The Legions in Space
An alternative history wherein the Roman Empire developed steam engines, avoided collapse, and went on to conquer most of the western world.
Premise: History diverges ~280 AD
The Romans took up the idea of Hero (steam) Engines and had an early industrial revolution. Thus when the Goths came, they got splattered. Pushing on through Eurasia, they impinge on China, which has reunified recently into the Tang dynasty. Chinese rocketry/mortars are a match for Roman steam tanks. The two superpowers form. (NB emissary from Marcus Aurelius to the Han in 161AD. Ref in Chung Kuo.)
In the middle-east, India becomes a political fight. Egypt is a vassal state as the bread-basket of the empire, and is the one encouraged into politicking.
China heads north, taking out the Mongols and Russia. They get into Alaska looking for the back door into Rome, and push south. Also Japan and SE Asia. Tibet is taken as somewhere to overlook India. Meanwhile the Vikings were ignored by Rome as too cold to bother with. Raiding tendecies were curtailed, so the Vinland colony and the Newfoundland coast became much more interesting. They meet the Chinese coming the other way across the Rockies, and invoke a little-regarded subclause of their agreement with the Romans. Rome gets North America below Hadrian’s Latitude, in exchange for helping against the Chinese. Thus Rome gets the Texan oil-fields, and China gets Alaska, and Canada is Viking (and Quebec speaks Icelandic, not Nordic, dammit)
Rome gets steam early, which drives steel (better swords). That gets canon, which suppresses the Goths (grapeshot rather than canonballs). Steam + steel = transport; existing road infrastructure and road-building means steam carts get around quickly, so Roman communications go much faster. T’ang dynasty China picks up on this via embassy (and was already into industrial espionage), and does *not* stagnate. Steam advantages pushed down to peasantry head off peasant revolt. Also Mongols get stuffed as per Goths.
China pushes north into Mongolia, Siberia and Northern Asia, and west into Bangladesh and Korea.
Egypt as a vassal state and breadbasket of Rome picks up on steam power. It’s important for it to improve too! Egypt pushes into Ethiopia and Kenya, and the Arabian Peninsula (Red Sea == Egyptian Sea), Persia, crosses the Persia Gulf and heads for Pakistan.
Meanwhile Rome pushes east through Europe, and marches to Moscow ( decidedly not through the winter)! Ukraine gives them a second bread-basket, which annoys (and reduces the importance of) Egypt.
Bamboo curtain along the Urals and the Caspian Sea, north of the Himilayas.
NB: All 3 empires (including Egypt here) border on the Caspian Sea.
The African Campaigns:
Rome (and Egypt) have North Africa, down to the Canaries. The Sahara is ignored. Rome pushes south around the coast, discovers the Congo Basin. Trade explodes. NW African coastal forts are reinforced. Rome opts for trade rather than war due to difficulties in bulding roads in a rain-forest. Egypt pushes to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania. Look, we can grow things here. Egypt also establishes contact with Congo Basin from the other direction (Lake Victoria etc). Both empires push south on their respective coasts by sea. Fertile and
mineral-rich South Africa discovered. Disputed between Rome and Egypt.
Secret Roman Transatlantic Expeditions:
Bahamas discovered; this ain’t China. Forts in the islands, Florida and middle America (700-900). Roman Conquistadors replace human sacrifice with bull sacrifice? Or negotiate with Mayans. Romans surround Gulf of Mexico and trample indiginous population. And look at those bulls to sacrifice (Mithraism, remember).
Rome not interested in Scandinavia because it’s too cold. Technology trickles in. Norse go Iceland-Greenland-Newfoundland. Press south along east coast. Fertile lands settled. Vikings take NW Territories, press towards Alaska and meet Chinese. Vikings invoke Hadrian Treaty with Romans; Vikings have everything North of Hadrian’s Wall and West of the lakes (30 degrees longitude, approx St Petersberg). They confirm the treaty, extending Hadrian’s Wall to the latitude, somewhat north of the Canada-US border. Rome occupies North American plains — another grain source!
This has another effect in partitioning Ireland. Northern Ireland is Viking, Southern Hiberia is Roman. There are Troubles. There is call for a Wall, but no funding.
War in Alaska. Messy. Vikings know cold-weather warfare much better than the Chinese, but the Chinese have much better resources and technology. Vietnam the other way round.
Industrial use of oil understood. Vikings confirm control of Alaska. Egypt has the Arabian peninsula. Rome has Texas. China has Russia. (Suppressed) rebellion of Roman legions. Roman empire consolidated. Mayans (who supply gold to Rome) have no oil, but the rain-forest is still too hard for Rome. Mayans have limited tech from Rome in exchange for gold, find oil in Venezuela as part of their expansion south. They don’t go into the Amazon jungle, but do press down the Andes. It takes a while, but they get Argentina.
There is a land-grab for Australia just because. China has most of Indonesia with some Roman islands. Rome has Sumatra and the Thai peninsula. China gets Australia’s east coast (the good bits), but it’s not a lot of help. Rome has a couple of forts on the west coast, but it’s really *not* a lot of help.
First world war happens over India. Tech starts with Roman artillery, Chinese respond with rocketry, Romans go for aircraft. It merges into WW2. Change of emperor provides excuse for peace treaty.
Enter mad Greek (with Indian mathematical backing) and the start of the space race. Not taken seriously until Chinese put up “Sputnik”
The Emperor Julius, in a recent speech to the Senate, has undertaken to place legionaries on the Moon by the year 2000 after the founding of Rome. This bold move is a response to the Han Empire, who have already landed an unmanned probe on Mare Orientalis, and claimed it for the Son of Heaven.