Dystopian Pre Industrial Societies/States

As it says on the tin.
Dystopias tend to be an almost exclusively post-industrial topic when brought up in history, politics, and fiction.
Share some examples of what you think are the most dystopic premodern states, societies, and regimes.
If you'd care to, provide some examples of possible dystopian societies that could have happened in the far-off past.
For a few of my own picks:
Qin dynasty, Robspieran France, Ancient Sparta, Anabaptist Munster, and the Late West Roman Empire.
 
Shang Dynasty China, period
For the reasons why I would like to point out to this thread
Though the Qin COULD have made it worse if they succeeded in wiping out the philosophical movements that opposed those practices, replacing them with Legalism


Tho tbh, its easier to ask what ancient society was not dystopic according to our western 21th century standards
 
The main challenge here is that dystopian usually doesn’t just mean shitty. Most societies in history or fiction that could be considered dystopian are not so just because they’re poor or violent, but because the state is implementing policies that make life hell. But for most of pre-modern history a state that can effectively carry out its policies is also one that can effectively guarantee other basic things such as political and economic stability, two things that were very elusive for many states through much of history. Even though the society may be very stratified and the state very respressive, life for most people would still have relative prosperity and security.
 
The main challenge here is that dystopian usually doesn’t just mean shitty. Most societies in history or fiction that could be considered dystopian are not so just because they’re poor or violent, but because the state is implementing policies that make life hell. But for most of pre-modern history a state that can effectively carry out its policies is also one that can effectively guarantee other basic things such as political and economic stability, two things that were very elusive for many states through much of history. Even though the society may be very stratified and the state very respressive, life for most people would still have relative prosperity and security.
I wouldn't go with that definition. Look at 1984, nothing but political and economic stability. Or even better Brave New World, a dystopia so stable and secure that the inhabitants don't know they're living in a dystopia.
 
I wouldn't go with that definition. Look at 1984, nothing but political and economic stability. Or even better Brave New World, a dystopia so stable and secure that the inhabitants don't know they're living in a dystopia.
That’s why I specified, “most of pre-modern history”, which is also the whole point of this thread. The examples you gave are both works of fiction from the 20th century and not appropriate for this discussion.
 
As other posters have pointed out, "have horrible 21st century standards ideas on policies and politics" and "the governmental ability to make that horror spill out into all of society" go hand in hand in making a dystopia.

Which you know, generally speaking pre-industrial societies don't really have the second half. Polities of limited scope like Sparta are dystopian to a certain extent, but for example while the Shang dynasty actively practiced human sacrifice that's still a long way from dystopian. Nobody calls the Aztecs dystopian right? At least, not just because they practice human sacrifice.

Most of ancient societies' horrors are created by neglect and inability, not intent. Thus, they are, by and large, not dystopian, and the two concepts frankly cannot fit together unless we have some sort of ASB.
 
As other posters have pointed out, "have horrible 21st century standards ideas on policies and politics" and "the governmental ability to make that horror spill out into all of society" go hand in hand in making a dystopia.

Which you know, generally speaking pre-industrial societies don't really have the second half. Polities of limited scope like Sparta are dystopian to a certain extent, but for example while the Shang dynasty actively practiced human sacrifice that's still a long way from dystopian. Nobody calls the Aztecs dystopian right? At least, not just because they practice human sacrifice.

Most of ancient societies' horrors are created by neglect and inability, not intent. Thus, they are, by and large, not dystopian, and the two concepts frankly cannot fit together unless we have some sort of ASB.
The Antebellum American South for every black person
 
Ireland in 19th century, it's masses starve while the overlords ship food out and ban food imports, so as to adhere to its philosophy of civilizing the savages.
 
The Antebellum American South for every black person
Which is deeply enmeshed in an industrialized region and trade network, hence proving my point.
Ireland in 19th century, it's masses starve while the overlords ship food out and ban food imports, so as to adhere to its philosophy of civilizing the savages.
The potato disaster. Sort of similar to the Antebellum South situation - integration into industrialized economies' trade networks allows policy effects to be carried out through control of few coastal cities.
 
Ireland in 19th century, it's masses starve while the overlords ship food out and ban food imports, so as to adhere to its philosophy of civilizing the savages.
I'd say that Ireland's problems were more caused by neglect than by 1984-style repression, so I guess it depends on how broadly you define the concept of "dystopia" (is it simply a bad place to live, or do you need an overbearing government actively making things worse?).
Weren't the Caribbean slave plantations even worse? They had mortality rates so high they needed a constant influx of new slaves.

Also does Leopold II's Congo Freestate count as preindustrial?
To be fair, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that some dystopias are more dystopian than others: e.g., that the American South was pretty dystopian for black people, the Congo Free State more so, and the Caribbean sugar plantations the most dystopian of all (or whatever order you want to put them in).
 
IIRC the medieval period (in Europe) was terrible for peasants (which were most of the population) due to the exploitative nature of feudalism? Not sure if it counts as dystopia, but...
 
IIRC the medieval period (in Europe) was terrible for peasants (which were most of the population) due to the exploitative nature of feudalism? Not sure if it counts as dystopia, but...
It really depends on the time period and place. But I would say that being a serf during the worst excesses of feudalism in Poland or Russia (which is after the Middle Ages, tbf) and during the worst of the Little Ice Age is probably quite dystopian, even though most peasants in Europe in the Middle Ages probably lived much better than that.
 
IIRC the medieval period (in Europe) was terrible for peasants (which were most of the population) due to the exploitative nature of feudalism? Not sure if it counts as dystopia, but...
Medieval Europe was generally no worse than any other parts of the world at the time, and (I'd argue) very much better than ancient Europe had been.
 
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