Consider a city-state in which the government is formed by whomever is strongest. We'll call this city Redwater for all the blood that's spilled into the river which runs through it.

I've written the following description for this city:

Often called barbaric, this massive city is known firstly for its system of government...or perhaps the lack thereof, depending on who one asks. In Redwater, the strong rule, and the law is whatever one has the strength to enforce. Naturally, this lends itself to chaos and corruption in the eyes of many, but there have been warrior-kings who enforce laws to the benefit of all, stomping out crime as no other system of law allows. In these times, Redwater has seen rapid growth, teeming commerce, and a thriving community. When the warrior-kings are self-serving, conniving, and scheming, the city turns foul and corruption is rampant.

So on to the questions!

Edit: In an attempt to narrow my question (I realize now I did ramble for quite a bit--I apologize), I'll focus on the amount of internal struggle and relationship with neighboring city-states.

What would the turnover rate for rulers be in such a city? Would it be in a position to conquer more territory (without too much fear of being overthrown internally while the troops are out), or would it just be a commercial relationship due to that fear?

Second edit: I went ahead and removed the rest of the questions.

  • $\begingroup$ you may want to read the diskworld books by Sir Terry Pratchett. The city of Ankh-Morpork and its ruler, Havelock Vetinary, might give you some interesitng hints. As a very positive side effect, those books are not only very intelligent, they are also wonderful fun to read. Apart from that: your question is way too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Sep 20, 2016 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'll definitely look into the Diskworld books you mentioned, @Burki. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Chris V.
    Sep 20, 2016 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ I would recommend removing entirely your previous questions. They will remain in the version history if you want to use them for other questions or have others see them, but they detract from your post and obscure your altered question. I would do this myself, but it represents more than half of your post, which I consider a larger edit than should be made without consulting the author. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 20, 2016 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds good. Not sure how to view that history, but I did remove them. $\endgroup$
    – Chris V.
    Sep 20, 2016 at 20:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can view the history by clicking on the "edited X ago" link at the bottom of the post. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 20, 2016 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


I liked your premise and would try to answer your questions as best as I could.

1. I would start by saying, being on the throne in your city will not change much unless you introduce something that the future king will benefit from. Imagine someone wants to come into power. He needs to root out current king, losing resources doing that. Probably there would be others waiting for this to take the throne from them. But what is the point, even if they don't get attacked, this "gang" will not have enough resources left to truly control the city. You could offset this problem simply by adding crown knights who swears loyalty to whoever is in charge. This means, whoever wants to grab power, should either challenge the current king in a duel or something or should gather quite a lot of force. This will allow the city to have longer periods of peace.

2. Obviously there will be a lot of events going on the background. Specifically, there will be powers trying to get rid of the current king. These could be neighboring states or internal contesters.

3. Whenever someone gets in charge, crown knights would go out and announce the event to the public. Any new rules can be read out by the knights as well.

4. Well, you don't need warrior kings with absolute power to sway people to your side. Current political system works similarly. You bet on someone, helping them to win the election (fight in your case) so that later on they would "help" you in return.

5. It is not very hard to imagine a king-to-be to use benevolent card to gain popularity. This will work excellently if the current king is tyrannical and the populace is suffering under him.

6. Nope, some of them would probably be god-kings and traders with considerable wealth.


So rule by the strongest has all sorts of analogies amongst our cute, fuzzy mammalian cousins, red in tooth and claw.

Social Theory in Mammals 101

A hierarchical grading of males (alpha on down, ruined by werewolf romance novels) is common in species with a large social struture, like wolves and baboons.

For larger animals with smaller groups, the 'harem' style is more common, with one male controlling either territory during the mating season (like part of a river for Hippopotami, or part of a beach for an Elephant Seal) or a combination of territory and a group of females throughout the year(as in Lions and Gorillas, though Lions tend to tolerate ruling alliances between father/sons or brothers more).

Large social herbivores like elephants and bison, which tend to have higher overall populations, tend to form same-sex herds in the non-mating season. Then for the rut, the male herds find the females and fight it out for sex rights before going their separate ways again.

Lastly, our closest kin, the chimpanzee has the most complex society, and the one closest to our own. It is described as 'fission-fusion' where group sizes are in the ~50 individual range, with smaller tightly knit subgroups, often immediate family, in the larger 'clan'. The subgroups can split from one clan to join another, or individuals can go from one subgroup/clan to another. Overall, chimpanzees show more individual social mobility than other animals. Another unique feature is that the females are more likely to leave the group than males; in most animals the strongest relationship is mother-daughter. Finally, chimpanzees overlay the ranked male dominance hierarchy common to wolves and baboons on top of this already complex system. Unlike wolves, there is no female dominance hierarchy.

Chimpanzees are by far the closest to us in behavior. If you think about your own family, the descriptions of the other animals don't come close to describing how humans operate, but chimpanzees are much closer. Specifically, the unusual female dispersion appears to be something that was strongly kept in modern humans (as in, the female traditionally changes her last name to match the group that she moved to). This brings up the major difference between chimps and us: monogamy. Humans are the only mammals that is monogamous, yet lives in group sizes greater than just the one couple.

Possible Outcomes

So to make your world socially distinct from modern humanity in the way your describe, you could try incorporating some social structures from other mammals.

First off, I don't know if you are going for a warriors=males society or not. Obviously, if you want female warriors fighting over dominance a la the Drow, looking at Earth's mammals isn't going to help much. With that being said here are some changes you can make with some far-reaching consequenes:


Your people developed not from a fission-fusion society, but from a lion-style society. As a result, society is even more patriarchal than in our own history. Women developed agriculture and settlements and villages and outnumber men 3-1. Men stick around towns as warriors. Their life consists primarily of raiding neighboring settlements and defending their own. Life expectancy is low for males, most die before age 20 as they start in combat in their teens. The dominant warrior is usually in his 30s and reigns 5-10 years. Young men are thrown out of their birth village around the age of 20 unless they are believed to be loyal to the dominant warrior. These young men form roving bands. When they are bold-strong enough they attack an existing settlement with the goal of killing/exiling all the males and ruling themselves. There is no marriage, women are interested in mating with the highest ranking males. Women are forbidden from leaving their birth city. Sexual dimorphism is increased from 15% to 30%; this makes males about 20lbs heavier (and correspondingly taller, I suppose) than normal humans (say 120lb for females and 160lb for males in this world).

As villages develop into higher civilization, larger cities form from which a king exercises lordship over smaller surrounding villages. These villages have groups of males who are required to routinely come to the capital to prove submission to the warriors of the capital. Powerful warriors from the villages are invited to become the retinue of the King, rebellious warriors from the villages are killed or driven out. The king also utilizes the lesser ranked warriors in war-related industry, such as metalworking, and in jobs like the priesthood and judiciary. The King is too powerful and has too many warriors to be challenged by roving bands of young men, instead his primary threat comes from the surrounding villages, possibly in alliance. The king is killed every 5-10 years, and his whole retinue killed or dispersed; if an alliance of villages overthrew him, the villages battle until there is a one victor, who then recruits his own retinue and repeats the process.


Your society developed from a Gorilla, 'harem' style society. Males have an extended sexual maturity that results in large gains in strength later in life (becoming a silverback). Sexual dimorphism is more extreme. The 160lb males from the previous example bulk up to over 200lb in their 'silverback' state. Females form small groups that developed agriculture and villages, and live with their children in an extended adolescence. Male children will stay with their mothers through their 20s and help work on the farm, etc. The single dominant warrior will be in his 40s and continue to grow in size and power through his life. He will usually drive out other males in their late 20s. These other males will then form small bachelor groups as nomads, until one or more of them is strong enough to challenge a silverback (or wait for a silverback to die). Adult females outnumber the silverback 20 or even 50-1.

As civilization develops, the women do all the inventing and technological development. As a result, they gradually come to control society. There are not enough men to keep them in line, as in the lion example above. The women organize things for better success. Groups of females will merge in confederation, many matriarchal clans of 20-50 with their offspring will form a city together. Each clan retains its silverback for protection; the silverbacks together form the defense of the city, a heavily armored, extremely powerful phalanx of a few dozen. To ensure that the clans get the best silverback and to keep their sons from running off to be brigands, females organize tournaments by recruiting the men in their late 20s from other clans in the city. The young men compete, the winner gets to challenge the silverback once a year. The silverback loses every 5-10 years. The battles are to the death, so there are no men in their 30s, excepting the silverbacks. The silverbacks do all the mating in the clan. The women make all the govering decisions, run the religion and judiciary, and generate all of the production (agricultural, metalworking, trade goods, etc). Matriarchs trade daughters with other clans in the city to establish peaceful relations. The silverbacks' life consists of fighting and f**king.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, very interesting! I'm not fond of either Lion-style or Gorilla-style for this world, but I'll definitely take bits and pieces of both and hybridize them to find what I'm looking for. I like the correlation you draw with the animal kingdom; I should have thought of that earlier. Good answer. $\endgroup$
    – Chris V.
    Sep 21, 2016 at 17:12

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