Medieval Information

By S. John Ross, copyright © 1993-2006

The British Isles were the least populous of medieval powers, with a little more than 40 people per square mile, most of them clustered in the southern half of the isles.
Typical villages ranging from 50-300. Most kingdoms will have thousands of them. Villages are agrarian communities within the safe folds of civilization. They provide the basic source of food and land-stability in a feudal system. Usually, a village that supports orchards (instead of grainfields) is called a “hamlet.”

Towns range in population from 1,000-8,000 people, with typical values somewhere around 2,500. Culturally, these are the equivalent to the smaller American cities that line the interstates. Cities and towns tend to have walls only if they are frequently threatened.

Cities tend to be from 8,000-12,000 people, with an average in the middle of that range. A typical large kingdom will have only a few cities in this population range. Centers of scholarly pursuits (the Universities) tend to be in cities of this size, with only the rare exception thriving in a Big City.

Big Cities range from 12,000-100,000 people, with some exceptional cities exceeding this scale. Some historical examples include London (25,000-40,000), Paris (50,000-80,000), Genoa (75,000-100,000), and Venice (100,000+). Moscow in the 15th century had a population in excess of 200,000!

Large population centers of any scale are the result of traffic. Coastlines, navigable rivers and overland trade-routes form a criss-crossing pattern of trade-arteries, and the towns and cities grow along those lines. The larger the artery, the larger the town. And where several
large arteries converge, you have a city. Villages are scattered densely through the country between the larger settlements.

The ratio of towns to cities given above presumes the existence of a notable and thriving mercantile community. Adjust the upward by 50% or more for a fantasy world on the verge of Renaissance, but adjust it sharply downward for a pre-Crusades type world (if trade is limited and local, there won’t be many more towns than there are cities; just continue the 10%-40% city-reduction scale to produce a single list of cities and towns). Historically, the number of town charters in many European countries multiplied nearly by 10 from the 11th-13th centuries as economic shifts reshaped the agrarian scheme into something more robustly mercantile.

Merchants and Services

In a village of 400 people, just how many inns and taverns are realistic? Not very many. Maybe not even one. When traveling across the countryside, characters should not run into a convenient sign saying “Motel: Free Cable and Swimming Pool” every 3 leagues. For the most part, they will have to camp on their own or seek shelter in people’s homes.

Provided they are friendly, the latter option should be no trouble. A farmer can live in a single place all his life, and he will welcome news and stories of adventures, not to mention any money the heroes might offer!

Each type of business is given a Support Value (SV). This is the number of people it takes to support a single business of that sort. For instance, the SV for shoemakers (by far the most common trade in towns) is 150. This means that there will be one shoemaker for every 150 people in an area. These numbers can vary by up to 60% in either direction, but provide a useful baseline for GMs. Think about the nature of the town or city to decide if the numbers need to be changed. A port, for instance, will have more fishmongers than the table indicates.

To find the number of, say, inns in a city, divide the population of the city by the SV value for inns (2,000). For a village of 400 people, this reveals only 20% of an inn! This means that there is a 20% chance of there being one at all. And even if there is one, it will be smaller and less impressive than an urban inn. The SV for taverns is 400, so there will be a single tavern.

Business SV Business SV
Shoemakers 150 Butchers 1,200
Furriers 250 Fishmongers 1,200
Maidservants 250 Beer-Sellers 1,400
Tailors 250 Buckle Makers 1,400
Barbers 350 Plasterers 1,400
Jewelers 400 Spice Merchants 1,400
Taverns/Restaurants 400 Blacksmiths 1,500
Old-Clothes 400 Painters 1,500
Pastrycooks 500 Doctors 1,700*
Masons 500 Roofers 1,800
Carpenters 550 Locksmiths 1,900
Weavers 600 Bathers 1,900
Chandlers 700 Ropemakers 1,900
Mercers 700 Inns 2,000
Coopers 700 Tanners 2,000
Bakers 800 Copyists 2,000
Watercarriers 850 Sculptors 2,000
Scabbardmakers 850 Rugmakers 2,000
Wine-Sellers 900 Harness-Makers 2,000
Hatmakers 950 Bleachers 2,100
Saddlers 1,000 Hay Merchants 2,300
Chicken Butchers 1,000 Cutlers 2,300
Pursemakers 1,100 Glovemakers 2,400
Woodsellers 2,400 Woodcarvers 2,400
Magic-Shops 2,800 Booksellers 6,300
Bookbinders 3,000 Illuminators 3,900
*These are licensed doctors. Total doctor SV is 350.

There will be one noble household per 200 population, one lawyer (“advocate”) per 650, one clergyman per 40 and one priest per 25-30 clergy.


A square mile of settled land (including requisite roads, villages and towns, as well as crops and pastureland) will support 180 people. This takes into account normal blights, rats, drought, and theft, all of which are common in most worlds. If magic is common, the GM may decide a square mile of land can support many more people. Note that the number of people a square mile of agricultural land will support is not the same as the maximum population density for a kingdom.


Okay, we now completely understand the lay of the land as regards civilization, the cities and farms. Nearer to the heart of the adventurer, however, is the castle, or better still, the ruined castle. Once again, how many should there be?

Ruins, first of all, depend on the age of the region. The following formula is only a guide. The frequency of ruins in Europe varied greatly depending on military history and remoteness of the area. To determine the approximate number of ruined fortifications, divide the kingdom’s population by five million. Multiply the result by the square root of the kingdom’s age. If the kingdom has changed hands a lot, use the total age—the number of years that castle-building people have lived there, regardless of the Royal Lineage.

Chamlek, our island kingdom, has around 6.6 million people today. Chamlek has been populated by castle-building folk for 300 years. She has 23.04 ruined forts or castles, which means 23 for sure, and a 4% chance of one more.

Active castles are much more common; ruins are rare because the solid ones are constantly put back into service! Assume one functioning castle for every 50,000 people. The age of the kingdom is not really a factor. Chamlek would have 133 active castles of various stripes, approximately.

75% of all castles will be in the civilized (settled) areas of a kingdom. The other 25% will be in the “wilderness,” along borders, etc.
The role of these castles is something too world-oriented to be reduced to formula. Most will mark the landholdings of Barons and Dukes, but some may be bandit strongholds, or the outposts of Goblin warlords. It is all up to the GM.


City Size: Cities and towns of the Middle Ages cover one square mile of land per 38,850 people, on average. This is a density of about 61 per acre or 150 per hectare, so the land within the walls of a typical city of 10,000 would be 165 acres—hardly a city by modern standards, in terms of population OR size. Some very large cities may have had up to twice this density.

Law Enforcement: A well-kept medieval city will have 1 law officer (guardsman, watchman, etc.) for every 150 citizens. Slack cities will have half this number. A few rare cities will have more.

Institutions of Higher Learning: There will be one University for every 27.3 million people. This should be computed by continent, not by town! This figure assumes entirely scholarly universities, not those dedicated to the arcane arts. Whether or not magical universities are separate institutions, and how common they are, is a matter for GM decision.

Livestock: The livestock population, on the whole, will equal 2.2 times the human population, but 68% percent of this will be fowl (chickens, geese and ducks). The rest will be dairy cows and “meat animals:” Pigs are superior as food animals, since they eat less individually, and are not picky eaters. Sheep will be extremely common if the region has a wool market (like medieval England, which was built on wool). Cattle for labor and milk will be found occasionally, but cattle raised specifically for meat are only found in very prosperous areas.

Medieval Information

Vanya and the Green Knight Nalga