An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

Friendly countries can place orders in Roman yards, although Rhomania quietly discourages any of the Black Sea states from building up anything more than a coastal defense/customs enforcement fleet. The Romans like being in control of the Black Sea.

The Ottomans have, thanks to the Triunes, one of the most powerful navies of the eastern powers, although since it’s opposed by the Romans, Ethiopians, and Omani, it doesn’t make that big of an impact. The Zeng aren’t the maritime power they used to be when just a South China state; most of their energy is focused on their landward frontier. The Vijayanagari, on the other hand, have a formidable fleet but for now mainly use it to keep the western powers behaving in its backyard.

Aceh used to be one of the great eastern naval powers, but its defeat at the Lingga Islands has knocked it down several pegs. Some of the other states in Island Asia, such as Champa, have significant naval strength in their immediate backyards but can’t project it. For eastern states that are naval powers able to project power long-distance, look to the Omani and to a lesser extent the Koreans. (The Ethiopian navy could be included here, although it is considered part of the Greater West and so technically doesn’t fall within the purview of your question.)
Are we forgetting the Japanese here? I would expect that without turning inwards they are going to be a major maritime power...
 
Oh! I don't know if you have this already but there is an interesting article that I found a while back, not sure where (so it may have even been here!) about the feasibility of an Eastern Roman state building a preindustrial Suez Canal.

The short answer is that it would indeed have been possible given the amount of money the Roman state had to work with, had anyone had both the wherewithal to do it and about a decade without major invasions and plagues to deal with (which is harder to come up with than it sounds. But then again anyone reading this knows exactly how hard it is for the Romans to go one year without getting attacked, let alone ten.)

Then again. The Empire is potentially both in a position to get that peace before too long and possesses the right motivation to do it. Again according to the article the project would end up more than paying for itself even if someone is pessimistic about its effects on trade.

One extra consequence however would likely be that suddenly Egypt would be far too strategic to have anything other than direct rule. At least the Suez would need a massive garrison of its own, and the increased traffic by Alexandria would likely massively increase as well. And you don't want the Despotates getting powerful enough to entertain particularly lofty ambitions.

Another immediate one would be that the Romans would immediately be unmatched in the Indian ocean as far as power projection is concerned, and would have an even more massive advantage in the Indies. Genuinely the control of a Suez Canal would likely cement the Romans' status as the premier superpower at least in the Eastern Hemisphere for centuries.

Here's the link: https://alternatehistoryweeklyupdate.blogspot.com/2012/06/economics-of-roman-suez-canal.html?m=1
That was a glorious link.

One thing that comes to mind is that Heartland shipbuilding might well suffer due to the cheaper costs overseas, potentially only kept for strictly strategic reasons.

Another is that if we agree with the proposed 5-11 year timetable, this could be an imminent plan for D3 or Ody. But it's also be an eternal project. The canal WILL need to be expanded over time, which means revisiting the project, repeatedly over time. Part of me wonders if the Romans would make two canals. One exclusively for militarily purposes, one for commerce.

Lastly, it would mean the Romans might seriously move on Yemen in a way they haven't in a long time.
 
That was a glorious link.

One thing that comes to mind is that Heartland shipbuilding might well suffer due to the cheaper costs overseas, potentially only kept for strictly strategic reasons.

Another is that if we agree with the proposed 5-11 year timetable, this could be an imminent plan for D3 or Ody. But it's also be an eternal project. The canal WILL need to be expanded over time, which means revisiting the project, repeatedly over time. Part of me wonders if the Romans would make two canals. One exclusively for militarily purposes, one for commerce.

Lastly, it would mean the Romans might seriously move on Yemen in a way they haven't in a long time.
That link is one of my favorite finds of all time.

I don't know. Britain certainly got most of its shipbuilding timber from overseas at the height of their empire and yet the lion's share of their shipbuilding was done at home unless I am mistaken. Between timber supplies from Russia and whatever might get imported from the East it might even expand the heartland shipbuilding a bit due to opening a new source of raw materials and the Heartland's central location on so many trade routes. In addition, shipbuilding industry for large ships in particular is a humongous investment. In addition to all the facilities like drydocks, slips, stocks of seasoned wood and other supplies, there are all the associated industries that have to be built up and fed with highly skilled workers. The better education in the Heartland would be key for that last requirement. So I'd imagine that the military would continue their shipbuilding there rather than uproot it all, which would make it far more cost effective to just import raw material to the same yards for civilian shipbuilding as well for the foreseeable future. At the least I'd think until much better development is achieved in the East. I'm still working on getting a deeper understanding of how this stuff worked though so I may be wrong.

I could see a second canal in the industrial era for sure. Not sure about sooner though. The Canal would pay for its own maintenance and then some. Hell, it would probably be able to fund a secondary canal on its own but until that becomes a really critical need when ships start getting huge fast I'd imagine the Romans would rather use that money elsewhere.

I could definitely see more focus on Arabia with it being so strategic once the canal is built. At the very least the Romans would make it known that any outside power trying to colonize the area would have to go through Roman armies and ships.
The technical feasibility of a Suez canal was not much in doubt, if someone wanted to invest the money and workforce. But by the same token the Red sea wind patterns are not in doubt either and aren't all that convenient for sailing ships. As soon as steam comes around though...
I can see the problem there, but the Red Sea was still a significant part of the trade route eastward from Ancient times on, most of which was primarily by sail so presumably this is not something that can't be overcome with some ingenuity. Maybe a return to limited oar use for the trading vessels and smaller warships to get them through the Red Sea? It probably wouldn't be practical at all for large ships of the line, and certainly not particularly quick for the ships that do but it would surely be worth it for the massive time savings and a much safer route than going all the way around Africa.
 

Cryostorm

Monthly Donor
I can see the problem there, but the Red Sea was still a significant part of the trade route eastward from Ancient times on, most of which was primarily by sail so presumably this is not something that can't be overcome with some ingenuity. Maybe a return to limited oar use for the trading vessels and smaller warships to get them through the Red Sea? It probably wouldn't be practical at all for large ships of the line, and certainly not particularly quick for the ships that do but it would surely be worth it for the massive time savings and a much safer route than going all the way around Africa.
This is why Aden was such a big port prior to steam, most cargo was transshipped to galley or other rowed vessels to traverse to Red Sea and then discharged in Egypt to continue.
 
This is why Aden was such a big port prior to steam, most cargo was transshipped to galley or other rowed vessels to traverse to Red Sea and then discharged the in Egypt to continue.
Well in hindsight that is the most obvious solution. It adds an extra step to the whole process and forces the Romans to build a galley fleet for the Red Sea if they want to project power there, but I'd think that still leaves a potential Suez Canal as an extremely profitable venture with ships being able to bypass Egypt and the Nile, and thus use much larger galleys to make a much faster trip with far less time used for transferring cargo and overland transport.
 

Cryostorm

Monthly Donor
Well in hindsight that is the most obvious solution. It adds an extra step to the whole process and forces the Romans to build a galley fleet for the Red Sea if they want to project power there, but I'd think that still leaves a potential Suez Canal as an extremely profitable venture with ships being able to bypass Egypt and the Nile, and thus use much larger galleys to make a much faster trip with far less time used for transferring cargo and overland transport.
That or they use galleys as tugs in the Red Sea to pull ships. That could be likely feasible for some, especially warships, with others going the more traditional route.
 
This is why Aden was such a big port prior to steam, most cargo was transshipped to galley or other rowed vessels to traverse to Red Sea and then discharged in Egypt to continue.
Do you have a source for this?

As far as I am aware rowed vessels ceased being used in the region for maritime trade once the Dhow entered widespread use. Aden's position declined as a result, since it was possible to pass over it completely sometime around the first century CE and go between Egypt and India without changing ships. Aden remained pretty damn useful as a way-station but since it wasn't mandatory to stop there it became less useful as a middleman than it had before. AFAIK this situation remained until colonial powers arrived to use it once more as a way-station to access eastern trade.

Given that the Dhow's general maritime architecture is well known and used across the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and even Eastern Mediterranean (See the Felucca of Egypt for example). As a result it doesn't seem like it would be difficult for a crew of Greek sailors using a lateen-rigged vessel like a Dhow, Felucca, or Caravel out of Constantinople to sail to India through the Red Sea if the canal existed. They probably already do from Red Sea ports like Safaga and Suez. IOTL the Ottoman Fleet based at Suez actively fought the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean during the 16th century, sailing to Basra and India from that base (although they used Galleys) until they took Aden. It seems entirely reasonable that vessels don't need transshippment anymore even before steam.
 
There is likely to be less size issues with the Suez Canal when it comes to size of warships since there is no need for locks which are the biggest limiting factor for the Panama Canal.

Also looking forward to end of the Roman-Persian Wars. I can imagine it could end up being a big comedy gag between the two asking which particular Roman-Persian War this was as they lost count.
The final war will be over what is really the exact number of wars they’ve fought.

If the Rhomans are ever the ones to create Monty Python's Flying Circus I can imagine a comical skit where the Roman ambassadorial party are rejoicing after signing the treaty with their Persian counterparts before it suddenly reverts to them one upping each other in the number of wars they have won. Meanwhile they just casualy ignore the Triune diplomat who was watching the treaty boasting about their colonies. Throw in the Russian diplomat attempting to get the Rhoman's attention and you got yourself a 'Treaty of Westphalia' skit.

Hell I know it's still in the far future but I really love the idea of the Blackadder series being a Rhoman creation as well. It'd be quite a show in attempts to make fun of the Latins in the early episodes
“Ah, the fourteenth, that was a good show, I loved massacring you-”

“No, that was the fifteenth. In the fourteenth I kicked your sorry little arse-”

“No, fourteenth.”

“No, fifteenth.”

“Are you disagreeing with me?”

“What do you think, you mathematically-inept nincompoop?”

“That’s it. This is war!”

*Cue stabbing*

Cook: *puts pineapple on pizza*

Cook's smartphone: "The Office of Barbarians wants to know your location."
The Office of Barbarians already knows your location…
Looks like the likely situation is an overwhelming Roman victory in Act 2, but they overextend and bite off more than they can chew (try to establish a Despotate of Mesopotamia?).
With Act 3 being a war of liberation of sorts, restoring the status quo.
It’s going to go something like that.

Black Westerners. I'm sure this doesn't get disputed by the Latins in any way, whatsoever.
Oh, it’ll get disputed alright. When I made that note about the “Greater West” I also mentioned that a lot of Latins think the West doesn’t include even Rhomania, much less Ethiopia. And even those Latins that include Rhomania would exclude the Ethiopians, although they may call the Ethiopians “a special African case, uplifted from their normal level by substantial Greek influence”.

One key point throughout this TL is that the Romans have a lot of anti-Latin animus, but the Latins often do the exact same thing in response.

Are we forgetting the Japanese here? I would expect that without turning inwards they are going to be a major maritime power...
Yeah, I am. My bad. They should be included, although currently most Shimazu energy is turned inward on solidifying their control over Japan.

Suez Canal and Red Sea: Very informative link. I’d just assumed that technical issues meant that a Suez Canal, like a Panama Canal, wasn’t practical until 19th century tech became available. That said, there are some issues before a Roman Suez Canal becomes a thing. As @Lascaris pointed out, the winds and currents of the Red Sea are not the easiest on sailing ships, and it doesn’t help that the Red Sea doesn’t give much in the way of maneuvering room. @Evilprodigy pointed out that dhows are used there regularly, but there’s a big difference between a dhow and a big galleon. A dhow would be maneuverable enough to manage, but if a galleon goes down with a full cargo, that’s a lot of money that just went down the drain.

Also ships are getting bigger, both military and commercial. Sending big sailing ships into the Red Sea would be too risky. So even with a Suez Canal, the big ships would still have to stop at, say, Aden, and transfer their goods to smaller ships. Now those Red Sea ships could then proceed directly to the Mediterranean, skipping the Pharaoh’s Canal/Nile River stage, but it’s not making as big of a difference as if a ship could load up in Pyrgos and sail directly to Constantinople via Suez.

Add to that the fact that the Pharaoh’s Canal is already built and paid for with the support infrastructure in place, so while there are maintenance costs involved it’s been around long enough for it to be pure profit. So there’s an element of ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’.
 
Not the End: The Empire Under the Laskarids
Introduction
It should’ve been the end. That is what one would’ve expected if they’d surveyed the scene along the Bosporus on the twelfth of April in the year 1204. Constantinople, the Queen of Cities, the Apple of the World’s Desire, the great unbroken citadel of the Romans, that had stood proof against all foes for near a thousand years, had fallen. Foreign troops ran amok through her streets, looting her palaces and churches, raping and murdering her inhabitants.

Prior to the fall of The City, the Venetians and Crusaders had met and agreed on the division of spoils, including the distribution of the empire of which Constantinople was the head. Assuming they achieved their aims, that was a reasonable discussion to have. When the head is cut off, the body dies. It may convulse, and convulse violently for a time, but eventually it falls still. In a near-contemporary example to the Fourth Crusade, and on a much larger scale, Southern Song loyalists fought to the bitter end in a series of holding actions, retreating ever further south before the Mongol advance until nothing remained but the sea, but the writing was on the wall well before the battle of Yamen. The head had fallen years before; the body took longer but it eventually followed.

Although they did not have the example of the Southern Song before them, the Latin forces of the Fourth Crusade, as they established the Latin Empire in Constantinople, might have thought similar of the Roman loyalists setting up shop in the exile states, to the far east in Trebizond, to the west in Epirus, and across the Sea of Marmara to Nicaea. That these were the convulsions of a decapitated body, soon to be stilled. And likely the first to end would be the nearest, the Nicaea of one Theodoros Laskaris.

* * *

Romans are well known for their historians and their history. But like all peoples with their histories, they tend to favor certain periods and characters more than others. For the Romans, the Second Komnenid dynasty is the clear favorite. The number of books, articles, documentaries, and even games of all types on that period literally stands in the tens of thousands, and while Andreas Niketas leads the pack, many other members of that gifted and probably insane family are well known and loved. The series The Komnenoi is a cultural icon, its finale watched live by 41 million people.

The First Komnenid dynasty, because of its connection to the Second, also comes in for a great deal of attention. The series I, Alexios, which was inspired by The Komnenoi and which follows the life of Alexios I Komnenos as a young man, had 9.9 million viewers for its season four premiere.

The Laskarid dynasty thus comes out as the proverbial middle child. (It is also literally the middle child, as the Laskarids were related to the Komnenids.) This is much more of an issue in the popular view. In academia there are many monographs and multi-volume works on the subject, but these are either too technical or verbose to be palatable to the curious general reader, which is deeply unfortunate considering the importance of the Laskarid era to the history of Rhomania. In terms of popularity amongst the general public after publication, the History of the Laskarid Dynasty written by Demetrios Sideros takes the prize, even before he became Emperor Demetrios III.

It was not always this way. The Laskarid period was intensely studied even while it was still continuing, and onward through the Second Komnenid and Drakid periods. Ironically, Demetrios Sideros changed that. His highly-praised history, read from Edinburgh to Vijayanagar, established itself as the dominant narrative of the period and historians from the early Siderid period chose to cover other eras. Furthermore, the security of the Empire after the War of the Roman Succession and the Sideros Reorganization marked a substantial shift from the Laskarid-era, which continued on in many ways past the fall of the Laskarid dynasty through the Second Komnenid and Drakid period.

Demetrios III’s history is still read, both by the general public and scholars, to this day, but there have not been any substantial efforts to create a more modern equivalent. This book then is an effort to fill that gap. It was a chaotic time, shadowed by dangers. It was born in the Fourth Crusade and ended in the War of the Five Emperors, encompassing the Black Death and Timur’s invasion. Yet it also contained Theodoros II Laskaris, who argued that nobility dwelled in the character and not the blood, consciously molding himself into a new Marcus Aurelius as he marched on the Bulgarians and Turks. It also contained Anna I Laskarina, the under-studied Empress who dominated most of the 14th century.

There were more than just the Laskarids themselves. There was St Ioannes of the Turks, a former Sufi mystic still known to many of the Anatolikoi as “The Master” who converted many of the Turks to Orthodoxy through his practices of hesychasm mysticism and poetry. There was also Ikarios, the great Doux who was the terror of the Latins at sea. There was Alexios Philanthropenos, the second ‘White Death’; it is believed that the young Andreas I was reading an account of the campaigns between Philanthropenos and Osman when he was informed of the death of his father Theodoros IV. Riding alongside Philanthropenos was Roger de Flor, whose Catalan Company proved such a potent sword against Rhomania’s foes.

It was a time both dangerous and vibrant, grim and beautiful, like all ages with a cast that spanned the whole gamut of humanity for good and ill.

The Laskarid family ruled first Nicaea and then Rhomania for a total of two hundred and nine years, starting in an era of unprecedented crisis for the Romans. In the twilight of the Laskarid era, as he looked across the dusty field of Kappadokian Kaisareia, Demetrios Komnenos, himself wed to Zoe Laskarina, sister of Theodoros III Laskaris, swore that Rhomania would not perish on his watch. He kept his oath, but only because first the Laskarids had made and kept that very same oath.

And for that, they deserve to be remembered.

-Andreas Stzadas
New Nicaea, New Bithynia
17 September 2019

____________________________________________​

So this is the start of my new project, Not the End: The Empire Under the Laskarids. It is a rewrite of the initial portion of the TL, which is substantially lower in quality and detail than later sections. As you all have likely figured out, the premise is that this is a popular history of the Laskarid era written in the Age of Miracles present.

I don’t have any idea yet exactly how big this project will be. It won’t be at the same level of detail as the rest of the TL, because if so this would be another 1000+ page monster. But it will be a substantial step up from the original product in 2011, where the time period from 1204-1414 was covered in 85 pages, more than 50 of which is set between 1400 and 1414. I have much more research material for the era in question than I did 8 years ago, and I like to think I’ve become a better writer since then.

Unlike the main TL where the voice is deliberately left vague, this is meant to be a history book written ITTL by a TTL historian. This is also a book about the Roman Empire under the Laskarids, so its focus will be on Nicaea/Rhomania, with focus on foreign peoples only when it impacts that narrative. This is to keep this project streamlined.

The main purpose of this project is to remedy the weakness of the 1221-1403 period. However given the chosen format, it will be starting in 1204 and will continue on to the end of the Laskarid dynasty in 1414. The first chapter is all pre-POD because of said format, but that helps to set the stage for the post-POD world. While the POD is set in 1221, the impact of the POD isn’t felt substantially until the 1250s, especially after Theodoros II Laskaris lives past his OTL death date. There will be changes from OTL before then, such as a longer-lived Frederick II ‘Stupor Mundi’ but that is when said changes start getting really noticeable. In short, there will be lots of OTL history particularly in the beginning, but I think that is interesting in its own right and I hope you all agree, and it is the platform on which early TTL history is built. Following on this, earlier chapters will be less detailed as in there I’m largely summarizing OTL history, although perhaps with some tweaks, with a tighter focus once the alternate history becomes more ‘alternate’.

A key point to note in this. The end stage of this project in 1414 will match the main TL state as it was in 1414, however in the interim there will be changes. Some I already have planned and I’m certain others will pop up. This allows me the opportunity to change things that I dislike or disagree with in the original timeline. In the case that the narrative in Not the End disagrees with An Age of Miracles, Not the End should be considered as the ‘canon’ narrative.

Another note is that while this is meant to be a TTL history book, I’m not going to go to the extent of making up TTL writings to cite. That seems excessive to me, although I may indulge in the odd reference to Demetrios Sideros’ history of the Laskarids. So if and when citations show up in the text, these are from my OTL sources.

For the final note, this is not taking the place of the regular Age of Miracles timeline. Not the End: The Empire Under the Laskarids is a special project for ‘Megas Kyr’ patrons on Patreon. The first section is posted here as an interlude in the main narrative available for everyone, and later sections will be available for those ‘Megas Kyr’ patrons. October’s special update will be section 2 of Not the End, with a new update in the series every month. Updates will be at least comparable in size to the regular updates, so ‘Megas Kyr’ will be receiving an extra update every month for their support as before, but now those special updates will be part of this new project.

I hope you all enjoy this new project and thank you to all who have supported me, especially those supporting me on Patreon. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

_______________________________________

Chapter 1: My Mother Anatolia

Theodoros II Laskaris referred to Anatolia as “the holy land, my mother Anatolia”.[1] He was speaking personally for himself, but he could be speaking as well for the entire Laskarid dynasty that sat upon the thrones of Nicaea/Rhomania. They were children of Anatolia, even after Constantinople was won. They may have dwelled in the Queen of Cities, but they were not of it. Their home lay east with their mother.

It was the river valleys of western Anatolia that they loved. From Constantinople, the setting sun fell on the dark Thracian plain. From Nicaea, it glided onto the shimmering waters of Lake Askania. Even the arid central plain or the mighty escarpment of the Pontic Mountains seemed to attract them more than the lands of the west. This was most evident in the lives of Theodoros II Laskaris, Manuel II Laskaris, and Anna I Laskarina, but this pull eastward was present in all of the Laskarids to some extent. The Second Komnenid dynasty continued this trend at its beginning, favoring the palace at Smyrna more than the Blachernae, only ending with the construction of the White Palace by Andreas Niketas.

Per usual for Roman Imperial dynasties, the Laskarids originated in the east. The name is probably derived from the Persian lashkari, meaning warrior, with the official family genealogy stating the Laskarids of Rhomania are descended from the Kurdish Shaddadid noble family.[2] But in the 1170s, when Theodoros Laskaris (later Theodoros I) was born, the family had risen enough to have married into a cadet branch of the ruling Komnenoi.

By 1200, the family was prominent enough that Theodoros was married to Anna, the second daughter of the Emperor Alexios III Angelos. Given that Alexios III had no male heirs, his sons-in-law were the next in line to the throne. While Theodoros was married to the second daughter, the husband of the eldest daughter died before 1204, at which point Theodoros was granted the title of Despot. This is not to be confused with the post-Time of Troubles version of the title. In 1200 Despot was the designation given to the heir apparent.

This good political position promptly became a bad one when the forces of the Fourth Crusade and Alexios III’s nephew also named Alexios arrived at Constantinople in 1203. Alexios III made a brief show of resistance and then promptly fled into Thrace, the power vacuum filled by the new Emperor Alexios IV, Alexios III’s nephew, and Isaakios II Angelos, the father of Alexios IV and the brother of Alexios III. In 1195 Alexios III had deposed and blinded his brother to seize the throne. Considering his relationship with the deposing and now fled uncle/brother of the Emperors, it is unsurprising that Theodoros Laskaris was promptly thrown in prison.

Before September 1203 Theodoros managed to escape from Constantinople so he was not present when the city fell. Alexios IV had been unable to keep the promises he had made to the Crusaders, but his efforts to do so had only alienated the Romans. Tricked by a courtier, he was deposed himself and murdered by the courtier who took the throne, annoyingly for students of this period, as Alexios V, known as Mourtzouphlos for his bushy eyebrows. Isaakios II also, rather conveniently, died at this time.

Frustrated with Alexios IV and with the Romans in general, and greedy for the opulent spoils they expected from the plunder of the Queen of Cities, the soldiers of Christ decided to assault the richest and most populous city in Christendom. Before the attack, they arranged a division of the spoils, both from the city itself and the Roman Empire entirely, expecting all of Rhomania to fall into their hands once the Queen of Cities did.

Contrary to many Roman accounts of later centuries, Pope Innocent III had not sanctioned the assault. Those suspicions come from the argument that for so supposedly powerful a pontiff, Innocent III’s efforts to halt the crusade seem to be rather feeble. Also while he expressed dismay at the destruction of churches in Constantinople, his later joy at the opportunity to unite the churches under himself and his claims that the fall of Constantinople represented God’s will for Catholic supremacy suggested then and now to many Orthodox that his tears, such as they were, were of the crocodilian variety. Certainly the hostile behavior of the Papacy later in the 1200s and beyond to Nicaea/Rhomania seems indicative of a papal conspiracy against the Romans, but there is no proof of any plot during the Fourth Crusade.

However, it is uncontestably clear that clergy in the crusader camp justified the attack on the grounds of the Romans’ heresy. Geoffroy de Villehardouin, one of the leaders and historians of the crusade, wrote that the clergy justified it on the grounds that the likes of Alexios V, who’d betrayed and murdered his lord, could not own land and also pointed out that the Greeks were separate from the Catholic Church, giving crusading indulgences for the fight ahead.[3] Robert of Clari also gave similar rationales, stating the priests accompanying the crusaders preached that the Greeks were the enemies of God and granted absolution for what they were about to do.[4]

After the walls of Constantinople had been breached by the invaders, Alexios V fled from the city and during the night Konstantinos Laskaris, the brother of Theodoros, was offered the throne. Declining the honor considering the dubious circumstances, he also fled the city when it became clear resistance was hopeless, linking up with his brother in Nicaea.

Students of Roman history are familiar with the main three exile states, Trebizond, Epirus, and Nicaea. Trebizond came under the rule of yet another Alexios, the grandson of Andronikos I Komnenos whose brutal murder had marked the end of the First Komnenid dynasty. Nicaea accepted Theodoros Laskaris as its overlord. When he’d first arrived at Nicaea, prior to the fall of Constantinople, the inhabitants had been reluctant to let him enter, as he had been a prisoner of the reigning Emperor in Constantinople. And while Alexios III was still active in Thrace at the time, he might be expected to be annoyed with his son-in-law for not coming to his aid. However after the fall of Constantinople and needing protection against the victorious crusaders, Nicaea accepted Theodoros Laskaris as its ruler. Epirus started slightly later, its ruler Michael Angelos Doukas originally serving the crusader lord Boniface of Montferrat before establishing his own independent redoubt in the mountains west of Boniface’s domain.[5]

The Latins were also divided. Baldwin, Count of Flanders, had been elected by the crusaders and Venetians as the new Latin Emperor, but he faced a serious rival in Boniface of Montferrat. When Baldwin advanced against Alexios III and Alexios V, both of whom were in Thrace after the fall of Constantinople, he encroached on territory promised to Boniface. Enraged, Boniface attacked Baldwin’s forces, although fortunately for the Latins the other crusaders and Venetians quickly intervened. Boniface, denied the Latin Imperial title, became King of Thessaloniki.

Aside from the most well-known four, the Latin Empire, Nicaea, Epirus, and Trebizond, there were many smaller states at the beginning of the Exile period. Corruption and incompetence under the Angeloi had led to fragmentation in the provinces, with local elites taking charge in their districts well before 1204. Aside from the Latins and the Trebizond Komnenoi, Theodoros Laskaris also faced Theodoros Mangaphas in Philadelphia, Sabas Asidenus at Priene, and Leo Gabalas in Rhodes. An Italian adventurer ruled Attaleia and there was also Manuel Maurozomes, the father-in-law of the former Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw I, who’d converted to Christianity while staying in the Constantinople of Alexios III after being forced into exile.

There was no clear hegemon to dominate the area. The biggest players, the Venetian Republic and the Sultanate of Rum, had serious limitations. Venice, while powerful at sea, could not project its might inland. The Rum Sultans certainly did not have that issue, but the 13th century would see the Sultanate plagued by frequent infighting amongst the ruling family. Far worse, its eastern position meant that it was the Sultanate that faced the Mongol peril.

Theodoros’ record against the Latins did not start off well. He was defeated at Poimanenon in 1204 and in early 1205 at Atramyttion by Henry, the brother of Emperor Baldwin I. This was the high point of the crusaders. Boniface advanced into Hellas, capturing Alexios III, and simultaneously more crusaders invaded the Peloponnesus, while Baldwin captured, blinded, and later executed Alexios V.

At the same time, Tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria was seizing border territories in Thrace, much to the annoyance of Baldwin I, who rebuffed an alliance with the Tsar who’d accepted the authority of the Pope in exchange for a crown. Now annoyed himself, Kaloyan incited a rebellion amongst the Romans of Thrace. Baldwin marched on Adrianople, one of the cities which had expelled their Latin garrisons, and besieged it. Before he could retake it, Kaloyan arrived with a larger army and attacked, annihilating the Latins and capturing Baldwin I, who would die as the Tsar’s prisoner.

Henry of Flanders immediately wheeled out of Asia to shore up the disastrous situation in Europe, giving Theodoros a much needed respite. Henry took the Latin throne as Emperor, battling back against Kaloyan who turned on his Greek allies, who then sought the aid of Henry against the Tsar.

Henry’s distraction was Theodoros’ gain. The initial Latin assault into Anatolia had badly damaged Mangaphas’ strength and Theodoros was able to seize him. Sabas Asidenus was defeated later in 1205 when a more formidable threat appeared on the horizon. Kaykhusraw had been restored as Seljuk Sultan and invaded with his father-in-law Maurozomes, but Theodoros managed to defeat the pair as well, although Maurozomes kept some border towns as a vassal of his son-in-law.

The constraints of war and diplomacy meant crossing the religious divide. Alexios Komnenos’ brother David ruled Paphlagonia to the east of Theodoros’ domain and Henry allied with him against Nicaea. When Theodoros tried to march on David, Henry attacked. The first assault was beaten back, but the second in the winter of 1206-07 took Nikomedia and Kyzikos. But then Theodoros persuaded Kaloyan to launch another offensive against Thrace, and to beat off the Bulgarians Henry was forced to sign a truce with Theodoros, returning the two cities.

The chaos of the past few years finally started to wind down. Boniface of Montferrat was killed by the Bulgarians in the summer of 1207 and Kaloyan died a few months while attempting to take Thessaloniki. Meanwhile Kaykhusraw took Attaleia from its freebooting Italian lord.

The year before the Patriarch of Constantinople Ioannes Kamateros had died. Although Theodoros had invited him to Nicaea, he had refused and remained in Thrace. In Constantinople there were hopes amongst the Orthodox population of electing a new Orthodox Patriarch, as in the earlier crusader states there had been parallel Latin and Orthodox patriarchs, but the Latins in Constantinople blocked the effort.[6]

Instead Theodoros Laskaris appointed a new Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael IV, although for obvious reasons Michael stayed in Nicaea. His first official act as Patriarch was to crown Theodoros Laskaris as Emperor on Easter 1208.

While the Laskarid domains in 1208 were rather small for an Empire, there was an Imperial air in the diversity of the inhabitants. Aside from the Greeks of western Anatolia, there were Armenians in the Troad, and various Turks and Latins in Nicaean service. Many Seljuk Turks, losing out in the various struggles for power in the Sultanate, would make their way to Nicaea. Nikephoros Rimpsas was a Christianized Turk and high-ranking military officer under Theodoros II, while the prominent landowning families of Amiras and Amourasanes show by their names their Islamic ancestry.[7]

The reverse was also the case. As already shown, Manuel Maurozomes took service under his son-in-law the Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw I, his family continuing to do so for decades afterward. The court at Konya/Ikonion “maintained a Greek chancery” and in negotiations with the Kingdom of Cyprus in 1216 used a Greek official as the Seljuk ambassador and conducted the talks in Greek.[8] Michael Palaiologos would, decades later, lead a contingent of Greek troops as part of the Seljuk army against Mongol invaders.

During the early 1200s, this concept of switching loyalties from Rum to Nicaea or vice versa worked both ways, the direction dependent on the circumstances of the individual in question. The switching of loyalties was also common in Europe, where local elites might change allegiances from the Latins to Epirus to Bulgaria or back around the other way. Perhaps the most prominent defectors in these early years would be Alexios and Isaakios Laskaris, brothers of Theodoros I, who defected to the Latin Emperor Robert of Courtenay after their nephew-in-law Ioannes III Doukas Vatatzes took the throne of Nicaea in 1221. Later in the century none other than the Seljuk Sultan Kay-Kawos II would enter Nicaean service, preferring that to facing the Mongol terror.[9]

However the system of fluid loyalties, while vastly complicating the fluid geopolitical landscape by making territories flop back and forth between the competing polities, also made the rise of a resurgent Nicaean/Roman hegemon easier. Once Nicaea/Rhomania managed to establish itself as the big fish, in an admittedly still not-very-large pond, there was a precedence for elites to transfer loyalties. Greatly helping this would be the lack of an alternate ‘outer hegemon’, as conflicts in Italy closed that avenue of support for anti-Nicaean forces, while the Mongols smashed the Seljuk state but never filled the power vacuum themselves. During the late 1200s, many Turks could look on the past for justification in choosing to serve the illustrious Emperors rather than bowing and scraping to the parvenu Osman.

Latins were also present in the Empire of Nicaea, despite the origins of the Laskarid state. Latin mercenaries were, if nothing else, exceptional fighters, and they came with the added bonus that every Latin mercenary in Nicaean service was one not available to the Latin emperors. Even as early as late 1210 this was a large enough concern that Pope Innocent III wished to excommunicate Latin soldiers going to Nicaea for better pay than they could receive in Constantinople.[10]

However in 1208, despite his elevation, Theodoros I’s position was still shaky and the geopolitical situation highly fluid. In 1209 the Emperor Henry of Flanders marched into the Kingdom of Thessaloniki, where Latin nobles had taken advantage of the death of Boniface and the infancy of his son, enforcing his authority over the region. Further to the south the Lordship of Athens under Otto de la Roche and the Principality of Achaea under Geoffroy de Villehardouin, the nephew of the historian, were well established by this time, although fighting against native Greeks were still ongoing in certain parts of Achaea, such as Monemvasia which never fell to Latin rule.[11]

Alarmed by Henry’s power, Michael of Epirus agreed to become a vassal of Constantinople, also ransoming his captive cousin Alexios III Angelos. The former Emperor then went to the Seljuk Sultan, who was now allied with Henry against Nicaea, while Theodoros I was now allied with Boril of Bulgaria.

In 1211 Kaykhusraw, with Alexios III in tow, invaded Nicaea. Of the two thousand men Theodoros mustered, eight hundred were Latin mercenaries, and they were recognized as the best part of his army. At Antioch-on-the-Meander the two armies met in a bloody battle in which the outnumbered Nicaeans, particularly the Latin cavalry, inflicted heavy losses on their Turkish foes. But the counterattacking Seljuks annihilated the Latin contingent and were pressing hard on the retreating Nicaean troops when Theodoros and Kaykhusraw met in single combat. The official Laskarid story, as detailed by Demetrios Sideros, is that Kaykhusraw was winning, unhorsing Theodoros and then ordering his attendants to tie up the Emperor. Momentarily distracted, the Sultan was caught completely off guard when Theodoros slashed the rear legs of the Sultan’s mount, which reared up in pain and threw off its rider. Unhorsed himself, he was promptly beheaded by Theodoros and his head put on a pole, at which point the Turks panicked and fled.[12]

Alexios III was captured in the aftermath and it seems there was little love lost between father and son-in-law. The former Emperor would be confined to a monastery where he would live out the rest of his days. And while Theodoros signed a peace with Kaykhusraw’s successor Kay-Kawos I[13] which would keep the eastern frontier of Nicaea secure for decades, his army had been very badly damaged.

Taking advantage of Theodoros’ weakness and having already defeated a Bulgarian attack, Henry invaded Anatolia in the fall. In a battle at the Rhyndacus River, the Latins again triumphed over the Nicaean army, seizing much of northwest Anatolia. However Henry also suffered from a lack of manpower and was unable to push any further, so the mutually exhausted Theodoros and Henry signed a truce in 1212.

Two years later with his west secure Laskaris marched on David Komnenos who ruled in Paphlagonia, resuming the offensive that had been interrupted by Henry back in 1206. This time he was successful, taking David’s capital of Pontic Herakleia. The prince fled to Sinope where he was killed by the Seljuk Sultan Kay-Kawos I who also seized the city, defeating an effort by Alexios Komnenos of Trebizond to stop him and then following it up by forcing Alexios into vassalage. Reduced to a coastal enclave in northeastern Anatolia, the ‘Empire of Trebizond’ would be a minor player uninvolved from now on in the struggles for power over Constantinople.

To the west other players were also being forced out of the great game. In early 1215 Michael Angelos Doukas of Epirus was assassinated, a fitting end for an undoubtedly capable man but also an extremely untrustworthy one to call as an ally. He was succeeded by his half-brother, unhelpfully named Theodoros Doukas, driving out his nephew, Michael’s son, in the process. Beginning his reign with a very successful attack on Bulgaria, he seized Ohrid as the first step on the march to Thessaloniki. Emperor Henry marched out to oppose him but died at Thessaloniki in the spring of 1216.

When Boniface died, he left an infant son as his successor to the throne of Thessaloniki. When Henry died there wasn’t even that much. The nobles of the Latin Empire elected Henry’s brother-in-law Peter of Courtenay, husband of Henry’s sister Yolanda, both of whom were in France at the time. Yolanda came by ship to Constantinople but Peter preferred to march an army overland through Epirus from Dyrrachium. He likely wished to impose his will on the troublesome Theodoros Doukas but the Epirote ruler proved far too wily, ambushing and destroying the Latin army on the march, at which point Peter of Courtenay disappears from history.

Yolanda thereby became Empress-Regent of the Latin Empire, a precarious position albeit one made easier after she married a daughter to Theodoros Laskaris. Just a little over a decade old, the Latin Empire was already so dubious a prize that her eldest son declined the honor, the throne eventually passing to her second son Robert of Courtenay, who only arrived in Constantinople in 1221.

By this point Theodoros Laskaris had outlived three Latin Emperors, two Tsars of Bulgaria, a Seljuk Sultan, and Michael Doukas of Epirus. It had been touch-and-go at times, particularly in the first few years and during Kaykhusraw’s invasion, but he bequeathed to his successor a state that comprised roughly the northwestern third of Anatolia.

His successor was his son-in-law Ioannes III Doukas Vatatzes, the husband of his daughter Irene. He would face many challenges during his long reign, starting with his resentful uncles-in-law. Theodoros Doukas of Epirus would be a constant problem while in the east the Mongols were soon to make their debut. But Ioannes III would face those challenges with courage and skill, soon to be aided by his co-emperor, his son who was born shortly after his grandfather’s death and who was named after him, and who would eventually succeed him as Theodoros II Laskaris.


[1] Dimiter Angelov, The Byzantine Hellene: The Life of Emperor Theodoros Laskaris and Byzantium in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 37.
[2] Angelov, 17.
[3] Geoffroy de Villehardouin. “The Conquest of Constantinople,” in Chronicles of the Crusades, trans. Margaret Shaw (London: Penguin Books, 1963), 85.
[4] Robert of Clari, “La Conquete de Constantinople,” in Chronicles of the Crusades: Eyewitness Accounts of the wars between Christianity and Islam, ed. Elizabeth Hallam (Godalming, Surrey: Bramley Books, 1997), 220.
[5] For a more detailed account of the following political narrative, see Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 710-19.
[6] Michael Angold, “After the Fourth Crusade: The Greek Rump States and the Recovery of Byzantium,” in The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, ed. Jonathan Shepard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 734.
[7] Angelov, 52, 253-54.
[8] Angelov, 53.
[9] Angold, 754.
[10] Angelov, 30.
[11] IOTL Monemvasia fell to the Prince of Achaea William II in 1248. This is one of the early divergences ITTL.
[12] The single combat is from OTL. See Savvides, Alexis G.C. (1991). "Acropolites and Gregoras on the Byzantine-Seljuk confrontation at Antioch-on-the Maeander (A. D. 1211). English translation and commentary" (PDF). Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü Tarih Araştırmaları Dergisi. 15 (26): 93–101.
[13] Also seen this rendered as Kaykaus.
 
Dang @Basileus444, you already have a huge burden in planning and mapping out the 17th century to modern times, its probably gonna be really hard to partake in another project while you're are at it, do you plan to put the current story in hiatus to focus on reworking the 1st parts of the story? You have a schedule for this?
 
The First Komnenid dynasty, because of its connection to the Second, also comes in for a great deal of attention. The series I, Alexios, which was inspired by The Komnenoi and which follows the life of Alexios I Komnenos as a young man, had 9.9 million viewers for its season four premiere.

The Laskarid dynasty thus comes out as the proverbial middle child. (It is also literally the middle child, as the Laskarids were related to the Komnenids.) This is much more of an issue in the popular view. In academia there are many monographs and multi-volume works on the subject, but these are either too technical or verbose to be palatable to the curious general reader, which is deeply unfortunate considering the importance of the Laskarid era to the history of Rhomania. In terms of popularity amongst the general public after publication, the History of the Laskarid Dynasty written by Demetrios Sideros takes the prize, even before he became Emperor Demetrios III.
The first Komnenoi gets more attentinon that the Laskarid? That's really interesting to hear given that the Laskarid's literally brought the Empire back from the brink. It's obvious that Theodoros II and Alexios I probably get all the attention but who else in the 2 dynasties gets coverage? And when will Theodoros II get his TV show TTL?
 
Looking forward to these special updates! Didn’t realise there was such much OTL on the early Laskarid period, Wikipedia is sorely lacking.
 
The series The Komnenoi is a cultural icon, its finale watched live by 41 million people.
What would have been the series finale? Ioannes VI’s abdication would be the official end of the dynasty, but Alexeia I’s last stand would be ending with a bang.

Will follow this with interest!
 
What would have been the series finale? Ioannes VI’s abdication would be the official end of the dynasty, but Alexeia I’s last stand would be ending with a bang.

Will follow this with interest!
The crowning of the Triumvirate should work. It marked the end of the endless wars and the start of the recovery under the Fifth Empire, and coincided with Lady Theodora (the last Komnenos with a good dynastic tie to the last proper Komnenoi on the Imperial Throne) formally relinquishing her claims and giving it to the Drakids. A fitting conclusion to the time of the Komnenoi.
 
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The Despotates will be the framework on which a Federal Empire will be built, although I’m envisioning two types of Federal Empires. The first is a tight Federal Empire, similar to the OTL US, typified by TTL Russia. The second is a loose Federal Empire, typified by the Roman Empire plus Despotates, which may look something like a Roman EU: freedom of movement and trade within the union, an effort to maintain an united diplomatic front against the world, but with each region generally autonomous, perhaps voting for and sending delegates to a ‘Grand Imperial Senate’ that covers pan-Empire legislation even while there are regional Senates that cover legislation for each individual unit.

This is far in the future, looking from 1635.
Instead of Despotates they should be reformed back into something akin to the Roman Dominate System that Diocletian implemented. This worked well for the Empire until the Arabs invaded. I see this as more of the natural course than an EU type thingy. A tight federal Empire was basically what the late Antiquity Empire essentially was. There were Praetorian Prefects, Diocese run by Vicars, Provincial Governors, and then the local government. Voting power is ridiculous for the Romans especially since the Senate has been so far removed from power for so long. The collective memory of Venice and the Old Republic's failure would make such as system seem ridiculous to the average Roman. This idea would be anachronism for the Romans of this era. They've been an absolute monarchy for nearly 2,000 years and have survived as one of the oldest continuous states in the history of man rivaled by only China in this regard.

It’s a tossup between the Romans and the Lotharingians. The latter have a lot of river gunboats as part of their defense plan.
Are ttl's Lotharingian's basically a successful Burgundy that managed to unify into an actual Kingdom?

mega-eastern power ends up leaving the door open for someone worse from the Roman perspective. So the best that can be expected in the long-term is to establish a good defensive border and find a way to ‘live beside’ the mega-eastern power.
This is something that the Romans took so long to realize. This almost happened under Maurice and Anastasius I. The Roman Persians wars if seen as a continuous struggle would be 742 years of conflict. Maybe instead of the 100 Years War, people will be studying the 750 Years war between the Romans and Persians.
How exactly is Heraclius and Maurice remembered by the Romans? How come there has been no Heraclius II? How is the legacy of Augustus taught in Rhomania? Is there a tv show like ROME that depicts the rise of the Empire? What kind of role does the Orthodox Church play in Byzantine Society?

Oh, it’ll get disputed alright. When I made that note about the “Greater West” I also mentioned that a lot of Latins think the West doesn’t include even Rhomania, much less Ethiopia. And even those Latins that include Rhomania would exclude the Ethiopians, although they may call the Ethiopians “a special African case, uplifted from their normal level by substantial Greek influence”.
This is kind of funny since Ancient Greece is considered one of the foundations of Western Civiliation. And Ethiopia is one of the oldest civilizations in history. Who exactly do the Romans think are Latins? Are they the Romance speaking peoples of the post Roman Kingdoms in Western Europe?

How Frenchified is England? France historically was wealthier and had a larger population. The King and the nobles were Norman’s who spoke French as well. So is the center of power in England-France in France due to its larger population and resources?
 
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