In a post last year I described a society for part of the universe of the Shine Cycle that I labeled “The New Roman Empire.” In the comments on that post, a reader objected that almost any name would have been more likely to be adopted by the people of that society than the one I gave it—and, once I’ve taken the time to think, he’s quite right. So I’ve decided to rework those ideas under some new name, and to give the “New Roman Empire” name to a different society—which is today’s topic.
New Rome, or “Roma Nova,” is a world in the Despard Cluster, somewhat more massive than Earth and rich in iron, copper, tin and other such metals, coal, and (once the technology for capturing and using it is invented) helium, but not in aluminum, sulfur, or liquid oil. Like Earth, it has large continents separated from each other by bodies of water that range from small to somewhat large to vast.
The first settlers, groups of people stumbling through portals mostly from our world—or related universes we might call “alternate histories”—came largely from Italy, North Africa, Asia Minor, and the surrounding regions at various times during the era of the Roman Empire. These groups included complete military detachments on several occasions, and at least once an entire legion.
After settling down more or less where they emerged to ensure their survival, the first of these groups to find each other cooperated to build a city to be their common capital, “New Rome.” It was placed atop several (but not seven) hills close together, and designed along much the same lines as the original as they remembered it. And the leaders of these groups joined to form a new Senate, elected consuls, and otherwise set up the government in the same way as the city—following the model of the Rome they had known or remembered from their history. None wanting to give absolute power to any of the others, they made it a New Roman Republic to begin with.
Because there were no people on the planet before they arrived, nearly every one of the first settlers was proudly free, and the tasks of surviving and building cities and society seemed manageable through cooperation but impossible if civil war interfered, one aspect of Roman society from our world that did not carry over was the slave economy. Labor-saving inventions were hailed and rapidly adopted, not suppressed, when someone eventually thought of them.
Within a few centuries at most, New Rome had begun to industrialize, with fires fueled by first wood and then coal powering first iron, then steel machinery. And war machines like crude tanks became occasional auxiliaries in the wars for dominance that divided the Republic from time to time until, as in our world, a strong leader arranged the transition into an “empire” under a strong dynasty.
By that time, if not somewhat before, the society has begun to develop air travel. There is no readily-available oil or aluminum, but hydrogen and helium can be isolated, so steam-powered airships eventually become commonplace, and steam-powered steel warships patrol the planet’s seas.
For some reason, the New Roman Empire hasn’t had much success developing “high explosives” of even basic military grades. Steam catapults, not guns, replace ballistae as the dominant siege weapons. Some factions even prefer large, complicated machines, so a few warships have catapults powered by steam—with a steam-powered lever arm rotating to throw projectiles—rather than the more direct alternative.
Because several mathematicians were among the early settlers, the mathematical arts are prized in much of New Roman society. And engineers not long after reliable steam power became available began the development of simple, then more complicated, calculating machines powered by steam. Eventually most major cities had at least one large building housing such a computer.
Some time later, the Sigyni, who inhabit another world in the same star cluster, visit and open a tenuous interstellar trading relationship. With access to the light but strong wood from the Sigyni home world and to knowledge of things like what conditions are like in space, the New Romans quickly (probably a century, maybe less) get their own foothold beyond their single world. They establish orbital stations around the planet they now (since it is not going to remain their only world) call New Rome, and around nearby gas giants (for fueling stations, though even the nearest such worlds are well out of the way), and then look to Earth-like worlds around nearby stars in the cluster.
Over the next several decades, the New Roman colonies become more firmly established, and New Roman engineers make dramatic improvements to their initially-rudimentary space travel technology. Because of the scarcity of liquid hydrocarbons on New Rome or even their earliest colonies, and the expense of either isolating and liquefying hydrogen and oxygen or going to a gas giant to get hydrogen there, the New Roman space fleet relies more on solar sails, clever orbits, and the like than rockets and heavy acceleration, except when required by military necessity.
Several systems in the Despard Cluster are inhabited by groups of pirates who prey on the interstellar trade that passes through the surrounding regions of space. To combat these criminals and protect the trade on which the New Roman Empire relies, the New Roman space navy is the strongest force in the area. Thus, when the wars of “the world of the Shine Cycle far below” impose themselves on the Despard Cluster, the New Roman Empire is initially caught off guard by the Dragon Empire’s attack, but by the next time the Dragon Empire attacks it meets stiff resistance, and the New Roman navy thereafter becomes a valued partner to that of the Shine and Wild Empire in subsequent conflicts.
(My thanks to Miss Aubrey Hansen for helping me develop several of these ideas.)