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 Post subject: A North Korea like country in the middle ages?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 15, 2012 10:16 pm 
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In my setting I've made Gelure a very closed country, much like North Korea today. All borders strictly closed. Now I'm trying to figure out if this would actually work in real(ish) medieval setting? I'm especially interested how the border areas would work.
- would they be fenced (hundreds of kilometers of border line)?
- guard towers, how often?
- patrols?
- easy to cross?

Any ideas? It doesn't have to be too realistic but it shouldn't be completely absurd either. I've already decided that the country is mostly self-sufficient and doesn't require international trade, so no need to argue about that.


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 Post subject: Re: A North Korea like country in the middle ages?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2012 5:58 am 
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Location: Vienna, Austria, Europe
For this to work at all, it was in more ancient times necessary thatthe isolating country was either more powerful and/or advanced than the neighbours (Roman Empire, China, Sasanian Empire towards the steppes), or else an island (Japan). No European medieval country tried to isolate itself, but here’s how the Romans did it:

All along the border, they dug a ditch and built a (rather low, about 10 ft without the parapet) wall. Every mile, there was a tiny fortlet for a maximum garrison of 16 men, with a gate piercing the wall. Between fortlets, there were two small watchtowers built into the wall, which were permanently manned by about 3 men on rotation from the adjactent fortlet’s garrison. Each fortlet did thus service two watch towers, one to either side of it and situated about one third of a mile away.

Every 20 or so miles there was a proper fortress built into the wall, with a garrison of maybe around 1000. The smaller fortlets were manned from troops drawn from these fortresses.

The entire fortification was initially built of earth and wood, being gradually replaced by stone. It served to interdict easy raids across the border and to regulate traffic. Travellers could leave by any of the gates at any time, but were searched and forbidden to carry certain trade goods (weapons and horses). Roman citizens were also admitted back at any time, but foreigners were only admitted at certain allocated days (about 1 out of 5), with people judged to be dangerous or otherwise illicit not admitted at all. Approved visitors other than foreign dignitaries or envoys were only allowed to visit the town nearest the gate, and nowhere else, as the Romans didn’t want the barbarians to get too good a look at the lay of their country. This was however not controlled tightly, as foreign travelers would have stood out anyway and thus couldn’t easily move about the Empire without being noticed immediately.

The Romans interdicted all settlement in an area stretching some 10 to 15 miles beyond their wall, and the garrison from the wall did regularly patrol this area to make sure it remained free of barbarian people.

The Romans did not control foreign traffic at their harbours, as there was none – the Romans owed all the seaports of the known world, save those in the Indian Ocean, from where nobody could sail to the Empire anyway. But here’s how the Chinese did it:

Foreign ships and ships carrying foreigners were only allowed to dock at a few designated seaports; everwhere else, they would be turned away, and the local government would be alerted of their presence immediately. At the designated seaports, ships with foreigners were only allowed to make fast at a specially designated dock, opening solely into a designated part of the city – a foreigners’ quarter walled off from the rest of the city. Foreigners were not allowed to venture out of this designated foreigners’ quarter, and only those native traders who had purchased an (expensive) licence from the authorities were allowed to venture into the foreigners’ quarter to do business with them. Neddless to say, the paucity of such licenced traders allowed them to pretty much set prices for their goods as they wanted, selling far above what they could have gotten otherwise.

Again, the fact that illicit foreigners would have stood out in China helped greatly to preclude illegal landings of foreigners somewhere along the coasts.

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 Post subject: Re: A North Korea like country in the middle ages?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 6:40 am 
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Such a comprehensive reply, thanks Grettir!


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