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Basically I just want to know for timeline reasons. I'm setting up the timeline for a young kingdom, and I want to know what would be a realistic time period between the moment the settlers find a good place to when they have finally built a succesful settlement using easily accesible resources.

By succesful I mean a settlement that it's self-sufficient in resources.

The resources are pretty much available as the kingdom encourages this expansion and there's multiple trade routes available.

EDIT: Just for the future people asking this and finding this question. I am mostly curious about the time it would take for all the necessary infrastructure to be built. As in, how long would it take to BUILD a neighborhood of little huts, or a cobbled road, or a small wooden bridge. And mostly, I'm looking for a MINIMUM. Like, at least X time.

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    $\begingroup$ The title asks one enormously complicated question; the body text asks an easy question. Which is it? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ ... The basic idea being that colonizing expeditions into the wilderness were almost always "fire and forget". Group of settlers comes, they have some provisions for a few months, they need to set up a working settlement in Siberia or in the Americas before their provisions run out, or they die. Very rarely did the Czar or the Most Catholic King send resupply missions. Some years later an expedition may come from the mother country to check if the settlement survived or not. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Just a note: In medieval Europe "Cities" were actually defined by church mandate not by local population so you probably need to define some benchmarks for settlement scale to get any useful answers to that part of this question. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering what your basis for "settlers" is in this context. Generally speaking, medieval settlements existed because Roman forts or towns were founded near or on top of earlier settlements, and those were places where people had been farming or herding since time out of mind. In the post-imperial period, those towns and cities generally grew organically. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ Or is this a simple maths question? Like a "medieval house" takes x number of days to build and a "smithy" takes y and the castle takes z; and then you add all the numbers up? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 19, 2021 at 1:13

3 Answers 3

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How Much Money and Will do you Have?

There are a vast number of variables in this question, but the simplest explanation is: As fast as you can spend the money. There must be actual valuable resources to be found in the area if it will be sustainable. People must WANT to live there or have no alternative. It must be able to sustain agriculture, and your society must have the technology to master the environment. There can't be effective and determined native resistance or such efforts are pointless.

Sebastos, or Caesarea by the Sea, was built by king Herod and the Romans to secure the region economically and politically. The Harbor, and most of the city, was built in relatively undeveloped territory with no existing harbor, and were built in about 12 years. To this day it is considered an engineering feat. To built a colony from scratch to operational city, this is about the minimum if you have essentially unlimited resources, manpower, a favorable location and will to do so.

With less resources, building in an organic way, you'll have something more like the Viking colonization of Greenland. With the compelling demand for walrus ivory, the Norse moved into Greenland, at the peak having about 4000 inhabitants. While the timeline to "successful colony" is a little awkward to nail down, it was a growing thriving place within a century. But this illustrates the problem with establishing colonies. Within 400 years, the colonies were abandoned. Why? The central compelling trade item (ivory) dried up, but a successful colony would have survived at least at subsistence level. It has been suggested the Norse failed to adapt to local conditions and disregarded the native traditions that could have helped them. This theory is in dispute. The little ice age likely contributed to the Norse agriculture being unsustainable, as may the black death. Some people even suggested it was simply a place people didn't want to live, so they left.

So at least a decade for a colony in a favorable spot with unlimited resources. Anything less, and you'll need will, a core resource to make it profitable, and sustained conditions to allow the colony to survive any of the frequent downturns that will strike such places on the edge of the civilized world.

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There is no one size fits all answer to this question, location is going to play a huge part in the outcome here, not only in terms of available resources but also with regards to governmental investment in the success of the venture:

  • A settlement on good soil tucked away in a quiet temperate valley near the core of the kingdom far from strategic resources or turbulent borders has a short road to resource self-sufficiency. They'll be harvesting their own building materials (chiefly wood) immediately and have a crop in the ground by their second spring. However this settlement will be a low priority when it comes to prizing open the royal coffers and will receive little support or investment.

  • On the other hand a settlement on a strategically important trade route near a trouble spot may be in a poor position vis-à-vis locally grown food and other resources, but, because the the king is interested in security, gets supplied with a garrison, imported building materials, and paid artisans and labourers to put the core of the town to rights over the space of a few weeks one summer. It's location means the town can make it's living from road tolls etc... granted by royal charter with local production ramping up very slowly by comparison with the farmers in the first example.

  • On the third hand most new settlements in a medieval setting are going to be for the support of new resource extraction/processing sites because the best farming land will already be tenanted and the strategically important areas of the kingdom are already tightly secured. This means that new settlements are often planned towns sited where the availability of water power and/or confluences of raw materials make the establishment of timber mills, smelting works, and the like economically viable. These are settlements generally built with the backing of important local businessmen and land owners, they use as much local material as possible to keep costs low but they don't necessarily make any pretensions to self-sufficiency, instead they live by trading their ironwork, sawn timber, copper, or burned lime, for the necessities of life grown farther afield.

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Each settlement has a different history and growth rate, and all of them are in the hands of luck.

Just a few examples: I have been reading the history of the city where I live, and it all started with a small settlement on some sandy soil in the swampland left by the last ice age, nothing more fancy than a dozen of huts around a central square, around 1200 of the vulgar era. After about 100 years it was granted the title of city, which in those times meant "you are allowed to have your own weekly market", but it stayed nothing more than a spit on the map for other 400 years. Somebody thought it was smart to surround it with a moat and walls, but when they were destroyed in one of the many wars fought in those unstable years, nobody had the resources to rebuild them. And for the easily accessible resources? Well, local farmers used the patches of not so swampy soil to grow something, but trading and carrying good over long distances (more than 10 km) was an adventure, and when somebody wanted a paved road to be built, they had to fight the opposition of other villages who wanted the road to go closer to them, and invent some ingenious workaround to do it (since the city manufacturing the bricks for the paved road imposed a tax on their export, the buying city declared it to be needed for houses). Same happened with the building of canals and, later, railways. Then all of a sudden somebody founded a factory and the growth exploded.

Or it can also go the other way around: take the city of Otranto, in the heel of Italy. In ancient times, thanks to its geographical position, was one of the natural bridges between West and East Mediterranean sea. It even hosted one of the first universities in middle age Europe. Then in 1480 it was besieged and conquered by the Ottoman, and few years later the discovery of the Americas shifted the traffics away, relegating it to be a small village.

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