It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. — Upton Sinclair

Church Historical Fiction

Author: Rev. Alfred J. Church
Publisher: McMillan & co., New York; Seeley & co., London
Dates: 1885–1909

Alfred Church
ALFRED J. CHURCH (1829 - 1912)
For anyone interested in a classical education, the Historical Fiction of Alfred J. Church's is an invaluable resource. He is especially gifted at exciting a real interest in history in the intermediate student; that is someone who is already familiar at an introductory level with the history of Greece, Rome, or England, but would like more interesting and in-depth knowledge of these areas. Church's works are full of many of the fascinating details of history that introductory courses must leave out, and inspire an abiding interest in the ancients.

Church's approach to Historical fiction is to introduce as much history as possible into an action packed narrative. The plotlines may be somewhat contrived, but they are never dull. His heroes are buffeted from one historically significant event to another, with just a few asides for love interest and dramatic escapes and rescues. Church's ability to weave tremendous amounts of historical detail into his stories without becoming tedious is astounding.

Most of Church’s books are set in either Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome, but With the King at Oxford and Chantry Priest of Barnet are set in England, during the Civil War, and War of the Roses, respectively. His Count of the Saxon Shore is set in Roman britain, just at the time the Roman legions began to withdraw from the Island they had possessed for nearly 400 years.

Church’s two major fiction works involving Greek History are Callias - The Fall of Athens set during and after the Peloponnesian War, and Young Macedonian in the Army of Alexander the Great set during the reign of Alexander the Great. In both cases, the fictional heroes are involved in almost every major event of the period, and meet almost all the major characters. Fiction works involving Rome include Lucius: Adventures of a Roman Boy set in the period of the late republic after Sulla but before Caesar. Its hero is rescued by Spartacus, kidnapped by pirates, and held captive by Mithridates among other adventures. Lords of the World is set during the third Punic war and covers storming and destruction of Carthage as well as the nearly simultaneous fall of Corinth in Greece. These cities were conquered in the same year, and essentially cleared the Mediterranean of all contenders to Roman supremacy in commerce as well as arms.

Several of Church’s books may be of particular interest to Christians, since they cover events that are important in Church history, as well as political history. To the Lions is the story of an early Christian community in Asia Minor that is persecuted during the governorship of Pliny the Younger. Burning of Rome is one his most exciting stories. It covers a failed assassination conspiracy against Nero, but has a subplot involving early Christians. Crown of Pine, set in Greece during the early years of the Roman Empire, also has an important Christian subplot. Crusaders introduces characters from the first through the ninth crusades, and The Hammer, is the story of the Maccabee rebellion against the Macedonian overlords of Judea a few hundred years before Christ.

Callias - The Fall of Athens   by Alfred J. Church   128 credits
This story follows Callias, a young Athenian, through the last days of the Peloponnesian War. He participates in the battles of Arginusae and Aegospotami and is present during the siege of Athens. He visits Alcibiades in exile, befriends Socrates, and accompanies Xenophon on the Retreat of the Ten Thousand. As part of Socrates' inner circle, he hears a first hand account of his trial and death before being caught up himself in post-war politics in Athens.

Young Macedonian in the Army of Alexander the Great   by Alfred J. Church   108 credits
This story follows two friends, one a Greek, one a Macedonian, who join Alexander's army for the invasion of Persia. They meet during the destruction of Thebes and are present at all of Alexander's major battles, including Granicus River, Issus, the Siege of Tyre, and Gaugamela. The change in Alexander's character from a brave and generous noble to a corrupted and impulsive libertine is well drawn.

Lords of the World   by Alfred J. Church   133 credits
The hero of this book is a Greek enemy of Rome, who vainly tries to resist the all-conquering Romans. During the course of his trials he befriends Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian general, Polybius, the great historian of the Punic Wars, and Scipio the Younger, the general who conquers Carthage. During the course of his struggle, he begins to understand the weaknesses of the Greek and Punic civilizations, and why they are unable to resist the domination of Rome.

Lucius: Adventures of a Roman Boy   by Alfred J. Church   137 credits
Lucius comes of age in first century Rome during the age of Cicero and Pompey and is sent on his first assignment to Sicily. On his way he is attacked by Spartacus's rebels, captured by Mediterranean pirates, and involved in numerous other adventures. Eventually he ends up in Asia Minor, where he visits Eastern kingdoms and becomes involved in the war with Mithradates. The book covers a complicated era in Rome's history, and illustrates many of the reasons for the decline of the Republic.

Burning of Rome   by Alfred J. Church   116 credits
This book covers a dramatic period of Nero's reign, encompassing the catastrophic fire that destroyed Rome and the rebellion, known as Piso's Conspiracy, that soon followed. Virtually all of the characters in this book are based on historical Romans, and the levels of treachery, cowardice, martyrdom, and villainy displayed by the characters in this drama would be incredible if they were not actually true.

Crown of Pine   by Alfred J. Church   92 credits
This book depicts life in the Roman Empire in the first fifty years after the birth of Christ. Most of the action takes place in Corinth, which had been rebuilt after the Romans razed it in 146 B.C. The plot involves an athlete who is training to compete in the Corinthian games, but most of the characters are merchants, exiled Jews, and various other townsfolk. An important subplot involves some early Christians who have personally befriended St. Paul and are members of the Corinthian church.

Count of the Saxon Shore   by Alfred J. Church   108 credits
The hero of this book is a Roman-British naval commander in charge of keeping pirates away from the British Isles near the turn of the fourth century. During his watch, the empire is beginning its final collapse. The legionnaires leave Britain, the provinces are left to govern themselves, and eventually he is told to abandon his post. From that point the Celtic Britons are left alone to battle the Scottish Picts and Saxon invaders by themselves.

To the Lions   by Alfred J. Church   70 credits
A fictional story of Christian persecution in the second century A.D. The story does an excellent job of showing how the persecutions were often local affairs instigated by regional jealousies, rather than government projects. The conversations between Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Bithynia, and the historian Tacitus reflect the sentiments of the Roman intelligentsia regarding the Christians at this time.

With the King at Oxford   by Alfred J. Church   86 credits
This story follows the life of an English gentleman who enlists with the cavaliers during the English Civil War. Between battles he returns to Oxford to complete his studies, but the disruptions of the war wreak havoc on all normal vocations. In addition to learning some details about English life in the seventeenth century and the early conflict between the king and parliament, a great deal of history specific to Oxford University is also covered.

Chantry Priest of Barnet   by Alfred J. Church   89 credits
This story takes place during the War of the Roses, but it does not give a comprehensive overview of the conflict and a prior knowledge of the war is helpful in following the plot. The story told by a young monk who happens to be present at several of the important battles. Many details are given concerning abbey life in England shortly before the monasteries were dissolved during the English Reformation.

Crusaders   by Alfred J. Church   100 credits
This history of the Crusades is not comprehensive, but rather gives a detailed picture of some of the most interesting incidents in the First, Third, and Eighth Crusades. It is told from the point of view of a "wandering Jew" and gives romantic insight into some of the most famous characters and incidents.

Hammer   by Alfred J. Church   135 credits
This story is based on the first book of Maccabees from the Old Testament. It is set during the Macedonian occupation of Judea (around 250 B.C.), a very critical period in Jewish history, and tells the story of a young Jewish man who is first attracted to the "modern" Greek way of life, but eventually joins the Maccabee brothers in their desperate revolt against their Macedonian overlords. The conflict between the cosmopolitan and decadent Greek manner of life, and the customs of traditional Judaism is well portrayed .

Three Greek Children: A Story of Home in Old Time   by Alfred J. Church   57 credits
This is Church's only book of historical fiction intended for grammar school students. It is a story of three Athenian children growing up during the Peloponnesian War, attended by their Spartan nurse. It does not actually focus much on the historical events of the war, but instead relates many legends, fables, and hero stories relating to Greek history as they are told to the children by their elders.