An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 5-2: Limitations on Agriculture
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, part 5-2: Limitations on Agriculture

    In histories of agriculture, a common character is the peasant, superstitious and stubborn and resistant to changes in practice and crops, who has to be tricked or coerced or even driven off the land entirely in order for progress to happen. This is an issue that arises from the historical perspective being predominantly elite-focused. Throughout history, it was elites who wrote histories to be read by other elites, and those elites rarely thought well of peasants or considered things from their point of view. The definition of elites could vary and broaden, but peasantries were rarely writers or readers of history, and so they were ill-represented, an issue that can continue in historiography today. The stereotype of the idiot country bumpkin still has a cultural resonance, even in post-peasant societies.

    However peasants had reasons for their actions, and they were not stupid, at least no more than any broad subsection of society is moronic. Their parameters and mindsets varied substantially from those agricultural innovators and those who chronicled their efforts, but subsistence agriculture peasants were operating under a different paradigm.

    Agricultural innovation did not come easily to smallholding peasants who operated on a subsistence agriculture system, for a variety of reasons. One was the nature of landholdings, split up into a variety of patches across the village lands. As mentioned, this was done for reasons of food security, but made economies of scale impossible for nearly all landowners. Given that restriction, many farmers wouldn’t make the effort, particularly if there wasn’t a convenient market that could take the surplus.

    With many peasants all holding small strips next to each other (long narrow strips were the preferred format because of the ease of plowing), fencing individual strips was not feasible. It took up space, which could be proportionally quite large compared to the strips, and used up timber that could be used for other things. Also animal manure was the only fertilizer they had, so the livestock were let out to graze on the stubble and fertilize the fields with their droppings, which they couldn’t do if there were a bunch of fences in the way. (There was also an element of peasant egalitarianism at work here. A richer peasant may own more livestock, but while grazing their droppings would help fertilize the strips of other poorer peasants.)

    However this meant that everyone needed to coordinate his crop routines, so that the livestock would be let out to graze just on stubble. Different crops were planted and harvested at different times, and it was no good to try a different crop if that meant the village livestock would come eat it because everyone else was at stubble and wanted to manure but the innovator’s wasn’t ready to harvest yet. With the need for consensus, it was much easier to just follow the path of traditional inertia and just do things the way things were always done.

    But it wasn’t just inertia. The way things were always done had clearly worked, as evidenced by the fact that the village and peasants were there. The old ways didn’t always work, as peasants painfully knew, but they had a backup in the village, with neighbors helping those having bad years with the understanding that they would be helped in turn. (Disasters can hit that strike the whole village, but most calamities are more localized and random. Frost can kill the crop in one part of the village, but a more sheltered area is fine, for example.)

    But, for the sake of argument, the village does decide to try something new. Except they don’t have the advantage of hindsight, and that something new may fail. And if that happens, the peasants have no backup. Everyone had to try the new technique or crop, meaning that in the event of failure, it could very well be universal, meaning that there are no peasants who had good years who can provide back up. This is where the inevitable setups can and frequently do turn into disaster, because it breaks the only social safety net.

    An agricultural innovation that fails can easily mean that a peasant has to watch some of his or her children starve, and if some must be sacrificed it must be the youngest. The next crop needs to be planted and harvested, and so if there is not enough food to go around in the winter, those who can work in the spring must be prioritized, and those who cannot are sacrificed for the greater good. The old ways have their risks and chances of failure, but they at least have a track record, a critical consideration when the costs of failure can be so high.

    The Roman heartland, like the rest of the Mediterranean, was poorly endowed agriculturally compared to lands north of the Alps. Soils were thin and the vast majority of the heartland was hilly or mountainous, and so much of the landscape was not the ideal farming type. Roman farmers did what they could, but their means were limited and the hand they had been dealt was a poor one, especially compared to the likes of their French or German contemporaries. Travelers who had been on both sides of the Alps noted the smallness of Mediterranean livestock compared to those north, with adult sheep being described as small enough that an adult man could lift them in one hand. [1]

    The Mediterranean consumer did have a different advantage over his or her northern contemporary, in that they had a greater variety of plants available to them such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The Romans sometimes called scurvy the Dutch disease. Because of their fairly short ocean voyages to India via the Red Sea, scurvy was much less of a danger for them compared to the Latins, and so scurvy wasn’t associated with long sea voyages. But Greek mercenaries were common in Lotharingian army units, and in winter garrisons the scurvy had been a serious danger, unlike at home where citrus was bountiful, dried if need be, but always present. [2] (One side effect was to obscure the cause of scurvy, with many attributing it to bad air from cold northern winters or too much close confinement on a long sea voyage, as opposed to a nutritional deficiency.)

    But producing those varieties in quantity was hard, with thin soils and marginal landscapes that did not yield much, especially when manure was the only fertilizer, and there never seemed to be enough of it. As the city night soil fertilized the fields outside the city, peasants used their household night soil to fertilize their gardens. Animals were used for a variety of products and labor, but their manure was very important. Many peasants kept pigeons, which were a very cheap source of protein and easy to keep in large numbers, but the primary purpose of pigeon keeping was for their droppings, excellent fertilizer by the standards of the day. [3]

    The necessity of manure to make marginal lands productive did impose a vicious feedback loop. Those on marginal lands would be poorer because of low or nonexistent surpluses, which meant they couldn’t have as many farm animals. That deprived them of the all-important manure needed to make their lands viable, which meant they would stay poor. With a lack of fertilizer, marginal lands had to be fallowed for much of the time, sometimes producing only 1 crop every three years, or worse. Thus poorer peasants were especially dependent on the communal pasturing of village livestock on the stubble, enforcing the need for everything to follow the same crop pattern. The other source of manure, working with local pastoralists, also imposed the same need to prevent enclosures and synchronize crops.

    This also had an effect on richer peasants who might have enough land holdings, if consolidated, to make a serious effort at commercial agriculture. If they did so, they would also be consolidating their livestock and their vital manure, which would significantly weaken the viability of their poorer neighbors’ lands. And those poorer neighbors knew it and thus would resist any such effort. And while the richer peasants might, by virtue of their comparative wealth, get away with it in the short-term, such success would likely turn to ash in the long-term. The consolidation would increase the risk of one disaster wiping out all the rich peasant’s crop at once, and there were few peasants, even the richer ones, who could readily absorb such blows without recourse to the village support network. Except by their previous actions, they had both alienated the neighbors who would provide such support, and weakened their ability to provide said support even if they had been inclined.

    Thus the old ways of doing things had tremendous staying power. It has been said that in terms of material products and practices, the peasants of Phrygia who’d watched Odysseus march off to war with the Persians would’ve been little different from those peasants of Phrygia who’d watched Croesus march off to war with the Persians some twenty one centuries earlier. There is much truth to this statement, provided one is using examples from rural areas distant from markets and towns. There were many more of those markets and towns in 1640 CE compared to 640 BCE, but outside that zone the statement has merit.

    Probably the most famous example of this traditionalism, at least in Latin accounts of Roman social life, though is unfair and betrays an equally traditional custom of judging peasantry by non-peasant contexts. Water wheels were extremely common in the countryside in the 1640s, used for a variety of tasks. But most were horizontal water wheels, of a type Strabo would’ve recognized, and far less efficient than the vertical water wheel. At first glance this seems like a textbook example of the primitive nature of much Roman agriculture.

    However these horizontal water wheels, while inefficient, are easy to build and maintain. Vertical water wheels are far more efficient in terms of the work they can do but require a complex gearing mechanism to make that work useful, and are thus far more expensive. A great landlord with the ability to force their peasantry to use only their mill thus had a large captive audience of customers that would merit the expense to pay for the greater initial outlay. But the horizontal water wheels of the countryside were primarily for the use of individual or small group peasant holdings. There was not enough expected advantage to warrant the expensive vertical water wheel, but the horizontal fulfilled their needs admirably, and so that is what they used and continued to use. It should also be noted that in contexts where the scale was big enough to justify the extra expense, vertical water wheels would be found in abundance.

    Thus those many horizontal water wheels are a good exemplar, but for different reasons than are usually assumed. The peasants who built and maintained them knew their needs, and also their resources and limitations, and the limits of the possible and the dangers of pushing past them, off a cliff, were ever present in their minds. But the water wheels also showed a willingness to develop and innovate when the opportunities were present and available. Ever since the end of the Time of the Troubles and the era of the Flowering, through the rising urbanization and commercialization of society, those opportunities, for both good and ill, had been growing.

    [1] From OTL, see Braudel, Mediterranean, Vol. 1. Early modern livestock in general would be small compared to modern varieties, but the difference in size was present and noticed by observers in the OTL 1500s and 1600s.

    [2] Also from OTL, but replace Romans with Spaniards. Spanish garrisons in the Low Countries contracted scurvy, which they were not used to getting when stationed in Iberia or Italy.

    [3] Michael Decker, “Frontier Settlement and Economy in the Byzantine East” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 61 (2007), pgs. 258-60.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 5-3: Innovations in Agriculture
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 5-3: Innovations in Agriculture

    As mentioned, the barriers to innovations in agriculture were many, but they were not impermeable, and examples of change and development in this period are readily apparent alongside the long arc of traditional practices.

    Most barriers pertained to cereal cultivation. Cereals, while necessary for life, were per-unit the least profitable and were extremely bulky. Thus investing in improving cereal yields was only worthwhile on larger consolidated holdings near a large market or with easy access to water-borne transport. Cereals were grown as a cash crop near the larger cities, with the big and heavily-manured estates producing impressive yields by the standards of the day, but they were very much the exception.

    Most innovations focused on other areas, where the incentives were greater and the barriers smaller. The majority practiced by agriculturists in the mid-1600s were not new and would’ve been recognized by their medieval predecessors. Examples included bringing waste land under cultivation, establishing irrigation systems and water wheels, and planting gardens, orchards, olive trees, and vines.

    Roman law incentivized land improvement in these ways, even to the extent of somewhat overriding private property rights. If an individual or individuals (sometimes a whole village would band together to take advantage) built an improvement, such as a water wheel or a vineyard, on wasteland that belonged to another, the labor gave the laborer a claim, even though it was not on their land. And not just a claim, but a priority claim. By the 1600s, the already centuries-old legal tradition was that in such cases, two-thirds of the profit from the improvement went to the one responsible, and only one-third to the actual owner of the land used. [1]

    The increase in size and number of markets and traveling merchants, including even the humble peddlers, further encouraged improvements that would increase yields of cash crops, and even with typical smallholding practices, almost everything other than cereals could fall into that category. Some areas even had regional specialties. The Pontic coast was, and is, famous for its hazelnuts and cherries, while Amisos then and now produced what are considered the best pears and pickles in the Roman heartland, and the Tauric peninsula was the source of the best honey. [2] Farmers in those areas knew the reputations and planted accordingly.

    But for all the charm of cherries and pickles, and the clichéd but accurate examples of cotton and flax, far and away the most common cash crops were the products of the vine and olive tree. (Olive trees and vines were also subsistence crops and thus illustrate the difficulty, if not impossibility, of rigid categorization.)

    Olive trees produced olive oil, mostly for consumption, but even low-quality oil had its uses. It was used to make soap and also as a cheap fuel for oil lamps. Thus the owner of an olive tree could rely on definitely being able to sell their product if they had any access at all to a market. It is estimated that a good olive tree could yield a profit of 20-25% [3], with minimal labor requirements except for brief high-intensity periods. The disadvantage was that olive trees took several years to mature before they could produce oil, and the crop was every two years, so it was a long-term investment.

    By far though the greatest cash crop was that of the vine. Based on the estimated annual imports into Constantinople, the inhabitants of the Queen of Cities consumed two-thirds of a gallon of wine per person per day. There is no reason to assume the consumption of the rest of the population was appreciably different, and in addition to the thirsty denizens of the Imperial heartland Rhomania had a thriving wine export trade, especially to the massive Russian market. Even as early as the late stage of Andreas Niketas’s reign, the island of Crete alone was producing over 100,000 metric tons of wine a year, half of which was exported. [4] Wine was an important source of calories and, very importantly in pre-refrigeration days, it kept well.

    Vineyards were by far the most valuable agricultural real estate, surpassing even the first-rate and highly-fertilized arable cereal lands near major settlements. Going by tax assessments to estimate their market values, vineyards were eight to twelve times more valuable than first-rate arable land of comparable size. [5] Considering that, it is understandable that anyone who could grow grapes would grow grapes.

    Roman wine exports were facing increasing competition by mid-century. Roman sweet wines had been a prominent export going back well into the Middle Ages, partially because they kept well on long sea voyages unlike French and Italian dry wines. However by 1650 the Spanish were growing sweet wines of their own while the French invented the glass bottle and cork stopper combination characteristic of all wines today. This enabled dry wines to be kept for much longer. [6] Morea and Crete, which had specialized in the production of sweet wines for the Latin market, were especially hard-hit by this, and Monemvasia’s relative decline in this period is connected.

    Another source of profitability was via the growing availability of distillation technology. During the Little Ice Age, farmers with lands that had been marginal for grape-growing beforehand, partially in Bulgaria but predominantly in the Kingdom of Serbia, gave up the practice because of growing impossibility. However this potential massive blow to their income was overcome by growing plums instead and distilling them into raki, a type of plum brandy, and selling that to thirsty Serbian and Roman townsfolk. [7] It is still a common product and popular drink south of the Danube to this day.

    An additional factor spurring wine production was the nature of Roman inheritance patterns. Overwhelmingly the practice was of partible inheritance, although with regional variations. Usually the division among offspring was equal, at least as much as physically possible, although sometimes one heir might be favored above others. (This would go to the extent of livestock being divvied up into shares, with proportional rights to its labor and products, such as milk, wool, and dung. These shares could be commodified and traded, with certain types of shares that also included claims on offspring of said livestock being more valuable than ones restricted to the animal only. [8]) Usually though, the favor was relatively modest, and the practice of primogeniture was conspicuously absent. The one exception was the Imperial throne itself, and even there while primogeniture was de facto, it was never de jure.

    Primogeniture was highly offensive to the Roman sense of justice, even disregarding its association with Latins. The idea of the sanctity of contracts was important in Roman society, but social pressure bore heavily on that in the matter of inheritance. A parent that would show such obvious and overweening favoritism toward one offspring, at the expense of all others, was clearly a terrible parent and committing a monstrous injustice.

    Custom played a major role here. In theory, the will could be arranged however the principals willed, but one example of social pressure has already been given. Furthermore, by custom at least a third and typically one half of all property had to be willed to offspring; a parent couldn’t try and disinherit their heirs entirely by bequeathing all their property to the church. The fraction was determined by local custom, as well as whether or not the first or favored son would get a slightly preferential inheritance.

    Now a common workaround was for parents to give their offspring their ‘inheritance portion’ early, with a daughter’s marriage portion acting as their inheritance portion as a frequent example. Once that obligation was discharged, then the principal was free to bequeath their remaining property as they saw fit, but the key was that they could do so only after they had discharged that obligation. In the absence of a will, the property would be evenly divided among all the offspring, with sons and daughters all receiving an equal portion. [9]

    This was done to uphold a sense of justice and familial obligations, but it also had the effect of fragmenting landholdings over the course of generations. Small plots were not effective for cereal production, but plots of even minute proportions could be commercially viable if they were planted with vines or acted as vegetable gardens and had access to a market. So peasants in these positions would focus on grapes and vegetables for sale at markets, which did increase their activity in commerce but also increased their dependence on said markets for cereals. Given the limitations of transportation of the period, this could be a risky gamble.

    The inhabitants of Crete, with small and often rugged plots, focused on sweet wine production for export to the point that by 1620 the island only produced a third of its cereal needs. The remainder was made up by imports of grain, financed by the sale of said sweet wine, from Thessaly and especially Egypt. Crete was extreme, with its easy access to the Egyptian grain trade, but only in extent, not in concept. [10]

    Romans were not blind to the problems of fragmentation and worked to mitigate its effects. One way was to limit the amount of offspring, although the high infant mortality rate meant that family planning this way could easily backfire to the other extreme. This might explain the comparatively late age at which Roman infants were weaned, with this not happening until the age of 2 at the earliest, with at least one example of a four-year-old still being breastfed. [11]

    Marriage strategies were probably more reliable, with marriage alliances allowing new holdings to be consolidated out of fragments from separate family lands. Less attractively, this could also incentivize marriages within the family, so as to keep property within the family. This was more an issue with the upper class, who were more likely to have the resources and connections to push against the church consanguinity restrictions. One of the most extreme examples comes from 1650, when the Megas Tzaousios (Imperial Chief of Police) tried to marry his twelve-year-old niece, the only heir of his deceased brother, to keep the substantial property associated with her in the family. The Patriarch’s exact response is unknown, simply listed as ‘unprintable’, but the marriage did not go through, much to the rage and resentment of the Megas Tzaousios.

    These strategies were not entirely effective, and sometimes potential heirs were encouraged to migrate to the cities with some sort of allotment in lieu of their inheritance. Others made that journey more ‘voluntarily’, abandoning their meager or by-now nonexistent holdings in search of opportunities in the cities, with their left-behind crumbs being absorbed into more viable estates. This was the main impetus behind the urban expansion of Rhomania, creating a large population of urban poor, or even destitute.

    With minimal resources and lacking the connections and social safety nets of their villages, their prospects were grim. And even with this flow, the proportion of landless or near-landless rural poor, dependent on working on others’ land for survival, was growing as population increased, with the increasing working of ever-more-marginal lands only helping somewhat. This was a precarious position with the agricultural labor market being extremely unreliable, with intense demands for labor at certain times (harvest) and virtually nil at others, while the person needs to eat all year round. Comparatively, the Russian peasant might have a worse climate (although not necessarily soil), but he would be much more likely to own at least some land, which made him much more secure than the Roman rural landless.

    A major possibility of agricultural innovation during this period was the adoption of Terranovan crops, and the Roman record of the period is again a mix that defies easy categorization. Tomatoes are an example of a breakout food, quickly adopted and spread throughout the Empire where conditions could support it. A major contributing factor was the spread of pizza, a Sicilian invention that took the Roman Empire by storm, with a tomato sauce base, which produced a huge demand. Demetrios III helped to popularize it by his well-known consumption of the food, although even without him it was spreading wildly. In just a generation, pizza became an important part of the Roman cultural expression, with the details of pizza presentation and consumption having important social ramifications. Roman pizza etiquette was already well-established as early as 1650.

    A boon to tomato production was that it was a garden crop which could be grown in those patches without the need for communal consent. When one moved outside the garden, it got more complicated, which delayed the introduction of other foodstuffs. Corn/Maize production was growing slowly but steadily by the mid-1600s, with its resistance to drought making it an attractive alternative to grain, and it could just replace grains in its agricultural niche. Another boon was that its stalks and cobbs could be used as fodder and also fuel, a concern in areas where firewood was scarce and manure was needed for fertilizer. Areas dependent on corn though commonly had issues with pellagra, as they were not necessarily planted with beans as was the native Terranovan practice.

    Potatoes meanwhile were known, but rare and very unpopular. It was an ugly food, unlike the more visually appealing tomato and corn, which mattered in terms of attracting new consumers. It was also believed to cause flatulence, which certainly didn’t help its reputation. [12] It was disparaged as a food really for hogs, and it was mainly used to feed pigs at this time; for human consumption it was limited to the utterly destitute. Its taste also disagreed with Roman tastes. The Bishop of Klaudiopolis, who was the 17th-century equivalent of a foodie, and an arbiter of taste during the period, said “the potato requires substantial seasoning to make it at all tolerable to the tongue and is incapable of standing on its own merits, thus illustrating its own merits are worthless. Furthermore nothing can make it pleasant to the bowels; no potato dish should be consumed at a distance from the toilet”. It is unsurprising that such an endorsement fails to attract consumers.

    Potatoes thus make no headway in the commercial agricultural sphere, but they also make little headway in subsistence agriculture. Corn visually is an obvious stand-in for cereal grains, but potatoes are not an obvious visual replacement. It would seem the best place to grow them would be in the garden patches; the potato flower blossoms are, in contrast to the tuber, valued for commercial sale in the towns. Except that would mean using land that is typically the most commercially-profitable to grow crops that are commercially worthless. Looked at from that angle, nobody would want to do so.

    Those who would most benefit from potato production would’ve been the poor. The landless had no way to do so, but right above them were those who only had a small patch of land to call their own. Their lot was precarious, with real concerns about slipping into the landless class below them, and thus the social cachet of potatoes with destitution would make the idea of themselves eating and growing potatoes especially offensive. The suggestion that they might become so poor as to only have food fit for hogs available to them was absolutely no joke, and while they had little else, they still had their pride and self-respect. Starvation might push someone to suffer such utter humiliation, but practically any Roman peasant who resist, kicking and screaming, having to go over that threshold.

    Thus the few potatoes that are grown in this period are mainly for their flowers, with the tubers given to the pigs or donated to the poorest of the population, which further enhances its poor cultural status. The rigors of the Little Ice Age would increase its production and consumption in some marginal areas, but even so it would remain a minor crop, far less significant than corn or the traditional Mediterranean crops. [13]

    The Sweet Waters of Asia also help explain the course of Roman agricultural innovations. The Sweet Waters were developed for the purpose of providing food for the White Palace. Agricultural innovations there were keyed toward fulfilling that goal. Ensuring the Emperor could always have the ingredients for a fresh salad was a priority; improving base cereal yields in low-quality Anatolian soil was not. The Sweet Waters could and was an exemplar for other Roman agriculturists, but this operated in the same vein. It encouraged ways to grow crops that could be marketed for the mesoi and dynatoi in the cities, such as tomatoes, but not cheap bulk foods for the poor such as maize or potatoes.

    Roman agriculture was thus a bundle of contradictions, the ancient juxtaposed with the modern. The great estate, producing entirely for the market, could be growing only wheat, a crop grown in the area for thousands of years. Meanwhile the peasant next door would be enthusiastically growing tomatoes for the pizzerias in town. Corn would be adopted as a supplement to cereals, while any peasant with a patch of land to their name would rather die than be seen growing or eating potatoes.

    It was in-between the pre-modern and the modern, which was a problem. The imperatives of the market were growing throughout regions that had been subsistence, even if it was limited in reach and often tightly focused such as in vineyards, orchards, or gardens. Yet it had been growing remarkably ever since the Flowering and continuing afterwards. But market imperatives damaged the preexisting social safety; surpluses went to the market, not to support neighbors. (One could argue that the resulting monetary surplus could be distributed to neighbors as a type of hybrid, but times of food scarcity were inevitable in these conditions. And in times of food scarcity, the price of food at the market would go up, meaning that right when the money would be most needed, it would also be the least useful.)

    And efforts to boost production for the market, such as enclosure and consolidation, while benefitting the specific owners, damaged their neighbors, weakening social cohesion and increasing tensions. Meanwhile, given the limitations of transportation and agricultural production, which did not have the benefits of modern innovations (trains, trucks, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, refrigeration, etc.) which underpin modern market agriculture, the market was thus a questionable and unreliable replacement for that communal village safety net. It was certainly not adequate to the challenges of the Little Ice Age.

    [1] From OTL. See Angeliki Laiou, “The Agrarian Economy, Thirteenth-Fifteenth Centuries” in The Economic History of Byzantium, pgs. 362-63.

    [2] From OTL. See Carl M. Kortepeter, “Ottoman Imperial Policy and the Economy of the Black Sea Region in the Sixteenth Century”, in Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 86 No. 2 (1966), pgs. 104, 107.

    [3] Laiou, “Agrarian Economy”, pg. 359.

    [4] Taken from OTL Crete in 1512. Allaire B. Stallsmith, “One Colony, Two Mother Cities: Cretan Agriculture under Venetian and Ottoman Rule”, in Hesperia Supplements Vol. 40 (2007), pg. 157.

    [5] Laiou, 360.

    [6] Stallsmith, 159.

    [7] Jelena Mrgić, “Wine or “Raki”- The Interplay of Climate and Society in Early Modern Ottoman Bosnia”, in Environment and History Vol. 17 No. 4 (2011).

    [8] For OTL examples, see Alan Mikhail, “Animals as Property in Early Modern Ottoman Egypt” in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient Vol. 53 no. 4 (2010).

    [9] Practices and customs are from OTL. Angeliki E. Laiou, “Family Structure and the Transmission of Property”, in A Social History of Byzantium, ed. John Haldon, pg. 55-69.

    [10] IOTL, Venetian Crete was also dependent on grain imports by the end of the period for the same reason of focusing on wine production for commercial reasons. And in that case, the imports were from Ottoman Anatolia. See Stallsmith “One Colony, Two Mother Cities”.

    [11] Chryssi Bourbou and Sandra Garvie-Lok, “Bread, Oil, Wine, and Milk: Feeding Infants and Adults in Byzantine Greece”, Hesperia Supplements Vol. 49 (2015): pgs. 175-76.

    [12] Belief is from OTL. Fernand Braudel, Civilization & Capitalism, Vol. 1: The Structures of Everyday Life, pg. 170.

    [13] The performance of corn and potatoes is copied from OTL, although the cultural effects of potatoes ITTL are elaborated. Potatoes would not become common in the Ottoman Empire until the 1800s. Sam White, The Climate of Rebellion in the early modern Ottoman Empire, pg. 286. The reluctance to adopt the potato prior to the 1700s and 1800s seems to have been a European-wide phenomenon, with some local exceptions. See Braudel, pgs. 167-71 for more.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 6: Man-Devouring Sheep
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 6: Man-Devouring Sheep

    Keeping animals was a vital component of Roman food production. They provided meat and dairy products and were the main source of the all-important manure, vital for providing everything else. Even the poorest peasant that could still claim at least a little land in their own name would try to have some animals, be it some dovecotes or using their garden patch to support some chickens and a goat or two. Access to common grazing lands for pasturage was vital for these peasants on the margins and they thus stoutly resisted efforts at consolidating those into private holdings and enclosures. To lose the ability to support their livestock meant losing the eggs, milk, and cheese that was often their main source of cash, and the loss of manure imperiled the fertility of their small arable holdings. Close to the edge, such a move could easily tip this group over it, to the point where the choice was either eating potatoes or starving.

    Their resistance could easily, and often did, turn violent, but the peasants saw nothing wrong in that. ‘It was not right,’ they argued, ‘that one man should feast at the expense of starving twenty others’. Given the difficulties of expanding production, growth was often a zero-sum game, with one person’s gain truly coming at the expense of others. (As an example, wastelands could be brought under cultivation to make up for the loss of commons. But that required wastelands to be available and accessible, and given that they had been left as wastelands before, their quality was guaranteed to be inferior to the lands that had already been utilized.) Given this fierce social pressure, even rich peasants would not usually try to engage in such practices. Only those higher up in society, with a much broader social gulf between them and those peasants-on-the-margin, could realistically expect to perform such practices.

    Some of the enclosures were done to facilitate market agriculture but, as in England at the same time, many were for the benefit of sheep. While flax, cotton, and silk textile production were all important, the majority of Roman textiles were still made of wool. Good pasturage could be worth a great deal, even more than first-rate arable, while raising sheep had much lower labor costs than cereal or garden cultivation. Thus while most animal husbandry was done on marginal lands that could do that but couldn’t support agriculture, there was market incentive for good pasturage to consume viable arable lands. This was an increasing issue as the countryside became more commercialized from the Flowering onwards.

    This exacerbated the land issue. The cities, while having masses of urban destitute, also had growing populations eager for more textiles and also meat. Those landowners connected commercially to agents in the cities, producing for the market, were thus incentivized to prioritize animal production. That could and did strain cereal production, but the cities where the money was could get cereals from their heavily-manured hinterlands, or from Thessaly, Sicily, Vlachia, Scythia, or Egypt. The ones really feeling the pinch were the rural poor, whose smaller consumption of textiles and meat were usually sustained by their own production, such as the combined village herds fed on the village green, provided they could keep said green.

    Thus was created the image of nature reversed, of nature perverted, of a society and landscape where instead of men eating sheep, instead sheep ate men. The image was a powerful one, frequently referenced during social protests. But the enclosed and consolidated sheep pasture, while behind the growth in wool and thus textile production over the last century, was still a minority example. It looms large both because of its association with the market and cities, and because of its prominence as a source of social tension. However most animal husbandry in Rhomania still fell outside this example.

    Animal husbandry, like agriculture, spanned the gamut. Every possible permutation likely had at least one example of it being practiced somewhere in Rhomania at some point. As mentioned, most peasants, if they had any land or access or commons, would use them to support at least a few animals, pigeons if nothing else. Chickens, pigeons, pigs, oxen, horses, donkeys, mules, camels, and the Egyptian jamusa (buffalo cow) were typically managed by their owners, whether individually or as family units. The two examples of fowl were cheap and easy enough to manage that it did not make sense to consolidate. The other examples given were instead far too valuable to risk being given over to be watched by others, except for pigs which often managed themselves. Given the lack of liquid capital, animals were often the most significant and mobile form of capital in the countryside, with their value even being split into shares which could be traded, gifted, and inherited as a form of commodity.

    (Beef cattle are somewhat of an exception. Beef cattle ownership was typically of large numbers owned by a few hands and were thus managed in large herds. With the other animals, while the large landowners could own huge numbers, most ownership was of a few animals at most, but with a great number of individual owners. This included oxen, emphatically kept not for meat but for manure and especially labor.)

    Sheep and goats fell into an intermediate category. While some peasants might keep a few on their own patches, especially for milk and cheese production, it was a typical village practice to consolidate herds and manage them jointly. The shepherds could either be outside hired hands or, far more often, young men of the village, who would drive the flocks from pastures and to market, with the end profit from sales being divvied up back at the village in proportion to the animals originally provided. Losses would also be assigned on the same basis.

    The range of these movements could vary considerably. Sometimes there might not be much horizontal movement from winter to summer pastures, but substantial vertical movement as the herds moved up and down the mountains. For this example of animal husbandry, where the focus was on a sedentary village focusing on agriculture with husbandry on the side, this low-horizontal but high-vertical movement model was typical, a way of utilizing all available local ecological niches.

    But that was not the only model. In Roman Europe, many of the shepherds were called Vlachs. Many were ethnic Vlachs originally, but not all, yet the label was applied universally to the type. These were full-time shepherds attached to no village, unlike the village shepherds who would usually do this for a few years at a particular stage in their early life before settling down as farmers. They either owned their flocks, or managed them for great landowners, trading the products of their herd or the profits from their sale to get the agricultural and other products they needed.

    This was a form of nomadism, but since it was done on foot and almost exclusively with sheep and goats, this doesn’t fit the typical image of nomadism. For that, one must turn to Roman Asia.

    Pastoral nomadism of the more stereotypical type had been prominent in central and eastern Anatolia at least from the arrival of the Turks, and remained so since. The Laskarid re-conquest had not altered this picture substantially. A destruction of the nomads would not have been feasible and wouldn’t have been desirable even if it were. Nomads provided valuable animal products and did so utilizing wide areas of land that would not have been suitable for agriculture anywhere. As just one example, Roman (and Ottoman) armies were accompanied by huge flocks of sheep, a mobile larder which was extremely helpful for logistics. Sheep and shepherds usually came from the nomad population, as did many of the horses for the Roman cavalry.

    Nomads in Anatolia were interspersed around and between agricultural zones, and varied substantially even amongst themselves. Nor were these nomadic groups entirely pastoralist and mobile. Some nomadic groups were properly agro-pastoralists, with elements of the community being sedentary and practicing agriculture while the main group managed the herds. These were a mirror image of the sedentary villagers which practiced agriculture with animal husbandry on the side, just with the emphases reversed.

    As a general rule of thumb, as one moved from west to east, the significance of agricultural activity as practiced by members of the in-group (as opposed to trading for agricultural products with outsiders, which all did) decreased, while the scale of nomadic herding increased. Nomads in the west usually moved dozens of kilometers between seasonal pastures; in the east it could be hundreds of kilometers, with one end point sometimes beyond the frontier. The numerical significance of nomads also grew as one went east. Around 1600, one-sixth of Anatolia’s population was of a nomadic group, but in some eastern kephalates this proportion neared one-half. [1] The nomads were primarily of a Greco-Turkish ethnicity, with Kurds becoming significant in the eastern reaches.

    There was always tensions between nomads and settled folk, the constant conflict between the desert and the sown, but there was also cooperation. Both sides needed the products of the others. Many poorer peasants depended on the manure of nomadic livestock grazing on their stubble to fertilize their fields, while the nomads needed the agriculture products and that stubble was good grazing lands.

    But limited resources could cause tensions, especially as agricultural populations expanded into marginal lands. The nomads might need to graze their livestock now, but the peasants weren’t ready to have livestock clomping through their fields full of ripening crops as opposed to stubble. Land and especially water were finite resources, and naturally both groups favored the demands of their own group in priority to the other.

    Authorities worked to control nomads to avoid disturbances and conflicts. Nomads didn’t wander aimlessly but had specific pastures and routes, although authorities tightened and restricted these to a point further than most nomads would’ve liked. This enabled authorities to control their movements, keep the nomads under at least some surveillance, and tax their herds.

    There were efforts to settle some nomads down as farmers, but the results were mixed. The more settled nomads, those with larger proportions of the in-group already involved in agriculture, were usually the least troublesome and so left alone, meaning that the groups most likely to be faced with efforts at forced settlement were the ones least familiar with agriculture. In addition they usually got lower-quality arable land as well, as the top-quality was already claimed by earlier settled groups. Furthermore this was also done as a security measure, where the forced-settled nomads were placed as a buffer to defend regular agriculturists against other troublesome nomads. But these former-nomads no longer had the mobility to defend themselves against attackers as they had in the past. Given all these factors, it is unsurprising that most involved in these experiments elected to return to familiar nomadic ways if at all possible. As a result, most efforts to expand agriculture production and more-easily-managed (by authorities) settled life depended on the expansion of agriculturists.

    Nomadism was also prominent along Rhomania’s eastern frontier, but the scale was different. While there were many nomadic groups in Anatolia, their individual size was small and efforts at combination, at forming a large tribal confederacy, would have been met with a harsh military response. While the mobility of the nomads and the ruggedness and lack of accessibility of many of their lands meant complete control was elusive, in Anatolia the nomads were at least somewhat surrounded by sedentary dwellers and imperial authorities, which allowed for this level of control. [2]

    This was emphatically not the case in Syria. While political maps would draw a line, the Roman Empire really just faded out into the eastern desert…somewhere. This extremely long and open frontier was impossible to police, and the only effective way to keep out troublesome nomads was to hire a different nomad to do so. Here tribal confederacies could and did form on a scale that utterly dwarfed Anatolian groups; the Anizzah were the most prominent and illustrious (in terms of Roman rank) but hardly unique.

    Nomadic groups here couldn’t be fragmented and managed as in Anatolia, but there was virtue out of necessity from the point of view of the metropole. These powerful confederacies were potent military tools, useful at guarding both against the Ottomans as well as other Bedouin groups. The likes of the Anizzah, Owais, and Haddad needed to be treated with respect, care, and a goodly amount of bribes, but they helped keep the frontier secure.

    [1] In the 1500s, Ottoman Anatolia was one-quarter nomadic with some southeastern districts up to 60%. Emily Louise Hammer and Benjamin S. Arbuckle. “10,000 Years of Pastoralism in Anatolia: A Review of Evidence for Variability in Pastoral Lifeways” in Nomadic Peoples Vol. 21 No. 2 (2017), pg. 242.

    [2] There was one quasi-exception to this rule, of which more later.
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    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 7: In the Villages and the Mountains
  • I’m curious as to what will happen to the Aromanians in this TL?
    They'd definitely be known as Vlachs ITTL. I figure they'll remain as a minority group in Roman Europe, perhaps retaining some linguistic distinction but otherwise culturally becoming very Hellenized.


    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 7: In the Villages and the Mountains

    The Roman Empire of the early modern period has a reputation of being a centralized state, and that is accurate, but that was by the standards of the early modern period. The Roman state was nowhere nearly as involved in the personal and daily activities of its population as are even the most libertarian of modern states. As just one example, licenses to operate motor vehicles on public roads, along with attendant limitations and penalties for breach, are accepted in modern states without a second thought. Had a similar suggestion been made to license horse-riding in early modern Rhomania, the espouser would’ve been viewed as insane. The only restrictions on riding a horse on public roads was that the rider couldn’t be a Jew or Sunni Muslim, while a ‘noble heretic’ had to have a certificate (membership in militia units or certain government posts automatically provided such certification).

    The Roman administration had a hierarchy that reached out from Constantinople throughout the kephalates, but at the purely local level, the state was largely absent. The hierarchy existed above that level, but did not reach down into it. Cities and towns, as they were centers of administration, were somewhat of an exception, but once one got down to the level of neighborhoods, local administration was in the hands of locals. And 80% of the population lived in rural villages, where government officials were thin on the ground, present only when they came through the area on their circuits.

    In those villages, most administration and leadership was in the hands of village elders, the oikodespotai, and the village assembly. Certain serious issues such as cases of murder were supposed to be referred up to kephalate authorities, but most enforcement of local law and order were settled in the village by the village. These were decided by local custom, as bounded by Roman law, such as a revised version of the Farmer’s Law, approaching its 1000th birthday but still largely in effect.

    Village authorities were integrated with provincial authorities. Tax assessors would assess the total taxes due on all village land, but then the village authorities would be the ones responsible for divvying up the taxes between the villagers themselves. This did lead to opportunities for corruption and tax evasion by village elders, but there were limits. Even richer peasants could ill afford to alienate their poorer neighbors given the need for support during bad harvests. Furthermore poorer peasants could only be squeezed so much, and in the event of tax arrears those taxmen knew who the richer peasants were, and would go after them first to make up the shortfall.

    Despite being called oikodespotai, the village elders and richer peasants (the categories were almost always synonymous) rarely had the power to be despotic. Village assemblies were typically made up of the head of every landed household, and all had a voice. Now some had a bigger voice than others, but that was based on informal rather than formal means. Furthermore there was an emphasis on unanimous consensus, with voting done in the open and the minority expected to give way and accede to the wishes of the commune. Given the need for the support of the commune when, not if, bad times came, the minority could reliably be expected to cooperate. (Note that only landed household heads were present in the assembly. Landless laborers, besides being economically precarious, were also political nonentities.)

    The above description assumes an entirely free village. The presence of a large landowner, holding all or some of the village-worked land that were then populated and worked by tenants, would complicate things. But even so, the presence of a village commune would push back against landowner power and the commune could always appeal, if need be, to provincial authority. That did not mean that powerful landowners couldn’t leverage their power disparity into something resembling a de facto fief, especially in more isolated areas where Roman provincial authority was weaker (the dynatos that so enraged a young Demetrios Sideros, Kephale of Skammandros, is one infamous example), but it was harder and lacked legal basis.

    These big landowners, which could just as easily be a monastery instead of a dynatos, were a feature of the lowlands and hill country where farming dominated. In the mountains and wilds, matters grew more complicated and local elites could wield substantially more power and autonomy. The most successful of these were often known as ‘mountain lords’. (The term can be somewhat misleading as mountain folk might be organized into structures more reminiscent of a lowland village commune rather than a hierarchical chiefdom, and even the most lordly mountain lord couldn’t be anywhere as autocratic as a Roman Emperor.)

    External frontiers are clearly marked on political maps of the period, but the power and independence of local peoples and elites could be such that these zones could be labeled internal frontiers, zones where the state’s writ was thin or even nonexistent. These were not restricted to mountains, but also could include desert, forest, and marsh. However mountainous zones tended to allow for larger internal frontiers.

    The life for peoples on the other side of these internal frontiers didn’t differ that much from those state-side. Agriculture was practiced where it was possible, but forestry and animal husbandry was more substantial because of environmental factors. In Isauria, sheep outnumbered humans over three to one. There was substantial trade, with mountain herders coming down into the lowlands for winter pastures, trade opportunities, and work. In many lowland places, migrant labor from the highlands for bringing in the harvest was essential. Those migrants would then return to their upland homes with the goods they’d bought with their earnings, or graze their herds on the stubble. Many highlanders also ended up in service in the Roman army. There was a frontier, but it was a very permeable one, with state authority the item that had the most difficulty in crossing.

    Elites, these mountain lords, held their local power mainly through charisma and kin affiliations, and varied substantially in strength. Most were minor in the grand scheme of things. If they caused trouble for the state, it wasn’t Constantinople’s concern, but that of the local Kephale; the issue rarely got big enough to warrant moving up the chain. Yet there were efforts to integrate these mountain lords into the state structure. They would be given titles and pensions and gifts, which would help those mountain lords assert their superiority over their own people.

    In return these mountain lords would help keep the peace. They would ensure the shepherds coming down the mountains would be doing so to trade, not to raid. They would take care of bandits trying to operate out of their territory and extradite rebels and criminals who had fled into their land. Essentially, since the central state lacked the ability to police these internal frontier zones, the state subcontracted the effort to these mountain lords.

    Overall, the process worked, but there was always friction. The mountain lords wanted the biggest possible payment, while state officials, for reasons of economy and pride, wanted the smallest. Furthermore, mountain lords that were viewed by their people as too compliant to state directives could be viewed as weak, which would led to said mountain lord (or his replacement) needing to demonstrate his independence. Thus disputes over compensation and autonomy could turn violent, with raids from the uplands met by retaliatory expeditions from the lowlands until a new and momentarily agreeable status quo could be devised.

    (The dynamic also explains much behind the relationship between Tbilisi and Constantinople. Because of Georgia’s geography, mountain lords are far more prominent in Georgian society and politics, but the relationship is similar. The mountain lords furthermore tend to view the Georgian King as a Lord of Lords. If a Georgian King is viewed not as the friend of Rhomania but instead as a lackey, those lords would take it as a sign of weakness and act accordingly. Thus it was essential for Tbilisi, in order to maintain its authority within the Kingdom, to vigorously assert its independence whenever Constantinople proved too presumptuous.)

    As stated before, most mountain lords were small-scale. If and when affairs turned violent, the local Kastrophylax could usually deal with it. This was the case with the Epirote mountain lords, for example. But some were bigger fish, such as the largest Albanian clans like the Kastrioti who had played such a prominent role during the Time of Troubles. Able to wield potentially a force in the low thousands and positioned to cut the Via Egnatia, if they caused trouble it would require the Macedonian tagma.

    Thus those mountain lords got payments which dwarfed those the petty ones received, and the White Palace also paid for some of their young men to go through the School of War and serve in the army as Roman officers. On the one hand, it was dangerous to give them more military knowledge, especially first-hand knowledge of how the Roman army worked. But it was a good way to Romanize the highlanders and fine military uniforms, especially if decorated with decorations for military valor, were marks of respect in these upland societies.

    However two mountain lords stood above the rest; to continue the fish analogy, these were sharks. The first was not technically a Roman issue, but was well placed to make himself one if he was in the mood. This was the Prince-Bishop of the Black Mountain, or as the Lombards knew him, the Dux of Montenegro. These clerical warlords (supposedly when the Prince-Bishop learned of Archbishop Bone Breaker, he replied “Finally the Germans have produced somebody interesting”) gained their highly autonomous status by skillfully exploiting the Roman shattering of the medieval Serbian state in the mid-1400s. The Serbian state gradually reformed, with the Black Mountain as part of it, but the Prince-Bishop took requests, not orders, from the King of Serbia.

    The Prince-Bishop could sometimes be an issue, such as when fishermen from Rhomania poached on his fishing spots, or when he got irritated at the level of tolls his trade goods had to pay at Dalmatian ports. But much more of a concern to the White Palace was the second of these great mountain lords, the Grand Karaman.

    The Karamanlis dwelled in the ancient land of Isauria in south-central Anatolia, which has a tradition of defying empires since the days the Kings of Hatti marched south to battle Pharaohs under the Syrian sun. Their name derived from the Turkish beylik that had arisen with the fracturing of the Sultanate of Rum during the late 1200s. Not even Alexios Philanthropenos had been able to break them, and while they recognized Roman suzerainty, in their mountain fastness they ruled themselves.

    They were not sealed off from Roman society however. Roman highways skirted their territory, heading for the Cilician Gate (which had a permanent garrison of two thousand, and the Kastrophlax was #8 in seniority in the whole Empire). There was constant trade between the uplands and the lowlands. The Karamanlis were also devout Christians. While they had no respect for perfumed and silken bishops, they respected the tough ascetic holy men who dwelled in the byways and mountains of Anatolia. When one of them spoke, they listened.

    Karamanlis are common throughout Rhomania. When the young and then-Kaisar Andreas was wounded in the siege of Constantinople, it was a Karamanlis that led the militia contingent that ended up rescuing him. They served throughout the Shatterer’s Army, and a prized family heirloom of the Grand Karaman is a pair of swords given to his ancestor by the Good Emperor himself. It is a tradition for them to serve in the Roman army, and to serve with distinction.

    But the likes of the Karamanlis were not subservient. Isauria in the mid-1600s was a poor land, even by the standards of interior Anatolia. Agricultural surpluses were meager even in good times. Peasants fleeing debt collectors could often find shelter with their highland cousins, and if said debt collectors proved too persistent, a musket ball to the throat was a proven method for ending an annoying conversation. When this happened, Roman authorities looked the other way; it just wasn’t worth the trouble.

    The name Karamanlis was more numerous than those who dwelled in the mountain zone where the writ of the Grand Karaman held sway directly. Given the ruggedness of the terrain, that land could not have supported many. But the name resonated strongly throughout the region, with the chief city of the region, Laranda, often still being referred to as Karaman. While the villages of the lowlands were firmly on the state-side of the internal frontier zone, the connections between Karamanlis across the frontier were strong and deep.

    Furthermore the Karamanlis had a reputation for military prowess, only bolstered by their storied history of service in the Roman army. Perhaps a good example of that is their famous battle cry, supposedly coined by Andreas Niketas himself. If roused to the attack, they blow their war horns and then shout “The horns of the mountain! The mountain falls on you!” It is usually the last thing their opponents hear on this earth.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 8: The Environment of the Romans
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, part 8: The Environment of the Romans

    Humanity has been shaping the environment, for good or ill, as long as it has existed (and even earlier, considering that the use of fire and stone tools by hominins predates the existence of homo sapiens sapiens). The industrial age merely expanded humanity’s ability to shape the environment; it certainly did not create it. A stone ax as well as a chainsaw can cut down a forest; the chainsaw is simply much faster.

    Romans had been profoundly shaping their environment during the century between the end of the Time of Troubles and the height of the Little Ice Age. The arguably most significant projects were in the area of draining swamps and lakes, such as Lake Giannitsa in Lower Macedonia, Lake Copais in Boetia, and Lake Askania in Bithynia. These were hardly the only works, but they were the biggest, even though none of the three lakes were completely drained away during this period. Lake Askania still exists today, while the elimination of the other two was the work of future generations. Nevertheless a substantial area was drained.

    Much of the work in this regard accomplished during this period was really during the Flowering, the mid-to-late 1500s. These large-scale drainage works required an immense outlay of resources and only the state or dynatoi could muster the resources needed. After the beginning of the Great Uprising, the Roman Empire was almost constantly in a state of war for the next half-century, and state funds for these projects dried up.

    Ironically, at the time when these works were at their zenith, the level of land hunger was relatively low as populations were still recovering from the Time of Troubles. The projects had been just as much for providing work programs and asserting governmental authority and power as they’d been about directly creating more arable land. But when the projects fell silent but populations continued to grow in the 1600s, the land hunger issue became more and more pressing. Yet the demands of war meant little was done.

    In the late 1630s, the governments of Demetrios III and then the Regent Athena tried to revive many of these work projects, this time expressly to address the land issue. However the crash of the Roman economy decapitated the revivals as effectively as the Great Uprising and the Eternal War killed the originals. Athena’s government did continue to try and push these projects, recognizing the need for them, particularly after making promises, but the scale of the works in 1650 was one-sixth of what had initially been hoped.

    The state wasn’t the only source for these drainage projects; smaller but still impressive works could and were funded by dynatoi; much of the drainage work along the lower Sangarius River during this period was privately funded. These smaller private works also were more active in the post-1600 period than the bigger state projects.

    Yet these efforts tended to exacerbate the land issue, not alleviate it. State projects usually divvied up the new land into relatively modest plots and sold or distributed them as such. The dynatoi funding these smaller-scale projects wanted the resulting drained land for themselves. Once the land was drained, they enclosed it and created commercial farms. The drainage works on the lower Sangarius, near Constantinople, had been made explicitly for the owners to then cultivate cereals for the Constantinople market.

    While that certainly benefited the landowners and the cities, this was actively worse than useless for the mass of rural poor, which was 75%+ of the population. The wetlands were not as useful as arable fields or vineyards or the like, but they had not been useless, and wetland resources had been common to all. Thus the rural poor lost access to those common wetland resources; their condition had actually been made worse.

    One counterpoint to the above is that the draining of swamps would’ve reduced the incidence of malaria, which would be to the benefit of neighboring peasants even if they got no land. But for a peasant, owning land, any land, even a small patch, was an important source of pride and self-respect, as well as giving them a voice in the village assembly. Thus the usage and availability of land was always on their minds. Meanwhile the rural village was much healthier than the contemporary city, but the disease load was still high by modern standards. Thus while the reduction of malaria would make a difference, the peasants with their focus on the land would’ve been unlikely to be mollified.

    Activities in the swamps had declined in the 1600s, but activities in the forest only escalated. The era in question saw an immense demand for forest products. Lumber was needed for construction and the building of ships, with the large grain haulers and battle-line ships each consuming literal acres of trees. The growing population, especially in the cities, demanded more firewood for cooking and heating.

    The large uptick in metals production also devoured forests. For every kilogram of iron produced required about 15 kilograms of charcoal, which in turn necessitated over 100 kilograms of wood. Considering the amount of metal that went into outfitting a single Roman tourma, much less the entire army, it is unsurprising that the heavy military demands of the first half of the 1600s consumed huge tracts of Roman woodland. (Efforts to use coke, from coal, to make up for this faltered because nearly all of Rhomania’s easily-accessible coal was low-quality lignite; England was much better endowed in this regard.)

    Even by 1650 the Empire as a whole wasn’t suffering a timber shortage. Certain areas, such as the Pontic coast, were still heavily wooded. Ships leaving the Pontic coast for other waters often towed tree trunks in the water behind them, to sell them at their destinations. But the consumption of forests had sharp regional repercussions, with many local areas suffering from shortages, such as coastal western Anatolia. Even if forests were still present, as they were cleared, often to make room for arable land, they became less and less accessible. And given the bulkiness of timber and the already-mentioned transportation difficulties in a pre-steam engine society, this was not a case where better-endowed areas could reliably and consistently support poorer areas.

    Deforestation could have serious repercussions beyond just the direct lack of timber. Loss of forest cover altered rainfall patterns, which could be quite damaging to farming that did not have much of a margin for error. Peasant households needed to fuel their cooking and heating fires somehow, and if firewood was not available, then animal dung would be used. This was already a common practice in tree-poor central Anatolia, as in central Asia. For pastoralists, this was not an issue, but for farmers who also needed that manure to fertilize their fields, this short-term fix undermined their long-term prospects. One major attraction of replacing wheat with corn was that the cobbs and stalks of the latter could be used for fuel, thus mitigating this issue.

    The denuding of hills of trees also vastly increased erosion issues. The soils were thin and now exposed to the elements, especially when the terraced fields were left fallow. As the seventeenth century progressed, downstream Rhomania suffered increasingly from floods clearly caused by erosion from deforestation upstream. Thus more farmland was damaged, and the accumulation of soils also helped to create new marshes where ones did not exist before.

    The Roman government was not blind to at least some of the dangers of deforestation. Forest Wardens, to protect forests and their resources for the Roman navy, now had centuries behind them. But the difficulties of policing these wide and rugged areas, with the never-ending demand for timber, firewood, and newly cleared lands, meant their efforts were never adequate to the task. As population grew and the good holdings fragmented, it was simply impossible to keep Romans, both peasants and herders, from expanding up the hillsides and into the forest zones. Even when the long-term issues were readily apparent, local and short-term concerns simply took priority.

    Given the issue of population growth combined with landholding fragmentation and the environmental degradation just mentioned, many historians consider that Rhomania in the mid-1600s was approaching a Malthusian [1] crisis, even without the Little Ice Age. The disruptions caused by the War of the Roman Succession and the resulting high deaths certainly suggests a system running close to the edge already. Some have argued against this, since the population of the period doesn’t seem extreme compared to earlier periods. However it is likely that increased environmental degradation, particularly through the intense deforestation of the 1550-1650 period, combined with the expansion of animal husbandry to feed carnivorous city diets, lowered the carrying capacity.

    These problems were hardly unique to Rhomania. Spain and Italy were in very similar positions. Europe north of the Alps was better endowed agriculturally than the Mediterranean basin, but the large population growth of the past century, combined with limited improvement in agriculture, meant that it too was pushing at its Malthusian limits. Ironically Persia, northern India, China, and Japan which had suffered from political instability during this period which had limited population growth, if not holding or reducing it, were thus better placed. They too would be struck by the rigors of the Little Ice Age, but with less pre-existing Malthusian pressure. Mexico was in a similar position, although there it was because of pre-existing population loss from Old World diseases on the native population.

    Given the limitations of the possible, immeasurably constrained compared to modern capabilities, averting a crisis entirely was not possible. But the likes of Demetrios III, Athena, and their officials had not been blind and there were efforts to change course. The attempt to revive the large drainage projects had already been mentioned, which if successful would’ve helped to reduce the land hunger issue. That would’ve also helped the deforestation issue, which would also have been aided by plans for reforesting certain areas (with the goal of sustainably managing the new growths). Further proposals to improve various transportation infrastructures, even on a relatively small scale, would’ve helped encourage more productive commercial-style farming by making markets more available.

    However the economic crises of the late 1630s and early 1640s ground this process, if not to a halt, at least to a barely noticeable crawl. Little was thus done throughout the 1640s, partly because the effects of the Little Ice Age were already hampering economic revival. In short, time was needed for these efforts to bear fruit, but that time would not be given.

    [1] There’s likely going to be a Roman alt-Malthus in the near future, as a part of Roman society’s response to the Little Ice Age. (Note the ‘alt’ part; Roman Malthus won’t be a 1:1 match with the English version.) But I don’t have a name yet, so for the sake of simplicity I’m using the OTL term.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 9: Cultural Differences and Commonalities
  • Pyrgos is on the site of OTL Cavite City. New Constantinople is on Ambon, one of those dot-on-a-map islands of eastern Indonesia, south of Ceram. The Katepanate of Pahang is essentially Malaysia minus the Borneo parts plus Singapore. Singapore is a fairly new development there so while significant, it's not the capital.

    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 9: Cultural Differences and Commonalities, Speaking and Eating Pizza

    Written Greek around 1650 was mostly standardized, with official grammars, spellings, and even a partial dictionary already in existence by that time. Certainly when one examines letters from the period it is clear that these standards were not always followed, even when education levels are taken into account, but the range of spelling alternatives was still smaller than, say, contemporary English.

    The standardization of written Greek was a product of the ties of administration and trade connecting the empire. But spoken Greek showed a much greater diversity. Linguists usually break Greek-speakers of the period into 7 distinct groups, with smaller variations within the groups themselves.

    The most significant, both numerically and historically, was the Aegean or Imperial Greek. Written Greek of the period was the transcription of Aegean Greek, that spoken across the themes that bordered the Aegean Sea, including the capital. When the era of mass primary education and printing arrived, this is the version of Greek that would become truly official, marginalizing although not eliminating the other dialects. In 1640 that process had barely begun.

    Aegean Greek, because of its broad geographical and demographic scope, had many regional variations; a Thrakesian or Morean accent is easily noticeable to a denizen of Macedonia or Bithynia. However Cretan Greek was distinct enough for linguists to put it in its own category. The island had spent a quarter-millennium under Venetian rule, giving a substantial Italian influence to the local tongue absent in the rest of the Aegean. The inhabitants of Methoni and Koroni in the southwest Morea, because of their similar span under first Venetian and then Genoese rule, are typically included in the Cretan as opposed to Aegean Greek category.

    This historical influence means that Cretan Greek had some similarities to Sicilian Greek, that form of Greek spoken throughout the Despotate. Greek there had been heavily influenced by the Italian speakers surrounding them, to an even greater extent than in Crete. But it was certainly not the same as that of Crete. The tongues of Venice and Naples might be lumped into a broad linguistic group called Italian, but they were not the same, and even the speech of Naples differed from that of Palermo or Messina.

    Sicilian Greek had an eastern mirror in Syrian Greek. Syrian Greek was effectively Sicilian Greek, but with the local Italian influence replaced by local Arabic influence. Melkites, Arabic-speaking Orthodox, almost always, if they spoke Greek, would speak the Syrian Greek dialect.

    Cypriot Greek had some similarities to both Cretan and Syrian Greek. There was some Arabic influence given its proximity to Syria, but not as much as the mainland. There was some Italian and French influence due to its century under Crusader rule, but not to the degree of Crete. What made Cypriot Greek quite distinct was its unique Sudanese [1] element from all the slaves that had been imported to work the sugar plantations. Numbering at least a quarter-million for the span of about 250 years, they inevitably shaped the language of the island, along with its genetic makeup and food-ways.

    In Anatolia, the Greek of the central and eastern interior was of the Kappadokian variety, although the dialect was spread out over a much larger area than the specific region. It was noticeable for its level of Turkish influence, with Armenian and Kurdish elements becoming more significant as one went east. While numerically small compared to Imperial Greek (the Anatolikon and Armeniakon themes combined had less people than any one of the six Aegean themes), Kappadokian Greek had a somewhat outsized significance given that its speakers were disproportionately represented in the Empire’s poets and musicians.

    Finally there was Pontic Greek, which in terms of area covered both the Pontic coast of Anatolia as well as the Tauric peninsula. In terms of foreign influence there was a Turkish component, although rather small compared to Kappadokian. But added to that was a noticeable influence from the Caucasus and even some filtering down from the steppes north of the mountains. It also had a significance larger than its number of speakers would suggest, as the Pontic region and people were disproportionately active both in naval construction and maritime activity, both military and commercially. Finally due to the nature of hiring tutors, when Russians and especially Georgians learned Greek, they usually learned the Pontic variety.

    There is debate about how understandable different dialect-speakers were to each other. While spoken Greek certainly varied far more than written, it seems that at least in the major towns and cities and along the main trade routes, one could communicate without too much trouble. It was when one got into gradually more rural and isolated areas where the difficulties would mount.

    As just one isolated but hardly unique example, in 1651 villagers in the Kephalate of Akilsene needed an interpreter, their village priest, to communicate their grievances with the Adrianople-born Kephale, even though everyone involved, villagers, priest, and Kephale were all native Greek speakers. This linguistic hurdle was yet another obstacle that could hinder rural Romans from making their grievances known and getting them addressed. (And thus one future argument for a universal and standardized primary school education was to lessen corruption in regional governance by removing this obstacle.)

    Thus cultural diversity throughout Rhomania should not be minimized, but simultaneously it should not be exaggerated. During the early and mid-1600s, across the Roman Empire this was the time when the famous Roman pizza etiquette was created, a near-universal phenomenon across the Roman world that still exists quite strongly to this day. Romans in Antioch and Ankyra and Adrianople would’ve spoken differently around the dinner table, but as early as 1650 if they were eating pizza there were certain standards that all would’ve observed, with failure to do so a possible source of significant social shame.

    Pizza came to Rhomania from the Despotate of Sicily [2] in the 1620s, with an establishment serving pizza in Constantinople in 1626. The then-Eparch and future Emperor Demetrios III was a prominent customer, and that example encouraged its consumption by the elite of the capital. This massively spiked its social cachet, further fueling its spread. By 1650 even relatively small towns in the Anatolian plateau such as Gangra with only a few thousand people had pizza-eating inhabitants. How far the practice had spread into the countryside by this point is unclear, but even here it was clearly making strides.

    The rules were fairly simple. Pizza was never to be consumed alone, as it is often consumed in modern western countries. It was to be accompanied by a salad or fruit or both. But these vegetables and fruit were side dishes, and could only be side dishes. Fruit or vegetables absolutely could not be on the pizza itself, the only exceptions being the contents and bases of the sauce, cheese, and any seasonings. In this range there was much variation with types of cheeses, sauces, and seasonings, but in terms of toppings as one would order in a restaurant, only types of meat were allowed. (There was some regional variation in what counted as meat, specifically types of seafood and eggs, for this purpose. Cyprus, Crete, and the Pontic Coast also included mushrooms, onions, and later bell peppers as ‘meat’ for this purpose, which the rest of the Roman world simply took as unnecessary confirmation that those Romans were weird.)

    It should further be noted that for many Roman pizza-consumers at this time, this was largely a non-issue given the expense of meat. Many pizza-consumers were eating what would today be considered a simple cheese pizza with no additional toppings, although they experimented with seasonings and sauces. However this factor also helps explain the strength of the pizza etiquette at this time. For the vast majority of Romans, eating pizza with meat toppings would be a special event, possibly marking a significant event and done in public. In that context, keeping etiquette, avoiding shame, and avenging insults was especially important. (This also explains the relative weakening in later times, when eating meat is more commonplace, and thus pizza becomes less of a special event and more likely to be something to be eaten on a meet with friends.)

    How or why these specific rules arose, as well as their practically-universal adoption, is a mystery. It does seem to have originated in Constantinople and then exported to the provinces. Some believe its origins lie in nothing else than the personal preferences of Demetrios Sideros, or perhaps that of Empress Jahzara. There is an apocryphal story of a cook trying to serve her pizza with pineapple on it, and her responding with ordering the removal of his tongue. That was either an extreme overreaction, or a sign that she was a champion of justice. Opinions differ on that to this day.

    In this possible explanation, the meat-only pizza was simply a personal taste of the Imperial family, which was then copied by senior officials, and then by their juniors first in the capital and then in the provinces. The social rationale for the customs came later, as a way of explaining this seemingly random pickiness.

    How or why these specific rules arose, as well as their practically-universal adoption, is a mystery. But in their social ramifications, they seem to speak to the great importance Romans placed on being fair and just and honest in their dealings with each other. Only meat could be on pizza, so any other topping on pizza was, in effect, ‘fake meat’. Serving someone pizza with ‘fake meat’ was thus an accusation, an insult. To suggest one’s meat was fake was to say one’s word was false. For a romantic partner to serve this was to charge the other with unfaithfulness; for a business partner to serve this was to charge the other with fraud.

    This was taken extremely serious. In 1648 and 1650 major court cases were brought in Mystras and Euchaita, nearly opposite sides of the Empire, respectively. The defendant had been publicly served pizza with vegetables on it, rather than on the side, and the defendant had sued those responsible with libel. Given the public nature of the accusation, and the importance of reputation for social life and economic activity, nobody involved, including the judges, thought this was a joke.

    Examples still can be seen today. Many breakups in Roman society due to unfaithfulness involve one presenting the other with a pizza with ‘fake meat’ on it. And more devious partners will present the pizza but hide the ‘fake meat’, for to accept and especially to eat the ‘fake meat’ is an admission that the charge is accurate. When the consumer is male, sometimes the charge of ‘one’s meat is fake’ is meant to be taken literally, as opposed to a character slight.

    This pizza presentation/accusation was not done just between private individuals, but manifested as early as the 1650s in a uniquely Roman form of public protest, the gifting of ‘fake meat’ pizzas to public officials. In this context, it was a clear accusation that the official(s) had failed to fulfill their duties vis-à-vis those presenting the pizza, and they were being called out for their failure.

    This was not some light-hearted gesture either, some light tease. It was a major charge, and not one made lightly, and not one that could be ignored, as can be seen in some of the earliest examples in the 1650s. A Kephale had been padding his pockets by speculating in grain, driving up prices already high due to poor harvests. Some of the suffering poor in response presented him with a pizza with fruit on it, purportedly pineapple although that is uncertain. Given the context of high food prices, the expense of the dish was deliberate, to give additional teeth to the accusation.

    This was not enough to change the Kephale’s course though, with the escalation coming in a form Chinese peasantry would’ve instantly recognized and understood. An utterly destitute and starving family, bereft of hope, hanged themselves from trees outside the Kephale’s house. It was certainly an escalation, but along the same lines of the pizza, an accusation, a reproach, that one’s word had been false and that one had failed to do their duty, and for that there would be consequences.

    Thus Roman pizza etiquette is not just some quirky custom of which foreign tourists should be aware so that locals can’t get a joke at their expense. The way Romans used pizza as more than just something to eat expressed an important aspect of Roman social life. It spoke of the need to be true to one’s word and to do one’s duty to those it was owed, and it spoke of the dire consequences that would arise when one failed in these obligations. And no one, not even the Basileus himself, would be exempt.

    [1] The catch-all Roman term for sub-Saharan Africans that are not Ethiopians.

    [2] Southern Italy IOTL also gave us spaghetti.
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    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 10: Office Holders and Office Seekers
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 10: Office Holders and Office Seekers

    Rhomania in the mid-1600s did not have a formal noble estate such as that represented in the noble estate of the French Estates General. But there was certainly a clear upper class, the dynatoi, which was determined by wealth but in which family connections were still extremely important. Certain family names with especially strong social cachet, such as the Soultanoi who were descended from the Seljuk Sultans of Rum, had more heft than would be the case strictly based solely on wealth and office holding.

    Saying that Rhomania at the time was a meritocratic society is a classic example of one of those statements that is true to a certain point, after which it is wrong. In theory, anyone could become a Logothete or a Domestikos; there were no formal legal barriers. But in reality, such positions were impossible for the vast majority of the Roman populace. To rise in Roman society required either wealth or government office, either civil or military.

    To rise by wealth was equally theoretically open to all, but in reality it takes money to make money. A peasant with a mule could hire themselves out as a muleteer during slow periods of the agricultural cycle for extra income, while a poorer peasant without a mule lacked the option. Richer peasants with more animals, and thus more manure fertilizer, had higher crop yields and thus more marketable surplus, than poorer peasants without as many animals.

    Government office was similar, theoretically open to all but in reality limited. To get into the system required a level of education that was too costly for most of the Roman population. The provision of government scholarships mitigated this slightly, but not nearly enough to realistically make this an option for the bulk of Romans. (That said, no Roman government of the period expressed any interest whatsoever in trying to make that possible.)

    In practice, Roman civil officials and military officers came from the dynatoi, the mesoi (middle class), and the Tier IVs of the banausioi and paroikoi, the top income tax tiers of those two broader categories. There were a few isolated individuals who did not come from these categories, but statistically they were insignificant. Based on Roman tax records from 1650, the dynatoi made up 2% of the heartland population, the mesoi 7%, the banausioi IV 6%, and the paroikoi IV 9%, a total of 24%, or just under one-quarter of the Roman population. (And, of course with the exception of female members of the Imperial family, office-holding was wholly a male preserve, automatically excluding the female half of the population.)

    Now one-quarter of the population at least in theory having the ability to rise to the ranks of the elite is still impressive, but things were not that simple. Dynatoi and mesoi were 9% of the 24%, or three-eighths of this ‘broad elite’ group. However in terms of mid and upper level office holders, they comprised over 70% of that sample. Furthermore the fifty or so service families, those illustrious families with long traditions of government service, held about one-quarter of the mid and upper level offices just between themselves.

    (The makeup of the service families could change, with discredited ones falling and others replacing them, but the concept remained quite strong during this period. Service families would certainly engage in nepotism, but for sake of their own reputation and standing would vet them to avoid becoming a fallen family. Thus the Roman government could get an extra level of accountability without having to expend any of its own resources. The system was certainly not perfect, as any study of Roman governance in the 1630s and 40s will show, but the benefits were overall felt to be worthwhile.)

    In short, to get into the system required a level of wealth that automatically excluded three-quarters of the Roman population. And even once inside the system, wealth and family connection still mattered a great deal and sharply eased passage through the hallways.

    However it must also be emphasized that during this period, nobody was concerned about inequity in the ability of people to get into government office. Demetrios Sideros even as a junior official had expressed the need for a more equitable tax system that lightened the burden on the poor, but he never evinced a concern to make government office a reliable possibility for the son of a Tier II paroikos. The concern was not with making government office available to all, but to ensure that those in government office were competent, honest, and diligent. That service families held a proportion of offices wildly disproportionate to their percentage of the population did not matter, so long as they governed well.

    Still, there was interest in getting a family member into government service even by the majority of Romans who knew they individually lacked the material resources for the necessary education. This was where the concept of the ‘village candidate’ originated. Villages or neighborhoods would pool their resources to provide an education for a bright local son with the hopes that said local son would make it into government service, either civil service or the military. If they could rise to a position of authority, that could provide all sorts of benefits for the community.

    However the richer members of the community tended to dominate the process, providing the majority of the funding and it was almost always one of their sons that would be the candidate. The increasing use of the process did lead to a noticeable, albeit not large, rise in the number of Roman governmental officials that were of Paroikoi IV origin. (Banausioi IV, which were the likes of goldsmiths and silversmiths, usually had the resources to fund their sons’ education without such crowd-sourcing.) This process did provide the backing for most of the known individuals in government service who fell outside the previous mentioned ‘broad elite’, but the number of these was paltry, so as operated clearly did not do much to expand the window of opportunity for the vast majority of Romans.

    The expansion of the unofficial ‘village candidate’ system was an aspect of the increasing desire for government service by a larger segment of the Roman population. The Roman heartland’s population had increased by about 50% between 1550-1630 while the urban population had doubled, but at the same time the number of university graduates quadrupled.

    There had been expansions in the Roman bureaucracy, such as the decrease in size and resulting increase in number of Kephalates, which had absorbed this increased influx for a time, but by 1650 that time had clearly passed. There were now far more people with the educational qualifications for government positions than there were governmental positions for them to fill. Now university graduates had other options such as becoming teachers or working in the private sector as secretaries and the like, but governmental service was still the main draw for a university education and more socially prestigious. University graduates faced a growing unemployment and underemployment problem.

    Things weren’t necessarily that good even for those who managed to get a governmental position. Most of these were lower-tier officers, such as local tax collectors, notaries, and office clerks. Their pay was low and while having a badge of office, any office, conveyed some social prestige, for those with these bottom-tier positions the resulting social prestige was meager, much like their salaries. And prospects for advancement to higher office, where the pay, pension, and prestige was much better, for most of these was limited. That was partly due to the simple fact that higher officers were much less common, but it was exacerbated by the previously-mentioned monopolization of said higher offices by select groups. And these low-level officials knew that, so it is unsurprising that some took out their frustrations by turning to corruption and tyranny at least in the small ponds in which they operated.

    Thus as the seventeenth century progressed, there was an increasing pool of young and educated men with much time and frustrated hopes, who spent their days in the kaffos oikoi of the Empire’s towns and cities, arguing and discussing and venting their problems and issues of the day and of the age and of the Empire with each other. New restrictions on the licensing and opening of new kaffos oikoi that came out in the 1640s were issued with the ulterior motive of trying to clamp down on the potentially subversive conversation that was taking place in these establishments. Some locales, such as the Bronze Baton and The Three Goats in Constantinople, became particularly notorious for this kind of conversation.

    This was not exclusively a Roman phenomenon, but was widespread across Christendom and particularly in the Mediterranean. The proportional growth in Spanish graduates practically mirrored Roman, while Sicilian and Arletian were not far behind.

    The topics of conversation certainly varied from time and place, although there were certain specialties, with those of a particular bend frequenting a particular establishment. The Three Goats was known to cater to many junior officers in the Constantinople guard tagmata, as well as those civilians who might share their views.

    But a commonality of the topics was on the need for change, and the way to address the changes that were already clearly happening in Roman society. Cities were growing and markets were expanding but they were accompanied by burgeoning slums, rural landless migrants, and a growing wealth inequality.

    Romans were no strangers to wealth inequality, and few would’ve demanded complete equality in that, but there had been sharp and sudden shifts in recent years which were inevitably jarring and irritable. The War of the Roman Succession had been a great boon to some war profiteers, whose ostentatious new money was especially irksome in the following economic depression. As another example, soldiers returning from India with their piles of loot often returned to their villages. For many, their home was a small poor village in the interior of Anatolia or Hellas. Wealth inequality existed even there, but the gap between the ‘rich’ and poor of the village was small in comparison to elsewhere. Yet then a son returns with his booty and his one family is suddenly vaulted far and above anyone else. Depending on how the suddenly mega-rich (by the standards of the locale) reacted to the windfall, the situation could easily lead to civil strife.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 11: Property Distribution and the Roman Home
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 11: Property Distribution and the Roman Home

    The Roman Empire was not an equal society, nor did it have any intention of trying to be one, in the material sense. Everyone was supposed to be equal under the law (most fake meat pizza presentations to government officials have historically been due to allegations of favoring certain individuals or groups threatened with legal proceedings) but that did not extend to the ownership of property. Some degree of inequality was considered natural; even poor peasants thought that successful farmers should benefit from their labor and skill, provided they did share that bounty with their community which had supported them. As that qualifier shows, there were concerns, but those were related to ensuring that those at the bottom had enough to sustain themselves and that any gains made were done honestly and fairly, not through extortion, corruption, and cheating of others.

    Trying to determine exactly how wealth was distributed throughout Roman society c. 1640 is difficult given the limitations of records. Tax reports and court records of wills are the best sources but have their limitations. Their survival record is patchy and their coverage of the lower classes is threadbare. Court records of wills, for example, only exist when a formal will was made and a court was involved, usually because the will was contested. However most inheritances would’ve been by peasants and handled at the village level, and thus lost to historians. That said, some figures have been calculated, although the numbers given should be used to establish a general framework as opposed to being a precise number.

    [1] Kotyaion was a prosperous small city of 13,000 inhabitants around 1640. Known mainly for its textile production, it was situated on several prominent roads, including main Imperial highways, and thus heavily involved in local trade. Since it was urban, it is thus not truly representative for most of the Roman population which was rural, but a large proportion of the population was still involved in agriculture (like most towns and small cities). Furthermore, given the small size and inland location (interior Opsikia) of the city, it did not attract the super-wealthy as did the great cities of the Empire. These factors, combined with the degree of surviving records, make these smaller cities the usual source of representing Roman wealth distribution during this period.

    (Note that wealth percentages are based on the total in private hands. Government and church holdings were significant factors, but were distributed extremely unevenly geographically. For the sake of simplicity, they are excluded from the analysis.)

    Based on these records and analysis, in 1640 the wealthiest 10% of Kotyaion’s population possessed 40% of the wealth in the area, with the top 25% owning 67%. The wealth share of the uppermost quartile had also grown noticeably in the last forty years; at the beginning of the century the proportions of the top 10% and top 25% were thirty three and sixty respectively. While the exact figures detail from location to location, the proportions seem to be roughly consistent geographically across the Empire; the cities of Rhodes, Mystras, and Adana give comparable records. This particularly holds for the trend of disproportionately more wealth concentrating in the hands of the top quartile.

    Statistics of these nature vary significantly not with geographical location but with the degree of population concentration. While even the smallest village has some degree of wealth inequality, the pattern is that the Gini coefficient goes up as the population of a selected settlement goes up. [The Gini coefficient measures wealth inequality on a scale from 0-absolutely perfect equality-to 1-one individual owning literally everything. The higher the number the more unequal the wealth distribution.] Larger settlements are more likely to have big populations of poor and destitute, while also attracting the rich, interested in political and economic connections.

    However while the uppermost quartile was certainly holding a disproportionate amount of the property, in the likes of Kotyaion or Mystras there was not much in the way of a mega-rich. The top 10% possessed 40% of the wealth, but the top 1% by itself held 5.5% of the wealth. This is in stark contrast to major cities like Smyrna or Constantinople. In Smyrna the top 3% owned 45% of the property, while in Constantinople it was 51%. In both those great cities, the top 10% owned about 70% of the property in 1640, a slightly greater proportion than that held by the top 25% in Kotyaion.

    The wealth was concentrated into fewer hands in the big cities, and the difference between the poor and the rich was also much starker. In a random village, the disparity between a rich and poor peasant was noticeable, but that was nothing compared to the disparity between a street sweeper and a dynatos. In Kotyaion, the ratio between the wealth of the average 1% holding and that of a bottom 95% holding was 1:18. In Constantinople it was 1:112 (excluding Imperial holdings). Thus Rhomania did have its mega-rich, but they were exclusive to the major cities, and there they dominated the landscape.

    Thus property and wealth in Rhomania followed a similar pattern to that of office holdings, although not as extreme. A large minority, but still definitely a minority, owned the majority of material holdings. But unlike office holdings, which had been making some progress, albeit not much, in being opened to people lower on the economic scale, material holdings were gradually getting more concentrated. And the extent of the concentration, and the rate of its increase, paralleled the size of cities.

    Even given the widespread acceptance of economic inequality as a concept, there were those who condemned this shift. The poor, even though they might have much less than the rich, should have enough to sustain themselves and their families, and the immense wealth of the mega-rich, juxtaposed to the urban poor, seemed to be denying the poor that level of security. Some of the Orthodox clergy took the lead in condemning this shift. A village priest or even the Bishop of a small city might be used to the level of inequality where they were stationed, considering that natural, but still be jarred by what they saw when they visited Antioch or Constantinople.

    Thus the majority of the Romans had to make do with a minority of the resources. Three-quarters of Kotyaion’s population split out one-third of the property between them. Given this constraint, it is unsurprising that the average Roman did not have much in the way of property. In this regard, many Romans lived in very similar material circumstances to their ancestors of the High and Late Medieval periods. [2]

    In a survey of material possessions, one noticeable feature is the commonality of washing equipment such as basins or buckets. These were small, mostly good for hand, feet, and face washing, although the contents of a bucket could be poured over one’s head as a shower. These show the emphasis Romans placed on cleanliness, but also the limitations. For more thorough and full-body washing, nearly all Romans had to look outside their homes. Furthermore while most households would have an example of this basic washing equipment, most would not have very many of them. Usually one or two would be shared amongst all the occupants.

    The absence of certain items is likely more striking to the modern reader. Many Roman households below the mesoi did not have separate beds, chairs, tables, and eating ware.

    Most Roman households had wooden or stone couches set against the wall that would line three sides of a room. At night they would be covered in mattresses and would serve as the bed. During the day the mattresses would be put away and the couches would then be used for seating, hence the lack of chairs. Typically a Roman house had beds and chairs, or neither. Tables were a bit more common, but oftentimes a large storage chest would be put into place to act as a temporary table.

    Given the expense of furniture, and the cheap and multi-use purpose of the wall couches, these lacks are not too shocking. More startling is the absence of individual eating ware. The number of plates, cups, and eating implements in many households were usually outnumbered by the number of occupants. At mealtime many Romans ate with their fingers off a common serving plate, shared spoons with soups and stews, and drank from a common jug. Knives and forks were rare, and when present were also shared.

    Monasteries and hospitals took the lead in lessening this behavior. There food needed to be strictly rationed and equal, which was much easier to ensure when each individual also had their own plate, cup, and spoon.

    While the above setup could describe a Roman household in both 1300 and 1600, things were changing. In 1300 even a middle-class Roman household would’ve followed the above setup to its entirety. Only the rich had beds and ate food with individual forks. By 1600, that middle-class household likely had beds and chairs and it certainly had individual tableware. The use of individual tableware, because of its comparative cheapness, had spread more widely down the economic scale, but its lack of progress was still quite noticeable. As one historian put it, ‘in 1300 ninety percent of Romans did not have their own fork. Three hundred and fifty years later, fifty percent of Romans still did not have their own fork’.

    It should be noted that Roman peasantry, as a whole, were not destitute by the standards of pre-industrial peasantry. But that standard was one of a material base extremely, almost unimaginatively, low by the standards of post-industrial societies. A lonely fork that one did not have to share could and did function as a marker that one was moving up in the world.

    [1] For my numbers, I am using the OTL Ottomans of the early modern period as the baseline. The numbers in the update are tweaked, but the trend of increased wealth inequality in bigger cities is copied. My sources for Ottoman wealth distribution are:

    Hülya Canbakal, “Reflections on the Distribution of Wealth in Ottoman Ayntab” in Oriens 37 (2009).

    Metin M. Coşgel and Boğaç A. Ergene, “Inequality of Wealth in the Ottoman Empire: War, Weather, and Long-Term Trends in Eighteenth-Century Kastamonu,” in The Journal of Economic History Vol. 72 No. 2 (2012).

    [2] For this section I am relying on the following source.

    Nicolas Oikonomides, “The Contents of the Byzantine House from the Eleventh to the Fifteenth Century,” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990).
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 12: Profit and Justice
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 12: Profit and Justice

    [1] The importance of the market and market relationships had been growing in Roman society markedly over the past century by 1640. While there was still much that was untouched or only minimally involved, this process had encouraged the production of more and different products, both agricultural and artisanal. The popularity of pizza and the resulting market demand was the spur for tomato production, much to the benefit of peasant gardeners. The blue turbans of Antioch, the most common headgear of Greek Syrians, with dinosaur patterns stitched into them, which are still sold there today, date back sometime in this period.

    But all was not roses. Market interactions created winners but also losers, and across the Empire there were growing signs of a concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. And this was still a pre-industrial world with limited ability to improve production, so one person’s gain was usually one person’s loss, and the loss would not be made good by expanded production. There were growing concerns among Roman intellectuals about the justice of the system. Very few wanted to wipe it all away; they wanted their tomatoes and blue turbans. Yet the benefits should not be the fruits of exploitation and injustice. These concerns grew more pressing after the War of the Roman Succession and the depression beginning in the late 1630s. However in their musings about how to balance profit and justice, these Roman intellectuals had precedents.

    Roman society, like its Latin neighbors to the west and Muslim neighbors to the east, had grown out of its medieval forebears. Medieval Rhomania, quite unusual for a medieval society west of India, had much less issue with the concept of interest. There were a few brief periods where requiring interest on loans was banned by imperial legislation but in the millennium of the Middle Ages, these added up to a few decades, quite a contrast to the Latin West. (This obviated the need for Jewish moneylenders to get around the usury ban, so Rhomania never developed the Jewish banker stereotype.)

    This is not to say there were no issues with the concept of interest; both Roman and Latins were operating out of a shared Christian morality. But Romans were far more comfortable with the idea, provided there were certain restrictions to prevent abuse. Clerics, under no circumstances, were to demand interest on loans. One frequent criticism of monasteries was their effort to get around this restriction through creative bookkeeping and terminology use in manners that would’ve instantly been recognized by Latin merchants trying to work around the Catholic Church’s ban on usury.

    Lay people did not have to use such creativity, but a key point was that while interest was allowed, there were certain limitations. Going back to the Code of Justinian, interest-bearing loans were permitted, but under certain restrictions, principally a cap on the rate of interest that could be demanded. Interestingly, the highest rate a dynatos could charge was lower than if the lender was of a lower social class. Interest caps could vary, with maritime loans having the highest cap of 16.67% on the grounds that these were the riskiest type of investment.

    The maritime loan provision illustrates a key point; allowance of interest was intimately connected with the presence of risk. No risk, no interest. Interest was effectively a compensation to the lender for the possibility of losing the principal they had loaned. If repayment was guaranteed absolutely no matter what happened, then the charging of interest was not considered socially acceptable. The greater the risk, the greater the interest, but still only to a point so as to avoid exploitation of the borrower.

    This picture underlines much of Roman economic theory, much of which dates back to this period of ferment, although drawing heavily on medieval precedent. Interest-bearing loans were viewed as necessary to encourage commerce and development and so were allowed, but they had to be kept within bounds in order to avoid exploitation. Some Saints’ Lives also illustrate this, with honest and hard-working merchants being praised and their profit considered a just reward for their effort, while lazy or dishonest or exploitative merchants were condemned as evildoers.

    There is another example of the desire to allow interest-bearing loans while limiting the ability of abuse. Most loans were to pay a certain amount of interest over a set period of time (a year for example) at which time the principal was to be repaid. However if the borrower could not repay the principal at the specified time they could continue the loan by still paying the interest rate. This could be to the advantage of the lender as they got more interest while still being owed the principal and so this was one way to milk the borrower. But Roman law specified that the amount of interest paid could never exceed a sum equal to double the principal. After that point, no further interest could be demanded and any future repayments could only go to paying down the principal.

    This ideal was not just restricted to interest-bearing loans. There was also the concept of the just price and the just profit, which were linked. The merchant could make a profit on his transactions, as he provided a useful service moving goods from place to place and making them available and needed an incentive. However there was a limit to how much profit they could reasonably expect; anything more was considered exploitive price-gouging, which was unacceptable. Exactly where the line should be drawn was argued, but the common denominator was a 10% profit being considered the maximum just profit.

    The just price oftentimes was just assumed to be the same as the market price, which could and did fluctuate based on supply and demand dynamics. After all, if the price of bread was going up because of a scarcity of flour, this was not the fault of the bakers who could hardly be expected to work at a loss. Note though that this assumed a real scarcity being the cause; an artificial scarcity would not have been treated nearly so lightly. However having said that, a sharp distinction between the two was not always easy to draw. Very often a preexisting real scarcity would be exacerbated by unscrupulous merchants hoarding their wares to further drive up the price.

    Even when the just and market price were considered to be the same, there were laws against excessive demands, mostly focused on land purchases. In times of extreme need, an unlucky person might be forced to sell their land for far less than it was really worth. In the event that a sale price of land was half or less than the just price (assumed to be the regular market price), the buyer was obliged to return what he had bought and would also forfeit what he had paid. However given how repeated these types of legislation appeared throughout the Middle Ages, clearly enforcement was questionable. And even so, that still allowed substantial leeway for taking advantage of someone in extremity; a land purchase at 51% of the just/market price would’ve been legal under these laws.

    As that example shows, while laws might exist, enforcement was not guaranteed. Some of this was simply practical. Roman authorities did not have the ability or desire to make sure that the grandmother selling eggs at a town market stall was making no more than a 10% profit. It was too small of a scale, and in cases like this the need for social support from one’s local community was a good brake on exploitation. After all, if one gouges one’s neighbor on the price of eggs and cheese, they were likely to not be too quick to help you when your barley crop failed.

    The Roman government’s involvement mainly focuses on three specific areas, large scale transactions, essential foodstuffs, and Constantinople specifically. The reason to focus on large scale transactions is obvious. To maintain civic order, ensuring a good and cheap supply of basic foodstuffs was necessary. To maintain a just price, the Roman government would set a price cap on certain goods, such as cheaper types of bread, fish, and wine. But these would be determined daily in consultation between the Eparch (or his official) and the leaders of the appropriate merchants, and would fluctuate based on supply and demand, and were supposed to allow for the just profit, but no more. The government would subsidize these prices at certain times, primarily when scarcity drove the cost of supply up.

    Because of the especially strong need to maintain order in Constantinople, the Roman government was more involved here. As early as the 9th century, the Eparch’s Code specified that if a just wage was not being paid to construction workers in the city, the contract was invalidated. While restricted and vague on the details, this is commonly cited as the precedent for all future Roman minimum wage legislation.

    Thus when Romans in the 1600s were looking for ways to balance the desire for profit and the desire for justice, they had precedents going back centuries from which they could draw. But many of these precedents had been weakened since they were created. Especially with the arrival of Italian merchants en masse in Rhomania in the 1100s, the tendency had been to simply let market forces and completely free negotiation dictate the price, without much in the way of efforts to ensure a concept of a just price and just profit prevailed.

    Personal relations could keep a damper on exploitation, as cheating the neighbors would usually backfire in the end. But the market expanded in importance in the century after 1550, and the relationships forged there were often impersonal, increasing opportunities and incentives for exploitation. The economic fluctuations of the 1630s were, in Roman eyes, the scene of an unprecedented level of exploitation and greed. Demetrios III’s insistence on honoring war debts that fell to small-scale Roman government bond holders first was an important part in temporarily calming serious public agitation on the matter.

    However that insistence had not pleased everyone. The larger-scale merchants and financiers who loaned the Roman government money had not been happy, and they could make the historically correct claim that their money services had been much more significant in financing the Roman war effort.

    This dispute helps illustrate the debate going on in Roman society in the middle of the 1600s. Some argued that the government was too involved. The economic crash had been the direct result of a massive public loss of trust in the Roman credit system, but that loss of trust had come about because the determined maximum ratio of paper IBCs to gold had been breached. But the system had managed to function above the determined ratio, so the argument went that if the maximum ratio had never existed in the first place, the loss of trust never would’ve arisen in the first place.

    But there were others who disagreed. They wanted these old precedents of the just price and the just profit and just interest to be revived, strengthened, and expanded. Most Romans accepted a degree of economic inequality, even a relatively stark one. But the level of inequality, the disparity between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, in Constantinople and to a lesser extent in the other big cities, shocked and dismayed many of those same Romans. This was not a model they wanted to encourage and broaden. And they felt if the state intervened less, it would only strengthen the advantage of the powerful against the weak.

    And if justice limited the amount of profit, of the amount of accumulation, so be it. Constantinople in 1203-04 had been a fantastically wealthy city, but it had not been able to use that wealth to defend itself properly, and the results had been devastating, and very very nearly fatal. Gain alone could not be the only metric.

    Andronikos Hadjipapandreou, a Syrian Greek priest of the age, said the following. “It is the duty of the Emperor and his officials to provide justice, and justice to all, and justice everywhere. The market stall is not an exception. A highway robber who steals is punished with the full force of law, but a banker who robs with exorbitant interest suffers nothing. This is wrong. This is a failure to provide justice, and for those who have failed in their duty, the truth is simple; their meat is false.”

    [1] Sources for this section are:

    Demetrios Gofas, “The Byzantine Law of Interest”, in The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century, pgs. 1095-1104.

    Olga Maridaki-Karatza, “Legal Aspects of the Financing of Trade,” in The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century, pgs. 1105-20.

    Angeliki E. Laiou, “Economic Thought and Ideology”, in The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century, pgs. 1123-44.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, part 13-1: Rhomania in the World-A Mutilated Victory
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, part 13-1: Rhomania in the World-A Mutilated Victory

    While there were many and varied sources of discontent over the course the Empire was on in the 1640s, perhaps the most articulate and organized were the ultra-hawks. These were a mix of individuals, both civilian and military, but membership was especially concentrated in the ranks of mid-tier Roman military officers. For this reason, this group is sometimes also referred to as the Party of the Tourmarches.

    Sources for their discontentment were not new. They went back at least as far as Mashhadshar. The humiliating end of the Eternal War had been due to a mix of military and diplomatic failures on the part of the Romans. The Roman military had been willing to concede the military failures, but fiercely and deeply resented that all of the blame had been shoved onto them while the diplomats who’d been bamboozled by Iskandar had suffered no censure. Demetrios III’s actions as Emperor had helped to resolve much of this tension, and had that been given some more time to heal and nothing further added, that likely would’ve been the end of the matter.

    But much was further added. While battling the Germans, the Roman army had been subject to a constant and unending torrent of abuse from the rear. Odysseus Sideros’ own complaint that he and his fellow officers must apparently all be a second Andreas Niketas or be damned was hardly unique to him. Troops after suffering horribly at the front had been vilified even if victorious, because they had been insufficiently victorious. The result was that by the end of the war, a good section of the Roman army, especially its officer corps, had been deeply alienated from Roman civil society.

    Nothing came of it then, because the Roman army remained loyal to the Sideros dynasty (although if Odysseus had elected to march on Constantinople even with Theodor bearing down on Thessaloniki, he would’ve been followed). But by the late 1640s, both Demetrios III and Odysseus were dead, and for a variety of reasons Athena’s popularity had declined substantially from the siege of Thessaloniki.

    Odysseus’ campaign eastward had been a saga of glory and triumph, with the bloodiness of the fighting in Mesopotamia being overshadowed by the sweep across Persia and northern India. After the bitter experiences of the Eternal War and the War of the Roman Succession it was a most welcome change. But it was brief and really only extended to a small fraction of the Roman army. And as the years passed, promotions and honors overwhelmingly went to those who were veterans of the fighting in Persia and India. Now those veterans had more experience and opportunity to display their skill and valor, but still this left the six-sevenths of the army that had not participated getting a comparative cold shoulder, and many resented it.

    And so there were many who were interested in a much more aggressive foreign policy. For those who had not fought in Persia and India, it would be an opportunity to win renown and glory, to blot out past poor performances, and to humiliate all those who had slandered them behind their backs.

    Fueling this desire for war, really for victory, was the feeling that there just hadn’t been much victory lately. The victories of recent years felt diluted, and the term ‘mutilated victory’ would be coined sometime in the late 1640s (several different versions of its origins exist). The material benefits of the victory over the Latins had been meager, and largely evaporating by the late 1640s. And while Odysseus’ campaign fruits seemed more tangible, they still felt rather weak in light of what Roman arms had accomplished during the campaign itself.

    The full war-hawk program certainly did not lack for ambition. The purpose was to secure the fruits that Rhomania should have secured after its recent wars, rather than the watered-down pathetic scrap they’d gotten instead. Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and all of Italy to the Alps should’ve been conquered, with Hungary, Vlachia, and Georgia all turned into official satellite states. The Egyptians and ungrateful Sicilians should also have been reabsorbed, and Mesopotamia either conquered or at least turned into a vassal state that owed allegiance only to Constantinople. Persia should be, if not shattered, at least firmly shoved behind the Zagros. Conquests around Carthage in North Africa were also discussed, but took backstage to the above-mentioned which were considered far more important.

    The war hawks considered these just recompense for Roman sufferings and also what was needed to ensure Roman security. They recognized that such a program could not be achieved without military conflict, but they were open to that, even welcoming that. It would provide the opportunity for glory and revenge, and they believed that such a program was within the realm of possibility, if the government would only strive for it.

    But the government, Athena’s government, plainly would not strive for it. Far from supporting such measures, she’d even gone so far as to cede some territories to those Sicilians. The main diplomatic initiative undertaken by the White Palace was an effort to improve relations with Spain. Both Romans and Spanish in the East were being seriously pressured by surging Lotharingian/Dutch fleets (despite the division between a Triune and independent Lotharingia, east of the Cape they were cooperating) so a rapprochement was logical. But these efforts were contrary to war hawk territorial ambitions in Italy, where the Spanish tercios were seen as the biggest obstacle.

    Thus Athena was losing popularity in the eyes of the war hawks, but there were additional reasons. It must not be forgotten that Athena was a woman; certainly the war hawks did not. This was ‘surely’ the explanation for her focus on diplomacy and unwillingness to engage in the hard tasks that needed to be done.

    Some of Athena’s efforts to retain the loyalty of the army also were counter-productive. She was one of those women who had served openly in the Roman army during the siege of Thessaloniki, and at certain points she still proudly wore her artillery tourmarch’s uniform. But while many Roman men had praised the women who had done so, there were many more who condemned such actions. Many of the latter also thought it was a reproach to their own manliness. Warfare is the most stereotypical masculine activity and having women participate in it, especially with skill and dedication, was unnerving and shaming. To those thus disposed against women in uniform, or Athena’s policies in general, Athena’s references to her past military conduct diminished rather than enhanced her status.

    Athena did push the envelope of what was acceptable by the standards of the time. The hesychastic lodges, where members joined together and participated in joint mystical exercises to experience the divine, where biometric readings of participants could and did mirror each other, were intensely important in Roman military culture. Dating back to the mid-1200s and St Ioannes of the Turks, these lodge brotherhoods were intensely deep and personal. While they were spread more widely throughout society, these lodges were primarily associated with monks and soldiers, and especially with soldiers. Monks were more likely to engage in private mysticism, and when they didn’t their lodges were usually located in less obvious locations.

    Athena did something unheard of. In 1648 she established a hesychastic lodge for women. Many (male) theologians doubted whether women could see the divine fire (the goal of hesychastic mysticism) at all, while even those that allowed for the possibility expected this to be done privately. Some women had, but none had thought to establish a lodge so as to show others how to do so. Until now.

    It was a small affair. It followed the structure of a typical lodge, with the lodge leader being a nun who’d experienced the divine fire privately, a requirement for all lodge leaders. The lodge was small, with Athena and a few female attendants, including Celeste Galilei, numbering no more than seven sisters plus the lodge mother. During the ceremonies, there were no differentiations in rank; all were equal in the face of God.

    Many men, especially military men, were furious that Athena would do such a thing. Women participating in this most absolutely masculine activity (especially with its military associations) was an affront to their manhood. This is not to say that all men or soldiers had turned against Athena; many were still loyal to her and respected her. But by 1650 she was a controversial and divisive figure in a way even her father had not been even in the worst stretches of the War of the Roman Succession.

    The face of the war hawk faction were that of mid-tier military officers, but they were not alone. Another group prominent were what could be called, by the standards of the time, big businessmen. The war hawks were aware of the demands that would be required by their program of expansionism, but they thought those demands could be met, provided certain reforms were made. The War of the Roman Succession had seen the creation of war profiteers, but the material resources for the war effort had been created and distributed, and that was what mattered to the war hawks.

    Clearly the way forward was to just take what had already been done during the war years and to continue it. Any such talk of limiting to the just profit or the just wage or price should be removed. This would allow for the expansion of the big, efficient, and profitable enterprises that had already provided the materials needed for a major war effort, and so could do so again. For those in a position to profit from the removal of those restrictions, this was an attractive concept, and so many supported the war hawks. And while there was concern, even here, about the pressures this would place on the poor, for the war hawks that could also be a benefit. Economic downturns were very good for army recruitment.

    For those who fell into this mindset, Athena was clearly an impediment. Her nephew Herakleios seemed far more promising. His personality was admittedly unimpressive, but he was the son of Odysseus, and Odysseus certainly ranked far higher in war hawk eyes than his sister. He was also a male, a big plus. And even if Herakleios showed no signs of martial prowess, indications were favorable that he could be influenced to have the right opinions.

    Herakleios is infamous in his personal life for having a mistress, Anastasia Laskarina, who started having an affair when he was 13 and she was 27. He was intensely devoted to her, although some might rephrase that as ‘being obsessed with and commanded by her’. Athena had made some efforts to get rid of her, but in the face of Herakelios’ resistance, which went so far as a threat to commit suicide, Athena backed down. Now while there were many in the war hawk camp who thought Herakleios’ behavior to be unbecoming and unmanly, it was most useful. For one of the literal Tourmarches in the Party of the Tourmarches was her brother, Isaakios Laskaris.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, part 13-2: Rhomania in the World-To Forfeit A Soul
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 13-2: Rhomania in the World-To Forfeit A Soul

    By the end of the 1640s, the war hawks were still the most coherent ideological grouping in Roman society, but they were facing increasing competition in that quarter. The competition, which rose partly in reaction to the increasing demands of the war hawks, has been labeled as defensivism, although the term itself is much more recent than the phenomenon it describes.

    Defensivism had deep precedents in Roman society. Rhomania in the Middle Ages repeatedly engaged in warfare, but in its own way was substantially less militaristic than its neighbors both in the east and west. Although there was the occasional nod in that direction, there was no concept of a holy war comparable to a Latin Crusade or a Muslim Jihad. In surveys of the possessions in medieval Roman households, weapons and military equipment are conspicuous for their absence. Military service was supposed to be done by professionals in the service of the state, not of a ‘people-in-arms’, which is a major reason why contemporaries of the medieval Romans often called them effeminate. [1]

    The medieval Romans were certainly not pacifist, as those facing Nikephoros Phokas or Alexios Philanthropenos on the battlefield could attest, if they survived the experience. But throughout much of medieval Roman intellectual thought, conquest was not celebrated for its own merits. What belonged to the Romans must be defended, and what had been lost that was rightfully Roman should be retaken, but it was not right to go and seize from others what rightfully belonged to them. In the early tenth century, Arethas favorably compared Leo VI above Alexander the Great himself. That was because Leo VI had waged just war to reclaim what had been taken from the Romans but which rightfully belonged to them. In contrast, Alexander was greedy and unjust, failing to recognize the Hellespont as the natural limit to his ambition in his quest to steal what did not belong to him. [2]

    This precedent strongly influenced the defensivists as they articulated their ideas in the late 1640s. Many of the most prominent and influential were members of the Orthodox clergy, who were guided by concerns over Roman morality. They were far from alone in this regard. In the summer of 1648, Thrace was devastated by an earthquake. This was followed by the freezing of the Bosporus in early 1649, and then a volcanic eruption at Kolumbo in 1650. Throughout these years, plague raged. And those were just the most striking examples as climatic conditions turned more erratic and destructive.

    Romans lacked the means to explain such phenomena through natural means, although those historically-minded recognized extremely disturbing parallels with the mid-6th century. Athena was one of these, musing in 1650 about the similarities, speculating if the earth went through a cycle whereby every 1100 years or so it became sharply hostile to human life. Most though believed the cause was a manifestation of God’s anger towards human behavior. Denunciations of drunkenness, greed, fornication, and sodomy were never absent, but there seems to have been a sharp uptick after 1645.

    Defensivists, especially the clerical ones, were not immune to these ideas, but they thought there was more to the matter. Bishop Manuel Rekas considered homosexuality to be a most grievous sin, but highly doubted that sodomy was more common in Roman society in 1650 as opposed to 1575, when God’s wrath had not manifested in bizarre and deadly climatic conditions. For God’s wrath to be manifesting now, there had to be more than just the typical moral failures decried in all generations.

    The reference to the year 1575 was not random, for that year was during the height of the Flowering, commonly dated as stretching from about 1560 to 1595, albeit with fuzziness around the edges. This era was perceived as a golden age of peace and prosperity, bounty and beauty, in stark contrast to the years of iron and pain that had marked the Roman experience of the first half of the 1600s. Now rose-tinted nostalgia was a factor as Romans of the 1640s looked back, but certainly the mid/late 1500s were much more beneficent to Roman life and happiness than the era of the Flowering’s children and grandchildren.

    To re-cultivate the Flowering, to make that now-barren garden bloom again, was the goal of the defensivists. It must be said that some of their representation of the Flowering had never existed in reality; not all of that Golden Age had been made of precious metals. Furthermore in the ways they wished to go back to that era, they relied on innovations that would make their proposed re-creation different from the model. For example, Rhomania at the beginning of the Flowering had been appreciably less urbanized and commercialized than was the case three generations later. Most defensivists did not want to roll these back, but wanted to regain the perceived fairness and good conduct of Flowering Society by reviving the ideas of just profit and just price. This image of the Flowering, as a period of peace, prosperity, justice, and morality, whether accurate to the time period or not, heavily influenced the defensivists.

    And that is where the defensivists ran, with the force of a wine-mad triceratops, into the war hawks. For the war hawks thought to secure and prosper Rhomania by massive military expansionism, while the Flowering had been marked by peace and diplomacy. It had even begun with some territorial concessions to Timur II, then at the height of his power. (The cession admittedly soon ended up in Ottoman hands, but the historical connection with the House of Sideros possibly added to the appeal when used as a precedent for the cession of Malta to the Despotate of Sicily.)

    During those decades, the White Palace had emphasized good relations with the West. Many now were critical of those endeavors, as the resulting marriage ties had given Theodor his opening. But the defensivists countered that Theodor’s opening had come about because of Drakid dynastic failings. The Latins existed, and existed in far greater numbers than the Romans, and it was important to just deal with those facts, annoying as they might be. For what other option was there?

    The defensivists also used the War of the Roman Succession to bolster their point. During the conflict Rhomania had received substantial military aid, mainly manpower, primarily from the Russian states, but also Arles and Spain. There had even been a good chance that the latter two would’ve joined the Romans in the war had not the entry of Lombardy on Theodor’s side upset the geopolitical table. Spanish and Arletian hostility had arisen later, after the Romans had ignored their concerns about the geopolitical arrangement of Italy.

    In short, the defensivists thought that Rhomania was secure in its present state. The success of the Romans in defending themselves in that war showed that. Yes, it had been costly, but it had been successful, and such high costs could be obviated in the future by avoiding certain errors, such as alienating Georgia, and regaining and retaining the friendship of Spain and Arles. Plus now there was the Russian factor to consider.

    But the plan of the war hawks would not help make Rhomania secure; it would make it more insecure. Such a program would spread out Roman forces and sharply increase their list of enemies. Of what good was Italy if its possession ensured the hostility of Spain, Arles, and Sicily? A free Hungary would look askance at Germans marching through its territory. A Hungary subservient to Constantinople would likely welcome and even encourage them.

    There was more to the defensivists’ argument than just disputes over foreign policy; for them there was also a moral issue at play. They saw a growing darkness in the soul of Rhomania, grown hard and callous and cruel in the decades of near-constant and grueling war since the start of the century. And they feared what it portended. The Great Crime was just the most extreme example. Now they believed in putting down rebellions and certainly weren’t interested in seeing an independent Sunni Syria, but did it really have to end with so much blood and death? Had it really been necessary, or had it ended that way because that was how the Romans wanted it to end?

    They saw the war hawk program as an expression of that darkness, and more worryingly a way in which it might grow. A thirst for blood, for conquest, an eagerness to hurt the outsider and to steal what belonged to them and not to the Romans. This thirst is what Bishop Manuel Rekas identified as the key difference between the Romans of 1650 as opposed to 1575, and he considered that it was this lust for blood that was kindling the fire of God’s wrath.

    But that consideration is also why he emphasized that Rhomania was secure, that it did not need to claw and hack at the world to make itself safe. For he identified the root of the darkness, and that root was fear. What it came down to was that the Romans were afraid. The trauma of the Fourth Crusade and the Black Day had never truly faded, and likely never would, and the trials of the early 1600s had only exacerbated them. That was the context behind his famous saying in a sermon in Constantinople: “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”

    This was the true attraction of the Flowering for the defensivists. The Fourth Crusade and the Black Day could not and should not be forgotten, but these traumas did not have to warp and darken the Roman soul. The Flowering was proof of that, and the defensivists hoped that the spirit of the Romans in that time could be regained.

    They hoped, and they prayed. For clearly God’s wrath was building, and even if he did not enact justice, the hearts of men could bring forth much evil on their own. For if the wrath of the war hawks was turned upon the world, what would be the wrath of the world? And if the wrath of the war hawks could not be turned outward, how long before it would be turned inward? How long could darkness reside before consuming its host?

    These were alarming questions. As Patriarch Adam II of Constantinople, the highest-ranking defensivist, said “I sense a great evil in the heart of Rhomania. This tumor must be excised, lest it doom us all. But I fear the surgery will be terrible in its own right.”

    For the defensivists, the Flowering must be regained. Rhomania could be secure and safe, but it must regain that spirit of peace and diplomacy, not continue along this path. And to do so, it must emphatically reject this spirit of conquest, of seizing what rightfully belonged to others. What rightfully belonged to the Romans must be defended, but no more must be taken, for that was not just.

    This sparked the obvious question: what rightfully belonged to the Romans? For the defensivists, the answer was simple. They looked back to the Flowering for their ideal Rhomania, and so it was the borders of Rhomania during the Flowering that they considered to be rightfully Roman.

    There were some caveats to this. While they might deplore the Great Crime, no defensivist thought to try and reverse it. Such evil was done; it could not be undone. What was needed was to ensure that such a thing would never happen again. (Even then, some critics found this to be rather ‘convenient’.) And one curious blind spot among the defensivists was any acknowledgment of Rhomania-in-the-East, which might as well not exist in their writings. They were concerned with the heartland, and the heartland alone, perhaps because it was the threats to the heartland that was the source of the fear and darkness that they hoped to exorcise.

    But once those were considered, the position of the defensivists were clear. The borders of Rhomania during the Flowering were what were right and just for the Romans to possess, and no more. Any more, no matter the justification, was an act of injustice, of theft, of blood, of darkness, of evil. And this was no mere rhetoric either. As Father Andronikos Hadjipapandreou, the most famous of the defensivists, said: “Evil must be opposed. No matter the cost, for to surrender to evil is to pay an even greater price.”

    But the defensivists were not the only ones who thought they were in an existential struggle for the soul and people of Rhomania. As Tourmarch Thomas Nereas, one of the literal Tourmarches, also said at around the same time: “The Roman people must become steel. This must be done in fire, and the slag cast out into the waste dump. This is necessary, so let it be done. Mercy will hinder this task, so let it be abandoned.”

    [1] Nicolas Oikonomides, “The Contents of the Byzantine House from the Eleventh to the Fifteenth Century,” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990).

    [2] Angeliki E. Laiou, “Economic Thought and Ideology”, in The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Century, pg. 1126.
    The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 14: A Diverse and Divided Empire
  • The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 14: A Diverse and Divided Empire

    Rhomania on a political map is represented by a blob of purple, a mass of sameness that implies uniformity, but the Rhomania of 1650 was a diverse realm. It embraced many different land types and ecological zones, with the inhabitants mirroring that diversity. There were the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban, the settled and the nomadic, and even these broad labels contained multitudes within themselves.

    This diversity could also breed division. By 1650 most inhabitants of the Roman heartland had at least a vague sense of shared Roman-ness, but this sense was secondary to local identities and issues. For most Romans, the concerns of the village and the Kephalate were of primary importance. The Emperor was far away; the neighbors were always there. Much of this was a function of the difficulty of travel, especially away from the sea. Now Romans did travel, for work, for pilgrimage, and for other reasons, but newspapers flowed more easily and more often than people. For many Romans, their impression of other Romans would be from paper, not from experiences in the flesh.

    This was not unique to Rhomania. Roman administrators might look on the French with envy, as their populace was comparable in size but concentrated in a much smaller area. But then the Persians could do the same with Rhomania. Roman difficulties with broad territories spread out over rugged terrain, with pastoral conglomerations interspersed and rubbing with settled zones, were all present in Persia, and to a greater degree. The Romans at least had the Aegean Sea.

    These divisions and frictions though are inevitable in practically any society of sufficient size; even modern states with transportation and communication technology unimaginable to their 17th-century ancestors see them.

    But Rhomania in the mid-1600s was facing some more unique sources of division. There was growing pressure on the environment due to population increase and overexploitation of natural resources. Given that, by far, having access to one’s own land was the best means of support, this growing strain had a drastic effect on the health and lives of many Romans. The effects can be shown literally in the bones of the Romans who lived then; in a massive survey of Roman skeletal remains dating back as far as the late reign of Andreas Niketas himself, the Romans of the middle third of the 1600s were the shortest of all generations.

    This was exacerbated by the growing commercialization of society. Peasants in debt to their neighbors could usually find a way to survive, and even make good their losses. The life of a peasant village was hard; cooperation was essential for survival. But a peasant in debt to a moneylender could expect no such relief. And their situation frequently was made worse by their location. In rural areas, often somewhat or seriously isolated, with very limited sources of credit, the available moneylender was almost certainly a loan shark, with the concept of just interest being a sad joke.

    Those who lost their land, whether through partible inheritance practices paring down holdings into unviability, or through debt, made their ways to the cities. There they swelled the masses of destitute urban poor, with little opportunity or hope to better themselves. The Bothroi might become rich, but the cesspit drainers they employed certainly did not. But for many it would not be a problem for long. The press of poor populations, underfed and under-cleaned, with limited sanitation and rural immigrants underexposed to endemic diseases rife in urban environments, was a toxic disease cocktail.

    And yet next to them were great townhouses and marketplaces. There were riches and prosperity in plenty, but while many shivered in cold tenements with precious little to no fuel for heating, a few could have heated lavatories where they relieved themselves into literally golden chamber pots. Many Romans, and not just those freezing, thought that there was something wrong with this system.

    A surfeit of university graduates ensured that there was a constant and usually-critical conversation about the state of realm. They might be well-enough off to heat their homes at night and enjoy kaffos and monems down at the local kaffos oikos, but they too rumbled dissatisfaction. As with the land, so it was with offices and government positions: too many people and not enough availability. And in both causes, monopolization of large portions by small groups exacerbated an issue, although it should be noted that the monopolization did not create the issue, nor would its removal have completely resolved it.

    Again, these issues were hardly unique to Rhomania. Environmental strain, distress caused by growing commercialization, and a surfeit of ‘angry learned young men’ were apparent all across the Mediterranean. The ‘angry learned young men’ phrase was coined by a Spanish minister in 1649, regarding issues in his own land.

    Another issue lay in what might be called a crisis of identity, of wondering what Rhomania’s place in the world was. While people and nations cannot be psychoanalyzed as if they had one mind, generalized observations can be made provided one remembers there are always exceptions.

    It has been said that Romans never truly feel secure or safe, and that even in the midst of great glory there is always an undercurrent of fear, even if only subconscious, but ever present. Romans though are not offended or surprised by such observations; to them it seems logical. Roman history shows that fate is fickle, the wheel constantly turns, and that the time and space between glory and ruin can be distressingly small. One who in their youth saw the splendor of Justinian could in their old age see the disasters of Phokas. The triumph of Herakleios over the Sassanids was followed by the humiliation of Herakleios under the Arabs. One who in their youth saw the might of Basil II could live to see the Turks conquer most of Anatolia. Their grandchildren could see the glory of Manuel I Komnenos, commanding Hungarians and Turks and Crusaders, and then in their old age see the Venetians storming over the sea walls of Constantinople. Andreas Niketas was followed by the Time of Trouble.

    One Roman historian once said, “The problem with the Latins is that they have not much history and remember little of it. The problem with us is that we have a great deal of history, and remember most of it.”

    Yet while it could be said that this undercurrent of fear is always there, never truly exorcised, for some scars never completely fade, this undercurrent’s strength is not static. It can and does wax and wane. And as many of the defensivists noted, this undercurrent seems to have been especially strong in the mid-1600s.

    That can be largely explained by the strain of the War of the Roman Succession, following as it did the Great Uprising and the Eternal War. The German offensive had been defeated, but at great cost, and the westerners had displayed a degree of power that could certainly not be ignored. And it was clear to many Romans knowledgeable about the Latin west that it was growing more formidable and organized, which naturally made concerns about Roman security more acute.

    There were two responses to this fear. One was a path of military aggression, to secure buffer zones and resources to bolster Roman defenses. The other sought a more diplomatic approach. This was not pacifistic; the defensivists would exert all their strength to defend Rhomania against assault if necessary. But the Latins, while many, were also diverse and divided. Rhomania needed to defend itself in a dangerous world, but that could be done by developing the resources, both material and moral, already possessed and cultivating key allies where possible.

    This dispute might seem abstract, an intellectual disagreement, but the undercurrent of fear made that very much not the case. Both sides naturally felt that they were right, and the other was wrong. And in this case, the price for being wrong could be the doom of all. The question was existential, and error therefore could not be tolerated.

    Even here, Rhomania was not quite unique. In Arles, there were debates about the future orientation of the state, whether to look to Spain or to look to France. But these debates were limited to a smaller subsection of the Arletian population and were never as vitriolic as its Roman counterparts.

    These tensions of varying sources thus all predated the height of the Little Ice Age and were unconnected to it. The Little Ice Age did not create the General Crisis that would shudder much of the world. But it did take the many pre-existing tensions and sharply accelerate and exacerbate them.

    But while some sort of crisis might have been inevitable, in as much anything can be historically inevitable, that does not remove the agency of people. How the Crisis in Rhomania began, the form it took, the way it played out, and the nature of the repercussions were all determined by Romans, by their fears and hopes, hatreds and loves, cruelties and kindnesses, and stupidities and wisdoms. The circumstances in which they do so is seldom of their choice, but in the end, it is people that make history.
    A Storm of the West: Demetrios the Prince
  • A Storm of the West: Demetrios the Prince

    For all the various rumblings and mutterings, the Roman Empire in the late 1640s and early 50s remained relatively quiet, certainly nothing like the turmoil that wracked central Europe. The weather continued to be more erratic than usual, damaging harvests, but the shortages were small-scale. They inflicted immense harm on those in those local areas, even with efforts to distribute aid to stricken regions, but these were blows Roman state and society could absorb.

    As the world turned, a certain boy gradually grew toward manhood. Demetrios Sideros the Younger was the youngest son of Odysseus and Maria, and he turned 14 years old in 1653. In his autobiography, Demetrios described that as “the year in which I became interesting”. Some of his tutors probably would’ve questioned that assertion. Demetrios the Younger was many things.

    Normal was not one of them.

    The word used to describe him, frequently to the point of abuse by his biographers, is intense. Even as a child, whatever he put his mind to, Demetrios utterly committed himself. He loved to hunt and ride, and on days dedicated to those activities, he threw himself into the fray. He rode furiously across the landscape, shooting birds with his bow and lancing boars with his spear. Weather and terrain did not matter. This was a hunting day, and so a hunting day it would be.

    But distinctly unlike his brother, Demetrios was a voracious reader, to a point that even a jaded and bibliophile people like Romans were impressed. If it was a reading day, then he would devour volumes. His interests could vary, from works of natural history to human history to adventures, but whatever his interest, he stalked and pursued it until his quarry was brought to bear, slain, and butchered. He listened to tales from foreign ambassadors to learn of distant lands, and he is said to have read all the published works of his grandfather by his thirteenth birthday.

    Although tending towards chubbiness as a child, due to an excellent talent for wheedling sweets from the palace kitchen staff, as a teenager he had a lithe slim figure. (One reason for his vigorous exercise routines on allotted days was so that he could continue to enjoy said sweets without the chubbiness.) Not as short as his father, he was still below average in his height, and while no powerlifter was much stronger than one would expect from his small frame. In his capability of producing facial and body hair, he closely resembled his grandfather and far outmatched his elder brother, much to Herakleios’ humiliation. In his dusky skin and dark brown hair he too more closely resembled his father, in contrast to his fairer skinned and haired brother, another source of irritation.

    Yet what contemporaries universally noted about him, whether that be a court tutor, a palace bureaucrat, a foreign ambassador, or a young palace maid, were the eyes, those intense eyes. One of those maids described them as “deep pools, simultaneously exciting and frightening”. From a young age, Demetrios enjoyed and pursued the attention of the ladies, usually with success. One day in summer 1653, a horse that had the daughter of the Eparch of Constantinople, Helena, riding it bolted in terror. Demetrios on his own mount caught up with the horse and managed to bring it under control. When Helena asked how she could thank him, he requested that she, who was one of the beauties of the court and five years his senior, give him a kiss which she did.

    That episode is known from other accounts. That evening in his journal Demetrios instead records his loathing for people who interrupt him while reading to engage in ‘trivial chattering’.

    While a frequent writer like his grandfather (much of Demetrios’ life is known from his surprisingly candid autobiography, although the writing style shows significant grandfatherly influence), unlike Demetrios III, Demetrios the Younger engaged in poetry. One is as follows:

    The night before last, I dreamed I was a star,
    Shining over the snows on Mount Olympus
    And then I awoke, and remembered I was Demetrios.

    Last night, I dreamed I was a flower,
    Turning toward the sun on the Thessalian plain
    And then I awoke, and remembered I was Demetrios.

    But is that so?

    Am I Demetrios, dreaming I was a star and then a flower?
    Am I a star, dreaming I was Demetrios and then a flower?
    Or am I a flower, dreaming I was a star and then Demetrios?
    Or something else entirely, dreaming of a Demetrios, a star, and a flower?

    Probably the last, and likely it’s an elephant that’s the dreamer of it all.

    Demetrios’ relations with the rest of his family seem to have been rather distant. He was closest to his cousin Sophia, but he mostly bonded with palace attendants and servants and those responsible for his care while growing up. His writings indicate he respected his Aunt Athena, but there is little sign of affection in either direction.

    There is certainly no sign of respect or affection in either direction when one turns to the relationship between Demetrios and his elder brother Herakleios. With a seven-year gap, it is unsurprising they were not close growing up. Herakleios viewed his little brother mostly with annoyance at first, but as Demetrios grew older, and particularly after entering his teenage years, that annoyance grew to dislike and then to hatred.

    Herakleios resented how his younger brother seemed to be more popular and admired, especially as there seemed to be a double standard. Demetrios could crow about his hunting exploits and be applauded. Now if Herakleios did the same, he would still be applauded, but that seemed not to be genuine, done simply because of Herakleios’ rank.

    (Michael Pirikolos said that the difference was because of the nature of the crowing. Demetrios would grant honors and praise to others in the hunting party, and showed a willingness to poke fun at himself. But when Herakleios went hunting, all kills belonged to him and him alone, and no dirt could land on him. Another difference was that Demetrios could talk about other topics than hunting, while Michael caustically stated that Herakleios had the mental horizon of a not-especially-bright English aristocrat.)

    The annoyance and resentment did not manifest itself into hatred though until an incident in spring of 1654. Demetrios and some of his attendants were promenading in the White Palace gardens when they came upon Anastasia Laskarina, Herakleios’ mistress, and several of her attendants going the other way. In this area, the footpath was narrow and there was not enough room for both parties. One would have to step off the path to make way for the other.

    Anastasia requested that Demetrios make way for her. He replied that he would make way for an elephant, but not ‘any old cow’. Anastasia was understandably furious and refused to budge when Demetrios then demanded that she make way for him. Impasse.

    Neither was willing to either move or turn around, but it turns out that Demetrios was better prepared. After a few minutes, he and his attendants pulled out some cold sausages, cheese, and a jug of wine they had on them (why has never been explained) and while still standing on the path, calmly and loudly proceeded to slowly eat their repast. Finally, Anastasia gave way and moved off the path, letting Demetrios proceed.

    Herakleios was absolutely enraged when he heard of this; there are some accounts that state he wished to have his brother beheaded for the impertinence. Athena, who had no liking for Anastasia, found the whole affair amusing but did not want any brotherly stabbing to splatter the walls of the White Palace. Thus, to placate Herakleios, who at this stage was more than old enough to take the reins of power but showed no signs of seriously trying to take them from his aunt, a compromise was reached.

    It was effectively exile. Demetrios was granted some large tracts of land, with it being made very clear he was to leave the White Palace and go live on those holdings. The estate was in the Kephalate of Iberia in northeast Anatolia, inland from Trebizond. With its capital of Theodosiopolis, the southern part of the district included the field of Manzikert. Demetrios’ property was near Chauzizion on the Upper Araxes River, a town that far more resembled Tbilisi or Tabriz than it did Constantinople or Nicaea.

    This was in the heart of the rugged rough east, where knowledge of Armenian and Georgian and Kurdish was more useful on the ground and where the spoken Greek was decidedly strange by capital standards. In terms of travel time (although not in straight-line distance), it was almost as far as one could go from Constantinople while still remaining in the Imperial heartland.

    Demetrios seems to have accepted this with good grace. The teenager was restless, a pointless second son with nothing to do. Given his older brother’s feelings, prospects of advancement in Roman service seemed rather slim, and he was too proud to beg forgiveness. He made his own feelings for his elder brother quite clear as he made his way east out of the White Palace in late spring 1654.

    Definitely without permission, in his baggage Demetrios Sideros took the Sword of Timur, the blade their grandfather had acquired in Persia, and the blade their father had worn through his long march east. As far as Demetrios was concerned, that steel belonged to him.
    A Storm of the West: Demetrios the Mountain Lord
  • A Storm of the West: Demetrios the Mountain Lord

    On paper Demetrios’ land holdings might’ve looked impressively large, but these were not the lush and highly prosperous and populous and manured Thracian plain. This was in the heart of Rhomania’s wild east, the rough and wide frontier zone where Rhomania faded into Persia and Greater Asia. Much of the area’s population was composed of pastoral nomads, miners, and woodsmen. Agricultural villages existed here and there in zones where it could be sustained, but these were poor and primitive compared to villages to the west. Pigeon droppings were the main fertilizer, making it possible for the inhabitants to scratch a subsistence out of thin hillside soils.

    The Kephalate of Iberia in general though wasn’t as isolated and underdeveloped as much of the rest of the wild east. The capital, Theodosiopolis, had a population of thirteen thousand, small by Aegean standards but huge for the region. A major military base and fortification guarding eastern Anatolia, it was also an important trade hub covering commerce with Tbilisi and Tabriz.

    That said, the extent should not be exaggerated. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, which both contributed to and exacerbated the limited and underdeveloped road network save for the main highway connecting Theodosiopolis to points west and north, trade outside these specific and few channels was fleeting and small-scale. It was present, but by the peddler. Except for those near Theodosiopolis, any sort of commerce involving bulk goods like grain was completely impracticable. Trade was in animal products that could move on the hoof, or on high-value items preferably of low bulk such as silk thread from Persia.

    Ethnicity and language were an interlocking weave of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Georgian, and Kurdish threads, with the odd Russian and Helvetian strand added to make the pattern more complicated. Except for the Armenians who followed their own church, the people were all Orthodox by this point, although the folk Christianity of the hills would’ve looked suspicious to theologians closer to the major cities of the Empire. A good example would be the pilgrimage sites that historically began as turbes of Sufi saints.

    Demetrios’ estate was in the south of the theme, which was more rugged, poorer, and underdeveloped than the northern reaches around Theodosiopolis. The town of Chauzizion was really an oversized village, lacking even a bookshop and having only a single kaffos oikos. The town could swell to three times its normal size when it hosted its regular trade fair, but the goods on offer, woolen thread, eggs, beans, cookware, and the like were decidedly plebeian to one used to the markets of Constantinople.

    But Demetrios does not seem to have minded. On arrival he roamed over his land, exploring it from mountaintop to field, and his first major deed as landlord was to pay for several donkeys for his tenant farmers. The only payment he demanded was an invitation to their harvest feasts, which he enjoyed immensely. Given his age, it is unsurprising that he had an eye for the women. According to his autobiography, while he wished the peasants had more opportunity and ability to wash themselves, he said he preferred many of “the strongly built farm girls of Iberia to many of the painted ladies of the City; the former are much better at wrestling in the hay”.

    Given the power disparity at play, there are questions about how consensual these liaisons were. But there appears to have been no consequences to saying no. According to local tradition, the tallest of his tenants’ daughters rejected his flirtation with the response that she preferred men who could look her in the eye. Her father still received a donkey which the family had been promised beforehand.

    But the young prince grew quickly bored of being a landlord. Roaming and hunting over this rough landscape helped some, but not enough. In this country, brigands were a constant problem, albeit usually a low-level one. For something to do, Demetrios and a few retainers began dressing up as peddlers and traveling along the donkey tracks as bait to lure in brigands where he could surprise and take them down. These little operations marked his first experience of combat, but Demetrios made it clear he did not intend for it to be his last. He never took Timur’s sword with him on these missions, saying that steel was meant to drink greater blood than what he could offer it at this point.

    These operations gradually grew in size over the next few years, culminating in one episode in early 1657. With the approval and support of the Kastrophylax of Iberia, Demetrios led a unit of over 250 men, a mix of his retainers, local volunteers, and militia units, that tracked down, surrounded, and captured a particular large, capable, and notorious band of robbers. While there had been no fighting, the young man’s ability in organizing, leading, and sustaining a diverse group of men in rugged terrain during winter was still noticed.

    During this time, Demetrios’ band of retainers had been growing. The key figure was Andronikos Karamanlis, a distant cousin of the Grand Karaman. Andronikos was officially the commander of Demetrios’ bodyguard but had also been responsible for teaching the boy how to handle the horse, sword, and bow. Through Andronikos’ contacts back home in Isauria, several more Karamanlis joined Demetrios’ service. These numbered no more than twenty, mostly other distant cousins with no prospects in the highlands, but were prominent in Demetrios’ growing band.

    Other than this, Demetrios acted as the benevolent enlightened landlord, helping to fund and organize some development projects such as the cultivation of maize and the breeding of more farm animals. (These noticeably did not include the introduction of potatoes; Demetrios here shared the common distaste for the tuber.) These were hard times. Harvests were bad and irregular all across the Empire. Eastern Anatolia was particularly vulnerable given the low productivity of its agriculture and extremely limited feasibility of importing foodstuffs from elsewhere.

    Taxes were never liked, but they weighed especially heavily in these times of dearth. Demetrios’ tenants were, by the standards of the area, fairly well off. Given their landlord, no tax collector was going to mess with them, but their friends and relatives elsewhere were not so lucky. In spring 1657, some of Demetrios’ tenants complained to him on behalf of relations in free (as in the villagers owned their own land) villages nearby.

    The complaints here focused less on the concept of tax collecting in general, but on the corruption of the Dioiketes, the administrator responsible for tax collection in the southern half of Iberia. Aside from what was owed in the taxes, he had been demanding extra. These came not only in the form of additional payments, but also lots of ‘support’, in terms of food, lodging, and other supplies for him and his officials. Aside from the obvious injustice, given the thin margins on which people were surviving, this could tip many over the edge.

    Complaints had been made up the chain of bureaucracy, but these were the wild and poor fringes of the Empire. Things moved slowly even at the best of times. And with the straitened circumstances everywhere, petitions for relief and complaints about corruption were many. This one ended up in a very large pile, with the usual fate that befalls such things. The Dioiketes did get the expected tax revenue on time, which meant investigation was not a high priority for his superiors.

    Demetrios, in contrast to those superiors, was nearby and did not share their priorities. Angered by what he had heard, he and many of his retainers stormed down to the official’s townhouse in Chauzizion, where the Dioiketes was. The prince stormed into his office, accusing him of his crimes and demanding restitution. When the Dioiketes refused, noting the prince’s lack of jurisdiction in the matter, Demetrios punched him in the face. Demetrios’ men bound the official and then ransacked the property, carting off everything of value which Demetrios then distributed to the peasants the official had defrauded.

    This incident, because of who had been involved, did not get bogged down on the paper trail, but news quickly reached the White Palace. Given the open attack on an Imperial official, it couldn’t be ignored. Herakleios, inclined to believe the worst, considered this an open attack on his authority by his impertinent little brother. He suspected Demetrios of plotting rebellion; why else would he be making contacts with the Grand Karaman and building a private army? His theft of the Sword of Timur had also been discovered, and while no demands had been made for its return, this act in this new context also seemed troubling.

    Another aspect that told against Demetrios was the behavior of his favorite dog, who had been trained to urinate whenever it heard Herakleios’ name. The dog’s name, by the way, was ‘Cat’. The prince’s favorite horse was named ‘Camel’. Because Demetrios was one of those people.

    Some have wondered whether Herakleios’ concerns had any basis in fact or were just jealous paranoid fantasies. Certainly, some of the war hawks looked at Demetrios as far more personally attractive, a true son of Odysseus, compared to the Basileus, while still likely to be sympathetic to their goals. Whether or not they would’ve done anything to operate on those desires is unknown; Herakleios certainly seemed easier to control.

    Demetrios, for his part, certainly displayed no open ambition, but then it would’ve been foolish for him to do so. However, he did remark that “to overthrow my brother would be rude. To inherit from my brother because of his impotence would be weak. And besides, to rule over a realm without elephants would be boring."

    On this subject, Herakleios was willing to put pressure on his aunt. Demetrios was ordered to return to Constantinople promptly, an order which deeply disturbed the prince. “Once I return, I will be a beautiful bird forced into a cage and shorn of its tail feathers.” And that was if his brother didn’t arrange an accident for him; Demetrios considered his brother to be willing to do such a thing if he was ever back in the capital.

    So Demetrios moved, but not to Constantinople. He packed up as much of his moveable wealth as he could; it was said four camels were needed to convey his personal library. With that and a band of followers numbering a few hundred, a mix of soldiers, servants, and followers from his tenant population willing to go with him, he rode away. There does not seem to have been any contingency plan in place for if Demetrios rejected the summons, so he and his followers faced no difficulty, other than the usual strains of travel, as they marched to the Persian frontier.

    Shahanshah Iskandar the Younger welcomed his ‘nephew’ with surprised but open arms, supplying his men for their continued journey to Hamadan. Roman protests, now considerably more alarmed than they had been before, were ignored. Iskandar kept himself well informed of what went on in the Roman capital, and much of his goodwill had been burned away by war hawk rhetoric. He trusted Athena, who he’d known personally given his long time with Odysseus, but was gravely concerned that she was not taking the war hawks seriously enough. The Shah thus wanted insurance to guard against Roman attack, and the younger brother of the Emperor seemed like quite the policy.

    But there was also no need to be completely undiplomatic. Iskandar made it clear he had no intention of forcing his nephew to return to Rhomania if he had no wish to do so, but keeping him around Hamadan was viewed as unnecessarily provocative. To conciliate Roman concerns, Demetrios only spent three weeks at the Persian capital before moving out to his new station, again on the fringes of empire, Kabul.
    The Lands of Germany (and neighbors), 1648-49:
  • For the moment we must leave Demetrios in Kabul, since with his storyline and the 'Rhomania in the Little Ice Age' plot we are moving towards the end of the 1650s, and there is the storyline with Germany, the Triunes, and the Lady Elizabeth that has been held in abeyance for quite a long time. It was 1648 when we last looked there. So it is to there we return. My intent is to continue this story thread from that point through to its end before returning. When we really dive into 'Rhomania in the Little Ice Age', I want to be able to concentrate entirely on that, without any other dangling plot threads to distract. It has been quite a while, so much of the beginning of this update is effectively a status report as to how things stand in Germany with the resumption of that narrative in late 1648.

    The Lands of Germany (and Neighbors), 1648-49:

    By the end of 1648, Henri II of the Triple Monarchy and his ally/client Holy Roman Emperor Philip Sigismund of Hesse & Brunswick (to use the common shorthand for his direct landholdings) were triumphant throughout all the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. Henri II controlled all Imperial lands west of the Rhine, with garrisons scattered throughout much of the east-bank Rhineland and further afield. Joint Triune-Imperial forces occupied the former Wittelsbach lands of Wurttemberg and Bavaria.

    The eastern reaches of the Holy Roman Empire host more formidable players, but none seem very threatening as they stand. The most established is Karl von Hohenzollern, eldest son of Archbishop Ferdinand ‘Bone-Breaker’, a veteran of fighting both in Bulgaria and along the Rhine. He has been Duke-Elector since 1636, a position he owed to Ottokar of Bohemia. That he owes nothing to Philip Sigismund and Henri could be problematic, but Brandenburg is materially the least impressive of the eastern powers despite its electoral title. Large in size but sparsely populated for said size, it lacks natural frontiers or impressive material resources.

    More imposing is Saxony, ruled by the new Duke Leopold von Habsburg, who has only been on the throne since early 1646. Saxony is appreciably smaller than Brandenburg, but with nearly three times the population, a respectable financial apparatus largely recovered from the 1630s, and its manufacturing development is one of the highest in all of Christendom. However, Duke Leopold owes his new rank directly to Philip Sigismund and Henri II.

    The most powerful is King Stephan VII of Hungary and Stephan I of Bohemia, who rules the two kingdoms in personal union since the extinction of Ottokar’s line in 1642. Yet ruling a composite state is always difficult, as Hungary and Bohemia share only the reigning monarch and nothing else, and both states have been heavily damaged first by the strain of war in Rhomania and then the loss of Saxony to Triune-Imperial forces. If attacked he could be a formidable adversary in defending his lands, but shows no apparent interest in threatening Philip and Henri provided he is left alone.

    The only fly in the ointment is the escape of the Lady Elizabeth, sister of the former Emperor Theodor, along with her son Karl Manfred, now fourteen years old, as well as the Duke and his heir to the Duchy of Pomerania. That Elizabeth and Karl Manfred had even managed to get from Bavaria to Pomerania showed that the rulers of Hungary-Bohemia, Saxony, and Brandenburg were, if not hostile to Philip and Henri, not going to do anything to aid the duo either.

    Karl Manfred may be approaching the age of manhood, but physically he is not impressive. A small and sickly child, the stress of the circumstances of his upbreaking, with his father killed during his infancy and his lands and life constantly under threat, has had a serious effect on his development. Observers repeatedly comment that he looks more like a boy of ten rather than fourteen, with his delicate and pale features sparking frequent references to femininity. A few remarked that he bore a strong resemblance to his cousin the Emperor Herakleios III.

    Lady Elizabeth’s plan is to appeal to the Russians for aid, although there is the question of what exactly the Russians would gain by doing so. For assistance, she befriends Stenka Razin, who had played a major role in the Zemsky Sobor that had reunified the Russian principalities. Now he serves as a delegate for Scythia in the Grand Veche, the lower house of the new Russian legislature. In his new role he continues his prominence, famous for his oratory. Elizabeth wins his support (although propaganda claims from Philip Sigismund that this was in return for sexual favors is wholly false) and gains a powerful ally.

    Stenka Razin informs Elizabeth who she needs to woo and how, the arguments and presentations to make that will get her the most sympathy. To the Novgorodians she emphasizes the revenge for the insults heaped on them by the English, who had been so offended at the very thought of treating Russians as equals receiving reciprocal trading privileges. To the Pronsky, she emphasizes this as a way to assert newfound Russian strength and unity, to demonstrate power and eliminate Russia’s lackluster reputation stemming from its poor performance in the Great Northern War in the mid-1500s. To the Lithuanians she emphasizes the danger of increasing Triune pressure on eastern Europe, approaching the principality’s western border.

    To sustain herself in Moscow, Elizabeth is dependent to a great deal on charity. In her flight she had sewn jewels and money into her clothes, which help some, but that is not sustainable. However, she has some impressive donors, including the new Tsar Basil I as well as a loan provided via the Spanish ambassador from King Ferdinand. While the Spanish monarch is unable and unwilling to challenge Henri directly, he is willing to cause him mischief on the side.

    It is not until after she has been in Moscow for over two months that she is formally presented in a joint session of the Grand Veche and Senate, but the time has been well spent meeting with individuals. Still, she knows she needs to put on a good performance, and she does that spectacularly. This is a far cry from the uncharismatic and hated young Elizabeth in Constantinople.

    One of the most obvious double standards is that the physical appearance of a woman is considered far more important than that of a man. Elizabeth knows this, but also knows how to use it. She is a beautiful woman, and she attires herself with subdued but high-quality cosmetics and clothing; she is a woman seeking aid, but she is not destitute. Beside her is her son Karl Manfred, his slow development coming in useful for once. The clothing and appearance had been carefully planned by Elizabeth to appeal to common Russian presentations of the Virgin and Child (Karl Manfred is admittedly on the older side for playing the Child). It is a display designed to appeal to the Russians’ chivalric and Christian sensibilities. What man, if he wished to count himself as one, could turn down the plea of a beautiful woman, thrown out from her home, to restore her and her innocent child to what is rightfully theirs, especially if that woman bears a striking resemblance to the Mother of God herself?

    She appeals to the Russians as a powerful and noble people, jealous of their liberties, warning of the dangers posed to those liberties if the power of Henri II is allowed to continue to grow. Turning to the section housing the Novgorodians, she says “you know that the English, if it were in their power, would take from you even your sunshine and fresh air”. This quote always shocks historians, as it is repurposed Raven rhetoric, but it proves highly effective in its new context.

    Her appeal succeeds, although for several reasons beyond just Elizabeth’s stage management. That is absolutely not to minimize her role. She had a poor hand, but was able to use it extremely effectively. Had she not been as determined, persuasive, charming, and strong, the history of the House of Wittelsbach would’ve almost certainly ended around here.

    The Russians have no direct material reasons to intervene on Elizabeth’s behalf; Bavaria is hardly of strategic significance in Moscow. However, there are concerns about Henri’s power and ambition, and many feel that it is better to fight them in Germany now than to fight them in Lithuania later. Their suspicions about Triune motivations are only exacerbated by the continued rankled feelings of the Russians over the insults of the English they took in Triune-Russian trade negotiations. That the English thought it was ‘insolent’ of the Russians to demand equality in the form of reciprocal trading privileges [1] infuriates them. The Russians in very recent history had demanded, and received, equality of treatment from the Empire of the Romans. They are extremely uninclined to take such abuse from less impressive actors, who they excoriate as ‘men who do not know how to wash their bottoms’, an anti-Triune insult from India the Russians learned via Rhomania. [2]

    Another factor tying into the above is that the ‘Federal Empire of Russia’ (the term is of later coinage) is very new, younger even than Karl Manfred looks. But it still suffers from the reputation old Russia has in much of Europe derived from its lackluster performance in the Great Northern War, of being generally clumsy, incompetent, and not really something to be taken too seriously. Perhaps that was why the English felt they could get away with such insults. So, there is a strong desire to assert Russian power, to ensure the new state is taken and treated seriously with the respect the Russians feel they desire, and to dispel the inherited and grating image.

    The mention of the Great Northern War does tie into a Russian material interest in intervening in Germany, although this one is indirect. The precursor to the reunification of the Rus had been allied Russian efforts to retake territory along the Baltic coast lost to the Scandinavians during that conflict. That effort had been only partially successfully. There is still unfinished business here. However, the Empire of All the North is allied to Henri II and Russian observers noted how Triune threats had forced Ottokar to back down when he’d retaliated against Scandinavian attacks in northern Germany. If the Russians wish to finish that business there is a good chance they’d have to deal with Henri anyway, so best to distract him with German affairs.

    Even with the Russian promise, nothing can be done immediately. Nobody wants to try and launch an army in the middle of a Russian winter. And there are limits to how much the Russians are able and willing to support Elizabeth. Stenka Razin bluntly tells her that she can expect twenty thousand, but no more, Russian troops, nowhere near enough by themselves to throw back Henri II. And there is the obvious question of how to get said troops to Germany. But that is still twenty thousand troops she did not have a month before, and with those in hand she can use them to gather more.

    [1] Already mentioned when it happened in the TL, but this is taken direct from OTL. That was how the English reacted to Russian requests for reciprocal trading privileges, and this was in the late 1500s when England was still a mere second-tier power.

    [2] An OTL Mughal insult for the English.
    The Lands of Germany (and neighbors), 1649
  • The Lands of Germany (and Neighbors), 1649:

    Elizabeth has been promised Russian military aid but there is still the matter of marshalling and getting it to Germany, plus the need for more and particularly German allies. If she comes marching in alongside a wholly foreign army, it will do much to discredit her. Philip Sigismund is already using that approach to condemn her in propaganda. There is a large and clear element of hypocrisy here considering how much his position owes to Henri II, but the Holy Roman Emperor can still point to German supporters to go alongside him.

    Henri II’s information network quickly (by the period’s standards) gets word to him of the Russian support, which alarms him. From his perspective, the invasion of Germany has become a tiresome and expensive quagmire. The social and environmental issues affecting Rhomania and other Mediterranean countries are also afflicting the Triple Monarchy and the war itself is exacerbating tensions between France and England. Many English are tiring of the expenses while the fruits of victory mainly seem to go to French hands. The iconoclastic behavior of ultra-Bohmanist and Puritan troops, mostly although not exclusively English, in parts of Germany have drawn condemnation from Triune officials seeking to remain on good terms with the locals. However Puritan preachers respond with counter-condemnations of those Triune officials for their so-called persecution of the true religion.

    Henri wants out, but he wants out with his goals achieved. These are simple to outline. Everything up to the Rhine is to become French. That is easy; it is de facto the case already and everyone recognizes that it is just a matter of signing the right paperwork to make it official. That is unlikely to change. But Henri also wants compliant buffer and puppet states on the east bank of the Rhine to guard his new acquisitions. That is what makes it complicated, as that leads to questions of compensation to dispossessed princes (already an issue due to the loss of the left bank) and there is only so much a Holy Roman Emperor can sign away before crippling his position.

    Philip Sigismund is not capable of doing that. His position is already weak and unpopular; giving Henri II officially all that he wants would completely and probably fatally undermine Philip’s position, so he won’t do it. Henri needs a Holy Roman Emperor that is strong enough that he can survive making the concession, yet simultaneously weak enough that he would do so. Philip doesn’t fall into the sweet spot. And any attempts by Henri II to strengthen Philip so that he could hit that sweet spot are counterproductive as it only draws attention to the ‘foreign puppet’ aspect, making it even less likely that Philip Sigismund could survive making an official peace on Henri’s terms.

    The Lady Elizabeth with a Russian army is hardly likely to simplify things from Henri’s perspective, but there is the not inconsiderable matter of how she is to get back to Germany. The last Russian intervention in Germany on the behalf of the House of Wittelsbach a century earlier had been by sea, which is impossible now considering the Triune and Scandinavian dominance of the Baltic.

    It will have to come by land, which means via Poland. The official ruler of Poland is Aleksander III, soon to turn twenty-five. Although he rules in his own right, a major power player is his former regent, Queen Mother Alexandra. She is Lithuanian and generally pro-Russian in her sympathies, disliking Henri II and distrustful of Philip Sigismund.

    However, that does not mean that she advocates just letting Russian armies march through her son’s kingdom. A united Russia is a clear danger to Polish security and letting Russian armies get into the habit of filing through the area is a bad precedent. Elizabeth expends much time and effort wining and dining the Polish ambassador to Russia and corresponding with the Queen Mother in an effort to allay her concerns.

    The price of passage ends up harkening back to the beginning of Aleksander’s reign, just after the death of his father King Casimir at the battle of Thessaloniki. Then Queen Regent Alexandra had been forced to sign away Galicia to the Vlachs, Demetrios III’s way of rewarding his ally. That concession, while unavoidable at the time, has been a constant source of festering resentment.

    The Polish price is a formal Russian recognition of the rightful Polish claim to Galicia and the illegitimacy of the current Vlach occupation. This does not oblige the Russians to make any effort to remove the Vlachs or the Roman power behind them, but legally and diplomatically this means that the Russians support the Polish position on to whom the territory belongs. This is a first step for the Poles to reclaim the territory; Galicia had been seized by a joint Vlach and Scythian army and signed away under the possibility of a direct Russian invasion of Poland. Now that potential complication is removed.

    The Russian Tsar and Grand Veche agree to pay this price. The initial pledge to support Elizabeth was made without serious consideration of the transit question, but to back out now so quickly after such a public pronouncement would be humiliating and make the Russians look weak and fickle. That is unacceptable. From the Russian perspective too, it doesn’t cost them anything. The White Palace might protest, but can’t do anything more substantial; Scythian grain is vital for feeding Constantinople.

    King Stephan of Hungary and Bohemia also exacts a similar price. Although most of the transit would go through Poland, there is Bohemian Silesia that covers the last leg to Saxony, so his support is also necessary for that alone, but having him onside would be valuable for the military and economic might he can bring to the table. The loss of the Banat and Transylvania to Vlachia has similarly rankled those in the halls of power in Hungary, and so Moscow also formally recognizes the Hungarian position on where that particular border should also be placed.

    The fruits of these diplomatic wrangling are slow to ripen. The attentions of Moscow, Krakow, Buda, and Prague are focused to the west, in Germany. But by seriously weakening the possibility of Russian intervention to defend Vlachia’s expanded borders, it encourages those in Hungary and Poland who look forward to a future time when it will be possible to redress these grievances.

    King Stephen, since he also rules Austria, is a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, but he is a Magyar. Having him on board Elizabeth’s coalition thus doesn’t do much to discredit Philip Sigismund’s propaganda of her being a foreign stooge. She needs support from unequivocally German sources. (That she is backed by the Duke of Pomerania, Wartislaw X, is similarly unhelpful in this regard. Another Imperial prince, his name is distinctly foreign to a German speaker.)

    The need for German-ness illustrates a growing sense of a specific German identity, crystallizing under the recent blows from foreigners. There are strong regional differences between Austrians and Lubeckers, Saxons and Thuringians, but a recognized commonality overlaying these. It mirrors Roman identity of the time. Local and regional identities are foremost in the minds of most individuals, but there is a recognized common heritage with certain other groups, and a much stronger sense that many other groups absolutely do not belong in this common heritage.

    It must absolutely be stressed that this idea of a common German identity is not based on ethnicity or racial or biological categories. It is linguistic (speakers of some form of German) and religious (Catholic). This is due to the context of its origins, in a reaction to the assaults of firstly Greek-speaking Orthodox and now French and English-speaking Bohmanists. It is also political, in that this German identity is predicated on the ultimate suzerain being the Holy Roman Emperor and not some other lord. However, said Holy Roman Emperor is supposed to defend the German body from foreign bodies, which clearly Philip Sigismund is failing to do.

    Ironically, considering that much of this budded in response to Roman raids in southern Germany in the mid-30s, these features continue the similarity with Roman identity. That is also based on linguistic (Greek-speaking), religious (Orthodox), and political allegiance (loyalty to the Basileus in Constantinople). Notably, even the most devout and fluent Roman, if they take up service to a foreign potentate, such as in Mexico or Vijayanagar, are henceforth referred to as Greeks, not Romans, in Roman sources. But if they return to Rhomania, they become Roman again without missing a beat.

    This appeal to a common German-ness is manifest in the title of a work by a German scholar that is published just as Elizabeth is recruiting support in Moscow. This is An Address to the German Empire and People by Ludwig von Puttkammer. It is intended to be a call to arms to the Germans, to rise up and expel the interloping foreign heretics in their midst. As an exemplar he holds up the Sicilians of the Sicilian Vespers, who by their own arms rose up and slew their French oppressors. [1]

    “If the Sicilians, who at that time numbered only one million, could have done such great and noble deeds, and who defended their liberties against all comers, no matter their strength and no matter the cost, for near four centuries, what can twenty million Germans, united in arms and determined to be free, accomplish?

    “The Sicilians, in their hour, performed marvels, and the world honors them. Now it is our turn. Now is our hour. We must seize it, or we will instead be damned. For the Bulgarians and Syrians failed to act, and where are they now? That is the choice before us Germans, life or death, so choose life. Let us take up the battle cry of the Sicilians at the hour of Vespers, and use it for our own purpose.

    “Death to the French! Death to the English! For the liberty of Germany!”

    The short pamphlet, easily printed and distributed, strikes a chord across the German lands. They are tired of paying contributions to support Triune garrisons. They are tired of French soldiers sexually pressuring their womenfolk. They are tired of English soldiers fouling their churches.

    Yet for Elizabeth’s purposes this is not enough. It would be hard to harness this German-ness at the head of a foreign army, and given her experience with the Ravens she is wary of any popular movements. Plus, at this stage, the popular discontent while widespread is vague, unfocused, and unorganized. It cannot produce armies by itself, and she needs armies.

    But there is another who is willing to both support Elizabeth and utilize this German-ness for their own political ends. Leopold von Habsburg, Duke of Saxony, has ambitions of his own, to the surprise of many like Henri II who are familiar with the history of his family. He is willing to back Elizabeth, now that she has an army, support Karl Manfred’s rights to the lands of Bavaria and Wurttemberg, and challenge Philip Sigismund and Henri II. In exchange he wants the Imperial Crown for the House of Habsburg. Now Elizabeth does not have the power to give that, but Karl Manfred is coming of age and thus a possible contender should Philip Sigismund be removed. Elizabeth, recognizing the limits of her position and prioritizing the reestablishment of the dynastic Wittelsbach patrimony over everything else, including the Imperial title, agrees to Leopold’s terms.

    [1] Ludwig’s account gives all credit to the Sicilians, none to the Aragonese or Romans. But in fairness to Ludwig, it should be noted that while Roman gold funded the Sicilian rebels, there was no Roman military aid in 1282. And the Aragonese fleet deliberately did not arrive until after the Sicilians had bottled up Angevin forces in Messina.