More than Medieval Europe and Vikings

There is more to history than Medieval Europe and Vikings.

Bizarre, I know, but true.

I study history to get ideas for how to create a world that has at least a streak of realism. I mean, there will be dragons, but there’s still a civilization that supports them.

knight
Yes, there will still be knights.

While lots of stories use a bland version of Medieval Europe as their basis, my studies have taken me elsewhere. Sure, I am influenced by Regency and Victorian England. I read historical romance. This is almost a given.

While English history has influenced me, one of my favorite areas of study to create civilizations is ancient Rome.  And no, I’m not talking about the Rome Hollywood feeds us. I’ve decided almost nothing that we see on a screen, small or large, is real. It’s better to accept that. Really.

Here are three interesting things about Rome:

 

They Were Wealthy Enough to Avoid Expensive Sporting Events

Gladiators really existed. Sure, Hollywood told you that, but they didn’t really fight to the death. These were highly skilled combatants who were valued for their ability to entertain, and paid very well to do it. Much like our modern day sports stars. There were the occasional fights to the death, but these were usually prisoners sentenced to die.

Colosseum

What Hollywood didn’t tell you was that Romans really, really liked chariot races. Kinda like the ancient version of NASCAR. The Colosseum that hosted gladiators could hold 50,000 people. Yeah, 50,000. The Circus Maximus where the chariot races were held? That contained space for 250,000. One of the greatest chariot racers in all of Rome was Gaius Appuleius Diocles, and he amassed a fortune worth $15 billion.

 

Massive, Long-Lived Empire

Rome was a true empire. It spanned from Spain and Portugal, across northern Africa, and up to modern day Scotland. It also included parts of Germany, southern Europe, over to the boarders of Iran and Iraq. There is some evidence it expanded farther, and included the parts of the Arabian peninsula and delved further into Asia.

A large, expansive empire that managed to last almost a thousand years. The Republic lasted just over 500 years when the Senate granted Octavian the title Augustus. This began the Imperial age, which depending on who you ask, lasted approximately another 500 years.

 

Technological Marvels

Rome was a massive empire that reached technological pinnacles we can’t yet replicate. There are concrete dams in Spain still standing two-thousand years after they were built. They can’t get the concrete on the freeway I drive to work on to last more than twenty-years.

The vast distances required a way to communicate to keep the empire together. The Romans became famous for their roads. Wherever Rome went, the road system followed. These roads were paved, lightly arched so water drained off of them, and were flanked by footpaths, horse trails, and drainage ditches. The roads were built along accurately surveyed courses, and some were cut through hills, or constructed over rivers and ravines on bridgework. Sections over marshy ground would be supported on rafted or piled foundations.

As you can tell, they didn’t mess around.

romanroad
Not messing around is why some Roman roads are still is use some 2,000 years later.

The Romans took their roads seriously. Very seriously. They were very well built, and many were still used as main thoroughfares until they were paved over for modern cars. These roads had to be spectacular. It’s how the Romans transported troops. Supplies. And supported a state-funded courier system, allowing messages to make it across great distances.

 

As history so often does, it reminds us that people have been smart for a really long time. And it reminds us again that the feudal system is not all of European history.

 

How about you? Ever discover some interesting bit of history that changed your perception of the past? Or perhaps showed you how “creative” Hollywood can be with history? Maybe something interesting that you think I especially cool?

What Is a Knight?

What is a knight? Most of us picture a man clad in heavy armor, similar to this:

Knights

But, as with many things, our general perception doesn’t encapsulate the entire truth.

I did a bit of research on historical knights so I’d know what they were and could borrow from reality and legend to create the knights in my own work.

In reality, a knight was usually a mounted soldier serving under a feudal lord in Europe. The concept of what a knight was would come to mean men, usually of noble birth (but not required), who would be apprenticed as first a page and then a squire.

During this apprenticeship, they were taught all of the skills necessary to be a skilled fighter, as well as religion, reading and writing, and social decorum. They’d then be given the military rank of knight and be bound to the code of chivalry.

This code of chivalry was enacted partially to control behavior. Because history has taught us how well behaved soldiers can be. See also, Vikings.

vikings
They’d terrorized much of Europe, so yeah, chivalry had its reasons.

Unlike many other titles (duke, baron, etc.), knighthood was not hereditary. It was given to a person by a sovereign because of personal merit or service. This means that it was easier for men who were good at being soldiers to move up in rank. It also meant you never had a six-year-old knight. Unlike some kings. And helped reduce the crazy, unlike in kings.

Knights were an important part of feudal system established by Charlemagne. Under this system, the king owned all of the land, and he granted fiefs to various lords in return for loyalty, protection and service.

In order to provide this protection, the knight class was created. Many knights were professional warriors, and the lord they served paid them for the services, and provided food, lodging, armor, weapons and horses.

Knighthood was a way for a man to advance in a society that offered few other means. As it also wasn’t an inherited position, it was a way for a younger son of a lord to advance himself. Knights could make fortunes from their service, and they could be granted land from the king and become a lord in their own right.

While many of us think of Knights of the Round Table when we think of knights.

kingarthur.jpg
Okay, maybe not this King Arthur.

In reality, knights were experienced mounted soldiers. They were also supposed to have a firm grounding in religion, among other things, but the reality was knights were about as religious as any other general order of soldiers.

Stories of knights have been told for a very long time. I think it somewhat relates to the legends of King Arthur, but I also think seeing men riding in armor on horseback left a strong impression. It was story worthy.

 

How about you? What do you think of when you think of knights? Maybe Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad from King Arthur’s court? Ser Bronn from Game of Thrones? Sir El Cid of Spain? Or maybe you think of something all together different?