E.S.S. Archer

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author


How the Rise and Fall of Empires Affects People

Scipio Aemilianus, General of Rome, defeated Carhage and set the city ablaze, therefore winning the Third Punic War. As he watched the city burn, he cried.

His friend Polybius asked him why he cried. After all, Rome had finally defeated its enemy.

“A glorious moment, Polybius,” Scipio said, “but I have a dread foreboding that someday the same doom will be pronounced on my own country.”

When creating a fictional world, it is easy to forget that there is a history to it. And we are not talking about thousands of years of history. Most of the time, the world changes tremendously within a few generations. Look back just a hundred years into the past, and ask yourself if anything has changed since then. Much has. Look two hundred years into the past, and more has changed. Each step in our history has brought us to this point. Ironically, none of the people who lived those historical eras knew where the world was headed back then. They just lived their lives, mostly focusing on their day-to-day, and rarely philosophized about the future. Then again, thinking has rarely been rewarded throughout human history.

The more I learn about significant players in history, the more I admire the acquisition of knowledge. And also, the more I learn, the more I realize that it is easy to end up sitting in a corner at a library, surrounded by books, and doing nothing of use. Learning, where the knowledge that is acquired is not applied, rarely leads to anything. It becomes as fruitless as the pursuit of lesser indulgences that are so frequently frowned upon by those who pursue raw intellectualism. But, alas, I cannot help but continue reading. And the more I read about history, the more I realize just how under-representated the ordinary person is. It is easy to admire great generals and great kings and rulers, but all those great people’s achievements were built upon the hard work of others.

In the quote described above, Scipio was an educated man, a victorious general who saw beyond his moment of glory. He led his troops to victory. To most, defeating an enemy or winning a war is the only goal. Those who know enough will always celebrate their victories, but they will remain aware that the world will continue changing. For better or for worse, the world keeps changing. Despite our arrogance as a civilization, where we assume that we know it all and that we are more advanced than ever, the world will continue changing. If our era remains in history, just like any other era, it will inevitably be considered a dark age for one reason or another. Times change, beliefs change, customs change, and us humans have the tendency to love and hate in equal measure, always judging everything with passion. There is rarely a middle ground. History can teach us that.

And despite even the biggest of changes, people will continue living. How did Scipio’s grand victory affect a small farmer in the outskirts of Rome? There might have been an economic change in the area. Inflation might have resulted from the war. Supplies may have started arriving from the newly annexed Carthage. But, in general terms, the farmer continued tilling his soil, tending his plants, and harvesting when harvest came. Carthage had burned, but this farmer’s life was all the same.

I sometimes fall into the trap of adding too many characters who do look beyond the moment. People who think more than others, who evaluate their reality perhaps more than they should. Most people spend their days thinking about their jobs, their spouses and families, their homes, and perhaps a few friends. Yes, the hero’s journey requires an inciting incident. Yes, some characters will be affected by the great events in the world. But most others will do their best to remain as indifferent to change as possible.

We are human. We resist change. We resist thinking.