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Differences in Ancient Roman and Medieval EU society

Discussion in 'Research' started by Holoman, Aug 21, 2016.

  1. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

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    I'm trying to do a little research into the main differences between a medieval society and those much earlier, like Ancient Rome. My WIP is set in a culture like Ancient Rome and I want to describe it in a way that makes it clear to the reader that it is not the typical medieval fantasy setting (which is usually a readers default picture), and is something more primitive.

    As far as I can tell, technologically, they were very similar, which has made it difficult. The main difference appears to be the feudal system, monotheism and peasantry, vs republic, a professional military and slavery.

    Are there any other big differences between these?
     
  2. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    *eye starts to twitch* Medieval Europe's usage of the feudal system is greatly, greatly overstated.

    Uhm. Lots of differences. Lots of similarities too. There were medieval republics. There were Roman peasants. They were pockets of paganism in Medieval Europe and pockets of monotheism during Ancient Rome.

    Technological differences too. Romans were vastly more advanced on plumbing iirc. Built better roads, better bridges, better everything really save forts and temples (arguably on the latter). And technological differences within these periods too. Not every ancient Roman soldier ever wore Lorica segmentata, not every medieval knight wore plate armour. I mean, hell, full plate armour is basically a renaissance thing.

    *re-reads post fully* Ancient Rome more primitive than the medieval period? Huh?

    Honestly... just do Ancient Rome. Don't worry about the difference. The difference will be clear.
     
  3. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    As mentioned you could fairly easily show its ancient Rome, although to be fair Rome also changed ALOT. Rome of the Republic times will be different from the Dominate and different across the decades. A few additional examples are;

    1. The presence of theater and gladiator fights for entertainment, could also use the chariot racers but these were present also in the Medieval era

    2. Public life is governed by appointed guvernors and not by hereditary lords, and that means jurists, guvernors, officials, taxes etc. Although there were of course overlap with the growing power of the Late Medieval monarchs. And there is no "second public sphere" in terms of the church which one could turn to, so naturally it should be less charity than during the Middle Ages

    3. I believe the ancient city was more ordered and focused on the forum as opposed to the more chaotic medieval city focused on the church, even if Rome grew to be pretty chaotic

    4. The idea of civil service, which was present at some times, where men of wealth would spend it for the common good in return for good reputation, and in Rome also hunt some votes

    5. Higher literacy

    6. Different morales from the Christian-influenced ones of the Middle Ages. And that morale questions are discussed more from a philosphical rather than theological point of view, although both would exist in both eras

    7. Client and patron system as opposed to feudal arrangements, many similarities but also some differences in as a client won't hold lands in service to a patron, where a vassal will do so to a liege

    8. If during the Republican times, at least a veil of democracy is over the politics and with class conflicts abound in the city, in addition to conflicts between centre and marginals, the Romans did treat many other groups like shit, like the Oscans, while others were treated ok, like the non-Roman Latins which then erupted into the Social War
     
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Question for those who know better than I do:

    Would Roman society, up and down the economic and social spectrum, be more aware of Rome—the rulers, officials, government, army—than Medieval society, on the whole?

    In my own imagination, I see the peasants in small medieval villages going about their lives without much thought for the rulers of their nations and even for local lords if they were somewhat distant from those centers of power. Sure, the taxman cometh and regiments and/or officials with their guard could show up at any time to break that bubble—although I suspect this was relatively rare. Whereas a sense of being "in Rome" or "in the Roman Empire" or "under occupation by Rome" might be more common, even in areas distant from the main centers of power.

    I suppose I'm referring to that feeling of Big Brother hovering around the edges. Naturally, medieval villages situated beside keeps or in close proximity would produce the same sort of awareness.

    Edit: Montaigne in one of his essays mentioned that most peasants in the more distant villages would probably never see a government official in their lifetimes. This would have been during the Renaissance in France. I suppose a sense of belonging to Christendom might have replaced a sense of belonging to Rome, for some, although even this sense might not have reached everywhere in medieval Europe.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Good observations here. Holoman, when you say you want your story to be more like ancient Rome, what is it you are picturing when you say that? Don't worry about differentiating from medieval Europe just yet, just identify what it is you are calling Roman. I think you will get some useful feedback on that.
     
  6. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

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    I guess I am picturing something similar to biblical times, in an area ruled by an authority with a supreme head of state, the Caesar, but the story is not set in the heart of that authority. Instead it is in one of the regions.

    You had an empire, Rome, and regional governors, and then a differentiation between people. You had citizens of Rome, then regular folk that weren't citizens, and then actual slaves owned by someone. They were all treated differently, for example a Roman citizen was less likely to be imprisoned and would never be executed by things like crucifixion.

    Ranking in society is almost entirely linked with the military. Soldiers are given perks and benefits, but are expected to serve for a long time. They are professionally trained and volunteers. The "Caesar" uses the military to maintain control of the regions and exact taxes.

    There are hardly any horses. Armour is not full body "knightesque", but more like roman. In fact most clothing is simpler. And there is no large institutional religion.

    And there's no castles, just towns, walls and some forts.
     
  7. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    Well, its certainly a different set of ideas taken from different periods of the Roman history, both Republican and Imperial elements and some stuff that wasn't really Roman at all to my knowledge, but I kind of like the composition of it.

    I don't know if you want it, but I'll post my impression of the World and you may then use or discard it at your pleasure.

    I imagine the World you describe as essentially being one of the barracks emperors who'se legitimacy are based entirely around the army and may not care much for securing their rule by other means. And I kind of imagine that the army is more or less entirely recruited from the citizens and often engaged in fighting down local revolts with some extreme sense of discrimination as the citizens fight tooth and nail to protector their favored status from the rest of the inhabitants in the empire.

    Like I said, I don't know how accurate this view of it is, but that's the picture that comes up in my mind with my somewhat limited knowledge of Roman history.
     
  8. Ancient Rome generally wasn't more primitive than medieval Europe. My understanding is that western society (generally) regressed after the fall of Rome.

    Also, if part of your objective is to avoid the 'typical' fantasy setting (if that's important to you), a Roman Empire type world might not be the way to go. Rome-based worlds are somewhat common. There's nothing wrong with them, of course, but if avoiding the norm is what you want to do, you might want another source of inspiration, like the Central American empires.

    Whichever direction you take, be sure to do plenty of research.
     
  9. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

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    I didn't realise I was taking things from different periods in Roman history but that's not surprising given my limited knowledge of history. At least I can get away with making things up as long as they sound plausible :p

    You sort of got it right, except there isn't much revolt. The regions were conquered a long time ago and the people aren't too nationalistic. Plus the military has all the magic wielders so no one outside the military has any chance of rebelling successfully. The conflict for the story is from a few people within the military itself, but mainly with another nation which is completely separate from this other one politically. Noble, citizen and slave status are quite fluid, as magical ability is completely random and not hereditary and social standing is primarily based on whether you or someone in your family is born able to do magic. It's been quite interesting figuring out how a society like that would function, that doesn't rely on the hereditary system lots of western cultures have used.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    OK, pretty clear replies, Holoman. Now I have to ask, why are you researching differences? Are you worried you are letting medievalism sneak into your antique Roman world?
     
  11. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    I don't know if this is what you're looking for but if you need to catch up on Roman history the History of Rome podcast may be of some help to you. Just continue onwards to November 2008 and so on, and you'll get a crash course of Roman political history at least, although you may want to read a book or two on social history, women's history or other specialist areas where you'll spend much time with the reader.

    The History of Rome: July 2007
     
  12. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    Since skip is a humble guy, I'll be the one to say that he is our resident expert on this topic. IMHO, there should be a Ph.D. at the end of his screen name but like I said, he's a humble fellow.

    Don't believe me? Click the links in his signature and see for yourself. Without an iota of shame, I proudly admit that the sage wisdom in his blog has already helped my scribbles tremendously.
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Both nobility and slave status are inherently hereditary. Honest. It simply doesn't work off merit.

    I like the notion that the military scoops up the magicians. Makes sense. I would, however, suggest you have some recent big military event, or have barbarians at the gates. A military does need wars to justify the expense and the social disruption over time. One reason why the Roman army was such a big deal in Roman society is because it became a major employer, and that was largely due to the endless wars--first of the late Republic and then of civil war, and then of external threats.

    Social standing not based on heredity is interesting, but I'm not sure it would affect family status, mainly because family is, well, heredity. I read your description as more like a meritocracy, though a merit one doesn't really earn. Such a person, born under a lucky star, would tend to attract sycophants, somewhat like a rock star. Moderating that would be the regimentation and obedience to authority that comes with army life. There are some deep contradictions there, but they could be worth exploring.

    Would *all* the people in the military be magicians? If not, then you have this under-class of grunts. Lots of potential there for fragging the second lieutenant. Or, magicians could be viewed as useful but dangerous weapons, controlled by an over-class of non-magical officers. Maybe some sort of slave collar thingie that could keep the magicians in line. Or, if magicians are the entire army, then you get to figure out how lines of authority would work, and why such people would work together in the field.

    Certainly worth exploring!
     
  14. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

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    Thanks for all the helpful replies.

    Yes, there is still a lot of hereditary class, I guess I meant it isn't entirely hereditary, especially for nobility which are exclusively magicians. A noble magicians children would always be citizens at least and be well off, even if they weren't magicians, and a slave's children will become the property of the master and remain slaves. Unless they are magicians, then the noble would probably adopt them into his family and they would become nobles, especially as magic is so rare that a noble will usually not have any magician children of his own but wants some kind of legacy. There is also a religious aspect to it, in that the magicians are thought of as gods which is why they are catapulted up to nobility.

    I take the point about a military needing wars. The war is with another nation, though spoils are rare. So I imagined the military essentially being sustained by slavery, which provides ample food and equipment for the citizens and soldiers.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Okay, that's more nuanced. What you have is an aristocratic class in which individuals can be ennobled by virtue have displaying magical talent. That works. This ruling class then has a way to keep refreshing itself in a way that historical aristocracies mostly did not. You might here consider the example of the Mamluks of Egypt.

    One thing about bringing in the new guy--he probably will not share the ethos of the ruling class. Give him significant magic power and the old aristocracy would likely be very focused on acculturating any new members. I'm thinking rituals, oaths, schools.

    The army would be a huge social risk. That's where the power is, and the civilian aristocrats have no answer for its magical power. So there would always be the potential for some sort of military dictatorship. Loyalty to the social order, sharing wealth and power, building an ethic of service to the state, these could all be counter-weights to that potential.

    Keep working on it!
     
  16. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    Hell, if I had the magic for it, I'd rewrite the memories of any slave adopted as a noble magician. That or a very thorough brainwashing.

    Where slavery really pays off economically, iirc, is mining. You need to mine for your coinage and armaments, but its a horrendous process and a ready supply of people you don't care about is great for that.

    I have to say, there's more than a few shades of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera here. Not so much as to render you unoriginal, but you're on very similar territory. Worth knowing if you wish to avoid being compared too heavily/looking at how someone else did it.
     
  17. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

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    Hey, have you been reading my notes!? :D

    Thanks for pointing out the book, I'll add it to my list to read. Hopefully it's not too similar, but I may delay reading it until I've finished my first draft so I don't get influenced one way or another by it.
     
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  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Where have you looked? How much have you read on the topic so far? That will help others provide better answers.
     
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