An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

I cannot see King Cesare ending this war on the Lombard throne, the post shows that he's marginalized a lot of powerful people. That the Duke of Parma was both a critic of the war and opposed to joining on the Allied side certainly leads me to believe that, if faced with annihilation of his army or surrender, he will choose the latter and write Cesare a letter telling him he warned him this would happen.

Alternatively, I could see Cesare panicking as D'Este leads raids deep into Lombard territory, maybe threatening a favorite estate of his or something, and demanding that the Duke of Parma decamp his army and basically surrender Tuscany to stop a few thousand raiders in the North. Which would place the Duke of Parma in a different conundrum: follow orders knowing that it'll seal the loss of Tuscany by removing the only major obstacle in Rome's path, or disobey the orders and leave Cesare stewing angrily as the outskirts of Milan start going up in smoke?
 
Maybe Demetrios can get the Duke to defect and become the Empire-backed claimant to the Lombard throne. Recognize the secession of the Despotate of Florence from Lombardy, become a King, and take out all of his rivals. Sounds like a good gig.
 
An excellent update! If a raiding force from Venetia could reach Bavaria or the outskirts of Vienna and plunder a bit, the psychological effect on the Allied side would be horrific! It might become the beginning of the volcanic eruption Elizabeth has been writing about...
 
Yeah, sealifting the Sicilian army from Ancona (where they ended last year) to Livorno would have to have been done in multiple trips. So it would’ve given the Duke of Parma an opening where he’s facing a couple of widely separated Sicilian armies, each of which he sizably outnumbers, with the advantage of interior lines. Not the best situation for Romans/Sicilians.

Pisa’s definitely the next Sicilian target; it’s too close and big of a threat to be ignored. Firenze’s the next big goal but it’s really hard to take with the main Lombard army still in the field. If the Duke was forced to retreat into Firenze, supplies would almost immediately become an issue since you have large city plus large army. So long-term that’d be good for the Sicilians.

But in the short-term, before supplies run out, the Lombards would have the advantage of interior lines. And the need for the Sicilians to put forces on both sides of the Arno makes that even worse since quick reinforcement is harder. So unless the Lombards were badly beaten up beforehand, it’d be pretty easy for them to break out of the city again. Although having said that, forcing the Lombard army onto one side of the Arno (most likely the north) would simplify, although by no means remove, Sicilian issues in prosecuting a siege of Firenze.

Bavaria might have contingents of very green troops, as in ‘just mustered a week ago and haven’t been marched down the Danube yet’, but that’s about it. One of the reasons I detailed First Ruse was to set up a template of ‘this is what happens when you pit highly-skilled and well-commanded veterans up against fresh conscripts’.

This was an interesting, in a fun way, campaign to write. Unlike Bulgaria where I knew how I wanted everything to go and just needed to fill in the details, here I ‘set the board’ and saw how things flowed rather than having a planned end-state when I started.

Sending another army up the Po River to cause chaos in Lombardy would be nice, but there’s the concern that if Farnese could break away from the Sicilians for a while, he’d be able to smash any 20,000-strong army. Causing widespread damage is great, unless it lets the enemy defeat you in detail. The bulk of reinforcements will most likely go straight to Mytaras, with d’Este getting the remainder so his ‘raid beyond the Alps’ strategy can get the teeth it needs.

Saying they’re ‘pro-Roman’ may be going too hard. ‘Anti-Milan’ would be more accurate. Tuscany’s easier because it was conquered and absorbed well within living memory, but there are prominent locales in northern Italy that probably wouldn’t mind Milan being taken down a peg or two, places like Verona or Mantua. And that’s not even considering the Romagna.

(Kisses fingers like an Italian chef)

Magnificent! Perfect way to start what will - God Willing - be a slow day at the office.
Thank you. Hope you had a quiet day.

I cannot see King Cesare ending this war on the Lombard throne, the post shows that he's marginalized a lot of powerful people. That the Duke of Parma was both a critic of the war and opposed to joining on the Allied side certainly leads me to believe that, if faced with annihilation of his army or surrender, he will choose the latter and write Cesare a letter telling him he warned him this would happen.

Alternatively, I could see Cesare panicking as D'Este leads raids deep into Lombard territory, maybe threatening a favorite estate of his or something, and demanding that the Duke of Parma decamp his army and basically surrender Tuscany to stop a few thousand raiders in the North. Which would place the Duke of Parma in a different conundrum: follow orders knowing that it'll seal the loss of Tuscany by removing the only major obstacle in Rome's path, or disobey the orders and leave Cesare stewing angrily as the outskirts of Milan start going up in smoke?
Yeah, Cesare’s pretty shaky. Theodoros Doukas was powerful enough to strong-arm the great men of the Lombard realm into obedience. It helped that his wars were victorious ones too. Cesare just doesn’t have the same clout.

Maybe Demetrios can get the Duke to defect and become the Empire-backed claimant to the Lombard throne. Recognize the secession of the Despotate of Florence from Lombardy, become a King, and take out all of his rivals. Sounds like a good gig.
The Duke really does like the idea of smacking those twits who sidelined him in 1632…

An excellent update! If a raiding force from Venetia could reach Bavaria or the outskirts of Vienna and plunder a bit, the psychological effect on the Allied side would be horrific! It might become the beginning of the volcanic eruption Elizabeth has been writing about...
Definitely. The damage would be more psychological; Bavaria and Austria might get battered some but there’s no way Saxony, for example, is getting touched. But it’d be a huge propaganda victory for the Romans, which is important for convincing would-be allies. I’m also scheming ideas for the Romans to deliberately ‘stoke’ the volcano.

“Why hello, German peasants. Angry about the exorbitant taxes and conscription of your sons? Sick of doing corvee labor for feudal landlords? Well, we’ve just burned said landlords’ records. Here’s their wine stock and some D3 muskets we aren’t using for when said landlords get back. Have fun.” –Demetrios III “the Troll”

This reminds me a bit of Andreas II and his desert campaign to sack Baghdad in the ToT, but sacking Munich probably won't have the same effect.
A sack of Munich would be pretty embarrassing, but the Wittelsbachs do have their eggs in multiple baskets (Bavaria, Austria, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein), admittedly of varying value. It’d still hurt Theodor badly, but the real blow would be psychological.

A certain Leo Kalomeros would do well in his ancestral lands.
Except he’s off to the Caribbean and shenanigans there. I’m going to have way too much fun writing that update.

* * *
I got the idea of a little 'Christmas special update'. The scene is most likely going to be incorporated into the winter 1633 update, whenever that happens, but I thought it'd be a nice touch now. Happy holidays everyone.

The White Palace, Constantinople, December 24, 1633:

Demetrios frowned, looking at the paper, then angrily scratched out a couple of words, writing a few different ones above it. It felt good to dive back in the past, where the peoples and crises and problems were all nicely dead and substantially less annoying, but he was using this for the present crisis and so he needed it to be just right. He sighed, drank some more wine, and rubbed his temples.

Then he smelled it.

Getting up to follow the scent, he opened the door to the study and entered the main area of his living quarters. His daughter Athena was there, next to the table, on which was a large pan from which was coming the divine aroma.

His seventeen-year-old daughter had a large smirk on her face that made her look a lot like her mother when he’d married Jahzara, in what seemed like a wholly different era. “Works every time,” she said.

“Quiet you,” he said as he sat down next to the pan. It was full of his daughter’s ball-shaped kourabiedes, a type of shortbread made with almonds and a lot of sugar coating, made to the recipe attributed to Anna I Laskarina of all people. A decidedly newer addition though was the bowl full of very-warm chocolate frosting. Some people might disapprove of that; Demetrios III Sideros was fine with executing such people. He took a bite. So much sugar…So much chocolate… “This is divine.”

“Got you out of your study awfully quick,” Athena said, sitting down to eat another in the pan.

“I needed a break anyway.” Athena looked at him skeptically as he licked powdered sugar off his lips. “I don’t know why you doubt me.”

“I’ve known you a long time.”

“Yeah, but I’ve known you longer.”

“No, you haven’t. You met me the same time I met you,” Athena countered.

“But you don’t remember the first few years. I do.”

“Ah, but I’ve known you my entire life, while you haven’t. Therefore, I win.”

“I don’t think it works that way, yet I’m too hungry to figure out a counter-argument.” Athena smirked again. “Where did you learn to argue like that?”

“From you.”

“Oh, right. Figures.” She beamed a sugar-coated grin at him.

“Speaking of arguments, I have a present for you.”

“That statement makes no sense,” she replied as he stood up.

“I know,” he answered as he went to the corner of the room where he had the box. “But ever since I named that pool the Piranha Pool people are starting to think I’m crazy, so I figure I’ll just own it.”

He set the box down on the table. “You know it’s early,” Athena replied. Normally gifts were given on January 1, St Basil’s day, not on Christmas proper. [1]

“I’m the Emperor. I can do what I want. Anyone who disagrees can go swim in the Piranha Pool, which may or may not be stocked.”

“So what’s in it?”

“I was thinking piranhas, but then I realized giving you flesh-eating fish would be a terrible idea. So here’s a different implement of destruction, not that you need the help.” He opened the box.

“They’re beautiful,” she said, hefting one of the two kyzikoi in her right hand. They were flintlock gunpowder weapons, a foot long with ivory handles. Finely polished, they were inlaid with silver etching outlining the Lion of Ethiopia on one side of the handle and the Eagle of Rhomania on the other. In gold was writ ‘Athena Siderina’. “Perfectly balanced too.”

“I had them hand-crafted by the Vigla master gunsmith just for you.”

“So that’s why he wanted all those measurements when I was down on the range.” Demetrios nodded. His daughter had been practicing with kyzikoi from the Vigla armory. “Still not that good of a shot.”

“Better than me.” He took another bite of chocolate-sugar goodness. “Try not to shoot anybody I like.”

“That’s a short list.”

“Quite true.”

They each took another piece of shortbread, chewing on them silently, so they heard the sounds of children caroling outside the walls of the White Palace. They listened to it; it was faint and the words indistinct, but they could make out the melody. That was enough. “Peace on earth,” Athena whispered. “Do you think it’ll happen anytime soon?”

“Not likely.” Another bite. “But you never know.”

They sat and listened to the carols on the wind, eating the kourabiedes until they were gone and all the chocolate frosting wiped up.

“Merry Christmas, father,” Athena said.

He smiled. “Merry Christmas, Athena.”


[1] ITTL, Orthodox continue to celebrate Christmas on December 25, as the switch-over from the Julian to the Demetrian calendar (TTL’s Gregorian calendar) was done under the auspices of the Roman Emperor and Orthodox Church.
 
Just read new glossary, in what context is "PloiaMakra" ("Literally translates as ‘long ships’, now a general term for Roman warships") used?
 
Given that it was established at an Ecumenical Council attended by all the acknowledged Patriarchs, it was likely adopted by the whole Orthodox sphere immediately afterwards. The Russians are laughing at the backward Catholics and Protestants right alongside the Romans.
 
Merry Christmas all you Rhomanophiles of this thread! Turning out to be an wonderful Christmas with this awesome update!

Except he’s off to the Caribbean and shenanigans there. I’m going to have way too much fun writing that update.
Never one for an office job, Leo is in his element seeking out new markets and wealth for the Empire and perhaps finally that elusive Caribbean colony for Rhomania?

So here’s a different implement of destruction, not that you need the help.” He opened the box.

“They’re beautiful,” she said, hefting one of the two kyzikoi in her right hand. They were flintlock gunpowder weapons, a foot long with ivory handles. Finely polished, they were inlaid with silver etching outlining the Lion of Ethiopia on one side of the handle and the Eagle of Rhomania on the other. In gold was writ ‘Athena Siderina’. “Perfectly balanced too.”
Dayum, one shot for Iskandar, one for Theodor/Casimir. Perfect :)
 
Giving your daughter a handgun on Christmas Eve is perhaps the most oddest thing I've ever seen in a timeline. Then again Demetrious is the emperor so could give his daughter whatever she wants x'D

Happy Holidays fellow Romanophiles and Byzantiophiles!
 
This was an interesting, in a fun way, campaign to write. Unlike Bulgaria where I knew how I wanted everything to go and just needed to fill in the details, here I ‘set the board’ and saw how things flowed rather than having a planned end-state when I started.

Sending another army up the Po River to cause chaos in Lombardy would be nice, but there’s the concern that if Farnese could break away from the Sicilians for a while, he’d be able to smash any 20,000-strong army. Causing widespread damage is great, unless it lets the enemy defeat you in detail. The bulk of reinforcements will most likely go straight to Mytaras, with d’Este getting the remainder so his ‘raid beyond the Alps’ strategy can get the teeth it needs.

Saying they’re ‘pro-Roman’ may be going too hard. ‘Anti-Milan’ would be more accurate. Tuscany’s easier because it was conquered and absorbed well within living memory, but there are prominent locales in northern Italy that probably wouldn’t mind Milan being taken down a peg or two, places like Verona or Mantua. And that’s not even considering the Romagna.
That's a fair concern - I suppose it depends on a balance of how defensible Venice is vs how rapidly an army can enter or leave the city/control the Po.

Hey, they're Pro-Roman in a defacto sense! That counts in my book! It does raise questions about how a Roman Despotate would work. If run by locals, you'd want them leaning on Roman power, or they're likely to be trouble. If run by Romans, then you'll need them to continue to be popular locally. I wonder if a 'Roman Italy' would be a good place for land reforms, essentially trying to achieve popularity with the 'small folk'. How different is the Italian and Roman economies structurally? I expect significantly instinctively, but I don't really know. (Obviously this is in a peacetime context - although, the way the Romans are funding their armies, it might work well with Italian merchants because they can just pay.
The White Palace, Constantinople, December 24, 1633
Magnifique!

I love the addition of Ethiopian imagery here - with their performance in this war being a bit..... lacklustre, I wonder if effectively making them a Despotate, or Megadespotate is a long-term political goal. The Roman-Ethiopian relationship has been great, and I'd love to see them solve the Egyptian problem and establish Ethiopia and East Africa as a transformative part of the Empire. (Plus, an African campaign would serve the Romans long-term - taking control over the South African passage would cause the Western Europeans like Portugal and Spain to rapidly decline economically and shift a substantial quantity of wealth to the Romans, whether by blockade, or by charges.
 
That's some over the top kourabiedes... But melomakarona will always be the best Christmas sweet
As a Greek born with a minor tree nut allergy, my go-to sweet is Yiayia's Koulourakia, dunked in coffee that may or may not have some liquor in it :)

Merry Christmas everyone. May your holiday season and New Year hopefully be better than Theodor and Cesare's!
 
Stark: It’s mostly used in the context of a ‘mixed’ fleet, that is one that is comprised partially of warships and partially of merchant or supply ships, and is used to specify the warships. On further thought, I may ‘update’ that term to focus specifically on light Roman warships (fregatai, sloops, brigs) as a term to distinguish them from ‘battle-line ships’. I was doing some research for the Caribbean update and pulling/adapting OTL Byzantine naval terminology that I thought might be useful and this was one of the terms.

Lascaris: I didn’t know that. Most of the Orthodox around where I live are Russian Orthodox so I default to their practices.

HanEmpire: The whole Orthodox world ITTL adopted it pretty much immediately (just like the Catholics with the Gregorian IOTL). I read that as referring to OTL.

Boa: Kalomeros is good at seeking out new wealth, particularly for him and his mates. He’s a good luck charm when it comes to prize money.

Emperor Joe: I wanted something that would go with chocolate frosting so I could make the joke about Demetrios III executing people who disapproved. Plus the whole ‘being lured out of his study by sugar’ bit was, out-of-context, a shout-out to a family inside-joke regarding my father.

TheWanderingReader: The most oddest thing…at last, my work here is done. ;)

RogueTraderEnthusiast: The best way would be to rule through a prominent local family that has roots in the community, but at the same time is also tied into the Roman structure as well. Back when much of Italy was comprised of Roman vassal states in the latter reign of Andreas Niketas, the Montefeltros of Urbino, the d’Estes of the Romagna, and the di Lecce-Komnenos of Abruzzi were well integrated. Both the di Lecce-Komnenoi and Montefeltros married into the Komnenid dynasty, while the d’Estes were kept close because they loathed the Visconti who then ruled Milan. The three families are still all loyal to the Empire, so replicating that in a Despotic family is the best bet.

The Italian and Roman economies are fairly similar. Agriculture is still the key economic activity, Italy is highly monetized, and Italians led the way with banking practices. The Romans are pulling ahead with a formal national bank and stock exchange, but nothing of what they’re doing would be confusing to an experienced Lombard merchant. The economy of Lombardy is highly monetized, although with lots of exchanges done in kind as well (Rhomania is the same, with the ratios varying by region). Big urban grandees owning a lot of the countryside is much more prevalent in Lombardy though, but serfdom isn’t a thing. Land reform could earn the support of the little people, but could also alienate the prospective ‘despotic family’. That said, the favored family could be exempt from the land reform, which would increase their power and authority by reducing rivals. But then, without any local rivals around to keep them looking towards Constantinople for backing, they might start intriguing for complete independence.

The Ethiopian imagery is because Athena is half-Ethiopian. Jahzara is a member of the Ethiopian Imperial family, the niece of the current Negus. Rhomania trying to make Ethiopia a Despotate would be a surefire way to make Gonder an enemy. The Ethiopians are more than happy to be a friend and ally of Rhomania. But not a subject.

Viciosodiego: Most likely not. It was pretty time-consuming to write in its ‘wholly narrative’ setup and I’m not good at maintaining multiple writing projects.
 
1633: The Guns of Syria
"How can a hare or a deer expect
To conquer in tiger strife?
Minnows and shrimps that with dragons contend
Already have done with life."
-Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)


Syria-physical-map.gif
1633 continued: The Roman army under Domestikos Theodoros Laskaris and Shahanshah Ibrahim have continued to spar and snap at each other in northern Syria, but neither has pressed a major engagement. Both armies are similar in size, 80,000, and very good and quick at throwing up field fortifications.

The flow of reinforcements to Theodoros has dropped substantially since last autumn; the Empire is unable to maintain the rapid expansion rate of 1632. More men and materials are coming in, enough to replace losses and still allow for some growth, but nothing like last summer. While the Romans have more men available, there are equipment and supply bottlenecks and even with Demetrios III’s financial innovations, paying for the massive Roman military as it stands is an incredible strain on the exchequer.

Theodoros also has one eye fixed on reports from the Danube, where the Allies currently control most of the Danube River valley at this point (spring 1633-so everything from Svishtov upstream). With the largest army and most veterans under his command, he is well aware that he is the prime source to be tapped for reinforcements if needed in Europe; he can’t afford to be too bloody-minded. Interior Syria can be abandoned if necessary; Thrace cannot. (The Army of Georgia is the obvious second choice for reinforcements, but it is much smaller than the Army of the East and, given the importance of Georgia in Roman eastern security, a very strong argument can be made that the Empire cannot afford to not have its finger in this particular pie.)

It’s possible though that Ibrahim can be maneuvered into doing the abandoning. His father Iskandar massively expanded the Ottoman Empire, even after taking into account the territories in India lost to Venkata Raya’s attack. But those new lands need to be garrisoned and rebellious locals overawed. Central Asian tribes in Transoxiana need to be kept compliant, the Cossacks need to be kept out, and the Baluchi and Pashtuns need to be kept from raiding. Ibrahim has managed that so far, mostly, but he can’t risk being cut off from his domains. Aside from the new territories, Yazd, Tabas, and Khorasan in eastern Persia all have a long tradition of thumbing their noses at would-be Persian overlords. They’d be happy to start that up again.

So Theodoros aims to hit not Ibrahim’s army but his connection to Mesopotamia. He might not even have to cut the Shah off entirely; Ibrahim may come to terms earlier. Emperor Demetrios III is willing to be generous, especially with the Germans menacing Ruse. Two million hyperpyra plus two million more in quarter-million yearly installments, in exchange for the pre-Mashhadshar border and the Syrian rebels hung out to dry. The ‘pre-Mashhadshar’ and ‘abandoning rebels’ are not negotiable. However the Shah, also banking on the German proximity to Constantinople and well aware that any deal that doesn’t weaken Roman power will result in a very painful rematch, declines this offer.

First Theodoros sends four thousand of his own troops to reinforce the Roman Army of Mesopotamia. It’s not enough for Strategos Amirales to threaten any more major Ottoman cities, but it is a substantial boost to his raiding parties, which can range further afield now.

Drawing on the high-quality allagions (militias) of Cilicia and northern Syria for extra numbers, he dispatches two small armies to lay siege to Maskanah and Manbij. Aside from removing the last humiliation from Mashhadshar, their capture would remove a threat to Aleppo which while small cannot be ignored. Furthermore Maskanah is one of the main transit points of Ibrahim’s supply route.

Another major transit point is Arra (Ma’arrat an Nu’man) to which Theodoros proceeds with his main army to besiege as well. It is the fortress closest to Ibrahim and also by placing himself there he indirectly guards the much smaller army investing Maskanah. With the Arra-Maskanah road, he can easily reinforce the Maskanah besiegers. Ibrahim, on the other hand, would have to take the desert road from Hama that leads to Raqqa and then swing northwest up to Maskanah, a vastly longer march. The best aspect of this setup from Theodoros’ point of view is that the mere act of investing Maskanah and Arra mean that the Persian convoys have to detour onto the desert road, which is not as well built and maintained.

Ibrahim is far from blind to the danger, but by the time he arrives from Hama Theodoros has already thrown up sizeable trenches and embankments. Charging against Roman field fortifications is a good way to die, and Ibrahim knows it. So he hangs back, raiding and harassing, sniping at outposts and swinging cavalry around to harass Theodoros’ own supply lines.

Theodoros marches out to knock the Persians back, Ibrahim maneuvering to avoid a major field engagement. However on June 19 the Romans give the Khuzestan Qizilbash Uymaq [1], which veered a little too close, a bloody nose, inflicting thirty-six hundred casualties for just eleven hundred of their own. Ibrahim pulls back a little in response but keeps up the harassment. But whilst irritating, the raids are only slowing Theodoros down, not stopping him.

Having seen the effectiveness of his field fortifications at the third day of the Battle of Aabdeh last year, Ibrahim wants to fight a battle where he can force Theodoros to attack him. Unfortunately Theodoros seems willing to accept the annoyance as a necessary evil while he slowly reduces Arra into submission.

It is a hard task. Arra is well-fortified with modern defenses, albeit not to the scale of Aleppo or Theodosiopolis, and held off Ibrahim and the main Ottoman army for over a month last year. The damage has been repaired, the battlements reinforced by massive earthen piles, and those battlements are well-armed with light guns.

Furthermore, recognizing the importance of Arra, Ibrahim appointed Turgut Reis as the garrison commander. An old veteran who served in his father’s armies as far back as the beginning of the invasion of India, he is uncontestably the best artillery and siege commander in the Ottoman army. In India he took thirty four fortified cities and castles, including Delhi and Agra, and he commanded the artillery at First and Second Nineveh to great effect.

His counter-battery fire against the Roman siege guns is accurate and deadly, particularly since as soon as he took the job, he marked down the best locations for siege batteries, assigned specific guns to target those sites, and practiced ranging shots with the pieces until they were zeroed in on the positions. Damage to the Roman siege batteries is high.

So the siege drags on. Maskanah and Manbij aren’t putting up as stout of fights, but the comparatively smaller resources committed to those sieges means they are progressing slowly as well. Meanwhile Theodoros is also stuck near Arra until he can reduce it. His supplies are coming from Aleppo so if he advances south towards Hama with his main army, he runs the risk of the Arra garrison interdicting his own supplies.

Turgut Reis is defending well, but his defense is eating up a lot of gunpowder and he needs resupply. Somehow he gets word of his predicament to his sovereign, who dispatches a column of two thousand cavalry, each one carrying a hundred-pound bag of gunpowder. The column swings north while Ibrahim demonstrates to the south, the Persian cavalry attacking while the Romans are focused on the main Ottoman army.

Half of the cavalry manage to break through into the city with their precious cargo. The other half, while advancing under fire from the Romans, have a less happy fate. While still trying to break through, Roman bullets spark off and ignite several of the powder bags, reportedly sending a couple of hundred Persians flying into the air. The survivors retreat, but now many of the powder bags have strung leaks, leaving a trail of powder behind them. Sparks from their mounts’ horseshoes striking the hard ground then ignite that trail, and an even bigger explosion sends hundreds more Persians flying, with pieces of horses’ corpses found up in trees afterwards. [2]

While gruesome and bloody, the effort did help replenish Arra’s stores, so the siege drags on, the two field armies snapping at each other, accumulating a steady trickle of casualties. Still Ibrahim knows that Turgut Reis, for all his skill, can’t keep the Romans out forever. Furthermore he gets word that to the north both Maskanah and Manbij have fallen.

The allagions from Cilicia and northern Syria are posted there as garrisons, while the regular troops from both sieges are formed together and dispatched as reinforcements to Strategos Amirales, who with them has enough troops now to besiege Raqqa. Even with Arra still defiant, it is a devastating blow to Ibrahim. The Persians have been using the Euphrates to barge up supplies (as well as the Mosul-Al Hasakah-Raqqa road), but with Amirales setting up parallels at Raqqa, the supplies have to be offloaded at Dayr az Zawr, 130 kilometers downstream and then carted over 360 kilometers of desert tracks to Homs. Water on the route is dependent on oases. (The Howeitat, meanwhile, are delighted, making a killing on selling camels to Ibrahim’s stressed quartermasters.) The Raqqa-Maskanah-Arra road, in contrast, is of much better quality and over a hundred kilometers shorter.

Theodoros is suffering from supply difficulties of his own, given that war plans in the east since the Time of Troubles have expected significant logistical help from the Anizzah that is no longer available. But that is little comfort to the Shah, who is increasingly forced to rely on the resources of interior Syria, one of the poorer reaches of the Roman Empire and an area that lost over a tenth of its population to the plague less than a decade ago, which doesn’t help.

Ibrahim at this point is still unwilling to consider peace. At this stage the Germans are still in control of the bulk of the Danube and the loss of Maskanah and Manbij, the last fruits of Mashhadshar, is a personal humiliation. He began his reign under the shadow of losing most of his father’s Indian conquests; he is not keen for another taste of that.

But with Arra steadily being ground down and his logistics from Mesopotamia turning into a nightmare, the Shah knows he must change his strategy. At the moment he has an opening with Theodoros unable to proceed further into the interior with Arra still holding out. Theodoros also can’t swing back out to the coast either. If he did, he’d leave a clear path for Ibrahim to charge north and attack Amirales at Raqqa, and the Army of Mesopotamia would have over a two-to-one disadvantage in such a battle.

Relying on his field fortifications to defend him in an open battle, Ibrahim splits off nine thousand of his troops, mostly Qizilbash with some Shahsevan and sipahi cavalry, and sends them south.

Although Damascus fell to Syrian rebels last autumn, the fighting in Palestine has mainly been a snarl of raid and bushwhack, with the Sunnis fighting with practically everyone else. Villages on both sides are literally wiped off the map, but little strategic territory changes hands.

The arrival of the Ottoman column in Damascus changes that. The column is commanded by Sinan Pasha, a personal friend of Turgut Reis and another veteran of much of Iskandar’s campaigns. In India he led Ottoman forces in seventeen various small battles, winning every single one, including five against Rajputs. Like his friend, he is the type of highly-skilled Ottoman officer that does much to explain Iskandar’s success in war.

First he strikes hard into Galilee, conquering the region and bloodying Druze and Maronite militias that try to stall him. He is supported by sixteen thousand Syrian rebels. In the meantime, an Arab army, a mix of Hedjazi regulars trained by Persian sergeants (many veterans of last year’s campaign and the battle of Ma’an), Howeitat riders, and various other Arab volunteers, sweeps through the trans-Jordan. It crumbles quickly, the Owais and Hadad tribes too battered to put up much resistance. The citadel at Kerak is the one hold-out but is simply bypassed so it can rot on the vine. Lightly-equipped Arab forces, unlike the large and baggage-heavy professional armies of the Romans and Ottomans, are able to do such a thing.

With the Arabs joining him, Sinan turns on his main objective, Jerusalem. Despite a two-thousand strong Egyptian force reinforcing the garrison, the Holy City holds out for only twelve days before surrender. The city’s fortifications are little improved from when Andreas Niketas took the city over a hundred years ago because, for all its religious significance, Jerusalem is irrelevant strategically and economically. So Roman pragmatism spent its fortress money on places like Aleppo and Acre.

The Romans are not unique in pragmatism. As the Ottoman forces enter the city (at the same time Blucher’s battered army is approaching Nikopolis), the rebel troops start to cause havoc despite the surrender terms, which stipulated a large indemnity but promised no sacking. Sinan promptly uses the regular Ottoman and Hedjazi troops to get them back in line.

The rebels are sullen, but they do fall into line. Muslims have been barred from the city since Helena I banished them in 1572 as punishment for their revolt during the War of the Rivers, and they’d like some payback on the Christians settled here. But Sinan’s orders from Ibrahim are clear. If the Shah wishes to take and to hold this territory, he must ensure orderly government and safety for non-Sunni populations; the Day of the Fingers was done as a tactical expediency rather than out of sadism.

He is well aware that Sunni atrocities in the past have done much to push the minorities into throwing their lot in with the Romans, much as the Turkmen of northern Mesopotamia in the 1400s and 1500s convinced the Kurds of eastern Anatolia to support the Romans. A side advantage of having a respectable Ottoman force finally operating down here is to help curb the Palestine rebels, whose actions thus far have only continued to alienate the various minorities.

Having put Jerusalem in order, Sinan turns his gaze to the real goal of the campaign, Egypt. Given Roman command of the sea, it is doubtful that Egyptian grain could be used to feed Ibrahim’s main army. It is also doubtful, with his current forces and the main Ottoman army tied down in northern Syria, that he could hold Egypt. But even if Sinan can just break in and cause havoc, it will seriously destabilize the Roman war effort in the east; Theodoros draws most of his food from the Nile.

The best way to get to Egypt is the coastal highway, most of which is in range of prowling Roman warships off the coast. That is a problem. The other is Gaza, blocking the highway down into Egypt. The fortress is of similar vintage to Jerusalem’s defenses, but they’ve been reinforced by earthen embankments. While the coastal cities of Syria and Palestine are all garrisoned, most are too small to do more than defend their charges, hence thus far Sinan has not had to deal with potential threats from the coast swinging around behind him. Gaza though has a much larger garrison, enough to pose a serious threat to his rear if he simply bypasses it.

He marches on the city with 8000 Ottoman troops, 14000 Arabs (3000 Hedjazi regulars), and 25000 Syrian-Palestine rebels, but he makes lots of noise, sets up extra campfires, and has horses and men moving constantly and throwing up dust clouds, all to make it seem like he has even more than he really has. This gets to the Roman kastrophylax, an old retiree brought back to service because of the need to fill the massively enlarged officer list, who flees in the night on a small boat.

The desertion when discovered in the morning understandably demoralizes the Romans, just as the Persians pitch in with a furious escalade; Sinan appears to have been tipped off by a spy in the town. The second-in-command tries to rally them, but a bullet rips out his throat near the start of the attack. The third takes over, but by this point the Persians have a major lodgment and the garrison is outnumbered 9 to 1. He starts organizing the destruction of the fortress’ stores to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

Sinan then offers a deal, a safe conduct for the garrison in exchange for the third not destroying any more stores. The Roman officer, anxious to save the lives of his command and seeing no reason for them to die a pointless death here, agrees. Although he does spike four culverins at the very last moment. The garrison departs, keeping their standards, musical instruments, personal possessions of the soldiers, side arms, and three-days-worth of rations for each man.

Sinan is pleased with the haul, despite not bagging the garrison. Even with the stores destroyed before the ceasefire, he’s gotten a substantial haul of artillery, gunpowder, muskets, rations, and other assorted equipment, much of which he needs to equip his Syrian-Palestine forces as proper soldiers. Of particular value are the Roman army boots. And the road to Egypt is now open.

Both the kastrophylax and garrison of Gaza proceed to Jaffa, the next major fortress up the coast. The kastrophylax here is Alexios Gabras, former Domestikos of the East who lost to Iskandar at the battles of Nineveh. Given the rapid expansion of the Roman army and the resulting need for new officers, he was pulled from retirement. This was not without controversy, but Gabras lobbied persistently for a new post, with the support of Domestikos Theodoros Laskaris who fought under him at Nineveh.

Still he is given a minor post, one expected not to be significant when he was assigned. But with the current situation, Gabras has put his long experience as kastrophylax of Jeddah during its occupation to good use. Reinforced by Owais riders who remember him fondly from working with him during the occupation of Jeddah and later when he was Strategos of the Chaldean tagma during the ‘truce’ period of the Eternal War, he is the most energetic kastrophylax on the Syrian-Palestine coast, smashing several small rebel bands and Arab raiding parties.

Gabras treats the garrison soldiers generously. The cost of their replacement kit is to be taken from their pay, but he arranges it that the deductions are spread out over the next six months so it is not as painful.

The reason for his generosity is that he does not blame them for the fall of Gaza; for that he turns his full ire, and the weight of Roman military law, down on the head of the kastrophylax. Under said law, the penalty for officers charged with cowardice and desertion is far worse than for the regular troops.

Sentenced the day after the Gaza garrison arrives, the kastrophylax is hauled in chains to the central courtyard of the Jaffa fort. He is stripped of his insignia as a Roman officer and then forced to walk the gauntlet of three randomly selected droungoi of his command. Each droungos lines up in two files, the kastrophylax walking between them. Each soldier, as he passes, may strike him with any blunt object of his kit, such as his fists or the butt of his musket. A soldier meanwhile walks backward in front of the kastrophylax, ambrolar leveled at the ex-commander’s chest, so that he cannot go through the gauntlet too quickly. Beaten literally half to death in this manner, he is then hanged, the gallows deliberately set up so that rather than a quick death by neck-break, he is slowly strangled to death by the rope; he takes half an hour to die.

Meanwhile Sinan Pasha is headed for Egypt, although he has to shuffle off the highway a bit inland to get out of range of the Roman warships shadowing his march. A large camel train, much of whom are hired from Howeitat stock (the Howeitat are acting for the Ottomans much as the Anizzah did for the Romans), carries the baggage.

Egypt has been frantically rearming since the Battle of Aabdeh but it lost most of its officers and veteran soldiers at that battle, making it most difficult to form cadres for the new recruits. The victims of the Day of the Fingers are useful as training dekarchoi, but their physical condition make them useless as line troops. But their mutilated hands are a powerful motivator for revenge.

There are workshops at the Despotic capital of Tanta and Marienburg am Nil producing D3 muskets and light artillery, plus Roman ones at Alexandria. Between those and shipments from the Imperial heartland, the new Egyptian army is at least decently equipped.

To the south though the Idwaits start causing trouble, raiding both north into Egypt and south into Ethiopia. Having heard word of the advances of the Germans and Persians into the Roman Empire, and the heavy losses suffered by both of their neighbors at Aabdeh, they’re eager to hammer at their former overlords.

The Idwait Malik-ate has had a rough independence. Hassan, the great peasant leader, held things together until his death in 1612, but his son and heir was deposed in a coup twenty months later. Since then Hassan’s former lieutenants and their descendants, who’ve become the premier landowners and local powers, have been intriguing against and backstabbing each other. Six Maliks since the death of Hassan, and only one died naturally, wisely indulging in massive alcoholism until it killed him before a less fun death took him. The new Malik, Hassan VIII (all Maliks take the regnal name of Hassan, in honor of the founder), is more stable than most in his power, thanks to the lieutenant families having done much to fritter away each other, and has ruled for four years, a record for the new state.

Hassan VIII still respects the power of Ethiopia and Egypt, and the Roman leviathan behind the latter. But he also believes it crucial to break the Christian ring around his state. Per its terms of independence, the Malik-ate owes both the Romans and Ethiopians tribute, and that tribute has been in arrears since the death of Hassan I. He is also aware that Andreas III, while in Syria at the beginning of his reign, had expressed a strong inclination to ‘establish a more satisfactory situation in the Sudan’. An Ottoman Egypt would certainly make his life easier.

The Idwaits are just raiding into Ethiopia but the attack into Egypt is a proper invasion, with sixteen thousand men crossing the border and laying siege to the fortress of Beni Suef, the Egyptian border citadel right on the frontier. It is a pivotal location in the Idwait psyche; here was fought and won the first major battle of the Great Uprising in 1591 and its loss in 1599 was the last blow suffered in the war for independence.

So the Idwaits attack with fervor, but with less artillery. They have some cannons, mostly old pieces leftover from the Great Uprising, and these are light field pieces at that. Beni Suef’s fortifications may be crude compared to Roman or Ottoman fortresses along the Syrian frontier, but the thick earthen embankments (many raised by the Idwaits during the Great Uprising) are superb at absorbing Idwait shot. So the small Egyptian garrison is able to keep the attackers at bay, although they can’t prevent their supply lines from being cut.

Beni Suef is rather small so a few thousand of the Idwaits bypass it to raid north while their comrades work on reducing the town. In the lands of the hated Copts, in domains that used to be theirs before they were expelled at the end of the Great Uprising, the Idwaits are savage on the inhabitants.

Those inhabitants are mostly fellow Muslims, the landless fellahin of the region who took over the vacant farms when those who would be Idwaits went south. Mainly tenants to absentee Coptic landlords as it had been before the Great Uprising, their economic situation has improved immensely now that they have their own plots while the landlord abuses of the pre-uprising period have been largely eliminated. Thus the fellahin, having benefited greatly from their absence, are not keen on seeing their former neighbors back. Meanwhile the Idwaits view the fellahin here both as religious traitors and upstart social inferiors. There have been repeated skirmishes between the two sides for over twenty years now, but the fighting here is the largest and most brutal to date.

This is a serious threat, unfolding precisely as Sinan Pasha is bearing down on Egypt. The Persian is recognized as the greatest threat; with the Idwaits the worst case scenario is that they manage to roll all the way up to Marienburg am Nil but will then be stopped cold by the massive citadel. Sinan Pasha will not so easily be contained if he gets loose in Egypt. Furthermore he can threaten the Delta, the economic heart of Egypt.

Sinan is invading with 44000 men, although two-thirds of those are not professional soldiers. To muster against him, Despot Andreas II has thirty four thousand Egyptian soldiers, two thousand Romans from the Alexandria garrison, and three thousand Ethiopian troops. He personally commands the army. The Ethiopians are all veterans of Aabdeh and eager for revenge, but over two-thirds of the Egyptians have never seen battle. Still Andreas marches out to meet Sinan, aiming to force a battle where he can get offshore fire support from Egyptian and Roman warships.

Alexios Gabras meanwhile gathers together the best twenty five hundred troops from the Gaza garrison and sends them on ships to Damietta. The men sent are mostly old kastron troops, men who served their stint in the field army and now posted on fortress duty. While older than the ideal line infantryman, they all have extensive military experience.

Theodoros too sends reinforcements. He can’t send too many with Ibrahim so close, but four Roman tourmai head for Lattakieh to be put on ships to Egypt, although they don’t arrive in time.

As Blucher begins his retreat from Nikopolis, the Egyptians and Ottomans collide at the Battle of the Dunes, the former reinforced by the men sent by Gabras.

Battle of the Pyramids.jpg

This is the most famous depiction of the Battle of the Dunes in Western Europe, despite very little of it being true to the actual event. The Triune artist, who just knew that it was somewhere in Egypt, assumed that meant pyramids and the Nile River were involved somehow in the action.​

It is a hard-fought battle, both sides attempting to outflank the enemy on their landward side, but with no success. The new Egyptian recruits perform admirably in their baptism of fire. Their volleys may be ragged but they are continuous. A few men break and flee, but that is to be expected in any battle. Overall there is a grim determination to avenge both Aabdeh and particularly the Day of the Fingers.

The Egyptian infantry hold the line, but it is the four Egyptian warships plus two Romans cannonading offshore that play a key role in breaking the Ottoman line. Sinan’s right flank, near the sea, gradually comes apart under the bombardment and Despot Andreas II sends the Ethiopians and Gaza-garrison troops crashing into it. Breaking through, the veterans promptly pivot right and start smashing up the Ottoman line. Sinan throws in his reserve to hold them at bay, which works until nightfall. At that point Sinan retires, in good order but soundly battered with over seven thousand casualties; the Egyptians take just under five thousand.

The Despot follows but cautiously; the new recruits have proven their bravery and steadiness under fire, but that doesn’t mean they’re very maneuverable on the field. Ideally he would send some troops down to battle the Idwaits, but with Sinan’s army still intact, he can’t afford to split his forces. Besides with Gaza still in Persian hands, there’s no guarantee the Ottoman commander won’t try another run.

Another battle takes place just a few miles short of Gaza, the fight playing out much as it did at the Dunes. Again landward flanking maneuvers are blocked on both sides, but offshore pounding from the ships allows a breakthrough along the coast. But this time it is Coptic tourmai that storm the breach, forcing Sinan to retire again, although again his army retreats in good order.

The Despot, now reinforced by the tourmai sent by the Domestikos, settles down to besiege Gaza, making sure to throw up fortifications against a relief effort from Sinan. The Ottoman commander is busy working to restore the battered morale of his Syrian-Palestine forces before he attacks. But he wants to force a battle away from the shoreline.

So like his sovereign at Arra, he hovers out of reach, snapping at outposts and isolated Egyptian detachments, raiding supplies, and sending in small parties at night to infiltrate the Egyptian trenches and hopefully slit a few throats. Using his large number of camels, he sends several parties across the Sinai to raid into Egypt, which cause significant damage, but not enough to get the Despot to split his forces.

Gaza eventually falls in mid-October, just as Nikopolis is recaptured. And to the north Arra has finally surrendered, Turgut Reis riding out to submit. It is to be a rather fine confinement on an estate in the Peloponnesus that has a history of hosting, and sometimes turning, captive Ottoman officers.

Despite the fall of Gaza and Arra, neither the Despot nor the Domestikos seek to press the attack on the Ottoman armies near them. Given the importance of shipborne artillery in his two victories, the Despot is loath to fight a battle without it. Besides the Idwaits need to be dealt with. Alexios Gabras is transferred to be Kastrophylax of Gaza per Theodoros’ orders and given a large garrison, including an Egyptian tourma. Meanwhile the Despot marches back home to deal with the Idwait threat.

With Raqqa falling to Amirales a week after Gaza, Theodoros’ plan has been successfully achieved despite the exemplary performance of Turgut Reis. The loss of interior Palestine and particularly Jerusalem is embarrassing, but all it really does is enlarge the cell in which Ibrahim is now emplaced. He still has contact with his empire, but it’s via a long desert track before it reaches the Euphrates. To maintain his army, he must rely on interior Syria and Palestine, which does not quite have enough to sustain him. It will not happen quickly but there is no need for a battle; hunger will do the job.

Theodoros does want to push once the hunger has started to bite, giving time for it to whittle down Ibrahim whilst also giving him more time to drill his newer troops and integrate enlarged artillery batteries into his formations. Most of the detached forces over the campaign were composed of his best veterans, to make up for their usually small sizes, so his main force is clumsier than he would like. But any offensive ideas he fosters are soon brought to a halt by a surprising source, Demetrios III Sideros.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the Emperor, unlikely most of the senior leadership in the Roman Empire, is not so sure that the war on the Danube is quite so near to conclusion. He considers it most unlikely that Theodor will bow out without some kind of grand gesture, and so wants the Army of the East still available as a reserve, not battered by blasting through Ottoman entrenchments.

Also, Demetrios hopes that Ibrahim, with his connection to the rest of his realm rather tenuous, will be more amenable to a peace deal now. There seems little reason to fight a major battle now if the Shah can be convinced to withdraw without said battle. Plus the threat to unleash Theodoros might be a useful stick with which to threaten Ibrahim if he is uncooperative.

Finally, if Ibrahim doesn’t bite, Demetrios is also satisfied with the situation, at least after the scare to Egypt is resolved. The conquered territories provided little profit to the Roman exchequer anyway, so while large on a map the damage to the Empire’s war-making capabilities is practically nil. Meanwhile feeding the Ottoman army will be hard on the Syrian-Palestine rebels, undoubtedly straining their relationship. And if some of those rebels starve over the winter, all the better. That’ll make Demetrios’ long-term plans easier.

In a way, Demetrios’ long-term plans are already starting to be implemented. Theodoros has not been completely idle since the fall of Arra. Raids basing from that retaken city, plus several of the larger coastal garrisons, chief of which is Gaza now hosting a sizeable Ethiopian contingent, are striking deep and hard into interior Syria and Palestine.

Their first goal is to bring any remaining loyalist garrisons and populaces back to the coast; in this wide and not heavily-populated country people are more important than land. In a way, this is abandoning the interior to the rebels and Ottomans. But this also means that after this phase is complete, the Roman raiders are now free to kill or enslave anyone they encounter without a second thought. Owais, Haddad, and remnant Anizzah riders eager for revenge happily participate, rounding up Syrian-Palestinian peasants and hauling them to the coast in chains. If they resist, they are killed on the spot.

Merchants from Arles, the Kingdom of the Isles, and Aragon (who sell to the Spanish market) buy up the slaves. This is an easy way to bolster relations with all those kingdoms and make some money at the same time. The loss of manpower to the rebels weakens them and also make agriculture more difficult, increasing Ibrahim’s supply problems. Plus the removal, either through extinction or enslavement, of some of the rebel populace means they’re less of an issue in any negotiations with Ibrahim. In some of the Shah’s earlier proposals, he suggested evacuating Roman lands but taking the rebellious populace with him. Demetrios wants the rebels gone, but does not want to strengthen Ibrahim at the same time. The current situation helps with the former, but does not do the latter. That suits Demetrios just fine.

[1] The Qizilbash field army of a khassa. The term derives from the elite household troops of a tribal chief, supported by the chief’s family and lesser chiefs brought under the big chief’s umbrella. [A History of Islamic Societies, by Ira M. Lapidus, pg. 377] These formed the basis of the early Ottoman army prior to the conquest of Mesopotamia and organization of the Janissaries. However the Qizilbash iteration is a professional military organization.

[2] This is from OTL. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the French fortress of Lille was besieged by the Allies. The French tried to resupply the garrison with gunpowder, and that is what followed. I tell you this lest you start wondering about my disturbed imagination, although I suspect that horse has long since bolted from the stable.

Furthermore I would like to point out that IOTL, half of the French cavalry did manage to get into Lille with their precious cargo, despite the Allied army being commanded by the duo of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy.
 
I think that Theodoros has won a strategic victory by boxing in Ibrahim in Palestine, but the loss of Jerusalem itself could have a terrible political price to pay. Its something of immense religious and symbolic importance that could threaten Theodoros' power, and taking it back through military means is likely going to be extremely expensive in terms of capital.
 
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