As I was editing along I realized that it was time to set my fantasy novel in the late bronze age. Well, kind of, I am setting it in an analogue for the Qin dynasty (although my politics are pinched almost entirely from the later Han dynasty as it was more politically exciting). What did this mean? Steel exists but it is bloody rare. Iron exists, and people can smelt it, but it’s poor quality, mostly pig iron, and it’s not wide-spread for metal goods that are either supposed to be beautiful or are regularly used as tools of agriculture and war.
Bronze though, bronze is the bomb – this was the pinnacle of high-tin bronze smelting. What does that mean from a practical perspective?
It means people are carrying around things that looked like this on the battlefield.
That’s a dagger-axe people, it’s freaking awesome.
Beyond that this presents certain practical cultural considerations as well as technological ones.
Obviously, the end of the Bronze age in east Asia was one of a single mono-culture which had effectively formed into a new imperial power. Throughout the Qin and the Han empire, based on Confucian principles was actually a new and shiny idea and the shift away from Aristocracy and toward a meritocratic civil service was one causing substantial schisms.
One of the first acts of the first Han emperor was to manumit agricultural slaves. There were still eunuch slaves – their bondage was criminal punishment rather than financially based or as a result of warfare – but the idea of a large peasant class suddenly being granted rights was something that I latched onto as a political parallel.
Happily the Han dynasty military made use of cavalry as well as chariots, but the chariot was still very much a part of warfare so I’ll have to stick one of these bad boys into my story at some point.
So there’s that.
Fantasy writing tip du-jour: There’s a whole hell of a lot of freaking cool outside of “pseudo-noir modern” and “Europe circa 1400” – find the cool that fits your theme and use it.