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About 300 years ago, my world underwent massive climate change. It suddenly shifted from something we'd consider normal/livable to a climate similar to that of the last glacial maximum. (Side note: I know this isn't realistic, but honestly, I'm handwaving the reasoning behind it. I think it's interesting to explore, so it's canon.) I'm focusing mostly on a culture near the equator -- it's an agrarian society, and it was a large empire before sudden cold, famine, disease, and general societal chaos caused it to fracture. I'm looking for thoughts on how quickly and to what extent a society would be able to 'rebuild' and form a large government. How long would it take for agriculture to be reestablished?

More context:

  • It's low fantasy, without much magic. Proper 'mages' are very rare, very powerful, and, at least in this culture, considered incarnations of gods.
  • The richer families/rulers fared better against initial famine conditions than the poor; I think they'd be the most likely to seize power after the empire's collapse.
  • The population has, in general, become aggressively religious. Religious rules are stricter, and they're much quicker to throw out or kill anyone they believe to be bringing the wrath of gods upon them. I think that anyone trying to gain power would leverage this.
  • I think the sudden cold conditions would cause migration towards the equator -- anywhere that seems sustainable. Migrants might have brought along plants/animals that are better adapted to cooler climates.

Thanks for reading! This project has been sitting in my head for the better part of a year, so I'd love to get any advice from others :)

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  • $\begingroup$ You definitely want to read S. M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers, 2002. The sudden icey age begins in 1878. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 20, 2023 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. A culture which is located truely "near the equator" won't see much in the way of climate change. I guess it depends on how near the Equator is near the Equator. In the northern hemisphere, agriculture will remain perfectly possible in southern Europe (say, the Iberian peninsula, Italy, Greece), in Mesopotamia, in Persia, in Egypt, and in India and Indo-China. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 20, 2023 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ How rapid the onset of the climate shift is a very important factor\ for the question at hand. $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Sep 20, 2023 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ You'll need to think through the geography of your world in some detail. The shape, size and and distribution of your globes land masses will have a key impact on ocean currents, climate, the location of arable land and other factors effecting where and how post change society rebuild. Also you describe one empire but did that empire control the entire globe or were there multiple other kingdoms with the one you described being the largest? $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Oct 7, 2023 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ What level of technology was the empire pre-Ice Age? Was it akin to ancient Egypt or renaissance Europe or something different? As for whether migrants brought plants or animals that are better suited to the conditions - you need to tell us that, otherwise we are writing your story. Read Guns, Germs and Steel to understand just how crucial it is to have animals that can be domesticated and productive plant crops. $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2023 at 22:54

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Agriculture relies massively on transmitted knowledge: when, where, how to plant, water, plow, fertilize, harvest, consume, store seeds.. it's an heurístic knowledge base which is transmitted across the generations of farmers and not easily adaptable to a new location.

For historical examples, look that founding fathers on the Mayflower, who needed the help from the indigenous people to know what and how to cultivate (even though there were some with at least farming knowledge among those who left from Plymouth). Or look at how the European using corn had problems which the native American population did not have with its consumption, due to a better knowledge.

With what you describe, a society would end up on the verge of collapse, and it would take quite some time for anything larger than a village to be manageable: poor cultivation leads to population decrease and with it less available harms to do work, topped with lack of knowledge on the best farming practices. It would probably take at least 2-3 generations for a new knowledge base to be established once the climatic conditions stabilize again.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! That makes sense — I’ll probably move the starting date if my story forward a century or two, then. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2023 at 6:04
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Without external forces there would be no need to form a large government after the initial collapse. Small, mostly self sufficient communities would develop around people who can feed them. Unless some meglomaniac conquered and enslaved everyone else it wouldn't remain an Empire.

Farming would take hold quickly, the alternative is death. I'm assuming a large empire would have a lot of imported food stuffs already that could furnish seeds or shoots from more temperate regions.

This is equatorial, tough, smart people used to growing a large variety of crops, they'd work it out.

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Ice Ages weren't all bad

This might not be what you were looking for but assuming these people do not have modern technology, I think that an Ice Age would actually improve conditions for agriculture.

As someone mentioned in the comments, you wouldn't see as much change in temperature in the equator during the ice age as you would higher latitudes, the equator would see the least changes. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ice-age-temperature-science-how-cold-180975674/

But, around the equator there were probably a lot more grasslands. Indonesia was connected into a single landmass called Sundaland (since sea levels were lower) that was mostly grassland with forest at the equator. Similar situation in the Amazon. I believe that a grassland would be much more suitable for agrarian societies than a rainforest.

In general though, the ice ages were far from just doom and gloom. The Arabian Peninsula was green and the Sahara desert transitioned between what it is today and lush green periods. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0698-9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_humid_period

You might expect more of a collapse in the higher latitudes, return of plague (yes, that plague) due to weaker population, and perhaps some people returning to hunter gatherer lifestyles. But near the equator you might expect a golden age. This part take with a grain of salt: This might be a golden age for your soceity brought on by favorable conditions and mixing of cultures with some immigrants from the North. The renaissance also happened after a tragic period.

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