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Ancient steampunk?

If things had been slightly different in our history, Earth could have had an industrial revolution back in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Steam-powered machines were being invented at the time as curiosities and for temples. It's an interesting idea, and it makes me wonder if anyone has written any alternate timeline stories with an ancient industrial revolution.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 23rd, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
There were a few such objects, yes. But the economic system did not favor industrialization. One big problem was the lack of any real system of credit or investment. The economic philosophy discouraged the concept of spending money to make money. The closest equivalent was buying land, but even then land was typically judged by criteria such as convenience of location rather than profitability. Estates were expected to be self-sufficient as much as possible. Roman landowners preferred to grow all the food they and their slaves needed on their estate rather than importing it. Compare this to Southern plantation owners who typically purchased their slaves' food from off-plantation, realizing that it was more profitable to do that then to sacrifice profitable cotton or tobacco fields for food.

Also, inventors typically gained riches from wealthy patrons, nobles or the Emperor himself, not by mass-producing their goods. There was no concept of patents, thus an inventor couldn't profit directly from his invention. This prevented a merchant class from growing in power, a crucial prerequisite to the industrial revolution.

In short, a Roman or Greek industrial revolution would've required huge changes to their culture first.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 08:23 am (UTC)
The only way I'd see such a story working is a penny-scrimping Roman noble with an awesome Greek philosopher slave. Looking to improve his latifundium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latifundium without having to buy more slaves. So starts his Greek off on experimenting with water power, then steam power, etc etc etc.

It's quite a stretch though, as you say. But if it had to happen somewhere I'd go for the latifundia. They're big industries, producing lots of goods for export. If I were writing such a story, I'd base it there.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
And if it did happen the best cultural model to look at is Meiji to 1945 Japan, not Europe from 1789 to 1945. The Romans were a very militaristic society. Give that society industry and you've got an IJA-style bunch of scumbags running amuck without anyone really able to stop them and without any of the prohibitions against things like genocide that the Modern West got after 1945.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
Oh God Help us.....the Romans going industrial would make the Nazis look like a bunch of pussies.

Where it gets more interesting is if the *Song Chinese* industrialize about the 13th Century. Given the huge population and wealth of China if they already start mass-producing guns and pikes the moment ol' Genghis comes callling.....the American continent would be a bunch of miniature Japans while European culture would be bitter, marginalized, and all the Fundies they shipped over and dumped on the Indians would be still over there.

If the Romans industrialize the only thing you get is an earlier version of Imperial Japan which would be completely unstoppable.
Jun. 23rd, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
I don't know about any novels, but a friend came up with his own role playing game with sort of a steam-powered Old West theme a few years ago. I think he called it Clockwork Fantasy and he may be marketing it over the net still. (I don't have his current email or I'd ask him myself.)

I played a steam-powered mechanical girl with rocket-launchable boobs! (Increase in cup size=increase in explosive force!)
Jun. 26th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
I have always been fascinated by the idea of what would happen if extinct ancient societies (particularly the Romans) had never collapsed. If the Romans had not collapsed, they would have gone industrial eventually, probably in only a few hundred more years. It would not have been economically structured in the same manner as post 1800 Europe, it would have been more centralized, but Rome would have come to dominate most of the world. However, I think that there would actually be more cultural diversity than there is now, because unlike most "superpowers", Rome did not try to stamp out cultures it conquered. Yes, there was mixing, but the occupied cultures were allowed to continue in a recognizable form.
Jun. 26th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
I wonder if an industrialized Rome would come up with its own version of McDonalds...
Jun. 26th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC)
What I find really interesting is this idea taken farther - if Rome had continued to advance, how much earlier would spacecraft have been developed? Computers? Robotics? Would Roman industry have led to advancement at the same rate as industry did in reality? What if Rome had NEVER collapsed, and the present world (at least the Western world) was Roman-dominated?

Even more interestingly, what if Rome and imperial China had continued to steadily advance? Perhaps eventually a situation similar to the USA - USSR standoff? If those societies had advanced to present - day technology, they would most likely have developed nuclear weapons. Would they have been more likely to use them?
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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