How would a late medieval to early renaissance society clear a 200,000mi² jungle?

This country is also a version of the Mexico-sized country referenced here, but much younger, and without the moving cities. It has a population of about 10 million people, and the tech level of a country on the brink of the Renaissance.

They have this big jungle: 200,000 square miles, and it happens to be right in the way of their plans. So they want to get rid of it. How can they do this?

More info:

  • The climate aspect should be considered. If climate after destroying a rainforest is too complex a subject to broach without more info, ask.
  • If the method is something like "BURRRRN. FIIIIIIIRE.", then please consider the effects of ash, smoke, and those things.
  • Better answers are answers that use the least amount of resources, and have the least effect on the environment.
  • If you need more info, just ask.
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    $\begingroup$ How do you expect to put together "destroy a jungle" and "least effect on the environment"? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 7, 2022 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ That "big jungle" is about the size of Spain. What plans could a society of 10 million have for that much space? $\endgroup$
    – LShaver
    Apr 7, 2022 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ It's hard to say you won't have much of an effect on the environment killing hundreds of millions of animals, destroying a huge generator of oxygen, and possible creating a desert in the bargain. A jungle is also a water sponge, they typically grow in areas with constant rainfall. You will be creating flash floods, and undoubtedly changing the weather patterns. I don't think you have thought this through; even if you could just magic the jungle away, you would still have an enormous impact. Without magic, you will have mountains of rotting trees and megatons of rotting corpses of wildlife. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Apr 7, 2022 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Clear the jungle and replace it with what? Over what time scale? What is the terrain like? What are the prevailing winds like (in particular, are the destroying society downwind mostly/sometimes/never)? $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2022 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ well real world examples are slash and burn. medieval people tend not to care about the environment. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 7, 2022 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


Slash and Burn Agriculture

Humans destroyed jungles long before the Middle Ages. Slash and burn, otherwise known as Swidden is an ancient technique used to this day in Subsaharan Africa, Indonesia and the Amazon and it is a primary reason why the earth is losing its tropical rainforests.

The process is quite simple. Most of the nutrients in a rainforest are locked in the trees as the soil is heavily leached by rainfall, so enterprising farmers cut down or strip bark from trees and then light the dead wood on fire to cover the ground in ash, which provides substantial amounts of nitrogen to the soil. Farmers won’t stay on this plot for long, as the soil will once again be depleted and the farmers will move on and burn a new section of the forest to start again.

If you have a high enough density of farmers you could clear millions of hectares of jungle in just a few years as they have a strong economic incentive to cut and burn as much of the jungle as possible.

Very few tools are needed for this process. It can be accomplished with as little as an axe or machete, a bow drill and digging sticks/shovels. Medieval Europeans in fact practiced slash and burn, but not in jungles. The Finns depended on Swidden in the very nutrient poor soil of the taiga forest.

The climate of the region would be hotter and dryer after destroying the rainforest as rainforests produce their own cloud cover through transpiration and cool the air from shade and decreased light reflection. This process in real life is substantially contributing to climate change and the accompanying destruction of biodiversity

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ And I would like to add "BURRRRN. FIIIIIIIRE." $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 7, 2022 at 22:00

Flood it.

lake congo


In this scheme, much of central africa is filled with a lake. That area is currently all "jungle". Is it still ok to say "jungle"?

I calculate the area of Lake Congo to be about 473,000 square miles so more jungle is destroyed than you really need in this scenario. This scheme was first proposed by Willy Ley in "Engineers Dreams" as a way to moderate the climate of Africa and open up the interior for trade. As a bonus a second lake would form under the Sahara (Lake Chad) and the water would eventually drain into the Mediterranean.

If your jungle contains a river, your people can dam it. It may take several years for the whole jungle to become a big lake and it is not clear to me if a lake serves the plans of your people better than the jungle. But flooded jungle will become other than jungle.


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