Tuesday 31 December 2013

'Thus ends this year of public wonder and mischief'

I have been reading my way incredibly slowly - that is over a course of years - through the so-called Shorter Pepys (just 1000 pages -a third of the original diary). I read a chunk, put the marker in, then return to it at the same point a year or two later. It's a long term project, exploring the uncensored inner world of this complex, energetic man: ravenously alive, insatiably curious, egotistical, vain, compassionate and completely human. And I've got to 1666 - the year of the great fire of London, of which he wrote an extraordinarily vivid account.
Pepys was methodical as well as spirited. On the last day of each year, he totted up his accounts, both financial and non-material. 1666 sees him extremely well-off. He has 6200 pounds - 1800 more than the previous year. It's unclear exactly where this money comes from - many of the nuances of his daily dealings pass over my head - but it seems he takes bribes in the course of his work, as secretary to the Navy Board concerned with the awarding of supply contracts during a  tense period of war with the Dutch, yet at the same time, as a civil servant he's also outstandingly industrious, efficient and intelligent - by the standard of the times - and loyal to two kings, Charles II and James II, patently unworthy of respect. As the diary is written in a form of encoded shorthand he’s breathtakingly frank about himself – and other people, both low and high.
'Thus ends this year of public wonder and mischief to this nation - and therefore generally wished by all people to have an end. Myself and family well, having four maids , and one clerk, Tom, in my house...Our healths all well; only, my eyes, with overworking them, as sore as soon as candlelight comes to them, and not else. Public matters in a most sad condition. Seamen discouraged for want of pay, and are become not to be governed...Our enemies, French and Dutch, great, and grow more, by our poverty. The Parliament backward in raising, because jealous of spending, of money. The City less and less likely to be built again, everybody settling elsewhere, and nobody encouraged to trade. A sad, vicious, negligent Court, and all sober men fearful of the ruin of the whole kingdom this next year - from which, good God deliver us.'
And then, a typically, Pepysian cheering closing of the year’s account - moving from the state of the nation to worldly self-satisfaction: 'One thing I reckon remarkable in my own condition is that I am come to abound in good plate, so as at all entertainments to be wholly served with silver plates, having two dozen and a half.'
Over the reach of three hundred years he gazes out at us from a portrait he had commissioned, and of which he was deeply proud, holding a musical composition of his own - he was not backward in praising his own songs - in a coat that has the sheen of prosperity to it. He looks sensuous, vain, inquisitive, interested, human. Happy New Year.


Friday 20 December 2013

An interview with Robert Horvat

Recently Robert Horvat, who writes a mean history blog - and far more attentively than I do, asked me some questions about history and writing. Here are the replies , woven around his own commentary. I'm not sure about being 'Narrative History's Man of the moment' - more like someone who writes the occasional book very slowly! Just now I'm crawling over the surface of the Portuguese history of two decades in the Indian Ocean during the early sixteenth century - though it's fascinating, and a privilege to be able to do such things. 

Thursday 12 December 2013

The shop signs of Valletta

My recent trip to Malta gave me the chance to explore Valletta again. I love the long straight vistas of the streets laid out by the knights of St John on a visionary grid pattern in the sixteenth century.

They ride the rise and fall of the land in severe straight lines, shaded from the sun, overhung with loggias and balconies. There’s a sense of expectation in the way the eye is led away towards the distant blue line of Mediterranean sea where the peninsula ends.

What really fascinated me was the old fashioned signage on shops and hotels – like being carried back into the sign writing of sixty or seventy years ago. A dusty memory of the British empire interspersed with Catholic shrines on street corners and small votive plaques above doorways. Here's a few of them:






Thursday 5 December 2013

'A person who is afraid'

I’ve just returned from nine days on a ship, talking about the history of Malta and Sicily – a welcome break from the shortening days of an English winter (which have a charm all of their own). We departed from Palermo. The airport there is now called ‘The Falcone and Borsellino airport’ in honour of two anti-mafia judges.

The mafia’s origins lie deep within the sadly dysfunctional history of this beautiful and once wealthy island. Centuries, millennia of plunder by outsiders have stripped Sicily and plunged it into deepening cycles of under-development and distrust of authority. Deprived of a sense of civic unity, the mafia inserted itself as a parasitic  intermediary between downtrodden peasants and their rulers. It profited from the chaos following the Second World War, but it was the arrival of heroine in the seventies that accelerated the viciousness of mafia activities – and its ability to corrupt the core institutions of the Italian state. The body count started to pile up – judges, lawyers, communists, politicians, priests – killed in what has become known as the era of the ‘Illustrious Corpses’.

General dalla Chiesa

There’s evidence that Giulio Andreotti, the most successful politician in post-war Italy was complicit in mafia dealing. Tried, he escaped conviction through legal loopholes. (There’s a curious circularity to Sicilian history. Two thousand years earlier, Cicero prepared a similar court case again the Roman governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres, for extortion, torture and murder. Verres slipped away into exile to avoid the conviction.)
General Alberto dalla Chiesa, a soldier with a track record of success against the Red Brigade, was gunned down with his wife in the street in 1982 – a death in which Andreotti was held to be complicit. Many people just disappeared – killed, in a sinister euphemism, by ‘The White Shotgun’. Young men from the slums of Palermo, strung out on heroine, were easily recruited into the lower echelons to conduct drive-by shootings and garottings. The profits from heroine were huge. By 1982, the Sicilian mafia were said to control 80% of the heroine trade in the north east of the USA, remitting over a billion dollars a year to Sicily.

Riina 'the Beast'
The Corleone clan emerged as the leading faction. Led by the incredibly violent, Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina, ‘the Beast’, responsible for some 800 deaths, he broke the pact between competing clans and ruthlessly started to wipe out mafia rivals. But Riina’s transgressions increased the possibility that one day a vengeful rival would talk to the police.


 Into this arena stepped two determined and patriotic anti-mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Palermo-born childhood friends who understood the mafia mentality. The breakthrough came with the arrest of a Mafiosi in Brazil, Tommaso Buschetta, in 1982. Bruschetta, who had lost many allies to the Corleone clan, was prepared to talk.

Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Buscetta at the trials
 After years of careful preparation, and the construction of a bomb proof court house adjacent to the prison, the so called Maxi-trials of 1986-1987 based on Buschetta’s evidence resulted in 19 life sentences and 338 other sentences totalling 2065 years. Falcone and Borsollino had torn a hole in the structure of the mafia. Furious at their failure to reverse the verdicts – a habitual  procedure – Riina’s clan killed the political stooge, Salvatore Lima, who had promised to fix it. Then they turned on the magistrates.

Falcone and Borsellino were realistic enough to understand that their lives might not be long. On 23 May 1992 Falcone and his wife were killed by a massive car bomb as they drove from the airport.

23 May 1992
 57 days later Borsellino was killed in Palermo by a similar bomb:


These spectacular deaths however swept the Sicilian people into a wave of protest and civic patriotism. They came out onto the streets and threw coins at mafia funerals as a sign of mocking disgust. Women were particularly prominent in a new determination to change the mentality of Sicilian people. The will to fight back had gained a hold over the imaginations of citizens.

"It was years since I’d seen the faces of honest and brave Italians. I saw crowds of young people, as if they’d woken from a deep sleep.” Giorgio Bocca, Journalist
The car bombings also forced the state to be resolute. When Riina was bundled out of car in Palermo in 1993 by masked men he was relieved to discover they were policeman. (If anyone had wanted to arrest Riina earlier he wouldn’t have been hard to find – his children were enrolled in school in Corleone and he frequently used the local hospital.) In 1996 they captured the particularly detested hit man, Giovanni Brusca:
Bernard Provanzano, nicknamed ‘the Tractor’, who took over the Corleone clan, was snatched in 2006. All these men are held in secure solitary confinement – to stop them running their operations from behind bars – or from being murdered by rivals. (The poisoned espresso has seen the death of at least one mafia boss in his cell.) So tightly have they been isolated that human rights groups have protested against their treatment.

In 2004 a movement started to try to persuade people from paying the pizzo – the protection money businesses give to the mafia, which drain huge sums out of the Sicilian economy. Now a growing number of businesses sport the addio pizzo sign – ‘goodbye to the pizzo’ – in their windows as a sign that they refuse to pay. But there’s a long way to go. In 2008 the University of Palermo estimated that 80% of businesses still pay – at a cost of $1.25 billion dollars a year.

'An entire people that pays the pizzo is a people without dignity.'

In a shop in Palermo I photographed Borsellino's words on a T shirt:
'A person who is afraid dies every day, someone who isn't only dies once.'



Monday 21 October 2013

Empires of the Sea en espanol!

Much of Empires of the Sea is to do with the history of Spain - so it's really nice, and a little daunting, to see a Spanish version.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Fill up the car while you get married?

This is the photo that caught my attention this week. A warm Greek night. The golden lights of the petrol station glowing in the dark. On the right, just visible, the illuminated suspension bridge that spans the gulf of Corinth, joining the Peloponnese to mainland Greece. And on the forecourt, between the manhole covers, people are dancing. The woman in white with her back to the camera is the bride. Welcome to a Greek austerity wedding.

There's something incredibly moving about this image. A sense of solidarity, of tradition, of the ability to celebrate in adversity. And Greek hospitality. The Belgian photographer passing by who took this picture was welcomed into the circle of light, plied with drinks and stayed until three in the morning.

Picture of the week: Crisis wedding party

Friday 11 October 2013

Uncle Joe's holiday hide-away

As it happens I had no time to see Suleiman the Magnificent (see blog entry of 2 September), when I was in Istanbul – I was at the start of a fortnight’s lecturing on Zegrahm Expedition’s circumnavigation of the Black Sea – a great two-week trip round the coast of Turkey, Georgia, Russia, the Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. Instead of Suleiman’s tomb I got to see Stalin’s get-away from the toils of oppressing the Russian people: his dacha outside Sochi.

Set in fir woods on the airy hills above Russia’s ‘Mediterranean’ coast – it was a fascinating insight into the man – a mixture of domesticity and paranoia in equal measures. A long low series of buildings around a verdant courtyard, protected by four concentric rings of security and painted green for camouflage – Stalin was taking no chances.
On the mountain above he ordered the erection of a tall look-out tower; in his working room he had a bizarre bullet proof sofa – the very last resort one would have thought and only of any use if being shot from behind – and concealed alcoves outside rooms for burly guards.

Stalin 'at the helm' in his work room. The telephone has no dialling features. It went straight through to just one destination - the Kremlin. His day bed is behind and is extremely short - he was tiny, only 5 foot 3.

And yet the place also felt deeply pleasant. Unpretentious but beautiful wooden walls and ceilings, spacious verandas looking out into the forest where Joe and his family would while away afternoons around the samovar, a billiard table and chess board – I wonder who won all the games – an indoor swimming pool. A sense of deep tranquillity in the Russian woods. When it all got too much the family man and epic mass murderer would come here for up to three months at a time. To forget.


The luxury pool

A meal in the ogre's lair?

The next day we went Yalta and stared at the huge round table where Stalin fooled Roosevelt and Churchill at the Yalta conference in 1945.

Saturday 28 September 2013

The man who saved the world

The early hours of 12 September 1983.  Stanislav Petrov, a civilian in a military system, is on duty monitoring the USSR’s nuclear war early-warning system. The computer registers an incoming US missile strike. The siren howls. His screen lights up and flashes the peremptory order ‘Launch it’. Petrov is under default order to press the button. He has to act. What should he do?

Monday 2 September 2013

Searching for the sultan's heart

In September 1566, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was bogged down before the walls of Szigetvar, an insignificant Hungarian fortress. He was seventy two years old. It was his eleventh campaign. Suleiman had spent years in the saddle, extending the reach of the Ottoman empire. He had shattered the Hungarian before, at Mohacs in 1526; the skulls of the defeated still whitened the plains, but the wars went on, were never ending. Frustrated by the resistance of this military pimple disturbing the projects of the 'The Shadow of God on Earth' he seemed to have become enveloped in gloom. His long and brilliant reign had been dogged by tragedy, revolt, disillusionment. The sultan had become reclusive, pious and grave. 'This chimney is still burning, and the great drum roll of conquest has yet to be heard', he wrote from his magnificently embroidered tent. A few hours later he was dead.


The elderly Suleiman, haggard with the cares of office.

The body was embalmed secretly, packed into a chest and trundled back to Istanbul, whilst a body double, seated in his imperial carriage behind a curtain, preserved the illusion that he still lived - until the time was right to proclaim his successor and only surviving son - Selim. All the others had died or been executed for fear of insurrection.

His heart, though, was apparently buried at Szigetvar, which was totally destroyed in the final collapse of a heroic defence. And now a team of Hungarian researchers are looking for it.

The Ottomans are big in the modern Turkish imagination. A fantastically popular TV costume drama has ignited interest in the greatest sultan as Turkey seems to be propelling itself forward in a new era of Ottoman-inspired influence. They'd love the heart to be found. And the Hungarians would love to find it - fantastic for the tourist trade! Read the BBC story here.

I'm off to Istanbul on Wednesday to take part in a cruise round the Black Sea. Maybe I'll find time to tip my turban at the great man's tomb - even if he is lacking a heart, so to speak.

Friday 16 August 2013

The machine gun inventor who vanished

An absolutely fascinating story on the BBC website today. The mystery of William Cantelo. The sounds of rapid gunfire from the basement in a house in Southampton in the 1880s – an inventor called William Cantelo tells his sons that he has invented a new type of gun that will fire bullets in rapid succession. He packs it away and sets off – presumably to sell it. He vanishes into thin air.

A couple of decades later, another inventor, Sir William Maxim, is getting rich from an invention of his own – the Maxim gun, mowing down thousands of men in the First World War.

 But Maxim and Cantelo look uncannily alike. And Cantelo’s sons put a private detective on the case. They spot ‘Maxim’ at Waterloo Station and shout "Father"…but the elusive figure gets away. And money disappears from Cantelo’s account after he vanishes. Maxim meanwhile has a reputation for ‘brain-sucking’ – stealing people’s ideas. Were Maxim and Cantelo the same man? Did Maxim somehow steal Cantelo’s invention? Who knows? A murky Victorian melodrama? Read it here.

Saturday 10 August 2013

The Dark Lady comes to light

I admit to having a slightly nerdy interest in Shakespeare. We know so little about him. His personality, his biography, his relationships - these are almost a blank. Yet we think we know so much through the rich, complex, evocative worlds that are the plays. It's so tempting to make connections between the man and the work, as it is for any writer. The plays and their inhabitants are so vivid, yet, as Shakespeare suggests, they’re all just unstable illusions, magnificent cloud structures conjured out of words. They die when the players depart the stage, leaving the master puppeteer invisible in the darkness beyond.

So from the fragmentary information that we do have, I'm absolutely fascinated when someone is able to find new hard data about his life. In today’s Guardian Saul Frampton makes a hugely convincing case based upon linguistic analysis, close study of contemporary writers and scrutiny of English parish records for having identified the Dark Lady, one of the addressees of his sonnets (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’). It's a tale of sexual jealousy and literary revenge on Shakespeare by a man called John Florio that concerns his wife AD, Avis Danyell, baptised February 8 1556, died of the plague sometime around the end of the century. Absolutely fascinating. The wonder of dogged scholarship. If you're interested in the step by step process of patient deduction you can read it here.

That still leaves unresolved the equally fascinating issue of Shakespeare's relationship with a young man, Henry Wriothesley, and a possible love triangle... 

Friday 26 July 2013

A face in the dark

It’s been uniquely hot in England over the last few weeks – we wait a decade for a spell of good weather like this then I find myself spending much of my days in a cool darkish room in our three hundred year old stone cottage, writing. My companion on the desk has been this picture. It’s an image on a book mark for a book that I bought – hence the names of the authors visible on the section I’ve reproduced. I didn’t particularly choose to have it there but the desk tends to accumulate objects that take up residence – until it all gets too crowded and I shoo them off, but I like this face, and it’s survived the recent clearing back.

It’s a portrait of Vasco da Gama, painted at the very end of his life. I’ve seen the original in a museum in Lisbon, which is surprisingly small. It’s an exquisite image. The face glows against the dark background; a gentle, almost serene expression, the beard caught by a soft radiance. The gold cross gleaming out of the blackness is that of the Order of Christ, Portugal’s crusading order, the successor to the Templars who uniquely escaped persecution in the country by a crafty piece of rebranding just as they were being wiped out.


It seems to me the face of a man who has lived his life and come to terms with everything. The cross is evidently there as an emblem of his faith and deeds as a crusader for Christ. I have to say the meekness of the face rather clashes with the known facts. Da Gama enjoys a terrible reputation as the conquistador of the Indian Ocean, guilty of some awful atrocities, possessed of a violent temper and not in the least tranquil. Maybe in old age serenity came upon him; maybe he was flattered in the painting. Whatever, he gazes calmly up at me. The days are hot. Outside the bees rummage the flowers. I write on.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Voices from Cairo

As Cairo becomes a turbulent battleground for the soul of modern Egypt I have found myself reading about its equally turbulent, exotic and frankly weird past.

I’ve been trying to skip read a chronicle covering the years roughly 1500- 1515 to discover how the sultan in Cairo reacted to the aggressive arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. The trouble is that the detailed accounts of daily life in the city are so fascinating that I keep getting distracted. It’s an extraordinary Arabian Nights world – violent, fantastical, prone to bouts of superstition and magic, obsessed with rituals, exotic pageantry and terrible deaths. It charts the dying years of the Mamluk dynasty who ruled much of the Middle East – Egypt, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula – for some two hundred and fifty years – a dynasty on the edge of collapse, like the last years of Tsarist Russian, before extinction at the hands of the Ottomans who marched in and killed the last sultan in 1517. It’s living on borrowed time – but vividly.

The writer, Ibn Iyas, captures everything. There are firework displays and processions to mark the great days of the Muslim year; the construction of scented palaces, adorned with fruit trees and aromatic plants, streams of running water and shady pavilions; the polo season is declared open in the hippodrome, a horse falls during the match, the state of sultan’s health is a subject of public interest (colic, diarrhoea). The seasons are marked by his change of costume from wool to white cotton. The rise and fall of ‘the blessed Nile’, on which everything depends, is obsessively measured at the ‘Nileometer’. Plague cuts a swathe through the city; an outbreak of bird flu kills all the chickens; earth tremors shake the minarets. Three people are trampled to death during a free handout of food to the unemployed. Law and order is, to put it mildly, something of an issue: a man kills his wife, puts her body in a barrel of tar and sets fire to it; robbers ransack a market – they are caught and torn in two; a revolt by the Bedouin is put down, a grand procession includes 800 heads fixed to spears; the sheik Ahmad ibn Muhamma is paraded on a camel then hung from the city gates…
File:Louis Comfort Tiffany - On the Way between Old and New Cairo, Citadel Mosque of Mohammed Ali, and Tombs of the Mamelukes - Google Art Project.jpg

It’s a phantasmagoria of incredible vividness…two camels carrying flax brush the lantern hanging from a stall and catch fire. The terrified animals stampede with their flaming cargo and trample people underfoot, crashing through the markets, spreading death and destruction. A report from Gaza tells of an enormous sea creature washed ashore; the sultan writes to the governor asking him ‘to send this fish to Cairo, if it’s feasible.’ A dervish is hung. A Turk escapes in a borrowed uniform. Terrible tortures are inflicted on Badr al-din ibn Muzhir. The sultan’s performance at polo is judged mediocre. The Portuguese interrupt Muslim shipping and cause a shortage of turban material. A man has a dream that a huge treasure is buried under the pillars supporting a mosque, but he is unable to say exactly which one; the sultan orders the demolition of all the pillars; a huge crowd gathers to watch but the sultan then changes his mind - the dreamer is thought unreliable. A one year old elephant from Zanzibar is processed through the streets – the whole city turns out to watch, no elephant has been seen in the city for forty years. There are bloody quarrels among the black slaves. At night an eerie light is seen, shaped like the sail of a ship – there is no explanation. It’s a world of colour, passion, magic and dreams!


And ‘in the first days of this month, one heard of the death of Aziza bint Sathi, one of the most famous singers in Egypt, the marvel of the age. Her diction and her voice were admirable and were worthy of the poetic language (of the words). No other singer afterwards could be compared with her. No other chanteuse enjoyed such an appreciation among the nobles and grand functionaries of the state. This woman, whose reputation has been immense throughout Egypt, was over eighty when she died.’

I wonder what she sounded like. I’d love to have heard her sing.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Midsummer England

As You Like It. Photo by Keith Pattison

It’s the Glastonbury Festival this weekend but we went to a more cultural version of this midsummer celebration of tribal identity – the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It in Stratford-on-Avon. Every thing the RSC do is amazing, and this was quite quite wonderful. Drawing on Shakespeare’s deep affinity with the folk customs and seasonal rhythms of the forest of Arden – the area around Stratford – the RSC dreamed up a modernised, Glastonbury-like, recreation of the earth celebrations of pagan England – a world of horned men, primal dancing, cross-dressing and fertility rites, exquisite music by Laura Marling and the kind of audience connection that only fantastically well-done live theatre can provide. An energetic celebration of the spirit of midsummer.
Alex Waldmann as Orlando and Rosie Hilal as Audrey in As You Like It. Photo by Keith Pattison
Coming out into the dark, swans float asleep on the River Avon; the trees of Warwickshire are in full sail, like ships on an inland sea; a deer crosses the road as we drive home; the year is at its height. Here's the trailer and some of Laura Marling's music for the play.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Monty's hat

British icons from the Second World War: Churchill with his cigar and his Victory sign, General Montgomery in his black beret. I read the story of the beret yesterday with the death of Jim Fraser, aged 92, a humble tank driver in the North Africa campaign. Jim drove the tank from which Monty liked to address the troops. Monty also liked to wear a broad-brimmed Australian hat. The problem was that the desert wind kept whipping the hat off; the tank had to stop so that the hat could be  retrieved.

This finally proved too much for Jim. He recalled in his memoirs: "I shoved my beret up into the turret, muttering: 'Tell him to wear this and we'll get there quicker.' The aide-de-camp handed the beret to Monty who tried it on and liked it." Immortality for the ordinary man!

James Fraser
Jim (in the goggles) with Monty in Jim's (first?) hat

 Jim Fraser
Jim, wounded three times,  a winner of the Military Cross, and a proud beret wearer to the end.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Beneath the Cretan earth

I still find myself pondering, almost haunted by, a story I was told a few years ago on a trip to Crete. I was looking for signs of Crete’s Venetian past and had come to a village that had been overlaid by Venetian houses sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. But in Crete the layers lie one on top of the other, the Ottoman on the Venetian, the Venetian on the Byzantine, far back through the Romans to the Dorians and the Minoans, sea people who came to the Great Island in boats. This village was typical – it was a site of great antiquity, of considerable interest to archaeologists

We stayed in a small hotel there, run by a local family; also staying were an English couple who were regular visitors and good friends of the owners. They related to us a curious tale, told to them by the owners.

Some while back, an English archaeologist and his family had come to live in the village; their children were the same age as those of the hotel owners, and they became very close friends.  The families spent a lot of time together; the Cretan children learned English from the visitors who would come most evenings to the hotel and pass time with them. The archaeologist was also deeply occupied studying the land and drawing plans of the ancient field systems.

One day the archaeologist was walking in some fields that belonged to the Cretan family, with, I think, all the children – certainly the Cretan children were with him. He spotted an interesting hole in the ground but nothing much was said about it.

That evening I think, or maybe the next, the details aren’t exactly clear, the English family didn’t appear at the hotel, which was extremely unusual. In due course the Cretans went round to the archaeologist’s house to see what had happened. They found no one there. Their Landrover had gone; the house had been emptied of possessions. The English family had vanished into thin air.

The children thought back to the hole in the field which had caught the archaeologist’s attention. They returned to look. It was obvious that it had been dug open. There was a pit inside which was empty. They never saw or heard from their good English friends again. Something had been found there that caused the archaeologist to scoop up his family and vanish. The Cretan hoteliers had since become very suspicious of visiting archaeologists and over-friendly foreigners… It almost has the quality of a ghost story.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Constantinople fell today - and new covers!

29 May 1453 - the fall of Constantinople. In Istanbul processions and re-enactments. For the Greeks the memory of a painful loss - not that they need anything else painful to think about just now.

My UK publisher, Faber, have just given me wonderful new covers for Constantinople and Empires of the Sea. Just to warn you - one or two people have seen these on Amazon and think, particularly with Constantinople, that they are new books...unfortunately I don't write that fast, but I do almost have a brand! Constantinople carries the double-headed eagle of the Palaiologi - the Byzantine dynasty whose last emperor, Constantine XI, died fighting bravely on the city walls this afternoon, 560 years ago. It seems long ago and yet fresh in the memory of the Greek and Turkish peoples.