Got a bit side-tracked this week, looking at ‘heritage’ represented in one of my favourite genres, science fiction…

Any sci-fi buff will soon list many examples of alien cultures based loosely (or sometimes very closely!) on Rome: the Republic-turned-Empire of Star Wars, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy (which owes much to Gibbons); The Hunger Games with all its gladiatorial and Latin references; the Romulans of Star Trek:

‘…it was a matter of developing a good Romanesque set of admirable antagonists … an extension of the Roman civilisation to the point of space travel’. 

Paul Schneider, Creator of the Romulans

A quick Google search also brings up Twelve Extraterrestrial Roman Empires!

Imperial Stormtroopers. Roman legions with a touch of the Third Reich?

Decline and fall in the 22nd millennium

Hadrian’s Wall, an iconic example of Roman heritage, also stars in the 2007 film Stardust and in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (see Stephe Harrop’s excellent analysis here. 

‘You can’t cross the wall. Nobody crosses the wall. Now you’re just being silly.’ Victoria, Stardust.

Samwell Tarly: ‘I hope the Wall is high enough.’

Then there are the alternate history novels that explore a world in which the Roman Empire never fell: Silverberg’s Roma Aeterna and MacDougal’s Romanitas are just two examples, and of course there’s the old Star Trek episode ‘Bread and Circuses’:

‘A heavily industrialised 20th century-type planet very much like Earth; an amazing example of Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development. But on this Earth, Rome never fell.’

 Captain’s Log, stardate 4040.7

‘On this Earth, Rome never fell’

But what about the Iron Age folk: do they ever feature? Well, yes, but in the rather different genre of ‘Celtic Fantasy’, which mixes sci-fi/fantasy with ‘Celtic’ legends and folklore. Titles feature lots of ‘mists’, ‘ravens’, ‘moons’ and ‘forests’, with protagonists questing across enchanted alien landscapes—in stark contrast to the militarised, politically complex, and technology driven plots of the Roman-derived science fiction.

A slightly different take on ‘Celts in space’ is provided by the Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. A group of ‘Keltic’ people, including ‘King Arthur’, have left 5th century Earth (using ancient magic) to create a new kingdom in outer space. The story opens in the 21st century with Arthur’s descendants still battling an evil Archdruid…with suitably high-tech weapons.

‘On a planet far-flung from Earth, the true descendants of the Celts have built a new civilisation…

From this brief perusal, it seems that science fiction and fantasy reflect some of the ‘insistent dualities’ we are exploring in the IA&RH project whereby ‘invading’ Romans and ‘indigenous’ Brits are defined against each other; stereotypes that began with Tacitus and that have ultimately become ‘accepted wisdom’, embedded into modern culture: spiritually aware ‘Celts’—often oppressed, and sometimes with magical connections to the world around them—inhabit very local landscapes, albeit with multiple moons and strange fauna and flora; the focus is on the quest, on achieving a purer, higher state. Meanwhile, in a very different corner of the galaxy, ‘Roman’ Empires rise and fall across vast star systems, forged by socially complex, highly militarised and technologically advanced states. Ultimately of course, it’s all about good versus evil – isn’t it?