Last week I looked at the borderlands in the fantasy genre, the contested boundaries that have been immortalised by writers. This week I want to look at the borderlands in our own world, and look back into history to find the lands along borders that can be a great place to set a historical novel.
Greece – Asia Minor. 1200 BC to AD 334
Some of the most famous settings for the great scenes of classical world took place on Greece’s border with her neighbour. Agamemnon’s siege of Troy, when the King of Kings led all the nations of Greece against the great city to its ultimate downfall. Then a few hundred years later, you have the Persians being held up at the pass of Thermopylae by Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans, before Xerses can lay ruin to the Greek mainland. Finally you have Alexander the Great going back the other way and landing in Asia Minor and defeating the Persian Satraps at the battle of Granicus. Literally thousands of books have been written and been inspired by these three events alone and they remain some of the most well-known tales of all time.
French, Belgium, and German border. AD 9 to 1945.
When the Roman’s gave up trying to turn Germany into a Roman province, after losing their three Eagles in AD 9, the frontier between the Empire and the hostile tribes settled around the Rhine, and just as the Romans found out, this was no simple task to secure. This became the topic of my own novel Roman Mask. In more modern times, from the Napoleonic to the first and second world wars, this border played a key part. The sad reality is that the commencement of hostilities in this region nearly always lead to a war more disastrous than any could possibly envisage.
England – Scotland, AD 122 to 1707
The Romans started it by building a wall separating their lands, and from that point on the two sides never really got on. The borders between the two great nations were the scene of countless battles and some of the greatest castles can be found here as a necessary defence against one another. Their constant raids back and forth over the border meant the region was a pretty lawless place until the two nations finally decided to settle their differences and make an act of union in 1707. From then on they became more concerned with building an Empire together, so I guess some countries preferred them when they were at each other’s throats….either way, a great place to set a novel.
The Holy Land, Europe and Middle East 1091 to 1291
After the Pope proclaimed the first crusade in 1091 with the aim of restoring Christian access to the Holy Land, the battle lines were drawn. Crusade followed crusade and a succession of endless conflicts between the forces of Christendom and Islam. After the fall of Acre in 1291 to Muslim forces, the Roman Catholic Church never really again went close to controlling the region, but the Middle East being a hotbed of contention, in both political, economic, and religious grounds has never truly gone.
The Wild West, USA 1780’s – 1912.
Like most people my age, I was brought up with films involving cowboys and Indian’s and the great Westerns documenting America’s past. Those frontiersmen and outlaw’s names and deeds were as well-known then as in the days they lived. Then Hollywood, apart from the odd exception, stopped making Westerns, and I couldn’t really tell you why. Certainly we have a more enlightened view of the plight of the Native Americans being forced off their own land and onto reservations, however that shouldn’t mean this fascinating period of history should be ignored. Some of the greatest American novels ever written were set in the wild west, surely that’s a tradition worth continuing?
The Iron Curtain, East and West Europe – 1946 to 1989
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” Winston Churchill.
Not all wars are hot, sometimes when both sides dare not risking all out hostilities, an uneasy hostile truce can remain despite the animosity of both sides. The cold war and the iron curtain that split Europe down the middle is the best example of this. Espionage and covert actions rule the day, and when the consequence of that truce failing is mutually assured destruction for both sides, the stakes couldn’t be higher. From Bond to John le Carre a great literary tradition exists in this dark and murky world.