To say that Constantinople is an interesting setting would be an understatement. Just consider this quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and you’ll know what I mean: “The most profligate debaucheries, the most abandoned villainies, the most atrocious crimes, plots, murders and assassinations form the warp and woof of the history of Constantinople.” Who wouldn’t want to read about this place?
Not surprisingly, the city, which was once called the “Queen of Cities,” has been the setting of numerous novels, some of which I may write about in more detail over the coming months. But for today, here are a few good examples.
Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead. As if the title didn’t give it way. This novel is set in the Ninth Century during the reign of Emperor Basil I, known as Basil the Macedonian. Like the novel I’m currently working on, Byzantium also involves Vikings, who referred to the city as Miklagard. Vikings were known to travel to Constantinople, and the emperor even kept a personal bodyguard of Northmen called the Varangian Guard. The Byzantine emperors apparently deemed the Vikings more trustworthy and less likely to assassinate them than their fellow Greeks. Needless to say, being a Byzantine emperor could be hazardous to one’s health!
Harald Hardrada: The Last Viking by Michael Burr. I’m currently reading this book about Harald Sigurdsson, a King of Norway, whose death at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 is considered by many historians to mark the end of the Viking Age. Before he became king, Harald served for a time in the Varangian Guard, and in this fictional account may even have been involved in a conspiracy with the Empress Zoe the Macedonian to murder her first imperial husband, Emperor Romanos III.
|Another good Viking Tale!|
Baudolino by Umberto Eco. This one’s on my short list of books to read, so you’ll have to wait on the details. But the novel begins in 1204 during the sack of Constantinople by the knights of the Fourth Crusade.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Some of the most interesting scenes in this wonderful novel take place in Istanbul, where the protagonists must scour the archives of Sultan Mehmed II for information on the whereabouts of Dracula’s tomb. The history of Vlad Tepes (the real Dracula), which is explored in the novel, also concerns his campaigns against the Ottoman Turks, who ended the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople in 1453. According to the novel, Sultan Mehmed had Vlad decapitated and then took his head to Constantinople as proof that the enemy of the Ottomans had fallen. As for how Dracula got his head back ... well, you’ll just have to read the novel.
|Some of the best scenes in this novel take place in Constantinople.|