What to pack for time travel
December 22, 2005 7:33 AM   Subscribe

If you were going to relocate permanently from the present day to Rome circa 100 BC, and you could bring only one piece of luggage (standard carry-on dimensions) what would you pack?

Also: what's the reasoning behind your selection?
posted by alms to Society & Culture (45 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: chatfilter

A Ruger Mark II with a bull barrel and 4,000 rounds of .22 LR hollow points. That way no one would fuck with me.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:35 AM on December 22, 2005

Penicillin, a laser pointer (with some sort of solar battery charger), and a history book.

I could probably buy most of Gaul for a couple of bottles of "Brian's magical elixir." The laser pointer would astound and amaze the locals, and my popwers of prophecy would be unmatched.
posted by bshort at 7:38 AM on December 22, 2005

a library on microfilm, with some sort of non-electrical fiche reader. If I could transport the scientific and technical knowledge of this age into the last one, think of all the things I could accmonplish
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:39 AM on December 22, 2005

As many engineering and physics textbooks as I could fit. And my game boy and a solar panel.
posted by ny_scotsman at 7:39 AM on December 22, 2005

My first answer was perhaps a bit impetuous. I guess it would depend on what circumstances and social status one anticipated having.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:42 AM on December 22, 2005

Bottles of spices.
English language "pony" of great works.
Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Latin/English dictionary.
Kevlar helmet and vest.
Ruger Mk II and 4000 rounds sounds nice too.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:46 AM on December 22, 2005

A couple of ingots of aluminum. ( I am assuming I have to purchase the stuff in the suitcase, otherwise diamonds and gold.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:49 AM on December 22, 2005

1. Some kind of solar powered lantern (obviously, one that can store power during the day and release it at night).

2. Solar powered watch (I now have the ultimate tool for navigation at sea -- hello Americas!).

3. A good atlas (see number 3).

4. A bunch of gold nuggets (gold was prized by the Romans, right? If not, what ever metal/stone was) to fund my sea expeditions.

5. Lightweight thermal underwear and rain gear(for chilly Roman nights and sea voyages).

I think the most important thing, frankly, would be the gold. If I'm liquidating all my current worldly possessions, I suspect I could become one of the richest men in Rome and buy whatever else I'd need. I'd love to bring some kind of hand-cranked portable printing press, but I'm not sure I could find one small enough.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:49 AM on December 22, 2005

Didn't think about the medical stuff. Yeah, throw some serious antibiotics and painkillers in the bag.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:51 AM on December 22, 2005

Medical/anatomical textbooks; herbal/folk remedy books; biochemistry textbooks detailing synthesis pathways, useful chemical reactions, etc.; metallurgy texts; details about aerodynamics; explanations about engines/solar-power or hydro-power mechanisms...

A supply of various medicines; long-life food; a world map; a Latin-English dictionary (so I don't make the "Romanes eunt domus" mistake...)

A bible?
posted by Chunder at 7:52 AM on December 22, 2005

Response by poster: Rock Steady: you know how to build and sail a ship capable of transatlantic travel?
posted by alms at 7:53 AM on December 22, 2005

See also Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague De Camp.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:59 AM on December 22, 2005

1) A solar calculator and a wrist-powered watch
2) Several books by Dave Gingery, an atlas, a book on "caveman chemistry," and Thomas Glover's "Pocket Reference"
3) a primer on latin
4) drugs, preferably including cyanide
5) a portable medical kit that I already own
6) a washable water filter
7) a basic chemical test kit
8) a gun and some ammunition in case it all goes to hell
9) one of those "forever flashlights"
10) a book on basic electricity

The various books would enable me to rapidly become a very very highly sought-after artisan and "magician". The Gingery metalworking books make me the best-equipped metalworker in the empire. The chemistry book means I can make more gunpowder along with other useful compounds and raw materials. Finally, the Glover book means I'm the best engineer in the empire.

I figure I could set up a nice life in the countryside in a couple of years, and pretty much live out my days in a villa away from Roman politics (hopefully by a nice stream for hydro power). And, if Roman politics come to get me, I can kill a surprisingly large number of people single-handedly (gunpowder + metal tubes + rocks = horrible death).
posted by aramaic at 8:04 AM on December 22, 2005

Response by poster: Dave Gingery Books and Thomas Glover's Pocket Reference.
posted by alms at 8:12 AM on December 22, 2005

An orrery and a compass and a highly exact watch for making megabucks refining navigation techniques.

Tools, books and blueprints to make duplicates of same.

Blueprints for building a modern ship for long distance navigation.

Inoculations against plague and other extant disease for myself and the immediate family I would plan on having.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:16 AM on December 22, 2005

Meaning, a reasonably modern 17th century sort of ship.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:16 AM on December 22, 2005

What other "raw" material would be more useful for trade or barter that could be used to increase your wealth in the ancient past, that you'd be able to obtain in the present easily?

posted by bonobo at 8:17 AM on December 22, 2005

A gun and ammo. Then I'd fill the rest of the case with antibiotics. Maybe some vitamins too. Oh, and I guess a really good map would be useful, even if most of it was irrelevant. Oh, also, a lot of ballpoint pens!

I'm glad I'm only packing to go to England, your imaginary trip would suck!
posted by crabintheocean at 8:18 AM on December 22, 2005

Ancient Rome would be a sucky vacation destination, as the wine was full of lead, and the water full of sewage. That said, you could take your Tacitus and start a pretty interesting blackmail ring. I'd also take back some modern artifacts and stash them someplace in Pompeii to be be discovered by and confound future archaeologists.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:25 AM on December 22, 2005

A good compass and sextant, and maps that would get me the hell away from Rome to somewhere less brutal. Handgun and ammo. Gems (gold is too heavy.) Leatherman. 2 pair of good boots. Rain gear. The Way Things Work, both volumes. Cipro, tetracycline, and pennicillin. Morphine. Stun-gun with solar battery charger, or maybe pepper spray. A few flash-bangs. Solar-charge flashlight. Some magnesium. Fire-starter. Fresnel lens. Nylon thread. A whole bunch of Bic pens and automatic pencils, for trade goods.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:28 AM on December 22, 2005

Response by poster: Not yet mentioned:

- Viagra
- A bunch of those keychain LED flashlights
- An atlas and history of the Silke Route
- A copy of Machiavelli's The Prince
posted by alms at 8:30 AM on December 22, 2005

Or get you quickly killed. Well, yes. That's why I have guns and the chemical test kit. The getting killed part would probably be more of a risk after the ascent of Christianity, since I'd potentially be seen as a witch or something. Since the Romans seem to have fully believed in sorcery as a useful thing, I don't think they'd pose the same ideological risk.

The ship ideas are interesting, since you could build one, use it for commerce, use those funds to build another, and so on. It might be possible to single-handedly dominate sea trade. Getting the first one built might be tricky, however.

Another possibility might be to revolutionize agriculture. It wouldn't be spectacularly hard (if you've ever seen a plow or modern harnesses you could revolutionize agriculture). Hell, you could revolutionize over-land trade by simply making a harness that didn't choke an ox.

A powerful magnet, and a suitcase full of needles could make you an awful lot of money by producing and selling compasses. As long as you don't let anyone see how you make them, you'd be golden.
posted by aramaic at 8:32 AM on December 22, 2005

I can't believe nobody has mentioned toilet paper. I'm not gonna fucking wipe with my hand, man.
posted by Ryvar at 8:33 AM on December 22, 2005

I assume that before relocating I would learn basic Latin and get Lasik surgery.

- A copy of "How Things Work" -- with that as a starting point I'd be able to set myself up as Rome's leading engineer, designing anything from cannon to railroads to the telephone. I would live very comfortably.

- Antibiotics and a good first aid kit

- A Latin-English dictionary

- A decent reference book on the Roman Empire, including maps

- Cut gemstones; lighter than precious metals

- Some kind of pistol with enough power to punch through the skull of a large animal (they had lions in Europe back then) and a few hundred rounds

- A few dozen disposable lighters; these would be easily tradable

- Several good knives and a Leatherman multitool

- Moulds for the production of a number of sizes of screws, nuts, bolts and washers

- Comfortable clothing
posted by solid-one-love at 8:34 AM on December 22, 2005

25 years supply of contraceptive pills?
posted by crabintheocean at 8:35 AM on December 22, 2005

odinsdream : "Or get you quickly killed."

Keep in mind that the books he's talking about are written in a language not yet invented at the time, so for all practical purposes only he and the other Mefites taking the same trip would be able to read it. Killing the owner would just make the knowledge unavailable - since the Romans were extremely pragmatical, the worst outcome a stranger with great knowledge could expect would be becoming a noble house slave.

Knowledge seems to be the way to go - I don't know if a sun-powered PDA/Laptop is feasible yet, but if possible I would pack one of those with all reference books and practical guides I could find. Failing that, I would bring the books themselves (probably scanned, OCR'ed and re-printed in a very small font to save space). I'd be certain to include the whole works of Plato and Aristotle, so if the plan for world domination and scantly clad vestal virgins go wrong I could always find a job as a normal Greek philosophy teacher. Something to test/purify water would be nice. A gun and ammo, but also the best bow/crossbow I can find (so I could make more ammo if needed). Some short of bullet-proof protection (something small that could be used under normal clothes).
posted by nkyad at 8:36 AM on December 22, 2005

Screws, nuts, and bolts can't be made with molds. Threads are either cut or rolled.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:37 AM on December 22, 2005

A lot of people are mentioning becoming the great engineer....might not a simple ruler help with all the measuring you might be planning on doing?
posted by GeneticFreek at 8:46 AM on December 22, 2005

Clean underwear and socks
posted by caddis at 8:58 AM on December 22, 2005


They had salt. That's why I put bottles of spices. A jar full of pepper corns, another full of whole nutmeg, allspice berries and for the final kicker a jar of whole cayenne peppers (complete with seeds).

Come to mention it, a sack full of dried beans, some squash seeds, tomatoes seeds and a sack of modern gmo wheat would be useful!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:00 AM on December 22, 2005

What's the lifespan of antibiotics sitting in a bottle?

What other "raw" material would be more useful for trade or barter that could be used to increase your wealth in the ancient past, that you'd be able to obtain in the present easily?

Dyes, weapons, artificial gemstones, cannabis seeds, saffron, a breeding pair of modern chickens (not totally sure about this one), lenses, a breeding pair of some fur-bearing New World animal, silk, perfume, silver[?], glass[?].

The tools and skills necessary to make an English longbow might go a long way.

I don't think I'd be seeking world domination; that's the kind of thing that gets you killed.

I'd be aiming to take enough money to buy a villa in an area that won't see any trouble for the next hundred years or so, and buy a few slave girls. To that end, I'll take a big pile of gold coins, and a few silver and copper for spending money.

I'll buy a farm and villa, employ someone to run the farm, and retire.
posted by Leon at 9:04 AM on December 22, 2005

Screws, nuts, and bolts can't be made with molds. Threads are either cut or rolled.

You can mould plastic screws and other threaded fasteners; I've seen the process. Is there a reason why it can be done with plastic and not with metal?
posted by solid-one-love at 9:08 AM on December 22, 2005

100 BC? Are you insane? Who would want to live then? You might as well just pack a bottle of hemlock. 50 AD is where it's at, buddy. If it were 50 AD, I'd bring a bag full of ecstasy, some glow sticks, and a map to Petronius's house.
posted by MarkAnd at 9:14 AM on December 22, 2005

might not a simple ruler help

One of the many reasons to bring the Glover book. It has a ruler printed in it.
posted by aramaic at 9:17 AM on December 22, 2005

And for all you people who are like, "Duh, a gun and some ammo. Maybe a knife." You need to smarten up. They're never going to let you on the plane with that stuff.
posted by MarkAnd at 9:17 AM on December 22, 2005

You can mould plastic screws and other threaded fasteners; I've seen the process. Is there a reason why it can be done with plastic and not with metal?

Flexible mould?
posted by Leon at 9:18 AM on December 22, 2005

You can mould plastic screws and other threaded fasteners
Sure you can. You going to bring a couple hundred pounds of plastic resin, too? You'd be better off with a couple of thread files and a tap set; at least they knew how to make metal.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:23 AM on December 22, 2005

Is there a reason why it can be done with plastic and not with metal?

Because plastic is not available in Y1C. A simple lathe capable of turning metal for screws is not terribly complex to make and similar devices would have been available to turn wood then.

Cut gems, even ones that are not the precious kind to us today, would be extremely valuable back then. How about a sack full of cut garnet or poor quality rubies?

How about some modern flower bulbs? A jar of bakers yeast? Brewers yeast? Packets of rit dye (especially the blues)? You could even put everything in plastic jars (the magical, mystical, unbreakable glass!) and eventually sell those off if things got tight.

Plastic or glass beads would cost you next to nothing but fetch a fortune as would cheap make up mirrors.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:24 AM on December 22, 2005

Hypothetical circumstance warrants hypothetical carry-on --

Mary Poppins carpetbag, containing:
(a) Fold-up teleporter,
(b) Time-freezing device,
(c) Harry-potter style tent that opens up into a massive house like from HP:GOF,
(d) perpetual-motion powered food synthesizer,
(e) invisibility cloak, and
(f) Master Chief's Mjolnir Mark 6 armor with associated weaponry.

That should probably do it.
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:30 AM on December 22, 2005

You could make plastic (casein) out of milk.
posted by bshort at 9:34 AM on December 22, 2005

Kirth, Pollo, that's not what I asked. Kirth claimed that one cannot mould screws. This is false, since one can mould plastic screws. Is there a reason why plastic screws can be moulded but metal screws cannot?

I understand that plastic is not available in ancient Rome and that turning screws is probably more efficient -- bu this doesn't answer my question.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:37 AM on December 22, 2005

A knife, a spoon, a fork (I like my utensils with the current-standard number of tines and lack of lead, thank you,) several toothbrushes, a pair of scissors, 1 standard sheet set, a mosquito net, and eighty boxes of tampons.
posted by headspace at 9:38 AM on December 22, 2005

The precious jewel of choice is pearls. The Romans even into the late Imperial period wanted pearls. One of the fun stories about Anthony and Cleopatra is when she promised him a meal costing 250,000 sesterces. After a regular meal Anthony is a bit intrigued where upon Cleopatra crushes a pearl into wine and drinks. That is how precious pearls were.

Pearls have been used as collateral to fund armies in Rome so pack some pearls, gold blanks, and semi-precious and precious colored stones. And remember -- too many pearls decreases the demand.

From the medical front, you will want to have the means and knowledge to deal with parasites and their attendant diseases.
posted by jadepearl at 9:44 AM on December 22, 2005

solid-one-love writes "I've seen the process. Is there a reason why it can be done with plastic and not with metal?"

We form screws (and nuts and bolts) made out of metal because it is cheaper, you get a higher quality product in a single step, and it makes the screw/bolt/nut stronger. A forging is always stronger in tension than the equivalent casting.

Considering you wouldn't have access to steel or cast iron your screws and bolts would be made out of brass/bronze, copper or low quality iron. The first two are easy to cast but you get a lot better product out of a forged piece.
posted by Mitheral at 10:35 AM on December 22, 2005

A collapsible umbrulla, a prism, a trumpet, basic chemistry book, basic geology book, a book of knots, a book of math, an atlas, a latin for dummies textbook, a polaroid camera, a gun with lots ammo but preferably a muzzle loaded pistol, lots of gold and silver coins, and fill the rest up with immodium and a roll of toilet paper.
posted by furtive at 6:42 AM on December 23, 2005

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