.

For example, in Oblivion, the computer game by Bethesda, there are "portals to hell" popping up all over the land and letting in hellish creatures. These could block roads etc. This was all prophesied about in advance.

In your "fantasy" there could be some legendary conflict between deities that results in some cataclysm. Old gods vs new gods or something like that. If you wanted to have it as 'unmagical' as possible, there could be physical fissures opening up in the ground due to seismic activity, or something like that.


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