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Dragon’s blood is real

History Hunter's report

Have I started writing fantasy? Am I delusional? No, it’s true. Dragon’s blood really is a thing. And how I discovered it still gives me spine-tingling chills.

World of the medieval Mediterranean

First, some backstory. I’m currently doing research for my next series, which is set in the medieval Mediterranean. My new series will feature two families who meet on the island of Rhodes in the mid-15th century, when it was ruled by the knights Hospitaller. Fate, love, politics, and war push the families—one Venetian-Greek, the other French—in wildly different directions over the course of three generations. Some of the key action in the series takes place on the island of Cyprus, which was ruled by French kings during the era. 

Dragon’s blood and falcons

Now back to the tantalizing subject of dragon’s blood. For months, I’ve been searching for a 600-year-old book written in French by a Greek-born falconer named Ayme Cassian, who worked for the knights Hospitaller on Rhodes. Last month, I found the next best thing online. It’s a 15th-century book by a French knight who gathered advice and remedies from three master falconers of the medieval Mediterranean, including Ayme Cassian. Every page is scanned in high-resolution color for my viewing pleasure—and now, yours. Here’s the link. See for yourself the beauty of these ancient pages, complete with full-color illustrations.

Image courtesy of KBR, the National Library of Belgium

More excitement: I could actually read and understand many of the medieval French words in the book. I had already created a French-born falconer character who lives on the island of Cyprus (a few days’ voyage from Rhodes). So my next spine-tingling moment occurred when I saw that the two other master falconers featured in the book were both employed by the kings of Cyprus. I’m taking this as a sign that I’m psychic.

For those curious about the words in the image above, here is the translation: “The third master was named Ayme Cassian — he was Greek from the island of Rhodes and falconer in his time for the masters of Rhodes.”

As I pored over the pages, I kept running into references to “sang du dragon” or dragon’s blood. Many of the falconers’ remedies include this ingredient. Could this mean dragons really existed? After all, medieval maps often label unknown or hostile areas with “Here Be Dragons.” Could I legitimately add a dragon to my story?

But as I probed deeper, my hopes were dashed. I learned that dragon’s blood is the resin of trees that grow on islands off the northeast coast of Africa. Dried and pulverized, the crimson powder fetched a high price in medieval maritime ports on Rhodes and Cyprus. It was valued for its curative powers, not just for falcons, but people, too.

Royal intrigue, treachery, and tunes

After finding this rare book, I dug into the history of Cyprus and the dizzying power struggles of the Cypriot royal family. Poisonings, coups, sieges, banishments—perhaps George R.R. Martin was inspired by the Lusignan Kings of Cyprus when he wrote Game of Thrones. This stuff is gold to a historical novelist.

As I develop my series, I’ll continue to study the counsel of falconer Ayme Cassein and his fellow masters in the ancient book I discovered. I’ll listen to another Cypriot treasure while I work: the Cyprus Codex, a stunning collection of late medieval song from the 15th century royal court. And yes, dragon’s blood—with its power to heal both falcons and humans—will play a role in my story.

4 Comments

  1. Julie Cassin (almost Cassein) says:

    Soooo cool! I’m getting excited to read more!!!

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      Thank you! Me, too…hopefully I’ll find another research treasure to share soon.

  2. Carol says:

    The new book sounds fascinating! Medieval Rhodes doesn’t have a lot out there in the realm of fiction, so it’ll definitely be something different.

    I’m not sure if you’re already aware of it, but there’s also the element Realgar that was a well known poison in the Ancient World and was sometimes referred to as dragon’s blood. Some historians say that it’s the origin of the dragon/hydra blood used by Medea and Deianeira to poison the robes in their respective myths. Way before your time-period but still intriguing none-the-less 😀 !

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      Ooh, I didn’t know about Realgar — how fascinating. I just started reading a book about poison so hopefully I’ll learn more about it soon. Thanks for reaching out!

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