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BLOG: "Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown"

As a lover of ancient history, I've noticed a real renaissance in literature surrounding the Byzantine period--a time that frankly, hasn't been touched upon by authors quite as much as the rest of the Roman Empire. Therefore, I was thrilled to host Faith Justice on my blog page. Faith is writing not only on the Byzantine period, but focusing on some women of the time which haven't gotten much press.

I've often asked myself what it would have felt like to be an emperor or empress. Let's face it--it was a dangerous job. The ancient world was often a violent setting and wise leaders found themselves treading the waters of their jobs very carefully.

Or else.

So let's join Faith and learn more about her book Dawn Empress as she guides us into Byzantium!

Uneasy Lies the Head by Faith Justice

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”--King Henry IV by William Shakespeare

Brook asked me, “How dangerous was it to rule in Eastern Rome?” I love guest posts because they always stretch my writing muscles. This question took me a while to answer as I pondered the various scenarios. Life in the fourth and fifth centuries was dangerous in ways that have nothing to do with being a ruler. Emperors like Constantine I, Constantius II, Valentinian I, Theodosius I and Arcadius died (relatively young) of diseases. Constantine II, Constans I, and Valens died of battle wounds like many soldiers—although they were wars of their own making. The unfortunate Jovian died by accident of poisonous fumes from a brazier in his tent after only a few months as ruler.

So, more specifically, what about being an emperor in Late Antiquity Constantinople would be dangerous? And, on a more philosophic note, are there more “dangers” than death? My protagonist Pulcheria (pictured on the coin) deals with the first question early in my book Dawn Empress and the second question comes back as a theme throughout the story.

Pulcheria, as a girl, wrestled with how to protect her younger brother Theodosius II from all the physical dangers of the Eastern court while he was underage. She read the histories and realized there was a distinct possibility that like Emperors Gratien and Valentinian II, he could be killed by his army or like Julian “the Apostate” rejected by his people and assassinated. In fact, a General Lucius did attempt to assassinate young Theodosius in front of his entire court. Legend had it that the Virgin Mary appeared and protected the emperor from his general’s assault. I created a more secular savior in my tale.

The boy emperor’s minority was a terribly fraught time in the Empire. The Huns regularly raided the East. Persia, Rome’s traditional rival, threatened their borders. In troubled times, ambitious men eyed the throne occupied by a child and calculated their chances of success. An unscrupulous man or cabal of men might have arranged—with few consequences—any number of quiet ways to get rid of the emperor such as:

· a poison that mimicked a disease

· an unfortunate “accident” while the boy was at play

· banishment to an inhospitable caretaker for his own “safety”

· outright disappearance like the Princes of the Tower

Pulcheria was acutely aware of these possibilities. Fear, insecurity, and lack of control stamped her for life and shaped her actions into adulthood.

However, the imperial children lucked out when an honorable man, Anthemius “the Great,” took over the government as regent and guardian. He saw that the children were well-cared for, educated, and prepared for their roles. The people acclaimed him as a fair man who loved his city and administered the Eastern Empire well. Anthemius built the famous walls around Constantinople (see picture below), that stood against enemies for a thousand years. He was also the leader of a major faction at court known as the Hellenes, a group of rich influential men who favored a secular and oligarchic government.

Which brings me to another possible “danger” of the Eastern court—irrelevancy. Many savvy people prefer to be the power behind the throne rather than the actual ruler. Why put up with all the ridiculous pomp, rigid ceremony, and real danger when you can pull the puppet’s strings and enjoy your wealth and power out of the limelight?

Many people tried—some successfully, some not—to influence Theodosius over the years. In the emperor’s youth, Anthemius chose the boy’s companions to shape his character and bind him in brotherhood with the Hellenes. They also procured him a beautiful intelligent wife who was much less religious than his sister. Throughout his life, eunuchs and powerful Churchmen swayed the emperor to their agendas, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Pulcheria felt Theodosius was particularly susceptible to undue influence and was constantly on guard against it, causing most of the conflict between her beloved brother and herself. Some might even argue that Pulcheria was a threat to her brother, stifling his abilities and usurping his authority, but I doubt that she would agree. I hope you read the book and come to your own conclusions.

On a final note, my sincere thanks to Brook’s Journal for hosting me on this blog tour. It’s always a privilege to meet new readers. If any of you have questions about me or my books, feel free to get in touch through my website or other social media. I love to hear from people. Stay safe out there!

Faith Justice, Author

Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.

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Dawn Empress Blurb

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.

Buy the Book!



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