What would be the land requirement (in acres) for both farming and housing to sustain a society in this scenario:

  • Small city of 1000 humans living on an island
  • Medieval setting
  • Mostly self-sufficient
  • Trade ships with supplemental goods arrive weekly
  • $\begingroup$ I am unable to comment, but it has been answered before. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/9582/… I knew this because I needed the answer and looked it up a few weeks ago. $\endgroup$
    – WRX
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ I would call this an "island settlement" - even in medieval times, 1000 would be a small number for a town $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ Not quite the same question. Historically, many island and coastal populations have gotten a significant share of their food from the sea, rather than from farming. Historical examples of such populations include the Jomon of Japan, the pre-Neolithic population of Finland and the Baltic region, the people of Iceland, the Inuit, the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, and Polynesians. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 17:19

3 Answers 3


Mostly self-sufficient medieval settlement of 1000 humans won't be a city. By this thread it seems that in medieval setting around 90% of people was farmers. This means you have 900 people in villages and only 100 to form a "town" - if you want it self-sufficient. Probably it would be a port settlement, for obvious reasons.

Again, if your setting is medieval, it means you have villages in woods. Typical village had population of 50-300 - so you need about 6 villages and quite a lot of woods between them for it to look like medieval Europe. I recall that one square mile of "used" land can support 150-200 people. This is consistent with already linked source, although I agree it's not truly scientific:

The average population density for a fully-developed medieval country is from 30 per square mile (for countries with lots of rocks, lots of rain, and lots of ice-or a slave-driving Mad King) to a limit of about 120 per square mile

Note that quoted numbers include land that was impractical to use, too.

Let's go with high number. Seems that you need only 5 square miles of usable* land for your population - but you should add quite a lot for things like coastline, patches that can't be cultivated and are inconvenient to build on, woods too hard to cut et cetera.

At 5 square miles, it might look like Hebao Island - as you can see, it's shape makes it impossible, or at least very hard to turn all of it into farms. You need it big enough to have a 5 miles of relatively flat land. how big exactly? Depends on it's geography.

* By usable land, I mean fields, pastures, stables and land for workshops etc. As you can see / calculate, it's about three times more than the estimated field area needed. Some part of this factor comes from less effective methods, some from inclusion of land needed for other uses.

  • $\begingroup$ By "used", you do mean supporting agriculture and housing, right? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ @GraemeRock supporting agriculture and needed crafts like blacksmith, potter, carpenter workshops, things like that. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ Terraced farming is certainly possible as well, and is much more efficient requiring less water and allowing more crops in a smaller space. $\endgroup$
    – Phil M
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilM yes it is. I assumed European medieval. Needed to have some assumptions about available tech. "the best of everything from everywhere in that time" never happened, so I don't even try. I just chose what I think OP had in mind. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I would add in livestock too like about 1 acre for 6 sheep. Cattle require approximately 1 acre to feed it for a year (1.5 to 2 for calf + momma cow in reference). Not to mention wild game which would require a lot of forested/untamed land. $\endgroup$
    – Phil M
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 22:10

As a rule of thumb, it takes about one acre of land to feed one person for one year. That's a little over 1.5 square miles, but you'd need that land to be very reliably productive. I'd suggest adding more for a safety margin, and then double or quadruple that to allow for crop rotation and/or fallowing.

As an island settlement, your population would certainly be fishing for a good chunk of their diet as well. Fish are an excellent source of protein and nutrition, but a reliable fishing fleet needs sources of wood, fibre, and metals. Metal would probably be acquired through trade, but you'll want a field of hemp for the fibre, and some managed woodland for timber.

A potentially useful resource you could add would be a nearby island with a regular population of sea birds. Bird guano makes a fantastic fertiliser, so it would both make their own fields more productive and be an excellent trading resource.

  • $\begingroup$ One acre now. In medieval times, with "advanced" three field systems and then avaliable fertilizers etc you needed about twice as that, plus one note field "resting". This gives 4.5 square mile, not 1.5 - and good it does, because with this correction our answers validate each other :) $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot If the island has a monsoon climate and that acre was rice, you would only need one acre, supplemented by fishing, per person, even for medieval technology. Labor intensive polycultures can be pretty sucessful compared to modern mechanized monoculture. Making your kids pick up every last stray grain gets a good efficiency return. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ I assumed European medieval, but you're right, in different climate, with different crops it will be different. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 15:54

Kythirawas close to stable with 500 residents in the ~16th century with a land area of 279.593 square kilometres, so you could double or triple that. how reliant on trade the island is will affect it, Kythira was well placed to enjoy easy trade.


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