I have been daydreaming about this scenario a lot. There are many similar questions here about time travellers being thrown to the middle ages, but they usually can't prepare and can't bring anything from the modern times.

Let's set some constraints:

  • Time traveler can only travel once from today to 14th century
  • He can choose any location in the world to land
  • He has a one year in the modern time to prepare
  • He can bring one vehicle from the modern times full of modern things

He has a goal to accelerate technological and social progress of humanity as quickly as possible.

I'm wondering about:

  • Which location to choose to establish base?
  • How to prepare in the modern times for one year? What to focus on?
  • Which vehicle to choose? (Tank, helicopter, truck, boat, ...?)
  • What to bring in the vehicle? (off-line Wikipedia, antibiotics, guns, ...?)
  • How to make a good first impression?
  • How to hire locals into his services?
  • How to deal with the church and religion? How to avoid total rejection of the people, because it's all 'work of the devil'?
  • How to educate locals efficiently and give responsibilities to them to scale quickly?
  • How to rule and form the society? Is it even possible without dictatorship and frequent demonstrations of power and violence?

Is there some fiction which explores this scenario? So far I found only fiction where people are stranded in the past without any preparation or modern items

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    $\begingroup$ Not a full answer so that's why it's a comment but a nuclear aircraft carrier with some additional fuel (if possible) can hold a lot of things + data storage and enough power for them to work for years + it can be beneficial in moving a lot of cargo around the world. $\endgroup$
    Sep 9, 2016 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ What about a super-sized freight ship full of neat stuff? $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Sep 9, 2016 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ You will run out of fuel pretty soon. While " the ships are capable of operating for over 20 years without refueling and are predicted to have a service life of over 50 years " from wiki about the nimitz class carrier. $\endgroup$
    Sep 9, 2016 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ Compulsory read on this: "Lest Darkness Fall" and "The Cross-Time Engineer". $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @STARGATEBG I think nuclear aircraft carrier is impractical, because you are only one person. You need a whole crew to control the carrier. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 20:46

7 Answers 7


I'd think the trick is, you have to bring technology that's more advanced than what the people of that time have, or what's the point?, but it can't be so far ahead that you have to build the infrastructure from scratch.

Like say you went to AD 1400 with cell phones. Of course the people there have no knowledge of electronics, or radio, or plastic, or even of electric lights. Even if you could explain to them how a cell phone works and make them understand, you have to not only teach them how to make cell phones per se, but how to make electrical wire, plastics, etc up to integrated circuit chips.

Unless you're bringing back a team of experts, you have to know all the pieces that go into whatever technology you're bringing back. Even with a year to prepare, that could be a tall order. Any given technology often builds on many other technologies. For example, I write software for a living. I like to think I'm a smart guy. If I had a little time to study and prepare, I could probably go back in time to 1920 or 1930 and teach people how to build simple computers, because most of the infrastructure is already there. But 1400? Where to start? I'd have to teach them how to make electrical wire. How do you do that? How do you make plastic? I know that integrated circuits are made from silicon and germanium. Silicon comes from sand. How do you turn sand into usable silicon? Where do you even find germanium? What does germanium ore look like? I haven't the vaguest idea. I could look all these things up, but there's a LOT to learn. I'd have to know about mining, metal smelting, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, physics, chemistry ... the list goes on and on.

On top of that, you have to have leadership and management skills. Like you ask about "how to hire locals". Lots of people with a great idea or great technical skills have tried to start a business and gone bankrupt because they don't know anything about management. Motivating people and getting them to follow you is a skill in itself. This is not something that can be learned in a 10 minute session.

You ask "how to rule and form society". Yeah, good question. Just because you have technology that they don't doesn't mean that people will want to follow you. When Europeans went to Africa in the 1800s, they had lots of technology that the locals didn't. Did the locals immediately hail these Europeans as their new leaders and make them king? That was a popular theme in fiction -- European goes to Afghanistan tribesman, shows some modern (19th century) technology, and they immediately make him their king, if not their god. In real life, I'm not sure that that ever happened. The Europeans often used their superior technology to subdue the locals by force. But that took an army. One man with a machine gun might be able to subdue a few dozen people with swords, but not a nation. If he's obnoxious enough, sooner or later they'll overwhelm him by shear numbers and kill him. And with just one man ... you have to sleep sometime.

And would they be wise to make you their king? So you understand technologies that they don't. Does this mean that you know anything about how to run a country? What sort of tax structure should your government have? What economic policies? How do you negotiate trade deals with other nations? How do you lead an army?

You seem to be assuming that because your time traveler is from the future, he is not only an expert on technology, but also on politics, economics, management, finance, military affairs, and every other conceivable subject. Just being from the future wouldn't necessarily make him better at ... any of these things. And while he could study and prepare, no one is going to learn to be a great engineer AND a great politician AND a great business manager AND a great economist AND ... AND .. AND ... Certainly not with one year of study. Most people spend their lives studying just one field and never rise above mediocre.

I'd think a realistic goal would be to try to jump the people forward a century or so. The printing press was invented in 1439. So learn how to build one and then take this knowledge to 1300 or so. That would probably be doable. And be content to be an engineer, don't try to make yourself king and god at the same time.

By the way, I doubt the problem would be how to fight the church, but rather how to get the church on your side. In the Middle Ages, the church was the people who ran the schools and sponsored scientific research. Monasteries were centers of learning. Many great scientists were priests or monks, from Gregor Mendel to Copernicus. Yes, yes, the Catholic church persecuted Galileo. But Galileo started out with the support of the church. He had new ideas and of course people questioned him, but it was all a polite, scholarly debate until Galileo started insulting powerful people for not instantly accepting his theories. Anyway, a monk or priest would probably be the first person of the time to embrace new science and technology.

Update: Let's be more positive

So how could you realistically go about it?

How to prepare

Step one: Come up with a plan for what technology you can realistically introduce. Just bringing a truckload of 21st century gadgets to the past would be mostly useless. The people won't be able to reproduce them because they don't have the infrastructure. Many wouldn't work in any practical sense. A cell phone is useless without a network of cell phone towers. A sports car is useless without paved roads. Etc.

Figuring out what you could realistically bring back would be an exercise all on its own. I'd pick two or three key inventions. Most 21st century technology would probably be impractical; more likely bring back some 19th century or earlier technology. Introduce the printing press 100 years earlier than it was really invented. The steal plow revolutionized agriculture. Maybe something medical or chemical? Could you bring back electricity? If you could teach people in the middle ages to build electrical circuits, that would jump start all sorts of technology.

Of course you would have to thoroughly research whatever technology you are trying to bring back. There is, of course, a huge difference between being able to drive a car, being able to repair one, and being able to build one from scratch. If this is a one-way trip, you don't want to get there and suddenly find yourself saying, Oh, wait, there's one thing I forgot to read up on ...

Research the infrastructure available in the time and place you're going to. You don't want to get there and find out that, while you need, say, aluminum for this device, the people there have never heard of aluminum and have no idea how to produce it. Make sure that you can get everything you need. You may need to research not only how to build this machine, but how to find metal ores that you need, and mine them, and refine them. Or how to synthesize particular chemical compounds, etc.

I'd practice actually building the thing using only materials that will be available at the destination.

Learn the language of the place you're going.

That's a lot to do in a year. 'Hope you're industrious.

What sort of vehicle

Well, I'd rule out any vehicle that requires paved roads or runways. Possibly an all-terrain vehicle of some sort. I'd think a boat would be most practical. Sure, you're stuck on the rivers, but that's probably more versatile than being stuck on roads or open terrain.

Whatever vehicle you bring, consider how you're going to get fuel for it. Unless your plan includes teaching the people how to find petroleum reserves and build oil refineries, any modern engine will be limited to the fuel that you bring with you. I'd look into what sort of fuel people of the time use, Kerosene? Some unrefined oil? Maybe find or build an engine that runs on that. Or, maybe an electric motor and run on solar power. The solar panels will break or wear out eventually, and will almost surely be impossible to replace, but it could keep you going for a while.

Is there a limit on the size of the vehicle? If not, perhaps the bigger the better, because then you can bring back huge quantities of stuff, even if you can't move it once you get there. Someone on here mentioned a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Or a freight train.

What to bring?

Books fully describing whatever technology you're trying to bring back of course. I'd lean toward printed books despite the size and weight. Sure, a computer with a terabyte hard drive could hold way more information than you could fit in books in a big truck, but what do you do when the batteries die? Or the computer breaks? Will you have the means to repair it?

Presumably you need basic supplies to keep you alive until you can establish yourself: food, clothes, medicine. I'd bring at least some weapons so I could defend myself if things went bad. Tools you will need to build whatever technology you're trying to bring back. Especially, tools to make the tools you will need.

Make a good impression

Hmm, well of course step one is to learn the language, and learn the customs of the place. Don't go urinating on their sacred shrine and so forth.

Don't suppose that people will flock to you because you have scientific knowledge they don't. At first they won't even know if what you're saying is true. I mean, if you tell them, "I know how to build a machine that flies through the air" or whatever, why should they believe you unless and until you've demonstrated it? Just like if someone came along today and said that he knew how to build spaceships that can travel faster than light, would you just believe him? Probably not.

I suspect the best approach would be to start with modest claims, i.e. things that don't sound unbelievable and that you can actually do on the spot with things you have brought, or that you can build fairly quickly.

Do I even need to say: Don't tell them that they're all ignorant fools and you have come to bring the light of wisdom and knowledge to them, and they should all fall at your feet. Don't ridicule their culture, their government, their religion, etc.

Hire locals

I think that's pretty straightforward: have something to pay them with. Bring back some gold or silver to get started. Maybe you could bring back hand tools, pots and pans, or things of that sort that people would be willing to barter their services in exchange for. If you're bringing back a technology of value, you should be able to find a way to make a profitable business out of it, or to get the patronage of wealthy people. Oh, figuring that out should be part of the plan you make before you leave.

Deal with the church

Contrary to popular modern mythology, the church in the Middle Ages was a major -- probably THE major -- supporter of scientific research. Yes, Galileo clashed with the church. Can you think of another example? People did not go around saying that every new discovery was "of the devil". I am not aware of any case in real life of a scientist or inventor being accused of being a witch by church authorities. Many, many scientists of the time were priests or monks, or taught in universities that were run by the church. The church is more likely to be your friend than your enemy.

Of course if you go around saying the church is teaching a bunch of superstitious nonsense and that church leaders are all ignorant fools, you're going to get into trouble. Insulting powerful people in any place or time is not generally a strategy for success.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer is mostly about the challenges of such time traveller. That's good to know, but my question is mostly about concrete steps what to do and how to avoid/mitigate those obstacles. What to focus on during the year before? What to bring? What to do right after arrival? $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2016 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. I've added an extensive addendum that replies to the original question more directly. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Oct 10, 2016 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ On the church that's true. The precursor of genetic was a monk. $\endgroup$
    – Rigop
    Oct 27, 2016 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ And don't forget a whole lot of gold and gemstones. Your only hope to earn a living is by trade, and you don't speak the language well and you don't know the customs. So you're going to have to live off what you've brought with you. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2017 at 13:21

So... before we go changing the past, let's get the basics done... SURVIVAL!

The rules of survival

  • Shelter
  • Water
  • Fire
  • Food
  • Company


Here you're ok, you have the vehicle that you are travelling in so you're covered initially. Add insulation if you're going somewhere cold.


Getting a water source is going to be your next priority, you want to be upstream from any settlements to avoid contamination (filthy peasants) but not too close as rivers move over time.


I think the best way here is to take some gas for your first year, get out and chop some trees as soon as you get there. Green wood need 12 months of seasoning for the best use.


You need to learn the lingo, ideally a language that hasn't changed over time. Maybe icelandic although it is a very difficult language to learn

After this your other questions start to answer themselves

Which location to choose to establish base?

The base needs to be where you can access people with a language that hasn't changed. It also wants to be close to water but not on the banks of a river.

How to prepare in the modern times for one year? What to focus on?

This is good, get your survival gear on, try it out, if you can't get stuff to work in modern times you ditch it. Get on YouTube and download as many tutorials as you can,

Which vehicle to choose? (Tank, helicopter, truck, boat, ...?)

  1. Tank - lots of fuel, lots of noise, reduced storage
  2. Helicopter - you can't land anywhere that isn't flat plus you need to continually maintain it
  3. Truck - maybe, takes less maintenance and fuel
  4. Boat - this is a great idea, although you are limiting yourself to waterways, which may not be a problem

How to make a good first impression?

Smile! but in seriousness this will take an awful lot of work, hide technology and other things initially and offer good services to people (maybe treating illnesses?) at a good price. Once you have a connection with a place it makes things much easier

How to hire locals into his services?

It depends what you want and where you are, for this action I would have them only do normal work initially and hire kids with less superstition for technical jobs and learning technology

How to deal with the church and religion? How to avoid total rejection of the people, because it's all 'work of the devil'?

Go to a place well away from the rule of the church! Out in the hinterlands the church has much less power. Avoid major cities, towns and thoroughfares.

How to educate locals efficiently and give responsibilities to them to scale quickly?

Kids, use the kids, take them on as apprentices and train them up in new skills and education. Start simply and then work upwards, teach letters, language, concepts, science. Don't denounce the church and be able to pay people.

How to rule and form the society? Is it even possible without dictatorship and frequent demonstrations of power and violence?

Society will form around you, the more you affect people, the more that society will change. However this is more than a lifetime's work.

In terms of structure, I would suggest taking over an isolated monastery and form a new brotherhood.

You will need to have people to carry on your legacy through the years.

What to bring in the vehicle? (off-line Wikipedia, antibiotics, guns, ...?)

So, first things

  • Survival gear as discussed before
  • food for a year, medieval food will make you sick
  • all the first aid gear you can grab, plus all the dietary supplements you can as well
  • limited, tough electronic gear. ideally military, with solar panels for recharging. Download as much youtube as you can, also the entirety of wikipedia. Have redundancies, don't use them until you need them.
  • clothing, super simple undergarments that you can wear underneath time appropriate clothes
  • Tools - this is a whole section, blacksmith tools, glassworking tools, farming tools, axes, bows, needles, cook gear
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the great answer! I mostly agree with your conclusions. Could you be more specific? Choose one specific place, one specific vehicle (with reasons why) and base the answer around that. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't have to be a language that hasn't changed, as long as information is available on what the language was like at that time. I don't speak a word of, say, Hungarian, so if I was going to travel to 15th century Hungary, I presume it would be as easy to learn 15th century Hungarian as 21st century Hungarian. The only catch would be getting a primer on 15th century Hungarian. I'm guessing that's not on Rosetta Stone's list. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Oct 11, 2016 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure "staying in the hinterlands" is the best way to avoid running afoul of the church. As @Jay mentioned, the mainstream church would be more likely to help with scientific research than demonize you, whereas hinterland peasants (IMHO) would seem to have a greater likelihood of being dangerously superstitious. $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2017 at 13:33

Well the 14th century is full of crisis :

The Black Death that wiped half of the population.


The Great Famine of 1315-17


So if he brings medications and antibiotiques, he will be idolized by them.

  • $\begingroup$ Antibiotics is a good thing to bring, but that's not enough to survive and improve their society. Can you elaborate of my other questions? $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2016 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ Plus, if the goal is to further technology, then the people will need a way to mass-produce it. And since this was the Middle Ages, when they still treated sick people by draining their blood with leeches... yeah, still a bit limited. '^^ $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2016 at 16:59

I think the existing answers have some great points in terms of practicality. However, I think they are all choosing the wrong PLACE to go.

Europe was a backward den of superstition and mayhem in the Middle Ages.

You would be much better off going to Byzantium (although it was in decline by 1400), Northern China, or Northern India.

I think India would be the best bet, for one overwhelming reason - it is not only possible, but actually easy, to learn Sanskrit in the modern era.

Do your research, and select an up-and-coming local ruler who was known by history to be open-minded and progressive. Remember, India was a lot less socially conservative back then than it is now - especially in the Tantric areas.

The game-changer militarily at this time was the advent of cannons, making fortified cities easy to breach and conquer. Cannons were invented in China, but only spread slowly and patchily westward. Any method for improving their manufacture (early ones were inaccurate, and prone to exploding) would give any kingdom/empire a winning edge militarily.

To make the biggest difference to history, choose someone near modern-day Punjab. There was a Sikh state there which held out against the Muslim invasion and kept the seeds of Hinduism alive when the rest of the subcontinent was over-run. Create a strong Hindu ally nearby to the Sikh empire, and the modern-day nuclear posturing between India and Pakistan could be completely eliminated ...

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, hail Hale, a good reasoned choice of a medieval society subject to change by a time traveller. Hope to see more answers and questions from you. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 13, 2016 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, India might be more open minded and easier for a time traveller than Europe run by Catholic Church. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2016 at 15:37

Bringing things is of course a nice idea but you need to be able to sustain yourself and bring a new culture to the area. In order to do this you need to teach yourself one skill that you can bring to the culture. I would take the one year to learn as much about medicine as I could. This is the one area that will directly improve people's lives more than any other (and get you the respect and trust of the people which is key to becoming a leader). You should also study up on how to generate electricity and use it for refrigeration for food preservation. These "inventions" will bring the most advancement bang for the buck and are relatively easy to do in medieval times (wires and magnets are easy to acquire and make). You can bring some laptops with info (i.e. loaded with wikipedia, youtube, etc.) but if you're not practiced with it most of it will be useless (other than predictive power that might garner you some followers but also make you a target for assassination). There is virtually no manufacturing that could create advanced tools so you would need to teach people how to do basic things that they could then build on, i.e. you teach them from your font of knowledge (wikipedia). As was said earlier teach the young and in two generations you will have a very advanced society (relative to what is there). Teach them democracy and how individual achievement can be for the greater good so that when you're gone all the newly educated adults will be able to govern themselves and perpetuate your teachings.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you be more specific to the questions I'm asking? $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2016 at 16:02

I'd suggest reading "Lest Darkness Fall", the main character is from the 1930/40's and experiences a time slip, ending up back in Rome in the year 535 AD. He brings nothing with him, except a decent knowledge of how things work. He's an archaeologist, so he knows history and culture but the "inventions" he creates don't use any more knowledge than an average educated person would have had at the time.

As others had mentioned there are few things one could take back into time and either have them continue to work or be able to explain them to a person of that period. An exception would be a lighter or matches, which should last a fairly good amount of time before used up and is self contained. However a cell phone wouldn't work back then; there is no cell towers and it's unlike a person from 100s of years ago would understand how useful a computer can be; even if it was explained.

It also would be almost impossible to create most items and technology we are used to. It's one thing to carve furniture out of wood but to create a cell phone or a television set or a computer requires electronics, silicon, plastic and metal as well as way to charge or supply electricity, broadcast communications, etc. Even if a person was able to travel back in time, it would take more than a life time and many people just to develop the technology to refine or create those things.

In "Lest Darkness Fall", the main character accepts his time slip situation quickly and gets to developing some small inventions which don't depend on anything to come before it. As he progresses, he starts developing communication and building on one invention after another. Eventually he starts inserting ideas into the society, which changes things for the better.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes it would be impossible to create a technology like a cell phone without many prior inventions which are cell phones built upon. However the goal is not to invent cell phones, but to accelerate technological and social progress of humanity as quickly as possible. Which can be done in a life time imho. You need to start with very simple inventions to impress people. Then hire those people into your services, they will hire others and you can do inventions exponentially. What do you think? $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2016 at 15:43

I like time travel stories but there's always the "paradox" issue that I've never heard any good explanation (and of course since time travel appears impossible, there really isn't an answer.)

As all time travel stories will tell, going back in time can have devastating consequences for the future (our present.) But changing the timeline may not really matter (particularly if it can improve it) but for one issue. What happens if our time traveller in the past changes a circumstance that erased a direct ancestor from history meaning that in the new reality the time traveller was never born.

So there's the obvious paradox. a) You found out how to go back and change time, b) You accidentally erased your future self so you never existed, c) Therefore you never went back in time and did not erase yourself, d) Therefore you did go back ... see where this is going? A vicious circle of impossibility.

There was a 1980 movie "Somewhere in Time" that stuck a similar circular thought in my head I could never let go of. The lead character was given an old piece of jewellery ... a watch I think ... from an elderly person. He managed to go back in time and met this person as a young lady and we learn that he had given her this watch in the past brought from the future that she had passed to him in the future brought from the past. My unanswered question when I saw the movie was ... Who manufactured the watch?

Another movie, name long forgotten, had a character who went back into the old Wild West, fell in love with a women, had an affair, and then was rescued back to the present. The lady had a child which turned out to be either his mother/father or grandmother/grandfather I think (don't remember which) ... another paradox circle. If he hadn't gone back, he would never have been born.

Just something to think about in time travel scenarios.

  • $\begingroup$ Many time travel fiction deals with the paradox by creating a new alternate reality each time you travel to the past. This solves the paradox, because you are not modifying the reality you come from, you are modifying a new one. We can assume this is the case with my fictional world. Can you elaborate on the question if you have this assumption? $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2016 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Rather than creating a new "alternate reality" each time you travel back in time, physics says that every possible universe is actually equally real. Sub-atomic particles are actually in every possible state at once (quantum uncertainty) until they are observed, at which point they "collapse" from a probability function to a single point on that function. All the other universes, where the electron collapsed into one of the other possible positions, are also existing, and equally real. Therefore, when you go back in time and "change the future", you just switch tracks as an observer. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2016 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ This is not a question about time travel paradoxes, but a "what-if it was possible". Somewhat lighthearted, I may admit, but valid in a soft science-fiction scenario. Thus this answer, though interesting, hardly applies here. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2019 at 18:26

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