Fringes of Empire
The Fringes of Empire: Nile, East, and South Africa
By the time of the Nile floods of 1634, the Egyptian army was laying siege to the city of Asyut. While the city was well-fortified by Idwait standards, support from Malik Hassan VIII was minimal as he threw all of his efforts into destroying the grandees who’d tried to assassinate him for failing to protect their estates north of Asyut. The Malik is enthusiastic about this, unsurprisingly given the Idwait history of grandees murdering their Malik, but much less so about tangling with the Egyptian army. While little larger than it was during the days of the Great Uprising, the army of the Despots now is far better supplied, armed, organized, and led. The wild fury that had overrun many an Egyptian gun line during the Great Uprising now flies apart under a hail of disciplined musketry.
Asyut holds out for some time, mainly due to the flooded Nile seriously hampering siege operations, before capitulating on terms that spares the inhabitants the massacre/slavery that the Egyptians have done to the countryside in the north. Onward Despot Andreas II presses. While he faces local resistance from the inhabitants who elect to fight rather than flee, it is usually unorganized and purely local. There is no sign of the Malik. With the Idwait grandees’ lands concentrated north of Aswan, Hassan VIII has no intention of expending any sweat defending the region.
While the countryside is ravaged with more massacres, the bloodshed is somewhat less mainly because more Idwaits manage to flee. Many make it to the towns of Qena and Qus, both with strong enough defenses to force terms on a similar level to Asyut. North of Aswan, the Egyptian army finally clashes with a force of Hassan’s in battle, which the Egyptians win. However the Malik had only wanted to buy himself time to strip Aswan of anything valuable before retiring south of the First Cataract. Aswan capitulates as soon as the Egyptian artillery train arrives, getting the Asyut treatment.
When Andreas II rides into Aswan, the Nile will soon enter its 1635 floods. He is at the pre-Uprising border, the river barges that have been supplying the Egyptian army can’t proceed past the Cataract, and it is clear by the fortifications Hassan is throwing up at the Cataract that the level of opposition is about to increase drastically. At this stage the Malik has crushed the grandees that Andreas II didn’t destroy.
Hassan nevertheless knows that in an all-out war, he will lose. He had started this conflict with the belief that the Ottomans were about to overrun the Nile Delta. That is clearly not happening. And to the south an Ethiopian army is also pressing up the Nile, although much slower than the Egyptians. But he has a major weapon, his land is still vast and rugged and quite poor. Conquering it will cost far more than it is worth.
The Negusa Nagast of Ethiopia agrees. The new King of Kings is Kwestantinos III, son of Tewodros I who died in January 1635. A few years younger than the Empress Jahzara, he is her first cousin. During a reception in Constantinople to honor the announcement of the new Negusa, Jahzara had asked the Ethiopian ambassador if Kwestantinos had gotten any stronger since that time she beat him arm-wrestling when they were children. It is reported that Demetrios III never looked more mortified in his reign than at that moment.
Kwestantinos III at that point is just south of the Sixth Cataract, facing a fortified barrier thrown up by an Idwait army commanded by Hassan VIII’s son and heir. The region between the First and Sixth Cataract comprises the old Kingdom of Makuria, one of the kingdoms of the Ethiopian Empire prior to its collapse in the Great Uprising. On the one hand, its loss was an insult and humiliation. But on the other, Kwestantinos has retaken the city of Soba and the Nile up to the Sixth Cataract, the most valuable bits of Makuria, while the rest had been of little value even when it was an Ethiopian vassal kingdom. He would rather put his military forces into more profitable ventures.
In early 1636, the treaty of Aswan is signed between the Idwait Malik-ate, the Empire of Ethiopia, and the Despotate of Egypt (with Roman approval). In it, the Ethiopians and Egyptians keep all of the land they have seized. For Egypt this includes the ports of Marsa Alam and Berenike, both taken by the Egyptian navy in early 1635, which leaves Suakin the only outlet for the Malik-ate on the Red Sea. Hassan’s realm now extends from the First to Sixth Cataracts.
However Hassan has reason to be pleased. Firstly, he was not destroyed which is always nice, and in a way his position has improved. He rules a much smaller realm, but one where he is less likely to have his throat slit in the night and where he can reasonably expect to pass his throne on to his son. That is worth quite a bit. Also the arrears of tribute are canceled and no more demanded; it is apparent to everyone that they cannot be paid, so there is no point to demand them other than to destabilize Hassan’s position. And Hassan manages to play up his importance in keeping the Idwaits quiet and not causing trouble.
While the Treaty of Aswan marks the end of the Nile War as it is called (although the events are connected to those of the Great Latin War, the conflicts are viewed as separate in the historical record) it is not quite the end of bloodshed in this corner of the world. Many of the inhabitants in the towns that surrendered to the Egyptians on terms were refugees from the countryside who now have nothing to which to return. Their land has been confiscated in their absence, many plots given to ‘remainers’, Nile German settlers, or held by the Despot to later dole out to settlers.
Destitute they march south to what remains of the Idwait Malik-ate, hunger and raiders carrying off many in these sad forlorn caravans. When the survivors stagger across the border, there is some charity on hand to aid them. But even where there is the will, and that is by no means guaranteed, the resources are often not there to help. No one knows how many of those who walked these marches died in the process, but it is said that no vulture in these lands went hungry that year.
Those carried off by raiders would end their days in slavery, and slavery is something that is well associated with Africa by this point. The slave trade is a vital part of the Ethiopian economy. Slaves work the kaffos plantations that produce Ethiopia’s primary export to Rhomania, the largest trade partner by an appreciable margin. The roads, bridges, and harbor facilities that are built are mainly done with slave labor owned by the Ethiopian monarchy. Aside from the slaves that Ethiopia exports to Rhomania, Ethiopian merchants sell slaves to many buyers across the Indian Ocean.
Many of Ethiopia’s slaves come from raids into the African interior and said raids are the main drivers for Ethiopian expansion in that direction. However more come from the Ethiopian outposts along the Swahili coast, which also furnish gold and ivory, other valued trading commodities in the Indian Ocean economy.
The Swahili coast is comprised of several small city-states, most of which are vassals to either Ethiopia or Oman, although some of the larger city-states have a sort of ‘pocket hegemony’ over smaller cities in their vicinity while still being a vassal to either Ethiopia or Oman. The chief city-states are Mogadishu, Mombasa, Pemba, Zanzibar, and Kilwa, with the first three answering to Oman and the later pair to Ethiopia.
The Comoros Islands in contrast are independent, ruled by a king although local chiefs hold most of the power in their domains. The Comoros Islands have managed to stay independent because they mark the boundary line between the Ethiopian/Omani dominion and that of the Spanish to the south. Both parties would rather see the Comoros independent than fall into the other’s hands so the islanders are able to play both sides against each other. It is a delicate act but one they have played quite well.
The Spanish portion of the Swahili coast looks similar to that in the north, with local city-states paying tribute to the non-local imperial power. Inhambane and Mozambique are the chief vassal cities, while the city of Sofala is the seaport of the Kingdom of Mutapa located in the interior. Sofala doesn’t answer to the Spanish but Spanish merchants are highly prominent in the seaport, eager for the products of the gold mines.
For the Swahili cities it makes little difference on the ground whether one’s overlord is in Gonder, Muscat, or Lisbon, as all three follow the same pattern. In each city there is a fortified factory (trading post) where the Imperial merchants stay, the head of the factory also serving as an ‘advisor’ for the local ruler. Internal affairs and trade with the interior, a vital component in procuring the demanded trade goods, are managed by the locals while the Imperials dominate the seaborne trade, the overlord also receiving a set amount of trade goods in tribute. So long as the trade and tribute flows, the locals are left to manage their own affairs.
Trade between the cities is managed by the local merchants and even the oceanic traffic depends heavily on Swahili sailors, recruited by all three Imperial powers, although in each case the Swahili earn a lower salary than those from the metropole. Another source of manpower is the growing number of offspring from Imperial-local couplings, especially prominent in the Spanish cities. These Afro-Hispanics help crew many a Spanish galleon in Indian waters.
The island of Madagascar is independent, although Malagasy merchants and sailors play an important role in the local trade economy. Madagascar is split into multiple petty kingdoms often battling one another, leaving power vacuums. Into those power vacuums enter African, Indian, and European renegades, creating what are known as ‘pirate towns’ or ‘pirate republics’, small communities of freebooters that pirate naval traffic across the Indian Ocean, particularly menacing European ships on their homeward journeys around the Cape.
As the Romans get more interested in keeping an eye on the Cape, there have been talks of subsidizing the pirates as a tool against the Latins. No Roman ships need round the Cape. But the pirates are not easily controlled and more than one Roman ship traveling between Taprobane and the Eastern Katepanates have been nabbed off Sumatra by them. To all the Imperial powers affected, the pirate raids are just pinpricks, but painful pinpricks nonetheless.
At this point the Mascarene Islands are still uninhabited although they are known to Latin traders who often stop off on the islands to provision. Aside from humans hunting, the introduction of new animals has devastated local animals such as the famous flightless birds like the dodoes, amongst others. The practice comes from the Caribbean, where Latins would seed an island with populations of pigs and/or chickens who would reproduce naturally, allowing future sailors to swing by and take some to supply their larders.
The Cape area has often fulfilled the same function, although there provisions are gained by trading with the local Khoikhoi. Cattle-based pastoralists, the Khoikhoi are happy to trade with the Europeans although they have gotten far savvier as to the value of the trade goods offered over the century of exchange. There have been attempts on the part of the Europeans to just steal the cows but usually these have ended in miserable failure. In one case the Khoikhoi simply called the stolen cows, who obediently turned and headed back to their masters. In another, the Khoikhoi directed a cattle stampede at the would-be thieves. Much as in the rest of Africa, Europeans have discovered that it is easier and less risky to trade with than raid the Africans.
Unfortunately for the Khoikhoi, South Africa is one of the few parts of the continent that aren’t murderously unhealthy for white men. One of the Triune commercial initiatives undertaken to improve the economy during Henri II’s early reign was thus to set up a colony at the Cape. With Triune farmers there, the Cape could provide more victuals for Triune ships than that procured from the Khoikhoi trade. The Khoikhoi naturally object; traders are good but neighbors are bad. However the Triunes arrive in greater numbers than the initial Portuguese sailors of a century past and they are equipped with far deadlier flintlocks than the earlier matchlocks.
Looking at a map, it seems surprising that it took a century of Europe-India seaborne traffic for one of the Latin powers to establish a settlement at the Cape. However the Cape is named the Cape of Storms, strongly suggesting the expected hazards for shipping. Furthermore the Portuguese, the first to arrive, set up camp at Mozambique. While far less healthy than the Cape, the gold and slaves of Sofala were far more valuable trade goods than the beef and leather from the Khoikhoi. Additionally the island of St Helena, where fruit trees have been planted and chickens introduced, makes for another valuable victualling point, which while frequently visited by all who ply this trade route have yet to claim it.
The establishment of the Triune colony at the Cape thus does little more than raise a few eyebrows; it is hardly perceived as a serious threat. With the Mascarenes and St Helena still open to all, re-provisioning is hardly an issue. And in addition, the Triune settlers soon display a willingness to trade their farm products for desired manufactures regardless of the seller’s origin. The settlers are only supposed to trade with Triune merchants with Triune wares, but King’s Harbor is very far away. The way to India is still wide open.