Thursday, June 1, 2017

Medieval Demographics Comparison

Some of you who have shown interest in Matthew White's site may also have stumbled upon the Welsh Paper's medieval demographics calculator. While the site exists largely for the purpose of role-playing games and fantasy fiction, it is a very interesting to see how it matches up with White's vision. It should be said that the map of Richmond does have twenty or so churches, which is in sync with the number of churches the calculator estimates for a city of medieval Richmond's size. The main discrepancy, if it should be considered as such, is that White seems to offer larger cities than the calculator does. That is, the calculator seems to offer far few cities that exceed a population of 25,000. I played around with different theoretical realms--the Kingdom of Ohio, New Jersey, Eastern America, and America as a whole, and it definitely seems like the larger the realm, the bigger the cities (and interestingly, the distance between even smaller settled communities. Which makes sense, as larger settlements requires greater breadth for resources.) I don't know if this is a discrepancy in sources, or different approaches. An RPG is about trekking through the wilderness, and the generator may use a different point in time as a model. Medieval America doesn't absolutely say what year it takes place. It should be mentioned that the MD calculator is supposed to be used as a guideline and in the real Middle Ages, city states along Italy were among the largest on the continent, despite not having large tracts of land. White does seem to mix it up between mercantile republics and agrarian fiefdoms, while the calculator may only take the latter into account.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some historical stats about my home state of Rhode Island. In White's Medieval America, Rhode Island no longer fully exists as a full entity. The part that's still called "Rhode Island" is part of the United States, and a hefty chunk, (largely the Blackstone Valley watershed) has been absorbed into Massachusetts. As there are roughly sixty people per square mile, that leaves the area that would in today's borders, be known as Rhode Island with roughly 73,000 people give or take. This census shows that the last time Rhode Island had this population was probably 1815 or so. The population for Providence around this time is ten thousand or so--significantly higher than the medieval demographics calculator would suggest, but still less than half of White's estimate. Of course, the U.S. was a much younger back then. It should also be noted that the sixty people per square mileage thing is an average how much the land generally sustains. The lower peninsula of Louisiana has roughly 25,000 people per square mile, but the city of New Orleans seems to have at least twice as many people there. In general, urban populations are such outliers, they don't seem to have an effect on the surrounding area.

Not only did I grow up in Rhode Island, I grew in Glocester, a relatively rural spread out region of the state, who's main street is the picture of New England quaintness . Its current population is something like 9000, its medieval population capacity around 3000, and its early 19th century population a bit over 2000 or so. Funny enough, the road I grew up on passes through three villages, about three miles apart, which is the average distance between modest settlements in the Medieval era. The trek from my home town to Providence might not look comparatively different to such a passenger, which is perhaps a large part of what drew my fascination with the concept of Medieval America to begin with.