The novel about the Crusaders’ siege of Zadar entitled “1202.” was published in 2016
WHY THIS PARTICULAR EVENT?
While I was in college, I got hold of a book entitled “Tri starofrancuske hronike o Zadru u godini 1202” (Eng. Three Old French chronicles about Zadar in the year 1202), which was translated from Old French by academician Petar Skok, who was also chief editor of the edition. In the book, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, the Marshal of Champagne and nephew to the French king, and Rebert de Clari, a knight of lower rank, write about the siege of Zadar in 1202 from their point of view some years later. The chronicles are an important piece of medieval French literature, but also a testament to the greatest sack of Zadar in history. The chronicles of the two Frenchmen who witnessed the unbelievable event eight centuries ago captured my imagination so much that for twelve years I was unable to finish other novels, stories, and poems for which I had ideas and had begun writing drafts and multiple passages.
I got to work writing. Several historians from Zadar were incredibly kind and helped me go through hundreds of books during my research, as well as providing me with scientific papers and their personal views regarding the period and the events in question.
After several years of writing, I finished my first draft under the working title “Iadera”. The publisher Profil showed interest in the novel, but several years had passed, and after I reread the novel, I decided to continue working on it because I felt it could not be published in its current form, that it lacked focus. I changed several things, rewrote parts of the novel, tried to determine what was missing. In the end, in a fit of frustration caused by a lack of solutions, I flung the then five-hundred-page-long novel out the window, the pages of which my wife carefully picked up from the street. Still, I never since opened that version of the novel.
A friend of mine whose opinion I extremely value simply concluded: “This event is so important that you have to take the time to write about it properly.”
I decided to redo several years of research, now older, with some life experience, no longer a student, but rather a working man founding a family. I finally realised why I was not satisfied with the first version of the novel. The multitude of characters and their stories shifted the attention from the fundamental event, i.e. the siege of Zadar.
Granted, I needed characters, and romance between them, and action, but it all had to be linked to the main event, the assault of 40 000 French and Venetian knights on two Christian cities, Zadar and Constantinople, during the Fourth Crusade.
By studying the assembled scientific papers and rereading the chronicles of Villehardouin and Clari dozens of times, I tried to discern the truth from their words, but also their attempt to cover up the facts. It was obvious that they wrote the chronicles to justify themselves before the European, primarily French, public for the incomprehensible crimes for which they were cursed by Pope Innocent III.
After several years of research, I started writing again. Real and imaginary characters started to move around in my imagination and tried to reveal to me what might have happened then and why. No matter how brutal certain events might have been, I realised we tend to reduce them to: “People are like that, history is like that, that’s war for you, whatever”. My history classes in high school did little to teach me how to look for causes and consequences, which I believe is the basis for the study of history, but I poured everything I had into the research.
I had to answer multiple questions and describe the complex political and religious situation of the time.
Venice, which was near bankruptcy because it lost four fleets in its attempts to take Zadar, was at the time led by the blind, 97-year-old Doge Enrico Dandolo, who successfully managed to fool the highest French diplomats.
Zadar was fighting for religious autonomy at the time, when it was crucial to prove a city had the oldest remains of one saint or the other, when several similar heresies spread across Europe which can be referred to by the term Catharism, which argued for Christianity to return to its humble roots.
Why was Zadar the only city in Dalmatia that did not persecute Bogomils and other Cathars, while its society was still dependant on slavery? Why did no one answer Zadar’s call for help? Why did Pope Innocent III curse the entire army, a vast number of French and Venetian lords, just to withdraw his anathema immediately afterward?
I worked long on the novel, but I had to let it go in the end.
THE PLOT OF THE NOVEL
The novel starts with a knight called Maius arriving in Zadar. Personally a Bogomil, Maius is a captain in the army of Ban Kulin and is searching for his daughter, who has been abducted from their family estate by slavers. He travelled to Zadar from Dubrovnik, finding employment by serving a rich patrician called Agape de Madie, belonging to Zadar’s most influential noble family aiming to unite the whole of Dalmatia. Maius is thus in the position to directly follow the complex political situation in Zadar and consequently meets Chionia de Madie, the powerful and mysterious prioress of the most powerful monastery in Zadar, who is also Agape’s daughter.
But what happens when more than 500 ships carrying 40 000 knights, 350 siege engines, and 9000 horses with as many squires arrive before Zadar?
Real characters are intertwined through the plot with the characters that are essentially figments of my imagination, even though they were created through the study of notarial documents and other sources from the period in question. That is how the novel became home to nobles and slaves (ancillae and servi), members of Zadar’s City Watch, knights Templar from the nearby fort of Aurana, Venetian spies, heretics, prostitutes, characters linked by war and forbidden love, battles at sea and on land, assassinations by poison etc.
E-book and preview are available here.
I did not expect the readers to receive the novel so well. I was overjoyed when the entire first shipment sent to Zadar was sold at the promotional event during the KaLibar Bestival festival! The public’s interest in the book continued, and more copies were printed in the following months. In 2016 and 2017, I attended several events in Zagreb and Zadar presenting the book to the readers, which came to the venues in surprising numbers.
I have to point out that I first imagined “1202.” as a graphic novel, my childhood love. As a child with dyslexia, I learned how to read thanks to comic books so I wanted to see the plot of the novel brought to life primarily in that medium. We have not yet reached that milestone. As it is often the case in life, numerous projects I never dreamed of might become reality, while the projects I longed for remain wishful thinking.
Maja Gregl and Tomislav Gregl have begun work on the animated movie entitled “1202.”, for which the script and storyboards are already finished. The drawings below are the basis for future animations (courtesy of Dario Kukić).