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Greece and Rome vs Middle Ages
Michael J Lee
Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 2:47 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 9

About creating a world based on Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome as opposed to the Middle Ages, what are the differences?

At first blush it seems easy but when you get into it it gets a little harder. Especially if you're not going to use obvious Latin or Greek inspired names.

Politically they were miles apart. Feudalism was a crude, blunt form of government compared to the sophistication of Roman and Greek law, though in England, Common Law and the Magna Carta definitely complicated things a little bit.

One of the things to remember was that the ancient world was largely slave driven. Agriculture and mining were carried out by large slave camps that required guards and overseers. In the Middle Ages the work done mostly by villages of serfs and peasants who, while paying taxes were largely self organizing.

Militarily there was no comparison. Rome and Hellenistic Greece had huge standing armies, the backbone of which was a huge highly trained infantry. The Middle Ages the armies were based on the aristocracy and their followers, either has thegns or as mounted knights.

Everyday life and households, here's where it can get a little tricky. A weaver in his shop in ancient Rome is not all that different from a weaver in his shop in Medieval Paris.

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:54 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

Another huge issue to consider is the role of women. Only certain men were allowed to be citizens under the laws of ancient Greece. Women could rarely if ever leave the house. It'd be very difficult to have any sort of strong female presence in a fantasy world based off of ancient Greece or Rome. I think that's one reason that so many fantasies prefer the Medievalistic setting.

Another is the weaponry. The strongest association in weapons with Greece is never coming out of the bronze age. Medieval settings allow you to get away with crossbows and longbows, steel swords, and more effective armor.

Though Greece lets you have the rippling olive-skinned abs and...oh sorry, not the romance thread.

Ancient Rome gives you better armor and stronger weapons, a more rigid army structure than ancient Greece. You can incorporate the gladiatorial contests (which some might call the predecessor of jousting tournaments).

Each culture has its own advantages and disadvantages. In the end, it comes down to what feel you want. Do you want something more militaristic? Then go with Rome. More exploratory and segregated? Go with Greece. Familiar and easy? Go with the Middle Ages.
Michael J Lee
Posted: Friday, May 27, 2011 10:34 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 9

Interestingly with regards to Greek warfare I recently re-watched the great doc In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great it's a fascinating program.

By Alexander's time the warfare was quite sophisticated, it was after all just a few centuries away from Rome's rise. Alexander's army sounds like fantastic material for fantasy adventure.

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Friday, June 15, 2012 7:55 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Whichever you choose, you need a solid background in the real history, not the history of comic books, gaming, movies.  (My first degree was in history, ancient & medieval, and I've continued to read seriously across a range of centuries.)   Things often missed, for instance, include the long-distance trade routes in the ancient world (there's a fabulous new resource for Roman times from Stanford, Orbis: the Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World.  http://orbis.stanford.edu/# ; Want to know how long it takes from Rome to London in a specific month? At the fastest and most expensive rate?  Most comfortably?  Or what it costs to ship a given weight of product from the eastern Mediterranean to Rome?  It's there. Lots of stuff collected, ostensibly for scholars, but great for writers.  I'm using it, modifying it with other sources for 14th c. shipping  in the Med, to do more realistic simulations of maritime trade in my fantasy world.) 

A lot of Greek literature (including, for the war-minded, Xenophon's "The Cavalry Commander" and "The Anabasis") is available in English translations if you have no Greek.   Important Roman texts have also been translated.  

There are a lot of helpful sources for medieval life, taken from solid research--technology development, the structure of agriculture, etc.  On the legal side, I recommend reading translations of the barbarian codes that resulted from a mix of Roman and barbarian cultures in France and Spain (the Lombard Laws and Burgundian Code were translated by K.F. Drew; the Visigothic Code by Alexandra Wilhelmson.  One was my prof and the other was in a graduate school class I took.)    They give the flavor of early medieval law and were the basis for other legal codes later on.  Another good book is Lear's _Treason in Roman and Germanic Law_, which discusses the transition from code-based law to personality-based law in terms of what's considered treason. 

If you can find a library that has them, the Surtees Collection of historical documents has some wonderful medieval texts (I think it's volume 13 that's the Fabric Rolls of Yorkminster and covers the period of the Black Death.)  Stuff like that.  Although it's later, Renaissance instead, there are three volumes on economic history in Europe by Blaudel that are chock full of wonderful details about daily life and how craft work was organized, what the trading networks were (and some earlier history is mixed in.) 

Anyway...the thing is that a fantasy set in some historical period--or its analog--needs the same depth of background as a straight historical novel.  (The other thing is that far too many readers think anything with horses and swords and kings is medieval.  SIGH.)

Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 7:13 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

I'm writing a story that has roman / greek influences, but also takes after the middle ages, and other time periods, and I had to do a decent chunk of research. While I don't have a history degree, I do have google, so I spent a few days researching bits and pieces.

That said, that's part of why I'm using a hybrid influence chart in mine -- it's different enough from the influencing settings that I can get away with having female Citizens, for example without completely sacrificing the 'feel' of the empire in question.

But, research is definitely required, as that is what will really help you establish the atmosphere you're looking for.


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