One of the more heavily disputed elements of Greyhawk is the population. Many people point to the figures from the various books and say that the population density of Greyhawk is absurdly low. But is it? While direct comparisons to real world demographics and history are not always reasonable, what would they indicate if examined more closely?
Dungeons and Demographics
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For this comparison I use Keoland and the Sheldomar Valley, consisting of Bissel, Gran March, Geoff, Sterich, Yeomanry, Sea Princes, County, Duchy, and Principality of Ulek, and the Pomarj, as the Greyhawk sample. I compare them to west and central Europe - France, the Low Countries, Germany, Scandanavia, and England.
I use the base population figures from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer
(LGG), and the population numbers from Josiah C. Russell "Population in Europe", in Carlo M Cipolla, ed., The Fontana Economic History of Europe
, Vol I, The Middle Ages, (Glasgow : Collins/Fontana, 1972), 25-71, available here:http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pop-in-eur.html
How Many People Are There? How Many People Should There Be?
According to the LGG, there are are 1,800,000 people in Keoland. Seventy-five percent of them are human, 22% are various demi-humans, and 1% are "other". (Note: Yes, I am aware that only adds up to 98%. Those are the figures in the book.) This means there are 1,350,000 humans in Keoland, and 450,000 demi-humans and others. Keoland covers approximately 222 hexes, which is about 173,000 square miles. That translates to a population density of about 10.4 per square mile. By comparison, Europe in the 14th century had populations ranging from 40 to 100 per square mile. It appears Keoland is woefully underpopulated by a factor between 4 and 10.
Why Aren’t There Any More People?
Buried in all the numbers for population is a possible explanation. Although most people are interested in how fast population increases, the same numbers can also reveal what the population used to be. In the case of Europe we can see in Russell’s figures that the population of west and central Europe approximately doubled over an initial 350 year period, then tripled over a second 350 year period, before being reduced by a third due to plague. Using these numbers, and exempting any devastating plague, we can expect that the population of the Sheldomar to have increased between 8 and 27 fold from the time of the Twin Cataclysms in -422 CY and the present year of 591 CY, a period of 1,013 years. What would we get if we did this? The Sheldomar as a whole has a population of about 4,900,000, including demi-humans and the humanoids of the Pomarj. Divided by 8, that gives us 612,500. Divided by 27, it gives us about 181,500. If we just count humans, we have 3,280,000, and a -422 CY starting number of 121,500 to 410,000.
Would this be reasonable for the Sheldomar just after the Twin Cataclysms?
Having asked Gary Holian for the number of people with Slerotin, he replied between 50,000 and 100,000. He also suggested there were about 10,000 Suel already in the Sheldomar. Assuming about half of them stayed or were incorporated into Keoland gives us about 55,000 at the most. The Oeridians could not number more, and should likely number less, or about 50,000. The Flan would be even less, perhaps 25,000 at most. All together, this is 130,000, or just over the minimum we have above.
Demi-humans are a bit more complicated, having a current population total of nearly 1,240,000, and a presumed lower growth rate. If they grew at the slower rate, doubling instead of tripling every 350 years, they would have had a population of around 155,000 back then, producing a very dramatic and contrasting comparison as the humans swiftly grew to outnumber them. However, they likely had a dramatic reduction in population during the Hateful Wars, so their numbers are subject to tweaking to produce whatever ratio is most pleasing.
But Now We Have Too Few People
If there were only about 25,000 Flan in the Sheldomar back then, even with 155,000 demi-humans, and some unspecified number of humanoids, we wind up with a most absurd population density of less than 1 person per square mile. Where are all the Flan? That isn’t even the population of people with herds of animals, and is barely above the nomadic hunter-gatherer level. The Flan had to have managed better than that, or they wouldn’t have built any nations, in Sulm or under Vecna, or anywhere else. There population should be at least 10 times what it was from those figures. So where did they all go?
We know they were conquered, by the Suel and the Oeridians. The problem is, conquest doesn’t tend to kill everyone, especially not 90% of the population. The Suel would prefer them as slaves, and the Oeridians would be more likely to take them as tenants, free or serf, than just kill them. If they had run away to surrounding lands, they would have eventually been conquered later, and the same problem with racial proportions would remain.
There are only two ways the Flan population could have been so low. First, a magical disaster like the Twin Cataclysms could have wiped out 90% of their population. Second, mundane diseases like those that reduced native populations in the Americas could have wiped out 90% of their population. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of a cataclysm, and plague wiping out most of a population like that is very possible, so I’d favor the second for reducing the Flan populations to that level.
To the Future
As noted, Keoland looks to have an average population density of around 10 people per square mile. Given its location, it should support near the medieval maximum of 100 per square mile. If the population continues to triple every 350 years, it should get up there in another 700 years or so, well after Pluffet Smedger’s time. Of course, that might change depending on the level of medical technology developed, and industrial age era medical advances could change the growth rate dramatically. But that is for another essay.