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Brainstorming an Alt-Dimension/Quasi-Star Trek setting

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I was thinking about my kitchen sink work in progress:

...and an idea that absolutely didn’t fit, but I thought was worth exploring: a Star Trek type setting in which Rome either never fell, or a Roman-style civilization rose back to prominence and dominance. As humanity spread to the stars, the Republic (Empire? Something else?) definitely has a more militaristic and expansionist doctrine than the Federation. Very...nostri maris et stellas. (”Our sea of stars”.)

Obviously, that means there wouldn’t be Romanesque Romulans, but maybe something a bit more pseudo-Carthaginian?

While I want to draw inspiration from all Trek eras- and maybe a couple of lifts from The Orville- visually, I want to stick closer to the original show, in part because the uniform had those nice, leafy trim. But command wouldn’t be gold, it would be royal purple (Jovians). SecurityMilitary would remain red (Ares). Communications/Commerce/Diplomacy would be silver (Mercury). Medical would be gold (Apollo). Science would be blue (Minerva).
 

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MarkB

Legend
It feels rather similar to the existing Mirror Universe, to the extent that it'd have to work hard in order to be distinct from both that and the Romulan Star Empire. Plus, TOS did "modern 20th-century Rome planet" at least once.
 

ART!

Adventurer
I dig this idea.

To steer away from ST's Mirror Universe, just keep Space-Rome from being EVIL - and steer away from goatees!

To stay away from Romulan stuff, just go full-bore Roman - keep all those Latin terms for ships and fleets, and use Latin root-words for anything you have to make up. Occasionally borrow or Latin-ize terms from the more impressive conquered peoples.

You could argue that a Rome that survives as something recognizably Roman might have developed space flight centuries earlier than we did IRL.

Also, you will need space-"barbarians", which is pretty much Klingons. ;)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I have come to have an issue with such things.

We think of this as "Rome never fell", but we also add on, "Rome did not undergo much cultural change for thousands of years", and that's almost less plausible than transporters, to me.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
This isn’t to be an actual Alt-Trek, but sort of an homage. Goatees not requried. No actual Romulans, Klingons, etc.

As for the roots, I’m not saying Rome didn’t change- after all, Rome itself did over its actual 1000 year run. And they did lift certain things from the Greeks that preceeded them. Not to mention the changed but still influential place it has in the world today.

So, this “unfallen“ Rome/or Romanesque successor won’t necessarily be bread & circuses, gladiators and decadence the way it’s typically depicted in fiction. Instead, there will be cultural and aesthetic echoes in the aesthetics of official government products* and ranking practices of the institutions...in no small part for the same reasons as the Romans mimicked the Greeks: creating a sense of continuity and congruity.

There would still be cultural remanants as well, though- again, either as continuations or as artificially created throwbacks to “better times”. That would include the current imperialistic & expansionistic phase of space travel.

* amusingly, I just had this vision of the original classic Trek Enterprise with warp nacelles styled to resemble Corinthian columns...
 

Well, there was that episode of the original Star Trek series ("Who Mourns for Adonis?") where they ran into Apollo. Maybe in your alternate universe, the Greek/Roman "gods" who "visited" Earth centuries ago never found the need to leave and have shepherded the Roman Empire over the centuries into a spacefaring society. That would put a different spin on things: a Federation with a pantheon of gods behind them, able and willing to interfere in galactic relations to ensure they continue to be worshiped. (Why limit themselves to just being worshiped by humans when there are other races out there as well?)

Johnathan
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
There is an story arc of the original (British) Tomorrow People series in which a steam engine is introduced to ancient Rome, thus causing a new timeline in which Rome conquers the world (Planet Rome), reaches the Moon by the 4th century and by the 20th century they are a starfaring empire who have enslaved a number of alien planets/races.

Planet Rome is offered membership of the Galactic Federation but refuse as they have already conquered half the galaxy and beleive that the Federation will soon succumb to the Glory of the Empire - Unfortunately the meddling Tomorrow kids go back to 1st Century Rome and restore the original timeline
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
There would still be cultural remanants as well, though- again, either as continuations or as artificially created throwbacks to “better times”. That would include the current imperialistic & expansionistic phase of space travel.

My point goes like this.

Historically speaking, the USA is a direct extension through time of British culture. Compare the US today with Britain of 1020 AD. If you are a historian who studies such things, you can see the resemblance - like in the impact British common law has on our legal system. But if you just describe the world of 1020, and that of 2020... you don't see a lot of recognizable trappings spelled out for you. Heck, the English language of 1020 is nigh incomprehensible to a speaker of 2020, much less any other cultural aspect.

So, make the root even farther back... what recognizable elements are going to remain to say, "This is derived from Rome"?

I'm not saying there wouldn't be any. But that it is a thing to think about.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
My point goes like this.

Historically speaking, the USA is a direct extension through time of British culture. Compare the US today with Britain of 1020 AD. If you are a historian who studies such things, you can see the resemblance - like in the impact British common law has on our legal system. But if you just describe the world of 1020, and that of 2020... you don't see a lot of recognizable trappings spelled out for you. Heck, the English language of 1020 is nigh incomprehensible to a speaker of 2020, much less any other cultural aspect.

So, make the root even farther back... what recognizable elements are going to remain to say, "This is derived from Rome"?

I'm not saying there wouldn't be any. But that it is a thing to think about.
Ditto!

Take laws, for example. From my legal background, I can trace the foundations of certain laws back hundreds of years before the existence of our country. And some of the ideas we consider progressive and “modern” were practiced by societies some might call primitive. The society in Starship Troopers had some very old elements, including the military as a path to citizenship. We have that to an extent- military service eliminates or reduces certain requirements- but that practice dates back to Rome at the very least. It was part of their calculus- those on the frontier who enjoyed the perks of Roman citizenship would be more dependably acting in Rome’s favor.

A Romanesque civilization- whether continuous, interrupted, or emulated- might well still consider the Twelve Tables the way we regard the US Constitution. It could also be the Twelve Hundred Tables by the time of this setting. (And the laws of the Twelve Tables themselves were not entirely static, either.)

And yet, you’ve seen how various rights have evolved in this country, despite/because of changes in technology, philosophies, demographics and so forth.

I mean, if Roman numerals are still being used by these guys, I’d imagine it would be m like WE use them- decoratively. Imagine the horror of coding!
 
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Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
Regardless of their actual cultural and temporal distance from ancient Rome, a neo-Roman space empire might well emphasize the trappings of tradition, and self-consciously emulate certain aspects of an idealized Roman past. This tendency is pretty common in all cultures; conservatism coupled with some kind of fundamentalism - by fundamentalism I really mean a movement which seeks to reconnect with a (fictive) past in which certain key virtues were understood as better observed.

The Roman civilization lasted from - say - the 5th century BCE until 1453, and it changed enormously during that time. But the people in Constantinople at the end self-identified as Roman; they had an idea of continuity, regardless of the truth of continuity. The same would be true of any future Roman space empire; after all, nobody really inherits culture with any special claim. It's all made up. Propaganda. All history is redacted.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So, thinking on my own question, I think the answer somewhat depends on the question of why Rome doesn't fall. It helps set the basis we are working from.

One possibility - Rome doesn't fall, because it doesn't become the Imperial Rome we know. Perhaps Julius never crosses the Rubicon. Or maybe, when he's assassinated, the optimates' view held - they killed Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and several of the others, leading to a shaky but successful return to the republican form - we have the Roman Imperial Republic...

But nobody wants to model the Republic. They want to model the Empire with a Ceasar. So, let us consider the more common points of failure.

To quote a common text of Wikipedia, "The Roman Empire lost the strengths that had allowed it to exercise effective control over its Western provinces; modern historians posit factors including the effectiveness and numbers of the army, the health and numbers of the Roman population, the strength of the economy, the competence of the Emperors, the internal struggles for power, the religious changes of the period, and the efficiency of the civil administration. Increasing pressure from invading barbarians outside Roman culture also contributed greatly to the collapse."

So, setting aside a lot of fiddly-bit politics, there are a couple larger levers in there we might pull.

Perhaps the Romans work out that lead pipes are a phenomenally bad idea. As apocryphal as the impact of this may be, it works for our story - going into the 300s the Romans are in all ways just slightly better off. History otherwise goes ahead, but their economy, population, and general competence are higher, and fragmentation does not occur.

Perhaps Constantine I dies of a pox at an early age. He, and Constantius II, are never Emperor, and their abuses never happen. Christianity never becomes the official religion of the Empire. Juilan, not quite so burdened by the prior emperor's mistakes and abuses, is far more effective. He cleans up a lot of corrumption, and survives his Persian campaign, and does not cede any lands in the process. Having beaten both Germanic tries and Persians, the Empire is well-defended in the coming decades. Stilicho doesn't exist/happen. Our basis is then essentially a Julian Empire that has learned to control its taxation and while expansionist, is tolerant of many religions.

Either one of those works as a basis. Perhaps tomorrow, we can plow through a few other socioeconomic differences of this world that may give us some idea of what the future is like...
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I think technolog/science are key, like the idea about lead in the pipes and cookware.

One factor I thought of was inspired by the Sword of Knowledge trilogy. In one of the books, that setting’s analogue for Rome comes this close to developing gunpowder. In reality, Roman alchemists we’re headed doesn’t some of the same pathways their counterparts in the Far East were.

once realized, a Rome with primitive gunpowder mortars and/or rockets might not encounter another serious military challenge until it expanded well into the East.

I don’t think that- like the sprawling Rome of our world- this fictional version could fully avoid the internal hazards of simply governing itself that help tear it apart. That would mean that even this version of Rome would have setbacks. But a semi-controlled retreat instead of a collapse might lead to the retention of that true Roman core.

Then there’s those pesky Christians...
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Forgive the potential controversy but in 1938 did not a certain historic figure move the symbols of the Holy Roman Empire from Vienna to Nuremberg, declaring the Holy Roman Empire to be the First Reich upon which he would model his imperial ambitions?

Does a restored/continued Roman Empire imply a strongly militaristic expansionist patriarchal culture, made up of a Senate of male leaders, their households and a vast array of conquered peasants?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Does a restored/continued Roman Empire imply a strongly militaristic expansionist patriarchal culture, made up of a Senate of male leaders, their households and a vast array of conquered peasants?

Not necessarily - such will be the topic of a post hopefully later today about shaping the socioeconomics of the setting.
 

ART!

Adventurer
I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Fulminata: Armed with Lightning rpg (I'd hyperlink, but there's no updated official web page, and I don't want to favor one product source over another, so do your own legwork there, I guess). The basic idea is "Rome With Guns", with the turning point being a survivor of Pompeii's destruction turning his obsession into the discovery of gunpowder. Plus, it came with it's own full set of Roman numeral dice! :D
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In reality, Roman alchemists we’re headed doesn’t some of the same pathways their counterparts in the Far East were.

This sentence came out a bit hashed up. I'll note that in the Far East, gunpowder came about in the 9th century. The fall of Rome is in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Then there’s those pesky Christians...

So, there's some significant argument that adoption of Christianity played a significant part in the Fall of Rome. It led to yet another power structure adding to the internal squabbles, and also changed how Rome dealt with its client states. Pre-Christian Rome was expansionist, but not so autocratic. If you paid your taxes and made the required trade goods available, Rome was okay with allowing much local governance. This falls away as the empire starts trying to also force a religion on its client states, and made those states notably more difficult to govern. That's part of why I suggested taking Constantine I out of the picture. The Empire is politically more stable if it isn't trying to force religion on people.

Let us roll this forward somewhat. Rome does not fall in the 5th century. If we also don't have the Christian Church enforcing certain orthodoxy of thought, the end result is... no Dark Ages. Maybe not an instant Renaissance, but no gread fall into ignorance either. Rome increases in size, it holds the entire Mediterranean basin, and most of Europe (more on some parts of Europe later). The Pax Romana settles in - without constant internecine wars, and an actual planning structure behind agriculture, the population of Europe and the Roman Empire rises...

... and Rome ends up with the same problem China had - a population that stretches the ability of the information-handling and communication of the time to manage. It becomes the China of the West, really. For a time, its expansion stalls, much like China's, and it spends some centuries simply managing itself, likely enhancing its own bureaucracy - again, much like China. Nice parallel there.

So, for reasons of my own (which may become apparent later), I'm going to brainstorm this way - Rome gets most of Europe, but not all of it. Scandanavia of the 5th to 11th centuries doesn't hold a lot of interest for Rome, and it is terrain in which Roman military tactics start to fail. So,while there are attempts, Rome fails to dominate Scandanavia in the Medieval period.

Now, let us talk about technology for a moment - specifically sail. In our world, the Renaissance saw a massive growth in sailing technology, not just because of growth of knowledge, but because of competing European countries squeezing each other, all looking for paths of least resistance to wealth and power off the European continent.

Rome doesn't have that competition. Nobody is squeezing it. It has issues maintaining itself, and it has secure trade routes throughout the Empire. It doesn't need sail power all that much. It also does not need firearms, again, much like China -There's a Pax Romana, and without the incessant competition among the nation states of Europe, weapons technology does not leap forward as much as civil engineering and medical knowledge.

Who is getting squeezed in this picture, and who also had the edge in ship technology in Medieval Europe? Scandanavia. But, instead of using it to raid the European coastline (which doesn't work well, because the place has Roman levels of protection). While they may have some success expanding east and down the Volga river, that way is also populated with folks who are pressed by Rome. With sail, they have the option to go westward. Eric the Red comes early, and there's economic reasons to follow up on him more aggressively than in our world. The Baltic States, Scandanavia, and Great Britain become a sailing power bloc across the northern Atlantic.

And, in this way, they reach and establish a beachhead in North America. They don't have the technology to dominate the continent, but they don't need to - they develop settlements and notable trade for valuable resources of lumber and furs with the Native Americans.

And this becomes very important. The Native Americans are exposed to European diseases 500 or so years earlier, and not while dealing with a power that can dominate their land successfully. They are hurt, but recover, and develop resistance.

Eventually, the wealth of the North Atlantic grows, not enough to nearly rival Rome, fo course, but enough to get noticed. Rome catches up in sailing tech and communication and management (the printing press helps here). But, when they finally arrive in North America, they are facing a population that hasn't been recently decimated by disease. It has a population more like the population of our Medieval Europe, and they've learned how to forge metals from the Scandinavians, and aren't as vulnerable as they were in our world. They are not unified as a single nation, but it will be some time before any of them can be conquered.

The result is, coming into what we consider the time of the Renaissance, several power blocks, mostly separated by continent. Earth avoids a lot of the colonialism that dominated our Renaissance, and Early Modern periods.
 

ART!

Adventurer
I'm down with any alternate history in which Native Americans fare better than they did/do IRL, and just in general I'm enjoying your deep dives, @Umbran!
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Aside from being vaguely plausible, the above is intended to give us a world in which, yes, we eventually have Roman dominance, but we have a whole lot of space for other cultural influences. They aren't wiping away religous diversity, for example, and as they pick up more and more client states, they have less reason to eradicate their cultures along the way.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
This sentence came out a bit hashed up. I'll note that in the Far East, gunpowder came about in the 9th century. The fall of Rome is in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Yes, that was a hash! There is something I read a while back that was NOT included in my post, namely a discussion on how close the Greeks were to stumbling onto gunpowder, and how some of their scholarship may have been disseminated to other ancient cultures. It was all a bunch of historians speculating, but some felt it was a possible kickstart to similar research elsewhere in the world. Some also speculated fundamentals of gunpowder were part of at least some versions of “greek fire“.

Because if Connections taught me anything, just because you have all the pieces in front of you, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to see the big picture. Sometimes, putting it all together requires a bit of luck or rare insight.

So, there's some significant argument that adoption of Christianity played a significant part in the Fall of Rome. It led to yet another power structure adding to the internal squabbles, and also changed how Rome dealt with its client states. Pre-Christian Rome was expansionist, but not so autocratic. If you paid your taxes and made the required trade goods available, Rome was okay with allowing much local governance. This falls away as the empire starts trying to also force a religion on its client states, and made those states notably more difficult to govern. That's part of why I suggested taking Constantine I out of the picture. The Empire is politically more stable if it isn't trying to force religion on people.

Excellent points.

That additional power structure is, to say the least, somewhat at odds with the imperialistic nature and certain cultural mores about what is right and just in dealing with other humans. There’s a serious case to be made that The Sermon on the Mount is- among other things- one of the first recorded directives on the use civil disobedience.

Let us roll this forward somewhat. Rome does not fall in the 5th century. If we also don't have the Christian Church enforcing certain orthodoxy of thought, the end result is... no Dark Ages. Maybe not an instant Renaissance, but no gread fall into ignorance either. Rome increases in size, it holds the entire Mediterranean basin, and most of Europe (more on some parts of Europe later). The Pax Romana settles in - without constant internecine wars, and an actual planning structure behind agriculture, the population of Europe and the Roman Empire rises...

... and Rome ends up with the same problem China had - a population that stretches the ability of the information-handling and communication of the time to manage. It becomes the China of the West, really. For a time, its expansion stalls, much like China's, and it spends some centuries simply managing itself, likely enhancing its own bureaucracy - again, much like China. Nice parallel there.

That‘s the too big to survive thing I was getting at. There‘s no way to effectively gather and use all the data needed to efficiently and effectively manage an empire so vast, so Rome either stagnates and/or shrinks or consolidates. Metaphorically, it cuts off a limb here or there in order that the main creature survives.

So, for reasons of my own (which may become apparent later), I'm going to brainstorm this way - Rome gets most of Europe, but not all of it. Scandanavia of the 5th to 11th centuries doesn't hold a lot of interest for Rome, and it is terrain in which Roman military tactics start to fail. So,while there are attempts, Rome fails to dominate Scandanavia in the Medieval period.

Now, let us talk about technology for a moment - specifically sail. In our world, the Renaissance saw a massive growth in sailing technology, not just because of growth of knowledge, but because of competing European countries squeezing each other, all looking for paths of least resistance to wealth and power off the European continent.

Rome doesn't have that competition. Nobody is squeezing it. It has issues maintaining itself, and it has secure trade routes throughout the Empire. It doesn't need sail power all that much. It also does not need firearms, again, much like China -There's a Pax Romana, and without the incessant competition among the nation states of Europe, weapons technology does not leap forward as much as civil engineering and medical knowledge.

Hell, the threat of Rome- even thought it’s more of a paper wolf- and its firepower may keep all but the hungriest at bay for a while.

Who is getting squeezed in this picture, and who also had the edge in ship technology in Medieval Europe? Scandanavia. But, instead of using it to raid the European coastline (which doesn't work well, because the place has Roman levels of protection). While they may have some success expanding east and down the Volga river, that way is also populated with folks who are pressed by Rome. With sail, they have the option to go westward. Eric the Red comes early, and there's economic reasons to follow up on him more aggressively than in our world. The Baltic States, Scandanavia, and Great Britain become a sailing power bloc across the northern Atlantic.

And, in this way, they reach and establish a beachhead in North America. They don't have the technology to dominate the continent, but they don't need to - they develop settlements and notable trade for valuable resources of lumber and furs with the Native Americans.

And this becomes very important. The Native Americans are exposed to European diseases 500 or so years earlier, and not while dealing with a power that can dominate their land successfully. They are hurt, but recover, and develop resistance.

As I recall, the current theory is that the Norse colonization of North
America actually started @1000 years ago, and failed primarily due to environmental issues. So some of the indigenous people were exposed to some of the European pathogens, but not enough to make a huge difference.

But a bigger push to the West because they can’t reasonably go South and East probably changes their calculus a bit. They won’t give up on the new settlements because they can’t afjord...errr..afford to.

Eventually, the wealth of the North Atlantic grows, not enough to nearly rival Rome, fo course, but enough to get noticed. Rome catches up in sailing tech and communication and management (the printing press helps here). But, when they finally arrive in North America, they are facing a population that hasn't been recently decimated by disease. It has a population more like the population of our Medieval Europe, and they've learned how to forge metals from the Scandinavians, and aren't as vulnerable as they were in our world. They are not unified as a single nation, but it will be some time before any of them can be conquered.

The result is, coming into what we consider the time of the Renaissance, several power blocks, mostly separated by continent. Earth avoids a lot of the colonialism that dominated our Renaissance, and Early Modern periods.

One BIG equalizer between the Viking/Native American culture of this setting and a newly expansionistic Rome would be the horse. The vikings didn’t really have those in their failed settlements, but they knew their value. At some point, they sure to have tried and eventually succeeded in bringing them to the New World. So by the time Nova Roma reaches the Americas, the horse will not be a machine and weapon only for the Europeans.

The question then becomes whether there is a new equilibrium reached for a while, or if the New World becomes Rome’s next Carthage...
 
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