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A Delacorte Book
Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc.
ISBN 0-385-33601-2
$ 24.95

On Sale in the UK

under the title

The Sword and the Scimitar
A Division of
Random House UK
ISBN: 0091799414

On Sale in Germany
under the title
Asha: Sohn von Malta
ISBN: 3795118263
EUR 22,90





...was an extraordinary age an age of sweeping social change, an age that spawned great art, great literature, and great conflict....

Europe was a hodgepodge of Christian kingdoms, duchies, republics, and principalities, all enmeshed in an unending series of religious wars and political intrigues. In the east the Ottoman sun was rising; the Sultan Suleiman’s armies even reached the gates of Vienna. The Barbary states of Africa were ruled by Suleiman’s allies — Moors, Berbers, and Arabs — while his galleys dominated the Mediterranean.  Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, was Protestant ruler of England (1558-1603); the Hapsburg Charles V was Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, succeeded as king by his son, Philip.

Michelangelo was finishing the Last Judgment (1541) in the Sistine Chapel, whose ceiling he had completed three decades earlier. The wall on which he created the masterpiece measured fifty-five by forty feet. Working by the light of a candle, he crafted a fresco dominated by the figure of Christ, a profound vision of Judgment Day that struck terror and awe into those who saw it.

Jean de la Valette was Grand Master of the ancient order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. He wrote poetry and killed the infidel Muslim.  He kept a lioness, so tamed by his iron will that she slept like a lamb at the foot of his bed. He also kept a parrot, an old bird from the Malays whose vocabulary was as profane as La Valette’s was virtuous.  After the Great Siege of Malta the Pope offered him the red hat of a cardinal. La Valette refused — not from modesty, but from fear that accepting the honor might require him to bow before the Pope. After the siege, La Valette no longer knew how to bow before anyone but God.

Suleiman was tenth and greatest Sultan of the Ottomans, presiding over the golden age of a splendid empire. His subjects called him the Lawgiver; even his enemies called him the Magnificent. He wrote poetry and his armies flowed like rivers over the earth. He resided in Constantinople, the glorious city straddling Asia and Europe. Suleiman tolerated (and taxed) Christians and Jews, whose scriptures were based on divine revelations and therefore sacred.

Dragut Raïs was known as the Drawn Sword of Islam.  Scourge of the Christian world, brilliant corsair and gifted navigator, his fleets carried thousands into slavery. He operated from Djerba, an island off the African coast that was home to the Lotus Eaters of Odysseus. The Ottoman historian Darius noted that “of all the odd turns of fate in those eventful years before the great battle of Malta, none was more singular than Dragut’s presentiment of his own death. 'I have felt the shadow of the wing of death in this island [Malta],' he told his commanders. 'It is written that I, too, shall die in the territory of the knights.' His intuition was oft repeated throughout the Maltese islands, as indeed it was in every Christian corner of the Middle Sea, where, predictably, the fervent wish was that the premonition would come true sooner rather than later...”

The popes…

Paul III (1534-49). Reorganized the Inquisition, casting off the mantle of Torquemada and in its place unveiling the Holy Roman Inquisition, dedicated to the eradication of the Protestant plague unleashed by Martin Luther. Paul initiated the Council of Trent, which began profound reforms of a corrupt Church.

Paul IV (1555-59). Surrounded the Jewish quarter in Rome with a wall, creating a ghetto: it was God’s wish, said the Holy Father, that servitude be imposed upon the Jews until they recognized the error of their faith.  He published an index condemning and banning the works of hundreds of authors, including Rabelais and Machiavelli.  In 1559 he assigned the artist Volterra the task of covering the nudity in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, earning the unfortunate Volterra the enduring title of ‘the breeches maker.’

Pius IV (1559-65). ‘We have been informed that the destructive poison of heresy has wormed its way into the City and Island of Malta,” the pope wrote to Grand Master La Valette, “even among the members of the Order of Jerusalem [the Knights of St. John, defenders of the faith].’ Pius named an Inquisitor, who began an investigation of heresy among the Knights.

The Knights…

The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights of St. John or the Knights of Malta: an ancient order of hospitallers, created to provide aid to pilgrims making their way to the Holy Land during the Crusades.  The knights soon became warrior-monks, their ranks filled by the sons of the noblest families of Europe. Driven from Jerusalem by Saladin, they made their home on the  island of Rhodes, where for two hundred years they flourished as a seafaring order of corsairs in the service of Christ. The young sultan Suleiman drove the knights from Rhodes in 1522. He spared their lives in exchange for their promise to leave his minions in peace.  It was a promise they would not keep.

The galleys…

It was the age of galleys, which continued to ply the Mediterranean as they had done for a thousand years. These ships, ideal for the tideless and often becalmed Middle Sea, had changed little since carrying the legions of Rome. They bore lateen sails, but most often were propelled by men — "poor creatures who must envy the dead."  Slaves were chained to their benches for months on end, sleeping, eating, and relieving themselves at their oars. Christians powered the Muslim galleys and Muslims powered the Christian galleys, and release came only through ransom, or death. Both La Valette and Dragut served as galley slaves, as did Cervantes. read more...

More to follow soon:

  The Great Siege
Constantinople and Topkapi
Medicine in the 16th Century