The best books about Constantinople

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Constantinople and why they recommend each book.

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Problems of the Future and Essays

By Samuel Laing,

Book cover of Problems of the Future and Essays

Published 1893, Laing considers all kinds of searching questions relating to astronomy, geology, spiritualism, poetry, taxation, finance, and much more. Clearly a possessor of a powerful intelligence, Laing endeavors to make sense of the universe and human life with the limited information he had at his disposal, compared to what we know today. How does the sun burn, he asks? Is it made from coal? A notion he dismisses with rational precision. Later, he considers the arms race from his nineteenth century viewpoint and uncannily predicts a “Great War” that will engulf most of Europe, with “Constantinople” being the likely catalyst of “the blood-rain deluges of the greatest war the world has ever seen”.


Who am I?

My father, a history teacher, often pointed out battlefields and scenes of historical importance when I was a child: so an ordinary-looking countryside became the place where knights in armor clashed, or where Viking longboats glided along a river. I grew up habitually overlying vivid scenes from the past on modern landscapes, all of which inspired me to write novels, including The Night of the Triffids, Blood Crazy, and Darkness Demands. Much of my fiction reflects my interest in the evolution of the human mind and how our minds are molded by the world we live in, hence my choice of the five books that I do wholeheartedly recommend for the eager adventurer in thought.


I wrote...

Vampyrrhic

By Simon Clark,

Book cover of Vampyrrhic

What is my book about?

David Leppington has returned to the town of his birth to investigate the possibility of a job as a GP, and also to learn more of its history. Bearing the same name as the town, the Leppington family used to be prominent members of the community. But the clan has dwindled to a sole uncle who is more loner than town leader. In this small, isolated town, people are affected by a horrendous condition. It’s Quiet. Unassuming. A forgotten backwater. Yet beneath Leppington’s streets terrifying creatures stir.

The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

By Jonathan Phillips,

Book cover of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

This book vividly describes what happened when the fears of Anna Komnene and other Byzantines were finally realised and a crusading expedition ended up attacking and capturing Constantinople. Phillips’ interest is in crusading rather than in Byzantium so the focus of the book is on the actions and motivations of the crusaders. He points out that they had no plan originally to go to Constantinople: their aim was to sail to Egypt from where they would recover Jerusalem for Christendom. Only when they ran short of supplies and money did they accept the invitation of a Byzantine prince to divert to Constantinople and help him to restore his father to the throne. And they only attacked the city when the prince failed to pay them what he had promised! Nevertheless, by their actions they brought about the ruin not just of a state but of an entire culture.


Who am I?

I first came across Byzantium when I read Robert Graves' Count Belisarius and studied as much of its history as I could while at King's College London. Later I taught English in Turkey and was able to visit the Byzantine sites of Istanbul, Iznik, and Cappadocia. I now teach medieval and Byzantine history at Royal Holloway, University of London. For those living outside eastern Europe and Russia, Byzantium may appear to be rather remote and exotic: that is part of its appeal! But just because it is strange and different does not mean that we should not try to understand it on its own terms. That is what I have tried to do in my books and teaching.


I wrote...

Byzantium and the Crusades

By Jonathan Harris,

Book cover of Byzantium and the Crusades

What is my book about?

In the early eleventh century CE, Byzantium was a great military and economic power and its capital city of Constantinople was famed for its size and wealth. But in the decades that followed it faltered and, by 1081, it had lost half of its territory to the Turks. There was a threat from the west too. Although the First Crusade was launched in 1095 to help the Byzantines against the Turks, in 1204 the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and Byzantium was partitioned.

My book focuses on Byzantine relations with the crusades and argues that the disaster of 1204 came about partly as a result of policies pursued by the Byzantines themselves and partly because crusade leaders had come to see Byzantium as a source of money and supplies to bolster the effort to keep Jerusalem in Christian hands.

The Fourth Crusade

By Donald E. Queller, Thomas F. Madden,

Book cover of The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople

Study of the ins and outs, the steps and missteps of a particular crusade allow us to move from the general to the particular and to view closeup the choices and actions of participants who lacked our 20-20 hindsight. No crusade was more beset by unforeseen circumstances and miscalculations than the Fourth Crusade (1202-04), which left Venice headed for an amphibious assault on Muslim-held Egypt but wound up capturing Christian Constantinople not once but twice and establishing the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-61). This classic in-depth but never dull book puts a human face on that crusade and brings alive its numerous twists and turns. History is intrinsically exciting, and Queller and Madden’s enthusiasm does full justice to that fact. 


Who am I?

I was fated to become a crusade historian. Research for my doctoral dissertation on medieval relations between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople inevitably led me to the Fourth Crusade. I was hooked, and for the past fifty-plus years the crusades have been a passion—I hope a healthy one.  Although I have published two books on the Fourth Crusade, my crusading interests have now gone global, and I am currently studying sixteenth-century crusading in the eastern Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, Ethiopia, and the Americas. Perhaps someday I shall turn to more modern crusades. Sad to say, the crusades are still with us.


I wrote...

Seven Myths of the Crusades

By Alfred Andrea (editor), Andrew Holt (editor),

Book cover of Seven Myths of the Crusades

What is my book about?

Many popular but wrongheaded notions about the medieval crusades are so frequently repeated that they are commonly perceived to be indisputable. This little book, authored by ten specialists on the crusades, deconstructs in detail seven of the more wide-spread misconceptions regarding the crusades. They include myths surrounding the Templars and the Children’s Crusade and the interlocked beliefs that the crusades were an unprovoked attack on peaceful Islam and the roots of today’s assaults on the West by radical Islamicists can be traced directly back to the crusades. Several reviewers have declared that the book’s twenty-five page introduction is the best available and clearest explanation of the major issues and problems surrounding our understanding of the crusades.  

Theodora

By Stella Duffy,

Book cover of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore

The Empress Theodora is one of the most colourful and notorious figures in eastern Roman (or ‘Byzantine’) history, and in this book, and the sequel The Purple Shroud, Stella Duffy brings her brilliantly to life. After spending her early years in the coarse and brutally competitive demimonde of performers, dancers and prostitutes surrounding the Hippodrome of Constantinople, Theodora scales to the heights of imperial power with tenacity and determination. But she always appears as a figure of her age, immersed in the complex and often bewildering culture and society of the 6th century AD. Duffy uses the travails of Theodora’s life to take us on a tour of the eastern Mediterranean, from the slums and palaces of Constantinople to the desert monasteries of Egypt. It’s an engaging tale of rags to riches, to rags again to riches again, and remains scrupulously close to the few historical sources that survive, while…


Who am I?

Ian Ross was born in England and studied painting before turning to writing fiction. He has been researching the later Roman empire and its army for over a decade, and his interests combine an obsessive regard for accuracy and detail with a devotion to the craft of storytelling. His six-novel Twilight of Empire series follows the career of Aurelius Castus as he rises from the ranks of the legions to the dangerous summit of military power, against the background of a Roman world in crisis.


I wrote...

War at the Edge of the World

By Ian Ross,

Book cover of War at the Edge of the World

What is my book about?

The epic first installment in a sequence of novels set at the end of the Roman Empire, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Centurion Aurelius Castus - once a soldier in the elite legions of the Danube - believes his glory days are over, as he finds himself in the cold, grey wastes of northern Britain, battling to protect an empire in decline.

A Flame in Byzantium

By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,

Book cover of A Flame in Byzantium

Yarbro’s tales of the vampire Saint-Germain is one of the most influential and long-running series in horror. This secondary series focuses on Roman matron Atta Olivia Clemons, Saint-Germain’s lover from the age of Nero. In this first installment, she struggles to survive the much different world of 6th Century Constantinople. Full of rich historical detail, it shows that being a vampire is no protection in a world in which women have no rights, rules are rigidly enforced, and spies are everywhere.  If you like history and vampires, you can’t go wrong with Yarbro’s books.


Who am I?

I’ve loved books about vampires ever since reading Dracula at much too young an age, but I was always looking for stories in which the women were more than virtuous heroines, objects of desire, or hissing brides. Or wearing negligees. I was also drawn to tales that explored the practical and ethical challenges of being a vampire. Fortunately, the vampire fiction boom beginning in 1980 opened the way for new stories, many by women, that depicted the nuances of vampirism through a female gaze. Travel from 6th century Byzantium to Mexico City to futuristic Mars with these novels that put new spins on the old conventions and introduce some fascinating female vampires.


I wrote...

The Night Inside

By Nancy Baker,

Book cover of The Night Inside

What is my book about?

Dependable grad student Ardeth Alexander finds herself trapped in a nightmare as the unwilling blood source for a captive vampire, the centuries-old Rozokov. When she discovers that her fellow prisoner is not the worst monster she faces, she realizes that the only way to survive is to make an irrevocable choice.

On the streets of Toronto, Ardeth struggles to figure out how to survive her new life and Rozokov faces a world that has changed utterly from what he knew. But the powers that trapped them both have not gone away – and still have plans for them.

Procopius

By Richard Atwater,

Book cover of Procopius: Secret History

No, not the Donna Tartt novel, which I also like a lot, but the 6th-century text from which she copped her title, the one by Procopius about the reign of Justinian and Theodora (admirably and unflinchingly translated by Richard Atwater). I have a weak spot for the work of “contemporaneous” historians, especially when their self-interest is so patent. The great virtue of such texts is that they remind us: as wild and wonderful as the human imagination may be, there’s some stuff you just can’t make up. In the case of Procopius, however, it’s not clear that he isn’t making this stuff up, the Secret History being an alternate account of his experience in the Imperial court, the one he kept in a locked drawer just in case the Barbarians ever took over and needed proof he wasn’t just a toady to the former regime.

To that end, he offers…


Who am I?

I like history. I also like myth. And I revere the imagination, the liberal use of which can lead to what many call “fantasy.” Though the portions change, almost all the fiction I’ve written—from The Chess Garden to John the Baptizer to my latest, The Unknown Woman of the Seine—is the product of this recipe. Some moment from the past captures my attention, digs its hooks in, invites research, which begets questions, which beget answers that only the imagination can provide, informed both by experience and by the oldest illustrations of why we are the way we are. Dice these up, let simmer until you’re not sure which is which, and serve.


I wrote...

The Unknown Woman of the Seine

By Brooks Hansen,

Book cover of The Unknown Woman of the Seine

What is my book about?

In the late 1880s, the body of a young woman washed up on the banks of the Seine, was taken directly to the morgue and publicly displayed in hopes that someone would recognize her. None did, but her face was thought to be so beautiful and enigmatic, a mask was made that grew quite famous, first for being an artist’s study tool, then a writer’s muse, then the template for the first CPR dummy.

That is the story we know. Set during the final three days of the World Exposition, 1889, The Unknown Woman of the Seine tells the story we don’t—not just of the life that led to the expression on that young maiden’s face, but even more mysteriously, the death.

Baudolino

By Umberto Eco, William Weaver (translator),

Book cover of Baudolino

I don’t know if I’ve ever run across a more endearing scamp than Baudolino, Italian peasant cum companion to the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I. Professor Eco weaves a richly imagined tale where a group of young men finds themselves on a preposterous journey to find Prester John and far-off mythical lands. Told with erudition, peopled with dynamic characters (and more than a few mythical ones), and seasoned with an obvious relish for medieval trivialities, some will complain that the last quarter of the book has the feel of a story that got lost at sea. But in my opinion, the journey’s well worth the ending.


Who am I?

A longtime traveler and lifelong fan of epic fantasy and historical fiction, I’m fascinated by the crossroads where these two genres meet. My novels and short stories always keep a foot (or two) in both of these realms. For anyone who has ever climbed the Pyramid of the Magician, or wandered the Black Forest, or gazed upon the Roman aqueducts (or maybe just thought about an old house on a forgotten hill) and wondered, “What would it have been like if?” I think you’ll enjoy the books on this list.


I wrote...

Yonder & Far: The Lost Lock

By Matthew Lucas,

Book cover of Yonder & Far: The Lost Lock

What is my book about?

Boston, 1798. John Yonder, Esquire and Captain John Far must enlist a fortuneteller named Mary Faulkner to help them chase down a fellow countryman from another world. Their pursuit takes them down the east coast—from smoke-filled taverns, to secret Masonic lodges, to pirates in the Atlantic, to a slave market in Virginia, where Yonder, Far, and Mary come to learn that the man they are chasing, the lock of hair he is carrying, and the client who hired them are not at all what they seem.

Mystery, fantasy, roiling action, and droll humor come together in what The Historical Fiction Company described as an “endearingly elegant” novel reminiscent of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Constantine

By Paul Stephenson,

Book cover of Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor

Dr. Stephenson, an excellent Byzantine historian, provides a thorough and well-written narrative of Constantine's life and career set accurately within the late 3rd and early 4th century Roman Empire (A.D. 273-337). He focuses on the military abilities and the religious beliefs of his subject and reveals how he changed the Roman Empire and Christian Church with his policies. A good read.


Who am I?

Charles M. Odahl earned a doctorate in Ancient and Medieval History and Classical Languages at the University of California, San Diego, with an emphasis on Roman imperial and early Christian studies. He has spent his life and career traveling, living, and researching at sites relevant to his interests, especially in Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey Israel, Egypt, and Tunisia. He has taught at universities in Britain, France, Idaho, and Oregon, and published 5 books and 50 articles and reviews on Roman and early Christian topics.


I wrote...

Constantine and the Christian Empire

By Charles Matson Odahl,

Book cover of Constantine and the Christian Empire

What is my book about?

A detailed biographical narrative of the life and career of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire (A.D. 273-337). Covers the crises of the late Roman world, Constantine's conversion to and public patronage of Christianity, his victorious military campaigns, and his building programs in Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople which transformed the pagan state of Roman antiquity into the Christian empire of medieval Byzantium.

Medieval Bodies

By Jack Hartnell,

Book cover of Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages

Jack Hartnell anatomises the Middle Ages in a very real sense: the book is divided up into parts of the body. It is a brilliant and innovative approach, allowing him to bring together the history of medicine, artistic objects, political thought, cartography, metaphor, and the medieval imagination, among other things. Importantly, he looks far beyond Western Europe, so the book also includes Jewish and Islamic approaches to the body, explores the Byzantine world, and analyses objects and ideas from, for instance, North Africa and the Middle East. The book focuses on the Mediterranean world in its broadest sense, ranging widely across sources and disciplines but staying rooted in the question of how medieval people thought about and experienced their bodies. As you might expect from an art historian, he has lavishly illustrated the book, and it gives readers a great sense of the beauty and weirdness of the art and…


Who am I?

Marion Turner is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University where she teaches medieval literature. Her critically-acclaimed biography of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer was picked as a Book of the Year by the Times, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman, and the TLS, and has been hailed as ‘an absolute triumph,’ and a ‘masterpiece.’ It won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the English Association Beatrice White Prize, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize.


I wrote...

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner,

Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

What is my book about?

An acclaimed biography that recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son became one of the most celebrated of all English writers. Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the circulation of his writings, Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination. From the wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence, the book recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan.

The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings

By John Haywood,

Book cover of The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what value is an illustrated, annotated map complete with key dates and a timeline?! Most books carry a few maps that help orientate you to the text, but this atlas is a treasure trove. It provides a visual context that is hugely helpful in understanding how the world of the Vikings evolved.


Who am I?

Ian Stuart Sharpe likes to imagine he is descended from Guðrum, King of the East Angles, although DNA tests and a deep disdain for camping suggest otherwise. He is the author of two novels set in his alternate Vikingverse, the All Father Paradox and Loki’s Wager. He once won a prize at school for Outstanding Progress and chose a dictionary as his reward, secretly wishing it had been an Old Norse phrasebook. It took him thirty years, but he has finally realised his dream.


I wrote...

Old Norse for Modern Times

By Ian Stuart Sharpe,

Book cover of Old Norse for Modern Times

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki, or to hammer home your point like a Thundergod? Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic videogames. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses, and pithy retorts to Ragnarök. Old Norse for Modern Times gives you the perfect phrase for every contemporary situation:

Battle-cries to yell on Discord: "Do I look to be in a gaming mood?" Sýnisk þér ek vera í skapi til leika?"

Mead hall musings: "This drink, I like it! ANOTHER!" Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!"

With over 500 phrases inside, it is the perfect guide for Vikings fans, whether they are re-enactors, role-players, or simply in love with Ragnar.

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