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    The Context

    It is the winter of 715. The newly elevated Umayyad caliph, Suleiman, appoints his half-brother, Maslama - son of a slave and arguably the greatest general of the age - to head what may very well be the most powerful army seen in the Mediterranean world since the Persians invaded Greece, more than a millennium before. Maslama's task is to conquer Constantinople, capital of the surviving portion of the Roman Empire and the shield behind which Christian Europe crouches in fear of the armies of the Prophet. At Maslama's disposal will be the full mobile might of the new Muslim Caliphate, the superpower that has, thus far, conquered every enemy that has come before it.

    Topographical map of Constantinople during the Byzantine period. Author: Cplakidas, courtesy of Creative Commons

    It is said that the man who conquers New Rome will be blessed in heaven. Any man who crosses the walls, the greatest fortress ever built, will live in song and the memory of men for eternity. The fact that Constantinople has withstood every army ever sent against it for nearly four centuries and has never fallen merely heightens the challenge, and the honor.

    To do this, Maslama will have at his disposal what may be the most potent expeditionary force the medieval world will ever assemble. No one is sure of the numbers, but he probably commands between eighty and two hundred thousand soldiers - this at a time when a force of five thousand is considered a major army. In addition, Maslama has a fleet of about two thousand ships, assembled from all over the Mediterranean basin, including many purpose-built warships.

    The naval force alone is twelve times the size of the Spanish Armada. Nearly a thousand additional ships will arrive later, from Egypt and North Africa, with reinforcements and supplies.

    Altogether, the full might of the one of the greatest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate at its height, will be brought to bear over the course of one fateful winter upon one city, sited on a narrow peninsula.

    Constantinople. New Rome. Queen of Cities. Easternmost outpost of the Christian world. And perhaps the richest city on the face of the planet, even in this time of struggle and hardship.

    Maslama's force will take at least two years to assemble. In August of 717, the great Arab siege of Constantinople will begin.

    The History

    Today, we call them the Byzantines, but they think of themselves as Romans, heirs of a culture and empire that, by this time, is more than a thousand years old. They have Roman institutions, Roman laws, Roman military traditions. True, by now the official language of the empire is Greek, rather than Latin, and the official religion has been Christianity for centuries. The Emperor is believed by his people to be God's regent on earth, guardian of the Church and defender of Christian virtue and doctrine. But in their own eyes, the Romaioi are the true descendants of Augustus and Cicero, Constantine and Justinian.

    In the early 8th century, however, the Romaioi are in crisis. The Empire is wracked by internal revolt, corruption, and tragically poor leadership. Their best and brightest have been thrown away in a generation of civil war and unrest. The current emperor, Theodosius the Unwilling - the sixth man to hold the title of Basileus in twenty years - had to be chased down and forced to the oath by the rebel officers who dragged him to the crown. By all accounts, he is utterly unfit for the office at any time, much less to guide the empire through a time of crisis and invasion.

    Pretenders abound. The treasury is in ruins. Preachers on every street corner warn of the coming apocalypse, and all are certain that the end of days is near at hand. The provinces that made Rome rich and kept its people fed, from the Holy Land and Syria to Egypt and North Africa, have been gone for generations. Even Italy, once the heartland of the Empire, is mostly lost to the Emperor's control - and, even more poignantly, that fact is largely irrelevant, since Italy is a backwater, and Rome is a disease-infested ruin with a population now little larger than that of a village. Constantinople has struggled for three generations to recover from the body blows dealt to the body politic by the Arab conquests and the military, economic, and social crises that they brought on.

    Islam, by contrast, is at the dawn of its Golden Age. The armies of the Prophet have toppled empires and built a Caliphate that will ultimately control more of the world’s surface than anyone before - including the Romans. They have already shattered the Sassanian dynasty of Persia, driven the Byzantines behind their mountain defenses of Asia Minor, and swept across the Holy Land and Egypt, North Africa and the Iranian Plateau. They have reached, or will soon, the gates of the Pyrenees to the west; their armies are approaching the Indus in the east.

    The Prophet's armies have surpassed the dreams of Alexander, and unlike the Golden Greek, they will hold virtually everything they conquer for a thousand years. Energized by their new faith, emboldened by an almost unbroken string of victories over the superpowers of the day, and led by some of the most daring, innovative minds that history has to offer, they stand on the pinnacle of world dominance.

    The Caliphate is rich beyond dreams, culturally vibrant, intellectually innovative, and largely tolerant of the polyglot population it has inherited. The greatest barrier standing in the way of Mohammed's dream of a universal community is Constantinople, and the decadent, idolatrous, corrupt Romans who inhabit it.

    The Story

    In this time of shattering change, when the great cultures of the medieval world – Greek and Latin, Slav and Bulgar, Persian and Arab – are locked in a complex dance of self-definition and conflict, a young woman finds herself caught up in the swirl of cataclysmic events. Brought up as an orphan, Amaline discovers that she is a descendant of no less than three proud, ancient lineages. As she struggles to understand her own past, Amaline is pursued by those who would use her as a pawn in their own battles for power and influence. She must make a fateful series of choices that will not only decide her own destiny, but will influence the course of empires.

    Amaline is a tale of intrigue, self-discovery, power and corruption, faith and betrayal, redemption and empowerment. It explores the great tectonic shifts that occurred in world history in the late seventh and early eighth centuries – the echoes of which are still rumbling to this day. It weaves together narratives of Byzantium and Islam, Christian and Muslim and Jew, ancient and medieval, and seeks to bring to life a time that has largely been lost to most of us – but which continues to resonate in the current events of our era.

    Amaline is my major project, the focus of my current work. My goal is to have a first draft complete by the end of 2011.