Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom: Ayyub/Antonis

The second to the last fictional character from the Last Crusader Kingdom that I'd like to introduce is Ayyub the mason.



Ayyub enters the novel late and has only a cameo role, but he is vitally important nevertheless. Although I take issue with the conventional thesis that Cyprus was re-populated by during Guy de Lusignan’s short reign and without opposition, the fact that many former inhabitants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem found a new start on Cyprus is indisputable. Significantly, the settlers were not all noblemen -- nor all Latin Christians.



The famous passage attributed to Ernoul describing the settlement of Cyprus includes the following revealing passage:



The knights, sergeants and burgesses whom the Muslims had dispossessed…set off and came to [Cyprus]…[The king] gave rich fiefs, both to the Greeks and the knights he had brought with him and to shoemakers, masons and Arabic scribes….”



As I have said earlier, the account of the settling of Cyprus is highly romanticized and severely abbreviated. That it should include such explicit mention of such humble professions as shoemakers and masons ― not to mention Arabic scribes, who were hardly needed on Cyprus ― is extremely significant. Ernoul (or whoever wrote this account) clearly wanted to highlight the fact that the dispossessed of all classes and all communities emigrated to Cyprus. It is particularly significant that he underlines the fact that Greeks and the Arabic-speakers also took advantage of the new opportunities on Cyprus.



My character Ayyub is, like Lakis, a double representative. On the one hand, he is a man of common birth, a tradesman not a knight or nobleman, yet no less impoverished by Saladin's victories. Obviously, not all of the dispossessed of the lower classes had been slaves. Some were simply driven from their homes by the advancing armies of Saladin. Yet, tens of thousands of working-class Christian men had gone into Saracen slavery. With Ayyub, I wanted to connect back to Envoy of Jerusalem and remind readers of the fate of the Christians who had fallen into Saracen hands in the course of the collapse of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. 



On the other hand, Ayyub is a representative of the non-Latin communities in the crusader states. Far too many novels set in this period completely ignore the bulk of the population: the Orthodox Christians of the Holy Land. Making Ayyub a Melkite Christian was a means of reminding the reader of the large Melkite populations in the crusader states. 


By making Ayyub an Arabic speaker, I not only link directly to the text above (that stresses the emigration of Arabic-speakers to Cyprus), but remind readers that the many native Christians had adopted Arabic names and spoke Arabic. It was this use of Arab names and language that has long confused historians into believing that a larger portion of the population of the crusader states had converted to Islam. Yet to this day there are tens of thousands of Christians living in Syria and Lebanon, whose names sound Arabic to us and who’s language is Arabic, yet whose religion is Christian.



But Ayyub is also Antonis because the Arab-speaking, Orthodox immigrants to Cyprus evidently did not retain their Arabic names or language for long. Sharing the same religious rites as the native Greek population to a greater extent than the Latin elites, they integrated more rapidly, married local girls and soon adopted Greek.



Last but not least, by making Ayyub/Antonis a mason, I could emphasize the extent to which Cyprus needed to be rebuilt. The roughly three-hundred years of Frankish rule on Cyprus were a period of extensive and expensive building.  Cathedrals, castles, monasteries and palaces were built across the island. Although earthquakes and the Turks have managed to destroy most of what was built in this period, the fragments remaining are monuments to the quality, ingenuity and artistic capabilities of the engineers, masons, sculptors and glass-makers of the last crusader kingdom.



 














Ruins of the Frankish Cloister of Bellapais near Kyrenia, Cyprus 



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