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I'm working on a fantasy story where a major empire collapses into a civil war, and many of its most important cities fall in a region called the Cradle—a fertile region of floodplains and woodlands, along the coast of an inland sea that has two outlets to the ocean. It's inspired largely by Japan's Seto Inland Sea, but is much more comparable in size to our Mediterranean; you'll see in the image, it's about 250mi/400km from north to south, and a bit under 2,000 miles from east to west. The coast of the inland sea has a number of important cities on it, and (though I haven't worked out the exact details) presumably many of them would be of great importance to their regions, as trade and culture centers.

When the civil war comes, these cities (marked as red Xs on the map) will likely be split between two or three different factions—each with its own armies and navy. In terms of technology, we're talking about the 1100s to the 1200s. Assuming that these coastal cities are of importance, what would be the best way to go about a war where your enemies' navies have such open access to your coastal settlements (and you theirs)? Would any navy have the resources to both defend their own cities and attack others, or would it largely be a defensive game to avoid being divided and conquered?

Thanks for any answers—I'm relatively new to writing fantasy, and don't know a ton about warfare (especially naval warfare.)

EDIT: It's come to my attention that this is technically called a marginal sea, and is not a true inland sea. This doesn't really change the question; it's just something I found interesting.

Here is a rough idea of the map, for reference.

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    $\begingroup$ Wageing war is complicated. You need to weigh many nuanced factors before you can even begin to plan. These factors include, your war goals, the political will to fight, your existing forces and doctrine as well as your opponents existing forces and doctrine. How are you going to finance your war? How are you going to feed your armies on maneuver? We can't meaningfully answer given the pittance of information you've given us. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ I am so looking forward to reading AlexP laying out how this scenario played out in the Mediterranean. Maybe the Crusades? I see Constantinople on the eastern extent of the sea there. Leave this question open please! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk: It is so fortunate that there has never been any war between the states around the Mediterranean... Such a tranquil and peaceful sea! Punic Wars. War of Actium. Vandalic War. War of the Holy League. The wondrous career of Hayreddin Barbarossa. (And the various struggles for the control of Malta, Cyprus, Crete, and so on.) Minus one and VTC. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ "Would it largely be a defensive game to avoid being divided and conquered": Nobody has ever won a war by staying on the defense. At some point, one must attack if they want to win. (And you are grossly overestimating the capabilities of ancient and medieval navies; in particular, I don't see how an ancient of medieval navy could possibly defend a coast against a determined enemy who wants to invade. Defend a city, yes, of course; but then the enemy will do what everybody did before modern times: they will use their navy to land an invasion force somewhere and then fight a land war.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ While I think that it is a very interesting question, I agree that it needs additional information to be answerable. We know nothing about the climate, population, political situation, or strategic value of the settlements. There is also no information about magic (fantasy by definition has magic), which may be a decisive factor when it comes to wars. I am also afraid that after all this information is provided the question will be too broad for the WB.SE. I would suggest asking a series of questions dealing with each aspect of the war separately. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 20:21

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How long is a piece of string ? Or, in other words 'Your question has too many unspecified variables'.

As stated it says; 'what would be the best way to go about a war where your enemies' navies have such open access to your coastal settlements (and you theirs)? Would any navy have the resources to both defend their own cities and attack others, or would it largely be a defensive game to avoid being divided and conquered?'

  • What is the population of each city state?
  • What agricultural products does each state have access to (as dictated to by local climate & geology and trade routes). Are they all self sufficient or do they have large deficits or surpluses of key food stuffs and fibers etc.
  • Are they all equally rich in natural resources such as timber suitable for ship building and do they all have significant reserves of readily accessible strategic minerals? e.g. copper, tin and iron etc.
  • Which cities states are richer? Have access to significant gold and silver reserves, are centers of banking and finance etc
  • Which cities have a strong history/tradition of maritime trade and warfare (as opposed to others whose focus was on land based power?)
  • Which cities have strong diplomatic relations/expertise they can use for their cause? i.e. which of them have the best/strongest links to foreign powers that may, in turn be able to act as allies or alternately provide mercenaries and other forms of support in exchange for payment or promises. Alternately which city is more expert at forging treaties with other city states and/or secretly undermining others to achieve it's own goals. How many 'friends' do they have vs 'enemies'? How many cities ally together?
  • Which cities or groupings of cities have strong leaders and cohesive societies vs those with weak/leadership and chaotic internal political/social structures or other chronic internal problems.

There are probably more questions but I think you see the issue. The outcome isn't just decided by the map. Read Machiavelli's 'The Prince' (its quite short) for some insights.

P.S. It is a nice map BTW.

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