I am nearly finished with the Lars Brownworth podcast, 12 Byzantium Rulers. It’s the companion to his book, Lost to the West. I have reached the fall of Constantinople before the Ottoman Turks. It made me sniffle.
The final emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI, is the very model of a doomed last stand leader. The night before Mehmet’s final push, Constantine met with every soldier in the besieged city and thanked them, asking for forgiveness. He stayed in the Hagia Sophia half the night. He rode his horse on the battlements until dawn, offering encouragement to his men.
And when the wall crumbled, he threw aside his royal robes, shouted that the city may have fallen but the emperor lived, and jumped down into the fray, sword in hand.
Constantine’s body was never found.
I was listening to this podcast, sniffing at the doom of it all. The images in my head were those of the battle for Helm’s Deep. You know, from the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers.
But then I realized. This accidentally cast the Turks as the Orcs. And there’s all manner of problems with that.
In truth, I also thought of Helm’s Deep during the bit about the Crusader siege of Jerusalem. And also during the much earlier siege of Ravenna. Basically, if there’s a historical siege, my mind turns to either Helm’s Deep or The Alamos depending on size. But my culture, here, it betrays me.
I don’t have powerful fictional models of beleaguered people of color under siege by monstrous white folks.
I KNOW that these things have HAPPENED. History is what it is. But all the stories I know, the images that flash in my head when I listen to Constantine’s fall, are of nobly doomed white people falling before a dark-skinned horde.
I need some new images, folks. So, tell me. What are some accounts, in movies, television, or books, of a siege in which the defenders are people of color? Historical or fictional, either is fine.
(Note: I typed this on the WordPress app on my tablet, using my very aggressive auto-correct keyboard program. The format is odd, and I apologize for any strange word choice or grammar.)