An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

1609 and the Sundering of the Rus
JohnSmith: It's complicated. The Avignon Papacy has historically had the best relations with the Empire, but Hungary follows it as well so any Catholic expansion in Serbia is to Avignon's benefit. The Roman Papacy meanwhile is following a delicate balance between the Kingdom of Lombardy in the north and the Despotate of Sicily in the south. Both are a threat so making nice with Constantinople is a good way to protect against Sicily but Hungary is also very useful at keeping the Lombards honest.

1609: Despite the belligerency with which the Hungarian envoy is met it is plain that fighting wars in the east, in the Balkans, and in North Africa is untenable. In the east chances for peace on acceptable terms are not good. With the withdrawal of forces to Europe the Shahanshah has resumed the offensive, sweeping the Romans out of all pre-war Ottoman territory with one exception.

That one exception is Duhok. Ideally Mosul would have been retained as a more substantial bargaining chip but the difficulty of supplying such a major fortress farther from Roman lines was deemed too high. Iskandar in early May is able to march in without opposition, although the burnt-out husk of the metropolis is a pathetic shadow of its glory five years past.

Duhok though is meant to be held at all costs. Its late-fifteenth century walls have been massively reinforced with packed-earth bastions and an artillery park of over two hundred cannon, garrisoned by nine thousand regulars and eight thousands of the best militia, with enough rations to feed them for fifteen months. When Iskandar settles in for a siege on June 1, he is further challenged by clouds of Roman light cavalry and tribal auxiliaries. Despite their limited success attacking his supply train, their activity wears down his own cavalry and hampers foraging. Meanwhile a second Roman army at Cizre looms menacingly over the Persian left flank, making no move to attack but a constant reminder to the Shah to remain on guard. On the Armenian front, a similar defense anchored on Theodosiopolis is also able to blunt the Ottoman attack.

Despite this peace talks continue between ambassadors in Aleppo but repeatedly stall on the question of the Black Stone. The Romans are willing to return it but are emphatically not willing to hand it over directly to Iskandar or any Persian official for that matter. Iskandar’s earlier stubbornness has only caused the Romans to withdraw their earlier inclination to give it up to the Shah personally if absolutely necessary. If the Omani or Idwaits were to receive the Black Stone that would be acceptable to Constantinople but the Ottoman ambassadors reject such proposals, counter-proposing that it be delivered to the Sharif of the Hedjaz. As a client of the Shah, Empress Helena and Emperor Demetrios are adamant that such a thing cannot be done. Under no circumstances must the Shah be given the propaganda coup of restoring the Black Stone to the Kaaba.

More success beckons in the west against Mouley Ismail. An attempted siege of Carthage has been a miserable failure, despite the massive damages to the farms and villages outside of the walls. Heavy losses against the defenders of Carthage and Mahdia combined with raids by galleys and fregatai based from Tabarka and Djerba, whilst not fatal, are extremely irritating.

The Treaty of Carthage is signed in April and despite the climb-down from the Sultan’s demands a year earlier it is still a sizeable Marinid victory. Carthage’s borders are reduced to a region bounded by the line of (dead) Bizerte-El Fahs-Hammamet, plus the enclave of Mahdia, a loss of two-thirds of her pre-war territory. Djerba and Tabarka also remain in Roman hands. In addition Carthage, Sicily, and the Roman Empire herself must each pay Mouley Ismail an annual ‘gift’, in exchange for which the Sultan forbids any corsair attacks on the three states. Finally, to the impotent rage of the Shah, the Black Stone is handed over to the Sultan himself outside the gates of Carthage.

He makes no attempt to return this to Mecca. It is highly doubtful that the Romans, Egyptians, or Ethiopians would grant it safe passage. More importantly by holding it, Mouley Ismail is arguably the premier sovereign of Islam, a position previously occupied uncontestably by Shah Iskandar. The Black Stone is deposited reverently in Marrakesh, housed in a perfect replica of the Kaaba (Mouley Ismail himself had completed the hajj just a year prior to the Roman conquest). Despite the fundamentalist nature of Hayyatist Islam, the dominant variant in Marinid Africa, there is very little complaint when the Grand Mufti of Marrakesh states that a visit to the new Kaaba qualifies as a hajj.

Iskandar is positively livid when he hears of the deal but there is nothing he can do about it. In fact by removing the Black Stone from the equation it makes the possibility of Roman-Ottoman peace more tenable. Furthermore at the same time as the Black Stone is placed in Marinid hands a great battle takes place at Rajanpur near the west bank of the Indus. A great coalition of petty states left over from the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate and Bihari kingdom smashed a Sukkuri army, gravely weakening the one respectable power in northern India. But the coalition members, rather than following up their victory, instead have turned on each other in a messy free-for-all. Some of the immediate losers such as the Emir of Multan and the Rajput King of Jaisalmer have already appealed for the Shahanshah to intervene.

With the riches of India beckoning ever more strongly Iskandar is more willing to make peace in the west. The agreement is brokered at Khlat in autumn and like the treaty of Carthage is still a Roman defeat. The Romans withdraw from all Ottoman territory still held as well as Jedda and Yanbu, in both cases destroying the new fortifications as they withdraw. By the terms Iskandar is not to build any of his own along the Red Sea. Ten million hyperpyra also restock Iskandar’s now perilously empty coffers (almost a full year’s revenue for the Roman government), a million pledged for next year, with a quarter million promised for every year of the peace after that.

Furthermore although no Georgian ‘gifts’ are incoming, the Georgians are forced to cede all of the trans-Aras lands. It is a humiliation in Tbilisi causing much resentment against the Romans. Constantinople shares the frustration as the loss greatly complicates the defense of Armenia. It is a situation neither Orthodox nation regards as permanent; the accord signed at Khlat is not a peace but a six-year truce.

Saying the war stops though is not accurate; it merely changes form. Gone are the great organized armies, but the frontier is filled with raid and ambuscade. The northern Anizzah, roused to full fury by ghazi attacks, scourge much of northern Mesopotamia with their cavalry columns, amply backed by Roman supplies, arms, and men. As soon as the Romans evacuate Arabia, the southern Anizzah, seeing the loot their cousins are amassing, change sides and let fly as well. The hajj to Mecca, still viewed as the proper pilgrimage outside of Marinid lands despite the Grand Mufti’s claims, is more dangerous after the truce than it was during the war.

Further to the north both sides harry each other, with frequent raids punctuated by skirmishes and the occasional pitched battle, a few of which have as many as ten thousand combatants. Neither side has a clear advantage nor causes much damage. With both imperial powers focused on far distant frontiers, this simmering mess is the status quo for the entirety of the truce period.

King Andrew had counted on the majority of Roman forces being deployed in Asia. The sweeps of last year have not been repeated this summer. Thessaloniki remains defiant and a push down into Boeotia stalls at Thebes, largely from supply problems caused by raiders from Epirus.

When the autumn harvest comes in though the situation is drastically transformed. Even before the truce at Khlat was signed the War Room started transferring troops westward. In September the Hungarians find ten thousand Egyptians in the Peloponnesus, fifteen thousand Sicilians in Epirus, and twenty five thousand Romans marching down the Via Egnatia towards Thessaloniki. Faced with foes on three sides, the Hungarians promptly fall back to Ohrid, chastened but largely unharmed.

Winter imposes a truce of its own but the season is not idle. Andrew appeals to Krakow and Munich for aid. While the Poles promise to send twenty thousand men come spring, the response from Munich is not encouraging. Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich IV has, since the defection of General Blucher, managed to win a series of medium-sized victories over his brother Karl, but the ‘Saxon Emperor’ is by no means done. Furthermore Triune attacks on Lotharingia have commenced again, endangering the Empire’s western frontier. There will be no aid from Germany.

Roman diplomatic efforts are more successful. King Theodoros Doukas of Lombardy has in the past few years conquered Florence and Pisa, forced the Duchy of the Marche into vassalage, established Siena as a client state, and squashed a noble conspiracy with somewhat lurid efficiency. The possibility of gaining the Duchies of Verona and Padua, ruled by an illegitimate branch of the Hunyadi family as a Hungarian vassal, plus the Veneto and Friuli administered directly by Buda, has him quite interested in a Roman alliance.

The hang-up is that the Duchess of Verona and Padua is Anna Drakina, granddaughter of Empress Helena by her daughter Aikaterine. The Duchess’s younger brother is Demetrios Sideros, who has already been promoted to the rank of prokathemenos, the second in command, of the Kephalate of Thyatira.

The compromise is as follows. Theodoros will, in exchange for providing twenty thousand men against the Italian holdings of the Hungarians, be recognized as Duke of Verona and Padua. In return he will ensure that the Duchess Anna and her children are not harmed and will recognize her as the Duchess of the Veneto and Friuli, providing full military support in effecting a ‘proper and smooth transfer of the titles’. A to-be-determined ‘tributary due’ will be established after an assessment of the region to be split halfway between Milan and Constantinople. No mention is made of her husband.

The negotiations with Vlachia are much easier. In the spring the Vlachs will invade Transylvania with thirteen thousand men. The Vlach support is welcome but not quite enough to cancel out the Poles. However the next preferred ally from Constantinople’s perspective, the Great Kingdom of the Rus, is not an option, on account of it no longer existing.

In retrospect appointing a Megas Rigas used to the autocratic traditions of the Roman court to preside over a ‘constitutional federative monarchy’, as political scientists term the early Vladimir-Russian state, was a bad idea. Old Ioannes Laskaris, son of Giorgios Laskaris, the friend of Andreas Drakos, has never cared for his largely figurehead status in the lands west of the Volga.

East of the Volga is a different matter. Here he is in charge and from his capital of Kazan he has pushed expansion eastwards, encouraging immigration from Germany and Georgia, along with a strong Armenian strain especially prominent in the Ural Mountains. But the lion’s share of newcomers is from the Russian principalities. In 1600 the city of Tyumen, an important nexus not only in the fur trade but with long-distance commerce with the caravan cities of Central Asia and China, can muster three thousand souls. Exploratory expeditions have made it to the western shores of Lake Baikal.

Immigration plus the new mines and foundries of the Urals have given Ioannes a respectable military strength, enabling him to force the Kalmyks and Bashkirs into submission. Given significant autonomy they provide the Megas Rigas with tribute and formidable light cavalry to supplement his Russian infantry. Over his thirty year reign he has made impressive progress, more than the Shuiskys had done in a century.

Still manpower is a significant issue and as Ioannes thinks of the future of his dynasty, over the past several years he has been scheming to remake the Russian crown in the image of the Roman. The veches of the principalities have had none of that though and tensions have risen steadily, finally exploding in 1607.

Theodoros Laskaris is the second son of Ioannes and Eudoxia Drakina. The latter is the twin sister of Aikaterine, the mother of Demetrios Sideros. The most capable and most belligerent of Ioannes’ sons, in that year he leads an army of Armenian infantry and Kalmyk cavalry to seize Vladimir and the members of the zemsky sobor. It is only a partial success, as sixty percent of the members escape while many of Ioannes’ supporters are alienated by the move.

A Pronsky army moves to retake the city but is joined by a smaller Novgorodian detachment whose commander arrogantly demands command of the combined force. The ensuing row between the generals nearly comes to blows but the Novgorodians depart. Theodoros retreats in the face of the Pronsky army but when Vladimir falls the Great Pronsk veche declares that it will reorganize the government of Russia to prevent such an event from occurring again.

Novgorod, Lithuania, and Scythia protest, all four principalities mobilizing troops as tensions rise. A Novgorodian claim to preeminence is rejected with vitriol; the previous Novgorodian preeminence in Russia has been crippled by the loss of the Baltic and White Sea coastline during the Great Northern War. The attempt however fractures the pending anti-Pronsky alliance.

Normally the monarchy might have served to smooth these inter-principality tensions but no one trusts Ioannes Laskaris after Theodoros’ little invasion. Somewhere along the Novgorod-Pronsk frontier shots are fired, people are killed, and in dismaying speed the land of Russia turns into a five-way free-for-all.

Perhaps the sheer confusion keeps the destruction and death down somewhat but when the dust clears two years later the Principalities of Novgorod, Lithuania, Great Pronsk, and Scythia plus the Kingdom of Khazaria, as the Romans style Ioannes’ Trans-Volga domains, are independent and separate states.

It is a shock to the Romans, who have been largely unaware of the growing regionalism in the Great Kingdom. The Romans are now indisputably the great power of Orthodoxy, with Great Pronsk, the number two contender, only having five million inhabitants. With the colossi of Catholicism and Islam beckoning it even more falls on Constantinople to ensure that the one true faith will endure.
Well then, that happened.
Can we have a rudimentary map to show the changing state of geopolitics in Western Eurasia, @Basileus444?

The wild success of the Marinids will likely come back to haunt them in the centuries to come. Being so successful/secure, on top of having their reactionary religious sect validated by possessing Mecca Mk.II? They're not going to have any impetus at all to reform.

Some questions:
Are there any pan-Russian unification sentiments around, beneath all the hostilities?
Is this akin to a Warring States Period that the Chinese periodically went through?
Have the 5 successor states sent envoys to Constantinople? What are their attitudes to the Empire like?
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Huh, did not see that coming. I guess the Rus will reunite, you mentioned you envisioned them as TTL's arsenal of democracy.

Thought that was a really long, long, time ago.

And a superb update as always. Wish we could buy this stuff from you and turn it into paying job :)


holy shit. As expected the war was a hot mess for the Romans. Carthage is quite diminished (although it can still be useful as the door to Eastern mediterranean), the black stone deal seems a smart trick, I wonder how it will backfire. This georgian resentment looks dangerous (as it will make them trigger-happy in the First world war). the russian situation is awful, but I think it's temporary (when the poles will try to take advantage I'd like to see how the four principalities react).

While a bit frail financially and with a bit of uncertainty about succession (even if it's stable any heir of Iskandar will probably be a drop in quality) the ottomans looks poised to take a good chunk of India, making them even scarier in the future.
For the past century or so Orthodoxy hasn't been doing too well for itself with wars, Orthodox War, Time of Troubles, Great Northern War, reversals with the Asian colonies, Eternal War, now Russia fracturing. With the war of Roman succession coming up I hope it doesn't do too much to weaken the Empire's great power status, especially since it's probably going to be the poorest (people, resource wise) if the Ottomans manage to take a big chunk of India. Probably too much to ask for the Romans to win a decisive foreign war :confused:
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So it's going to be Rhomania + Vlachia + Lombardy vs Hungary + Poland? I must say I'm likely the Empire's odds even if they've been severely weakened. Here's hoping that this war will finally fix the atrocious looking Roman-Hungarian border, Serbia in the Empire makes it look so much better.
Just another question. How is Andalusia reacting to this Marinid ascendancy. Having the Blackstone will provide tremendous cloud and prestige, and given the recent strings of success maybe strive for a Caliphate. So given this ascendancy of their sect of Islam will they be emboldened more to strengthen their position as Islam's leader in practice and bring the heretics into line?
If the Romans only knew iskander was bankrupt or near it.

Either way, even all of that loss and reparations, the Romans bankrolling another war tells me the Romans are fantastically wealthy, superpower wealthy?

But this is no surprising move since Romans had to give up periphery/colonial territories to defend imperial core. Maybe it is about time to setup some buffer states between Rome and Hungary. It is a country too powerful too near the empire I wonder why Andreas left intact or at least without a buffer state in between.
HanEmpire: I’m thinking a map but not until 1625 or so, once the dust from all this…stuff settles down.

There is some pan-Russian sentiment existed; there’s been a lot of cultural integration over the past 150 years. Lithuania is effectively Russian in culture now too (that was the way it was going IOTL before the union with Poland). But regional identity got a big boost after the Great Northern War and the one clear pan-Russian connection, the monarchy, is absolutely discredited at the moment.

All 5 states have ambassadors in Constantinople and the Empire is sending ambassadors to them. Relations are good with all of them, particularly Scythia which is effectively a client state of the Empire economically.

Stark: I’d like that too. Updates would come faster also.

Arrix85: Agreed, this whole mess is not turning out well. Demetrios bit off too much to chew and things just kept snowballing. Although arguably the long war with the Ottomans was actually a good thing as that sucked away a lot of resources, including years of Iskandar’s, that Persia could’ve thrown at India.

ImperatorAlexander: The years since the death of Andreas Niketas have, overall, been rough on Orthodoxy. But Orthodoxy is about to score an immense victory.

Al-Andalus is, frankly, absolutely freaking out. The current setup in North Africa is something from one of their worst nightmares. The court at Toledo is also keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

JohnSmith: That is the current lineup. Andrew of Hungary is thinking that Roman war weariness, some very impressive Danube forts, plus the possibility of German intervention, will help even the odds. But he had some very…pungent…words to say when Iskandar signed the Khlat truce.

Namayan: The Romans are quite wealthy, one advantage of having a well-developed tax system that doesn’t have a lot of the holes common to early modern setups (much less tax exemption for the upper classes, no internal tariffs to stifle trade). But they needed troops in Europe ASAP so buying off Iskandar was far and away the quickest means to do so.

When Andreas Niketas was emperor, Serbia was a collection of small vassal states that did provide a nice buffer between Hungary and the imperial heartland. The Serbs used the chaos of the Orthodox War and the Time of Troubles to consolidate and regain their independence, only to then lose it to the Hungarians. It’s only been in recent years that Hungary and Rhomania have shared a common border.

Babyrage: Thank you.
Rereading this TL has got me wondering about the difference in military capabilities between the Romans and its neighbours. Based on my understanding the Romans should still have varying degrees of superiority in technology, training and organisation. I get that Iskandar's victories were due to tactical brilliance and Roman strategic mistakes. So how can Hungary or any other foe match the Romans in a pitched battle without a 10/10 martial commander (Roman officers are on average superior anyway)? Seeing as Roman troops are pouring into Thrace & Macedonia the Romans would also have the home field advantage as well. I guess the broader question I'm asking is how does the Roman military compare with those of Europe? Have there been any innovations or development that would have closed the gap?
Rereading this TL has got me wondering about the difference in military capabilities between the Romans and its neighbours. Based on my understanding the Romans should still have varying degrees of superiority in technology, training and organisation. I get that Iskandar's victories were due to tactical brilliance and Roman strategic mistakes. So how can Hungary or any other foe match the Romans in a pitched battle without a 10/10 martial commander (Roman officers are on average superior anyway)? Seeing as Roman troops are pouring into Thrace & Macedonia the Romans would also have the home field advantage as well. I guess the broader question I'm asking is how does the Roman military compare with those of Europe? Have there been any innovations or development that would have closed the gap?

They do have as long as one on one.

They were fighting Iskander and multiple Arab states all at the same time. I dont think the Romans have anyone in their general pool equal to Iskander. Yet, the Romans still held their ground until the Hungarians came knocking.

I believe the Hungarians will feel the full wrath of the Roman superiority since now Roman attention is fully towards them.
Is there any reason why the Germans would even consider intervening in the Roman-Hungarian war? Why would they want to make a closer threat stronger (different Pope, long history of conflict) especially since the Emperor is Helena's son in law? The Romans taking a chunk out of Hungary doesn't really do much harm for the Germans, help keep them honest since they've been doing pretty well for themselves for quite a while.
Is there any reason why the Germans would even consider intervening in the Roman-Hungarian war? Why would they want to make a closer threat stronger (different Pope, long history of conflict) especially since the Emperor is Helena's son in law? The Romans taking a chunk out of Hungary doesn't really do much harm for the Germans, help keep them honest since they've been doing pretty well for themselves for quite a while.
Intervene on the side of the Romans. The Germans hate the Hungarians because the Magyar kings kept on invading Germany to take the Holy Roman Emperor title by force.
Intervene on the side of the Romans. The Germans hate the Hungarians because the Magyar kings kept on invading Germany to take the Holy Roman Emperor title by force.
B444's wording makes it sound like German intervention for the Hungarians. But it definitely does make more sense for a German pro-Roman intervention, especially if the Hungarians are making major gains. Shame they're tied up in a long civil war, any chance of a brief update to cover that? The ramifications will be very important for all neighbors.
B444's wording makes it sound like German intervention for the Hungarians. But it definitely does make more sense for a German pro-Roman intervention, especially if the Hungarians are making major gains. Shame they're tied up in a long civil war, any chance of a brief update to cover that? The ramifications will be very important for all neighbors.
Well, the Germans are still occupied with their own civil war, aren't they?
Rhomania vs Europe: Rhomania has an advantage, not in technology, but in training, organization, and logistics. The various European powers could throw together elite forces that were comparable to Roman tagmata but with a less developed economy and government apparatus they couldn’t field as many. A Triune Tour or Arletian Lance or Hungarian Black Contingent could go toe to toe with an equal number of Roman soldiers and the odds would be close. But while the Latin versions total 30,000 or so at maximum Rhomania can put eleven tagmata plus the Guards into the field.

That said the gap is narrowing. IOTL the capability of western European armies shot up massively between 1600 and 1700 (Louis XIV was fielding 400,000 men at one point) and a similar movement is happening here, albeit earlier. Governments are getting more organized and centralized, better able to pay and maintain standing armies which comes with the advantage of having drilled soldiers. It won’t be too long before the European powers can field professional armies comparable in size to the Romans (the Ottomans already come close). The Roman academies plus the War Room still give an edge but the former at least will be popping up soon as well.

German Intervention: I’ll get more into it in a later update, including the progress of the Brothers’ War. Andrew knows that he can’t go toe-to-toe with Rhomania alone. He needs a great power backing him up. At first it was to be the Ottomans but that didn’t pan out. So now he’s wooing the Germans. The Germans have no animus against the Romans but the idea of having both the Triunes and Romans as neighbors is not exactly a welcome one. Hungary, now that its German ambitions have been completely scotched, makes for a nice buffer. Also Hungary still controls Austria which is still part of the Holy Roman Empire. If the Romans violate the Austrian frontier, Friedrich would have to respond per his responsibilities as Emperor.

1610: The first blood shed is not in the Balkans as might be expected but in Sicily. The past few years have been hard on the Despotate and the humiliation of paying tribute to a Sultan whose subjects still hold tens of thousands of their neighbors and family members is a bitter pill for the Sicilian people.

The bitterness and resentment overflows in January. Since the Time of Troubles the freedom of the Sicilian Jews has led to the creation of the largest Jewish concentration in all of Eurasia, and it is a community that has become quite wealthy and prosperous. Tapping into the Jewish communities of Rhomania and the Muslim east, they have been quite successful merchants and moneylenders, with a few even making their way into government positions. It is a repeat of the Golden Age of Sepharad in Al-Andalus, including the growing resentment of the Jews’ neighbors. Many of their Christian neighbors are in debt to said moneylenders due to a series of bad harvests.

Another cause of debts is the need to ransom family members from Barbary captivity, a lengthy and expensive process. Many poorer families have to put up their farms or livestock as security and many have had Jewish moneylenders seize said security for failure to pay. Much of the profits go into impressive cultural creations, magnificent synagogues, great works of poetry and philosophy, but that does nothing to ease the wrack of starvation amongst Sicilian peasants scourged by Barbary corsairs and then fleeced by the moneylender.

The corsairs are beyond reprisal; the moneylender is not. On January 9th, a riot in Capua snowballs into an attack on the Jews. Unsurprisingly the debt records are the first target and go up in smoke but the rioters immediately turn on the Jews’ other property and persons. Three days later five hundred Jews are dead, including eighty burned alive in a synagogue, and an estimated two hundred thousand hyperpyra worth of property looted or destroyed.

Most towns in the Despotate with substantial Jewish populations imitate that of Capua. Despot Alexios, consort of Empress Helena the Younger, does nothing to stop the pogroms, although whether that is due to indifference to the Jews’ plight or fear of his Christian subjects is unknown. By the end of March the pogrom wave has ended, but not before five thousand Jewish corpses and three hundred Christian dot the Sicilian landscape.

Dead Jews are not a concern in Constantinople, live Hungarians are. A combined Roman-Sicilian-Egyptian force storms Ohrid early in the campaigning season while a wholly Roman army surges into Bulgaria. Initial skirmishes and minor battles are a mixed bag from both sides but Roman reinforcements are pouring into the area at a rate far outpacing that of the Hungarians. When the winter comes, the Hungarians have lost all of Bulgaria save the citadel at Vidin plus a good chunk of southern Serbia.

Although dismayed by the scale of the Roman counterattack and the breakoff of hostilities with Persia, King Andrew still has hope the situation will turn around. Aside from Vidin he has the great citadels of Smederevo and Belgrade protecting the border with Hungary proper; storming them will be no easy or quick matter. At this point the Roman Empire has been engaged in extended hostilities for over fifteen years, first with the Great Uprising, the assault on Mecca, and then the Eternal War.

It has been a substantial strain on the Roman exchequer. The debt level has increased by 1200% since 1595 and interest rates have been slowly but steadily creeping up since the turn of the century. Imports from the east have yet to return to their pre-Great Uprising level and given the increasing number and aggression of western European merchants in the east it is doubtful they ever will. Further economic dislocation, although not limited to Rhomania, comes from a general rise in inflation. Imports of Mexican and Japanese silver have increased the amount of bullion circulating. Prices all over Europe are going up; in both King’s Harbor and Constantinople the price of bread, fish, and wine are all double that of 1550.

Economic fissures are showing up elsewhere as well. While providing some naval glory, the undeclared war with the Triple Monarchy killed any Roman maritime traffic in the Atlantic. Gone are the great ships with holds stuffed with silks and spices easing into the quays of Antwerp or Lubeck. Traffic between the North/Baltic sea region and Rhomania, unless conducted via the rivers of Russia, is now wholly in Dutch or Triune hands. Roman merchantmen now never pass beyond the Pillars of Hercules and indeed are a rare sight west of Sardinia.

This is especially troublesome as the cost of naval supplies has been going up even further than the rate of inflation. Mediterranean lumber stores have been used and abused for millennia and efforts at conservation, particularly in the Macedonian and Pontic forests, has only slowed the process. Furthermore with larger galleons becoming the norm for naval warfare, the great trees of the Baltic seaboard, New England, or Vinland are the ideal source for masts. It is not cheap to ship them to the arsenal in Constantinople. Such concerns are causing many in the White Palace to turn a jealous eye on Dalmatia, particularly Istria.

Roman products are also facing stiffer competition. Portuguese and Arletian sugar production has skyrocketed in recent decades as plantations in the Antilles work up, far outpacing those in Roman lands. By 1600, outside of the Empire proper, the Despotates, and the Orthodox states, only Hungary is a reliable consumer of Roman sugar.

Textiles are doing much better but a new Arletian silk and cotton industry has stolen the French market and linens in Bavaria are competing with silk imports. Neither are serious losses but are paralleled by much bigger slumps in metallurgical exports to the same regions. Mining and metallurgical production in southern Germany and Silesia have increased substantially; the once thriving Roman armaments export sector still ships many products but now its range is bounded by the Alps and Carpathians in the north. German presses have done the same to the Roman book trade as well.

While the presence of alum at Tolfa has been known for quite some time, it has been difficult for Tolfa’s owners to make capital out of the discovery due to Roman resistance and north Italian political instability. However the King of Lombardy now holds those mines and production here has skyrocketed at a miraculous rate. Italy (outside of Sicily and Venetia), the Triple Monarchy, and Iberia now look to the Lombards and not the Romans as their source of alum. The substantial rise in exports of wine to the west, particularly malmsey, is not much of a salve.

To counter this trend there has been a steady increase in taxation, with practically every tax levied in the Roman state going up by some degree since 1595. The ones on basic produce, salt, grain, and the like, have been comparatively mild so peasant and urban tax revolts have thankfully been very few and minor but this does much to explain the common Roman nostalgia for the time of the Flowering. Some historians also argue that the tax hikes are partially responsible for the disappearance of the last traces of Islam in western and central Anatolia.

The Jews are, unsurprisingly, the hardest hit by all this. Although they are not restricted to the moneylending trade as in the west, the Jewish communities have been generally prosperous, working in silk and cotton textile production and exportation. The ghettoes of Thessaly are renowned for their silverwork and those of the Skammandros for their tapestries. Their tax increases have been double that of everyone else. Resented both because of traditional Christian anti-Semitism and their general resistance to Romanization, no one sheds a tear or lifts a finger to protest this. The Roman government though makes sure that there are no pogroms; corpses make for poor taxpayers. Constantinople even welcomes Jewish immigrants fleeing Sicily.

But the attention of the White Palace is focused on other matters. In November the Princess Alexeia, youngest daughter of Emperor Andreas II Drakos, passes away in Sinope. The Empress Helena the Elder is now the last member of the Triumvirate still alive.

Even on her deathbed Alexeia still has some influence in the capital. On Christmas day in the Hagia Sophia Emperor Demetrios II crowns Stephan Tomasevic but not as Despot as expected. Instead he is acclaimed “Stephan VII, King of Serbia, from this day to the last day a free and independent state.”

Four days later in a separate ceremony Leo Neokastrites is promoted to Strategos and given command of a newly formed guard tagma. The new formation is called the Akoimetoi; in the tongue of England it is translated as the Sleepless Ones.
These are troubling economic trends. The Empire needs to do some serious expansions in South East Asia to drive the European merchants out of the Indian Ocean.
I'm going to assume that crowning Stephan King instead of Despot will guarantee that the Germans won't intervene. Instead of having one strong buffer in between them and the Romans, why not have 2 weaker ones? Seeing as the Serbians have no territory to work with the Romans will be able to dictate the borders. Would they be inclined to take the coastal areas, and push Serbian territory further into Bosnia? What kind of concessions is this new King ready to make in return for a Kingdom?