A group of people secede from a country, form their own, and gain many allies. Their allies and their original country's allies start fighting a worldwide war. (Fantasy setting, by the way.) A small but heavily fortified city-fortress is built. Eventually, most nations are destroyed - including that city's. The city remains as only a city.

It has more than enough crops to support itself. There are a few farms nearby, as well as a forest large enough that they can easily gain lumber. However, no sheep or goats.

But how would they get ore, cloth, etc.? Is it realistic for them to get enough necessary supplies through merchants?

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    $\begingroup$ What technology level are they at, and how big is the city? Also, where is it located? Outside trade via ship by rivers and oceans could be a possibility. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 13 '15 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ Not much technology. Metalworking, woodworking, and that's about it. The city is landlocked and not near to any river. It's a very small city. You could walk from one edge of it to another in about...two minutes. $\endgroup$ – Wick Nov 13 '15 at 0:24
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    $\begingroup$ That’s a village. $\endgroup$ – Crissov Nov 13 '15 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ It is also not connected to any trade routes. Why would merchants come to the area and where would they come from. Otherwise given the small size and low tech there should be no problem, but you need to actually have the trade before you can use it. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 13 '15 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ In case the city is isolated, but they can spare a guy, (after harvest, say) trade routes can be established by them. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Dec 15 '15 at 16:09

You're saying that they don't have much technology, that can suggest that the setting was around the Middle Ages. The fact that it is a heavy fortified city also points in that direction, so I'm gonna focus my answer on that time.

You say that you can walk from one side to the other side of the city in about two minutes. Given that you walk 5km/h that would give you around 133 meters. Assuming that the city-fortress is square, that gives you 133^2 = 17,689 square meters. In that small area would live around 250 people if the population density would be the same as in the center of Amsterdam. The density in the middle ages would be different I guess, but I couldn't find any information about population density in cities in the Middle Ages, sorry ;-). This gives you enough people to create a small society that could survive on it's own.

What they should do first is to create a food industry that produces more than enough for all of them, if they didn't already have that. This is necessary because they can't go to another city that easy if they run out of food in the middle of the winter, and they don't have allies any more which will help them in problems. In the case of urgent clothing need, people could go hunt and make clothes from animal skins. Maybe they don't have that technology yet, but it isn't hard to acquire.

If they can support all necessary elements for survival themselves they can look into creating valuable goods that other cities and villages in the area want. The tricky part is what. They have skills in metalworking and woodworking, but only have access to wood (the question is also about how they would get ore, so I'm assuming they don't have access to that). And I don't think the cities and villages in the neighborhood would have much trouble to acquire wood too. I think they have a couple possibilities which are rather easy to realize:

  • Focus on increasing their agricultural output and sell the surplus.
  • Focus on hunting and sell the skins.
  • Focus on cutting wood and crafting furniture and building materials and selling those (although I'm not sure if there will be a big market for it in the situation that the area is currently in).

They should try trading with cities and villages which have the ore they need to create metal tools and other objects. As soon as they can establish a continuing trade with such a city/village they can keep buying ore, turning it into valuable tools and other objects and sell it for more. If they acquire enough skill in metalworking they can become a trade-hub in the area.

So my final answer would be: Yes, they can get enough necessary supplies through merchants.

This is of course a best case scenario, many things could go wrong or make it harder, I'll name a few:

  • New wars could break out
  • All cities and villages in the area are wiped out and you need to travel for days or weeks to get to the closest one.
  • Cities and villages in the area doesn't need your stuff because they can provide for themselves.

Because the question left much to the imagination this can be the answer you're not looking for. If not, specify your question a little better please. Think about the following aspects:

  • What year/era this is happening
  • Peaceful or dangerous area
  • Are the other cities and villages close or not
  • In which area is the city located, desert, mountains, forests, fields, ...
  • What climate does the city have, around the equator, close to the arctic, ...

This has happened on Earth! In South Africa, with the Boers. The Boers were dutch settlers whose country (in Europe) essentially dissipated. They successfully established several republics and managed to be independent for a while, until the British came along.

As this lesson from history shows, just because your nation (or parent nation) is destroyed, trade doesn't stop. One can even argue that a war causes greater trade in certain goods.

We can also see a similar situation when Rome dissolved; the main government failed, but the people in those areas overcame the lack of government and established new countries. All the while, trade was enough to get many people by.

To concisely answer your question; yes, trade happens even when governments don't.


Based on the timeline (bronze age, medieval) in terms of analogies to technology, and the skillset of the local inhabitants, they might just be ok living off the land. Even up until the 1800's, with limited supplies, people where able to settle an area, build homesteads and support themselves.

Assuming every other person in the immediate vicinity were wiped out in this war, they might just spread out into the local area and live on subsistence farming.

Are they religious and particularly concerned with clothing from a modesty/morality perspective? Is it a cold climate? They might be able to grow hemp and use it to make clothing, or use some other fibre from the crops the grow..


It's realistic to trade for whatever they need as long as they have abundant enough resources that others want. Ed.: The biggest issue with trade is whether or not the other survivors have anything that the city wants, given the global losses of support. Assuming this is so, and shipping isn't, itself, prohibitive, yeah. That bit where you said they have food? That is far from a given for survivors in your scenario, so it qualifies as an important trade good.

They can develop the productive skills and resources that they need, as well. Unless there is something that locks them out of some technology that they need, they can purchase the tools they need and possibly hire the experts that they need.

It's a war with time. Critical things would be developed before rebelling. This could be building productive capacity or trade deals. Trading for missing experts is actually quite reasonable. (and has been done, historically)

(The games Colonization actually address this whole topic quite well.)

  • $\begingroup$ "That is far from a given for survivors in your scenario, so it qualifies as an important trade good." Well...it's actually around 459 years after the end of the war. $\endgroup$ – Wick Nov 13 '15 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ 4.5C!? That's roughly the time since Jamestown! Is there some force that prevents them from becoming self-sufficient in all that time? (Are you seeking to impose such a limitation?) $\endgroup$ – The Nate Nov 15 '15 at 4:26
  • $\begingroup$ I was wondering if they would become self-sufficient, at least economy-wise. I already know that they have enough food. $\endgroup$ – Wick Nov 15 '15 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ Barring some recent disaster (plague or war count) it reasonable that any colony becomes self sufficient in 50yrs or so unless something prevents it or undoes the progress. It's fairly reasonable to assume a decade or so, provided that the things they need are available for trade and that they have goods to trade with. My point about Jamestown was precisely this: 2015-450=1565 Every city in NA fits comfortably in this block of time. Columbus only returned with the news ~1493; Jamestown was founded in 1607; New Amsterdam in 1609; New Orleans shows up in 1718; $\endgroup$ – The Nate Nov 16 '15 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ Either they have spare food or they don't. If they do, they have something to trade with and they do not need every able body full-time. As they improve their farming techniques they reduce the percentage of their population that must farm. If they do not, the question of trade is irrelevant. A group may choose to be agrarian, even if they do not strictly need to, but the above holds true. Even in ancient agrarian communities, you usually find coopers, chandlers, smiths, weavers, chemists, wheelwrights, architects, and many other specialties. That's normal for humans worldwide. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Nov 19 '15 at 21:48

I believe the clothes question is a easy one, you can either hunt animals or have some sheeps in your farms in order to get wool.

The ore thing would depend on the area, if there is a mine it would make sense to eventually set camp or a new city there to get the ore. One example is São Paulo in Brazil, São Paulo was created to provide some resources that Rio de Janeiro couldn't acquire for itself.

Anyway it is possible for the city to survive but eventually they will need to set camp in other locations in order to get a wider variety of resources.


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