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Setting

This question is about a human culture, with conditions essentially the same as Earth's with technology roughly comparable to early middle ages. The climate is roughly Alpine, although the mountain is taller than any on Earth.

Society

I've been playing around with a culture that values elevation (for essentially religious reasons). The people live on the slopes of a mountain and base their social standing on the height at which they live*. This leads them to live as high up the mountain as possible, even at a cost to their health or life expectancy.

The general social structure is therefore that the lower class (those living further down the mountain) farm the lower, more arable land while the upper class struggles to survive in smaller settlements on the less hospitable land higher up, relying at least partially on 'tithes' from those beneath them.

These people do have contact with civilisation beyond the mountain, so have ways to trade the mountain's goods (metals, gemstones) for exotic materials they can't obtain themselves.

Question

What technologies would this society develop in order to attain as much elevation as possible?

Note

Whether this society is feasible isn't part of the question. I'm aware that there are issues I haven't addressed that would cause this society to break down, but for the purpose of this question just assume everyone goes along with it.


*More accurately social standing is a function of average and maximum elevation. Someone who frequently makes trips up and down the mountain would be considered more important than someone with the same average elevation who doesn't travel. This means it is valuable to find ways to get higher even if it isn't permanent.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello @JamieLear, welcome to Worldbuilding. When you see that automated message from Community BOT, it's generally a bad sign. It means some aspect of your post failed to meet Stack Exchange's basic expectations for questions. In your case, you're asking more than one question, which is a literal reason to close the question (VTC:Needs More Focus). Further, you're asking us to brainstorm ideas, which we discourage. SE prefers specific, fairly objective questions. How will you judge a single best answer? From a worldbuilding perspective, what's your problem? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @JBH. I've edited the question to be narrower and cut out my ideas which since they weren't directly related to the new question. Hopefully the question is now sufficiently focussed to choose an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Jamie Lear
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ It's better, but for future reference please note that SE prohibits open-ended questions (see help center). For the most part, such questions on this stack are nothing more than idea-generation (brainstorming, see help center) questions. We recognize that, to a limited degree, some idea-generation is necessary for worldbuilding. But we have limits. Please read about the difference between on-topic finite lists of things and off-topic infinite lists of things. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 8, 2023 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Elevators. Does that answer the question? Simple counterweighted lifts. Also, funiculars. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Sep 9, 2023 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ elevation was a status symbol in many real civilizations why not look at those? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 10, 2023 at 1:21

3 Answers 3

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Let me suggest that you aren't going to get an exact match for "middle ages" technology. You're describing a society of engineers who mine for a living, so I suspect they would develop a rail system comparatively early. When adjusting technology levels, I always identify something that's equivalently reduced. In this case, I suggest that they would have excellent stone carving but a lower level of woodworking and hydraulic systems.

The first railways don't show up in our history until 1600 or so. Previous to that, they used wooden wagons. Let's say your people considered their elevators to have the same importance as Roman highways or aqueducts. You'd have chains pulling iron-shod carts up stone railways, with counterweights. They would have something similar in their mines. If they advanced their metallurgy, they might even develop iron rails maybe a century before the outside world would.

Reliable elevators is actually the thing that prevented humans from making taller structures in most cultures. We could build twelve story masonry structures, but who wants to climb that many stairs? You have a similar issue distributing food and water to those places. If you have elevators, then you need something to power them. Water wheels will only get you so far.

At a higher level, you have to ask what activities are going on "higher up." Is this where people live and throw parties? Is it where they have business offices? Is this the seat of government, or just the monastic few? That will define the volume of traffic, and will specify the effort that they would go to for their transport system.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the thoughts. Counterweighted rails definitely seem like a good start, I was also imagining elevators working similarly. I agree that the limiting factor is ability to move food and other goods up the mountain. Regarding what people at the top are doing, they are basically trying to survive as high up as possible. The whole society is geared towards as many people being elevated as high as possible, so the volume of traffic ends up being as large as can be maintained. $\endgroup$
    – Jamie Lear
    Sep 8, 2023 at 16:34
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My thinking would be something along the lines of hot-air balloons. One of the core jobs of the peasants below could be building a maintaining of such devices in order to get goods quickly to the top of the mountain.

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    $\begingroup$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ Hello @christopherPearson, welcome to Worldbuilding. That automated comment from Community BOT is a red flag that means your answer has failed to meet Stack Exchange's expectations. It's too short and fails to address (a) the value of this solution over others and (b) a list of its deficiencies such as what happens when hot air + the weight of the balloon and cargo can no longer rise higher on the mountain (at the very least). Stack Exchange doesn't prefer short answers and we don't prefer quick brainstorming comments. Could you please edit your answer to fully flesh it out? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:37
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I would expect the elites to take the highest comfortable zone and just deny it and anything higher to everyone else as sacred ground or out of reach due to expense.

Similar strategies are in place everywhere already.

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  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't really effect the technologies required either way. The elites are going to need ways to survive high in the mountain, and are still in competition with each other. Additionally elevation isn't valuable exclusively for comparison with others, even if someone lived higher than anyone else they'd still want to gain altitude (think of elevation gain as a religious mandate of the society). $\endgroup$
    – Jamie Lear
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:04

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