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Literature / Roma Eterna

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"No power on Earth can resist the might of Imperial Rome, so it has been and so it ever shall be. Through brute force, terror, and sheer indomitable will, her armies have enslaved a world."

Roma Eterna is an Alternate History novel by Robert Silverberg. It is presented as a series of loosely connected stories which trace the development of The Roman Empire from year 450 to 1970 AD.


This novel provides examples of:

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  • Ab Urbe Condita: Since Christianity did not attain political power in this timeline, dates in Roma Eterna are not given as AD but as AUC, Ab Urbe Condita, that is, since the traditional year of the foundation of Rome (753 BC).
  • Alternate History: The actual Roman Empire was divided in two during the 4th century AD; the Western Empire fell in 476 and the Eastern one in 1453.
  • Alternate History Wank: Arguably.
  • Allohistorical Allusion
  • Artistic License-Geography: One short story implies a Roman army of seven legions landed and constructed an entire camp on the beach. Which is like having the Super Bowl on a sidewalk.
  • Artistic License-History: Has numerous examples of this. For example, at one point a character says the Senate chose Consuls during the Roman Republic, when in reality the Consulship was an elected position. A particularly obvious anachronism is the Eastern Roman Empire being called the Byzantine Empire, when that was a term not invented until 1557, long after it had actually ceased to exist. The worst case by far is the mention of the Jews never completing the Exodus and remaining in Egypt for thousands of years, when most historians agree it never happened and Moses was an invented figure.
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  • Big Fancy Castle: what Caesar Demetrius (2543 AUC) wants to build all over Sicily.
    "Such a structure, if it could be built at all, would take fifty years to build and cost a billion sesterces, at the least. Ten billion, maybe. But that wasn’t all. Far from it."
  • Classical Tongue: Latin, of course, but also Greek as soon as the Eastern Empire gains the upper hand.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Emperor Demetrius II.
    "Though he had not, like Caligula, tried to declare himself a god or appoint his horse to the Senate, he had given banquets at which six hundred ostriches were slaughtered at a time, and ordered the sinking of fully laden merchant ships in the harbor at Ostia to demonstrate the Empire’s prodigious wealth."
  • Exposition: recaps getting worse as the story progresses.
  • Historical Domain Character: The Prophet Muhammad makes a brief appearance.
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  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Exactly reversed, in fact.
  • Language Drift: lamented In-Universe by a character temporarily acting as Mr. Exposition: "The new languages, too: what has become of our pure and beautiful Latin, the backbone of our Empire? It has degenerated into a welter of local dialects."
  • Point of Divergence: A few major ones near the beginning, notably the non-existence of Christianity due to the failure of ancient Hebrews to escape from Egypt and the killing of the Prophet Muhammad by a disgraced Roman official.
  • Reluctant Ruler: "But for us, the world would fall into chaos. Gods, woman, do you think we want to spend our lives being administrators and bureaucrats? Don’t you think I’d prefer to retire to some estate like this and spend my days hunting and fishing and farming? But we are the race that understands how to rule. And therefore we have the obligation to rule."
  • Succession Crisis: A lot of them.
  • Unexpected Successor: Apathetic Prince Heraclius manages to die just after his father the Emperor, leaving the throne open to his younger half-brother.
  • What If?: In-Universe. In the first story, Hermogenes Celer, a scholar of Eastern religions, wonders before his colleague Aufidius about what could have happened to Rome if the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt had been able to return to their original home in Syria Palaestina, developed a cult based on Osiris-style resurrection and an invincible prophet and got it to spread to the rest of the Empire.
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