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Martial, social, economic implications of flying ships

Suudo

Registered User
Validated User
What are the martial/socioeconomic implications for a world that looks kind of like ours circa 10 AD, except with the addition of occasional flying ships? Assume that these ships are similar in size to ships used in the period, and that they're not very common (if a family owns a flying ship, it's likely to be the center/generator of that family's wealth, which will be considerable). Also assume that they can't fly very high (maybe 200ft?), large mountains are geographic barriers against them, and they move as quickly as other ships of the period.

What innovations would arise in that context?

Thanks!
 

Particle_Man

White Knight
Validated User
Weapons to bring down flying ships, for starters. Night flights to do troop movements or even carry supplies, could be useful. Smaller ships can do scouting, maybe drop rocks on the enemy (or boiling oil, how big are we talking here and does fire power these ships like big balloons?
 

Ulzgoroth

Mad Scientist
Validated User
Flying ships at 200 ft are quite nearly invincible. The only weapons of that time period that would be any use against them are artillery like the Roman torsion catapults, which would require novel mountings to aim at air targets and in any case need significant technical expertise and manufacturing sophistication to produce. In most of the world, where nobody has advanced siege engines, the only practical way to stop a flying ship would be to attack it with another flying ship, probably by boarding! (Though ramming might be easier in the air, where you can potentially smash your hull into the enemy's rigging.)

If there are flying ships to spare for trade, they'll annihilate the fundamentals of ancient goods transport. Overland transport in this time period is horrendously slow and limited even on excellent roads...which are quite rare historically and probably rarer when the whole problem can be avoided by using a flying ship. Meanwhile the importance of waterways and ports is vastly reduced as flying ships largely supersede water vessels.
 
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Ravenswing

New member
Banned
Well, as far as the economic implications, what's the maximum carrying capacity of one? If it's about the same as an Age of Sail merchantman, that's huge: that brings the paradigm of today, when every trade good is available everywhere. If it's the size of a family car, say? Not so much.

The military implications are, of course, huge. Never mind whether they're useful as tactical weapons ... it's in the scouting role that they're paramount. Throughout history, countless battles have been lost due to ignorance of the disposition of the enemy. Well through the 19th century, the American Civil War would have ended two years earlier than it did had Union forces had a true notion of the size of the Confederate armies facing them.

That and communications. It took months for communications from the far ends of the Roman Empire to Italia, and that was a major factor in all the rebellions over the centuries. Give them aerial sailing ships that can cut that lag by a factor of ten, and suddenly the Empire's control is far tighter.
 

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
Given how big a change this is, as the above posts outline, there comes the question: how do they fly? What resources do you need to build a flying ship and operate one? You said they are rare, the question is: how rare? And why?
If you need special building materials to make them, or special substances to operate them (balloon gas, levitation fluid), he who controls the gathering or manufacture of these materials can rule the world. It's essentially a hydraulic empire thing - think of Dune's "he who controls the spice, controls the empire". Maintaining the secret of the manufacture or safeguarding the source of the materials could become the focus of the policies of major empires. During the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain attacked officially neutral Denmark, partly in order to secure it's supply of naval equipment from the Baltic. In a world where flying ships are even more useful than swimming one's, nations could go to any length to make sure they don't lose that advantage. Wars might be fought over the resources needed, neutrality might be enforced by armed threat over those who hold those resources.
 

Fugitive Unknown

Active member
Validated User
Flying ships would make a complete mockery of war if they didn't require massive upkeep. The first nation that built it, assuming the ruler was ambitious at all, could carve out an empire faster than the rise of the Mongols. Of course, once the technology got out, all bets are off.

A big change would be what wouldn't make any sense to build.

Palaces and castles are unlikely to be as grand an affair. Having the force of gravity on your side, and no effective means of retaliation, would render large scale fortifications a bad idea, since they could be easily destroyed by dropping rocks from hundreds of feet up. Caves and underground shelters might be more popular. Armies would probably not be as large either, since ships would be able to decimate them very easily. I suppose you could always build your fortifications high in the mountains, but I suspect a lot of royalty would be living on ships if they can float without spending resources.

Assuming these things get built by a lot of different cultures, those ships become the pinnacle of those cultures. People live on them. Piracy with them would be horrendously effective - likely you'd see pirate havens in mountain regions, and pirates in air ships would be a nightmare to track down. Its probably hard to corner a flying ship, there's not much terrain to work against. A smart government would want to corner the market on these things.
 

NineDaysDead

Registered User
Validated User
Also assume that they can't fly very high (maybe 200ft?), large mountains are geographic barriers against them, and they move as quickly as other ships of the period.
They can't fly higher than 200ft above what? If it's above the ground, then why would mountains stop them? Is it above sea level?
 

ResplendentScorpion

neither glitter, nor substance
Validated User
Is it above sea level?
That would be hilarious, considering a lot of "plainlands" are even higher. :)

On top of what everyone else said, it's important to know how long has this tech been available. It might be transforming society right now, but what if it's ancient? What if there isn't a single large road in the world because of it? What if ancient empires still exist today and exercise a strict control over everything? What if these same empires discourage road development as a way to control the movement of wealth and people by making them wholy dependent on its airships?
 

SlyBen

Bard of Mind
At 200' above mountain "ground level", thinning atmosphere becomes a pretty significant factor.

Plus, giants will take pot-shots at your ships with thrown rocks, and odds are they've got better aim than whatever artillery you have on board even if you can still breathe.
 

ShanG

青铜时代的中&#
Validated User
What are the martial/socioeconomic implications for a world that looks kind of like ours circa 10 AD, except with the addition of occasional flying ships? Assume that these ships are similar in size to ships used in the period, and that they're not very common.
10 AD is in the middle of the Roman Empire. The stereotypical ship from that time would have been something like a Trireme - 40 meters / 130 feet long and 6 meters / 20 feet wide. They had sails, but military vessels of the time relied on oars to get up to combat speed. That's difficult to replicate with a flying vessel - you could have rowers waving hand fans, possibly.

But so much depends on the specific that it's impossible to make predictions about technological development. What keeps them airborne? How are they propelled? Can they ascend and descend, or are they limited to horizontal movement? How stable are they, and do they handle rough weather?

Flying ships would definitely reduce the importance of roads, and you'd likely see more development of 'ports' in locations where it's convenient to land airships. Since an airship can go anywhere a normal ship could go, and then travel over land on top of that, you probably would see resources redirected to the production of airships, and a significant decline of water vessels.
 
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