Ruritania is a fictional country, originally located in central Europe as a setting for novels by Anthony Hope, such as The Prisoner of Zenda. Nowadays the term is used to suggest a quaint minor European country, or as a placeholder for an unspecified country in academic discussions.

Fictional country

Jurists specialising in international law use Ruritania and other fictional countries when describing a hypothetical case illustrating some legal point.[1] Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer cited Ruritania as a fictional enemy when illustrating a security treaty between Australia and Indonesia signed on 8 November 2006: "We do not need to have a security agreement with Indonesia so both of us will fight off the Ruritanians. That's not what the relationship is about," he said. "It is all about working together on the threats that we have to deal with, which are different types of threats".

Similarly a British Court when contemplating a publication ban relating to a childhood sexual assault case, referred to the country of origin of the child as "Ruritania", further explaining "The boy was described in the judgment as having 'dual British and Ruritanian nationality'." [2]

Walter Lippmann used the word to describe the stereotype that characterized the vision of international relations during and after the First World War.[3]

Ruritania has also been used to describe the stereotypical development of nationalism in 19th century Eastern Europe, by Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism, in a pastiche of the historical narratives of nationalist movements among Poles, Czechs, Serbians, Romanians, etc. In this story, peasant Ruritanians living in the "Empire of Megalomania" developed national consciousness through the elaboration of a Ruritanian high culture by a small group of intellectuals responding to industrialization and labor migration.

Author and humor theorist Isaac Asimov, when telling ethnic jokes that were based entirely on ethnic slurs, would transplant them to Ruritania, e.g.,

Q: Why do Ruritanian dogs have flat faces?

A: From chasing parked cars.

Author J. G. Ballard, in refusing a CBE, described the British Honours System as a "Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up our top-heavy monarchy".[4]

Economist Ludwig von Mises discussed currency reform for Ruritania and its "rurs" in the expanded edition of The Theory of Money and Credit (1912), chapter 23. He also references it in Human Action. Murray Rothbard, a former student of von Mises, also mentions the fictional country in his own works.[5]

Author and mathematician Vernor Vinge discusses the "Ruritania of the mind" in his space opera A Deepness in the Sky (1999).

Vesna Goldsworthy of Kingston University, in her book Inventing Ruritania: the imperialism of the imagination (Yale University Press, 1998), addresses the question of the impact of the work of novelists and film-makers in shaping international perceptions of the Balkans in the framework of an anti-Western type of modernism which has received much criticism from other academics. Goldsworthy's theories consider stories and movies about Ruritania to be a form of "literary exploitation or narrative colonization" of the peoples of the Balkans.

Hope's setting lent its name to a literary genre involving fictional countries, which is known as Ruritanian romance.


  1. Cf., e.g. Adrian Briggs, The Conflict of Laws, 3rd edition 2013, p. 305: ″[T]he question whether A obtained good title to a camera which he bought in Ruritania is governed by Ruritanian law, even if the camera had been delivered on hire purchase terms or under a conditional sale to A's seller in England.″
  2. Cobain, Ian (11 October 2014). "Culture Books Publishing Ex-wife of well-known performer obtains injunction against book to protect son". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  3. Walter Lippmann Public Opinion (1921). See Chapter X.
  4. Obituary
  5. "One method of the birth of a State may be illustrated as follows: in the hills of southern “Ruritania,” a bandit group manages to obtain physical control over the territory, and finally the bandit chieftain proclaims himself “King of the sovereign and independent government of South Ruritania”; and, if he and his men have the force to maintain this rule for a while, lo and behold! a new State has joined the “family of nations,” and the former bandit leaders have been transformed into the lawful nobility of the realm." p. 16-17, 2009 edition published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute, ISBN 978-1-933550-48-0
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