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I am building a city that the main character will be prohibited to leave from and yet their intentions of entering the city are to save the world form an extra-planer threat. So they have to go in. However, I want to cause hesitation because it is illegal for them to leave the city. However, I cannot think of enough reasons for a city to keep themselves separate from others at least physically.

I'm thinking perhaps those that live in the city get a blessing that cannot be shared with those outside the city. Maybe it is a form of social construct that will make the people closer because they are forced to get along. Secret being kept by city government? Furthermore, only few individuals vetted by the government can leave on diplomatic missions. Supplies are brought through the gates and the merchants stay outside. This would be a medieval era so stone walls would be enough. I am also imagining this city being in a frozen northern land frozen and being run by humans and yeti but that could change.

In Summary: What are reasons that would make a civilization/city closed off from intermingling with other civilizations on pain of death?

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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Sure, but that wasn't in the medieval period. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jun 2, 2023 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I know this kind of historical fact is obvious to you, but remember that sarcasm is felt very quickly through online text (communication channels are restricted 🔇). It's best to be more neutral, especially to newcomers 😊 : "I suggest you look at Cold War's Berlin case, I think you could find some inspiration for your world :)"; $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2023 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena: Thank you for your suggestion; however, if I may, I submit that I definitely would not speak as suggested in real life; my (utterly unsupported) opinion is that such a formulation would come across as condescending, or, possibly, in highly educated company, as westernized. I write as I would speak to a co-worker. There is streangth is diversity. Isn't multiculturalism great? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 3, 2023 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ Some examples of real-world closed cities: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_city $\endgroup$
    – D. Dmitriy
    Jun 4, 2023 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ Could you break the wall of text into paragraphs and points, as it's a bit difficult to scan at present. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2023 at 22:22

12 Answers 12

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Knowledge There could be some form of knowledge that residents of the city have that is important to defense of the city. It doesn't necessarily need to be the typical "national security top secret level" depending on the threat. Knowledge about how the city is run, arranged, or organized known by regular citizens could be enough if the threat is particularly insidious.

Plague There could be some kind of plague going around and the cities cannot risk letting in strangers, nor can they let civilians leave and risk being infected. This could be particularly the case if the population is particularly scarce or precious in some way.

Brainwashing/Mind-control/Memory-Implant/Sleeper Threats There could be risk of citizens who leave being brainwashed or forcibly turned into sleeper agents in some way. This would be good reason not to let anyone in but it could also be reason just to not allow anyone to leave.

Zombie-type Threats Zombie-type threats are a combination of the plague and brainwashing reasons mentioned above. In this case you simply don't let anyone leave because not only will the person probably die it will increase the size of the external threat.

Maintaining relations with the natives If there are intelligent, organized beings, human or not living outside the confines of the cities in the surroundings then it may be their territory and they may not take kindly to city residents wandering into it. So in this case it would be for similar reasons why two countries don't allow free-flow traffic between their borders. Except in this case one small area, advanced, high density population is surrounded by a large area, primitive, low density population.

Surrounding farmland is vulnerable to city residents in some way The city could be surrounded by farmland where the crops are highly vulnerable to some pathogen or chemical the city residents are likely to bring with them and therefore residents are simply not allowed outside the city except for good reason and careful vetting in order to protect the food supply.

Maintaining mutual non-expansion treaties with other cities Perhaps citizens leaving and risking setting up new settlements encroaches somehow on other cities and therefore all cities have mutually agreed to not allow citizens to leave.

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It's a Sparta like culture with racism and slaves

The country is ruled by Yeti, with a small minority of turncoat humans to back them up. They have a strong martial and warrior culture, and the yeti often have raided rivals to take slaves.

Most of the population are slaves, and the protagonist, being a human, is a slave like person. As such, a human fleeing will face continual pressure and efforts to capture them by the native Yeti who don't want part of their property boldly captured in war to walk out.

It wouldn't make sense if an army couldn't leave.

If the army couldn't leave any rival could continually raid the city and take their food and livestock and people and retreat away whenever the city tried to retaliate. Someone needs to be able to leave. That said, it doesn't need to be humans who can leave. It can be just yeti, and the very rare trusted human who has betrayed their race and acts as a diplomatic contact in places too warm for yeti to go.

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There have been cultures in which warfare was conducted for the purposes of taking populations captive and forcing them to resettle on your land.

People are power. They are your agricultural base, your trade base, your craft base. All your money comes from taxation, which means you need people to earn the money in the first place.

It is quite possible for a government to enforce this to a counter-productive extent. Many governments have followed policies despite bad effects.

The problem with its being a city is that people have to leave the city to get food; the city itself can't raise enough. Therefore, you need to explain that trusted farmers may come in and go out, or else specific trusted merchants are charged with purchasing food from the hinterlands and bringing it. In either case, a newcomer will not be permitted into the roles, since you would expect them to flee.

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A closed Religious Theocracy where the general populace must serve a ruling class of Priests and believers are only allowed to leave with the specific approval and written permission of the Church for purposes deemed essential by that Priesthood. (Tasks usually assigned to only the trusted member so the clergy or very privileged commoners who families must remain behind.

Any non-believers who enter are considered to be a potential 'threat' to the divine order because they might bring in new ideas that challenge the status quo. As such the law dictates that any newcomers are trespassers who have soiled 'sacred' ground with their presence. They therefore face immediate arrest and forced conversion to the State Religion and from that moment are considered the property (slaves) of the Church.

As the newest members of the Church they are the lowest social cast in the City are are expected to dedicate the rest of their lives to proving their commitment and humility to the God/s by doing only the lowest, hardest menial tasks the City has to offer. The reward for a lifetime of such service is the promise of being reincarnated in their next life as a 'citizen', i.e. the next highest rank in the social order of the City.

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Workforce needed The Berlin Wall was built primarily to keep urgently needed workers from East Germany from emigrating to West Germany (or West Berlin).

Soldiers needed Modern states with compulsory military service usually prohibit (male) persons of appropriate age from leaving the country if war is imminent. Otherwise, the state would not be able to plan its defence properly or would have less deterrent potential against the enemy.

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I like the answer by DKNguyen, especially the second bullet point. But let me modify it a bit ... People outside think there is a plague inside. The fear is all it takes.

Their understanding of medicine is, well, medieval. Some concept of contagion, some concept of quarantine, yet no germ theory (or theory of fleas and mosquitoes carrying the infection). Trade is allowed, deals are made by shouting over the moat and goods are exchanged by going to sheds on alternate days. But whoever goes into the city limits must stay in, or undergo lengthy quarantine.

  • The outbreak might have ended long ago. Yet taboos linger.
  • Those inside have developed immunity. Those outside have not. Interesting for the heroes -- how lucky and healthy are they?
  • There never was an outbreak. The 'plague' was genetic, or caused by contaminated water, or something else non-transmissible.
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The city sucks to live in, & there's a far better place to live just outside the city

If there's an alternative place to live very nearby which would be better to live in every way, everyone would want to leave, & so there would need to be strong restrictions on who's allowed to leave so everyone doesn't simply leave.

Why the city sucks to live in could be for many reasons. Political repression, crime, poor economic situation, cost of living lack of supplies or for a more medieval specific reason there's a nearby city on a navigable river & this one isn't.

As in general if this is going to be the far north your going to need to import food & depending how far north firewood and/or coal. As in general any city not on a navigable river or on the coast is going to have significantly less ability to import food or anything else, while what can be transported in is going to cost way more in the pre - railway era. So being on a navigable river makes a city far more attractive.

But in general, if the city is a significantly worse place to live in & there's a better place to live that would willing to accept the people of the city itself. People will want to move there over staying in the city, & so the city would have to keep them from leaving.

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Siege or quarantine.

These are real world examples of medieval cities you could not leave.

in both cases you would either be forced back inside or killed.

Quarantine is rarer but did happen in cases of plague. A city under siege is far more likely, they could be under siege for years

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Simply because they need to keep people around for the manpower and money that they generate. It wasn't exactly uncommon in the worlds history to prevent people from traveling around for various reasons.

If you are talking about a frozen wasteland of an area people would want to leave and that could quickly cause the entire place to collapse from a lack of people to keep it working as needed.

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It could contain military secrets. Members of my family lived in Krasnoyarsk-45, which was the site of the Soviet nuclear programme. Even though none of them were even remotely involved in the programme (they worked in a grocery store), their movement out of the city was still extremely difficult and subject to an extended and rigorous official review. The reason for that was their proximity to the factories/laboratories and interactions with the workers.

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Friend Computer said so!

Citizen of Alpha Complex, would you violate the edict of Friend Computer? Always remember citizen, Happiness is mandatory. Would you venture out into the nuclear wasteland and abandon the safety and plenty of the Alpha Complex? There is nothing out there for you to find. Friend Computer checked it for you. There is no reason to leave Alpha Complex. Leaving Alpha Complex would mean you are unhappy. Being unhappy is treason. Leaving Alpha Complex is treason. Are you unhappy or a traitor, citizen? Steel your spine, citizen, do your best and report a commie mutant traitor today and become a Troubleshooter! Report unhappiness for credit, and gain double if you find an unhappy commie mutant traitor that wants to leave!

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As a merchant, I should try to sell as many goods as I can. There are plenty of cities where I could take my business. So why do I trek across this frozen wasteland, bringing food and supplies to a walled city that I'm not even allowed to enter? I wish I could say it was altruism, that the well-being of others is more important than my business. But my reasons are simpler than that.

Believe it or not, I have met seven different people from the city. I say believe it or not, because I did not believe my eyes the first time. Words cannot properly describe how beautiful each of these seven people are. The first time I met one of their ambassadors, she asked if I would be willing to bring my business to them. They have never had to ask again. I gladly take my wares far out of my way, for no better profit, just for the chance of seeing one of these miraculous beings. Surely you understand. Haven't you ever taken the same detour each day, just to pass the spot where you saw that person, just in case they're there again?

I do not know if any outsider has ever entered the city. Certainly, anyone who is allowed inside would never let themselves be taken out alive. And it seems like very few people from within the city are ever allowed to leave. In all my years, I have only met these seven city dwellers. What would I do if a more unsuspecting city dweller were outside the walls? I would take them with me, of course. What else could I do? What else could anyone do?

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