Timeline for inventions – History is messy…

Sometimes history doesn’t give you clean lines to work within for instance, here’s the grab-bag of technology I’ve got to work with:

  • Invention of lacquer: ~5000 B.C.E.
  • Invention of silk: ~2500 B.C.E.
  • First use of meteoric iron in China: ~2000 B.C.E..

    Meteoric Iron

  • First production of liquor: ~800 B.C.E.
  • Invention of glass: ~500 B.C.E.
  • Introduction of iron armour in China: 500-200 B.C.E
  • Standardization of the alphabet: 220 B.C.E.
  • Height of bronze use for household tools and weapons: ~200 B.C.E.
  • Replacement of bronze weapons and tools with iron: Sometime between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.
  • Use of lodestone compasses for divination and geomancy: Sometime between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.
  • Invention of Tofu: ~150 B.C.E. or possibly any time between then and 1000 C.E., first mention of Tofu.
  • First use of glass vessels: ~150 B.C.E.
  • Invention of paper: 105 C.E.
  • Use of paper for writing: ~300 C.E.
  • Discovery of the chemical properties of saltpeter: ~490 C.E.
  • Use of compasses for navigation: 1050 C.E.

My intention was to set my Daar Empire at the technological equivalent of about 200 B.C.E. ┬áIron is beginning to phase in but bronze is still superior from a metallurgical standpoint. The exception to this is meteoric iron which has… special… properties. Bronze is also preferred for aesthetic reasons. People don’t write on paper. Instead they use scrolls of slats bound together with silk strips. They drink liquor but probably not out of glass bottles – except when those bottles are precious commodities shared between noble clans. No gunpowder means no fireworks just yet, nor paper lanterns (note to self – go back and remove references to paper lanterns and papered windows).

Tofu is probably a new and exciting food.

I had a big debate with myself over the inclusion of glazed windows – since early Chinese glass wasn’t used for that. I decided to bend reality a bit here, but it was a conscious choice and one designed to highlight the wealth and extravagance of the character in question.

I refer to my story as “bronze age” but, here’s where the messiness comes in, when do you define the end of the bronze age in China? Bronze and Iron ran side-by-side for 2200 years before eventually iron won out. It took a full 800 years more to begin exploiting the magnetic properties of iron but lodestone was in use during the transition.

This is a story about a culture in change. New technologies and new ideas threaten what characters know about their world. Happily the messiness of history shows the interplay between conservativism and innovation and lets me muddle a few technologies to create a world of bronze swords and iron shirts.

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Bronze Age is a State of Mind

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.