An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

What's literacy and education like for Roman commoners these days?
That's a good question, and not only for the Romans. For that matter, how is the propaganda war going? Has TTL reached the stage of public opinion emerging as a political force to be reckoned with yet? I was reading about the War of the Spanish Succession and the masses of pamphlets and treatises produced for domestic and foreign consumption (with flowery phrases like the "liberty of Europe" being threatened by Louis XIV) some time ago, and I think this conflict has some analogies to that. I can definitely see the Romans flooding the neutral and even hostile but not-so-enthusiastic states with material stoking fears of Theodor seeking a universal monarchy (somewhat ironic, coming from the heirs of the Caesars, but still...). The message "If Constantinople falls, how long do you think until your turn comes?" could encourage some of the minor potentates siding with Theodor to back off, or pursue their part of the war with less than full vigour...
 
Looks like I made it in time to read the update;). I don't know about cases like this but there have been many cases of mass-cannibalism, like the siege of Suiyang.
Do the Ottomans have Eunuchs ITTL? From Demetrios' drunken curse I think it'd be suitably appropriate for Ibrahim to be gelded by a eunuch after poisoning his children. He'd live to rule what's left of his Empire with no living heir.
 
1632: The War Feeds Itself
[Revised edition: some changes have been made in all narrative sections, minor in the first but more significant in the second and third sections.]




"And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

Village plundering.jpg

The Looting of St Michael, Macedonia. The Painting is by an Arletian, hence the Latin European look of the piece. (OTL The Looting of Wommelgem by Sebastian Vrancx)
1632 continued: While large armies prowl along the Danube the war in Macedonia has been a chaotic mess. If anyone knows what exactly is going on at any moment, they are either insane or lying.

Allied-controlled territory extends from the Serbian border to the suburbs of Ohrid where a small force masks the garrison. Ohrid is the only settlement in upper Macedonia that is considered a city by Roman standards with a pre-war population of 14000 now swelled to 20000 by refugees from the north. Though much smaller in scale than Thessaloniki, its fortifications are built for gunpowder sieges and the garrison liberally equipped with light cannons.

Located along the Via Egnatia, control of the city is vital for any large army in Upper Macedonia to break out of the region as the ancient thoroughfare is still the premier highway. Smaller forces can use the lesser roads, dirt tracks, and mountain paths that dot the area and raiding parties do fly out, striking at targets to the west in Albania and to the east in Lower Macedonia. The prize there is Thessaloniki, at 170000 people one of the largest in Europe.

Currently the Allies lack the forces to launch an effective attack on Ohrid but they manage to keep the garrison mostly locked up in the town, although there are some counter-raids both from Ohrid as well as Albanian cavalry from the west. With new conscripts and volunteers entering the army, the garrison at Ohrid grows from 3000 to 4200 while the garrisons in Albania and Lower Macedonia are reinforced too. But the new troops are primarily earmarked for Michael Laskaris, the Domestikos of the West.

As a result there is no counter-attack into Upper Macedonia which remains a mess. Many villages were wrecked and its inhabitants slaughtered in the Allied surge, the survivors fleeing into the woods and hills. Some make it south to Ohrid. Some turn into bandits, attacking everyone. Others are more restrained, acting as partisans attacking Allied detachments, often receiving supplies and information from villagers.

For not all the villages were brutally sacked. Many were peacefully (more or less) occupied, the inhabitants adapting to life under the occupation. Some resist, most try to just live their lives, and some collaborate. The charge of collaboration adds a cruel twist as the war is exploited to further personal and neighborhood and village rivalries.

As autumn arrives things only get more vicious. Upper Macedonia has never been particularly populous or prosperous and many fields are fallow because the workers are dead or fled, while the Allied soldiers eat everything. Although a few of the more egregious officers were executed, the Allied soldiery haven’t been punished by Theodor or Blucher for their actions, counter-productive as they are. Far from the main field, with limited supplies and pay in arrears, it is hard for the Allied command to keep much control on their soldiers. Meanwhile the lack of food and repeated guerrilla warfare is making everyone even more vicious.

Peasants' revenge.jpg

An Arletian woodcut showing two Macedonian peasants ambushing a Hungarian hussar.​

Outskirts of Saint Catherine, Kephale of Korab, October 3, 1632:

It had taken him at least a half hour to die. Anna hefted another shovelful of dirt onto Theodoros, bearing his contorted face and bruise-covered neck. Next to her Gabriel dropped another shovelful into the grave.

Theodoros had been a ‘runner’ from Saint Catherine. That village, unlike St Andreas, had been orderly occupied by two squadrons of Hungarian cavalry. The Hungarians had cleaned out much of the village’s stores of food and all the wine, but some of the inhabitants shared what was left with partisan bands, as well as useful info on barbarian troop movements. Theodoros’s run two weeks ago had led them to capture a fully-loaded supply wagon, although most of that was ammunition and equipment, not food. Her stomach growled.

Food. It was constantly in her thoughts, because often it was absent from her stomach. The villagers weren’t sharing much, if at all, anymore. Barbarian requisitions had taken most of the harvest; it’d be a hard winter for them. Many of the children and old ones would die, along with the poorest landless laborers. She’d seen it before, even with emergency grain shipments from government silos. This would be worse.

So she didn’t blame them but that did nothing to feed them. She glanced over at Gabriel, helping to shovel. He nodded, knowing what she was thinking, and took from his pouch a half-thumb bit of leather they’d boiled for three days and flavored with a dash of salt they somehow still had. “Thank you,” she whispered gratefully. She took a bite, chewing it.

“You’re welcome. It’s the last I have.” Anna nodded grimly. They were boiling more at the camp but had just started yesterday, meaning two days without any ‘food’ unless they could get some more acorn paste or the like. They’d already picked the area around camp clean of everything edible.

Then she growled as Theodoros’s body was completely covered. Gabriel gave her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder and she took his hand in hers. On the last run Theodoros had given her a thumbnail-size bite of chocolate, rare in peacetime, probably worth ten times its weight in gold now; she hadn’t had the heart to tell him that she would’ve preferred barley bread instead.

He’d had sandy brown hair and a mischievous gleam in his eyes and a buck-tooth smile, short and skinny. And that was what had doomed the twelve-year-old to a long agonizing death, too light for his neck to break when dropped on the hangman’s rope. Instead he’d slowly strangled to death.

She looked over at where he’d died. The field ended at the start of the woods where the villagers let their pigs forage over the summer. Three ropes hung from the tree branches; two other runners had been hanged at the same time. Next to it Manuel was urinating on the torn-down sign that had been placed next to the swinging bodies: THIS FATE FOR TRAITORS.

She looked toward Saint Catherine, set on the opposite side of the fallow field, from which a small crowd was coming, about forty strong. Most carried pitchforks or scythes or hammers or axes; the Allies had confiscated most of the guns and arbalests they could find. Most were old men, women, or children, as the Allies had also conscripted many of the menfolk for labor duties.

They surrounded an older man with a slightly wrinkled face and hair more inclined to white but still with lots of black. One village boy, perhaps eight or nine, ran up through the group and hurled a fist-sized clod of dirt that hit the man right under his left ear. The man staggered and the crowd jeered, one young woman slamming the staff of her pitchfork into the back of the man’s right thigh. He stumbled onto one knee, getting bashed in the ribs by another pitchfork butt wielded by an older woman who spat on him as he did so.

She looked over at Michael who unsheathed his sword, looted from a Polish hussar’s corpse, and stuck it point first into the ground. Manuel came up next to him, Nikolaios flanking, both of them chewing on leaves they’d stripped from the trees. Those weren’t edible but at least quieted the stomach for a time as it had something in it. The rest of the partisan band, now about thirty strong, gathered. The villagers shoved the man forward, one wizened old man stooping forward on his cane to whisper into Michael’s ear.

“Ioannes Prodotes!” Michael barked. “You have been charged with treason, with aiding and abetting the enemies of the Empire, for the murder of three citizens of the village of St Catherine.” Those were the three ‘runners’. “How do you plead?”

Ioannes looked nervously at Michael but he straightened himself, smoothing the folds of his jacket. “I am the magistrate of this village,” he said. “You have no jurisdiction here.” Many of the villagers snarled and one cried out ‘traitor!’

“I am Eikosarchos Michael St-Andreas, 2nd Macedonian. The region is under martial law, meaning I have sole jurisdiction. Your position is not valid, having been assigned to you by agents of the usurper Theodor who has no right to make such appointments. Your insistence on your so-called right is proof that you are a traitor. Furthermore in your duties as so-called magistrate you reported to the Germans at Maurovi Anovi about the activities of three of the villagers, resulting in their execution. Therefore you are an accessory to murder.”

Ioannes’s eyes darted nervously around at the partisans in front of him. If looks could kill he’d have been incinerated by the glares of the villagers behind him. The barbarians had appointed magistrates in the towns and villages they hadn’t wrecked, sometimes confirming the old one, but preferably someone with enough local clout to keep the peace and not get murdered by their neighbors. To be fair, some of the appointees looked the other way at partisan activities such as the magistrate of Mavri Petra. But Ioannes hadn’t; he’d actually collaborated. And he’d done so without the support of a local clique while St Catherine was too small and out of the way for him to merit some barbarian soldiers as guards. Not too bright.

Michael gave him a few moments but Ioannes said nothing. “By the power invested in me by the Code of Military Law, I hereby sentence you to death.” There were a lot of grim smiles in the villagers; Anna had a matching one. It was a guaranteed sentence but still nice to hear out loud. Michael paused, his mouth pursed. Execution by long knife was not an option. Hanging him on the tree would have a nice symmetry but they needed a death that wouldn’t implicate the villagers if the barbarians came rolling back around. “Take off your clothes.”

There were more smiles and jeers from the village at Ioannes. “Wait, what?”

“Take off your clothes,” Michael repeated. “No sense ruining them when you get blasted full of holes. You can die naked.” There was a hoot of laughter from the crowd.

Ioannes stared at Michael, his eyes huge, and then he bolted, running for the woods. “Predictable,” Michael muttered, looking over at Anna and Zoe, who was at her right.

She nodded, seeing Zoe do the same. She notched, aimed, and loosed the arrow which slammed into the back of Ioannes’s neck, completely impaling his throat. He started to fall forward just as Zoe’s arbalest bolt slammed into a kidney. He’d gotten less than a quarter of the way to the woods.

“Is he dead?” someone asked.

“If he’s not, he soon will be,” Manuel spat. “Let the crows have some supper.”

Everyone there agreed to that.

* * *

Kephalate of Korab, December 15, 1632:

The pair of grenades went off right under the horses’ throats and bellies, their terrible shrieks of pain cutting through the din of battle as they were shredded, mercifully cut short.

Anna was used to the sound of muskets blazing, arbalests snapping, the crackle of fire and the screams of men. It had been only six months, and an eternity, but those didn’t bother her so much anymore. But the sound of donkeys or horses, particularly horses, dying still shook her. Maybe because they were innocent. They knew nothing of war; they merely did as their masters bid.

But that didn’t matter now. Peering through the powder smoke she snapped off another arrow, taking what she thought was the second German officer at the base of the neck, ripping through the thin plate gorget he was wearing. With the help of Thomas, a blacksmith from the burned village of St Timothy who’d joined their band back in August, she now had armor-piercing arrow tips, albeit not many.

There was a meaty smack down below and she heard Zoe in the fog give a whoop and then start spanning her crossbow. A scream of pain sounded in the woods nearby and somehow she could hear the gurgling of hot blood as it steamed when suddenly exposed to the cool air. Now there was clanging and crashing as men grappled in hand-to-hand combat.

She scanned the area from her perch behind a thick oak which overhung the road, looking for good targets. The wagons were stopped, their mounts blown to bits or tearing through the woods away from the battle. She couldn’t see much movement along the road; the Germans there were either dead or were in the woods where she couldn’t get a clear shot. But there were a few up front, hacking with axes to clear the obstruction the partisans had dropped to bar their progress. She lined up a shot, taking a few deep breaths to steady herself, fully used to the cling of gunpowder with a dash of voided bowels she inhaled in the process. Then she let fly, the shaft slamming into the German’s back below the shoulder blade. He staggered and fell.

Instinct. She ducked, just as a mounted Hungarian swung his saber at his head, jamming it into the tree trunk instead. With a snarled curse he rode on but immediately turned around, drawing a second saber. She hefted her bow but then realized he must’ve nicked the bowstring, which was now broken. She had more but couldn’t re-string it in the ten seconds she’d have until the Hungarian, mounted on one of those little but sure-footed Albanian ponies, was upon her. The only other weapon she had was a small dirk.

She grabbed the saber with both hands, straining with all her might to yank it out. The wood creaked and she felt it loosening, but not fast enough.

“Anna!” Gabriel roared, storming out from below and behind the horseman, slashing his axe across the horse’s rump. The animal screamed and reared, Gabriel darting back as the Hungarian slashed with his saber at the new assailant. Anna gave up on the saber, slinging out her dirk, and ran to help her little brother.

The Hungarian had his mount under control, swerving around to face Gabriel just as he swung his axe in a wide uppercut, the blade slamming into the horse’s jaw, the blow snapping the head back, and the animal toppled. Gabriel cursed as the axe, embedded in the bone, was yanked out of his grasp, but then the Hungarian screamed as the horse’s body crashed atop his right leg, pinning him under it.

Gabriel wrenched the axe free just as Anna slammed a rock into the Hungarian’s skull, dazing him. Then she bent down and shoved her dirk up behind his jaw where the bone wouldn’t protect against the blade, through his head and puncturing his brain, ripping it out a moment later. In the words of Nikolaios, ‘confirm your kills’.

“Are you alright?!” Gab shouted.

“Yeah, you?!”

“Same!”

A moment later they realized they didn’t need to shout; there weren’t any sounds of battle down below, although the sounds of the dying were plenty. “All clear!” Manuel boomed. “Let’s see if the pig-dogs have anything worth stealing!”

While a few stayed on watch, the rest of them started looking over what had been left by their ambush, Anna and Gabriel coming down to participate. First though she focused on getting as many of her arrows back as she could. Making more was possible, but a pain, and fashioning arrow tips that worked well against armor was an even bigger pain.

She started cutting out the arrow from the belly of a dead German. He moaned; apparently not so dead. She stabbed her dirk into his throat. “Shut up,” she muttered, avoiding the spurt of blood. One of the tricks she’d learned, knowledge which she’d never expected to need, was how to avoid getting blood on her clothes while stabbing someone. She finished cutting the arrow out.

Heading up around the wagon, she saw several of the partisans clustered around a tree, including Manuel, who had tears in his eyes. She looked at the man propped up against the base of the tree. It was Alexios, an old klepht who’d been with Manuel for years. His belly was ripped open, many of his internal organs visible. She was used to blood and guts now but even that sight made her queasy. There was no way he’d live and the nature of stomach wounds guaranteed a long and painful death.

Manuel bent down to whisper in Alexios’s ear and the pair exchanged words. Then Manuel backed away. “Do it,” Alexios said.

“May God grant you peace,” Manuel said through tear-stained eyes, and then shoved his sword up under the rib cage, a squelch sounding as he punctured Alexios’s heart, and then pulled it out in a smooth stroke.

“This had better be worth it,” he muttered. “What do we have? Any food?” Anna winced at the mention; her stomach woke up at the memory of sustenance. She looked over at the wagons where Zoe and several others were rifling through the contents.

“No!” Zoe shouted disgustedly. “Some powder and boots. Mostly freaking cannonballs!”

“Cannonballs!” Manuel spluttered. “We did all this for cannonballs!”

“Looks like it,” Zoe snarled, hefting what looked like a twenty-pounder ball in her right hand. She walked over to a German who was barely crawling away off the road, although blood was seeping from several wounds onto the ground. She dropped the ball on his head, smiling happily. Anna jerked in surprise as a bone fragment bounced off her forehead while Manuel also smiled savagely.

“No food,” she muttered. “We can use the powder and boots but without food…”

“I know,” Manuel replied.

“I don’t want to head south,” Nikolaios said, ripping the boots off a dead German to see if they fit him. “Too many vermin left to kill. But…” he shrugged.

“We got lucky that time. Don’t particularly want to try that again.” They’d tried to move south two weeks ago and had nearly run into two companies of Hungarian cavalry; Anna still didn’t know how they’d managed to get clear save for divine favor. But here, far from Ohrid, barbarian troops were thin on the ground and they knew the terrain. Closer to Ohrid though where regular Roman cavalry was active, barbarians swarmed in far greater numbers. Going west towards Albania ran the risk of being ambushed by Albanian brigands. If they could just solve the food problem, here was the safest place for them.

Nikolaios nodded. The boots didn’t fit. He dashed a bit of gunpowder on one of them and ripped out a piece with his teeth, masticating it furiously. That sounded disturbingly good to Anna.

“We could eat the horses,” Gabriel said, nodding in the direction of the dead Hungarian that had almost killed her.

“Yeah,” Anna agreed. “But that won’t last long. And these aren’t edible.” She gestured at the ones around the wagons, which had been blown to shreds by grenades. There were a few cuts they could get, but most would be too full of debris.

“We’ll still haul them up,” Manuel said. “But you’re right; it’s not enough. The vermin have gotten smart. I was surprised to see this party with so few dogs. If they start moving in packs of twenty or more, we’re completely screwed.”

Thomas was behind one of the horses, poking through a pile of its droppings with a knife. His eyes brightened as he found a seed in the manure and gobbled it up, looking lustily for more.

Michael came up, holding a piece of cheese and another of bread, both the size of two fingers. “This is all I could find. Looks like they aren’t doing much better than we are.” Anna was impressed by his control; she would’ve wolfed those down immediately.

“Good,” Gabriel muttered. “Let them starve. Too good for them, I say.”

“We could eat them,” Anna said, startling herself as much as them. Everyone within hearing range snapped around to look at her. “What? I’m just saying what we’ve all been thinking. We can’t keep going on boiled leather…” It was even unsalted now. “…and picking up seeds from our own shit.” She gestured over at Thomas; his actions were an improvement on their usual fare. At least it was an animal’s droppings, not their own.

Three weeks ago she’d picked through her little brother’s shit looking for seeds as he’d gone through hers. The thought of going through their own was just too much. They’d both thrown up, then eaten their vomit, and resumed their search.

She looked over at the nearest dead barbarian. There were good hunks of meat there, unspoiled, fresh. Something that could actually resemble real food. A part of her mind shuddered in horror. Even after all that had happened, that seemed a bridge too far. But her hunger screamed, clawed, desperate for sustenance, and not particularly caring about its origin. So long as it actually fed her. Bark strips, paper, glue, sawdust, one of her own bowstrings, she’d tried them all and it wasn’t enough. Cutting her arm and sucking her own blood wasn’t enough. She wanted food. A part still shuddered, but most of her didn’t care anymore. All that mattered was ending this unceasingly hunger that seemed to gnaw through her very soul.

She looked around. Everyone was having the same argument in their heads as she did, and all were coming to the same conclusion. They’d exhausted every other alternative. If this was the only way for them to not starve, then so be it.

“Eat a person…” Gabriel hemmed.

“Not a person, a Latin,” Nikolaios said. “There’s a difference. Besides they ate all the food anyway so it seems rather appropriate. They’ve got it coming. I’d rather that then give up.”

“I’m not eating it raw,” Gabriel protested.

“Who said anything about eating it raw?” Manuel snapped. “It’s meat. We’ll cook it like any kind of meat.”

“It’s only a stopgap,” Zoe added. “Just to last us until we get some real food.” Even she looked a bit queasy, but also determined.

“There may be a way we can work this to our advantage,” Michael said, his gaze thoughtful. Then he cracked a smile. “All-meat diet. I’m going to have such bad gas. I’ve heard that the Mexicans say that pork tastes somewhat like people. Guess it’s time to find out.”

* * *

Kephalate of Korab, February 22, 1633:

Anna sharpened her dirk on the edge of their mountain camp, enjoying the sound the blade made on the whetstone over the sound of the brook. There was a cool chill in the air but a clear sky. Behind her they were setting up for dinner.

Maria came up with a load of pots and pans that needed washing, bending down over the stream to get to work. She glanced over at Anna, who finished up with her dirk and was now checking the strings of her bow and feathers of her arrows. “Wish you could go hunting?” Anna asked. “I could talk to Michael.” Their band was down to twenty-five strong now, five of them women, but only Anna and Zoe went on the raids. They were too good with their bow and arbalest to be left behind.

She shook her head. “No, thanks though. I don’t have a problem carving them up for food. But it still would be hard killing them.”

“I thought that at first. But you get used to it. Just like slaughtering a pig.”

Maria nodded. “Michael was right. The taste does have a hint of pork.”

Anna nodded in response. “The Germans a bit more so.” They both smiled; it was amazing, and a bit disturbing when she thought of it, how quickly they’d become accustomed to eating human flesh. But they were Latins.

Yet they weren’t eating nearly as many as they were having the Latins believe. Michael had told them a barrack rumors from before he was captured that the Emperor had considered bringing in cannibal headhunters from Ceram and Halmahera, wherever those were, to terrorize the enemy. The idea was dropped because those headhunters wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous in the hills of Bulgaria as in their native forests. But it had given Michael an idea for what he called ‘mental warfare’.

Many of the partisan bands that had existed six months ago were destroyed or had fled. The couple that remained were a lot bigger than their group and purportedly had their own mini-domains centered on free villages that provided them supplies in exchange for protection. Her group couldn’t have done that and were too small to hit the big supply caravans, hence the near-starvation they’d faced.

Joining the other bands didn’t look like an option. Unfortunately they were off near the Macedonian-Bulgarian theme border; getting there would require crossing terrain they didn’t know well, negating their advantage over the barbarians. Every time they’d tried to veer into ‘unknown’ territory they ran into some force far too hot to handle and so ended up back here.

But now the barbarians knew that if they went up against this band, there was a good chance their corpses would be eaten, or so they thought. Naturally that terrified them so they were less inclined to stand and fight. Better to ditch the wagons when ambushed. If the partisans had biscuits, they wouldn’t need to eat barbarians. They still didn’t dare attack the big convoys but they’d been able to snap up some smaller parties they couldn’t have cracked without that edge. So now they had real food to eat.

They’d managed to exploit that in other ways. They didn’t take from the villagers; they could’ve but needed good relations once they started producing food again. But via the local magistrate, the band had an agreement with the small garrison at Mavri Petra. One hundred pounds of bread a week and in exchange no garrison soldier from there would be eaten. They’d been able to ransom a captured officer and a couple of priests for food as well, something the barbarians were quick to facilitate considering the alternatives.

So most of the corpses they’d ‘eaten’ since those first couple of weeks had really just been made to look like they’d been eaten, to keep the story alive. But after that first hurdle, they’d disturbingly gotten used to the taste of human flesh. Given real food, they’d pass every time. But if they needed to stretch the rations a bit during a dry spot, well they’d do what they needed to do to survive.

Anna stiffened, gripping her bow as she heard a bird whistle, but then it whistled again. Those approaching were friendly. So Maria went back to her scrubbing; Anna finished up her kit and started helping.

“Washing dishes, Anna?” Zoe asked, trotting past the trees. “That’s why I go on these hunting expeditions.”

“You can catch them but you can’t cook them,” Maria countered.

“Isn’t that what you’re for?” she countered.

“Yeah, but the only seasoning you know how to use is salt. What we really need is garlic and some pepper. That would liven things up. Even salt would be nice at this point.”

“Well, I don’t have pepper,” Zoe replied, but gestured behind her. Thomas, Andronikos, and Anastasios came up from the trees, guarding a pair of mules laden with packs. Two individuals, an older one dressed as a Catholic priest, and a young one possibly younger than Gabriel, were walking alongside the mules, tied to the saddlebags, their hands bound and mouths gagged, hoods covering their heads.

“More Germans?” Anna said.

“Yeah, I know the Poles taste better,” Thomas replied with a grin. “These idiots were traveling by themselves. But their knapsacks are full of food. Biscuit, cheese, raisins, salt…and even some wine.”

“Wine, better drink that before Gab finds out,” Maria said with a smile.

Zoe grinned. “Already started on that.”

“The priest also has some books,” Thomas added.

“What kind of books?” Anna asked.

He shrugged, pulling one out of the bag. “I don’t know; I can’t read.” Anna saw Michael approaching out of the corner of her eye.

“I can,” Anna replied and Thomas handed it to her. The priest fidgeted nervously. She squinted in frustration, her brow furling, as she looked at the unfamiliar lettering. She looked up to see Michael smiling a bit at her. “What?” she asked, feeling blood flowing into her face.

“Oh, nothing,” he said cryptically but with a twinkle. “Is it in Latin?”

“Definitely not Greek.”

“Let me take a look at it.” She handed him the book. “I need better light to read this.” He headed over to the main camp to get the benefit of the cooking fires.

Thomas, Andronikos, and Anastasios moved the mules and captives up to the creek, taking the hoods off the two Germans and tying them to a pair of small trees while they started to unload the mules. Anna hoped they could keep the mules; they’d be useful for hauling, although feeding them in the winter would be a nightmare.

“Hope we can get a good ransom.” Maria said, eyeing them up. “We’re getting low on biscuit. Might have to start eating a couple for real again.”

Zoe shrugged as she checked her arbalest. “Me too. But it’s better than picking through our shit. I refuse to do that again.” Both Maria and Anna shuddered in agreement.

“I wonder what the two of them were doing by themselves,” Maria added.

“Probably the priest was making rounds between David’s Staff and Mavri Petra,” Zoe replied. “Big military escort and a good chance they’ll get shot by accident. If they can be captured easily, especially with that cache to put us in a good mood, worst that happens is we ransom them for biscuits and cheese.” The barbarians would pay well to get their priests out of being eaten; she sometimes thought Michael was a genius for coming up with this system.

A minute later Anna glanced over to see Michael storming up out of the camp, his jaw grim and his hand on the pommel of his sword. He marched up to the priest, ripped out his gag, and stepped back. “Do you have anything to say before you die, Inquisitor?”

“Inquisitor?!” Thomas sputtered.

“Inquisitor,” Michael snarled. Anna gripped her bow, pulling out an arrow, while all the men picked up various implements. Zoe’s arbalest clicked as it loaded. “That book was The Hammer of Witches. Something an Inquisitor would carry.”

“I’m not!” the priest protested, speaking in heavily-accented Greek. Michael snorted in derision. “You…you wouldn’t dare.”

“I would. I’d have volunteers lining up to do it too. So any final words?”

The priest/inquisitor stared at him for a bit, then his face twisted. “Heretic dog, you will burn in he-” The arbalest bolt went through his mouth, puncturing his skull and pinning his head to the tree. The boy’s eyes widened and he shuddered in horror at the sight.

Michael picked something out of his ear. “A tooth? What are the odds of that?” he muttered and then looked at Zoe as she lowered her arbalest. “You could’ve given me a little warning.”

“Yeah, but those were boring final words. Figured I’d speed things up.”

“Fine by me,” Thomas grunted. “Vermin.” He spat at the corpse’s feet. “Wish I’d known that when we’d captured them.”

Michael looked at Thomas and then at the corpse. “At least it’s a head shot. Won’t spoil any of the meat.”

“Meat? I’m not eating an Inquisitor! That’s filth!” Thomas protested.

“We could use the food. We don’t get another Mavri Petra shipment for three days. And besides it’d be appropriate to roast him and then he ends up in the latrine.”

“That’s true,” Thomas reluctantly conceded. He jerked his head at the boy. “Guess we’re killing this one too. By himself he won’t fetch a ransom.”

Michael nodded. “Even if he did, he’s an Inquisitor’s assistant. So he dies.” Thomas took a step forward, hefting his hammer.

“I’ll do it,” Anna said.

“Are you sure?” Thomas asked.

“I’m sure.” Zoe nodded approvingly. Although the two of them fought in battle, because they were women there was this continual need to prove they had the guts for it.

Drawing her dirk, she stepped forward towards the boy, tied to a tree and gagged, his body shivering and his eyes wide in terror. He had big brown eyes, frizzy brown hair, and the fuzzy start of a beard on his freckled cheeks, looking a lot like Gabriel before this monstrosity had started, before she killed and ate the flesh of those she killed. And for a second she stayed her hand.

But he was a Latin. And an assistant to an Inquisitor. He may look young and innocent now, but he would grow and he was part of an Order, part of a people that would gladly rape her and burn her and consider it glory to God. For five hundred years they had done it and they were doing it again, now.

Enough.

She snarled and shoved the dirk straight into his heart.
 
But the forces involved in Java pale in comparison to those active in India. The main Roman territory in the east, Taprobane, is here, as is the main Triune territory, the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti (Bengal).
Wondering about the strength of Eastern Rhoman and Allied forces in Asia too, IIRC it was totaled 2 tagmata with 1 in India and Island Asia respectively, not counting sailors?
 
I'm late to the party, what did I miss out on with the original update? Looks like there's still some cannibalism, but it's now a supplement?
 
You realize than when this war is over most of those bands will have to be exterminated since in most historical cases they get too familiar with pillaging and banditry.
 
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I'm late to the party, what did I miss out on with the original update? Looks like there's still some cannibalism, but it's now a supplement?
The situation was edited to be worse so that the group is suffering desperate starvation before resorting to cannibalism. Before the edit the group dug into the corpses a little too eagerly.
 
[So I’m disregarding the pre-edit comments on cannibalism because I hope the second edition addresses those, so I’m just responding to the comments on other topics/aspects.]

I’m sure everyone will be happy to know that the cannibalism won’t become a major feature. But partisan warfare can be exceptionally nasty even by war’s standards and once you had religious/ethnic hatred and starvation into the mix, things get bad. Anyway the next narrative section will be much lighter in tone.

JohnSmith: It’s very isolated. This particular band is likely the only one that had to resort to it, although in famine-stricken pre-industrial villages more cases are within the realm of possibility in my opinion.

HanEmpire: Basic literacy in the Roman heartland for males is about 50% on average, but with substantial regional variations. Women are 40-60% of that, depending on the region. Anna’s from a family that’s really rich by peasant standards so her education would be a bit better. Cities have schools but for small villages like St Andreas, a lot would depend on the skill and knowledge of the local priest who could offer lessons in the 3 Rs, probably for a small fee. That’d be something the richer peasants who can afford the extra expense and don’t need their little children for labor could take advantage of. As a daughter of comparatively rich landowners with tenants and some commercial investments, she’d be given a really good education by rural standards even if nothing much impressive compared to what could be obtained in Thessaloniki for example.

So she knows the general gist of Roman-Latin history, even if she doesn’t know a lot of the details. That said, a lot of Roman culture ITTL hammers home the message that the Latins have been pulling this sort of thing for a long time now, and that’s something that could be spread simply just by traveling troupes singing songs and performing plays for peasants on feast days.

ImperatorAlexander: Not very many, a couple here, five there, a few more that way. We tend to overemphasize the effectiveness of partisans; they’re not irrelevant, but not likely to break an organized professional army by themselves. And as you pointed out, the focus on their POV tends to exaggerate their exploits since we’re not seeing the other bands (big enough to have their own petty domains) or the raids by Roman trapezites. The partisans are a flea nibbling on the forearm while Michael Laskaris and the Army of the Danube is an angry bull elephant.

Spatharios: An upcoming update is going to spend much of its time looking over both Roman espionage and propaganda efforts. Demetrios has been writing again…

Kimo: I figure the Ottomans have eunuchs ITTL. They have harems. Those two seem to go together. Can’t have fully-equipped young men guarding that, after all.

Boa: About that amount. Taprobane can field one tagma and the various Katepanoi in Island Asia between them can field about one tagma’s worth as well. Ships are the main weapon though. Taprobane builds them and Pahang with its copper and tin mines arms them, with Pyrgos trailing. New Constantinople brings in a lot of money because it controls the Banda Islands but doesn’t have much in the way of manpower; samurai mercenaries help make up for that though.

Luis3007: Yeah. Brigandage is going to be a big problem for everybody when the war’s over and most of those fighting stand down.

[Unofficial mini-update]

The White Palace, Constantinople, November 20, 1632:

Demetrios III Sideros, Emperor of the Romans, sighed and scratched his signature on the bottom of the requisition approval. His on-duty chief secretary Alexios handed him another. He half-read and signed it.

Alexios handed him another. Demetrios lifted his quill, then paused. He read it again, then a third time. Then he looked up at Alexios, who was failing to not smile. “You wrote this, didn’t you?”

“What gave you that idea, your Majesty?”

“It’s a proposal to import a bunch of piranhas from Brazil, feed them a bunch of German sausage so they get big and like the taste of Germans, then release them in the Danube which they’ll swim up, eating every German in sight.”

“Yes, that is the idea.”

Demetrios stared at him for a moment, Alexios looking at him blankly, and then Demetrios’ face split into a huge grin. “I love it.” A pause. “Not exactly practical, unfortunately.” He set it off to the side. “But thank you, I needed that.”

“You’re very welcome, your Majesty.”
 
And as you pointed out, the focus on their POV tends to exaggerate their exploits since we’re not seeing the other bands (big enough to have their own petty domains) or the raids by Roman trapezites. The partisans are a flea nibbling on the forearm while Michael Laskaris and the Army of the Danube is an angry bull elephant.
Are there any sizeable forces marshaling in Greece/Macedonia? I understand that the Army of the Danube is the priority but the Allies supply chain is far too vulnerable when they're away from their captured fortresses/the Danube. Instead of bleeding troops skirmishing with the main Allied army, would it be better to spread them thin covering their rear?
 
Boa: About that amount. Taprobane can field one tagma and the various Katepanoi in Island Asia between them can field about one tagma’s worth as well. Ships are the main weapon though. Taprobane builds them and Pahang with its copper and tin mines arms them, with Pyrgos trailing. New Constantinople brings in a lot of money because it controls the Banda Islands but doesn’t have much in the way of manpower; samurai mercenaries help make up for that though.
I assume this makes them the premier colonial power East of Suez?

“It’s a proposal to import a bunch of piranhas from Brazil, feed them a bunch of German sausage so they get big and like the taste of Germans, then release them in the Danube which they’ll swim up, eating every German in sight.”
These piranhas need to know that they'll face some tough competition from Zoe, Anna and Michael.
 
Binged this timeline over the course of the past week or so (three cheers to multiple monitors at work!) and WOW is it incredible! It is the reason I signed up for this site, and becoming a Patreon was an easy call. Keep up the incredible work!

All that being said, and apologies for being late to the party, but there are more than a few problems with Iskander The Great, namely how perfect at everything he is. He's flawless and invincible while his enemies are inept and ignorant and it detracts from the otherwise masterful story you've told.

He wins two big battles at Dojama-Al Khalis and Astara. But at the first the Romans were divided and at the second he was facing a Roman-Georgian coalition with all the problems that multi-national coalitions have in battle, so having Iskander win those is very plausible, even likely.

Then he goes campaigning in India. At Bahawalpur, 35,000 Persians beat between 50,000 and 150,000 men. Let's split the difference and say it is 100,000 men. Iskander beats an army three times larger. Ohhhhhkay. After that he gets reinforcements so he has 50,000 men. Facing him is an army so massive "not even Xerxes in all his glory could summon" a greater one. (All quotes from here on out are quotes taken straight from Basileus444 in these threads.). At Thermopylae Xerxes had between 100,000 and 150,000 men (I'm ignoring Herodutus and his million-man estimate obviously) and at Plataea he had about 100,000 men. So a force greater than Xerxes could summon is what, 150,000 men? 200,000 men? More? Let's say 150,000, but that's just guessing. Either way Iskander is heavily outnumbered...again.

He wins a battle so convincingly that all he faces is "a moment of concern" then Iskander "has routed another great armament." Huh.

Let's talk about First Nineveh. He and the Romans are more or less equal - each side has about 97,000 men, the Romans have slightly more cannons - 222 to 199. Let's talk about the incredible string of astonishing luck Iskander has during the battle itself.

1 - The wind just happens to blow into the Roman lines exactly when Iskander needs it to see where to counterattack, or it is "more neutral." The wind never hampers Iskander. Hey, maybe Storm was hanging out in Iskander's command tent?
2 - The Ottomans just happen to fire a lucky shot and blow up a Roman powder cache (the same thing happened at Belgrade...Constantinople must be full of black cats huh?). Very plausible, but still lucky.
3 - The Romans, an army that prides itself on logistics to the point where they punish staff officers for war-gaming without accounting for them...have logistics issues. Iskander, despite waging war in locales as far apart as modern day Azerbaijan and India, never has logistics issues of his own. Logistics is a dual-bladed sword, but it only cuts the Romans, never Iskander.
4 - Iskander gets 10,000 reinforcements from the south at the exact time he needs to. They marched from Rumaithiya, modern-day Kuwait (the site of the battle where they slaughtered the Ethiopian sailors after the Triune fleet routed the Ethiopian one) to Nineveh in a week. That's roughly 1,100 kilometers marching in a week, over early modern roads. They marched one hundred miles a day or they took river transport (no mention of that and the mess that would entail) and managed to not only not drop dead from exhaustion, but remain in good enough order to fight and win at a crucial junction of the battle. No mention of how Iskander managed to co-ordinate these troops and have them march north without the benefit of modern communication either. This isn't Total War where you can just click a stack and have it move with no issues.
5 - Multiple Roman officers die on the field in droves. No such similar losses among the Ottoman officer corps is mentioned, despite you mentioning that many Ottoman officers were trained to fight from the front lines by Iskander himself. Maybe Iskander's aura protected them?
6 - You wrote that Gabras is "solidly competent, but not brilliant." You and I have far different definitions of "solidly competent." He somehow forgets that the Kaiser is attached to the unit he sends to guard the hill (which is criminally stupid) and then the only force he has linking the men on the hill with the rest of his army is a "screen of cavalry." This is when the wind fortuitously blows right when Iskander can scatter the screen. Where's Gabras's infantry linking the two forces? How's that "solidly competent?"
7 - Bartella, a village anchoring Iskander's line, catches fire, forcing the Romans to withdraw lest they be incinerated. Bahzani, a town anchoring the Roman line, doesn't catch fire despite "heavy cannon fire" which allows the Ottomans to establish a toehold. So one town was made of sterner stuff and it was the town that Iskander needed to bend the Roman line? Sure, whatever.

One or two or even three of these happening in a battle is plausible. All 7 of them happening at once is not plausible. It is amazing Iskander can even ride a horse given the horseshoes wedged up his ass at First Nineveh. No matter the losses taken, he still won when the Romans ceded the field.

But it gets better. The Romans outnumber the Ottomans (88 to 85 thousand) at Second Nineveh. It is a bloodbath, much like the first one. Gabras, instead of pressing his numerical advantage and the bravery of his troops, withdraws when the rescue attempt of the Kaiser fails, despite his army not breaking. So much for "solidly competent."

We're not done with Iskander yet. We've already shown he's a better general than his namesake, now let's make him a kick-ass diplomat too, because why not! Despite Roman troops occupying Mosul and parts of northern Mesopotamia it is Iskander who gains Roman land, not the opposite. So the Romans, despite having boots on the ground in enemy territory and despite occupying Mosul, are the ones ceded turf? What?

Others have touched on the wild implausibility of the Romans not knowing the Ottomans lost at Depalpur. You tried to handwave that away by having the chief Roman spymaster be corrupt. But corrupt isn't the same thing as stupid. So we're supposed to believe that the spymaster is smart enough to engage in proto-insider trading and market manipulation, but not smart enough to realize about Depalpur, despite his agents sending him a report? How's that possible?

But even setting aside the intelligence failure...the Romans had boots on the ground and not only gave up those hard-won gains, but gave up Roman land as well. Many others in these threads have pointed out how that just wouldn't happen, so I won't tread that ground again.

But maybe Iskander has a personal or moral shortcoming, something to humanize him? Nope. He's brilliant, charismatic, and has none of the "demons" Andreas Niketas has, or any other personal flaws for that matter. His only sin is dying relatively young.

In conclusion Iskander is a better general than Alexander/Julius Caesar, a better diplomat than Tallyrand, and a better person than Mother Teresa. You wrote that "writing Rhomania as an invincible juggernaut would be quite boring to write, and definitely would be very boring to read. And it would be extremely unrealistic." No one is doubting that (although a writer of your skill would make it anything but boring) but writing Iskander as a flawless Mary/Gary Sue isn't the way to counteract that, because it takes away from the plausibility of a brilliant timeline.
 
Binged this timeline over the course of the past week or so (three cheers to multiple monitors at work!) and WOW is it incredible! It is the reason I signed up for this site, and becoming a Patreon was an easy call. Keep up the incredible work!

All that being said, and apologies for being late to the party, but there are more than a few problems with Iskander The Great, namely how perfect at everything he is. He's flawless and invincible while his enemies are inept and ignorant and it detracts from the otherwise masterful story you've told.

He wins two big battles at Dojama-Al Khalis and Astara. But at the first the Romans were divided and at the second he was facing a Roman-Georgian coalition with all the problems that multi-national coalitions have in battle, so having Iskander win those is very plausible, even likely.

Then he goes campaigning in India. At Bahawalpur, 35,000 Persians beat between 50,000 and 150,000 men. Let's split the difference and say it is 100,000 men. Iskander beats an army three times larger. Ohhhhhkay. After that he gets reinforcements so he has 50,000 men. Facing him is an army so massive "not even Xerxes in all his glory could summon" a greater one. (All quotes from here on out are quotes taken straight from Basileus444 in these threads.). At Thermopylae Xerxes had between 100,000 and 150,000 men (I'm ignoring Herodutus and his million-man estimate obviously) and at Plataea he had about 100,000 men. So a force greater than Xerxes could summon is what, 150,000 men? 200,000 men? More? Let's say 150,000, but that's just guessing. Either way Iskander is heavily outnumbered...again.

He wins a battle so convincingly that all he faces is "a moment of concern" then Iskander "has routed another great armament." Huh.

Let's talk about First Nineveh. He and the Romans are more or less equal - each side has about 97,000 men, the Romans have slightly more cannons - 222 to 199. Let's talk about the incredible string of astonishing luck Iskander has during the battle itself.

1 - The wind just happens to blow into the Roman lines exactly when Iskander needs it to see where to counterattack, or it is "more neutral." The wind never hampers Iskander. Hey, maybe Storm was hanging out in Iskander's command tent?
2 - The Ottomans just happen to fire a lucky shot and blow up a Roman powder cache (the same thing happened at Belgrade...Constantinople must be full of black cats huh?). Very plausible, but still lucky.
3 - The Romans, an army that prides itself on logistics to the point where they punish staff officers for war-gaming without accounting for them...have logistics issues. Iskander, despite waging war in locales as far apart as modern day Azerbaijan and India, never has logistics issues of his own. Logistics is a dual-bladed sword, but it only cuts the Romans, never Iskander.
4 - Iskander gets 10,000 reinforcements from the south at the exact time he needs to. They marched from Rumaithiya, modern-day Kuwait (the site of the battle where they slaughtered the Ethiopian sailors after the Triune fleet routed the Ethiopian one) to Nineveh in a week. That's roughly 1,100 kilometers marching in a week, over early modern roads. They marched one hundred miles a day or they took river transport (no mention of that and the mess that would entail) and managed to not only not drop dead from exhaustion, but remain in good enough order to fight and win at a crucial junction of the battle. No mention of how Iskander managed to co-ordinate these troops and have them march north without the benefit of modern communication either. This isn't Total War where you can just click a stack and have it move with no issues.
5 - Multiple Roman officers die on the field in droves. No such similar losses among the Ottoman officer corps is mentioned, despite you mentioning that many Ottoman officers were trained to fight from the front lines by Iskander himself. Maybe Iskander's aura protected them?
6 - You wrote that Gabras is "solidly competent, but not brilliant." You and I have far different definitions of "solidly competent." He somehow forgets that the Kaiser is attached to the unit he sends to guard the hill (which is criminally stupid) and then the only force he has linking the men on the hill with the rest of his army is a "screen of cavalry." This is when the wind fortuitously blows right when Iskander can scatter the screen. Where's Gabras's infantry linking the two forces? How's that "solidly competent?"
7 - Bartella, a village anchoring Iskander's line, catches fire, forcing the Romans to withdraw lest they be incinerated. Bahzani, a town anchoring the Roman line, doesn't catch fire despite "heavy cannon fire" which allows the Ottomans to establish a toehold. So one town was made of sterner stuff and it was the town that Iskander needed to bend the Roman line? Sure, whatever.

One or two or even three of these happening in a battle is plausible. All 7 of them happening at once is not plausible. It is amazing Iskander can even ride a horse given the horseshoes wedged up his ass at First Nineveh. No matter the losses taken, he still won when the Romans ceded the field.

But it gets better. The Romans outnumber the Ottomans (88 to 85 thousand) at Second Nineveh. It is a bloodbath, much like the first one. Gabras, instead of pressing his numerical advantage and the bravery of his troops, withdraws when the rescue attempt of the Kaiser fails, despite his army not breaking. So much for "solidly competent."

We're not done with Iskander yet. We've already shown he's a better general than his namesake, now let's make him a kick-ass diplomat too, because why not! Despite Roman troops occupying Mosul and parts of northern Mesopotamia it is Iskander who gains Roman land, not the opposite. So the Romans, despite having boots on the ground in enemy territory and despite occupying Mosul, are the ones ceded turf? What?

Others have touched on the wild implausibility of the Romans not knowing the Ottomans lost at Depalpur. You tried to handwave that away by having the chief Roman spymaster be corrupt. But corrupt isn't the same thing as stupid. So we're supposed to believe that the spymaster is smart enough to engage in proto-insider trading and market manipulation, but not smart enough to realize about Depalpur, despite his agents sending him a report? How's that possible?

But even setting aside the intelligence failure...the Romans had boots on the ground and not only gave up those hard-won gains, but gave up Roman land as well. Many others in these threads have pointed out how that just wouldn't happen, so I won't tread that ground again.

But maybe Iskander has a personal or moral shortcoming, something to humanize him? Nope. He's brilliant, charismatic, and has none of the "demons" Andreas Niketas has, or any other personal flaws for that matter. His only sin is dying relatively young.

In conclusion Iskander is a better general than Alexander/Julius Caesar, a better diplomat than Tallyrand, and a better person than Mother Teresa. You wrote that "writing Rhomania as an invincible juggernaut would be quite boring to write, and definitely would be very boring to read. And it would be extremely unrealistic." No one is doubting that (although a writer of your skill would make it anything but boring) but writing Iskander as a flawless Mary/Gary Sue isn't the way to counteract that, because it takes away from the plausibility of a brilliant timeline.
Yah he practically a god once you look at the whole picture
 
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