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Anachronism Stew

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"Spare me your space-age technobabble, Attila the Hun!"
Zapp Brannigan, Futurama

Stories often confuse two or more time periods, be it through the appearance of Renaissance dress with 12th-century crusaders in a story set in Charlemagne's empire, Imperial Roman troops having guns or cavemen fighting Dinosaurs to survive. This is not only a modern trope. Medieval artists, for example, routinely dressed Biblical figures in contemporary fashions, and the Greek myth of Theseus features similar confusion. Some critics think the very first writer to actually try to reconstruct past times as different from the current era was Sir Walter Scott.

This can also be done deliberately. A work might combine large numbers of anachronisms to create a timeless or surreal setting, where the exact era of the story (or the era the fictional world is supposed to be imitating) is both ambiguous and irrelevant, allowing the work's creators to freely introduce further anachronisms whenever doing so would make for a good plot or a good joke.


This has a number of more-particular variations:

Compare Artistic License – History, where the historical inaccuracy is the result of fictionalization, not a combination of actual historical details from different eras.

Please note that this is not a place to pothole any anachronism you find in a work. Those examples belong on the Trivia subpage of that work. This Trope is about the setting/environment of the work, and as such, requires multiple anachronisms affecting how the viewer of the work sees the setting.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • The "Marine" scene from The Apotheosis of Washington has the Roman goddess Venus emerging from the ocean as she did in the time of ancient Greece so she can complete her godly duties... to wire transatlantic telegram cables. Behind her and Neptune's mighty horsemen, you can see a smoke-stacked industrial factory.
  • The School of Athens depicts an adult Aristotle in the same building as Socrates, who was executed when Aristotle was 15. Then there's The Cameo from Raphael himself and the Muslim philosopher Averroes, none of which had access to enough Time Travel to make it to the school on time.
  • Much religious art from The Renaissance on. This had a solid Real World justification, though. Religious paintings, especially on the walls of churches were designed for the masses, and the goal was not to depict a scene exactly as it was, but to tell the story for everyone to understand. Through the use of contemporary clothing, armor, and styles, even the common people could instantly recognize "that's a soldier, that's a fisherman, that's a shepherd, that's a tax collector, that's a nobleman, that's a commoner" etc. instead of "WTF are those people in those silly clothes?"
    • This got completely out of hand by the 18th and 19th centuries, when both Pontius Pilate and Herod were depicted in extravagant Persian-type robes.
    • Historians can and do judge when forks reached different parts of Europe by looking for them in paintings of the Last Supper. Judging military equipment is a little trickier, as you can never quite predict when someone's depicting the cutting edge and when he's depicting a suitably "old-fashioned" type of armor, but that tends to be well-attested elsewhere.
  • This astronaut on a cathedral built in 1102 is another example.
  • An entire style of painting, the classical landscape, was dedicated to this. It incorporated classical, medieval, and contemporary architecture while showing biblical or historical characters.

    Asian Animation 
  • The Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf series is supposed to take place in 3513, but the season Around the World in 20 Days has the goats visit the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

    Audio Plays 
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama Invaders from Mars actually has some deliberate anachronisms, such as a character saying there was 49 states in 1938, when there was only 48, and someone repeatedly referencing the CIA when it wouldn't be founded until nine years later. This was due to the influence of "anti-time". Other mistakes, however, were less deliberate, like Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds broadcast being on October 31 instead of October 30.


    Web Animation 
  • OverSimplified: Played for Laughs.
    • For example, a 2019 French Yellow Vest protester is seen among the Yellow Turbans during China's Three Kingdoms period.
    • King Louis giving Porsches to his nobles. They ask if they can have Lamborghinis next year.
    • Alois Hitler (Adolf Hitler's dad) makes a cameo in the Three Kingdoms era (way before he was born) to spank an eunuch. (This happens at around 6:14, if you're wondering.)
    • In the first American Civil War video, George Washington shows up in a meeting held by Abraham Lincoln to discuss his strategy and claim he’s the best president of the US. In the second American Civil War video, the Confedarates are seen with a BTS-themed calendar, and Wilmer McLean's wife Martha is seen using a vacuum cleaner.
    • Young Henry VIII's toys included Power Ranger and Ninja Turtle action figures, a Game Boy, and an Etch-a-Sketch.
    • The Russian Tsars have late 20th-century rocket launchers with which to dispose of annoying ministers, and Emperor Meiji has a Gundam. Later, when Stalin and his gang launch his "quiet" heist, they're all armed with Cold War-era AKs and grenades in late 19th/early 20th century Russia.


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