I’m all about the details. There are few things in writing that irk me more than, “The kingdom began a thousand years ago.”

It hit me real hard with Elder Scrolls Online. “And we were here a thousand years. And them. Those guys were only 500 years, but they’ll be virtually unchanged by Skyrim which is in a few millennium.” It really hit me when people were complaining that the city of Mournhold does not look the same as its Morrowind counterpart. The events of the Nerevarine took place a thousand years later. These same people said how great it was the cities of Skyrim were incredibly similar. This set me off.

The question is not why does Mournhold look different. The question is why does everything else look the same? When I noticed this, I realized this happens all the time in fantasy. To give legitimacy we say, “It’s been around a thousand years.” That’s not realistic.

The longest lasting true dynasty was Chinese, around 500 years. I apologize, I cannot remember which dynasty it was.

“What about the Egyptians, Paul? They were around for three thousand years!” This was brought up. It’s a lie.

Egypt had countless dynasties, empires, kingdoms, and downfalls. For a few centuries in that three thousand year period they were even on the low end of the totem pole, fortunate to just be on the totem pole in an age when the utter destruction of your foe from the history books was common.

“But Paul, China. I mean, they were thousands of years.” Constant turmoil. China is one of the greatest examples of how decentralized government is a disaster. People came in and out of power quickly, and it was miraculous they held the longest lived dynasty.

“Rome.” Nope. Rome went through countless transition, often spurred on by the poor, and a fear the poor would actually demand rights from the rich. Eventually this led to Caesar, which then led to an incredibly weak Rome which was often sacked by folk who were bored and liked their victims witless and unarmed.

I get these are over simplifications of what actually happened, but the essence is there, and there are history books calling your name if you’re curious.

Those are the great and massive examples of how time wipes everything away, without mercy or discrimination. How about something smaller?

If someone from a century ago was thrown into New York City today, they would have no idea where they were. Skyscrapers reach the heavens, layers of old city create the bedrock for today’s modern vision. Rome has only a few landmarks that even slightly resemble its rich past. Cities, countries, societies all change.

For those familiar with NYC, this isn't quite what it looks like anymore. This is 1901. Buildings grew a little. Copyright probably Irving Underhill, currently in the United States Library of Congress (c) 1901
For those familiar with NYC, this isn’t quite what it looks like anymore. This is 1901. Buildings grew a little.
Copyright probably Irving Underhill, currently in the United States Library of Congress (c) 1901

For society, a hundred years ago we didn’t even have welfare. Today approximately 50% of the country benefits in some way through it. Practically overnight, Christians went from 300 years of being used as living lanterns to becoming the state religion. In under a century Islam went from one guy to conquering northern Africa, Arabia, a touch into western Asia, and the Iberian Peninsula, with sights on France and beyond. The world changes rapidly.

For your own fantasy setting, keep static establishments short. Even if ideas, religions, cities, and so on are centuries old, they are rarely ever the same as they once were.

4 thoughts on “Your civilization did not survive 1000 years

  1. I mean it as mine fantasy, and how it maybe can get in the future, i’am not writing into the past what 1000 year’s ago happend. I did not see any book, i did not see any film, what like’s on mine fantasy.

  2. Paul, I think you’ve got a lot of good points here. However, while I generally agree and like you’re perspective, I think it is worth pointing out that while there are not extremely old dynasties, there are some extremely old cultures. For instance, the Han Dynasty in China may have only lasted 400-500 years, but he Confucian Bureaucracy lasted around 2000, and there has been something recognizable as ‘China’ and ‘Chinese Culture’ for at least 4000 years. Cultures don’t survive unchanged, but I would argue that a recognizable culture and civilization can survive for a very, very long time. I think that you are correct that this is something we need to consider in writing our backgrounds.

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