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I have decided to completely rewrite my question, since the original text led people to believe that I am asking about historical facts.


Let's imagine a world in ancient/medieval setting populated by two different cultures who developed entirely separated of each other not knowing that the other one exists. Both of those cultures have been convinced that they are the most developed nation in the whole universe - till the day they finally met each other.

One culture (for short called the West) is inspired by late Roman Empire and all states which developed on its ruins - e.g. Byzantine empire, Frankish kingdom, and all other early medieval European kingdoms. The other culture (let's simply call it the East) is inspired by the China dominated orient and all other countries, which were under its influence - Japan, Korea, Tibet and all of south-east Asia.

In the real world, I come from Europe and therefore am a little biased when creating such a world. To me, the West is always "my culture", while the East would always be "the others". Therefore I am asking for help to see the world from both perspectives. If a western expedition arrived in the East, what would be their greatest surprise? How would they be treated? What about the situation when an eastern expedition arrived in the West? How would their relationships evolve? Would they establish a mutually beneficial trade routes? Or would they try to destroy each other, to prove they are the single most advanced civilization in the whole world?

I was thinking about the following concepts for West and East:

  1. The West would be divided to several kingdoms, united by one religious leader (like the Pope)
  2. The East is one single empire with a lot of more or less autonomous regions
  3. In the West, the elite soldiers are the Knights following chivalry. In the East it is the Samurai following Bushido.
  4. The daily meal in the West would be bread, having a whole food industry around wheat growing, mills and baking. In the East it would be rice, with rice fields, drying and processing buildings.
  5. The sails of ships in the West would be large square or triangular. In the East they would use junk sails.
  6. In the West people use cutlery, in the East chopsticks. The whole quisine is adjusted to this (e.g.: eastern meals are easy to eat with sticks).
  7. West uses catapults, East ballistas.
  8. Etc.

What other concepts or differences would you suggest that could define each culture? What are the differences/similarities they tackle various every-day problems?

Just a note: I know, the East-West dichotomy is not really exact and omits a lot of various cultures "in between". But I am trying to create a fantasy world, not a real one.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Storm. Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is dedicated to providing detailed answers to specific questions you have while developing your fictional world. This question appears to have no worldbuilding context; it is merely a question concerning our real world history of society and culture. As a result, this is likely to be closed as off topic. Feel free to take the tour and check out our site culture to get a better understanding of the site. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 11 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I am trying to build a world based on the culture clash between East and West. Knights and Samurai. Christianity and Buddhism. Not necessarily exactly as they were in the real world, but inspired by the concepts deeply rooted within these two fairly different worlds. I am not asking about speicifc historic differences, but rather concepts which may influence the two cultures. Would rephrasing the question help? $\endgroup$ – Storm Oct 11 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ On top of what said by @Frostfyre, we prefer measurable answers. You are asking for a potentially endless list, with no objective way to pick the best answer. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Oct 11 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with this type of question is that it's asking us to do your research for you. Everything you want to know is available on the Internet as it's part of our history. You can look up the things you want to compare/contrast and do so. This is different from the site's usual research scope in that you already know what you're looking for; not every questioner is so lucky. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 11 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Storm you could check out history.stackexchange.com if you want concrete details about these differences, then come back to WB and field out which differences you want to use to start building wour world on :-) $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Oct 11 at 13:07
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  1. There are many more places in the Old World other than the stereotypical East and West. "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet" in a 19th century idea, and a reductionist one at that. Even the Victorians knew full well that it was grossly reductionist.

  2. As regards to your specific examples:

    • In Europe, the everyday meal was bread. People were planting wheat, processed it in mills and used the flour in bakeries to produce bread. In China, Japan and other far-Eastern countries, the everyday meal is rice.

      Wheat was grown in many places outside Europe. It didn't even originate in Europe. Sometimes bread was baked in bakeries, most often not; the stereotypical family in ancient or medieval Europe made their own bread. (My very rural grandparents made their own bread well into the second half of the 20th century.)

      As for China and rice, that depends on what you call China. In the southern parts of the Chinese Empire (which were not necessarily all that Chinese in ancient times) yes, they grew rice. In the northern parts of the Chinese empire (which is from where China expanded) they grew millet. Millet was grown in the antiquity throughout the Old Word; it is still a major crop in many countries.

      And please explain what you mean by Near, Middle and Far East; these terms do not have a universal meaning, and it may be the case that some readers may consider India to be in the Far East -- and rice is not the main staple food in India...

    • Europeans used cutlery, which required metal industry.

      Europeans used knives; I am also quite certain that people in the Far East also used knives. Forks for eating food were known in the antiquity and the Middle Ages, that is, if somebody saw one by chance they would probably have known what it was. But most people never saw one in their life. Forks for eating were in no way, shape or form common utensils before the Renaissance. As for spoons, they were normally made of wood (or sometimes ceramic); wooden spoons are very much still cheap and still available in many places. I am also pretty certain that Chinese and Japanese people use spoons.

      In Europe, metal spoons became a common utensil in the Early Modern period...

      In China, chopsticks were originally used for cooking; they started being used for eating in the Middle Ages.

  3. There is very little which can be said about the differences between "the West" and "the East" in ancient and medieval times, mostly because the concept of "the West" and "the East" did not exist back then. It is quite nebulous even now. Where do Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the central Asian countries fit? Where does the Russian Far East fit? Where does India fit? India is not at all culturally similar to China and Japan, and never was; but at the same time it is not at all culturally similar to Western Europe, and never was.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to add to your comments on #2 - in China some provinces did grow wheat and even still today use far more wheat based foods (noodles, wraps, etc.) as opposed to rice even though they can get it readily today. $\endgroup$ – Crosbonaught Oct 11 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Also, there was a heckova lot of trade and influence between “east” and “west” in our history, lots of spices, luxury goods, tall tales and exotic imaginings... we have little idea how these cultures would have developed (or interacted with each other) if they had formed in isolation $\endgroup$ – Megha Oct 13 at 17:25
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This is really a big topic. But I'll try to discuss it.

  • I don't see any reasonable empire/kingdom going to war over a silly thing thing such as trying prove they are the best. Most, like 99% if not all, of the world's clashes/wars...etc had actual real materialistic goals. So I really doubt that either would go to war based on that reasoning.

  • However both being such a large and strong developed states it's only natural that they could, notice could, look to exploit the other or straight up conquer them

  • The biggest hindrance to war is geography. Since you are saying they NEVER met I'm then lead to believe they had a barrier such as a sea. I mean mountains or deserts would still get crossed and unless there is magic involved I only see an ocean or very large sea as the only reasonable barrier. Kinda like the Americas situation. Heck. Even the Scandinavians went there in the middle ages. So let's assume it's an ocean.

  • So with an ocean between them a war is near impossible afaik. Maintaining such a supply line using medieval technology is not easy. I mean not only do you need to ferry a couple thousand soldiers across an ocean, but you need to keep them supplied until they start collecting enough food and materials in that other continent.
  • The power an entire kingdom/empire can mobilize is more that enough to completely deny the enemy a landing. Or turn the landing into a massacre. The navy could also deny the enemy a landing or stall them until they either become desperate or retreat. Remember that every single day that you spend at sea you are feeding thousand of soldiers and their animals. Heck. I won't even have to fight them. I'd use my navy to stall them as much as possible, they let them land their army. I'd attack the navy on their return trip insuring that the vast majority of ships is destroyed. Then my land army would let them get a nice cozy location on the beach while I'm building kilometers of fortifications.
    Then just wait them out. Again this is NOT a Norman invasion type of deal.
    This an invading army of the Byzantine empire crossing an ocean to be greeted by an empire on par with the Roman empire.
  • Now you did not mention much about the internal states of the two factions and that would change a lot. A feudal kingdom is not as unified as a Ottoman, Roman, Byzantine...etc empire type would.

  • If war is out of the question for the time being then trade it is. That would allow enough exposure between the two factions to give the other a decent understanding of the geography, habits, economy..etc of the other nation.

  • The most logical course of action for a warlike faction is sending spies there like there is no tomorrow. Building up a large network of lords, governors, rebels...etc. So that you can "secretly" build an invasion force and have them land in a coastal friendly city. Then you got a base of operations with sea access to supply your army. Then a fast campaign to conquer and secure the nearest cities and towns is vital if your plane of an invasion or war wants to go anywhere.

  • What would surprise them? People advanced enough. Obviously. Now if this is a lifted out of history culture then they, most likely, see them as heathens and ignorant. But you can change that. Perhaps because of the long years of peace one or two of the factions are a lot more relaxed and kind. They might still understand war but perhaps they suffered of oppression and the society as a whole prefers to be more accepting and so on. So that depends on you. For example their architect might appear alien to them.

  • Imagining such a large empire/kingdom without enemies is odd. People tend to fight like all the time. So what is the internal political situation like? I mean they still have armies and those things are expensive, so I imagine that they either deal with other invading nations or internal problems up to civil wars.

  • Weapons, equipment, and tactics changed an evolved to match the needs of the people. An obvious example is the ridiculously protective armor of the late medieval times or even later. Knights became tanks. But that is only possible because of an abundance of materials and a need for that on the battlefield and as knights were vital pieces of the kingdom. A knight, some of them at least, had a piece of land and collected taxes and had the land farmed...etc. Thus they serve an important function is society. They tended to be rich thus they could afford such expensive items like full plate, think Gothic style for example, armor to protect them, because why not! So they tended to be used on the field, because you can't just tell a knight to stand by and let the peasants fight, and so they had their place in the army.
    Now the Roman legion would accommodate knights for certain. They used heavy cavalry, allied ones since Romans and horses don't go so well, and even missile cavalry. But, and this is a big one, it was not focus of the army nor would it even suit them to relay on them too much. Now the problem of trying to include knights is that they are not normal citizens who could just be given minimal war duties or told to do stuff they don't like. So you army has to, at least, accommodate them in a logical manner.

  • On the subject of the Roman legion. Because of how important the officers are, if you manage to kill enough centurions you can cripple the whole cohort/legion. As the rank and file don't have enough initiative to lead on their own. A nice fictional read is the first battle of Hoover Dam. So that's a simple yet effective imbalance that is natural for an army type. How you exploit it is up the commanders.

  • catapults and ballistas are two different things. I'm not sure what you mean by that. Perhaps you mean trebuchets and lithobolos?

  • This is just my thoughts on the matter. Without more information I can't say more. For example it's pretty obvious that both armies would have unique properties that would not fit into the others system. A period of re-adapting would be necessary to both factions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, this is a really comprehensive answer. You are right, I imagine a vast sea/desert/polar region to be between the two cultures. Of course, there would be a lot of smaller nations and tribes between the two. However, both the East and the West would consider them "barbaric" or "lesser". Outside of this external threat of the barbarians, there would be occasional fantastic threats (like dragons) and also internal struggles (within royal families, between classes, among individual kingdoms/provinces). $\endgroup$ – Storm Oct 15 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the ballistae, I was thinking of an article about ancient China, which mentioned that the Chinese invented crossbow much earlier, than Europeans and used it also as a siege weapon - in the form of balista. $\endgroup$ – Storm Oct 15 at 5:02

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