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I want a war between two iron-age cultures, Town A and Town B, based on the "haves" and the "have nots" where they both exist in the same exact climate and geography, however, Town B has been fortunate enough to have formed along the coast of a lake with limnic activity, the other is not. The one town has dropped a long metal pipe down into their lake (the way France put one in Lake Nyos), and the lake provides a steady flow of what they call "the breath of the gods"—concentrated CO$_2$ gas.

History

(This part is not being asked, it only paints the backstory) For whatever religious reason, at some point someone "got high" off the gas (carbon dioxide intoxication is a syndrome today) from the lake and they began a quest to get more of it. Over time they dropped a pipe, and the gas flowed to the beach. More time passed, plants grew big near the pipe. In the end, they fenced off their crop fields and did everything possible to increase the CO2 concentration around their crops.

Today (in world), Town B has enormous harvests and a bounty of fruits and vegetables from their lakeside fields (which are conveniently downhill from the lake). Town A has routine yields and encounters famines and moderate food production. Town B starts outrageous taxation schemes, demands top prices, and generally aggravates the economies of others who trade with them.

Assumptions

  • The CO$_2$ propagates along the ground because it is heavier than air, but eventually will rise up. This is consistent with actual observations at Lake Nyos and other limnic sites.
  • Town B has learned about CO$_2$ poisoning and has moderated their exposure to the crop fields, by limiting time, or by shutting off the gas during harvest and pollination season.
  • I will say that they have glass and make limited use of it to build at least a partial greenhouse. Nothing at the efficiencies we have today with acrylic and plastics; but an advantage.

The proposed impetus for war

Town B discovered that this "breath of the gods" not only gave them spiritual insight, but blessed their crops with huge and mystical gains. They cherished and worshipped it, and hid it away in secret. They fortified the venting pipes within a temple along the shore of the lake and built a raised floor to allow the magical stuff to flow underneath. Doors along the base of the temple were fitted, so the priests could lift them and close them as needed, and a chimney diverted the gas to the top of the temple when it was not feeding the crops.

In short time, wagons of cabbage heads 2 feet in diameter, cucumber that were larger than a squash, and corn carts which overflowed began arriving in Town A and other neighboring areas. Town A bought up many of these products for seed stock, hoping to duplicate what Town B was doing. They planted their cabbage, corn, cucumber, and onions and barley, but came up with only standard crop yields. A monster-sized broccoli bought by one farmer took top dollar at the fair, but when he carefully rooted a stock, and also cultivated the seeds, only a small broccoli was produced. This put them in dismay, and confusion. They felt tricked.

Town A became angry at this deception, because the principles of agriculture are well known. These crops have been tainted somehow, and magic was suspect. Town A sent an envoy to Town B to try to purchase the secret to these miracle crops, so Town A citizens could benefit as well. The answer from Town B was to lead the envoy into the temple, set them into a small room, and recite a ritual chant. The envoy became dizzy, and started hallucinating meaning into the words. Frightened, the envoy bolted out of the temple proclaiming witchcraft.

Upon returning to Town A, the Lord of the town put a ban on produce from Town B. Promptly, the black market formed from farmers on the outskirts, beyond the immediate sight of the Lord's palace and guard. The Lord then became furious, that his people were still eating these cursed monster vegetables and fruits from Town B, and stealing from tax dollars assessed on local farm produce. Local farmers could no longer raise enough money from their meager crops to provide tax money for the town expansion programs.

Town B produce became legendary throughout the land as far as it could be carried without spoiling. The market for Town B produce took on celebrity status, and it was even filling markets in elixirs, snake oil salesmen, magical and mystical remedies. Anything at all which grew in Town B could be turned into money eventually. All of the scientific community was puzzled at the complete failure to duplicate these results. Throughout the land, farmers competed to find the secret of this amazing bounty, and lords and kings who sampled these miracle crops offered huge prizes for anyone who could discover the secret. But it was of no use at all, no method known to man would ever allow any crop that had grown outside of Town B to have a similar size and yield.

But a bigger insult awaited them yet. The crops were so bountiful and full, that their livestock market was increased by the same proportion. Cattle grew to mythical bulk and stature, horses from Town B were toned and fit like none other. Pork and fowl were fat and prolific in their production. The crops and the land itself were assigned pure magical properties, which for reasons no one could possibly explain, were permanently inked to something Town B was doing.

As the bounty of food flowed through the black market at higher prices, people flocked to the borders of Town B and tried to buy land, gain residency, and even swear fealty. But Town B would not allow foreigners to buy their land, or have their mysterious Breath of The Gods (which has been kept a secret this whole time). Towns which did not boycott the magical produce fell into financial ruin as their meager crops could not compete, and towns which did boycott the produce ran rampant with crime from the black market they created; causing them to spend more tax money on guards, jails, and sheriffs. It became apparent that there was only one single way to get ahead of this crisis. War.

Would this scenario create a food disparity that could precipitate a war?

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  • $\begingroup$ If the "Cattle grew to mythical bulk and stature," then maybe the town B warriors did also. $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2022 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps. I don't think it is likely to turn into "mighty warriors" any more than "obese warriors" however. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Apr 2, 2022 at 4:26

3 Answers 3

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Yes

First of all, economic knowledge applies to all times and ages. Stone age cities may no have the knowledge of modern economic science, but the rules apply equally in all times and places. Therefore I will proceed to first give your a modern economical analysis of what happening in your city and after that give an analysis from what could have been in the mind of your characters.

Economic Analysis of the Situation

Certainly if town B provides exports of cheaper lower goods (in this case food), then Town A and other towns that trade with Town B, will have more cheaper goods from Town B. This cheaper goods from Town B will allow the citizens of Town A and other parties involved in the trade relationship to spend in higher goods to the satisfaction of higher needs, thus allowing the introduction of new products to the Market that will hire the fired employer from the farmers and others (I am no sure about that of livestock). This is obviously ignoring either have economic interventionism or the „protectionism“ affair of Town B.

The „protectionism“ affair you mentioned was that

Town B starts outrageous taxation schemes, demands top prices, and generally aggravates the economies of others who trade with them.

You are making a big blunder in economical theory when you are saying that Town B aggravates the economy of those with trade with them. Every trade is when two parties whose perception of value of those what receive is bigger than those than give, and they are fair by the exact same reason, unless you there is coercion (making it basically steal and no trade) or scam (in this case Town B would have bad reputation, and nobody would trade with they).

For the other side if Town B decide to tax the exports, then they are destroying their competitiveness, and if bad enough they would even the most irrelevant trade partner. But if they still are afloat the same principle explained before applies just in lesser magnitude.

If the culture of Town A punish profit, then they will have a problem either with satisfaction of higher goods and unemployment when they accept trade or with satisfaction of higher and lower goods.

Implications

I can Imagine two possibilities

  1. Given that Town B is competitive all with „protectionism“ unless Town A allows profit the implications will be that the unemployment cause by the combined existence of cheaper goods from Town A and the anti-profit regulation from Town A's government, the governors of Town A will blame the good from Town B of the situation and will forbid trade with Town B. Creating more poverty thus creating incentives to blame Town B of their problems, the thing probably would escalate to war. (Unless Adam Smith educate them)

  2. Given that Town B is no competitive given the „protectionism“ pretty much ensure rage from Town A towards town B, with the possibility of escalate to war.

This is assuming Town A is uncapable of find something that Town B would pay enough to solve the feminines.

[1]: Von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, sec. demagogy.

PD: Marx is no more than a political agitator and neither a philosopher nor someone whose words can be taken seriously[1]

Bibliography

Ludwig von Mises. Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1981.

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You're asking two questions that have (I believe) different answers:

  • Can this town gain ecological advantage from their limnic explosion region?
  • Would this scenario create a food disparity that could precipitate a war?

The answer to the first question seems trivial: yes, of course. (BTW, I suspect you mean "economic" rather than "ecological.") If Town B's farmers are more productive than others for any reason, that is a direct advantage in the fields, which will translate into an advantage at the market.


The bulk of your post seems focused on the second question.

Going to war

The most important factors that will determine whether Town A can war against Town B are:

  1. Can the magistrate of Town A raise an army, as both a practical and legal matter?
  2. Is the magistrate of Town A willing to risk attack from Town B's allies?

1A. Raising an army, practically

It's easy for us moderns to forget that standing, volunteer armies have historically been rare. An Iron Age settlement is not going to have many professional soldiers just sitting around, ready to march at the magistrate's order. Not unless it's part of a larger nation that has stationed an army there.

In peacetime, every professional soldier is a net-drain on the economy. He eats, needs lodging and equipment, and produces nothing in return. In a time or place where food is not plentiful (such as struggling Town A), a group of professional soldiers is a luxury that cannot be justified. Sure, the local lord may employ some armed guards and even a handful of knights (depending on the size of the settlement and the lord's wealth), but she needs them to protect her property and her person, and to enforce the local laws. She's certainly not going to send all of them to attack a nearby town, because that leaves her defenseless from the residents of her town, who will almost certainly rob her blind the minute her manor is undefended, and because you cannot conquer a town (particularly an economically superior one) with such a tiny army.

How big were Iron Age settlements? According to Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Outside Greece and Italy, which were more densely populated, the vast majority of settlements in the Iron Age were small, with perhaps no more than 50 inhabitants. While hill forts could accommodate up to 1,000 people, oppida in the late Iron Age could reach as large as 10,000 inhabitants.

Thus, to wage war, the magistrate will have to recruit soldiers from the peasantry.

How this is accomplished depends on a bunch of things. One consideration is how willing the locals are to attack Town B. On that topic, there is some problematic inconsistency in your story.

If the people of Town A believe that Town B's awesome produce is the fruit of evil magic, that may predispose the locals to join the attack force willingly. However, if they really believe that, then you've got two problems:

  • There will not be a black market for Town A produce.

    A black market does not spring into existence simply because some product has been declared illegal. A market can only exist if there is demand for a good, and a black market is just a market for a good that is illegal. If there is no demand, there will be no market, illegal or otherwise. There will be no demand for food that people believe is evil in origin, just like there's no market in the real world for contracting syphilis. Nobody wants it, so nobody will buy it. If the Queen of England were to declare syphilis illegal, that would not create a black market for syphilis.

  • The locals may be willing to destroy Town A, but not seize it.

    You make it sound like Town A's goal is to conquer Town B so that Town A can possess the secret of these amazing crops. But, again, if the people of Town A really believe that Town B is doing this through evil magic, they won't want to possess it: they will want to destroy it.

So, you're going to have to make up your mind: do people believe that Town B's crops come from evil magic, or are they jealous of Town B's secret and wish to posses it for themselves?

1B. Raising an army, legally

One reason we moderns generally believe that it was "easier" for ancient people to go to war is simply that the ancient world had many more completely independent political regions. But consider: if the magistrates of Town A and Town B are both subordinate to the same baron, king, or emperor, then neither can attack the other without incurring punishment.

You make it sound like these towns are reasonably close to each other, and that there are a bunch of other towns nearby (with which Town B does its brisk trade). That suggests they are both part of the same nation, which makes it hard for them to go to war. If they are, the empress probably considers Town B one of her greatest assets, the jewel of her empire, and the magistrate faces extreme penalties for waging an illegal war, including forfeiture of all property, being stripped of all titles, and execution (possibly of the magistrate's whole family).

On the other hand, if Town A and Town B aren't part of the same country, that may clear the legal and political path to declaring war, but it also permits Town A's country to impose tariffs on the import of Town B goods.

Tariffs will make Town A's produce more competitive in the local marketplace, because magic produce will always be more expensive by law. It also pretty much guarantees that Town A actually benefits from its proximity to Town B, as the main entry point into Country A for all Town B goods. Town A may stop farming, instead turning into a hub for import/export between the two countries.

As an important town on the border, it will probably have better defenses and a permanent garrison -- which helps you with the practical questions of raising an army: the army will already exist, and be stationed there, and the local economy will likely be healthy enough to support the luxury of large contingent of troops (plus all administrative staff needed to run a trading hub).

But that undermines your rationale for war: Town A now benefits parasitically from Town B's fantastic crops. Town A will be eager to protect Town B, not to attack it.

It also leads to my other major objection:

2. The risks of declaring war

You say that Town B is getting rich by selling its fantastic produce to other towns in the surrounding region. Well, nobody likes it when a bad sport decides to upset the apple cart.

Those towns will appreciate having a stable source of food, not only because food has historically been scarce, but also because having abundant food makes it possible for residents to start specializing in other trades. Any town with a steady food supply is likely to become a hub for innovation. It will attract skilled tradespeople, clerical workers, and plain old rich residents. (Just like the "trading hub" version of Town A described earlier.) The other settlements that Town B trades with will begin to enjoy a better quality of life because they finally have enough food thanks to Town B.

These other towns will be unhappy if Town A decides to attack Town B. They might even intervene, sending their own troops to Town B to aid in defense, or to Town A in order to force Town A to withdraw its army.

The magistrate of Town A will know this, not just through pure logic, but through communication with the magistrates and traders of those other towns. This will make the war much riskier than if Town B weren't the regional breadbasket.

This is all true whether or not all these towns are part of the same country, or different countries, or even if each is an independent city-state. Towns C, D, and E will be very upset if Town A interrupts the steady flow of food from Town B.


A path forward

Honestly, I think a lot of these problems will be solved if you just have Town B keep all its food for itself. Things become complicated and problematic when Town B becomes a stable source of cheap food for the whole region. No matter how you slice it, adding more food to the region will tend to lower the prices of food throughout -- especially since Town B is just growing larger versions of the same crops as everyone else (rather than growing unusual or rare kinds of foods). Everybody and their dogs will appreciate lower food prices.

If they keep it all for themselves, the nearby towns will have a legitimate complaint: "you jerks have more food than you can possibly eat, but instead of sharing it with us, you let us starve!" It also fits better with the secretive aspects, which seem important to you judging by how much of your post is dedicated to that dimension.

But on that topic, I'll add that you don't seem to give the other folks much credit when it comes to the mystery:

You say that an envoy asked about the crops and was taken to the temple, where he had his hallucinations. If he makes a report to his superiors at home, they would be real idiots to not at least suspect that the temple plays some important part -- even if they mistakenly believe it's magic.

If discovering the secret becomes a cottage industry, you have got to believe that most people will at least start with that one obviously relevant fact. They will not think it is a coincidence that the envoy was taken to the temple when he asked about the crops, and the hallucination he had will reinforce their suspicions. They may not know what to look for, but that is precisely where most people will begin their search.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well now, I did’t expect Adam Smith to be an advisor at Cyprus! Logical arguments all around. I will have to step back in my mind and consider deeply if these concepts would dawn in feudal lands (Marx would say they would not). Superstitions had a tight hold on us until the Library of Alexandria. Thank you… Or maybe I brought Adam Smith back there as well? $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 13, 2022 at 17:11
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A nation can go into war only if they have no other choice, feel threatened by an imminent attack, have an advantage in military power, have more population than a land can feed, have as little trade as possible with the target.

None of these conditions are met.

Town A is not cornered, it has a clear path forward. Making food from town B illegal just cuts the ability of town A to get taxes. So they should make it legal again, and get taxes. As much as exporting nation charges.

There is no reason to even think Town B has any desire to attack. Sure they have good food, but they are happy, they never tried to expand or claim what belongs to Town A, or attack it, nor they seem to even care about Town A, let alone desire it. Hard to imagine a town less willing to attack than B, so this makes it harder to justify the agression from the side of Town A as well.

Town A has no military advantage. If anything, they are in a significant disadvantage - they have spend resources on a black market, that is wasteful. They have less food, so they are less muscular. They sell everything they have to get this tasty food, likely including their weapons, at least a part of it.

If this lasted for decades, needed to build temples, population has exploded in Town B. And there are almost no babies in Town A. Food affects this a lot. Having less kids Town A has less to worry about how to split their land for the next generation. Cruel, but this is how it works. Younger population is much more agressive.

And the key component. Trade. Seems like they have a lot of it. Its a shame town A decided to make it all illegal and shift to a black market and have lost all the taxes it could get. Over time nations do admit that their extreme control have led to a black market. In our world it is a few years to a decade. In iron age it could be slower, a few generations. But anyway, trade reduces chances of a war.

What will happen next? In a few generation black market will be legalized. Trade will be so that town A buys food and sells products, be it prepared food, tools, weapons. It will cause massive shift in Town A society. Lots of people will go through unemployment, and have to find a new niche. This will cause progress and deaths. At the same time Town B just keeps doing agriculture, as it did for millenia, grow in population. Even less reason to do anything different, as they now have better harvest without doing much more. In a few more generation the disparity in progress will be noticeable. Town A will have to find a new niches for products, will specialize in tool production. And also weapons. Town B has no reason to deal with that, as they have no advantage in it, and do have an advantage in agriculture.

And only then, once town A will have a significant military advantage with their progress, they may attack.

Town A may fear that at this point Town B might want their production, Town A will have a military advanage with new tech. Town A will have population grow as well due to trade, and in excess of what their land can provide naturally, as they will likely reduce food production, being uncompetitive. Trade is the only part holding them at this point. And if there is any decrease in trade, be it natural event or mine in Town A running empty, war is imminent.

So, will there be immidiate war, in a few years? Unlikely. Will there be war a few generations down the line? I think yes.

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  • $\begingroup$ At "A nation can go into war only if ..." this concept is lost. There are no requirements to going to war, if history is to be believed. Xerxes went to war with the ocean to punish it for destroying a bridge. The famous speech in the House of Commons of 1939 rings true: "But if it is true that it takes two to make a quarrel, it is also true that it takes two to make a peace." $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Apr 2, 2022 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ Darius, father of Xerxes, considered famine one of the three dangers to his people and prepared the invasion. Bridges Xerxes built were a part of the invasion, not the cause. Xerxes army was much larger, but many unfortunes weakened it. Earlier conquered greeks were rebelling, and that was the reason to invade further this time to capture them all. When invasion failed, famine did start in Xerxes empire. Trade was significant, but both sides were only a intermediary between the west and the east, not directly trading between the greeks and Achaemenid Empire. All conditions were fulfilled. $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2022 at 6:22

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