Idea Byre

There is an interesting irony in the last historical intellectual revolution, which ended the imperial period. The hierarchical social structures that dominated life then were presented as absolute, but were not actually justified by universalism, as we might think. In fact, universalism was a refor...

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In looking for the next intellectual/religious revolution, we can search for patterns in those of the past. Here is a summary of the major patterns I see, with the axial age as an example, followed by some musings on how we might fulfill these patterns today.

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"Religion in Human Evolution" is the late Robert Bellah's magisterial, sweeping account of human intellectual and religious history. I've made frequent reference to it in my essays, especially the broad framework of epochs. A quick summary here may be useful to my readers, and also anyone simply interested in the book -- which I thoroughly recommend.

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In my previous article on the geometry of empires, I considered two essential strategies for organizing the defense of a territory. In one, troops were positioned along the border, ready to intercept enemies but spread thin. In the other, a single, centrally-located force was powerful but slow to respond. These are extreme approaches, though, lying at the ends of a spectrum filled with intermediate strategies.

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The pre-modern state aims to defend its borders against enemies. The size of its territory, though, has profound implications for how it can do this; which may in turn influence how that state develops--whether, in particular, it seeks aggressive expansion.

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While working on one of my space wargames, I became interested in historical ships, especially their classification and relative characteristics. (Were most classes small while only a few were large? Or was there some other distribution?) Trauling the Web I assembled some data.

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The systems of coinage used in the middle ages were more complex and more interesting than what's presented in most fantasy role-playing systems: if gold, silver and copper "pieces" with nice metric conversions seemed too neat to you, you were right; read on.

Metals

Silver English penny, 1...

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So you've laced your boots, strapped on your scabbard, and set your jaw. You're ready for some adventure. Where though will you go to find it? Where are the lonely places, where monsters, treasure and glory can be claimed? In this quest, you face some problems.

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What business do a man, an elf, and a dwarf have traipsing the countryside looking for quests? Where do they come from, and how do they fit into their society? Can they exist at all? I'll give a few answers to these questions below.

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The stock fantasy world of role-playing is, we usually think, basically like medieval Europe. There are castles, swords, peasants; various set pieces. But what do these worlds of abundant cash, swords for hire, open-minded villagers, and "mage guilds" really have to do with the middle ages?

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