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I have found myself approximately 2000 years in the past, I didn't bring anything with me. But since I am here, I want to conquer the world with my knowledge from the future. Or as much as is possible within my lifetime.

Conquering the world means: ruling an empire which stretches across various countries and plenty of statues in my honour. I realise it takes a while to get anywhere at this period; so the empire may peak in size long after I am gone. But as long as they do it in my name / my family's name; it still counts.

I have popped up in a location where my conquering of the world is most likely to happen from (Rome perhaps?). I didn't choose this location, I am just fortunate.

I studied the local language for a bonus module in school and I'm a quick learner: so I actually can speak with the local people.

I didn't plan in advance for all this, but I excelled in school in all areas. I have approximately University undergraduate knowledge of all all subjects.

I don't know how to make time machines. I just happened to fall into one.

From what I understand, my conquering of the world would require two key steps:

  • How could I find myself in charge of a military force?

  • How could I enhance my military force to beat the others of the ancient world?

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    $\begingroup$ "I didn't plan in advance for all this, but I excelled in school in all areas." But are you charismatic, politically savvy, a tireless worker and do you know how to fight and lead armies in battle? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Sep 6 '18 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ 2000 years ago they spoke different languages than they do today. Romans spoke latin back then, but with other countries you might not be so lucky (You can still learn latin in school today, but not many other spoken languages from 2k years ago). See this very related and informative reddit thread: How different was the language spoken in Rome 2000 years ago to the one romans (italians) speak nowadays? $\endgroup$ – Kaspar Scherrer Sep 6 '18 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ Can we include stuff that you would be able to scavenge from the time machine? I'm thinking along the lines of light bulbs, AAA batteries (or whatever power source), electronics, etc. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Sep 11 '18 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnLocke You assume that the "time machine" is not more of a "time catapult" - it may not have come back with you. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Sep 11 '18 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal Did the OP specify what type it was? I automatically assumed that it would be a time machine. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Sep 11 '18 at 12:19

10 Answers 10

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You are Augustus Caesar

Augustus was not the flesh-and-blood heir to Julius. He was born Gaius Octavius, a grand-nephew of Gaius (Caesar) Julius who would become president of the Republic, but right now is just an over-the-hill statesman who was thrown out of the priesthood job his family had landed him over charges of his wife's sexual misconduct, chilling in Spain, racking up a mind boggling amount of debt and wondering how he will ever amount to anything.

Gaius Octavius' father would die when he was young and some unspoken family drama would result in Gaius being taken from his mother and raised by Julia, Gaius' grandmother and Gaius Julius' sister from age 6 to 10, at which point Julia died and his mother and step-father resumed custody.

Despite working in the Temple his grandfather Gaius Julius had built before the sexual misconduct allegations, there's not much making it clear if Gaius Julius, traveling as often as he was at this age, knew his grand- nephew at all.

Gaius Octavius sought out his grand-uncle, who had since found a way to dodge his debts by using the army he had bought with the money to invade the capital. Julius was currently in Africa fighting to hold together his new position when Gaius Octavius supposedly boarded a boat to join him.

Along the way, the story goes, Gaius Octavius was shipwrecked and crossed enemy lines with a small group of comrades to reach the city where Gaius Julius was staying. The story is very reminiscent of an experience being kidnapped by pirates that Gaius Julius had himself at roughly Gaius Octavius' young age.

Trading on the story, similar first names, and family connection the lad impressed Caesar, who sent Gaius Octavius to school in Albania to be trained as a soldier. Unknown to Octavius, but known to your time traveller, Gaius Julius had been so impressed, he adopted Gaius Octavius and named his grand- nephew heir to his wealth in his will.

Two years later Gaius Julius Caesar would be stabbed to death by friends and associates while in the Senate in Rome. Gaius Julius (formerly Octavius) receives the news while in school and does something remarkable for anyone, but even more so for a 19 year old: still penniless, because he had not yet collected his inheritance, he steals the entire treasury that had been earmarked for an upcoming war in the middle east, uses the money to personally recruit Gaius Julius Caesars soldiers (who considered themselves working for Gaius Julius personally and not the government) and marches on Rome surrounded by his new army (and now in charge of the largest military force in the world at the time).

The person who would become Augustus Caesar showed incredible prescience in his decisions then. Mark Antony, one of Gaius Julius Caesar's generals who had been present in Rome during the assassination, refused to release Augustus' inheritance. Nevertheless, by allowing other members of the political class to think they could use the young boy as a powerful tool, the boy was able to manipulate savvy experienced politicians into allowing the new young Gaius Julius to use his army to run Mark Antony out of town. A year later, Cicero helped induct the plebian commoner (which he was) into the Senatorial class, made him a Senator, and legitimized his private army. Then, the politicians tried to sucker the new Gaius Julius into turning over control of his private military to the government. The new Gaius Julius refused, an incredibly bold act that could easily have turned to civil war - but your time traveller would know the Senate cowed.

Augustus continued to make extremely shrewd choices for the rest of his life, only serving as president of the Republic for a very short time, but keeping a newly invented legal title that gave him even more legal authority than the president. Despite this extra authority, he only used it once. He invested heavily his grand- uncle's military and financial wealth, winning many friends, but never ceding control.

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    $\begingroup$ While some senators were patricians, most were plebeians; by that time, membership of the senate had been open to plebeians for centuries. The everyday name of C. J. Caesar was "C. Caesar", not "C. Julius" -- there were very very many Julii. The "priesthood job" in question was Pontifex Maximus; this was as much a political position as a religious one -- the title is still in use for the Pope; and it did not involve working in any kind of temple. C. Octavius was the legal heir of C. Caesar, who had adopted him in his will (this was perfectly possible in Roman law). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 6 '18 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway, +1 for identifying the time traveller -- This is a great idea. Yes, he is indeed Octavianus Augustus! $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 6 '18 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ How would the time traveler use that to take over? $\endgroup$ – John Locke Sep 6 '18 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'd recommend that Octavius did not make it through the shipwreck. The time traveller lands on the beach and takes Octavius' place there with new colleagues or other shipwreck survivors that didn't know the real Octavius $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Sep 6 '18 at 12:30
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I think you cannot do any better than a normal well educated inhabitant of those times.

You have two main challenges to overcome:

  1. no matter where you go, you will be a foreigner with no bounds to that nations. The only example coming into my mind of a nation allowing foreigners to ruling position is the late Roman Empire, when it was close to its collapse. I am sure that is not your goal. Foreigners in ancient times had way less rights than proper citizens. And a foreigner gaining power and influence will immediately attract the attention of some sword toward the internal of their body.
  2. Once you start changing the world line, your knowledge of history becomes useless. Let's say you save Kennedy in Dallas or Julius Cesar: from that day on, you don't know what will happen.

While the first one can be mitigated by you ruling from behind the scenes, i.e. acting as a trusted counselor, the second one will make your attempt vain, sooner or later. Unless you plan on switching side at the right moment, so that you don't change the course of history.

But if you don't want to change the course of history you cannot afford changing any event at all.

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  • $\begingroup$ OP wants to conquer the world. Surely he knows that this is by definition changing the course of history :) Knowledge of history is one advantage but there are others - knowledge of physics, chemistry, math, etc, which will help gaining advantage in many situations. Your first challenge can also be overcome by deception, dirty tricks, blackmail, or maybe challenging the current ruler to a fight? $\endgroup$ – Kaspar Scherrer Sep 6 '18 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Cashbee, a ruler accepting a challenge from the first mr. Nobody who throws it is highly unlikely. And if it happened, I am pretty sure some mysterious accident would kill mr. Nobody before the duel. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 6 '18 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that one is not very likely. What I wanted to say is that there are ways to gain power as a foreigner, even though the standard route to power is denied to you. $\endgroup$ – Kaspar Scherrer Sep 6 '18 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Cashbee, technical knowledge hardly gives power. For that one need managerial knowledge, charisma, leadership. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 6 '18 at 15:44
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There is no direct path to world domination. Success will be defined by traveler's skill at playing "Game of Thrones".

The starting point is very tough. Time traveler has no money, no connections and only a basic language skill. There is no chance he can impersonate a native citizen. But vast knowledge (hopefully backed up by hands-on skills) should find him employment at some artisan's shop. In there, he can proceed with making inventions that can be in high demand at the time - steel, concrete, spyglass, dyes, or just dazzling toys which can impress rich aristocrats.

The second step will be either opening his own shop or becoming a trusted advisor to an important person. Either way, time traveler will have more money and resources at his command, and can build more advanced inventions like crude gunpowder weapons. At the same time, he should continue building trinkets to expand his influence among the ruling elites.

Third step should be moving into the ruling elites themselves. He can either get some position of power (like Petyr Baelish had become the Master of Coin) or become king's own trusted advisor, effectively outranking many traditional aristocrats. There, time traveler should thread very carefully, building alliances and trying not to offend anyone. By this time, his manufacturing operations should run with very little supervision, providing a very important money supply.

Fourth step would be seizing the power. It can be done directly, or indirectly, by joining a coup and eliminating his co-conspirators later. Unfortunately, modern knowledge can be of very little help here (maybe poisoning technique?), time traveler would have to rely on his own instincts to prevail in this operation.

Fifth step would be, naturally, consolidating the power. All challengers must be defeated and imprisoned, or better yet, executed. Army should stand behind the new leader. Aristocracy should see their benefits in the new order. Any potential power imbalances (like extreme power wielded by Roman Praetorian Guard) must be rectified. This is where good knowledge of history and familiarity with nonexistent yet works like Machiavelli's "The Prince" should help.

Sixth step is proceeding with world conquest. At this point, the army should be already superior to anything than its opponents have. Again, good knowledge of history (how great conquests had succeeded, or failed) should help here.

Seventh step - make the growing empire stable. Make new countries accept your religion, or join some other, more egalitarian religion that has a better outlook on a global scale. Make lawmakers write a constitution that would provide a legitimate basis for the empire and establish a sensible balance between different classes and provinces. Produce a heir and make sure that no one among your lieutenants could be even remotely interested in a coup.

Eighth step - retire and enjoy your growing empire either from a capital, or a countryside palace.

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Here's my plan:

  • You somehow manage to get close enough in time & space to warn Julius Caesar of his planned assasination

  • This means you need to be somehow pretty well versed in ancient roman history - the big stuff as well as the everyday stuff and speak latin

  • Saving Caesar lands you a place as a trusted advisor

  • You further help your protector with some inventions - given that the romans where quite good at engineering, this is actually hard, some ideas:

    • crossbows (if the romans can make steel bows)
    • gunpowder
    • compass
    • modern math - calculus could help with formalizing the extensive engineering knowledge ancient romans obviously had
  • this means you somehow know enough about all of these to actually improve upon the ancient roman knowledge. I think it's a safe bet that the roman experts in bridge building, sword smithing, fighting, surgery where pretty good within the constraints their time put upon them. If you want to really improve things, you need to understand those contraints and widen them.

  • If you want an empire, you won't be able to keep any monopoly on knowledge. The popint of an empire is having people to do things for you, so you need to teach the modern skills you bring along.

At the end of the day, you will be kept as an advisor/pet as long as you're useful, and discarded when you are seen as a threat. To get so far, you need an inplausibly eclectic skill list. It's likely a safe bet, that in any ancient society an individual counts nothing if not backed by a family or similar. You, dear time traveller are all alone.

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  • $\begingroup$ (The story could work a la groundhog day: on Christmas eve 2018, the time traveller is teleported back to XX BC, when they die BC the wake up on Mayday 2018. After a few years the pattern is clear, the time traveller wins lotto and spends June - December on aquiring useful skills & knowledge) $\endgroup$ – mart Sep 6 '18 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ Dressing up as a beggar, "Beware the Ides of March!" $\endgroup$ – nzaman Sep 6 '18 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ This is seriously possible, being a adviser may land you being a governor of a province, where you could create guns, crossbows and such to create an army more powerful than the Romans, then your conquering begins. $\endgroup$ – Mr.J Sep 7 '18 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, beeing a stranger withiout a backing family will likely mean you stay advisor and never get your 'own' power. $\endgroup$ – mart Sep 7 '18 at 7:57
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Assuming you do something like @James-McLellan suggested and assumed the identity of Octavius, now you can start introducing things that will make a significant advantage to your civilization (and altering history). At this point you might want to take a hint from the alt-history/SF Belisarius Series by Drake and Flint, which is all about Giving Radio to the Romans.

  • Stirrups. This will make an enormous difference in cavalry action, not only giving horse archers a more stable platform but allowing for truly heavy cavalry, allowing proper lancers.
  • Gunpowder. The Romans will take to gunpowder like fish to water, for civil engineering if nothing else, but could adapt to warfare, especially siege warfare, easily. Because bombs can be flung by...
  • ...the mangonel and counterweight trebuchet. The mangonel was used in China about this time but won't be introduced to Europe until the 6th century. This gets it out sooner. The counterweight trebuchet didn't appear until the 12th century, but the engineering required wasn't beyond what the Romans of Augustus's time could do by any means. Both allow superior artillery fire compared to the ballista, onager, and torsion catapult, so you don't even need cannons.
  • The Bessemer Process. It's fairly simple to describe, and not technologically that difficult to do, especially if you start small. Steel in industrial quantities is going to make a huge difference, both in civil engineering and in military technology.
  • Electricity and steam. Sooooo many things you can do with electricity and steam. You want to wean the Romans of slavery, so you don't necessarily go for labour saving right away, but again, civil engineering and military purposes.
  • Arabic numbering. Some more advanced math. Start inspiring people to think along the lines of the scientific process so they make their own discoveries.

There are others, but that gives you a good start to conquer the world.

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When you were studying, did you paid any attention to how to bet people to a pulp with a club?
Because without that you will be very fast sold as a slave.
Your best bet would be to remember where all the goodies are. Gold, iron, copper. How to make better/faster methods of transportation. Maybe better food for your animals.
From then you can became wealthy merchant, buy yourself a military title or strike a deal with some general and lend him your military tricks and money for a campaign. And after that you kill him, take his place, destroy anyone who oppose you and proclaim yourself a ruler of Rome.

Or

You go to Germania Magma, kill some warlord with a crossbow, teach tribes how to make more crossbows, make better steel armour, invade Rome.

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Start a religion. Worked for some other dude two thousand years ago........

Seriously, basic first aid would save lives and look like miracles. Historical knowledge looks like divine insight. You have whole parables that are old in the modern world but haven't been written yet.

Use your knowledge to pass divine foresight to the rulers and support the ones you know will win to become the state religion.

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    $\begingroup$ Said dude died nailed to the torture device of the occupants of his country... Not exactly how I envision "conquering the ancient world" ;) $\endgroup$ – Elmy Sep 6 '18 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ That was him and his bad choices. Make better choices and you won't need to get nailed to a couple of planks..... $\endgroup$ – Thorne Sep 6 '18 at 22:58
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TLDR: With chemistry and basic physics you can introduce gunpowder and ballistics, form alliances, claim the world.

Long: You would probably have the best luck with this in central Asia due to the abundance of resources, but with modern knowledge you could manufacture relatively simply black powder rifles like the Whitworth Rifle and simple cannon, with that and an introduction of basic modern medicines and farming practices you could rapidly create and maintain a healthy, well fed, armed army, probably around the late 1800’s level of armament until you improve manufacturing techniques.

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    $\begingroup$ Land wars in Asia? Not a good idea $\endgroup$ – nzaman Sep 6 '18 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder how far Alexander might have gotten if he'd turned north after capturing Persia? Anything's gotta be better than a hundred ancient fractionalized Indian groups of the time with a hundred thousand warriors between them. $\endgroup$ – Hebekiah Sep 11 '18 at 8:40
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I think about this a lot :) modern civilization is not about anything other than vast numbers of people. People mine ore.. others refine it.. others cast it to ingots.. others melt it.. others forge it... Etc. Almost all of your knowledge would either be useless or heretical. Worse you would lack the basic skills to survive.. my plan would be to draw the attention of academics with maths and geographical knowledge.. then eventually work in royal court. Perhaps get the trust and attention of the king.. then using knowledge.. help the king to conquer new Territories. But forging an empire in an age without fast travel is a job that would take more than your 35 year iron age lifespan. I would concentrate on how very difficult it would be to use any of your knowledge in the iron age. How would you communicate for starters.

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If I'm getting it right, Rome was just a possibility. If that's the case then most of these answers are so darn boring I can't believe it. Who wants to read a story about someone who doppelgangered Augustus and just tweaked stuff a bit in Roman history? This is supposed to be great so let's start from New Jersey or Madagascar or Mexico or a remote monastery in Korea. I'm thinking India or Persia makes the most sense, geographically, if we are taking of the Whole World, but sorta boring unless we get lots of elephants doing something fantastic.

Medicine, food supply, fast travel and communications are the usual keys. Advanced weapons are great but without the other things taking and holding the world would be tedious to impossible.

Introduce penicillin and telescopes and dried/canned food and as close to modern ship building as you can. Heck, throw in railroads and you're unstoppable. Add Alexander's intermarriage scheme (with local chieftains' families and military officers to increase stability in your wake.

At about that time the Han Dynasty was doing well, developing the Silk Road, and if not for the Han–Xiongnu War eating resources they may have done more. Quite civilized and science oriented your 21st Century thought might serve you best there. Han Dynasty The lime green line represents border of Xiongnu incursions.

It doesn't seem like leadership was too hard to get if you were able to make a great weapon and show some intelligence. Ideally making peace between them or forming alliance against a Western power would offer enormous potential. Hans could go through India and Xiongnu straight west into what is Russia today, meet up on the other side.

India was unified under Mauryan Empire, so work out trade and send ships for troops (use financial trickery to take over since it was a great building time in India) and on through Persia to the Mediterranean.

Oh, remember not to leave eunuchs behind in China, they're always starting trouble.

After you've taken Europe and North Africa send half the armies into Southern Africa and the rest to Miami. Let's assume you've been collecting the greatest ship builders along the way. Now you have massive armies busy and largely dependent on your control of the seas. Get the armies farming and cooperating with natives and use Alexander's intermarriage scheme. Any unruly warriors left can be sent to Australia (that's what it's for, isn't it?).

All along you can be giving them signs to look for, your knowledge of history and geography giving you the aura of Prophet King (say you have visions or something). This way by the time the southern armies get to Egypt and find the pyramids you spoke of they'll be flabbergasted and renewed in faith for you. The northern troops, tell them about leprechauns or meet them on the coast of Ireland with maps of the world best you remember it.

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