State ABC is a small, landlocked country with little vegetation to support itself. It has scarce natural resources and is not very densely populated. However, its harsh terrain has hardened its inhabitants. This was recognized by ruling monarchy a long time ago - and today the army of this nation is an "elite" class. (Think Dune, Malazan etc for how harsh conditions can lead to a fearsome military.)

Now initially, I planned to keep ABC in a strategically important location, and have its economy powered by serving as a central location for merchants. ABC would have almost no manufacturing, but its bazaars would serve as a central hub (maybe due to low taxation), and it would sprout a service industry catering to that; e.g. a hospitality sector, transportation, etc.

I am not sure, however, that harsh lands, an elite small army which has to defend against large armies and other such facts are compatible with images of a bustling economic center.

Thus, I want to do a reality check on this, and/or get other ideas to support ABC economy. (A mercenary army is not an option.)

P.S.: I have not fixed a time period yet, but most likely it is going to be medieval times.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You mean Switzerland? They do have some important manufacturing industries, though, and no military elite. $\endgroup$
    – Crissov
    Nov 8, 2015 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ I thought someone might say Swiss, but harsh land and military elite are two obvious contradictions. In addition, ABC is not neutral, and is very active diplomatically... $\endgroup$
    – kushj
    Nov 8, 2015 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of harsh terrain? Mountains, deserts, toxic swamps, etc? $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    Nov 8, 2015 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ I am somewhat flexible on it... My only conditions are that it should not support high mineral deposits (or at least not by medieval standards), and be detrimental to invading army. I realize all kinds of harsh terrains support these including frozen tundra, mountain, desert etc $\endgroup$
    – kushj
    Nov 8, 2015 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @kushj Switzerland is neutral only since his heavy loss in the battle of Marignan (1515), and the historical Switzerland (Waldstätten) were essentially composed of quite harsh mountains and forests. The thing about military elite is still a major contradiction. $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Nov 8, 2015 at 17:17

4 Answers 4


If ABC doesn't have natural resources, strategic location is its best hope. Doesn't have to be the hub, but if the army controls the only mountain passes or the only oases between country X and Y, they could simply live off the toll they collect from caravans.

If they didn't even get that, they would need to have some culturally important things to make a difference in the greater world. Maybe they train all the Elite troops or lordlings in the ancient arts. Maybe there is a religious site drawing many pilgrims.

And this, pilgrims, is where the Creator rolled double ones on His Holy Resources Table, nearly dooming this land to subsistence farming and isolationism.

A final option may be that the people themselves are seen as more pure, making the noble sons and daughters very good prospects for foreign nobles. This would lead to many alliances and lots of political influence.

Edit: A trade hub needs a good reason for different traders to converge there. Typically it's the combination of accessible location (river/sea port), local resources, industry and wealthy patrons or customers.

Sadly, ABC has neither local resources nor a large cheap labour force, so it would either have to finance the trade itself or have unique highly skilled crafts that can't be moved nearer to their needed resources. It also seems unlikely that ABC is the easy road to an even more inaccessible but resource rich country, though they could have the start of the continent's main river, putting them at least at a somewhat central point.

In short, ABC would to have a reason (or impose one) that traders don't just move to an easier cheaper location.

  • $\begingroup$ These are all excellent idea. Thanks for them. I will wait some more time to see if there is any better answer, and if not. I would accept it. Also, could you validate or reject the idea of markets as I originally thought.. ? $\endgroup$
    – kushj
    Nov 8, 2015 at 17:18

Another option is that instead of state ABC only being a stop-over center on a trade route, the inhabitants of ABC could be wealthy merchants making profit by importing and reselling resources from other states. There are many examples of barren countries having bustling economies, such as the Kingdom of Hormuz.

If you expanded it to also having an elite navy it could become a very successful maritime economy. If the country started of with fishing economy originally, it could quickly develop a strong navy. Even though the country wouldn't have any resources an elite army/navy would be capable of trading in distant lands. On top of that if ABC surpassed other states in naval technology it could very well become one of the richest countries in the world. Having durable ships to last long trips was crucial to a global trading empire. That's how the Portuguese managed to make one so quickly; they developed the caravel, which was able to sail upwind. So by making ships that would last long trips the inhabitant of ABC would sells goods for much lower prices than goods which were resold for the nth time.

If resources from some states are being bought and then resold in ABC, this would quickly lead to the development of other sectors. One of main reasons why London is such a big city today is because of all the imports from Indian, which made it a gigantic trading center.

So, even if ABC is not located along a important trade route it could still develop a pretty being economy, just by having a strong, modern navy.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The OP states that the country in question is landlocked. While some landlocked countries do have navies, they're generally river boats and not suitable for large scale trade. Your original point about buying/selling overland is a good one though, especially if the residents of the country are experts in travelling through the harsh terrain where other traders might struggle. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Nov 9, 2015 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ Hey thanks for answer... Though I specified in question, that ABC is landlocked country. And I don't think it would be feasible for that country to maintain navy. But hey thanks for info about Hormuz kingdom... Your answer do contain some helpful hints though, which I might incorporate somewhere in my world :) $\endgroup$
    – kushj
    Nov 9, 2015 at 13:25

Controlling the main known supply of something fabulously valuable, perhaps? If the world's only known diamond mine is in ABC, and the ABCian army is fearsome...well, you're likely to trade for the diamonds rather than invade for them, and the ABCians can pretty much pick their price. Pick any trade good which has a high value for the weight, and which takes a long while to degrade (if it ever does), and you're in business.


Not a feared army

Harsh environmental conditions do not lead to a feared army. Fighting does. At best, harsh environmental conditions make the army feared in those conditions. And the truth is that historically, invaders haven't been that afraid.

Consider the case of Russia. It has harsh weather which makes it difficult to support supply lines during winter. Yet I can easily think of three invaders who've made it to Moscow and sacked the city. Two of them (Napoleon and Hitler) ultimately failed. Why? When snows cut off their army from their supply lines, their army fell apart and retreated. This despite the fact that they regularly won their military engagements.

The successful invasion of Russia was by the Mongols. Why? Because they were perfectly happy breaking their army down into units small enough to live off the land during winter. That was much closer to how they normally lived. But that only worked because neither the Mongols nor the Russians were particularly advanced. If the Russians had had more modern defenses, the Mongols wouldn't have been able to defeat them. If the Mongols had more modern weapons with a need for resupply, they wouldn't have been able to fight after losing their supply lines.

You can see the same thing in your Dune example. The natives weren't a feared army. They were ultimately successful, but it was the innovations that Paul brought that led them there. In particular, his threat to destroy the spice. Up until then, the invaders fully expected to be successful in subjugating the natives.

The Dorsai model would be possible, but you seem to be excluding that. There the world hired out its male population as soldiers. This made them feared militarily.

Why do people live there?

You identify the area as not growing enough food and dependent on trade. Why does anyone live there then? Trade is a luxury for other countries. So when other countries experience a shortage of food, they will stop trading. Everyone in this country dies. In medieval times, this would be common. No one would actually live in this country. After the first food shortage, everyone would die or leave and there'd be no reason to return to a landlocked country where travel is difficult.

It would be different if this country were somehow essential to trade because travel through it was easier than alternatives. Then the country would repopulate when trade reopened. But you excluded that.

  • $\begingroup$ You are right that harsh lands alone do not produce elite army, but nevertheless if combined with other factors such as motivation, training etc, it results in superior army than any other equivalently trained army. As to why people live there, there are several reasons which I did not went in detail in answer. Maybe there is strong cultural, religious or nationalist pride associated with land... However, I would keep in mind the points you raised, and maybe revisit the assumptions again in future :) $\endgroup$
    – kushj
    Nov 10, 2015 at 3:23

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