In several TNG episodes, I recall references to Riker talking to Picard about remembering something from “Earth's Ancient History”. I am just wondering, considering TNG is set in the 24th century and so what we currently consider on the brink of being ancient would by then probably be seen as ancient, is there a difference between our definition of the era we call 'ancient history' and their definition of 'ancient history' in the 24th Century?

Just FYI: today “Modern History” is classified as between 1500 and now, and “Ancient history” is pre 300 BCE (thanks to @JamesSheridan for the details).

  • 4
    In "Mirror, Mirror", Scotty referred to "the ancient Gestapo", though it's not clear that that was the accepted use of the term at the time. Apr 7, 2014 at 7:03
  • 1
    @user14111 good pickup! Cheers 😉👍 Jun 13, 2016 at 0:35
  • 1
    I remember a story where the character writes, "There was music playing, something classical. Like the Beatles." Jun 13, 2016 at 1:01
  • 2
    In the TNG episode "A Fistful of Datas" they refer to the Ancient West, which for at least some aspects of history would imply the mid-late 1800s is "Ancient" Jun 13, 2016 at 3:33

2 Answers 2


This almost feels like a question for https://english.stackexchange.com/, but since it's asking about Star Trek specifically...

The answer is still exactly the same - it relates to the definition of the phrase.

Ancient History

  1. the study or a course of study of history before the end of the Western Roman Empire a.d. 476.
  2. information or an event of the recent past that is common knowledge or is no longer pertinent: Last week's news is ancient history.
  3. an event, as in a person's life, that occurred in the remote past and has no practical relationship with the present: She was my best friend in high school, but that's ancient history now.

Or from the Free Online Dictionary's Definition of Idioms:

Fig. someone or something from so long ago as to be completely forgotten or no longer important, as a former relationship.

In other words, there is a literal definition for a period of time that covers "Ancient History", but there are other definitions - usually referring to a time or an event that has no relevance today.

That being said, only a well-studied Historian or an English professor would call Commander Riker on the use of the phrase to describe something that happened several hundred years ago. Just as someone today would be considered very persnickety to complain about someone referring to Shakespeare's Plays as part of "Ancient History", even though technically it's part of Classical History (then again, I'm neither a historian nor an english professor, so it may be some other period of time altogether).

My point being, it's a phrase that has a very specific meaning, even today, that often enough gets used to mean something that it does not include, that I doubt that would change by the 24th century. (Again, not an english professor)


As an historian, I can tell you that Ancient history is defined as pre-Classical history. That is, prior to around 300BCE. This is fairly Euro-centric, based as it is on the conquests of Alexander the Great, but it applies fairly well to China as well, since the Qin dynasty united that state around the same period.

This is a set period; it will not be changed in the future. Common usage will change, but popular knowledge of history is always around a century behind scholarship, and often uses the incorrect terminology; hence the comment about the "ancient Gestapo" above.

  • 1
    Thank you for this clarification, however it doesn't answer my question (which I fail to see why it is being downvoted - it is NOT opinion based, but seeks a canonical answer about what ancient history is in the 24th century). I am quite sure that the definition of 'Ancient History' changes by the 24th Century to include some aspects of what we currently consider the middle-ages Apr 7, 2014 at 8:10
  • 3
    @N.Soong: you're wrong about that. "Ancient" history is a period of time that has already been determined, at least roughly. It hasn't changed in two hundred years, it won't change in the next three hundred. It would be like asking what the date of the French Revolution will be in the 24th century. It won't change. Apr 7, 2014 at 8:47
  • 2
    +1|Fair point made. It's just that there is reference to something that I know happened in the Middle Ages (Battle of Normandy I think) that Riker at one point refers to as being 'Ancient History'. Apr 7, 2014 at 8:50
  • 4
    As I said, common usage differs from scholarly usage. I often hear mention of the "ancient British Empire." The British Empire didn't dissolve until 1945. Technically it still exists. Riker's clearly just an idiot. Picard should slap him around a little, as a history buff. Apr 7, 2014 at 12:08
  • 3
    “which I fail to see why it is being downvoted” — possibly because it sounds like it’s based on the premise that there’s some set dates for “ancient” history from a 24th century perspective, when it’s fairly likely that a) the line is there for effect, to remind viewers that they’re watching the future; and b) even in-universe, Riker might not be using “ancient history” in a technical sense, but merely using “ancient” as an adjective. Maybe “are there set dates for “ancient history” from a 24th century perspective?” would be better phrasing. Apr 7, 2014 at 13:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.