See World History, Part I for the genesis of this. I’m finally getting around to writing the actual history of my world.
I don’t start with the total sweep of history. I start with characters and their drama. As a writer, I do world building and history as needed for motivation and color. Sometimes, things need to be tweaked as the history is filled in. But I don’t start by writing all of the history. Characters are more important.
At this point in rewriting the drafts of The Forge, I need some more details.
One model I use for creating long-term history of fantasy worlds is the Catholic Papacy in the real world. They have lists of popes going back to the “first” pope. I say “first” because I’m pretty sure this Apostle Peter didn’t set himself up as The Pope. If he existed, he was just a guy who was claimed to be the foundation. Emphasis on the passive voice “was claimed.” Who made this claim? And when?
Here’s a digression on why some of the papacy is based on some flimsy-looking evidence. What’s important about the digression is it can explain why this part of the real world seems to be a useful model for building fictional worlds.
Rule 1. History is written by the victor.
The Christian “New Testament” includes books called the Epistles, some of which are written by Paul who may have known people who knew people who attended events that were personally transformative. Paul was not an eye-witness to anything. He was an organizer and a coordinator of epic skill. He traveled around Byzantium and got arrested. We have his mail. (Mixed it with this, we also have some epistles that he may not have written.)
Rule 2. Context changes, making the points emphasized in the old stories confusing.
Spoiler Alert. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John weren’t eye-witness to squat, either. The “Gospel according to Matthew” and "Gospel according to Luke” are probably written by Paul’s folks as part of providing a consistent narrative arc to this religious practice we now call Christianity. At the time, the audience for these books were Jews, learning about a person who preached love and forgiveness. Nowadays, this context is easy to forget, and often ignored.
Were the Samaritans really so despised to make the story of a Good Samaritan politically subversive?
Rule 3. Consolidating power creates winners and losers.
The pope business, then, seems to be something that was a consolidation of power among the Jews-following-Christ whom we now label as Christians. The word “catholic” is greek for “universal.” We now say “Catholic”, as a short-hand for “Catholic Christian” separate from splitters like “Coptic Christian.”
Rule 4. When in doubt, see rule 1.
Some folks eventually organized the Christians. Then, among the leaders, they elected one to be pope. Maybe it was early on in the second century, maybe it was as late as the 300’s AD.
My point is it takes a while to organize something like this, and the organizers have a lot of incentive to fabricate some details.
I think the story-tellers looked at Paul’s letters, and said, “We’ll need square this with our current stories.” It’s possible they made a quick edit to the Matthew book (chapter 16) to add a reference to Peter to fill in some missing years of history and provide legitimacy.
Rule 5. Time is translucent, a haze colors every event, even those in living memory.
The canonical books of the evolved over centuries. Lots of time for rewrites and edits to fill in the necessary details. Biblical literalists are uncomfortable with the actual history of what was eventually canonized as the bible.
Based on this line of reasoning, I figure some or all of the first 30 or so popes are questionable or even fantastical. (And, of course, there’s the whole “Western Schism” thing with popes and anti-popes. That’s some epic drama there.)
The point here is not to do a lot of theology or historical analysis of a religion. The point is to understand some basic rules of what history looks like and how the real story must be different from the received story.
When doing world-building, there will be at least two versions of history. As an Author you can claim to have a “true” version which is different from the official ones the characters know.
I have three variations on the truth, depending on whether you're from the Kingdom of the East, the Empire, or the Outlands.