An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

The Jewel of the World
The Jewel of the World: The Empire of Vijayanagar

“Vijayanagar the Magnificent, Vijayanagar the Splendid!
Vijayanagar of the Seven Walls, City of Victories!
Gather all good and beautiful things,
And you have glimpsed the shadow of Vijayanagar.”
-Andreas Kineas, Assistant to the Roman ambassador to Vijayanagar, 1636​

Vijayanagar means the City of Victories, an appropriate name for the mighty metropolis that rules over the richest empire on the planet. At more than 700,000 inhabitants it is the largest city on Earth, overshadowing Luoyang and Constantinople, its only real rivals. It is said, with only slight exaggeration, that every tongue on Earth can be heard within its seven circuits of walls. Certainly it dazzles all who lay eyes on her.

The city is immense, with massive temple complexes that incorporate architectural elements from the various strands that make up the fabric of the empire. The great water tank works that support agriculture in the surrounding countryside also inspire respect. Being an architect or engineer is an important occupation in the great metropolis.

The Emperor Venkata Raya I, scion of the Sangama dynasty that founded the empire near three centuries past, rules the greatest Imperial edifice that southern India has ever seen. From Cape Comorin in the south it stretches to the heights of the Vindhyas in the north, its eastern frontier marked by the Wainganga, Pranahita, and Godavari Rivers. There are tributary states that exist beyond those bounds, but their submission is intermittent. However the lands thus inscribed are firmly under the authority of Vijayanagar.

Given the vastness of the empire and the wide variety of landscapes and people, it is not feasible for it all to be directly ruled by Venkata Raya. The lands of the empire are therefore divided into three tiers. There are first the lands ruled directly by the Emperor. Then there are the lands granted to Nayaks, who rule their holdings as feudal vassals in exchange for providing a set amount of troops on demand. Their holdings are not heritable and revert to the state on the death of the Nayak, with no guarantee that the heir will receive a holding. Admittedly, oftentimes they do, but it is common practice to give them an equivalent holding in a separate region of the empire to avoid families building up local power bases. Finally there are the vassal states proper, who render regular tribute and troops, but which are heritable by the vassal’s family. These are concentrated mainly on the northern and northeast fringes of the empire, with the Roman Kephalate of Surat considered one of these vassals in Vijayanagar’s eyes.

This setup is often called a ‘mixed empire’, with a centralized core surrounded by a large slew of territories ruled intermediately through vassals or tributaries. The Empire of Ethiopia is a much smaller and poorer variant of the same model. The centralized core of Vijayanagar is concentrated on the southern Deccan and the lands of southern India and by themselves provide the bulk of the wealth and power that undergirds the empire.

It is a wealth that staggers all those who see it. It is estimated by the Roman ambassador in 1636 that Venkata Raya’s annual revenues are 4-5 times that of Demetrios III’s, with no one familiar with Vijayanagar arguing those figures. That revenue comes from a variety of sources.

Vijayanagar is sometimes known as the Jewel of the World, an apt title. Prior to their discovery in Africa and Terranova, with the exception of a small seam in Borneo, every diamond in the Old World comes from Vijayanagar, from the great mines at Golkonda. This resource is guarded most assiduously by the Emperors; for any Raja of the empire to enter the citadel of Golkonda is an automatic death sentence. It is not just diamonds; all kinds of gems, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and more flow from the mines, and it is the flow of gems that gives the Vijayanagara their deserved reputation for glittering wealth.

The jewels are what catch the eye, but the real engine of the Vijayanagar economy (outside of agriculture which by necessity is the bulk of any pre-industrial economy) is the textile industry. Cotton is cultivated in prodigious quantities and worked by hundreds of thousands of textile workers. South India already had a well-developed textile industry but it has been reinforced in the last few decades by Bengali immigrants bringing their own skills and expertise. The 1636 ambassadorial figures also estimate that Vijayanagar produces 5 times more cotton textiles than Rhomania does of all textiles combined, and Vijayanagar also produces silks.

These cotton fabrics are the main export, with bolts being used as currency from East Africa to Indonesia. The cotton is sold as bolts or as clothing, either plain or dyed with the many dyes that the empire also produces. Textiles dyed and decorated by the workshops of Vijayanagar and Tirulnevi are especially renowned for their high quality.

Another major export of the empire is metalworks, particularly from Bidar, the former capital of the Deccani Sultans and still a major city with 90,000 inhabitants. The people there produce all sorts of products from cannons and muskets to finely inlaid metal screens.

Trade is also a major part of the economy. There is the internal trade; feeding the City of Victories alone is no small task, it being twice the size of Constantinople and not being a seaside city. Coastal traffic between the various ports, including between the east and west coasts, is thick, the ships crewed and owned by Vijayanagara natives, typically Tamil and Malayalam.

Those two peoples are vital to the running of Vijayanagara trade and maritime traffic. Tamil and Malayalam merchants are prominent in all the port cities and they often act as bankers too. Roman Ship Lords are frequent clients of them in that capacity, and successful foreign merchants have extensive contacts and contracts with their merchant houses. Much of the Taprobane shipyards were constructed with the support of loans from Tamil and Malayalam families.

Foreign merchants, be they Ethiopian, Roman, Latin, or natives of the east, simply have to trade with Vijayanagar. Its products are highly valued and the moneys from merchant houses are key to financing the whole Indian Ocean trade network. The seaports of the Empire also provide vital manpower. Just as in Africa, it is common practice for western traders to hire native sailors to bolster their crews, who by this stage are universally known as lascars. They come from all over the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia and are hired by all parties, even for regular warships when needed, but the majority come from Vijayanagar’s seaports. Given the death rates from diseases for European crews, lascars are essential for European trade in the east. Even the Romans who can draw on native manpower from the territories under their control frequently have recourse to Vijayanagara lascars, given their deserved reputation for seamanship and gunnery.

Just as a Latin or Roman ship trading in Nellore or Kollam may have a diverse crew, so Vijayanagar has a diverse population. Aside from the many peoples who are native to the lands of the empire, no less than 40,000 Rajputs serve in the army, either as Nayaks or retainers to Nayaks. There is no greater honor than to receive a badge of office from the Chakravartin, the Universal Emperor.

Although the Vijayanagara Emperors are firmly Hindu, there is a noticeable Muslim minority, a legacy of the conquest of the Deccan. Islam is tolerated, with mosques and madrasas present even in the City of Victories, with the general rule being that Muslims inside the Empire are alright, although Muslims outside the Empire are typically viewed less favorably. There are many Nayaks who are Muslim, practicing their faith but still serving the Protector of Cows and Brahmins with the cavalry demanded by their investiture.

One factor behind this is that the Islam of the Deccan, with its long contact with Hinduism, has syncretized somewhat with the dominant Hindu faith, much to the horror of more orthodox Muslims from Arabia or the Ottoman Empire. As can easily be attested from viewing any of the mansions of Muslim nobles in the capital, the strictures against human pictorial representation are ignored, often spectacularly in a sensual manner. It is not entirely one way. Festivals that originate in one faith, honoring a holy man, can be celebrated by participants of both, and Sufi Fakirs are recognized as holy men by Hindus who respect their ascetic lifestyle.

The diversity is not just from India’s diverse peoples. Vijayanagar lures many who are not born within the bounds of the subcontinent. Vijayanagar has a ‘Yavana quarter’ for the Romans (and a few Georgians, Ethiopians, and Japanese who’ve been lumped in with them) who have taken up service there, and another foreign quarter for Latins. Most are soldiers, hiring out as mercenaries in service for the Emperor, but some are artisans or officials, drawn by the pay, opportunity, and tolerant atmosphere. In 1640, a fifth of all heartland-born Romans in the east are in the service of the Vijayanagara, not Roman, Emperors.

These immigrants usually come with the intention of staying, intermarrying with the locals and starting families, with many converting to the faiths of their in-laws (90%+ of the immigrants are male). Some of these are very successful, even those who do remain Orthodox. In one case, a Roman convert to Hinduism is a Nayak with a contingent of 2000 horsemen under his banner. The stream of Roman immigrants increases for a short while after the conclusion of Roman participation in the War of the Roman Succession, as discharged Roman soldiers with a taste for the military life travel to Vijayanagar to work as mercenaries.

The Vijayanagar military is noted by many visitors. While the forces of the Nayaks and the vassal states still have a medieval look to them, the regular forces are more modern, with regiments of flintlock-armed infantry backed by field artillery. Uniformed and disciplined, they are a formidable force. One regiment of the military that always catches foreigners’ attention is the so-called Amazon Guard, an all-female regiment including officers which is equipped and uniformed like the other regiments. Often used for palace security, Venkata Raya has expanded its size and derives much pleasure from using it against persons or groups that have particularly annoyed him. Most foreigners have a hard time taking the women seriously at first, but those who’ve seen them in action cannot find fault with their strength, bravery, or skill at arms. [1]

The Vijayanagara navy is also something being noted by foreigners. When the Romans first arrived in India, the Vijayanagara were at a naval nadir due to rebellions in the coastal cities but that issue has been rectified. Drawing on a large and skilled maritime manpower pool, the Vijayanagara are able to field an impressive and capable fleet; the greatest naval defeat of a western power at the hands of a native power was of the Romans by a Vijayanagara fleet in the 1580s.

This is something that especially increased under Venkata Raya’s reign. Sea power is essential to keeping all these foreign powers behaving, protecting the thick coastal traffic, and reminding the Malabar coastal cities, sheltering on the opposite side of the Western Ghats from Vijayanagar, who is supreme. While native shipbuilding techniques still hold true for merchant ships, the Vijayanagara, like the Omani, now copy western designs for their warships. Unlike the Omani, the Vijayanagara have the manpower to build battle-line ships, not just sloops and fregatai. In 1636 the three most powerful warships east of the Cape are the Shiva, Ganesh, and Krishna, all 88-gunners, built specifically to overawe the smaller Roman, Spanish, and Triune warships in Indian waters.

While coastal traffic is extremely important, there is very little overseas maritime traffic that is Vijayanagar-controlled. Given that everyone wants to come to Vijayanagar, there is little incentive to sail out in search of customers. There is some, but usually it is a Tamil merchant purchasing cargo space on a foreign trading vessel. There are some overseas trading communities, particularly in the Hindu polities of Southeast Asia, but none comparable in size to the overseas Chinese communities across Southeast Asia.

Long-distance Vijayanagar maritime activity usually has a political focus as the Emperor maintains contact with the Hindu polities of Island Asia. He has no formal authority over them but is viewed as an exemplar and inspiration for minor Hindu rulers and occasionally provides more tangible aid as well. After the fall of Surabaya, Sanjaya, the ruler of Mataram, received from Venkata Raya a shipment of muskets, two batteries of cannons, and a letter recognizing him as a Maharaja, a gift that reportedly pleased him as much as the capture of Surabaya.


[1] Author’s inspiration from the Zuffur Plutun (Women’s Battalion) of the Nizams of Hyderabad. See White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India by William Dalrymple, which heavily inspired much of this update in addition to this specific element.
 

Cryostorm

Monthly Donor
Nice to see not only a successful Indian empire still the top dog on the subcontinent but a Dravidian, the southern Indian peoples, and Hindu one at that.
 
In OTL the Mughal Empire controlled something like 1/5th of Humanity's collective GDP. Let's hope that this India manages to retain that level of strength and avoid fragmentation.
 
In OTL the Mughal Empire controlled something like 1/5th of Humanity's collective GDP. Let's hope that this India manages to retain that level of strength and avoid fragmentation.
I wouldn’t mind seeing them less op in the long run, maybe like all the other powers they could overextend in their arrogance and get a decent beat down.
 

Cryostorm

Monthly Donor
I wouldn’t mind seeing them less op in the long run, maybe like all the other powers they could overextend in their arrogance and get a decent beat down.
Well part of what makes this Vijayanagar so strong is that it hasn't tried, successfully at least, to go past what you would call the natural borders that they have already reached. They may attempt to go farther north to the east and west but both directions already have powerful nations that can push them back. They won't be near as powerful as the Mughals, they have none of the Indo-Gangetic plain that was and still is the wealthiest part of the subcontinent, but in the long run that may be to their benefit since they will need to work far earlier to maintain their independence and strength.
 
Won't lie, I read that update and all I'm waiting for is the "but" there's always one. In this case it seems to be the potential for a Gangetic and/or Indus rival state. An Indus buffer state would work well for the Ottomans, a strong ally with more to gain in India than Iran, and the same in the Ganges and Bangladesh.

I sort of love the idea of a Nepalese rival emerging in India. It's the sort of thing that I can see external powers supporting to undermine the V's, only to be terrified if it succeeds too well, perhaps going east into Burma and Indochina. (A similar imperial structure might make sense there too). Are the Nepalese Hindu or Buddist atm?

Still, a tripartite India that is balanced would be a really interesting situation. Especially as part of a network of strong South Asian states.
 
Yah the ottamons are screwed there gonna get double team from the behemoth in India and the Romans they are over stretched exhausted with rising ethnic tension and no longer having a god level generals... think don’t look so good for them I bet romans take a bunch of land in the west and the Indians take the rest of India maximum being up to Pakistani western border
 
Is the vijayanagar empire normally this strong or they just happen to have an excellent ruler? I mean didn't they just got push around by the ottomans like 20 years ago. Even with half of their troops in rebellion, the ottomans still give them a bloody nose.

Besides in this age economic power don't really mean much. Mughals was even richer otl, but a string of civil wars and bad rulers pretty much ended them.
 
“BHARAT: SUPERPOWER BEFORE 2020”

Not even a meme ITTL, the Vijayanagari are fucking rolling in it, AND they combine modern military power with vast economic might.
I suspect that the only thing that could undercut their dominance in South Asia is a massive increase in Transatlantic and Transpacific shipping.
 
I think the downfall of our subcontinental friend is gonna be when they get too ambitious and start trying to take Taprobane for themselves
 
Still, a tripartite India that is balanced would be a really interesting situation. Especially as part of a network of strong South Asian states.
I hope we get a situation like this too. I think B444 has said the long term plan is for India to consist of 3-5 countries instead of the one we have in OTL.

Fragmented countries are one of my favorite AH tropes so here's hoping that continues to the present day.
 

Arrix85

Donor
I hope we get a situation like this too. I think B444 has said the long term plan is for India to consist of 3-5 countries instead of the one we have in OTL.

Fragmented countries are one of my favorite AH tropes so here's hoping that continues to the present day.
Same. 3-5 countries is compatible with Vijayanagar surviving, plus 2-3 states in the North. let's hope they survive (fingers crossed).
 

Cryostorm

Monthly Donor
I hope we get a situation like this too. I think B444 has said the long term plan is for India to consist of 3-5 countries instead of the one we have in OTL.

Fragmented countries are one of my favorite AH tropes so here's hoping that continues to the present day.
It is also more realistic, the only reason India is one state, well technically four, is because of the British. Without outside interference the collapse of the Mughals would have likely resulted in 4-6 states.
 
Same. 3-5 countries is compatible with Vijayanagar surviving, plus 2-3 states in the North. let's hope they survive (fingers crossed).
I mean to be fair, modern south asia boasts six countries already. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. One of them is just hilariously bigger than the others.

It is also more realistic, the only reason India is one state, well technically four, is because of the British. Without outside interference the collapse of the Mughals would have likely resulted in 4-6 states.
India has a history of unification, the Mughals were not the only time India was united after all. The Maurya, Gupta, Delhi Sultanate, and Maratha Confederacy all came close or ruled significant enough portions to be the Indian state in its time period.

The problem is that India's geography fights against the notion of disunity. Yes India can be divided and it has many periods of time when it was but India is relatively easy to unify. Most of India's population lives along the Indo-gangetic plain and as a result many many powers in the Classical Indian and Medieval Indian periods rose there and entered fierce competition with its neighbors. The lack of geographic barriers to conquest naturally resulted in the formation of a large empire just like in North China, Russia, and North America until they hit the natural barriers that border Tibet, the Deccan Plateau, and Afghanistan. Such ease of movement also created a relatively homogeneous cultural continuum. India's diversity is much less pronounced in the north but, due to the many mountains and rivers and thick forests of south and central India, the diversity is far more commonplace. The geographic barriers serve to hem in both people-groups and the expansion of states which form in them. This is why all Indian empires, with the sole exception of the Maratha Confederacy, are based in northern India. It is easy to unify, easier to hold together, and densely populated. The typical pattern sees north India unified then an expansion into the periphery of south, central, and coastal India with varying levels of success. Even the British followed this model, getting their start in Bengal and having the center of the Raj in Delhi.

Since south and central India is already unified here and has been for centuries at this point (though b444 clearly mentioned fluctuating border zones) it is highly unlikely India will be a highly diverse place. Geographic barriers restrict expansion of states just as much as they serve to defend them from outside threats. It is difficult to project power outwards from within a confined zone, as you can see in any mountain border in history but with the best examples being the constant unification of Iran that then saw difficulty maintaining conquests outside the plateau. Vijayanagar likely will not expand much outside its present natural borders and if it does so it will not stop until it hits the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas. However if it does it there is a highly likely chance that a state will rise in the Indo-gangetic plain that will be their main rival for the next several centuries.

There are two likely outcomes IMO. The most likely one is that Vijayanagar continues to survive but can't keep up with the changing world economy due to lack of mineral resources and the drop in value of spices, silk, cotton, and other cash craps created by the development of the Americas. They have enough clout to remain a powerful local player in the Indian Ocean and Indian Subcontinent but will not be more than a regional power especially after the Industrial Revolution. India's coal is not enough to meet demand for an Indian industrial economy even at maximum output. There are just too many Indians. Further, labour is cheap so labour-saving devices are not strictly necessary. As the sub-continent falls behind Vijayanagar will become increasingly unable to project power into the Indo-gangetic plain. A state, or more likely two states, will rise there backed by European powers seeking local allies and favorable trade deals (similar to the Safavids and Mughals rising with British and Ottoman technical assistance respectively). The form these states take and their exact relationship with Europe is up in the air and open to nuance. Rome will likely remain Vijayanagar's biggest supporter and commercial partner due to proximity and the existing Roman colonies in the area but Rome will likely not help Vijayanagar modernize as the country becomes a potential market for Roman industrial products or at the very least Roman finished goods can now actually compete with locally produced hand-made ones, especially once the Suez is constructed. India in the modern period would be two or three competing large states. One is Vijayanagar with borders perhaps a bit smaller than what we have now and the other one-two are either a single Indo-gangetic state or one based in the Indus Valley and one in the Gangetic Plain. Effectively this would be Mega Bangladesh, Literally just Pakistan, and Chonker Dravidia. Minor states nearby would include Sri Lanka as a former Roman colony and a few peripheries in the mountains but where they are and what shape they take cannot be stated with any degree of certainty. Nepal might not exist but Kashmir and Sikkim could be independent. Goa or some other former European city-state could stay around, playing Indian politics to be a Singapore. Who knows.

The other likely outcome is that Vijayanagar successfully leverages its current power to launch a conquest of Northern India. It reaches the mountains and forms a unified Indian state utterly incapable of further landward expansion. It fights the Ottomans regularly in Baluchistan and Afghanistan, as well as local powers of inland Myanmar but has trouble projecting power into these places due to geography. Over time the unified India eventually suffers from the same issues that marred the Mughals and every unfied China ever. Internal corruption, lack of necessity to expand, and other such issues will turn India into a backwards territory that eventually shatters under its own weight just like every other time India has been unified. I would predict that would happen somewhere in the 1800s as India's economy falls further and further behind the industrial economies of Europe and America. Colonial powers actively work to disintegrate the empire for more favourable trade and two possibilities emerge. India either is carved up into spheres of influence and trade posts like China was IOTL until it collapses, or India collapses due to European pressures and is carved up as a colonial territory of various European states and the Ottomans. Modern India would thus either be a unified India that underwent a warlord period similar to China and was unified afterwards or one with haphazard boundaries formed during its colonial period. Colonialism in India would resemble that of Southeast Asia and China rather than Indonesia or OTL India as Europeans arrive to the territory grabbing stage much later than they did IOTL. This would avert some of the problems colonial India experienced IOTL under the British due to less time to enact atrocities and order the state solely to the betterment of colonial powers but it would still be a profoundly negative experience for India.
 
Perhaps Vijayanagar's possible Industrial Revolution will be like how Basileus444 has described how Rhomania will industrialize? He says that they lack the necessary resources to really be the top dog in the early Industrial Revolution, owing to there not being much industrial resources in their territory, but would eventually find their niche in the second Industrial Revolution, especially in the realm of chemicals. Resources aren't everything in this sense, a properly managed state can industrialize with enough effort and competency on their parr, if Vijayanagar finds advantage in those labor saving devices, they probably won't be too shy in importing or making their own variations.
 
Last edited:
Top