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    Wednesday
    Jul302014

    In the footsteps of the Byzantines

    On August 1 I'll be leaving for Turkey on a trip that has been three years in the making. For all that time, I've been writing my 8th-century historical novel set in what is now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel without ever having set foot on the soil of any of those countries. A difficult feat, to be sure. As of Friday, for the first, time, I'll be set loose to wander along the paths my characters would have trod, sample the scents and tastes they would have sensed, see the birds and flowers and lakes they would have found around them, and feel the same aches in my muscles and blisters on my feet as I travel the same roads they would have taken.

    For three weeks, I'll be doing intensive research on-site in areas ranging from Istanbul to Cappadocia, gathering as much input as I can on what life might have been like in what the Byzantines would have called Romaioi in 715-18 CE. This will require a significant leap of the imagination. Modern-day Turkey is a very different place. Even the topography has changed over the past 1300 years in places, thanks to the silting up of harbors, the expansion of landmasses by human effort or earthquake, dams and deforestation and climate change. Underneath modern cities lie the layers of Ottoman history, and Seljuk, and Latin crusaders, and late and then middle Byzantine periods, and many periods of cultural disruption due to invasion, before we get to the chaotic period in which my novel is set. In many cases, remaining ruins have been excavated past the early medieval period to access earlier classical Roman and Greek and even neolithic remains that are of greater interest to scholars, leaving little information about what life might have been like in those places in the so-called Dark Ages. Major sites were abandoned - a case in point being Amorium, the capital of the Anatolikon theme at the time of my novel and a large fortified city, which was sacked in 838 and never fully recovered, and eventually abandoned. Where once was a thriving city with a population in the tens of thousands (large by medieval standards) now lies a small farming village, irregularly enlarged by teams of archaeologists. 

    How does one turn the human mind into a canvas on which centuries-dead cities and people can come back to life? I'm about to do my best to find out.

    I'll be making an effort to share portions of the trip here. Stay tuned.

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