Torco wrote: ↑03 Jul 2021 07:04
*or* more intensive cultivation, if you can. the distances get bothersome, but elephants walk faster than us so that somewhat counteracts this. if we go with your numbers, we need 50 tons of food, give or take, a year. this is about as much food as 50-101 hectares can grow with medieval human productivities (google says it's 500-1000k per hec per year medieval average, this could be wrong). 100 hectares is not a hugely large tract of land, you can walk the entire lenght (given the shape of the plot is reasonable) and be home for dinner. increase that somewhat with irrigation, landscaping, terracing and other kinds of things a large boi could do and you're left with population densities around 2 people per square km. that's low, admittedly, but it's not that low, and you can work that up a lot with labour. still, the fact is there, there's always going to be many many more humans than elephants.
My point wasn't about mean population density, but about the distribution of that density. The problem is that, yes, the farm itself isn't too big to deal with, but when you put a group of famers together, their outlying farms start to be a long way away from their homes.
Taking your numbers, that means that if you have a small village of 100 people, some of those people are going to have a 3 mile walk just to GET to their farm every day!
That might be manageable - they walk quickly and have plenty of stamina. But now let's say you have a little market town of 1000 people. Now it's a THIRTY mile walk every day to get to your farm! Even for elephants that's probably going to be too much! And in practice it's much worse than that - because while it's easy enough to find a couple of good hectares for farming, it's hard to find a couple of hundred good hectares for farming, all in one place - so the actual hinterland of a town would in practice usually be less uniform and compact, and hence some parts would be further from the centre (eg, spread out along the river bank).
Now, every species will have a point where its settlements are no longer self-sufficient, and they need to rely on food imports from further afield. New Yorkers don't go out to farm every day - even if they wanted to, it would be difficult to commute so far! But this inflexion point is a major barrier to civilisation, because you can only pass it if a) you're consistently producing large food surpluses from your farming methods, that can be shipped to the capital in return for luxury (in relative terms) goods, and b) you have a sufficiently advanced economic, political, military and logistic system to manage all these long-distance food shipments with enough reliability to base an entire city's survival on.
For mediaeval humans, this threshold seems to have been between about 10,000 and 100,000 people. Towns below this size, and small cities at the lower end of this range, were basically agricultural: much of the population (the majority of the adult male population) went out and farmed every day. And, accordingly, this was effectively the limit of city size between the Fall of Rome and the beginning of the Early Modern Period: a few tens of thousands of people. [in Europe, this is. Outside Europe, cities of 100,000 or more were possible, mostly as national or regional capitals of great empires]. Which is probably the general size of human cities without empires or modern technology - it's in line with ancient mesopotamian cities and ancient greece, for instance. [see my new post in T&S for more on this
For elephants, though, that threshold point would be reached much, much earlier: a small market town of 1,000 people would in this regard be their equivalent of Constantinople. Even a village of 100 people is probably going to take a long time to develop (unless, as I say, they're much better at it than us).
a key problem for elephant people with distances, though, that we don't have, is that they can't have land vehicles: not until you come up with steel and engines, I'd say no ganesha-looking indo-european invaders on chariots are very likely.
True, although the importance of vehicles to humans is easily overstated. Human vehicles have overwhelmingly used for freight, not for personal transport, until the modern era.
Yes, rich people rode horses in some places, and various donkeys and asses and camels have been ridden for convenience. But it was generally more common (except perhaps with camels in deserts?) to use your animal to carry your packs, and walk alongside it. Similarly, wagons were used not for speed but for capacity. Carriages were relatively late, and restricted to the wealthiest (and the postal service, etc). So in terms of transport, this wouldn't make a big difference to elephants (maybe they pull their own wagons, or maybe they've trained up some rhinos...). You're right that it would make a difference for warfare, though. Though not without parallels: even though they had access to horses and chariots, Roman armies were based on infantry (and even defeated cavalry in battles).
air vehicles are probably going to have to wait until the jet engine, or aluminium.
I disagree completely. I would suspect that elephants would never invent the jet engine, because the first step into HTA flight would be so difficult.
flight, on the other hand, is virtually no different from with humans, and would be a lot more appealing. The lifting power of a zeppelin is so colossal that increasing the weight of the passengers makes relatively little difference. And, in particular, while it becomes exponentially harder to lift heavy loads with aeroplanes, airships have the advantage that relative lifting power scales exponentially with the size of the craft. [the weight of the craft mostly scales with the square, while the lifting power of the craft, and hence the net lifting capacity once the craft's own weight is subtracted, scales with the cube - building a slightly bigger airship lets you lift a LOT more stuff.]
So I think that a planet of modern-era elephants would be dominated by zeppelins.