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In my newest world, I've been entertaining some ideas for the history of a continent, and it came to the point where the hunter-gatherer tribes living in a desert/savanna in the center of a continent would be evicted by the military of a nearby city. This is Dark Ages-level technology for the city and stone age for the hunter-gatherers. The city is fairly big (assume a population of ~10,000), and there are probably around 20 individual bands of hunter-gatherers, each between "band" and "tribe" classification (according to Jared Diamond). I don't know much about hunter-gatherer tribe demographics, but this puts it at around 50 adults in each tribe (?), for a total, if the women fight as well, of just a thousand fighters. Would it be realistic for the hunter-gatherers to win if they were united? What if they weren't? Could they at least do enough damage to the city that it would accept their claim to the land?

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  • $\begingroup$ Two problems here. First, are the bands trying to defeat the military that are sent in to evict them or are they trying to attack the city (based on the "enough damage to the city" in the last sentence)? Second, the outcome is whatever you want it to be for your story - it will depend on strategy, tactics, logistics and politics. Except in games, sides normally don't fight to extinction, they fight until continuing to fight is unacceptable - which is up to each band and the politicians running the city. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2023 at 1:33
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    $\begingroup$ It would be realistic if the story presents it as realistic. It would fail abysmally if the story wants it fail abysmally. Nothing more can be said. (As an aside, what are we supposed to understand by the phrase "Dark Ages-level city's military"? My mind goes blank when trying to find a meaning.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 10, 2023 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP that to me means a medieval city state's military, which did exist. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 10, 2023 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ You can write the outcome to this scenario however you want. War and conflict are unpredictable. The outcome of war isn't a pre-ordained fact of a world. It's the result of uncountably many choices by the individual involved. We're not here to tell you how events in your world play out. Once your world is built it's up to you to write the stories that happen in it. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 10, 2023 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ I do agree that your question needs more focus. There's too much room for assumption. I also think it is skirting the "too story-based" line; it's although a hard comparison between two different groups of well-defined capabilities, it will almost certainly boil down to the actions of the individuals within. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2023 at 2:10

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The only advantage the hunter-gatherers would have is their mobility and ability to live in the wilderness. They could use this to conduct raids against undefended targets. Could they leverage that into a military win?

Maybe. A medieval city certainly depends on its outlying farmland. The hunter-gatherers might kill isolated farmers and set fire to their fields. A city may depend on trade. The hunter-gatherers may raid lightly-defended trade caravans. Since this is desert/savanna, perhaps the city also depends on aqueducts. The hunter gatherers could destroy those. It's not possible to heavily defend the aqueduct at every spot where it could be attacked.

If these raids are successful for long enough, and if the city military leaders are kind of dumb, and if the city military does not have any cavalry capable of chasing down the raiders, the hunter-gatherers might starve the city out without ever taking a real fight.

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    $\begingroup$ They could also do peepee and poopoo in the aqueducts to poison the water supply. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 10, 2023 at 12:32

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