THE WOLF AND THE LION: the Story of the Lost Crusaders

In 1935 American explorer Richard Halliburton travelled to the remote mountains of Eurasian Georgia. What he discovered there would change my life.

Halliburton found a village lost to time, inhabited by people he believed were descendants of 12th century European crusaders who had somehow become lost on their way to the Holy Land. The men dressed in rusted mail armor and carried ancient swords and small round leather shields called bucklers, which were adorned with crusader crosses and inscriptions. The warriors engaged in what appeared to be medieval customs including ritualistic one-on-one sword and buckler combat.

Halliburton’s time with the Khevsureti villagers was brief, but he took notes and photographs before returning to America to write about his discovery. He disappeared in 1939 trying to sail a Chinese junk across the Pacific Ocean, leaving us with not only the mystery of his own death, but a legend of the Khevsureti people that you can either choose to believe or write off as a hoax.

I remember vividly the first time I read of Halliburton’s exploits and saw the grainy black and white photographs from his expedition. The haunting pictures of those Khevsureti warriors resembling stone effigies of entombed European knights deeply inspired me. I wanted to tell their story. Or at least my version of their story. So I set out to write an epic historical novel that would take 12th century crusaders from France, beyond the Black Sea, to the remote mountains of Eurasian Georgia.

What followed was years of research, extensive travels to Europe, Turkey and the Holy Land, and hundreds of pages of manuscript. Many years and 361 polished pages later, THE WOLF AND THE LION was born.

In the 75 years since Halliburton first published his views, there has been much debate about the Khevsureti people and their traditions. Many historians and most locals believe Halliburton was wrong, that the Khevsureti warriors are descended from ancient Georgian warriors and not lost European crusaders. But Halliburton’s western interpretation of the Khevsureti’s story retains its appeal. Some people still choose to believe that the warriors Halliburton met, with their mail armor and battered bucklers and medieval war swords, were truly descendants of lost crusaders.

 Richard Halliburton's photo of Khevsureti warriors, 1935.

Richard Halliburton's photo of Khevsureti warriors, 1935.