Ancient history is something I enjoy studying, but it wasn’t until this past school year when I was studying it again and also reading The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock that I considered the idea of building a world based on it, and I’ve realized since starting just how much I was missing out on. Ancient history is a treasure trove of cultures and details, and it can be a lot of fun to live vicariously through your worldbuilding research. Here are some of the benefits of basing a world on ancient history.
The food is pretty awesome
I don’t like food most of the time – I’m really uncreative when it comes to developing food and I don’t generally like cooking (I do love baking) – but I got into research for the cuisine of the various countries in Kersir and it has been so. much. fun. There are so many interesting foods out there that I wouldn’t have even thought about on my own, and I’d actually like to travel to Kersir just to try some of the food. There are six countries, each with their own unique cuisines based on existing/previously existing countries and on common foods from places like Israel and Egypt, and it was so cool to figure out what each country specializes in and generally eats.
There’s Veldan, which specializes in most breads and has cuisine based on Spain. There’s Rasell, with salads and shrimp and mint tea and Moroccan-based foods. There’s Osanar, with its dark chocolate and coffee and octopus and Ethiopian-inspired food. There’s Eilis with its various pastries and Italian focaccia. And then there’s Alger, with its rich foods and heavy breads and Roman-inspired foods.
Pinterest is a treasure trove of recipes; I just looked up “Spanish recipes” or “fig recipes” or “coffee recipes” and got loads of ideas that I never would have come up with on my own. It’s so much fun to explore various cuisines and find things you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Can you say mythology?
The ancient world has so many different mythological religious systems, which is something that has fascinated me for a long time. I love comparing mythology with the Bible and seeing just how many myths were derived from the truth. But in a fantasy world… who says they have to be myth? Why not toss in griffins and phoenixes and harpies and cockatrices and manticores and djinn and who knows what else? Mythology can be a great thing to look to for inspiration.
Wardrobe and Architecture
Really every part of an ancient civilization’s culture can be awesome inspiration. Not only that, but looking into an ancient civilization’s wardrobe, architecture, and cuisine can help you make it more realistic because you see why they made things the way they did and how they utilized the resources around them. Which can also be great exercise for other worldbuilding endeavors, or even other parts of the ancient-inspired world that aren’t directly influenced by the ancient civilizations.
For instance, did you know that the purple dye that was so expensive and sought-after by royalty in Greece and Rome and pretty much everywhere way back when was created from part of a sea snail called a murex? I didn’t until this latest time studying the ancient world and learning that it was commonly produced in Tyre. (It also connects to Lydia, the “seller of purple” from Acts, who I’ve always found interesting for some reason.) Tyre was in Phoenicia, which was actually the same Greek word as Phoenix and “date palm,” which is why in Kersir the phoenixes are going to be a reddish-purple color. Because both dates and the purple shade that comes from a murex are a reddish-purple. (You can read more about my theories on the ties between the three in this post on Our Mind Palace, and I’ll stop fangirling now.)
Technically you could apply the same reasoning on most of these to other time periods and areas of the world, but I personally find the ancient world most fascinating and I don’t see it a lot in fantasy (though I can say that since starting the worldbuilding for Kersir I’ve been more attentive to it and I’ve seen a lot more, lol.) so it has a particular pull to me. I’d love to see this done with more non-European cultures (or at least not Medieval England). There’s so much world out there, and so little of it influences fantasy, which I think is a huge missed opportunity.
What uncommonly-explored culture would you love to pull into your next fantasy world? Are there any places that you’d love to visit or that just particularly ignite your imagination?