Lucille Turner’s first novel, Gioconda, was inspired by the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Her second, The Sultan, The Vampyr and the Soothsayer, is set in Constantinople, the subject of today’s post. Many thanks for being on the blog, Lucille.
THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE by Lucille Turner
As the last jewel in the crown of Byzantine Greece, Constantinople represented a living link between the world of the Ancient Greeks and that of the old Roman Empire. It was named for Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD who converted to Christianity. It was also the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Christian church, which lost its power and status when the Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453. Constantinople was more than just a Byzantine metropolis; it was one half of the Christian world, the eastern half, and it fell into dispute with the western half, the Roman Catholic Church, right from the start. Theological disputes between the Romans and the Greeks raged on and off like a storm until the day the city was taken by the Turks. In essence, when the Ottoman Turks entered Constantinople in 1453, they seized one half of the Christian world and brought it under Muslim rule.
In the run up to what is called the Fall of Constantinople, the Catholic Church was before a choice. Either it brought all its power to bear against the Turks and saved Eastern Christendom, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, or it cut off the limb that was weakening its body, and this, in the end, was what it did. The Roman Catholics did not give their support to the Greeks because of unresolved theological differences. As a result, thousands were slaughtered on a black day in the annals of Greek history, a day that fuelled hostility between the Turks and the Greeks for centuries. Fear of the Muslim armies resonated for generations to come in the minds of Western Europeans as news of the massacre on the streets filtered through Europe.
Today, Constantinople is known as Istanbul. It could have been the capital, but Ankara was chosen instead, partly perhaps to distance the new Republic of Turkey from its controversial Ottoman past. At the time of its conquest, the taking of Constantinople was considered as the unequivocal act of a great conqueror. It was almost impossible to assail, not only because the city walls were so formidable: 40 feet high by 15 feet thick, but because the Greeks had hauled a great chain beneath the surface of the water across the mouth of the Bosphorous straits to prevent an army from landing men directly at the foot of the citadel walls. Nevertheless, the Ottoman army took it, sending a shock wave rippling through the Christian world.
The last Greek Emperor to sit on the throne of Byzantium was Constantine Palaiologos. His brother John ruled before him, but Constantine was said to have had a premonition that he was to be the last Emperor, and that the city would fall under his reign. That did not mean he fled — far from it. On the day the Ottoman army entered the city gates, Constantine stripped away his imperial robes and stood before the invading army like a common foot soldier, drawing his sword for his people and his city like a hero from a Homeric tale. After his death he was immortalised as a legend. One day, the legend recounts, he would awake, like a sleeping king beneath a mountain, and take his city back.
The Palaiologos brothers were well aware that their world was under threat, although there was little they could do about it in the end, being as they were, an island of Greeks in a sea of Turks. Fearing the worst, they had already begun to strip their city of its treasures, often using the gold taken from the Hagia Sophia, the huge wonder of a church that still stands in the centre of Istanbul, to pay their diminished armies. But there were other treasures too in Constantinople. One had a value that could not be esteemed in terms of gold or coinage as it was nothing less than the greatest repository of human knowledge in existence at the time, the library.
The library of Constantinople housed almost all the scrolls of the ancient world. We do not really know for certain exactly how many and which ones, but there must have been works by Aristotle, Pythagoras, Galen and Euclid. Many of the scrolls housed there were Greek and Syriac works moved from the House of Wisdom of Baghdad to the libraries of Alexandria and Constantinople before the time of the Mongol siege in 1258, when the Mongol armies threw the remainder of the works of Arabic scholars into the River Tigris. So whoever acquired these works would have had the knowledge of centuries of brilliant minds in his hands to use as he saw fit.
It was Francis Bacon who was said to have coined the phrase knowledge is power, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a Greek hadn’t said it first. The fate of these hugely important scrolls became a source of fascination for me as I wrote The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer. How could it not be, when the stakes were so high and the interested parties so numerous? But for me it was the image of Constantine, the last emperor of Constantinople, defending the city of his name to the bitter end, which set itself at the heart of the tragedy. But still, he was far from being the only hero of his day. There were others, equally heroic, except that they had acquired a reputation not as heroes but as something quite the opposite…
1442: The Ottoman Turks are advancing through the Balkans with Vienna in their sights and Constantinople, the Orthodox Greek capital, within their grasp. Dracul, ruler of Wallachia (present-day Romania), will pay almost any price to save his country, but he will not surrender to the blackmail of the cardinals of Rome; he will not betray the Greeks.
When Vlad, his middle son, begins to show signs of the ancestral sickness, Dracul vows to deliver him into safety. But time is running short. To some, Vlad Dracula is a strigoi, the worst of all evils; to others, he is the son of a righteous man. Confrontational, charismatic and manipulative, he tests family and enemy alike. Surely he is destined for power, but of what kind?
As the Ottomans plot to take Constantinople, the future of Vlad Dracula becomes a weapon for those who would preserve the Golden City of the Eastern Church. The Catholics are afraid of him; the Greeks hold the scrolls that tell of his past. And when the Sultan calls for the services of a soothsayer, even the shrewd teller of fortunes is unprepared for what he learns.
What a great article, Lucille! Congratulations on your second novel. Readers can enjoy another article by Lucille Turner on the topic of her first novel, Gioconda.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.