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...and it is possible that in the near future the author (if the readers will bear with him) may be led to make use of hypothetical years, rather like those hypothetical moons used in the calculation of Easter: an 1812a as it were or even an 1812b.

—Patrick O'Brian, introduction to The Far Side of the World

A form of Hollywood History related to Newer Than They Think, Older Than They Think or both. When a period of history is given such weight and importance as to make it seem to have lasted a lot longer than it really did.

Compare Frozen in Time.

Examples of Briefer Than They Think include:

Comic Books

  • All of Asterix's adventures are supposed to take place between the conquest of Gaul and the death of Julius Caesar: that's six years, from 50 to 44 BC.
  • A fandom example: the Legion of Super-Heroes has had some eras that were either famous or infamous, but they really didn't last long at all:
    • Supergirl only had about 14 substantial appearances during her run (depending on how you count), with another 9 in the 1980s. The run of "Supergirl and the Legion" from 2006-2008 had about as many issues as Supergirl's entire set of Legion appearances back to 1960, and most of her early ones weren't even full length stories.
    • The Legion of Super-Pets only appeared 7 times and only had major roles in around four, also depending on how you count.
    • The Adult Legion appeared in 9 stories total (plus LSH #300, which wrote it out of continuity).
  • Batman first appeared in 1939's Detective Comics #27. Robin the Boy Wonder debuted the following year in Detective Comics #38. Modern retellings of the darknight detectives early solo career have stretched that era out to at least two years, a very busy period covered by Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, various issues of Legends of the Dark Knight, a guest appearance in John Byrne’s Man of Steel, and featuring the debuts of the Riddler, Two-Face, the Joker (as the Red Hood), Catwoman, and Hugo Strange. Most of these villains originally debuted after Robin. Some of these modern retellings, however, may no longer be canon.


  • A fictional example, in Star Wars and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Clone Wars. Two prequel trilogy movies, an additional feature film, two multiple-season cartoon series, several videogames and novels, dozens of comic books...the list goes on. All this is a 3-year canonical span.
    • And immediately after it's over, the entire time before it is seen as ancient. Star Wars people very quickly become extremely foggy about things that happened during their own lifetimes. See the quote at the top of Continuity Drift.
    • And of course, Obi-Wan muses about how the Jedi were the guardians of the Old Republic before the Dark Times of The Empire. Which, according to Canon, had been around for a measly nineteen years when he said that.
    • Another in-universe example happens on Dantooine, home of a Jedi Enclave, in KOTOR II, where because the Sith Empire occupied their world due to said enclave for no more than a month five years ago, most of them distrust the Jedi at best and are openly hostile to anyone with a lightsaber at worst.
  • Grace Kelly's movie career lasted just 5 years (1951 to 1956).
    • James Dean's contemporaneous movie career lasted even shorter.
  • Bruce Lee's film career included many bit parts in Hong Kong, but he only starred in 4 complete films over a 3 year period (plus Game of Death, which was unfinished).


  • The Regency only lasted 9 years, from 1811-20. Yet according to the romance novel industry, at least half of England's peerage and gentry must have gotten married during this time.

Live Action TV

  • M*A*S*H and Young Riders both were on the air longer than the historical events they portrayed - the Korean War and the Pony Express, respectively. The latter was obsolete a month after it was founded due to the telegraph, and only lasted eighteen months.
  • The classic Batman TV series lasted from 1966 to 1968—somehow, it ended up forming everyone's opinion of the caped crusader (active from 1939 to present).
  • Star Trek: The Original Series is the best-known Star Trek series, but it was the shortest-lived of the five live-action Trek series.
  • Chevy Chase was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for just over a year.
  • Pointed out in an episode of Horrible Histories, where the cowboys sing about how they "only ruled the range for 20 years."


  • Almost all of the musical works Kurt Weill wrote in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht were created between 1927 and 1930. The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) is the only significant exception.
  • The Sex Pistols, credited with starting the Punk Rock movement, were together initially for only 2 1/2 years, produced four singles and one album.
    • Even more notably, Sid Vicious, practically the Face of the Band, was with the band for such a short time that they only recorded about 3 songs with him.
  • Buddy Holly's music career lasted a year and a half until his death in a plane crash.
  • Nirvana's mainstream popularity lasted about 3 years before Kurt Cobain's suicide ended the band. These days they are probably the most popular band after The Beatles - their posthumous releases easily outnumber the releases they made when he was alive.
  • Guns N Roses released three original albums, one covers album and a compilation before the band was effectively over, yet similar to the Nirvana example they have been treated like they went on for years.
  • Even though they've been going since 1983, the Red Hot Chili Peppers only released their 10th album in 2011. This is because several of their albums have been released three to five years apart from each other, unlike many bands who tend to release one every two years.
  • Spice Girls only maybe a grand total of 6 years together, 3 albums, 2 with the entire group..With two tours to their name.
  • Delta Goodrem despite her immense success and opening the door for singer songwriters in Australia has only had 3 albums out in the last 8 years.
  • Amy Winehouse only released two albums in her lifetime, yet despite this she inspired and paved the way for arguably the most successful female singer songwriters of her generation. Adele, Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith, Rebecca Ferguson, Emili Sande, Jessie J, Duffy and Florence Welch have all personally cited Amy Winehouse as both a huge influence on their music as well as for paving the way for them and making it easier for them to enjoy huge success all over the world.
  • Disco's heyday was just a flash, it didn't enter the mainstream until 1974 and it wasn't until 1977 that most hits associated it with it came out along with Saturday Night Fever. Disco Demolition Night meanwhile was in 1979 just two years later, and by the end of 1980 it had all but faded entirely.

Real Life

  • The "Antebellum" Deep South: While technically, perhaps, the term antebellum could mean all of U.S. history before 1860, what most people think of as The Old South, with a cotton-based economy and big white-columned plantations everywhere, was mostly from about 1830 until the Civil War. 31 years. Less than one person's lifetime. Outside the "tidewater" coastal areas, much of the South was not even settled by whites until after the War of 1812. For example, the Atlanta that burned in Gone with the Wind had not existed in any form at all before 1836, had been called that only since 1847, became a city of any importance only a few years before the war started, and wasn't even Georgia's capital until a few years after the war ended (Georgia has had more places serve as capital than most other states; immediately prior to the Civil War, the capital was in the tiny town of Millidgeville, and Macon briefly served as the capital in between the two).
    • This was only Truth in Television on the Atlantic Coast - particularly Virginia - and the Gulf Coast (and a few waystations along the major rivers), which is probably where the idea of associating it with the entire South came from. Even in the coastal areas, it was perfectly possible for a person to live from the time cotton began to be grown widely (a little after the cotton gin was invented in 1793) all the way to the time of the Civil War. This is, admittedly, a little misleading; before cotton was king, tobacco was tops.
      • Robert E. Lee's father had fought in the Revolutionary War (Robert was a child of his old age).
  • The Wild West: Although the expansion of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific took up most of the 19th century, nearly all Westerns take place between the end of the American Civil War and 1890, the year the US Census Bureau declared the frontier "closed": 25 years. Western-themed TV series like Gunsmoke ran for so long that their depiction of this period borders on Medieval Stasis, which is ironic considering that the whole reason this era was an exciting fictional setting in the first place was that it was a time of great change.
    • A particularly glaring example of this trope: the Pony Express lasted eighteen months (April 1860 to October 1861) before it was supplanted by the telegraph.
    • Somewhat relatedly, and on a smaller scale, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone lasted about 30 seconds or so in real life. Most depictions of it stretch it out to several minutes because of its legendary status.
  • The "High Middle Ages" (roughly 1000-1300), the era on which most "medieval" tropes are based, was only one period of the Middle Ages, and not even the longest one. Not to mention it wasn't as static as usually depicted, but that's its own trope.
  • Classical Greece: While Greece has a history of thousands of years, almost all of the non-mythical people and events that the average person can name are from 500 to 300 B.C. This includes the rise of Athenian "democracy", the Persian wars (when Three Hundred is set), and the rise of Alexander the Great. Most of the ancient writers whose texts have survived to the present day (excluding, of course, Homer) had overlapping lifespans. The United States has already been a republic for longer than Athens was a democracy. This might be from a tendency by the average person to conflate Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome (the latter of which did go on for quite some time).
  • Rome is not free of this either. For example, almost every Roman soldier in fiction will wear Lorica Segmentata, a type of armor that was on production from roughly 20 to 300 AD. Compare it with what legionaries wore in the Samnite Wars (4th century BC), Punic Wars (264-146 BC) and the late empire (300-450 AD). The late Roman Army was in fact very "Medieval" looking, with a lot more reliance on cavalry hailing from stone fortresses than on the famed legions of earlier periods.
    • In general, fictional depictions of Rome tend to be concentrated on the very late Republic or the early Empire. Most Roman Epics were set between about 70 BC (Spartacus) and about 50 AD (I, Claudius). A very brief period considering the whole history from the founding of the Republic to the fall of the Empire in the West (and even longer if you count the Eastern Empire, which continued for another millennium).
  • The zenith of European colonial empires only lasted two or three generations. An very elderly man in early 1960's Africa might have lived to see everything from the coming of the British or French to independence. This was obvious at the time because it was called the Scramble For Africa. In 1870, only 10% of Africa was European. by 1900, only Liberia and Ethiopia were left free (and the Italians invaded Ethiopia later, while Liberia had begun as a colony). However, it also lasted a lot longer than you might think. France and Britain still owned most of Africa as late as 1960. Portugal never gave up its colonies right through the 1970s until an anti-fascist revolution in Portugal itself (the leftists who won immediately gave up all of Portugal's remaining colonies except Macau). Mind you, the coming of the Empires did end the sale of Africans to European and Arabic merchants for good - which had been going on for many centuries by that point (though less than 300 for the Americas trade).
    • Strangely enough, the Apartheid system of white minority rule that existed in South Africa, Namibia, and Rhodesia (the southern district of which constitutes modern Zimbabwe) can qualify. Although life for local black Africans in these areas was far from pleasant during the colonial era, most of South Africa (settled by Europeans long before the other two) was in local hands (some black, some white) for much of the 19th Century. The whole of South Africa was conquered by Britain by 1902, and given independence as the Union of South Africa in 1910. Sure, the rulers were white, but "Empire" =/= "rule by white people".
      • Basically, Apartheid as a legal framework came into being in South Africa after the Afrikaner-run National Party won the Parliamentary elections in 1948, and it ended with the first multiracial elections in 1994 - just over 45 years. South Africa imposed the system on South-West Africa (modern Namibia, a former German colony) in 1966, and kept it in place until Namibian independence in 1990 – 24 years. The white minority of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) saw what their South African comrades were doing, thought it was a great idea, and adopted it themselves when they declared unilateral independence in 1965, and it remained on the books until the end of minority rule in 1980 – 15 years. Although with that last one...
  • Russian Communism from Red October to Gorbachev was only 74 years. It just felt like forever. 74 years is long enough to be born, live a long life, and die without having known anything different. So for quite a few, it may as well have been forever.
    • In other words, less than one-fourth as long as the Romanov dynasty.
    • Likewise, the experience of Communism from Estonia down to the area that now constitutes Poland only lasted 55 years. A long time, to be sure, but this troper's friend's great-grandmother (of 106 years) saw it for herself. She keeps emergency stores of oatmeal under her bed to this day, apparently (she's a tad senile)
  • The "classic" pirate era lasted about thirty years, from around 1680 to 1710. Blackbeard and Anne Bonney were a little after this, 1718 or so.
    • Granted, most "pirates" had been privateers in the British or French Navy before that, and the buccaneer communities in Hispaniola date back to at least 1630.
  • The American (i.e. USA) colonial period can count as well. Disregarding earlier Spanish settlements in Florida and the Rio Grande valley - as US schoolbook history tends to - the era lasted from the founding of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, until the official end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. For those keeping score, that's 176 years. By contrast, Mexico was a Spanish colony for exactly 300 years, Cuba for nearly 400, and Bermuda has been a British colony for even longer than that.
    • Also, for most of colonial American history there were less colonies than the Thirteen who broke away from Britian in the war. Georgia was founded in 1733, a mere 42 years before the Revolution started. At the time of independence, the founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, was still alive, as were many of the original settlers. There's a reason that most of the South was Loyalist right up to the end of the war.
  • Stuff about World War II made in the United States always starts after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and mostly are set from D-Day onward, unless they're for the fringe market of Eastern Front enthusiasts. The period from D-Day to V-E day, when most American-made WWII works are set, is only 11 months. This is probably a subtrope of America Saves the Day.
    • Fighting on the Chinese Front (i.e., the Second Sino-Japanese War) began in 1937.
    • Meanwhile the United Nations uses 1935 as the date the war started, since it was then that the Japanese first annexed Manchuria, part of Security Council member China.
  • America was only in World War I for about a year officially. It ended pretty much as soon as the army turned up in Europe, though that's because Germany risked and lost everything on the Ludendorff Offensive because they knew they needed to win before the US Army arrived.
  • A lot of people get the wrong impression that Muslim Spain was only the Caliphate of Cordoba (or even worse, the Kingdom of Granada) and as a result think that it was a splendid, unified and tolerant state during the whole period of 800 years between Tariq ibn Ziyah's invasion and the Christian conquest of Granada. In reality, the Caliphate itself only existed between 929 and 1031, and it was downright decadent from 976. Before 929 it was an emirate, not as powerful or splendorous for most of its existence as in the Caliphal period (and quite a bit chaotic during its first decades of existence, by the way), and after 1031 it dissolved in petty statelets that were controlled from time to time by their Christian or (North African) Muslim neighbours and life could be quite nasty there sometimes. The 'Reconquista' itself could be considered another example of this trope, as it actually ended de facto in the 1250s when Ferdinand III of Castile conquered the entire Guadalquivir Valley and Granada became a Castilian protectorate.
  • For most of their existence the Aztecs did not have an empire. They were vassals of other Mexica tribes up to 1427 and only began to expand in the 1440s. Thus, when the Spaniards showed up in 1519, the Aztec Empire was less than 100 years old and many of its provinces had been held for less than 20 years. Many of the men who fought for Cortés were actually non-Aztec natives looking for a rematch.
    • Similarly the Incan 'empire', Tawantinsiyu, was around the same age, having entered a period of rapid expansion which had been still going on just before the Spaniards showed up, put on hold as they entered a civil war over who would be Sapa Inca. As a result, once Pizarro was able to capture Atuhualpa (many spelling variations), who had recently won (and ordered his opponent, Huascar killed) and decided to kill him, they were able to lead many natives against the remaining Incan leadership. Unsurprising as they deliberately tried to emulate Cortés.
  • While the city of Babylon had been in existence for thousands of years, the Chaldean Neo-Babylonian Empire only lasted from 612-539 B.C., and the empire was already in considerable decline for a number of years before it fell. The entirety of what popular culture considers "Ancient Babylon" including the Hanging Gardens, Ishtar Gate, etc. all came from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. After he died, it all went to seed.
  • Inversion: the Great Crash of 1929 was not the sudden and screeching halt to the Roaring Twenties it is typically depicted as in fiction. The Great Crash of 1929 only set the Depression in motion, the American economy stagnating until the banking crisis of '32-33, whereupon it hit rock-bottom. The Roaring Twenties were a time of burgeoning problems covered up by prosperity, or the illusion thereof, which served to make the collapse seem far more sudden than it really was - much like the current depression.
    • Anyone with a passing knowledge of Southern US history comes away with a very different picture than just New York ticker-tape and the Kansas dust bowl. In the South, the Depression started earlier and lasted longer (in some areas of the Mississippi Delta, it never truly ended).
  • The gold standard was the international monetary standard for only about 40 years, from the 1890s through the 1930s, give or take a few years depending on the country—shorter than the fiat system currently in place. Prior to that, most countries operated on the silver (or in the case of the US, bimetallic) standard.
  • Dynasties in American sports are dominant for a briefer period than it appears, such as the Dallas Cowboys of the early 90s, the New York Yankees of the late 90s, and the New England Patriots of the early 00s. Also, the period during which they are contemporarily perceived as dynasties is even shorter.
  • Although Nazi Germany was not a pleasant place to live by any stretch of the imagination, especially if one was Jewish, the Holocaust only existed for the last three years of World War II. Most people seem to think that one of the first things Hitler did after coming to power was implement the Final Solution (hint: there's a reason it was called the Final Solution).
    • In fact, Nazi Germany itself only lasted about twelve years, from Hitler's appointment as chancellor (30 January 1933) to the unconditional surrender (8 May 1945).
    • As Cracked once put it, "there have been more Nazi killed in fiction then there were actual members of the National Socialist party."
      • In case you're wondering: about 7.5 million by 1945.
  • Inversion: the period of massive immigration to the United States is often perceived as having begun in the 1880s or 1890s and having been largely over by World War I. Actually, there was steady migration from north-western Europe throughout which was supplemented by a burgeoning surge from the '50s to the 1900s and a relative decline thereafter. However, there were still far more emigrants immigrating post-war than ever before, despite the bans on non-European immigration. Immigration has never dropped below the pre-surge level since the surge ended, even though white people no longer made up the majority of immigrants when non-whites were again allowed in post-WWII. The reason the immigrants from the turn of the century are discussed in American History classes is because from about The Fifties to The Seventies (and beyond in some parts of the country), most Americans were either the children or grandchildren of these particular immigrants, and so they were more interested in the ones from Europe than from, say, Mexico.
  • The Taliban only really controlled Afghanistan for about five years (1996-2001). The rest of the time they were just the biggest fish in the pond.
  • Out of over a hundred years of the Hundred Years' War, most plays, films etc. focus on Henry V's Agincourt campaign (1415), Joan of Arc's active involvement (1429-1430, 15 months) and her trial (1431, 3 months).
  • The Empire State Building was only the tallest building in the world for forty years, from 1931, when it surpassed the Chrysler Building [1] to 1972, when the World Trade Center's North Tower was completed. Most other skyscrapers have even shorter tenures.
    • Inversely, the builders of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada in 1976 thought it would be surpassed as the world's tallest freestanding structure relatively shortly. Instead, the decline in the need for broadcast towers meant that it kept that title for 34 years.
  • Cowboys were really only around for twenty years or so, despite what Hollywood would have us think. That said, most cattle these days are still rounded up on horseback, because a horse is quicker-turning and nimbler than any truck.
  • The whole flowers-and-drugs Swinging Sixties was this in England. It lasted for the summer of 1968 for a very few people before people realised they had lives and careers to get on with.
  1. itself an example, as it is only eleven months older than the E.S.B.