22 May 2011

Travelling: The Adventure

One of the things that's really easy to forget about the ancient world is the insular nature of it. Not that certain people didn't travel across the world, of course (that was the big draw of joining the military or being a merchant, after all- you got to see more of the world than you could before), but people really didn't travel much further than where they were born. You were born, you grew up... and then you died in roughly the same spot.

Travel was dangerous and bizarre, and often extremely frightening. There were stories of dangerous monsters and horrible forests and the all-too mundane bandits. But there was something else at play, too.

After all, there are people who in these modern days have never left their home state except maybe for vacation. Being surrounded by Navy personnel, you meet a lot of people who will easily tell you that they're from [STATE X] and had never been outside of it, for any reason, ever. (For some reason Texans and Southerners are particularly proud of this fact. Rednecks, huh?) They just have never felt the need to leave, and so they didn't.

I think a good bit about the medieval mind could be learned from people like that. Not to sound condesending, naturally, but really. The ancient man could leave only at great peril and expense, so often did not, regardless of their own personal desires. The modern man can travel across the world at extreme safety (airplane travel being one of the safest modes of travel in the history of mankind), and at relatively minor cost. As I speak, I sit in a place at least a thousand miles from my home (which is the 6th place I've lived for any moderate length of time, but let's not go there), and it doesn't cost more than 100$ round trip.

The point is that most people simply don't like travelling. They're comfortable in their tiny worlds, content with having a place in a smaller ecosystem. To an ancient man, his village might be his entire world and he'll never have a real chance to change it. They're too busy trying to make a living. Even if he could leave, it's hard getting used to new places and new people, having to learn new landmarks and new idioms and currencies and economies and everything. To some people, it's not worth it even if it is feasible.

It's early, please forgive the unclear thoughts. I've got to go- I'll finish this thought later.


  1. Good point. Another effect of this is that unless of trade routes villages should most likely be a lot less trusting of strangers than the they are in most games. I had never thought of this until I read your post. I will be sure and keep that in mind the next time the players happen upon a village in the middle of nowhere.

  2. I'm fairly convinced, on no evidence, that ancient, medieval and plain foreign people of all times and places are/were pretty much like us. I say this seemingly obvious thing because it seems like most historians and so on are totally certain, again on no evidence, that people of the past were irreducibly unlike us. That we, modern people, just can't understand "the medieval mind" or whatever. people used to say that about Africans and Orientals, too.

  3. @Wymarc: Exactly how I pictured it, honestly. People are suspicious and uncomfortable around "outsiders", since most of what they see from the outside world are brigands and merchants and mercenaries and sailors, who were hardly the most reputable citizens they could have encountered.

    @Richard: I hate when people try to say things like that. People have always been exactly the same as they are now, with only the trappings being different. We're just as prone to superstition, fear, and prejudice as those before us, we just have a little more accurate information to base our fears on.