Gold

Everyone has heard of Constantinople at some point in their life, I should think–at least they’ve heard that annoying song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Some may even know that it fell to the army and navy of the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, ending the Eastern Roman Empire after a thousand years of existence. The Ottomans relocated the capital of their empire there, renaming it as Istanbul. (Christian Europe continued calling it Constantinople for centuries; it’s only over the last hundred years or so that Istanbul has come into more common usage.) But few know much more about the city and the empire it served as capital for over a millenium. Of those, some may know the basics–the Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, recognizing that the enormous Roman Empire had become impossible to rule or enforce law or protect, split the empire into eastern and western halves, and founded a capital for the east on the site of the village of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 473 when the city fell; yet the eastern empire continued until 1453. Western Europe, always trying to reclaim the heritage of the Roman Empire (and ambitiously planning to rebuild it), always referred to the still existing Roman Empire as “Greek” rather than “Roman,” although the citizens of that great city and the vestiges of its empire continued calling themselves Romans until the Turks finally ended it.

But that thousand year history? It’s not easy to find information or books with much information; even the one history of the Empire I did read–Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth, along with his City of Fortune, a history of the Venetian Empire–glossed over centuries and only hit highlights. I’ve always wanted to write something historical set in the new Rome.

The Eastern Empire out-lasted its western counterpart by nearly a thousand years. Constantinople was one of the greatest Christian cities of all time; there was certainly nothing even remotely close to it in western Europe in terms of population, art, culture, education, and trade. It’s location put it in control of access and egress from the Black Sea; it also controlled the trade routes between Europe and Asia. Its fall in 1453 meant that those trade routes were now controlled by the non-Christian Islamic Ottoman Empire–and as such, other ways to reach the far east became necessary to the western Europeans, hence the Portuguese circumnavigating Africa and the Spanish attempt to sail west to find a route, leading to the “discovery” of the Americas. The fall of Constantinople was an incredibly important and necessary piece of the interlocking puzzle that led to European colonization and the global empires that resulted from it (as well as the oppression and enslavement and genocide of native populations); but Western historians–in particular, those monastic scholars in Catholic orders–have always tried to erase and /or lessen the importance of the eastern Empire and its capital, calling them “Greeks”, renaming the Eastern Roman Empire as the “Byzantine Empire,” etc.–and in no small part, this was also because of the Christian Schism of 1054, in which the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split in two over questions of dogma. Therefore, it was in the interest of the Western Europeans to underplay the vital importance to European history of the remains of the Roman Empire because western Catholics considered their Orthodox brethren as heretics; their church was the true one, even if it was in the east that the religion originally came from, and it was in the eastern half of the empire the tenets and dogma of the “true” faith were established. The Pope in Rome always tried to assert his own authority over the Patriarch in Constantinople; the Patriarch considered himself to be the head of the faith and the Pope just another bishop. Thus, when Charlemagne conquered most of central Europe, he and the Pope created the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, or Roman, or even really an empire in the traditional sense); the Romans in Constantinople were not pleased. (At the time, through some political machinations and drama, a woman was seated on the throne in Constantinople–the Empress Irene, one of the most interesting women in European history; she was also pretty terrible. The Pope decided there could be no such thing as a female Emperor, and so he crowned Charlemagne.)

The Holy Roman Empire also lasted over a thousand years.

Anyway, I’ve always been interested in the eastern Empire, even though it’s largely neglected in European histories. But one event in its history has always been interesting to me in particular –the fall of Constantinople to the Catholic 4th Crusade in 1204, which essentially set the stage for the second fall of the city, to the Ottomans in 1453. I also have an idea for a Colin book–which I’ve had for a very long time–that would have its beginnings in the 1204 sack of Constantinople.

It’s remarkably hard to find much information–granted, it’s not like I’ve tried very hard, but the fact that you have to try hard to find histories and/or books about the Empire and its capital, let alone the 4th Crusade–even histories of the Crusades themselves gloss over the fact that a Crusader army, blessed by the Pope, allowed itself to be diverted by the Venetians to capture and sack two Christians cities (Zara and Constantinople), and established “Latin” (western European) kingdoms and principalities out of the provinces that were once the Eastern Roman Empire. These Catholic kingdoms were so despised by their subjects that they didn’t last long, with another dynasty of the old empire arising to drive them out. The sack of the city and the pillaging and destruction that followed created such a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and the kings that followed the Pope that they preferred the Ottomans to a reconquest by the Catholic nations–which is saying something. Ernie Bradford’s The Great Betrayal: The Great Siege of Constantinople is a very thorough account of the tragedy and how it came to pass; the destruction of the mighty city–along with the destruction of priceless books and documents and art forever lost to us–was on a par with the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria.

The book itself is very interesting; the siege took nearly a year, and it’s actually kind of shocking that the Crusaders succeeded in taking the city, bearing in mind the strong defenses and so forth. A lot of things had to fit into place for it to happen, and they all did. The city came so close to holding them off successfully; it’s almost as though, as they would have said at the time, it was God’s will for it to happen. The city was also filled with all kinds of priceless Christian relics; after all, the religion was founded in the east, and as city after city fell to foreign invaders, a lot of priceless artifacts and holy relics were moved to the capital. (The great horses from the Hippodrome, for example, are proudly on display in the Piazza San Marco in Venice to this day.) A lot of the art was destroyed, jewels picked out of reliquaries, the gold or silver or bronze melted down for coin, and so forth.

As someone who has always loved history, and also has always loved treasure hunts–especially those that are involved with the history and development of Christianity, many years ago (I will freely confess to being inspired by Indiana Jones movies) I thought about writing such a treasure hunt story–where the ‘treasure’ being hunted was some important document or book or relic from the earliest days of Christianity that would revolutionize the faith as well as show how off-course it had gone since the earliest days…and wouldn’t it have made sense that whatever it was could have been kept in Constantinople, deep in the archives of the Orthodox Church? And with western, Catholic Europeans besieging the city, wouldn’t the Patriarch have wanted to keep it out of the hands of the Pope, and smuggled it out of the city to be hidden somewhere else, safe from the prying eyes of Rome?

And of course, when I created Colin–actually, when I brought him back in Jackson Square Jazz–I loved the character so much that I considered spinning him off; what about the jobs he’s on when he’s not in New Orleans? “Oh,” I thought, “my fall of Constantinople story! That could work for Colin!” And it even occurred to me the other day that I could even do them as “case files,” setting them throughout the past, both before and after he met Scotty and woven in between the Scotty stories. (It also occurred to me that I could do Scotty stories to fill in the years between books, if I wanted to…)

And reading this book–which i recommend if you want to know more about “holy wars” and how corrupt and unholy they actually were–made me think about it even more. I do want to include something about the Empress Irene, too.

Something to brainstorm at some point. Like I have the time to squeeze in another book…but it would be fun; although I don’t know how good I would be at writing action/adventure/thrillers.

It would be fun to find out, though.

The Highwayman

And he is home in the Lost Apartment, swilling coffee after having a good night’s sleep for the first time since, well, last Tuesday night, really; I had to get up at five on Thursday, after all. I got home around nine last night; I got a ride to the airport many hours before my flight–which I don’t mind, as long as I have something to read and an Internet connection, I am more than capable of entertaining myself. The flight home was uneventful, I retrieved the car and there wasn’t any traffic to speak of on I-10 so the drive home was practically nothing. Now I have to adjust back to my normal reality, which is also fine–it can be very tiring and exhausting being at a conference for the weekend, but as I mentioned yesterday, I had a marvelous time. Sleuthfest is a lovely event (kudos to the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America, with an especial shout out to president Alan Orloff and chairs Michael Joy and Raquel Reyes) I’ve always enjoyed when I’ve had the opportunity to attend; I certainly hope it works out for me to go again next year. I met some new people and reconnected with others I’ve not seen since pre-pandemic (some of course I’ve met and seen since the pandemic started), and over all, it was truly a lovely weekend. I also managed to get some writing done over the course of the weekend, which is always a pleasant surprise when it happens.

But there’s also something quite lovely about being home, in my own desk chair drinking my own coffee and looking at my big desktop screen instead of the laptop. I have a million emails to get through and try to answer; data to enter for my day job; and at some point later today I have to run errands and finish re-acclimating to New Orleans and my usual, ordinary, day to day existence. I did manage to finish reading my friend’s manuscript (which I greatly enjoyed), as well as The Great Betrayal, and got about half-way through Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy, which I hope to finish this week. I have some stories to finish polishing to get out into the world this month, and I need to get back to the writing, of course. I’m also still a little reeling from how well my reading from Chlorine went at Noir at the Bar; yesterday people were still coming up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how much they were looking forward to reading it when it’s finished. I suspect Chlorine might be the breakout book I’ve been waiting to write most of my career…it certainly seems like it, doesn’t it?

I am feeling a bit better about where I am at with everything and my writing, I have to say. That’s the lovely thing about events like Sleuthfest–writers with careers like mine often are operating in a vacuum. Sure, people say nice things to us about our work on social media or in Amazon or Goodreads reviews, but for the most part we don’t get many opportunities to engage with readers or other authors in person. I doubt, for example, that I will ever be so popular that my signings or readings or appearances will be ticketed events. It’s always possible, of course, but at this point hardly likely. having in person interactions with other writers and readers. Writing is different from other jobs; you mostly do it by yourself and it’s not like you have an office filled with other co-worker authors to go to every day. I never am overly concerned about how good of a job I am doing at my day job; I know my job inside out and I provide good care and education to my clients every day. But writing is an entirely different animal. You work on something by yourself for quite some time and polish it and edit it and rewrite it and you have no idea what’s going on with it–if it’s any good or not, because you’re not a good judge of your own work, and then you send it out and wait and wait and wait to find out if it’s any good or remotely publishable. And even then, you don’t get any feedback outside of your editor for months and months and months after you wrote it–and in some cases, by the time the book or story comes out, you’ve completely forgotten what it was about and who the characters were and so on.

Heavy sigh.

That’s why, at least for me as an author, going to events like Sleuthfest are so important. I need that reinvigoration every once in a while; it inspires me and pushes me and gets me back to feeling like an author again. It’s really nice.

But now I have to get back to reality–balancing day job with writing and volunteer work and keeping the house–and I know my next event will be Bouchercon in September, at the end of the dog days of summer and as football season once again kicks into gear. So for now, I am going to make another cup of coffee, put some things away and start doing some chores around here before I dive back into the duties of my day job. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.