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The history hunter’s report

Highlights of my current research

My next historical fiction series features a female artist born on the Greek island of Rhodes during the 15th century, when it was ruled by the Knights Hospitaller. I’ve been buried in research about the era for the past few months—and I’ve made tons of fascinating discoveries.

My favorite research tools right now

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been relying heavily on to dive down research rabbit holes. Nearly every day I open my email inbox to find another great article awaiting me. Anyone who’s ever cursed at the sight of a JSTOR paywall will know the delight of clicking on a link to a fascinating research article—and actually being able to download the whole thing. It feels like a small miracle each time. (I do pay a nominal annual fee to…so worth it!)

Another benefit of is the chance to connect with scholars. I reached out to one woman whose translations of a Venetian captain’s letters are a goldmine of interesting tidbits. She generously shared great resources with me, and in turn pointed me to other researchers whose work focuses on women of my story’s era. Now I’ve found a treasure-trove of details about women and female slaves that is helping bring my imagined world to life. (Look for more details about this topic in a future episode of my History Hunter’s report.)

I’ve also read about a dozen books during the course of my research, most of which I got through Interlibrary Loan (anyone with a library card can access this resource). The books come to me from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Most are from college libraries. One was from a monastery. I get to keep the books for up to a few months. It’s dreamy.

History Hunter’s Report

My husband has been urging me to post regular, short updates about my research on my blog. So consider this post the introduction to a new series of “History Hunter’s Reports”. And without further ado, here is my first report:

Finding #1:

The fortified town of Rhodes, which housed the Knights Hospitaller, grew in wealth and security during the centuries of rule by the Knights. At the time of my story (the prequel begins in 1460 and the subsequent books begin in 1480) the Grand Masters of the organization were pouring money into bulking up the walls and towers of the town, anticipating imminent attack by the Turks.

Sultan Mehmed II

Sultan Mehmed II launched a 100,000-man attack on Constantinople in the 1450s, crushing the stronghold of the Byzantine Empire and returning the city to Muslim rule. Everyone rightly assumed Mehmed would next target Rhodes. After Constantinople fell, the ruling Grand Master of Rhodes paid townspeople to move away from the walls so the knights could demolish those buildings standing close to the perimeter. Are my characters affected by this decision? Why, yes they are!

Finding #2:

Rhodian soils have yielded fascinating clues about pottery in daily use. Many of the pottery shards found there originate in Cyprus, including tableware decorated in blue and black under a transparent glaze. A significant portion of plates, jugs, and medicine jars also come from workshops in central and northern Italy and Spain. This all makes sense when you consider that Rhodes was a center of international trade and many of the most powerful knights at the time were from Spain and Italy. Alongside this imported pottery lie shards of less sophisticated, locally made glazed tableware. My main characters are middle-class, live in a blended Latin/Greek household, and have the means to buy imported tableware. These small details make a fictional world come alive.

Finding #3:

There are fragments of surviving artwork on Rhodes made by Latin artists. But no evidence tells us how many Latin-trained artists worked for knights and wealthy merchants on Rhodes. We don’t know whether they were itinerant craftspeople or if they settled on Rhodes. I found tantalizing reference to a mysterious artist of Rhodes called simply ‘John,’ but no details about him survive.

Medieval building in Rhodes town

Medieval building in Rhodes Town

Three Rhodian artists reportedly moved to Crete after the fall of Rhodes in 1522, however. Surviving frescoes on Rhodes from the 15th century show examples of highly gifted work commissioned by cultured, status-conscious customers. Inspired by these snippets of history, I created a Venetian-born-and-trained artist who migrates to Rhodes in search of a prosperous future. His daughter and granddaughter are the stars of my new series.

Enjoy this stuff? Want more? I also highlight research findings in my monthly newsletter, so if you haven’t already signed up for my readers’ group, you can do so here, or just email me at and ask to be added to my readers’ group.

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