THE BYZANTIUM SERIES

The primary literary theme that runs through the four-part Byzantium Saga is the struggle of the individual against the constraints of a rigid, hierarchical society.

About The Byzantium Saga

The primary literary theme that runs through the four-part Byzantium Saga is the struggle of the individual against the constraints of a rigid, hierarchical society.  All my characters, whether fictional or historical, and each in their own unique way, are forced to fight for the opportunity to pursue their own destinies.  Each must overcome the station in life they arrived at by virtue of the circumstances into which they were born, and not by any choices they made.

The story begins in Road to Byzantium with Radeaux, a monk who is disenchanted with the church and clergy he never willingly chose to serve. The third son of minor nobility, he is left with no inheritance and as a young man is sent off to the renowned monastery at Cluny, in France. Ironically, this unhappy circumstance will spare his life when his entire family is killed during an uprising against the powerful Count Raymond of Toulouse. Unaware of the fate of his family, and knowing no other options, he tries to make the best of his lot in life.

This all changes when Radeaux falls for the beautiful orphan girl Laele. It is in the midst of this impossible love that he finally realizes how intolerable life is at the monastery. When Laele is married against her will to another man, he is driven first to despair, then defiance. Radeaux comes to believe that his only chance to escape his bondage to the church is to crusade for it, despite his terror of going to war. He will seize the opportunity to serve Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, the Papal Legate to the crusade, and marches with the army of Count Raymond. Only later will he discover the part Raymond has played in the demise of his family. As he marches off to war, Radeaux experiences the treachery of the nobility and clergy, as well as the hardships of army life. But he will also experience true comradeship for the first time, when he is befriended by the soldiers Pierre, Joechim, and Forio.

 

Throughout all these subplots are woven the threads of profound cultural and social upheaval, which include questioning the ancient power of the nobility and clergy, and the first stirrings of feminism. These tides of groundbreaking societal change would eventually rise up and wash away the repressive, archaic, often brutal way of life known to history as feudalism. Thus the medieval world was transformed, the first seeds of the Renaissance sown, and the modern world ushered forth.

The saga of the First Crusade unfolds throughout Road to ByzantiumBeyond Byzantium, and continues through Siege at Antioch and the entire Byzantium series.  The complete story is rife with adventure and historical significance, but the  people depicted are what breath life into it. This incredible cast of characters, including those whose names are famous, are presented as people who are all driven by their own unique passions. Their personal triumphs and sorrows enhance and even transcend the immense, historical setting.

Meanwhile, Leale too struggles against her inexorable destiny.  Her marriage to Sir Ludmar, a man she had never previously met, is a miserable existence. Cold and heartless, he considers her little more than property whose sole purpose is to bear him an heir. When Laele finds herself pregnant, it seems she has lost all hope of happiness.  Still, she will somehow begin to find strength in the new life growing within her.  Yet even that appears to be snatched away when Ludmar decides to march on the crusade and drags her with him. However, is it possible that she will again cross paths with Radeaux? Once he discovers that she too has embarked upon the pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, can he find her?

In the lives of several other young couples who are swept up into the harrowing journey as well, we are engaged in an epic adventure that crosses continents and empires. In the lives of their loved ones who are left behind, we also get a glimpse into the rural, feudal life of Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Throughout their struggles, we observe the birth of towns and cities, craft guilds, expanded trade routes and possibilities for travel, access to the outside world, opportunities for formal education. Virtually none of these things existed in the backward, insular societies of the West since its descent into the Dark Ages six centuries earlier, at the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

THE PRIMARY CHARACTERS

When Jon created the fictional characters that breathe life into this historic journey, he drew portraits of them as well. By translating what his mind envisioned into a physical presence, he was able to gaze into their faces and read their expressions while their various personalities and character attributes developed throughout the story. 

In addition to these main fictional characters, there is a varied and colorful cast of secondary fictional characters who accurately represent life as it was during this era. Also among the cast are numerous, prominent historical figures who greatly influenced the course of events. But it is his fictional characters who, as they go about their everyday lives, find themselves caught up in historic events as they unfold, and thus serve as the eyes and ears of my readers. They are witness to, and participate in, the great deeds and misdeeds of the mighty, those ambitious men and women whose names are famous. 

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

The novels of the Byzantium series are works of fiction, and thus many of the characters and subplots are not factual. However, the major historical figures and events are portrayed as accurately as possible, the product of thorough research. Moreover, all characters and events, both historical and fictional, reflect a desire to realistically depict life in the medieval period. Even as Jon attempts to entertain, his goal is also to offer insights, present opinions, and raise pertinent questions about this momentous chapter in human history.

It is the year 476 AD, and the eternal city of Rome teeters on the brink of disaster, sacked by a barbarian Germanic tribesman named Odoacer. Rome’s last Emperor Romulus is deposed, and the once invincible empire falls. The decadent, beleaguered city plunges into the abyss, and takes the whole of Western Europe with it. What follows are six centuries shrouded in poverty, illiteracy, violence, superstition, and lawlessness. It is a period known to history as the Dark Ages, and for the people left in the wake of the mighty colossus’ collapse, the term was an apt one.
A century and a half later, in the holy city of Jerusalem, there is another shift in power. But this one will not be marked by a similar descent into chaos and darkness. Byzantium, the Eastern half of the Roman Empire based in Constantinople, survives intact for another 1000 years. But its fortunes will be inextricably tied to the rise of Islam. In 638 AD, Jerusalem, a Byzantine province, surrenders to caliph Umar I. It will remain in Moslem hands until the end of the 11th century. Even though Islamic rule is comparatively enlightened, the Byzantines long to reclaim the Holy City for Christendom.
In 1095 the ebb and flow of Byzantium’s power undergoes a resurgence under Alexius I Comnenus, and he decides it is high time to recover Asian territories lost to the Seldjuk Turks. Despite the rift between his own Eastern Orthodox church and the Western Catholics, he asks them for help. The Pope senses opportunity as well, and what emerges is the First Crusade. Partly as a result of the great march, Western Europe begins to awaken from its isolation. Science, trade, educational opportunities, and cultural exchange seep back into Western civilization, setting the stage for the Renaissance.
In military terms, the First Crusade was a success for the West. Ultimately, the city of Jerusalem, as well as much of Asia Minor and the Levant, were recaptured by the Christians. This would not have happened without the tremendous risks and sacrifices of the crusaders themselves. The leadership of the crusaders, though fractious and unpredictable, rose to extraordinary levels on several occasions, particularly when disaster loomed most ominously. These Catholic nobles would create for themselves feudal fiefdoms in Asia, collectively known as Outremer.
Over 900 years ago, the First Crusade became the first holy war between Christians and the Moslems, but it was not to be the last. Immediately following their creation, the Outremer States came under siege. Within a century Jerusalem had been retaken for Islam by Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria. This brought about further crusades on the part of the Western European Christians to regain the Holy City, none of which were successful. However, this did not end the conflict, eventually entangling Judaism as well. These holy wars, the causes of which are still tied to control of Jerusalem, continue to this day, and include even the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

About the author

It was in the ultra-competitive arena of politics and political campaigns that Jon developed the conviction that the United States of America is careening headlong down the road to its own destruction.

He looks forward to focusing once again on his scholarly pursuits in the field of history, but the events and cultural trends of recent years have compelled him to voice his concerns about the future of America. This is his petition to the nation:

“If we humans, deeply flawed as we all are, blithely persist in discounting the evidence presented to us by our own history, we do so at the peril of our own lives and liberties. But even worse, we will do so at the peril of the future generations to come.”

Jon Anthony Hauser