Salve Sodalis, I am about to start a new saga and the troupe has decided that they would like to play in a â€œless-wornâ€ setting. The troupe is looking at setting the Covenant in the Tribunal of Thebes, between Thessalonica and Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire.
A SG I would like to fill in as many details as I can with real history, but I must admit that I just do not have a respectable level of knowledge of the history in this area of (Mythic) Europe. I know some of the major events that affect the area; two that come to mind are the fourth Crusade, and the Mongols.
I have found and started to read a lot of material on the Internet, Project Redcap is a real help. Where I would like help is in locating additional sources for research. I am looking for books, authors, websites or any other tool that I can use to educate myself.
I think the trick is to make it feel right. Find yourself a broad history of the Byzantine Empire. I recommend the local library or, failing that, Amazon. But remember, while you don't know much about the Byzantine Empire, chances are your players don't, either.
For a good look at a fictional Byzantine Empire (dare I say a Mythic European look), I would recommend Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay. It's a pseudo-history in a parallel Byzantium/Sarantium during the fall of Justinian. It's a bit early, but if nothing else, you'll have just read two really well-written books. Also, unlike an actual history of Byzantium, it weaves in some mystical elements, which might make transitioning to Ars Magica easier.
This is a copy of the work of Geoffrey de Villehardouin.
"The first of the great chroniclers in a modern tongue was the famous Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who was not only a writer of, but an actor in the scenes which he describes. He was enrolled among the elite of French Chivalry, in that Crusade at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century, which resulted in the foundation of the Greco-Latin Empire. His book entitled "The Conquest of Constantinople," includes the story of the expedition during the years from 1198 to 1207"
It should give you a feel of the early part of the 13th century especially in warfare.
I might get an Ars 4 PDF thrown at me for suggesting this, but when I want to get inspired I watch From Russia with Love.
Besides it establishing the James Bond formula (which probably could be converted to an Ars story?), I enjoy seeing Hagia Sophia and the architecture of Istanbul. For me, the visual setting is very inspiring. Dancing ladies of the night, underground meetings, bazaar's, and exotic rouge agents and again, Hagia Sophia. Those columns, that cloak and dagger dance Bond does when he's inside. It's just so beautiful to me. Who needs hollywood sets with buildings this awe inspiring. Makes me want to game everytime- but in Constantinople, not Istanbul. Oh you know what I mean.
Well, I am afraid it will be me who is hit by that missile, but as others already have mentioned enough academic literature one might also look for more exotic sources of inspiration: There was a supplement for 'Vamipre-TDA' called 'Constantinople at Night', and the Vampire fans I know considered it among the better books. I never had a look into it, but a book like this should include a lot of mystical stories about the city; unfortunately it might solve all the mysteries by using vampiric intirigues as explanation, but I still think that a dedicated SG should be able to convert much of this into a setting more appropriate for Ars Magica.
Another idea: If you don't set your saga in the thirteenth century but earlier (late 11th/ early 12th century), you might get some inspiration from Anna Komnena's biography of her father.
My own Saga just passed the 4th Crusade. I used the Vampire sourcebook but it was of limited utility , if you can get it cheap it may be worth looking at.
The Source I found useful was
The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips
It gave a useful amount of Background and a lot of detail of events around the crusade. It would not be a lot of use in a game set after 1204. Even if your players don't change events. A crusading fleet does not enjoy the Wrath of Neptune