The Era of Steam filled with Victorian civility and Sherlock Holmes. The Shakespearean London bursting with disease, puffy gowns, and tights. The dynasties of China filled with fanciful dragons and real court drama. Medieval Europe plagued by, well, plague, and chivalry. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and the gods they serve.
When you hear the word historical fiction, your mind likely goes to one of these popular historical eras or others like them. There are certain times that authors love to write about. However, the only problem with this is amazing civilizations and eras are all but forgotten in literature.
So, this is my list of historical eras which are not often written about in books.
9. Persian Empire (550 BC to 651 AD)
The main reason that this is number nine and not higher is because this civilization is not completely forgotten. It has been made more popular by the video game series Prince of Persia (and movie) as well as the tales of Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights. However, for how massive and unique this civilization is, it amazes me that it is not as popular as its neighbors, such as Egypt and Rome.
Although the Persian Empire actually existed in varying forms until 1979 after the downfall of the Pahlavi dynasty, the era I am referring to as this empire is the Golden Age of Pesia before the rise of Islam. This consists of three dynasties: Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian.
There are several reasons why I think there should be more books written about this era. First, its domain covered pretty much all of the middle east and lasted for over a thousand years. At the time, it was one of the main leaders of the world. It was the home of historical figures, legends, and places. And yet, compared to Rome, Egypt, and China, it is rarely mentioned in fiction.
8. Kingdom of Aksum (100 to 940 AD)
Chances are you have never even heard of this trading nation in North-East Africa (just south of Egypt). Let me give you a little hint of just how powerful this kingdom was. In the third century, a Persian philosopher stated that Aksum was one of the world’s four greatest kingdoms (the others being Rome, China, and Persia). And yet in literature it is all but overlooked.
Around the area near where Ethiopia stands today on the Red Sea, Aksum had access to the powerful nations, trading all the way up the Nile river to Alexandria and around China. Not only is it the mythical resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the home of the Queen of Sheba, but is one of the few African nations which stands out in history books.
Personally, I never heard about this nation growing up, and I think it is a pity. Think of what you could write about. A trader from Aksum on search for legendary treasure. There is also evidence that this kingdom was ruled by several powerful women, making it an ideal spot if you want to write a court drama about a queen. It was also one of the few kingdoms that developed a feudal system (similar to medieval Europe) and did not own slaves. That’s just cool!
Plus, some of the architecture is absolutely beautiful.
7. Khmer Empire (802 to 1431 AD)
Also known as the Angkor Empire, this is debatably the most powerful empire of Southeast Asia, covering Cambodia as well as parts of countries around it like modern Thailand, Laos, and Burma. At its peak it was the largest pre-industrial urban center of the world.
You only need to look at massive monuments such as Angkor Wat and Prang Sam Yot (among many others) to see how amazing this culture was. A mostly Hindu (later Buddhist) kingdom, it is just as interesting to learn about as the Egyptian and Aztec cultures from different parts of the world. And yet this amazing empire seems to have been forgotten.
I mean, the Khmer Empire has everything you could want in a massive nation: gorgeous palaces, power hungry kings, beautiful clothing, and a large economy. They worshipped the kings like demigods similar to Rome. Even now, the remnants of the Empire are one of the last remaining absolute monarchies in the world. It is definitely worth writing a story about.
6. Mongol Empire (1206 to 1368 AD)
This is the shortest eras on my list, but it is also the largest contiguous land empires in history. Like the Persian Empire, this era is not entirely forgotten. However, it is Genghis Khan who steals the spotlight, not the Empire itself. Unlike many on my list, this people were straight-up conquerors. Their dynasty started with only a small land in Central Asia, but eventually expanded from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan.
Interestingly enough, this dynasty only came to an end due to internal fighting about who would be ruler. One might wonder that, if this empire had continued their rampage, the entire world would have been theirs.
This empire would be brilliant in any historical novel, especially in contrasting it to the much more civilized and less bloodthirsty China (which the Mongols conquered during their reign). There is so much about this empire which is forgotten or compressed merely into its founding father: Genghis Khan. But it definitely deserves to be mentioned more often.
5. Merovingian Dynasty (476 to 750 AD)
I find that Europe is a very popular setting for most historical fiction. Whether it is Elizabethan, Medieval, Victorian, or World War II, we in the modern age (especially in America and Europe) seem obsessed with only writing about one continent. However, there is one era that seems to be forgotten.
The Merovingian Dynasty is the era in the Middle Ages which dominated much of Europe, ruled by the long-haired Merovingian family. This era was called for good reason “a kingdom of kingdoms” due to the powerful kings ruling over numerous kingdoms. It plays with many medieval themes like aristocracy and was where the precursor to feudalism even started.
Think Middle Ages, but bigger and better. However, I find medieval books almost exclusively focus on the British Isles (or Viking and Norse up North). Authors might want to check out this dynasty to be unique and new.
4. Gupta Empire (320 to 550 AD)
Known as the Golden Age of India (for good reason), this era of India’s history has been surprisingly forgotten for later eras (especially since Britain’s arrival in India). However, this time was the age of prosperity, marked by advancements in science, art, language, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, etc. The architecture of this era is exceptional. Just take a look at Borobudur Temple or Ellora Caves.
I find so much emphasis on Indian history is centered around when Europeans entered the nation in the 18th and 19th century. While, I agree, it is an important time in India’s history, it is also one of the worst times for the government and people. The Gupta era, in contrast, was when India was powerful, but it is also the romanticized era of the country. This era would also be an exception setting for a fantasy story, due to the amazing mythology and poetry written about and during this time.
There is such beauty in this era, and it is the foundation of much of modern India. Unlike the previous two kingdoms, Gupta was marked by overall peace and prosperity. If you are interested at all in Indian history, this is definitely an era you should look into.
3. Kingdom of Kongo (West-Central Africa, 1390-1891)
This is the latest era I will talk about on this list, lasting until near the end of the 19th century. Kongo was an extremely powerful kingdom in West-Central Africa in what is now Angola, Cabinda, and the Republic of the Congo. It is on the opposite side of the continent of the earlier mentioned Aksum Kingdom.
When many think of Africa in modern days, we think of poverty and corruption. However, this kingdom shows a different picture. Kongo was a highly centralized kingdom under a ruler, becoming major traders of ivory, metal goods, and pottery, to name a few. After their first contact with Europeans, Kongo developed a highly extensive trading network. It was also surprisingly Christian by the 15th century, though some traditional practices (like multiple wives) existed.
What I find interesting about this nation is how they managed to survive without being ruled by Europe for so long. However, all was not perfect. Portuguese sailors would steal Kongo people to be slaves (Kongo fought three major wars with Portugal over its history). There was fierce competition for the throne’s succession. They constantly had to fend off invaders. But, like most African kingdoms, it was taken under the rule of European powers in the late 19th century.
Still, it is my favorite African kingdom to explore.
2. Ancient Pueblo People (Anasazi) (circa. 900 to 1350 AD)
Unlike the more popular Inca, Mayan, and Aztec societies to the south, these people seem entirely forgotten in fiction. Perhaps this is because there is less known about this people then others, due to their lack of written language and their disappearance somewhere around the 14th century. The Anasazi people covered most of Southern-Central North America, around the Four Corners region (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado).
When I was younger, I visited Mesa Verde, Colorado, which is probably the most famous cliff dwellings of the Anasazi. I was amazed by the beauty of the architecture and the mystery surrounding the people. As the young reader/writer I was at the time, I went home and immediately tried to find any book, movie, or article I could find on this people. I could find little.
Out of all of the listings on this list, these people have been ignored the most. There are a couple history books about them, but that is about it. And, personally, I think there is so much beauty and inventive survival in this society that make it interesting to write about. These people did not form an organized government. They were small, separate, but intriguing.
1. Korean History (all of it before 20th century)
So, perhaps I am biased. Anyone who has read my blog to some extent will know I am personally obsessed with Korean history. I use this broad statement (instead of a specific era like Baekje or Joseon) because Korea has mostly been forgotten when it comes to fiction until the turn of the 20thcentury. Unlike its neighbors China, Japan, and Russia, Korea is rarely mentioned when it comes to fictional settings. Tons of people talk about the Korean War and North Korea, but if one took in account most of literature about Korea, one would think Korea did not exist before the Korean War.
This is not true, of course, and Korea by far matches Japan and China in uniqueness, complex social system, beautiful architecture, and stable government. They amazingly held off so many powers trying to control them until the late 19th century. You see a hint of how incredible the ancient society is from how South Korea has built itself up from the decimation after the Korean War. Korea has always been a nation skipped over by literature through its history. But it should not be forgotten.
What is your favorite historical era which you believe is forgotten in literature? Did you count how many times I used the word forgotten in this article (if so, you might need to get a life)? Did I forget a society you think should be on this list? If so, let me know down in the comments and, as always,
Best wishes on your life full of adventure,