Long Time Gone

Some notes about time and longevity.

Cleopatra VII, who is the Cleopatra we always call just “Cleopatra,” was the last emperor of Egypt, reigning until her death in 30BC. The great pyramid of Giza was finished around 2540BC. That’s a stretch of over 2500 years, and means that Cleopatra is closer in time to us than she was to one of the great architectural triumphs of the empire she ruled. And not by a little, she’s half a millennium closer to us than to Giza.

Qin Shihuangdi became emperor of unified China in 221BC. The imperial period then lasted, with a few hiccups, until the last emperor abdicated in 1912AD. If the imperial period of Rome lasted as long as the imperial period of China there would still be a Roman emperor today.

If this republic of ours, the United States, can last as long as the Roman Republic we’ll still be going well into the 23rd century. And that’s just the Roman Republic, founding until Augustus.

I could do a whole list of these. How London celebrated two millenniums before the United States celebrated two centuries, things like that. But even as these massively successful polities lasted, there were internal changes. Dynasties rose and fall, civil wars came and went. It’s easy to talk about “Dynastic Egypt” as some constant, or “Imperial Rome” or “Imperial China” but with anything that lasts for so long, there are changes along the way.

Yeah, this all comes down to my notion of writing three novels that look in on nearly 1200 years history of a generation ship. 1200 years is a damn long time. 1200 years ago, Charlemagne wasn’t quite dead yet (give him another year). Vikings were still a problem, but hadn’t yet settled Vinland. Big history is, perhaps, the greatest challenge facing me. Societies go through vast changes far more frequently that the books are setting down to look at. Write three books about citizens of the city of Rome set over a 1200 year period. In the first they live in a city-state struggling to keep itself afloat in the Italian boot. In the second Rome is an empire controlling the entire Mediterranean. In the third, it’s a crumbling city within a Germanic kingdom. What connection is there between those stories? And what must be known of the time in between?

Probably not worth thinking about quite yet. Just get the first one written, then worry about how to bridge between them.

Oh, and my wife’s personal favorite story of long times: We are chronologically closer to a T-Rex than a T-Rex is to a Stegosaurus.


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