A Timurid delegation to the Golden Horde. From Johannes Schiltberger's Reisebuch, Augsburg printing, ca. 1477.

A Timurid delegation to the Golden Horde. From Johannes Schiltberger's Reisebuch, Augsburg printing, ca. 1477.

I am currently at work at two larger projects. The first, tentatively entitled The Boundless World of Johannes Schiltberger follows the adventures and travels of Johannes Schiltberger, a German teenager who was captured in 1396 in Hungary while on crusade against the Turks. He subsequently became the Ottoman sultan's personal attendant and later passed in the same post to the ferocious Central Asian warlord Timur (or Tamerlane as he is known is the West). Timur, in turn, passed Schiltberger down to his Timurid successors, in whose gilded courts he found some success. He spent some 30 years in service to the greatest Muslim rulers of his day, criss-crossing eastern Europe, central Asia, and the Middle East.  Eventually, he returned to Germany and wrote memoirs of his time in captivity. I see Schiltberger's life, with its keen eyewitness observation mixed with complete and utter fantasy, as an appropriate guide to the transforming world at the close of the Middle Ages. My goal is to produce something akin to Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, but this time without excluding the rather more interesting bits of the world that lay beyond the tedious squabbles of the western European sub-continent.

My second project, tentatively entitled Travel Tips from the Middle Ages, is a short distillation of the collected wisdom of centuries of travelers, pilgrims, merchants, spies, ambassadors and captives, from the nun Egeria to Marco Polo to Ibn Battuta to nameless Irish monks, who have already done the dirty work of international travel for us in the days before airplane food and Norovirus. The book is organized around ten different "lessons" that we modern travelers can learn from our predecessors in areas like choosing a companion, packing intelligently, and giving up all hope. Like the cuisine of the Mongol khan, it is almost 100% deadly serious.