An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania


Monthly Donor
I’m guessing the interconnected and scale of the Roman roads are superior to their contemporaries? Would imagine a more decentralised state would have issues with ensuring different provinces link up.
Not to mention many places at the time, particularly the HRE, were infamous for internal tolls and trade barriers, along with general unwillingness to jointly pay for a road network. There is a reason why large infrastructure projects like roads, aqueducts, and canals we're generally the hallmark of a successful imperial state.
Mosul and Jerusalem: The highways specifically listed are just the ‘A-grade’ Roman roads. Mosul is on the Tigris so riverine transport is used as much as possible. There was road buildup before the war and likely some work done during the siege (to convey supplies for the besiegers), so there is a road, just not an A-grade. As for Jerusalem, it’s in a similar boat. There are roads for pilgrim traffic, but this lacks the strategic/military significance of the other roads, so it doesn’t get as much attention, so it ranks as a ‘B+ grade’.

Are there no granaries or reserves to help tide over any production shortfalls?

There are, but because of the difficulty of moving bulk goods overland, there’s much less backup to the backup for an interior city compared to a port city.

Generally, pre-industrial societies can handle one bad harvest; they have reserves for that. It’s when bad harvests come in a series when the problems really start.

I’m guessing the interconnected and scale of the Roman roads are superior to their contemporaries? Would imagine a more decentralised state would have issues with ensuring different provinces link up.

This is a case where regional variety really comes into play. In certain areas, such as the coastal Aegean basin, the roads are highly developed and interconnected. Meanwhile in Epirus or Isauria, you’ve got mule tracks that can’t even take wheeled vehicles.

In certain well-developed areas (Paris-King’s Harbor axis, Seville region, parts of Rhineland), contemporaries do match the Romans, but the Romans’ ‘A-grade’ area is bigger. So a case of ‘they don’t have better, but do have more of the best’. But having said that, the geographic scope of Rhomania compared to its contemporaries means that the Roman heartland also contains vast areas that are quite poorly developed and connected. They are hardly unique in this, but because of the sheer size (Anatolia alone is about triple the size of TTL Kingdom of France, and the Roman heartland in its entirety and TTL France have comparable populations), they represent a greater total area and percentage for the Romans as opposed to the Triunes.
The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 3-Moving by Sea: Grain, Wine, and Small Ships
The Contexts of Roman Society, part 3-Moving by Sea: Grain, Wine, and Small Ships

Moving bulk goods by sea was by far the most cost-effective method, if available. It was here that the great grain haulers plied their trade, alongside galleons loaded with spices, kaffos, porcelain, and the other exotic wares of the east. Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Smyrna, and Alexandria were all bustling busy ports, with peoples and goods from all across the Old World present, and even some from the New World as well. Antioch and Nicaea, both slightly inland, but well-connected with the coast, were also diverse and bustling as well.

The trade in exotic goods from both east and west gets the most scholarly attention. From the west on Spanish and Arletian ships came cargoes of sugar, cocoa, peyote, Mexican mushrooms, dyewood, and cochineal, the latter greatly in demand by the Roman textile manufacturers. These were profitable but also expensive ventures, requiring substantial capital investments and frequent cooperation between international merchants.

However, despite this and the attention lavished on the trade by historians, as a percentage of the Roman economy and trade value, this was actually extremely small, a percent or two at most. Regarding trade value and particularly volume, far more important was trade in bulk goods that were individually much less profitable than silks or spices, but were far more necessary to sustaining life and moved in vastly greater quantities.

The most significant of the bulk trade goods was grain. The huge grain haulers, many over 1000 tons, were instantly recognizable wherever they went and dwarfed anything else on the water except for the larger battle-line warships. Egypt, Scythia, and Vlachia were the main sources and where the biggest haulers went, but smaller grain ships could be seen elsewhere. An example would be the ships frequenting Varna, loading Bulgarian produce to be taken to Constantinople.

The grain trade, vital to the provisioning of the great cities, was a major responsibility of civic government. The Imperial government directly supervised the provisioning of Constantinople, a task that consumed much of its energy and resources and dominated its priorities. With large producers the state negotiated directly for produce, although for dealing with greater numbers of smaller producers the state would hire a middleman to organize purchases. Shipping was typically a private enterprise, the owners working on government contracts, although the White Palace provided subsidies for the construction and maintenance of the big haulers. The grain was then stored in government warehouses and sold to city bakers.

The same model operated in other Roman cities, although there it was managed by the resident Kephale or town council, rather than by Imperially-appointed bureaucrats. The importation and provision of other foodstuffs was also organized and supervised by governmental agents, although not to the extent of grain, and many of the provisions consumed by civic populations were imported and marketed by entirely private entities. Nevertheless it was a top priority of civic governments to ensure that a sufficient supply of staple foodstuffs was always on hand, with disorder guaranteed when (not if) such efforts failed.

Much of the trade movement, by both land and sea, was focused on filling the stomachs of the cities. Just as so much of the energies of France were diverted to filling the maw of Paris, and the energies of England diverted to filling the maw of London, much of the energies of the eastern Mediterranean were diverted to filling the maw of Rhomania’s major cities. Scythian and Vlach grain fed Constantinople, while Egyptian grain fed Antioch, Smyrna, and Thessaloniki.

The quantities involved were massive, especially when one factors in the limitations of the transportation technology of the day. In 1640, Constantinople imported 100,000 cattle, 500,000 hogs, 1.5 million sheep, (these were walked, not shipped to the market, for obvious reasons) 3500 tons of butter, 1800 tons of sugar, 600 tons of honey, and 70 million gallons of wine. The Queen of Cities consumed 300 tons of grain a day, while the White Palace alone used 6700 tons of firewood. [1] And these totals do not include vegetables, fruits, olive oil, herbs, seafood, and all other types of consumables.

Much of this was shipped on rather small vessels too. The great grain haulers were 1000+ tons, but these behemoths were quite rare. Grain, because of the vast bulk that needed to be moved, combined with its rather low per-unit value, made commercial sense to ship in such volume. However with more valuable cargo items, filling such a large ship could be extremely risky; if one of them went down with all its cargo, the loss in investment could be staggering. It was much safer to spread such risk over several smaller ships. Thus many trade vessels plying the waves between the major ports were in the 200-500 ton range.

Yet in terms of numbers, these mid-sized vessels were swamped by light craft covering the waves. Roman ports of this time, when recording the arrival of vessels, divided them into two broad categories, great ships and light ships. The dividing line was a mere 50 tons, with only the tonnage of the great ships recorded. On average light ships outnumbered great ships by a factor of 20-to-1.

The predominance numerically of light ships helps to illustrate an often-forgotten element of maritime trade. The big ships supplying the big ports dominate most historical accounts of the period, but much of the trade was decidedly smaller in scale. Smyrna with its 100,000+ inhabitants depended on a broad maritime network reaching as far as Egypt to sustain itself, but the rest of Thrakesia and its 2 million plus inhabitants sustained itself on local and regional networks, mostly carried by these smaller operators.

On land, the peddler with his cart of goods, moving from place to place, buying and selling whatever was available where opportunity promised, was a common sight. The sea saw a similar thing in these light vessels, hopping from port to port, buying and selling whatever cargoes were available. These sea-peddlers worked the smaller ports, selling everything from vegetables to firewood to metal goods, although they also bought and sold in the bigger cities as well.

The peddler, whether on land or sea, often worked that occupation part-time. Many were farmers with modest landholdings that weren’t enough to sustain them by their produce alone. At the most labor-intensive times of the agricultural cycle, they were at home working their fields. However during the slowdown, they left their wives and children to manage the holding and took to their boats and carts, peddling and transporting as a way to earn more money. One result was that shipping goods at certain times of the year was much cheaper than others, as there were many more boaters or carters available. If one wanted to send a package right at the time of the wheat harvest, one would have to pay well for the service.

Shipping by sea was overall faster and cheaper than by land, but it had its disadvantages. It was more dangerous, as evidenced by the allowance of maritime loans to have substantially higher interest because of the greater risk. In 1644 a storm that suddenly brewed up in the Sea of Marmara smashed a dozen great ships and over a hundred light ships within eyesight of Constantinople. That said, if one was willing to brave winter weather and got away with it, one could make a tidy profit by selling goods at high prices, given the market scarcity that usually prevailed due to the decline in shipping.

Sea transport could also be highly irregular in travel time. While strict timetables were not present in the mid-1600s, some passenger services on land in certain well-serviced areas such as Constantinople-Adrianople, Chalcedon-Nicaea, and Smyrna-Pergamon could follow a mostly-regular schedule with mostly-consistent travel times. Meanwhile the travel time of the mail-ship from Alexandretta to Constantinople could vary by a factor of 5, depending on winds.

Yet while much of this trade was decidedly humble and unglamorous, with fishing boats carrying small cargoes of wine, cheese, and cooking pots (and the same is true for the land; just replace fishing boat with mule or cart), there was a lot of it. The Aegean Sea was full of ships during the sailing season, and while many of the ships were only making small circuits, they knit the region together in an interconnected economic zone. The Aegean themes: the Thracian, Macedonian, Hellenic, Optimatic, Opsikian, and Thrakesian, contained the bulk of the Empire’s population. While there were huge regional variances in this zone, much of the Aegean basin was highly developed and urbanized by the standards of the mid-1600s. Sea transport alone did not make that possible, as the great cities still drew intensely from their local regions even as they imported Egyptian or Scythian grain, but the maritime links were still of crucial importance.

[1] Except for hogs, sugar, honey, wine, and firewood, the figures are derived from the OTL imports of Ottoman Constantinople in the mid-1600s, adjusted for population difference. The hogs are a change ITTL, since it is a predominantly Christian rather than Muslim city, with the hogs substituted for sheep on a 1:1 basis. Sugar and honey imports are adjusted totals for imports into Naples. Source: Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1, pgs. 347, 350-1.

Wine is population-adjusted for late 1700s Parisian imports. Source: Peter McPhee, Liberty or Death: The French Revolution, pg. 7.

Firewood consumption is copied from the OTL Topkapi Palace’s consumption in this period. Source: Sam White, The Climate of Rebellion in the early modern Ottoman Empire, pg. 31.

I must note some discrepancies regarding sheep consumption in my sources. Braudel lists OTL Constantinople as consuming 4 million sheep a year in the mid-1600s, while White lists only 1.5 million in the early 1600s. Furthermore, according to McPhee’s figures, OTL Paris in the late 1700s, of a comparable size to Constantinople 150 years earlier, only imported 400,000 sheep, plus 40,000 hogs, substantially less meat per capita than Constantinople. It is possible that the denizens of Paris were substantially less carnivorous than Constantinople, and note that the size of the sheep is unspecified (Mediterranean livestock in the early modern period was smaller than northern varieties), but even so the discrepancy is startling.

In short, treat these numbers like figures from an OTL early modern history. As exact figures they are suspect, but they can be useful references to understand the general scale of the process being described.

I must note some discrepancies regarding sheep consumption in my sources. Braudel lists OTL Constantinople as consuming 4 million sheep a year in the mid-1600s, while White lists only 1.5 million in the early 1600s.
Just a note, pork consumption in OTL Constantinople was necessarily limited if for no other reason because a significant fraction of the population did not eat eat and also tried to impose said restriction on the rest of the population. Nothing of the short here...
Just a note, pork consumption in OTL Constantinople was necessarily limited if for no other reason because a significant fraction of the population did not eat eat and also tried to impose said restriction on the rest of the population. Nothing of the short here...

That was one factor I forgot in the initial draft where I just population-adjusted Istanbul figures. It was only later when I went back that I realized pork consumption ITTL would be drastically different, so it went from 2 million sheep to 1.5 million sheep and half a million hogs.

Excellent update. I love maritime shipping - it is the basis for both my career and my timeline here.

What's the status of insurance ITTL as opposed to OTL?

I’d say about the same as this point IOTL. There are the starts of fire insurance and marine insurance companies, but they’re small-scale and short-duration (in the case of marine), and only a thing in the very biggest cities.

Medical insurance may be a bit more developed, with policies available for subscribers for the biggest Roman cities.

Recent updates really bring this region to life, great stuff.

Thanks. I’m having a lot of fun writing these.

I love economic updates like this. Keep them coming.

I’ve got a lot more in this social history planned.

The Aegean seems like an awfully busy place.

It is, but remember that the vast majority is small-scale, short-distance, and common-good type. 95+% of the trading vessels are the light ships that are 50 tons or less, and most of these are operated by part-time sea peddlers.

Second this as well.

I would also love to have insights into the water supply and sanitation of major and minor cities.

That will be coming up in the sections on urban life.
The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 4-1: Life and Death in the Big City
The Contexts of Roman Society, part 4-1: Life and Death in the Big City

By the standards of the 1640s, Roman society was heavily urbanized, although it is important to note that those standards are far different from those of today. In 1645, roughly 20% of the Roman heartland’s population lived in cities or towns. Half of that group lived in cities of 8000 inhabitants or more, with the other half living in towns of between two and eight thousand. This level of urbanization was also a new development. Between 1550 and 1630, the Roman population had increased by about 50%, while the urban population was just short of doubling in the same period, caused originally by the growth of manufacturing and commerce during the economic boom of the Flowering and then by agricultural and land strain in the 1600s.

Roman urbanization also followed a somewhat different pattern to that of other Christian states. Constantinople was not the biggest city in Christendom any longer, with London just short of a half million and Paris just about a half million. However the typical pattern was to have a megalopolis, with any other cities to be much smaller. France had Paris, but its second city King’s Harbor was one-fifth the size. England had London, but its second city Norwich was one-eleventh the size. Spain had Lisbon, but its second city Seville was three-eighths the size. Even pre-war Lombardy, controlling highly urbanized northern and central Italy, had its second city Firenze just 40% the size of its first, Milan.

Rhomania looked much different. Constantinople was still the Queen of Cities here, but the competition was much stiffer. Thessaloniki and Antioch were each half her size, with Smyrna at two-fifths and Alexandria and Nicaea at a third. In stark contrast to England and London, in the Roman heartland there were 16 cities that held at least 10% of the population of Constantinople. The only areas in Christendom with urban networks, comprising a great many cities of fairly-comparable size, which looked like Rhomania were the Low Countries, the Despotate of Sicily, and northern Italy if one removed Milan as an outlier.

One attraction of the big city was the prospect of food. Villages and towns drew their provisions from a small catchment area, while the great metropolises saw provender from across the sea. The foodstuffs shipped to urban areas only fed a fraction of the overall Roman population, but overall the flow was the most reliable given the attention and expense bestowed on it by authorities. This attracted poor rural migrants who came to the cities looking for food and work.

It is important not to oversell the effect. Government authorities wanted to avoid starving mobs, but the urban poor were hardly well-fed. A diet dependent on the bread dole and charity was monotonous, nutrient-deficient, and rarely filling. One could eat almost anything in Constantinople, provided one had enough money, but in times of scarcity, which were inevitable despite all efforts and precautions, those without money would go hungry first.

As a result, Roman urban dwellers of the period show signs of malnutrition compared to their rural counterparts. The rural peasant would be more likely to outright starve to death after a couple of bad harvests, since he or she couldn’t rely on the Egyptian grain haulers as a backup. However if they could avoid that fate, he or she was more likely to enjoy a diet better in calories and nutrients than their urban poor counterpart. Roman army records from the second half of the 1600s that list the height of new recruits show that soldiers from Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Antioch, and Smyrna were on average 3-5 centimeters shorter than those from outlying rural districts in the same theme. [1]

An absolutely key difference between historical and modern cities is that historical cities were demographic black holes. More died there than were born. Urban populations could not and did not sustain themselves naturally; their continued maintenance depended on a continual import of fresh bodies from the countryside. Without that import, pre-industrial cities would wither away, and history is littered with many examples.

People of the past were not stupid, and they no more enjoyed living in filth surrounded by bad smells than moderns do. However they lacked the modern technology to so easily dispose of waste materials, and they also had need of those waste materials in ways moderns don’t, and so were much more limited in how they could deal with such problems. Virtually every household would have a washbasin so one could clean hands, feet, and face, but having to fill and heat by hand a bath large enough for full immersion was too laborious to be readily practical, for example.

Sewers certainly existed, but were woefully inadequate by modern standards, and Rhomania was no exception. The Roman reputation for hydraulic engineering with its aqueducts and baths is deserved, but ancient Rome’s sewers were still distinctly subpar by modern standards [2] and ancient Rome was also an unhealthy demographic black hole. The distinction between clean antiquity and the filthy Middle Ages is grossly exaggerated.

Class and wealth was a factor here. The elites could afford good plumbing and sanitation, but given the expense of such infrastructure projects these were almost always not available to the poor, which represented the vast bulk of the population. Most of ancient Rome, after all, did not live in the fine villas but in cramped and hazardous apartments where the plumbing was a chamber pot plus a cesspit in the backyard. Early modern Constantinople, and other Roman cities, was similar.

Constantinople did have aqueducts, which helped much in ensuring a fresh water supply for the city and to feed the baths, which were an important aspect of city life. However this was less conducive to health than one might expect. The baths were not chlorinated, and while the water was changed, it was not done as regularly as moderns would like. In addition, going to the baths was considered a good cure for someone who was sick.

There were sewers as well, mainly servicing the upper-class districts, although even these could have problems. During a drought in 1650, the low water pressure caused the sewer to back up and overflow, with a truly appalling stench. Most people though were reliant on chamber pots and cesspits, the latter serving apartment complexes, private homes, or public latrines.

Another source of waste and bad smell was the fact that land transportation was all animal-powered, and they had a habit of defecating wherever they felt the need. The streets were swept, but that was only practical at certain times of day when traffic was low. Animals such as dogs and cats, chickens and pigs, roamed the streets, although the latter were useful as a means of trash disposal, since they ate much of it.

People dealt with the smell as best they could. They went to the baths and used their washbasins as and when they could. The rich left for the countryside when the city was at its most ripe, and aromatics were always immensely in demand as a way to cover up the bad smells.

Of course, it was not just a bad smell. City life, as evidenced by it being a demographic black hole, was profoundly unhealthy. Bad sanitation caused many gastrointestinal disorders (which likely contributed to the evidence of malnutrition in the height of urban army recruits) while cramped conditions meant that epidemics always reaped a bountiful harvest. [3] Furthermore the large masses of bodies allowed disease organisms to exist in an endemic matter. Rome was far from the only Roman city to have a malaria season, yet another reason to leave town during certain times of year. While children born in the cities might have some immunity, rural immigrants who’d grown up in cleaner disease environments were immensely vulnerable, a factor that contributed significantly to the demographic black hole.

Gastrointestinal issues were a problem more in the summer and declined with the cold, but in their place came respiratory illnesses. Heating was from burning either firewood or increasingly coal, the latter mostly lignite. The Roman heartland has large reserves of lignite coal in western Anatolia, Thrace, and Macedonia, making that a fairly easily and cheaply accessible source of fuel for the cities of the Aegean basin. Originally the use of coal had only been to heat public buildings such as the great bathhouses, but its use in private homes to replace ever-more-expensive cords of firewood had grown massively in the last fifty years. The result was that many cities were shrouded in clouds of wood and coal smoke, not as bad as future early industrial sites, but a portent of that, and unhealthy enough on their own.

Firewood and coal though still cost money, which could be a problem for the poorest of urban dwellers. Charity distributions helped a little, also dispensing blankets and old clothes for warmth. These donations were very important, as for many poor residents in their cramped and cheap wooden apartments, fires for cooking and heating weren’t an option at all, even if they had fuel. The fire hazard was far too great to allow it.

The comparatively high urbanization levels of Rhomania beginning in the late 1500s thus explain why Roman population growth plummeted after the sharp rise during the Flowering, and the difference in performance between Rhomania and Russia over the same period. Russian populations weren’t drawn into the cities nearly as much, and even then were in much smaller and comparatively sanitary settlements, and so the rural growth rate wasn’t nearly as sucked away by the demographic black hole. It has been estimated that Rhomania’s high level of early modern urbanization post-Flowering is responsible for, at minimum, halving its population growth rate, due to the corresponding demographic black hole effect, and would continue to shape Roman demographic history into the modern age. [4]

[1] This is from OTL. Army records from the reign of Louis XIV show that recruits from Paris were the shortest in the kingdom.

[2] See Kyle Harper, The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire.

[3] During the OTL Great Plague of the 1660s, London had 50% of the fatalities although it had only about 10% of England’s population.

[4] For an OTL example, see early modern London. Around 1700, London required 12,000 new bodies every year just to maintain its level of population. For comparison, that would represent a healthy, for pre-industrial standards, rate of 0.5% annual growth for a population of 2.5 million, half of England (minus London) at the time. Between 1700 and 1750, maintaining London’s population of 600,000 likely resulted in at least 400,000 excess deaths. See Sam White, The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire, pg. 274. While no one Roman city is the size of OTL London, Rhomania is appreciably more urbanized than OTL early modern England. The five largest Roman cities as of 1640 have a combined population approaching a million.
How large is Constantinople? Last I recall was it was around 300,000 during the flowering, due to some disasters during the Time of Troubles and forced people moves.
in the Roman heartland there were 16 cities that held at least 10% of the population of Constantinople.
This plays in well to the creation of a future federal state, as there will be an increased demand for transport leading to faster development of faster modes of transport. The dissemination of power will also provide extra insurance against threats both internal and external as capture of the metropole will mean less when the institutions are distributed and can act as a springboard towards recapturing Constantinople. Regarding the public health aspect, I'm not sure what the effects of more smaller cities are compared to centralized urbanization. If the adverse effects of urbanization are exponential, Rhomaion are essentially experiencing larger short-term losses for more long term gain.
Interesting stuff about negative effect of urbanization on growth.

Usual historical trope is "urbanization good and advanced, rural primitive and less sophisticated". This might also explain some things regarding "Fremen mirage" - why some more rural and less sophisticated societies sometimes triumph over urbanized empires.
Seeing the seeds of how the HRE could bounce back versus the Triple Monarchy.

London and Paris will likely continue to grow even larger and suck up all the resources.
Around what time TTL will Russia start urbanising to be comparable (or the Tier below) the other major powers? Given the massive demographic advantage they're building (and will start paying dividends in the 1700s), it looks like the post little ice age period will be their time to shine.
Around what time TTL will Russia start urbanising to be comparable (or the Tier below) the other major powers? Given the massive demographic advantage they're building (and will start paying dividends in the 1700s), it looks like the post little ice age period will be their time to shine.
I imagine that the little ice age will hit Russia very hard. The effects for them will be a lot more extreme, and they have even fewer tools to mitigate it, where the Mediterranean world can at least ship food anywhere near the coast. That said, Russia's recovery must certainly be a thing to behold, especially with their relative peace and political unity, as long as it can be maintained.