Jump to content
The Coconut God

Of army sizes and agriculture: a rebuttal of Westeros's 40 million population estimate

Recommended Posts

Posted (edited)

This post has been a long time coming. I'm finally going to buckle down and write it.

Seven months ago I made a post on r/asoiaf in which I proposed a different way of calculating the population of Westeros, based on the number of existing settlements and their average population in medieval times.

I arrived at a high estimate of 14 million inhabitants, a number I was very happy with, since the 40 million based on the 1% army size rule always felt too large to me (I have a background in geopolitics and I feel ruling over 40 million would require a more complex political system than the one depicted in the series), and also unreliable, since basing your estimate on such a small percentage can cause wild variation in your result.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to convince @Ran at that time, even though the nameless market towns he pointed out I had ommitted (based on oane of Arya's chapters in AcoK) wouldn't have made much of a difference (an extra 4 million people overall, and this is ignoring the fact that I was very generous with my estimates everywhere else).

Now, I am able to provide you with solid textual proof that Westerosi armies represent more than 1% of the population, and hopefully I will be able to explain why a lower population density makes perfect sense for the World of Ice and Fire.

 

1. Army size and population - a look at the Chequy Lion

 

While the main series never gives us much insight into the recruitment process the lords of Westeros employ, we do get to see this in the second Dunk & Egg novella, The Sword Sword.

Ser Eustace Osgrey, a disgraced knight, requires Dunk to levy no less than "every able-bodied man of fighting age". This would normally mean roghly 33% of all men, or 16.5% of the population... This is a tall order, of course, and I doesn't quite get filled, but it is important to note that this was the initial goal, and nobody found it unusual. This woman in particular takes it very naturaly:

Quote

"Is it war?" asked one thin woman, with two children hiding behind her skirts and a babe sucking at her breast. "Is the black dragon come again?"

Now, how many people does Ser Eustace have? Let's take a look:

Quote

Ser Eustace's lands supported three small villages, none more than a handful of hovels, sheepfolds, and pigs. The largest boasted a thatched one-room sept with crude pictures of the Seven scratched upon the walls in charcoal.

"No more than a handful of hovels" I take to mean 5 or less (my own grandfather on my mother's side was born in a "village" with 3 houses in northern Romania, so I wouldn't find such a number unusual), so less than 15 families in total.

According to Google, the average medieval family had 6 members, though if we want to pump it up a little we can go to 10. That's somewhere between 90 and 150 people under Ser Eustace's care. This lines up with the real world estimates; a knight was usually supported by an average of 300 villagers. Since Eustace's family had lost some lands both before and after the rebellion, and men during the fighting no doubt, it makes sense that he would be way below average.

Of these 90 to 150, 12 recruits show up, of which Dunk keeps 8. Note how we have extra recruits to balance out the draft dodgers (if there were any at all – the numbers could be small simply because Eustace had previously lost another round of fighting men in the rebellion). With Dunk himself, the count goes up to 9 (I'm not counting Bennis because he did run away in the end).

So, what is the army size relative to the population for Ser Eustace Osgrey, disgraced knight who has little to offer and little to threaten his subjects with? 6-10%! 3% at the lowest, if we ignore the hovel count and go straight with the real world average, but even so it is a far cry from the 1% used to reach the 40 million.

With the 3%, we get to a number very close to my own initial estimate, 13,400,000, both methods allowing for that number to go even lower.

But wait! Westeros is supposed to be roughly the size of Europe, which used to have between 50 and 70 million inhabitants in the Middle Ages. Its population can't possibly be this low!

I used to think the same, and I was actually advocating for retconning its size in that old reddit post, which is... silly, I have to admit.

But there is actually a perfectly viable explanation that works with the world... and it has to do with agriculture.

 

2. The quirks of growing your crops when the seasons are out of whack

 

Yes, agriculture is the true solution to our problem.

Because the actual size of the territory has little to do with the size of its population. It's how much food that territory can provide that truly matters.

Medieval Europe, from Charlemagne to the Renaissance, used two systems of agriculture: the two-field system and the three-field system.

Under the two-field system, a field is planted in one year and left to fallow in the next. Under the three-field system, the field is planted for two consecutive years, once with one type of crop during the autumn and once with a different one, which consumes different nutrients and replenishes the others, during the spring, then is left to fallow in the third year.

The yearly harvest from each of this style of crops will feed a certain population for one year (smaller for the two-field, larger for the three-field). Now, in Westeros, you don't get the standard temperate European year; you get several consecutive years of fertile summer, followed by a similar number of years of winter, in which you can't plant anything at all.

This means that you effectively have to plant duble the number of crops in the years of summer in order to store enough for the years of winter.

It sounds easy. Plants tend to grow in summer, after all. However, you still have to respect the fallow cycle, otherwise the soil will become degraded and quickly lose its fertility. Best case scenario, this means you need to have set aside double the surface of arable land so you can plant enough crops per year to cover the quota. And it only goes downhill from here.

The more efficient three-field system largely relies on high yield winter cereals for one of the crops. These are planted in autumn and benefit from the snow's moisture to gather nutrients and grow, so they can't really be used throughout a prolonged summer.

The heat of the summer also means that the fallow land will become dry and cracked unless it is allowed to be covered by grass an weeds.. which is a Catch 22. In our world, ploughing an overgrown field in autumn would allow winter to kill most of the weeds and provide fresh, moist soil for planting in spring. In Westeros, during mid and late summer they might have to rely solely on grazing to clear the land for a new crop, which may increase the fallow cycle and also increase the chance that some weeds would survive to affect the crop, decreasing later yields throughout the years.

Worst case scenario, people would be unable to replant a summer-fallowed field until the next spring, meaning they could use even five or six times more land than us for the same number of crops over the length of their average seasonal cycle (starting with a perennial fodder that can be easily cleared as they move over to that field).

A low yield per hectare averaged for all seasons would also explain why villages and towns are situated far away from each other: each village needs that much more arable land compared to an European village in order to provide it with the same ammount of food. A larger ratio of fallow land compared to planted crops – due to a need to prevent soil degradation – also explains why we see our characters more often on wild roads than in fields.

It also explains why the cities are so few, and always on the shores of a sea or river: the area required to provide food for the inhabitants is much larger, to the point that it hinders transportation on land, and they need fresh goods to be shipped to them.

Last but not least, it explains why the Iron Island are so populous compared to much larger kingdoms on the continent: they rely on the sea to provide food for them, and the sea manages to replenish itself more efficiently. It also adds a new dimension to the words of House Greyjoy, "We do not sow".

Edited by The Coconut God

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Haven’t read all of it(about half way to finisih 2.) but great post so far!

Just to add a small bit to perhaps refine your calculation based on Ser Eustace’s lands a bit more;

Quote

Most of the men were in the fields, so it was largely women and children who crept out of the hovels at their coming, along with a few grandfathers too infirm for work. 

Men between 15 and 50 are recruited, so these grandfathers are certainly older than that and there are a few of them. Perhaps it would change your hovel count, perhaps not.

Also size and population; We learn of at least two ruins in the Blackwood territory claimed by Brackens. We see a burned down village that belonged to Lord Goodbrook that was torched by Hoster and never settled again in 15 years. Oldstones is left as a ruin for thousands of years, despite being on a very good position, atop a hill overlooking the Blue Fork and with a bridge some way to the north, allowing to cross the river.

So even the Riverlands, a very fertile region as a whole that is also not so big compared to most other regions has plenty of unoccupied land. 

Edited by Corvo the Crow

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eustace raised 8 peasants - including a simpleton - from 3 villages immediately surrounding his keep - for a line-up, not for a campaign. How many of these can he equip, march any distance, feed and logistically support for an actual campaign of multiple weeks, nevermind months? Probably zero. The 1% rule doesn’t apply to the number of peasants you can gather from a couple of hours travel around your keep, and get to line up for a speech and a bit of messing about for a day. For that you can gather/coerce pretty much every able bodied man in the vicinity.

But to train, equip, feed and logistically support them across any decent distance for a sustained campaign you need significant resources. Which Eustace clearly lacks. And which limits even powerful lords to around 1% over any extended campaign. Maybe Tywin Lannister can afford 2%. 

And the greater the distance and longer the campaign, the lower the percentage drops.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As Free Northman Reborn says, the conflict bewteen the Osgreys and the Webbers cannot be used to estimate the mobilization rate of Westeros. The 1% limit does not relate to the availability of men of fighting age, but to the logistic capacity to send them to campaign.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 25 August 2019 at 10:31 AM, Free Northman Reborn said:

Eustace raised 8 peasants - including a simpleton - from 3 villages immediately surrounding his keep - for a line-up, not for a campaign. How many of these can he equip, march any distance, feed and logistically support for an actual campaign of multiple weeks, nevermind months? Probably zero. The 1% rule doesn’t apply to the number of peasants you can gather from a couple of hours travel around your keep, and get to line up for a speech and a bit of messing about for a day. For that you can gather/coerce pretty much every able bodied man in the vicinity.

But to train, equip, feed and logistically support them across any decent distance for a sustained campaign you need significant resources. Which Eustace clearly lacks. And which limits even powerful lords to around 1% over any extended campaign. Maybe Tywin Lannister can afford 2%. 

And the greater the distance and longer the campaign, the lower the percentage drops.

That works.  You can get a higher percentage than 1% fighting, but only if they're fighting close to home.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Corvo the Crow 

Those are some very good points.

You can also use the holdings demanded by the Brackens to estimate population (since they are 1/4 of their total holdings, and we know there are ~ 15 bannermen per great house). For the population to reach 40 million, ~ 75.000 people would need to live there, which is impossible, considering it's only two castles, three villages and one market town.

Brienne's chapters also points out at a very low population density, otherwise there would be so many towns and villages in between King's Landing and Maidenpool (a distance similar to Paris – Amsterdam) that she wouldn't know which direction to go next. She would also encounter more people on presumably Portugal-sized Cracklaw Point.

@Free Northman Reborn 

First of all, the 1% rule is a very poor way of estimating total population, because when you deal with such a low percentage, small variations will lead to gigantic differences in your results. If you use 0.5% instead of 1%, you will end up with 80 million. If you use 1.5%, you will get 26.6 million... That's a huge gap, and a variation of 0.5 percentage points is always plausible.

Now, for what kind of troops are being levied... I think Septon Meribald's speech contradicts your assertion that poorly equipped peasants recruited on the spot don't get taken on long distance campaigns. In fact, it's the whole point of their speech that they are. And it is evident from the peasants' reaction (which I quoted in the OP!) that they fully expected to be recruited for a Blackfyre war.

As for feeding the army, given the circumstances we have at the beginning of AsoIaF, that would be a hell of a lot easier than people assume.

Keep in mind that people would absolutely NEED to store food for winter during the long summers in order to survive, and the series starts at the end of a 10 years long summer. Every village, town and castle should have 10 years worth of stored food for a winter that is also expected to be long.

If storage is done at parity, meaning you prepare for a winter that is roughly the same length as the summer, that means everyone has enough food to last them 10 years. A small town of 1.000 people should be able to feed a an army of 60.000 for a full month while only using half of their stores. And then the army would move to the next town, or forage from villages.

Now, this practice would be extremely irresponsible... these people would die from starvation in winter unless they managed to replenish their stores from unaffected towns and villages... but since when were Westerosi lords known to be responsible? The point is there would be no food shortage even for unusually large armies as they advance through the land. Even a small village could provide for their needs for a short while, granted that their stores would be entirely depleted.

In fact, if armies were as low as 1% of the population, they would have a hard time depleting 10 years worth of storage from entire kingdoms. Even if food was wantonly burned, many would be able to hide their stores before their lands were affected by the fighting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, The Coconut God said:

@Corvo the Crow 

Keep in mind that people would absolutely NEED to store food for winter during the long summers in order to survive, and the series starts at the end of a 10 years long summer. Every village, town and castle should have 10 years worth of stored food for a winter that is also expected to be long.

If storage is done at parity, meaning you prepare for a winter that is roughly the same length as the summer, that means everyone has enough food to last them 10 years. A small town of 1.000 people should be able to feed a an army of 60.000 for a full month while only using half of their stores. And then the army would move to the next town, or forage from villages.

At least in the north, it appears that the Lord's are primarily responsible for collecting and storing food for winter, if Winterfell itself is any guide.  They have an entire town to house all their peasants and the storehouses.  Probably each liegelord in the vassal chain has to collect the excess grain and provide for his peasants.

Based on what Eddard says when he hears Winter is coming, it doesn't sound like they routinely store large quantities of food though.  As I recall he talks about hoping they get at least a couple more autumn harvests in and then they'll just tighten their belts.  While I doubt GRRM wants to get into the nitty gritty of agricultural mechanics, I'd actually be interested in what his vision of how it all works is. 

 

Edited by argonak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, The Coconut God said:

@Corvo the Crow 

Those are some very good points.

You can also use the holdings demanded by the Brackens to estimate population (since they are 1/4 of their total holdings, and we know there are ~ 15 bannermen per great house). For the population to reach 40 million, ~ 75.000 people would need to live there, which is impossible, considering it's only two castles, three villages and one market town.

Brienne's chapters also points out at a very low population density, otherwise there would be so many towns and villages in between King's Landing and Maidenpool (a distance similar to Paris – Amsterdam) that she wouldn't know which direction to go next. She would also encounter more people on presumably Portugal-sized Cracklaw Point.

@Free Northman Reborn 

First of all, the 1% rule is a very poor way of estimating total population, because when you deal with such a low percentage, small variations will lead to gigantic differences in your results. If you use 0.5% instead of 1%, you will end up with 80 million. If you use 1.5%, you will get 26.6 million... That's a huge gap, and a variation of 0.5 percentage points is always plausible.

Now, for what kind of troops are being levied... I think Septon Meribald's speech contradicts your assertion that poorly equipped peasants recruited on the spot don't get taken on long distance campaigns. In fact, it's the whole point of their speech that they are. And it is evident from the peasants' reaction (which I quoted in the OP!) that they fully expected to be recruited for a Blackfyre war.

As for feeding the army, given the circumstances we have at the beginning of AsoIaF, that would be a hell of a lot easier than people assume.

Keep in mind that people would absolutely NEED to store food for winter during the long summers in order to survive, and the series starts at the end of a 10 years long summer. Every village, town and castle should have 10 years worth of stored food for a winter that is also expected to be long.

If storage is done at parity, meaning you prepare for a winter that is roughly the same length as the summer, that means everyone has enough food to last them 10 years. A small town of 1.000 people should be able to feed a an army of 60.000 for a full month while only using half of their stores. And then the army would move to the next town, or forage from villages.

Now, this practice would be extremely irresponsible... these people would die from starvation in winter unless they managed to replenish their stores from unaffected towns and villages... but since when were Westerosi lords known to be responsible? The point is there would be no food shortage even for unusually large armies as they advance through the land. Even a small village could provide for their needs for a short while, granted that their stores would be entirely depleted.

In fact, if armies were as low as 1% of the population, they would have a hard time depleting 10 years worth of storage from entire kingdoms. Even if food was wantonly burned, many would be able to hide their stores before their lands were affected by the fighting.

 

So we agree that the 1% is a rule of thumb. It will vary widely based on some key factors, including wealth of the lord, fertility of the lands, population density, distance marched, season and duration of the campaign, to name a few obvious ones.

However, using medieval England as an example, armies of 20k would have been extremely large for the era, and these were gathered over very small geographical areas compared to Westeros, which would serve to INCREASE the ease of mobilization compared to Westeros. Meaning Westeros would tend to have lower mobilization rates than the smaller sized England. And this was in a time when England had maybe 2 million people.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

@Free Northman Reborn

We agree on nothing of the sort!

With all due respect towards @Ran, who is an awesome member of the community and meant well, the 1% is simply a classic example of tweaking the numbers to make them look right. That doesn't mean the methodology and the results are correct.

Westeros is not medieval Europe. It can have a higher recruitment rate, just like the few existing cities are several times more populous than the ones in our world, and just like dynasties last exponentially longer.

I offered a concrete example of recruitment resulting in way more that 1%... and I don't even advocate for the whooping 6-10% that results from the calculations, but for a more conservative 3%, accounting for lower recruitment elsewhere.

I explained why feeding these armies in the field would be feasible in Westeros... And to address what @argonak said, if people are supposed to survive through winters lasting several years, they would have to set supplies aside for them, whether George mentioned that or not. Otherwise you can throw historical realism out the window. Who cares about army sizes and population densities? Realistically they'd all be dead within a year.

But, you know, if a population of 40 million with a 1% recruitment rate creatively makes sense to you because you want to have a nearsighted sense of historical realism, you can imagine whatever you wish! :D

Edited by The Coconut God

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Having seen your responses here and on Reddit, I think this

Quote

a classic example of tweaking the numbers to make them look right

is an interesting thing for you to say. I particularly defer to the actual farmers who responded to you with a number of contradicting pieces of information who did not agree with your conclusions, re: agriculture. 

You're cherry picking extremely narrow sets of data -- the holdings of _one_ house to try and extrapolate a whole continent? The troops raised by one minor, poor knight for an entirely local conflict? -- in a way that seems far less feasible than looking at total expected troop mobilizations in Westeros from across all regions based on available figures and using that to extrapolate, or using the land area and regional climates to make comparisons to comparable medieval regions. 

14 million is simply impossibly low for the society depicted. The matter of feeding and maintaining a medieval-level sedentary society with the odd seasons is a matter that, to some degree, requires suspension of disbelief. But George has made some effort to adhere to approximate levels of medieval military technology, including its logistics, and his armies are simply based on this. Bernard S. Bacharach, in his work on Carolingian warfare, finds little evidence that medieval expeditionary forces could amount to more than 1%-1.25% of the total populace for logistical reasons. Extrapolate that from all we know of expected mobilization in Westeros and we get a range much nearer to 40 million than 14 million.

As to the matter raised by @Corvo the Crow about Oldstones and the Goodbrook village, I think the Middle Ages also had their ruined and abandoned places, so I'm not sure what this really reveals. We do not know whether that village, for example, was already struggling due to issues completely unrelated to being razed, and so was not resettled.... and Oldstones may be a matter of tradition and superstition. And so on.

Edited by Ran

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, Ran said:

As to the matter raised by @Corvo the Crow about Oldstones and the Goodbrook village, I think the Middle Ages also had their ruined and abandoned places, so I'm not sure what this really reveals.

Well it reveals land is not overly populated. There are “empty” places even in the fertile riverlands. This means just what’s written, it doesn’t mean riverlands is one empty region bereft of any meaningful number of people on a regional level.

Edited by Corvo the Crow

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, The Coconut God said:

@Free Northman Reborn

We agree on nothing of the sort!

With all due respect towards @Ran, who is an awesome member of the community and meant well, the 1% is simply a classic example of tweaking the numbers to make them look right. That doesn't mean the methodology and the results are correct.

Westeros is not medieval Europe. It can have a higher recruitment rate, just like the few existing cities are several times more populous than the ones in our world, and just like dynasties last exponentially longer.

I offered a concrete example of recruitment resulting in way more that 1%... and I don't even advocate for the whooping 6-10% that results from the calculations, but for a more conservative 3%, accounting for lower recruitment elsewhere.

I explained why feeding these armies in the field would be feasible in Westeros... And to address what @argonak said, if people are supposed to survive through winters lasting several years, they would have to set supplies aside for them, whether George mentioned that or not. Otherwise you can throw historical realism out the window. Who cares about army sizes and population densities? Realistically they'd all be dead within a year.

But, you know, if a population of 40 million with a 1% recruitment rate creatively makes sense to you because you want to have a nearsighted sense of historical realism, you can imagine whatever you wish! :D

If the mobilization rate in the south is as high as 3%, as you claim, that would give the Reach maybe 3 million people.

And a population density of barely 6 people per square mile. That is barely a third of medieval Scotland’s 20 people per square mile. This is the fertile, prosperous Reach, the most populated region of Westeros.

Highly unlikely.

Eustace gathered 8 peasants for a day at his keep. But as I stated before, how many of those 8 could he have marched to join Renly’s host for an extended campaign? Could he have afforded even one? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think it is particularly reasonable or satisfying to speculate about the total number of the population of Westeros - and there is certainly a reason why George only gave us relative numbers about the population increase during the reign of Jaehaerys I in FaB, not absolute numbers.

We also really don't know how many people are (for what legal reason, exactly) obliged to support their lords in what capacity during a campaign or a war, or how many people are actually capable to leave their homes. This is all very vague.

If you want to speculate the way to do it would be to actually use the examples given - and try to generalize them - rather than drawing inspiration from real-world history and trying to use them as a template.

In that sense TSS certainly provides us with a very good case study on the lowest levels of the feudal hierarchy - and such examples are, in the end, rather significant because they provide the foundation for the levies the higher ranks actually provide their lieges with.

The point where George's world really is an utter joke on a realistic level are the freak seasons and how society copes with that. There is no background whatsoever about any of that. When a society would need a centralized food and provisions bureaucracy (sort of like the ancient Egyptians had, say) or else the morons in this world wouldn't be able to survive a year-long winter, much less a five-year winter, this is utterly ridiculous. I mean, just imagine for a moment our modern world would have to deal with freak seasons the type the Westeros have to deal with. How could that work? How many food would we have to store? How would that have to be organized? How difficult would it be to make correct estimates when we have no means to actually predict or guess at the length of a winter aside from the rule of thumb that a long summer (often) also means a long winter?

A society as fragmented (especially before the Conquest) as this, with every (petty) lord being basically responsible for his own turf would result in major calamities every single winter. If there is no centralized order, then no one would see to it that enough food for the entire population is stored. In that sense, the entire societal framework of Westeros doesn't seem to fit with freak seasons thing (at least north of, say, Storm's End, since winter is not necessarily that big a deal in the Reach and Dorne and the southern Stormlands).

In addition to that, nobody seems to be ever mentioning the places where the food for winter is stored (which should be rather large storehouses, visible in every castle, settlement, or city of note) aside from the Wall (and there only in ADwD).

It is a joke that food seems to be scarce in KL in ACoK if we assume they store food for winter - are there no stores for winter food in KL at all? Wouldn't they use the winter food to bridge the time of the siege with the intention to replenish those stores afterwards? And, with FaB in mind, were there no stores for winter food in that city before Ser Tyland Lannisters had a couple of them built after the Dance?

The world-building should have revolved around the effects the freak seasons - which are the generic fantasy element of ASoIaF George himself came up with - affected and shaped the society. It really makes no sense to use parallels to the real world middle ages and not also come up with realistical means and numbers for the things that have to be done to survive so much as a one-year winter in a medieval setting.

If you use parallels to the real world the first thing to do would be to calculate how much food the English or French would have needed around, say, 1200, to survive a winter lasting an entire year without their society changing significantly. If you have done that, you can start to paint a realistic picture of the Westerosi societal framework.

It is also irresponsible to pretend numbers are static as well. A single calamitous 3-5-year-winter should basically cripple the population for the next couple of generations - that would cull entire generations of newborns, meaning there would significantly fewer descendants from those generations in the future. And since child mortality should be about as high as in our middle ages in addition to the stress the freak seasons pose it should take centuries for a population to recover from the losses of a single calamitous winter.

Going about and pretending the numbers we have during the War of the Five Kings (after a very long summer and no long winters for at least a few decades - Tyrion doesn't remember a really harsh winter in his lifetime) are even comparable to those in an era were 2-3 harsh winters followed each other in quick succession simply makes no sense.

We know how the Black Death affected Europe for generations to come - yet the Westerosi seem to shrug off both severe winters as well as plagues without it affecting anything - and people speculating about numbers follow them suit. That's not good methodology.

@Ran

I don't think it makes sense to consider anything Carolingian for George's world. While his world is unrealistically static, the real world middle ages were not. Urbanization and state-building in Carolingian times was a joke. And whatever historical medieval inspirations for George's world we know they are all later middle ages/renaissance era things, not things taking place before 1000 CE.

Urbanization in Westeros might be more or less on Carolingian levels (difficult to say while we have essentially no idea how many market towns there are in any given region), but the castle culture of Westeros clearly counters that - there weren't even remotely as many large castles as population centers in Europe in Charlemagne's days as there have been in Westeros throughout the ages.

As for empty land:

The fact that there are ruins and wilderness in even as crowded a place as the Riverlands and the Reach (nobody has cut down Wat's Wood to plant crops there) strongly indicates that population can still grow - and that the people were not yet able to cut down the forests to cultivate the land.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

The fact that there are ruins and wilderness in even as crowded a place as the Riverlands and the Reach (nobody has cut down Wat's Wood to plant crops there) strongly indicates that population can still grow - and that the people were not yet able to cut down the forests to cultivate the land.

No one questions this. There are masses of forest in Scandinavia -- Sweden had, and has, lots of population growth space! There are vast undeveloped areas in the United States and Canada -- ditto! No one is making estimates of maximum sustainable society when making estimates of the population of Westeros at the time of A Song of Ice and Fire. These are different things. It might be interesting, however, to wonder just how much of a population Westeros can sustain on the basis of its size and varying climates and environments, assuming no agricultural or technological constraints. Presumably Westeros with 21st century infrastructure could in theory be as populous as the U.S. or Europe is today.

Logistical capacity is based on technology. The "military revolution" of the early modern era was a logistical, technological revolution as compared to much of human history before it. Carolingian figures make as much sense as any other because the logistical capacity of European kingdoms and their expeditionary forces did not greatly change for many hundreds of years. Similar estimates of logistical capacity can be found from other scholars studying other eras, from the Dark Ages to the Late Middle Ages. Bacharach just provides a very succinct example.

Edited by Ran

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Ran 

If you think 14 million is impossibly low for the society depicted, allow me to explain why I believe 40 million is ridiculously high.

If you count all the bannermen of the great houses and the crown, you will come up with a little less than 120, which I'll round it up for simplicity. With a population of 40 million, that means each bannerman lords over an average of 300.000 people. If you count the Iron Islands separately, since they have an abnormally large number of lords for some relatively small lands, you can take that up to 350.000 people per bannerman on the continent.

That is in the ballpark of smaller European nations such as Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Transylvania, Moldavia, Wallachia, and even early Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands on the higher end. These were kingdoms, duchies and principalities in their own rights, with national identities and complex internal political systems; they had their own courts, with several ranks of peerage below the ruler (marquees, count, viscount, baron, knight or equivalents), and more often than not they were able to maintain their autonomy next to larger kingdoms.

The Westerosi bannermen - the Boltons, the Blackwoods, the Tarlys, the Waynwoods, the Fowlers, etc. – in no way resemble kings, princes and dukes. Out of all of them, perhaps the Hightowers alone even come close to their purported European equivalents. Their vast majority hold vaguely defined lands which they control from a single castle or town, and only have two layers of peerage bellow them, the lesser lords and the landed knights.

If we look purely at the structure of their holdings (ignoring calculated surface area and population) and the way they relate to their liege lords and the Crown, the bannermen resemble counts more than anything else.

This makes sense, since George seems to have modeled the political system of Westeros around a single large European kingdom, with the great lords acting as dukes and princes. That the Lannisters and the Starks are inspired by the dukes of Lancaster and York is a good indication of this.

Because of his extensive use of historical sources, the inner workings of the Seven Kingdoms feel very organic and believable, so long as you don't look at the numbers. But if you want to force 40 million people into this system, its political administration suddenly feels simplistic, like a spandex suit that looks cool on a young Spiderman but splits open on a fat man ten times his size.

Moreover, nowhere in the books does a high population density actually hold up. Brienne travels through Cracklaw Point, a peninsula the size of Portugal, if the estimates are to be believed, and she only encounters a keep with a few women in it, a lone rider and three men in a ruined castle... and the last four came from somewhere else.

The lands lord Bracken wants to take from the Blackwoods, which include five villages (assuming Honeytree counts as one), one town, two mills, some forests and hills and maybe a couple of castles (the Ravishment and Battle Valley don't sound like castles, but Oldforge might be one), are supposed to increase his domain by a quarter. Compare this to the principality of Wallachia, which, although it was constantly hounded by the Ottomans and therefore one of the least developed in Europe, had around 20 towns, 30 castles and keeps and hundreds of villages on its territory.

At the end of the day you have to ask yourself what is harder to suspend your disbelief for: that the Seven Kingdoms would be able to field armies of 2% or 3% of its population instead of the historically accurate 1-1.25%, or that Galbart Glover would be able to govern a population comparable to that of medieval Sweden from his motte-and-bailey castle in the woods. I say accurate statistics mean little and less to this series (2-3% recruitment or even higher was not unheard of in the real world), but the intricate workings of political administration are visible everywhere, and crucial to the plot.

Coming back to the agriculture, just like I explained to those nice and informative farmers on reddit, the point of it is not to solidify my point that Westeros needs a smaller population, but to serve as a clutch attempt to explain the low population density, and therefore allow the books to get away with both an appropriate population for the depicted society and the gigantic size of the continent. An offering from me, if you will, since although I believe 40 million is absurd without turning Boltonia and Tarlyland into full-fledged countries, I don't want to argue that George messed up... I want this to continue being the intricate and brilliantly designed world that I love. ;) 

The ample winter supplies, although never explicitly mentioned, also feel very logical for the world, and would explain why the lords don't find it logistically challenging to move huge armies through the land – they simply consume years worth of supplies from the smallfolk, and either resupply them later, or leave them to pray that winter will be shorter than anticipated. In realistic terms, winter reserves should exist, otherwise everyone would die. I don't see how we can nitpick the realism of army sizes and chuck this one to suspension of disbelief.

I'm sure that if George was asked a properly formulated question, he would have to concede that winter storage plays a crucial part in allowing armies to supply themselves efficiently in the field...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Throwing my two cents in, for what it's worth...

Westeros's shape is England upside down, however I seem to recall reading somewhere that its supposed to be larger - like the size of South America. Even so, city density and the number of large cities needs to be considered. 2019 England has 69 major cities, but medieval England only had like, 7 or 8 - which is much like Westeros's 5: Kings Landing, Oldtown, Lannisport, Gulltown, and White Harbor.

As of 2019, London has 8.7 million inhabitants, while all of England has 67,012,671. The current population of South America is 432,504,927 - more than 6x as many people.

Medieval London had roughly 8000 residents, and by the middle ages there were about 100,000. Medieval England had 1.5 million with 5-7 million by the 14th century. If we use the same ratio when comparing England to South America above, a South-American-sized Westeros might have had 48,000 to 600,000 people.

I think The Coconut God's 14 million is actually too high.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Has this link been posted yet? @Feather Crystal, didn't Martin say that KL is bigger/more populated than medieval London? I don't have a link but seem to remember reading something along those lines. And Tyrion, who should be good at estimating this says KL has ~ 500,000, right? I think your 48k - 600k is unrealistically low. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
35 minutes ago, kissdbyfire said:

Has this link been posted yet? @Feather Crystal, didn't Martin say that KL is bigger/more populated than medieval London? I don't have a link but seem to remember reading something along those lines. And Tyrion, who should be good at estimating this says KL has ~ 500,000, right? I think your 48k - 600k is unrealistically low. 

Here is the quote you are referring to:

Quote

 

A Storm of Swords - Tyrion V

"Not only do I see it, I believe I smell it now."

"Then take a good sniff, my lord. Fill up your nose. Half a million people stink more than three hundred, you'll find. Do you smell the gold cloaks? There are near five thousand of them. My father's own sworn swords must account for another twenty thousand. And then there are the roses. Roses smell so sweet, don't they? Especially when there are so many of them. Fifty, sixty, seventy thousand roses, in the city or camped outside it, I can't really say how many are left, but there's more than I care to count, anyway."

Martell gave a shrug. "In Dorne of old before we married Daeron, it was said that all flowers bow before the sun. Should the roses seek to hinder me I'll gladly trample them underfoot."

 

It would appear my estimates are really low, however Kings Landing is the largest city and Westeros only has five major cities. If they all had 500,000 that would come to 2.5 million - still closer to The Coconut God's estimate than Ran and Werthead.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, kissdbyfire said:

 didn't Martin say that KL is bigger/more populated than medieval London?

https://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/Geography

Quote

I don't have the precise population of King's Landing on the exact area of Westeros immediately on hand.

In very general terms, however... King's Landing is more populous than medieval London or Paris, but not so populous as medieval Constantinople or ancient Rome.

Some readers have likened Westeros to England because they see some general similarities in its shape, and in its location off the west coast of a larger landmass. The latter is true enough (I don't see the former, myself), but Westeros is much much MUCH bigger than Britain. More the size (though not the shape, obviosuly) of South America, I'd say.

The other continent is bigger, Eurasia size.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Since size is now also a part of the discussion, Robert’s sluggish convoy take more than 12 days to cross the Neck and a fortnight to go from Darry to KL. Jaime on the other hand covers that same distance(Darry-KL) in a shorter time and had a small army at his back and constant stops at the road. So small groups would cover it in even fewer days.

I vaguely recall Samfat Tarly going from Barrowlands to the wall in a month.

America sized continent doesn’t really seem to hold up.

Edited by Corvo the Crow

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×