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"We extol ancient things regardless of the modern."
Tacitus, Annales


The idea, especially in Fantasy settings, that older things generally are better. The swords left behind by an old civilization are better than those made by their modern descendants. Same goes for armor, magic, or whatever. Anything that can be described as "ancient" is better than its modern counterpart, as if people are regressing rather than inventing new technologies and improving on old ideas. In fact, this technology is so superior that it continues to outperform modern ones despite spending a dozen centuries half buried in dirt in a cave. This can be explained by a setting with Medieval Stasis: if technology is not advancing, then older items made by legendary craftsmen will be better than modern gear made by run-of-the-mill craftsmen. Sometimes this can also be explained by the source of the items being a Precursor race or Civilization, with the "modern" civilization having simply not caught up to them yet.

Subtropes of this include:



Partially Truth in Television: the idea that ancient knowledge is superior to modern knowledge exists in the real world, but it doesn't always work out that way. Bad Martial Arts has a page debunking this idea. It is also inferred in many pseudosciences like astrology and some alternative medicines: that these ancient knowledges and traditions have been around for so long. unchanged, must mean that they are better than modern science! It's the same logic as with the Old Master: if a tool has lasted for centuries and is still usable, then it must be damn good. Compare with Appeal to Tradition, to which this is related.

This trope follows a standard fantasy motif that everything has been grander and more perfect back in ancient times: gods roamed the Earth, heroes battled huge monsters with legendary weapons and armors that can survive centuries to be used again. If our modern heroes are doing the same thing, then it feels logical that the in the older times, there were bigger heroes fighting bigger monsters with even more legendary weapons.

Do not confuse with the Real Life nostalgia due to They Don't Make Them Like They Used To. Compare Stronger with Age when this applies to creatures. Also compare with Rock Beats Laser.

Examples of Older Is Better include:


Anime

  • Averted for fun in the Slayers tv series, where an ancient golem awakens to crush the heroes and promptly breaks down from centuries of disuse.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the older the magic, the better. This is especially seen in the Waking the Dragons arc. Got 5000 year old magic? Too bad, my magic is 10,000 years old.
  • The Mysterious Cities of Gold - All of the Lost Technology of the Mayincatec Precursors is far superior to what is produced now, even by the European nations. They have boats moved by solar-powered engines while Europe has not even discovered the steam engine yet.
    • To say nothing of their solar powered airplane.
      • Or their fusion reactor.
  • Servants from Fate/stay night gain strength with age and fame. Gilgamesh, being the oldest Heroic Spirit, uses this to compensate by being up against more famous Heroic spirits in both the Fourth Grail War and the Fifth Grail War
    • This is actually a Nasuverse rule of magic in general. Creatures and magical artifacts also get stronger with age. A sufficiently aged sword can tear apart a modern mage's barrier simply by being drawn.
    • Magic itself also follows this rule. Servant Caster, who lived in the Age of Gods (Ancient Greece), can use very powerful spells using few (and sometimes only one) word, while modern magic users need one minute to conjure magic of such power, it's no wonder that her "High-Speed Divine Words" skill is at A level.
  • Asura in Soul Eater is the first kishin to have ever formeed, and is the strongest by far.


Literature

  • Beowulf has many of the weapons, helmets, armours, standards and cups mentioned as prized heirlooms and passed around and down generations for a long time. It is suggested they were forged by Giants.
  • Lord of the Rings: Ancient Elven and Numenorian weapons are better than modern day Gondorian and Elven ones. The Silmarils were made by one of the most ancient elves, Feanor, and nothing created since rivals their beauty. Likewise, the modern-day dwarves of the Lonely Mountain haven't managed to match the weapons and armour that were made by their ancestors, whose techniques were lost when Smaug killed them.

  The Sword of Elendil was reforged by Elvish smiths. Not only did they put the two pieces together, which requires great skill if the joint is to be as strong as if the blade were newly-forged, but with the improvements in metallurgy which had been make during the millennia, they shaved a pound and a half off its weight, yet leaving the blade far stronger and less brittle than it had been before.

  • Harry Potter: The Elder Wand[1] is the best wand, and despite wandcraft having ostensibly advanced since it's creation, several centuries ago, no wand made since can match it. Same for Harry's invisibility cloak which is both older and superior to all of it's kind, even those made more recently. So superior are they that this gave birth to legends of these items being made by Death itself, and not by wizards like they were truly made.
    • Interesting, because Harry Potter seems to generally avert the trope: Magic evolves like science does. New discoveries are made. This is evident with Broomsticks: newer broomsticks are better for example: The Nimbus 2001 is better than the Nimbus 2000, who are both outdone by the more modern Firebolt.
      • The Wolfsbane potion is also a new invention, which is damn useful compared to other, older (and apparently non-existent) treatments for werewolves.
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy there's a whole list of these, including an ancient technique for forging swords and jewelry and everything ever made by Ezra the Mad.
    • Justified in that the tomes that recorded Ezra's techniques were destroyed in the lead up to a dark age.
  • The Dresden Files Explicitly applies this to necromancy. The older the corpse being re-animated, the more powerful the result. Harry uses this rule to get around the fact that non-human zombies are less powerful than ones made from humans by re-animating a corpse several orders of magnitude older than any possible human corpse. Zombie T-rex.

Live Action Tv

  • In Doctor Who, hiding in a really old building can keep the Reapers away from you. For a while.
  • In Deadliest Warrior, the pre-Biblical Spartans were shown to outmatch enemies who wielded technology more than a thousands years more advanced than their own because of their incredibly deadly bronze-age shields.


Tabletop Games

  • A standard trope in Dungeons and Dragons. If something is described as "Ancient", there is a 90% chance its better than it's modern equivalent.
    • Semi-averted in Forgotten Realms: After the Fall of Netheril the world's magic circuitry is broken. Alas, it's impossible to cast spells as powerful as Mavin's Worldweave or Proctiv's Seal Crystal Sphere (11 level). On the other hand? There's constant development -- Netheril in his prime had nothing as efficient as Virus Charm or Sammaster's Spellcaster. Even magic items of relatively recent era of Myth Drannor are sometimes fabled and sometimes plain inferior (like protections exploding on overload).
      • Of course, Myth Drannor itself is "fabled" because humans ran in, got some of the old elven magical knowledge and began to rapidly develop on it, dragging elves along. Just As Planned, since the Coronal made this unpopular decision after observing a few Mage Fairs and coming to the conclusion that though he and a handful of others are more powerful, he wants the best human wizards to work with his folk, if and while possible.
  • A major element in the BattleTech and Mechwarrior universe. Most of the galaxy's technological and industrial base ended up getting smashed in a lengthy series of civil war, losing them the ability to produce their highly advanced technology. Thus, newer mechs tend to be less capable in combat when paired up against similar mechs that were built hundreds of years earlier. Of course, if you HAVE such an old (but powerful) mech, you try to make sure it gets the best of maintenance so it will continue to be the best.
    • This was only true up to around 3040. Modern designs like the Hauptmann and Uriel are at least as good as their Star League counterparts, and the Clans, who were unaffected by the Succession Wars, field mechs that are vastly superior to equipment from any era in the Inner Sphere.
  • Obviously very prominent in Warhammer 40000 - not only They Don't Make Them Like They Used To - ancient magic weapons and eldar artifacts benefit from 'ancientness' as much as human technology.
    • Human technology is locked in stasis due to technology becoming a religion and 'discovery' effectively becoming archaeology - the only way an innovation will ever be approved by the high priests of the tech-cult is if it can be shown to have been an original part, or intended optional extra, of the base design.
    • Eldar technology is similarly unable to improve a lot because they are, as a species, essentially all refugees and mostly unable to sustain their population, never mind their technological infrastructure. They do innovate though, but not often and only in terms of re-applying existing knowledge and not making new discoveries.
    • The Necrons...basically are an Ancient Precursor race, only made into immortal, self-repairing robots and locked in stasis for 65Myr. They haven't improved their technology because it's already vastly superior to everyone else's and they are now unthinking automatons, for the most part.
    • Chaos avert this in that they are constantly coming up with new stuff or, rather, are prepared to let their gods change their old stuff in unpredictable ways (that usually involve lots of spikes as well) for them.
    • The Tau, on the other hand, avert this entirely; as the naive upstart race they are constantly updating and upgrading their technology, seeking alliances with other species and generally acting entirely counter to the tone of the setting...unless you are foolish enough to get in their way.


Video Games

  • Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood both feature this. Altair's centuries old armor is better than all modern armor. Justified by it being made from a Precursor alloy. Ditto for Brutus' (as in Caesar's killer) armor, which is better than modern armor too, despite being even older. Similarly, Altair's sword and Brutus' dagger are better than their modern counterparts. And even in the Modern Era, the Pieces of Eden are the most powerful artifacts ever created - another example of ancient Precursor technology.
  • The Elder Scrolls roll on this. Ancient Dwemer and Elven armors are better than modern day armors, despite being made (ostensibly) from the same kind of materials. Only armors made of specifically rarer material, such as Glass, Ebony or Daedric Ebony, are better.
    • Averted in Skyrim in a way that applies to the rest of the series: dwarven armor is made from dwarven metal, which can only be found in dwarven ruins (in the form of dwarven-made metal objects). Once you have the metal, you can make dwarven armor to your heart's content, and even improve upon it beyond what you'll find sitting around the ruins.
  • Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening has the Sentinel Armor Set, easily the best Massive Armor in the expansion. According to the lore, however, it belonged to the Grey Warden who killed the very first Archdemon over one thousand years ago.
  • In Diablo II (and clones) all of the items with more obscure ancient names are for some reason better.
  • Runescape has a lot of equipment originating from thousands of years past the current year of the game and these are some of the best equipment available...usually.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, the pieces of the Antique Arms & Armory are the first pieces of equipment to hit the power ceiling, with each of them having 200 power. However, they also have drawback effects (most notably being Breakable Weapons) that make them Awesome but Impractical. But then again, the stuff you can dig up at the bottom of the sea are all Infinity Plus One Swords, as are the pieces of the Legendary Regalia (old, powerful artifacts that have a connection to your class). So there are at least three examples here.
    • Parodied in the Slime Tube with 1950s clothing and toys that are nonetheless extremely powerful.
  • In Star Control 2, the massive galaxy-dominating battleship was a repurposed artifact from The Precursors; most of the ultra-powerful devices are Precursor in origin.
  • In Sword of the Stars the player-buildable Asteroid Monitors introduced in Argos Naval Yard are inferior to the Randomly-encountered ones built by past Morrigi.
  • Chrono Trigger gear from 65,000,000 BC is better than most gear from the present, the middle ages, or even from the future. Though the game is not linear about this, following the storyline rather than specific timelines.
  • Top-tier equipment (not just unique artifacts and relics) in Might and Magic tends towards the old, generally for one of three reasons: it was made with the help of the Heavenly Forge, it is so costly and complicated to make that most examples in existence are Ancestral, or it is made from materials no longer available, or at least very, very rare.


Web Comic

 Kathrena: "Flintlocke, I don't know if this quest you found for the ultimate goblin engineered weapon is legitimate. It's written in crayon."

Flintlocke: "ANCIENT crayon!"

  • Yehuda Moon is a very traditional cyclists, to the point where he almost worships the luddite-centric Lauderblumenthal Leaflet.


Western Animation

  • In one episode of Thundercats, Mumm-Ra is poking around in disguise by a (you guessed it) ancient pyramid. He's trying to open the lock on the door, and muses, "Ah, a very ancient lock design, unknown on Third Earth for a thousand years. Unknown, that is, except to one who has lived for a thousand years!"
    • Mumm-Ra's transformation sequence implies that, despite being a thousand years old, he gets his powers from statues called the "Ancient Spirits of Evil" who are even older.


Real Life

  • Wine and spirits improve with age, at least according to the connoiseurs who drink them.
    • The word "vintage" originally meant the collection of grape vines (farm and year) that a wine was made from; the fact that this word has come to mean "aged to perfection" in popular speech attests to the Older Is Better notion among wine snobs.
    • They do generally improve, but after a while they become undrinkable. Wine will decay into vinegar (literally "sour wine").
  • According to many musicians, the sound produced by cord instruments takes on a noticeably different timbre if they were constructed a very long time ago. The aging of the wood changes the dampening profile of the resonating chamber. This is one reason Stradivarius violins are so sought-after: Not only was Antonio Stradivari a highly skilled craftsman, but his violins are now over three centuries old. Additionally, it is thought that Stradivari's primary source of material for his more famous violins may have been cold-preserved wood from ruins that were already at least hundreds of years old, making this a real-life Exaggerated Trope.
    • Even relatively modern instruments are affected by this. Look at electric guitars for instance; the Gibson Les Paul Standard (which was produced from 1958-1961) costs on average over $300,000 apiece. Practically any article dealing with these guitars comes to the conclusion that they are some of the best instruments ever created, and contain an undefinable x-factor that bests the virtually identical reissues that also cost a small fortune.
    • Recent studies are beginning to disprove this, making this an aversion on technical merits, but played straight for sentimental (and monetary) value. Obviously no possessor of such ancient instruments is willing to have them dissected for this purpose, but other studies that present a number of instruments, old and new, to a number of musicians shows that no one is capable of telling the difference between an old and new instrument, either in the playing or the listening. Arguably, this makes the modern versions superior, as you can buy them, then drive yourself to the performance in a brand new car you bought with your antique violin funds.
      • Since some musicans refer to their electric guitar as their "axe", would that make this an example of an Ancestral Weapon? <insert Rimshot sound here>
  • Newer technology often depends on certain assumptions and can be ineffective or even useless outside of that context. This can result in having "obsolete" technology used in places where new technology fares poorly or kept around as a backup. See Rock Beats Laser.
    • The US military phased out pack animals in the 1950s, only to be reminded that wheels are poorly suited to the rugged terrain found in areas of Afghanistan. In 2004, the US Army printed Special Forces Use of Pack Animals, which "captures some of the expertise and techniques that have been lost...over the last 50 years."
      • The same happened back in WWII. Cavalry was among the Soviet troops who caused most troubles to Germans on the early stage after control and logistics were lost. Because in short term they needed only machinegun/rifle ammo and food for men, and horses are good for bad terrain. In comparison, Soviet heavy tanks were by far the most powerful of their time, but without directions and supply got reduced to light fortifications lonely holding a tiny spot until out of shells -- at best.
  • Guitarists still prefer tube amplifiers over transistor amplifiers because of the warmer and more organic output of the tube amp.
  • The vinyl LP record is still preferred over compact disks and other binary musical formats by connoisseurs.
  • Many photographers never use the full automatic mode when transitioning from film camera to digital. They achieve better results on manual mode - they are used to it and can use it to obtain best results. They also favor their extant old lenses, which usually are metal and glass, over more modern all-plastic lenses, which are lighter but less robust.
    • Full automatics usually are set to "discernible in most possible cases" which by definition is suboptimal for specific cases, so even an operator with small experience can do better. People who worked with a film camera tend to at least understand what aperture, shutter and focal depth do, even if the sensor is not the same. While people who come from cellphone cams / webcams and other "soapboxes" with pinprick aperture didn't see the differences obvious with any halfway good lenses and usually need a lot of experiments to "feel" the optics.

Notes

  1. Elder being the wood it is made from, not a reference to its age.
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