Friday, 18 October 2013

Time For A Change

Do you sometimes wish you were born in a different time, or if not born back then, could travel back and live for a period in a better, older, time? Maybe when the world was still full of barbarian splendour?

Oh I am not daft; I know that there was vast poverty, illiteracy, violence and terrible diseases back in the past. A simple cut or bite from an insect could be fatal, and even Alexander the Great died of blood poisoning (after stabbing himself in an non fatal attempt to kill himself with the spear he had used to kill ‘Cleitus the Black’ – what a name - and which carried germs from which he died about 10 days later).

No I mean that, assuming that you could be well off (rich), healthy, safe from the general political machinations of others, and immune from the general illnesses of the time (including all the plagues) etc etc, would there be a ‘golden time’ you would like to have lived in?

Perhaps it was ‘Elizabethan England’ – described as a golden age, even at the time, despite the religious persecution and plots. Or mayhap, the height of the 'Roman Empire' ... maybe under the stable and ‘good’ emperors between 98 AD (Start of Trajan’s Reign) and 180 AD (Death of Marcus Aurelius).

Or, perhaps the first days of the US Republic after the rebellion would suit you? When a man could be ‘free’ and ‘the West’ stretched on forever to a distant Pacific. To me, the post 1940 period in the USA always looked like a golden era up until the end of the 1960’s – Rock’n’Roll, Chevies, Blue Jeans and money for most.

But the possibilities are endless, and obviously the choice is very much depend upon your cultural background and preferences. For a White European it could be almost any time in the last 3,500 years, from the Greeks & Romans, through all the ages such as the Napoleonic Empire to the second age of Colonial Empires in the late 19th century, whereas for a non-European, it may be a different choice.

Delhi Durbar - Raj Zenith 1911

For Muslims, Arab or otherwise, the time would always be post 570 AD – they can’t go to a time before their prophet – a restriction for sure, but still offering plenty of scope in the time of the Caliphates, or the Ottomans, and even the Mogul Empire in northern India.

For Hindus, there was the time pre the Muslim invasions, when vast Hindu Kingdoms and Empires rose. Maybe the Vedic period of semi legend, or the Gupta Empire … Similarly, Buddhists had large Empires in Cambodia, Tibet and other South East Asian areas … similarly; South Americans have various Empires to look to such as the Mayans, Incas, or Aztecs etc             

Obviously for the Chinese, there are various times from the last two thousand years or so, and both the Tang and Han dynasties are described as ‘golden ages’ …. but it depends on your point of view (some would suggest that for the Chinese peasants, now is the ‘golden age’).

For those of Sub Saharan African descent it’s a little more problematic in picking a ‘golden age’, especially as much of black African history was not recorded – but even so there were those empires and kingdoms that we know about (and many of those were Muslim) in Benin, Ghana and modern Nigeria), and even the Great Zimbabwe or Zulu Kingdoms.

However, if your cultural choices are not great, there are always some ‘Golden Ages’ available to all. The Roman period seems not to have too many race and religious hang ups until the Christians arrived on the scene …. maybe that’s a bit simplistic, but this is just a pen portrait of the era’s.

Here’s one you may never had heard of - Croatia in the 15th century – the free city of Dubrovnik seems to have been a rather equitable place, compared to many in the area or time …. Nice climate, reasonably advanced and tolerant for the time …. Cosmopolitan population.

Of course for sheer splendour, Constantinople under the late Roman and main Byzantine emperors must have been helluva place – although very fraught with political factions and violence. It also went way overboard on the combination of religion and state combined in the form of the emperor (a model that the Russian Tsars followed, and with much the same results), which led to factions and instability when they needed to be fighting the Turks – but still, for a thousand years the biggest city in the world and always one multicolour ride.

Talking of faded opulence, being a bright young thing in the ‘Roaring Twenties’, might be your cup of tea, although this period seems tinged with the rise of the dictators across Europe, and economic crash that burnt so many of the stars of that decade – the Weimar Republic in Germany was maybe its apotheosis (You know 'Sally Bowles' in the film ‘Cabaret’ …).

Or maybe a time of scientific discovery and an age of reason would be what you wanted …the 18th century in Europe meant the casting off of the shackles of superstition, with the general movement known as the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ ….

The list of choices is endless, each with its good points, and also with some downsides, but nevertheless with a ‘glitter’ that our small-minded and PC driven age seems to me to lack. There is no correct answer, no right or wrong choice, it’s purely a piece to make you think.

My choice?

Well probably a visit and stay in Constantinople under the Emperor Justinian I, or that little free state and Republic in Dubrovnic … I don’t think I would have wanted to live my whole life in either, but once there, who knows.  If I had to live my whole life in the era, the later Victorian / Edwardian ‘British Raj’ must have been a good time to be wealthy and healthy (if you were British).


  1. Nice idea except that polluting the time-line may have serious consequences. If my laptop is suddenly replaced by some parchment and a quill, I'll know that you will have had a jolly old time in Constantinople. Say "Hi" to Justinian from me.

    1. Well obviously you start an alternate time-line when you enter the past .... see this earlier post for that kind of thing.

    2. The greeks had already created a form of computer called the 'Antikythera Mechanism' (, and they also had a primitive steam engine called a 'Aeopile' (, so without the 'Dark Ages' in the West, or the constant arab/turkish attacks in the East, diverting all resources, there may have been railways, steam power and computers developed hundreds of years ago.

      Who knows we may have had space bases as well by now, thats the beauty of 'what if' time travel.

    3. Put these together with the Baghdad battery and the flywheel (isn't a water driven Quern-stone a form of stored energy??), and its conceivable that a "steam punk culture" could have arisen in what was the Roman Empire had it not fallen.

      I suspect that this could only have been the case where the Emperors kept 'religious dogma' from laying its dead hand over the culture, but looking at how the Byzantine empire developed in that regard, I would say there was little chance of that happening, as they embraced the control that religion offered over the populous - see Tsarist Russia for same religion, same outcome. Still, if the paper making (2nd century China, with whom Rome was trading), and the Printing Press had developed earlier, say in the 10th century - then dissent over thought control by the religious state could have been broken earlier. Its no mere coincidence that as soon as paper and the printing press combined and spread across Europe (1439 onwards), it was less than 80 years later that the Protestant movement arose against the Roman Catholic church and the leaders whose rule it helped sustain.

      Maybe, if that scenario had played out in early middle ages (10th and 11th centuries), then science could have developed further and faster and we would have taken a new route to development. As you said, that's the beauty of 'what if' time speculations.


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