An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

  • Duke of Nova Scotia: Only specific major construction projects I can think of are the White Palace, the Herakleian Walls, the Smyrna palace built by Demetrios Megas, and the Muses’ Theater of Smyrna. New Constantinople and Pyrgos are created pretty much from scratch in the east. But there definitely have been lots of churches, monasteries, nunneries, along with secular buildings, in the background. All of the universities had to come from somewhere. The Emperors have been the major patrons but building is always a good way for the dynatoi to show off.

    A bridge over the Golden Horn would have to be tall enough for a three-decker ship of the line to pass underneath. That’s a pretty tall order (yes, the pun was intentional, leave me alone:p). Plus they would probably be security issues since it’d be a way to bypass the land walls.

    A Corinth canal would be a good idea. There’s the Pharaoh’s Canal in Egypt from Suez to Cairo that’s passable by flat-bottomed barges. A full-blown Suez Canal I don’t think is technically feasible yet and won’t appear until steamships are a running theme. According to my research the Red Sea’s winds and currents apparently are not kind at all to sailing ships which is why Aden was such a major port. Ocean sailing ships would transfer their goods to oared vessels for the Red Sea leg in Aden. So building a canal from Med to Red big enough for an ocean-going vessel doesn’t make sense until you can guarantee it can get all the way through the Red Sea safely.

    Do you have any ideas for specific land reclamation projects in Greece/Anatolia? Any suggestions would be helpful. One thing arguing against agricultural innovation though is that the Empire can get cheap grain from Egypt and Scythia, plus Vlachia is making a pretty penny supplying Constantinople with foodstuffs and animal products.

    Lascaris: Those are lots of good ideas. Church and monastery building is still going strong. Thanks too for the hyperpyron-gold francs-pound sterling info too.

    'Our quivering lances shaking in the air
    And bullets like Jove's dreadful thunderbolts
    Enrolled in flames and fiery smoldering mists
    Shall threat the gods more than Cyclopian wars;
    And with our sun-bright armor, as we march,
    We'll chase the stars from heaven and dim their eyes
    That stand and muse at our admired arms'
    -Timur the Great in the eponymous play*​

    1616: So at last the Empire is at peace…mostly. The border war with the Ottomans continues, albeit at a relatively lighter tempo. The largest pitched battle has four thousand total participants, compared to the record 13,500 three years earlier. With the widespread devastation of the frontier districts, there is little more to wreck. Despite the multiple Roman/Anizzah successes in battle in the category of stuff-to-loot the Ottomans have had a generally better time. Some morbid satisfaction though is derived in Constantinople from the fact that most of those suffering from Ottoman raiders are Syrian Muslim villagers.

    As hard as this fighting is on the border provinces, the conflict is barely more than a pinprick for either Empire. Despite the occasional pitched battle numbering in the thousands, the vast majority of warfare is done by flying columns of light cavalry/mounted infantry. At most a couple of hundred, maintaining them is no hardness.

    A larger dispatch of Roman troops goes, of all places, to Vlachia. The new King Roman I Musat is facing a serious rebellion led by Mircea cel Mare, the leader of that famous family. One branch of the family emigrated to the Empire in the early 1400s but the bulk stayed in Vlachia where they are extremely prominent landowners. There is a small but powerful stratum of mega-landowners in Vlachia that have grown rich by feeding Constantinople’s gargantuan and continuous appetite for grain, mutton, and leather. At this stage Mircea is the unofficial leader.

    However there are some serious allegations circulating in Targoviste that Mircea was in treasonous correspondence with the King of Poland during the Hungarian war. When summoned to the capital to explain himself, Mircea refuses, instead raising an army to march on the capital. Many of his fellow great landowners join him, spying an opportunity to curb Roman and his centralizing desires. Mircea believes that with a cousin on the throne of Rhomania he has a very good chance.

    There are two things wrong with his hypothesis. Firstly Roman is also related to the Roman Imperial family; he is a grandson of Theodora Komnena Drakina via her eldest daughter Anastasia. More importantly, given Demetrios II’s willingness to disregard family ties when they are politically inconvenient, is the parallel Mircea’s revolt makes in Roman society.

    Those in the Roman government cannot help but view this as a Vlach version of the dynatoi rising up and attempting to overthrow the legitimate monarch. Demetrios has no interest in that. Leo Neokastrites thus leads the Akoimetoi and the Thracian tagma into Vlachia in support of the King. In the one battle the rebels are crushed despite the valor of Mircea, who is described by Demetrios Sideros as “brave as a bull and with about as many brains”. Captured three days later, on the advice of Demetrios II he is executed along with his father, two brothers, and two adult sons. All of the property of his family is confiscated, the surviving members reduced to beggary. Mircea’s sister tries to move to Constantinople to get a pension from one of the Drakoi but Demetrios II has her arrested and expelled.

    Leo returns to the capital after the brief campaign, taking a detour to escort Elisabeth, granddaughter of Emperor Friedrich IV, on the last stage of her journey to the White Palace. Eleven years old when she arrives, per the contract she is to spend the next three years learning the language and customs of Rhomania. When both her and her betrothed, Kaisar Andreas, turn fourteen, they will wed. One gift she brings, well calculated to soothe Roman nerves, is the reliquary of Limburg looted from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

    Another prominent woman crossing the Roman European frontier is Theodora, the hapless Dowager Queen of Hungary. She pointedly stays away from the capital, refusing to speak with her family that has pretended she hasn’t existed for the past several years. Retiring to a small estate on Lesbos, living on rents that total about as much as Demetrios Sideros’ salary as Kephale of Skammandros, the last daughter of Helena the Elder dies in such obscurity that historians are unsure of what year that happens.

    Demetrios Sideros, grandson of the Empress Helena, is in contrast moving up. Much to his annoyance he is promoted to Kephale of Smyrna, one of the most prominent provincial governorships in the entire Empire. In order of precedence he ranks as #3 after the Kephales of Antiocheia and Thessaloniki. It is quite an impressive achievement for a man who turns 31 just after his promotion. It is a promotion he could do without in his opinion. Although it comes with a substantial pay raise it is also a more difficult job.

    Smyrna, now at 110,000 inhabitants, is the fourth-largest metropolis in the Empire and in terms of port volume and revenue comparable only to Alexandria and the capital itself. Its civic government can be rightly styled as a commune, the city enjoying substantial self-rule. The Kephalate of Smyrna is larger than the city itself and beyond the walls the commune has no jurisdiction, but nevertheless the Kephale has a significant local power with which to deal. The Kephale ranks as senior and the Imperial government is practically guaranteed to back its appointee in the event of a serious quarrel but the political situation is nevertheless much more complicated than the Skammandros.

    As a member of the Imperial family, Demetrios is allowed to live in and work from the Jade Palace, the palace originally erected by Demetrios Megas himself and a favored residence throughout the Second Komnenid dynasty. The young Andreas and his mother and sister were staying there when the Venetians attacked.

    Somewhat of a scene though is caused when Jahzara insists on giving birth in the Purple Room of the palace, the room in which Demetrios Sideros himself was born. If Jahzara had been a granddaughter by blood of the Empress she might’ve been allowed but she is only one by marriage. Thus she gives birth to a daughter, named Athena due to her father’s eccentric classical tastes, in the Tea Room instead, a new pavilion modeled on Japanese architecture.

    Much to Demetrios’ relief, along with that of future historians, the promotion comes just after he finishes a brief history of the Laskarid dynasty, which begins being published in installments shortly after Athena’s birth. It is surprisingly popular, earning him a respectable supplement to his income. He is helped there by a recently passed copyright law, whereby authors are to receive a percentage of all profits from sale of their works for the first fifteen years after initial publication. It is a frequently flouted law, poorly enforced, Demetrios’ family name and governmental rank serving as better protection in this instance.

    One advantage of his work is that rather than a capital-centered narrative the piece has a provincial perspective as his source material is drawn overwhelmingly from the Opsikian and Thrakesian theme archives. Like many histories, the Muslims are presented as typically honorable foes with the Turks particularly based for the valor and steadfastness. Osman, the founder of the Ottoman state, is praised as “brilliant in war, magnanimous in peace, the humbler of the proud, the champion of the poor, few are the monarchs who have equaled him in the annals of empires, and only one has surpassed him”. In contrast the Latins are, almost without exception, portrayed as vicious brutes, incredibly brave but with no other virtues.

    This is nothing out of the ordinary. Roman histories will sometimes speak well of Latin kings of earlier times such as Charlemagne and Frederick Barbarossa (the latter inspired by the works of Choniates) but Latins after 1204 are almost irredeemably stained by the crime of the Fourth Crusade.

    What is more unusual is the praise for Timur the Great and the criticism of Theodoros III Laskaris, who repudiated his father’s tribute to Timur. Theodoros had been criticized for provoking Timur and losing; Demetrios criticizes Theodoros for provoking Timur at all. It was “stupid vainglory, worthy of an empty-headed Frank, for while great things would be lost in such a conflict, all victory would bestow would be empty accolades and the weeping of widows”.

    It is quite possibly a subtle criticism of Demetrios II’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the Ottomans. Even if the Romans seized Mesopotamia, given the extreme difficulties of keeping Syria quiet, keeping it would be impossible. Even Hadrian did not believe it possible. Wrecking Mecca, whilst emotionally satisfying, earned the Empire nothing but Muslim hatred.

    One exception to the perceived pointlessness of the conflict is the question of the trans-Aras lands seized from Georgia. In correspondence with his sister the Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria he points out that Iskandar might have written off those lands to focus on his Indian desires. (The counterargument that Iskandar with fifteen extra years to establish dominion in northern India would be a vastly more dangerous foe is left unmentioned.)

    Demetrios is apparently not the only one feeling that way. In this year in the Muses’ Theater of Smyrna the play Timur the Great is performed for the first time. Aside from the criticism of Theodoros III (who is the chief villain of the piece) there is also a whiff of atheism about the play. Timur usurps the role of Ares, makes Zeus fear for the safety of his throne, and even threatens to topple Mohammed if he dares to stand in the way of his glory.

    Roman culture is certainly thriving at this time. Dmitri Romanov, the great Russian playwright, already famous for his plays on Mikhail Shuisky, first King of Novgorod, and Queen Thamar the Great of Georgia, moves to Constantinople. Here his most renowned works, including David, Lord of Mexico, are writ.

    He is not the only immigrant to Rhomania this year as the Lombards move on Genoa in alliance with the Kingdom of the Isles. It is a rather easy conquest given the substantial fifth column in the city itself but many of the Ligurian nobility prefer to make sail, the bulk making their way to Egypt where both the Kephale of Alexandria and the Despot are desirous of new subjects. Thus it comes to pass that Napoleone di Buonaparte is born on the docks of Alexandria.

    *Quotation taken from Christopher Marlowe's play
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  • Revolutions and democracy: Yeah, democracy is a rather dirty word in the empire. Too many connotations with Venice. Plus there’s the ‘popular acclaim is what got us the Angeloi and that worked out so very well’ argument. So while democracy could arise in the Empire it’d be a ‘yes, it’s democracy but don’t you dare actually call it that’. Think of how in the US you can enact socialist policies so long as you avoid calling it socialist, but if you do everybody despises it.

    Veranius: Aragon’s on a steady slide towards irrelevance, Castile-Portugal is doing very well for itself with overseas expansion, and Al-Andalus is delicately trying to balance keeping its powerful northern neighbor while not whetting its appetite. I think I’ll do a ‘meanwhile in the New World’ bit on colonialism where there’s a slow period in the Empire (1625ish?).

    Duke of Nova Scotia: No alt-Prince has been written, although nothing in it would be new to the Roman government.

    1617: The ten islands combined only come to 180 square kilometers, miniscule specks in the great expanse of the eastern seas. But the Banda Islands are the only sources of nutmeg and mace on the entire planet, meaning a great many people have a great interest in the real estate, far too many people from the viewpoint of Theodoros Mangaphas, Katepano of New Constantinople. The orang kaya (rich men) of the Banda have been having too many conversations with Portuguese and now Triune traders.

    The Roman riposte is brutal and decisive. In May a great armada composed of vessels commissioned by the Katepano and several squadrons of eastern Ship Lords anchor off Lontar. Onboard are two Roman tourmai and a large contingent of Japanese mercenaries.

    What follows is one of the most successful (from the point of view of the perpetrators) cases of ethnic cleansing. After the experiences of Tidore and Ternate Theodoros is in no mood to take any chances of losing this choice real estate. At the beginning of the year the Bandanese population was around fourteen thousand. After expulsions, flights, and massacres the population at the end of the year is less than a thousand. (Author’s note: This is identical to the actions of the Dutch IOTL.) To replace the natives Malay and Japanese Orthodox settlers are brought in to work the nutmeg plantations which make a substantial profit before the end of the decade.

    The expedition is emblematic of a more aggressive spirit rising in the eastern Romans. The Katepano of Pyrgos, Alexandros Papagos, the second man to hold the title and a relation of the 1544 Emperor, is a “hard-fighting, hard-drinking, hard-loving” (somehow he manages to house three mistresses plus his wife all in the same home at the same time) barrel of a man who quickly sees the opportunities opening up with the Shimazu victory. Recruiting more samurai who are out of work in their homeland (as the Romans don’t care about the Orthodoxy or lack thereof of their mercenary soldiers-in contrast to settlers-the new Emperor views this as a valuable method of discharging troublesome potential rebels), he leads them on a series of expeditions that by the end of the decade have two-thirds of Luzon either directly administered or paying tribute to Pyrgos; prior to his arrival it was about 30%.

    He also oversees the establishment of several settlements in the Visayas, the first Roman foothold in the region. Unlike Luzon these sites are vulnerable to attack from Moro pirates operating out of the Sultanate of Sulu eager for slaves. The Moros learn quickly though that the Romans are not soft targets. As the Banda expedition bears down on its hapless victims, a pair of fregatai based out of Pyrgos cut out three Moro pirate ships from the harbor of Tawi-Tawi and burn them and their crews in full view of the fort that was unable to stop them.

    To the west the Katepano of Pahang, Konstantinos Rados, is also hard at work. He is the first Katepano of the region, the kephalate having been upgraded two years prior in recognition of its importance. He is also the first full-blooded native to become a Roman Katepano. Digenoi have made it to that rank and full-blood natives have been and are bishops and Kephales but it is still a significant achievement.

    It is a promotion he amply justifies, leading an expedition of his own that seizes the islands of Batam, Bintan, and Karimun, the chief islands of the Riau. In the process a squadron of ships from the Semarang Sultanate on the island of Java that stand in the path of the Romans are blown out of the water.

    It is a good year for the Romans out in ‘Island Asia’, as they call the region from Aceh to the Banda, from Nan (the Wu port) to Okinawa. The three Katepanates of New Constantinople, Pyrgos, and Pahang have Island Asia boxed into a triangle, each working on expanding their sphere of dominion in their own neighborhood but their efforts are gradually moving towards each other.

    The Malays are the backbone of Roman strength here, obviously dominant in Pahang but also comprising sizeable communities in both Pyrgos and New Constantinople. The majority in Roman lands are now on-paper Orthodox, although how orthodox their Orthodoxy is could and is questioned. But as Konstantinos Rados, plus the Kephales of Mersing and Singapura and the Bishops of Pedah and Mersing, all Malays, show, the Malays are well integrated in the Roman administration.

    1618: Pyrgos sees some unexpected visitors this year, two battered Arletian vessels putting into port. Arletians are still fairly rare east of the straits of Malacca, although they have three large and prosperous merchant communities along India’s west coast. But these ships came from the east, participants of an originally 4-ship expedition led by Gaston Coligny who is still in charge of the pair.

    After departing Bordeaux he made his way down the eastern coast of South Numenor before ‘discovering’ and transiting the Straits of Coligny. In actuality the straits had been used by Portuguese vessels at least twice but it is Coligny who popularizes the discovery. His mission was to make contact with the Incans, a populous and wealthy native state, purportedly greater in both aspects than that of the Aztecs. The Incans had already seen off two small Portuguese-Castilian expeditions but little was known about them. Basil II, son of Leo I, and King of Arles since 1600, is hopeful of setting up trade relations.

    What Gaston finds is not what either he or his sovereign expected. Instead of an Incan potentate he finds David III Komnenos, Emperor of Mexico, cleaning off his sword stained with the blood of said Incan potentate. Twenty-eight years old, David III is the great-grandson of David I “the Great”, the conqueror of the Aztecs.

    His grandfather, Michael I (r. 1580-1602), and father, David II (r. 1602-1613), have built on David I’s legacy to create a large and powerful state. Michael I shattered the Tarascan state and absorbed it into the Mexican Empire, establishing a Pacific seaboard. David II brought the Mayan cities of the Yucatan to heel, forcing them to pay tribute, and also helped to build up a respectable navy on the Atlantic shore to keep Portuguese and Arletian interlopers from getting any ideas.

    A slight demographic recovering from the plague starting under David II is beginning to boost the native population, an important source of Mexican strength. Still both Michael I and David II encouraged immigrants from Arles and Iberia which also helped bring valuable artisanal knowledge into the Mexican community. Plus a few hundred Greeks have made their way west, the origins of Little Athens in Texcoco which today still retains a strong air of Attica if one ignores the ubiquitous parrots. Metallurgical sophistication and production has increased staggeringly since the death of David I, with cannons, firearms, and bladed weapons locally made that can match the best Europe can field (although the number of artillery pieces per military unit would make a Roman or Triune gun-master sneer in contempt).

    Another source of manpower has been the import of Africans. Cotton textiles plus the silver of Zacatecas are the prime Mexican exports and they bring in a steady supply of blacks, hence the Zacatecas silver chalices and chandeliers of Mbanza Kongo. Some are used as plantation slaves on the Caribbean model or put to work in the mines, but many are settled down as additional farmers. The majority though are inducted as soldiers in the Mexican army. Paid in silver, full-time soldiers, by the accession of David III they number twenty five thousand strong. They are organized in five tagmata, the Immortals, the Eagles, the Jaguars, the Davidians, and the Gatekeepers. Though relying more on cold steel than firepower compared to a Roman tourma or Triune tour, they are a force that would command respect even in the great palaces of Europe.

    Such an army though should be used and David III viewed the Castilian-Portuguese interest in the Incans with distaste. Rumors of a much larger expedition, possibly with an Andalusi contingent, spurred him into taking the plunge. The Incans had beaten Europeans before, but the largest force had numbered only 300. David III lands with eight thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry. The Incans, though ravaged by smallpox and bubonic plague, are still a great empire and as befits a great empire raise a vast host to challenge him. Gaston arrives shortly after David annihilates said host and sacks Cuzco.

    David III can sense Coligny’s disappointment but a golden sweetener weighing six hundred pounds cheers his mood. He also hires Coligny for an expedition of his own. Rather than sailing back the way he came David commissions the Arletian to sail west and establish a trade route with China. The Chinese love of silver is known even here and David has a lot of silver. He sees a lot of trade opportunities if he can tap into a flow of Chinese products. Coligny agrees, sending two ships back to Bordeaux to report to Basil II whilst he takes the other two across the Pacific.

    Katepano Papagos, taking a short respite from conquering the neighborhood, is intrigued. A silver stream flowing from Mexico to China would certainly go through Pyrgos, providing a valuable influx of bullion. He hires some of the Arletian sailors to pilot a galleon to sail back to Mexico along with a copy of Gaston’s charts and logs and provides Gaston with pilots of his own to ensure his safe arrival at the Arletian factories in India.

    Gaston Coligny and the crew of his two ships thus become the first men to circumnavigate the globe. The ship sent by Papagos also makes contact with David III (by the time they arrive he is back in Mexico, entrusting the mopping-up to lieutenants which include a Tarascan prince). Incidentally it is the first formal contact between the Roman and Mexican governments.

    The world is growing more interconnected. As the vast expanse of the Pacific is probed for the first time clerics from all over Asia are gathering. In Constantinople a new Ecumenical Council has been called.
  • Stark: Studying real history is essential for staying grounded and it’s also a source of really good ideas. My latest acquisition “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean”, could be very interesting…

    ImperatorAlexander: Arletian and Castilian are the language of the Mexican court. Except for David himself and a few Roman retainers, his expedition was Arletian and Castilian in composition. A few Greek terms are used for various things (tagma/tagmata for example) but that’s it.

    JohnSmith: The Empire of All the North has territory in OTL Canada and the Triple Monarchy is setting up an ATL Thirteen Colonies. Al-Andalus has colonies in northeast Brazil and Portugal in Panama and in southern Brazil and Uruguay. That’s it for the mainland. I go a little more into detail about Caribbean colonies in a later update but there are a lot more players involved there.

    1619: Demetrios Sideros finds himself, for the first time since 1613, back in the capital. It is not a metropolis for which he particularly cares, finding it overly crowded especially after living on the outskirts of Abydos and the sprawling suburbs of Smyrna. Worse still he has been promoted again from Kephale of Smyrna to Eparch (Prefect) of Constantinople itself. It is not an assignment he desired, having grown accustomed to eating garlic shrimp pho in the Tea Room with a gentle breeze blowing off the Aegean.

    Jahzara on the other hand is delighted. Unbeknownst to Demetrios, it is Jahzara’s intrigues that were largely responsible for Demetrios’ promotion, both to Kephale of Smyrna and now to Eparch. As Eparch her husband will work from the White Palace, the seat of Imperial power, and as an Imperial relation he and his family will live there as well. She can rub elbows, and perhaps more, with some of the most powerful figures in the world. Tensions have been strained between her and her husband since his first meeting with the head of the Prostitute’s Guild in Smyrna, a tall Varangian with blond hair that goes down to her ankles. They’ve had many meetings.

    Demetrios’ new posting is immediately demanding as just two weeks after his investiture the first delegates for the Sixth Council of Constantinople and Tenth Ecumenical Council (by Roman counting) begin arriving. There are a total of 552 bishops and metropolitans attending. The Patriarch of Aira arrives with one Metropolitan and six of his bishops in tow, along with the youngest son and eldest grandson of the Japanese Emperor both of whom are enrolled in the University of Constantinople. The Metropolitans of New Constantinople, Pekan, and Jaffna are also in attendance along with twenty other eastern bishops.

    Most of the delegates are put up in new housing between the Theodosian and Herakleian land walls, a still largely underdeveloped district which until recently has functioned primarily as a gigantic vegetable patch for the capital. The population though is back above 320,000, just beating out Beijing for the second-most populous city in the world (Vijayanagara is around 510,000), and growing rapidly. The Empire itself, not including despotates, vassals, or eastern territories, has a population just over 17 million in comparison to the Triple Monarchy of 20 million and the Holy Roman Empire of 21.5 million.

    Emissaries from the Pope in Rome also arrive unexpectedly, claiming innocently that their invitations must have gotten lost. Despite declaiming this as the Tenth Ecumenical Council neither Pope was invited. Considering what follows surprisingly the emissaries are allowed to join and open negotiation for church union. This is placed at the top of the docket.

    All things considered, the negotiations go surprisingly well. On the issue of the azymes, whether or not communion wafers should have yeast (Orthodox practice) or not (Catholic), the initial theological argument that sparked the Great Schism of 1054, it is agreed that either is acceptable. In this case this is a concession on the Orthodox part; Catholics had proposed such an accord on earlier occasions and been rebuffed. On the matters of clerical celibacy and whether or not priests can have beards both Orthodox and Catholic practices are delineated as local traditions and thereby both theologically acceptable.

    Even the matter of the filioque, the bane of all attempts at union, is resolved. It is pointed out that saying ‘the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son’ as in Orthodox liturgy means technically the same as the Catholic ‘the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son’. Grammatically there is no contradiction. This is the Catholic argument and that therefore both phrases are acceptable. Surprisingly the Orthodox generally agree. Those of a cynical mind suspect that the Orthodox attitude, considering what comes later, was merely a ploy to highlight Orthodox reasonableness to contrast with Catholic intransigence.

    Then comes the clincher. The Orthodox delegates insist though that the Pope must formally acknowledge his error in adding the filioque to the creed on his own initiative. That action was outside his prerogative; only an Ecumenical Council could perform such an innovative.

    This demand though strikes at the core of the doctrine of papal supremacy. By issuing an apology the Pope would implicitly be recognizing that he is subordinate to a church council. It’s doubtful any Pope, either in Rome or Avignon, would concur without a literal gun pointed at their heads. The leader of the papal delegation categorically refuses, insisting loudly on the doctrine of papal supremacy. This only infuriates the Orthodox clerics, things escalate, and by the end the Bishop of Arezzo is missing three teeth courtesy of the Patriarch of Aira’s right fist. The Pope’s emissaries are thrown out of the council, a few anathemas are exchanged (it is considered sending one the way of the Pope in Avignon for the sake of tidiness although eventually rejected). Thus ends the last attempt at church union and reminded why they hate Catholics, the Council gets down to its original business.

    The first matter is calendar reform. It is clear that the calendar of Julius Caesar is no longer in line with the seasons and needs to be replaced. A new calendar, developed by the University of Smyrna and named the Demetrian after the Emperor, is revealed. It is adopted in the first hearing. Ethiopia and the Despotate of Egypt, although Coptic countries and thereby not represented, both adopt the calendar immediately after the Orthodox nations. Castile-Portugal and Arles both sign on in 1623 but it is not until 1737 when the Triple Monarchy also does so that the calendar is in general use across Europe. It is the calendar in use today around the world.

    Another significant change regarding astronomy is the recognition of the Menshikovian system, a system of astronomy whereby the earth, along with all the other planets, orbit the sun. This is in contrast to the ancient Ptolemaic system. The term itself dates from the late 1550s but has had proponents in Rhomania as far back as 1473. However the insistence on circular orbits, in accordance with Aristotelian thought, has meant that the Menshikovian system also contains numerous discrepancies in relation to actual stellar observations.

    But in the last decade Krikor Zakari, an Armenian astronomer working out of Trebizond (and a descendant of one of Andreas Niketas’ Megas Domestikoi), has made some startling revisions to the Menshikovian system. In a pamphlet published in 1612 titled The Movement of the Celestial Spheres he lays out for the first time the Three Laws of Planetary Motion, known starting in the 1690s as Zakari’s Laws.

    At first sight it seems odd that an Ecumenical Council is declaring on astronomy but considering the furor raised by the first presentation of a heliocentric model back in the 1470s it was decided to lay down the church’s position clearly to avoid any confusion. Furthermore it is a way for the Orthodox to thumb their noses at the Latins. Astronomers in the west too are agitating against Ptolemy’s model with stout opposition from the Catholic Church, much of that centered on Joshua’s demanding the sun, not the earth, to stand still when pursuing the Canaanites. Some mockery of the narrow, literal Latin interpretation is included in the Council’s declaration.

    Incidentally at the same time Krikor’s Georgian assistant, David Avashvili, is taking a dalnovzor and using it to look at Jupiter, in the process discovering its four largest moons. Named Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io, together they are called the Avashvilian Moons also since the 1690s.

    Another matter is the Russian church. With the breakup of the Great Kingdom there is resistance at the Metropolitan of Kiev having seniority over all the bishops in the Russian lands. Each Russian state demands its own metropolitan. Neither Empress Helena nor Emperor Demetrios want to encourage the regionalization of Russia but are unable to oppose the motion. New Metropolitans are established at Novgorod, Pronsk, and Kazan, although given the historical significance of Kiev it remains the senior metropolitan of the four. Scythian bishops are put under the Metropolitan of Theodoro.

    Initiatives are also established to encourage the missionary work in the east, with church funds set aside to finance schools for local clergy and for translations into native tongues. Furthermore local customs are examined for their compatibility with Orthodoxy but the general rule throughout is to try and be as accommodating as possible with said local customs. Church funds are also organized to help support the Japanese Emperor who faces significant opposition to his centralizing and Christianizing efforts. The Patriarch of Antioch speaks for everyone when he declares ‘the conversion of the noble Japanese race is the greatest boon to the True Faith since the Rus were brought to God’.

    The proceedings are broken briefly by the marriage of Andreas and Elizabeth. The German princess is growing into a beautiful young woman, always a good way to win over the populace of Constantinople. It is a dazzling wedding, with golden silks shrouding the streets and ambassadors from all over Europe in attendance.

    Elizabeth’s beauty serves her well as her grandfather’s activities aren’t winning her any points. Bavarian garrisons, ‘in order to maintain order over disturbed territories and protect the common good’, have yet to leave Austria. As the Council begins Austrian representatives from the Estates petition Emperor Friedrich IV to take Austria under his protection, given the patent Hungarian inability to maintain order. Friedrich naturally obliges this ‘spontaneous’ offer.

    The annexation of Austria deals a death blow to the regency council led by Janos Zapolya. It’s rather surprising he has lasted this long. Into the gap comes Krsto Frankopan, who immediately starts arranging for his Croatian relations and friends to take up key position in the administration. Naturally this causes tensions with the Hungarians but Krsto is ‘supported’ by Friedrich. Friedrich’s reward is twofold, firstly a formal decree from the Crown of St. Stefan signing over the Kingdom of Austria. The second is that Hungary, which has followed the Avignon See since the start of the Catholic Schism, transfers its allegiance to Rome.

    This is not as surprising a shift as it seems at first glance. There has been growing estrangement between Hungary and the Avignon See, which despite its early promise is now as corrupt and filled with nepotism as ever in papal history. The College of Cardinals is dominated by Arletians and Iberians; in the last one hundred and fifty years there have been three Hungarian cardinals and one died after only five months in office. The Pope in Rome, seeing the opportunity, immediately promotes two Hungarian archbishops to the cardinalate.

    Friedrich has been massively strengthened and Hungary looks suspiciously like a de-facto puppet state. Moreover the Triple Monarchy, after re-attempting another assault on Flanders after the humiliation at Antwerp, has been decisively beaten yet again by the skilled generalship of Blucher. With German horse raiding the suburbs of both King’s Harbor and Paris, Arthur II has sued for peace. Aside from some border fortresses little territory trades hands but the massive Triune indemnity practically wipes out Friedrich’s debts from the Brothers’ War.

    The Romans can do nothing overtly against all this but as a sign of disapproval that summer Helena the Younger, Andreas’ mother, is promoted to the purple, becoming Empress Helena II. It was originally planned to elevate Andreas as well but then there would be no good reason not to christen Elizabeth as Empress besides deliberately insulting Friedrich so he and she will have to be content as Kaisar and Kaisarina. (Andreas’ lack of promotion though should come to the relief of history students; if it had proceeded as planned there would be two Emperors-Demetrios II and Andreas III-and three Empresses-Helena I, Helena II, and Elizabeth-two reigning in their own right and one as a consort, all at the same time.)

    The shadow of the Reich hangs over the Council as it reconvenes. Orthodoxy has seen some great triumphs the last few years, Japan brought to the faith and Serbia made free. But these triumphs can always be imperiled. In the minds of the Romans it is a matter of when, not if, the Latins will try to enslave them again. The Norman attacks, the Fourth Crusade, the War of the Five Emperors, the Smyrnan War, the Tenth Crusade, the Time of Troubles-the pattern is clear. The Serbs and Vlachs, on the periphery of Latin Christendom, are also fearful. For the Russians, for all their arguments amongst themselves, they have not forgotten the traumas of the Great Northern War. On this day Orthodoxy is free, but for how long, and what is to be done on that dread day when it is no longer the case?

    Enter Konstantinos Mauromanikos, Bishop of Nakoleia. A short, squat man with a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows, Demetrios Sideros describes his face as ‘perpetually having the look of a man who has decided to ram his head through a stone wall and about to do so’. From Kastoria, his mother and sister were both raped and murdered by Hungarian marauders during the early stages of the Mohacs War. Unsurprisingly he despises Latins.

    It is a fact, he argues, that when a Muslim or other heathen ruler, conquers an Orthodox people, he takes command of their possessions and bodies but leaves their souls alone. But that is not enough for the Latins; they insist on taking the souls of the Orthodox as well. How far must a believer go to avoid such a fate?

    It is well known how far the Latins will go in their quest to steal Orthodox souls. William Adam, a prominent crusade theoretician and contemporary of Raymond Lull, had suggested that a child be taken from each Greek family to be brought up as a Catholic (Author’s note: This is OTL. See Deno John Geanokoplos, “Byzantium and the Crusades, 1261-1354,” in The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, vol. 3, A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton and Harry W. Hazard. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), 52). Andrew VII had instituted said practice with the Serbian nobility, the act that had sparked Stephan Tomasevic’s rebellion.

    “They would steal our children.” Few arguments can ensure such fanatical rage. Some kind of response must be made. In the words of Demetrios Sideros, “The Latins must be made aware of how much we hate them. Perhaps if they realize the depths of our disdain they will cease trying to conquer us.” Bishop Mauromanikos proposes that committing suicide to avoid Latin conquest if escape is infeasible is actually not a sin but an act of ultimate devotion, sacrificing the body to preserve the soul, a deed similar to the martyrs of the early Church.

    This argument causes quite a bit of furor in the chamber. It is eventually rejected as being too extreme but neither is it condemned. The proposal earned quite a bit of support from the Japanese, Sicilian, Serbian, and Vlach bishops, plus many from the Macedonian, Epirote, and Thessalian regions (Mauromanikos is himself an exception to the rule as his see is in western Anatolia but he’s Thessalian by origin). As a compromise it is eventually stated that the faithful should be made fully aware of the danger to their souls imposed by Catholic dominion and that ‘all measures should be taken to avoid such a fate’. What that exactly means is left unmentioned.
    Last edited:
    1620-'Who writes this stuff?'
  • Evilprodigy: There are orphanages. The Director of the Imperial Orphanage (established in the 300s) was actually a pretty senior official in the Byzantine court hierarchy. John the Orphanotrophos was an incredibly powerful official in the early 1000s.

    I'm assuming they're Askhenazi. There were sizable Jewish populations in 12th century Greece so most of the Roman Jews are descendants of those. There's been some immigration of Sephardic Jews to Sicily and Rhomania because of business opportunities and slightly better treatment (Sicily was nice for a bit but there was just a major backlash; they're still second-class citizens in the Empire but the Roman government "just" levies heavier taxes on them rather than doing the ritual humiliations frequently levied in Latin Europe) but nothing even close to OTL since there's been no Spanish expulsion.

    Nurhaci: Yeah, both the Triple Monarchy and the HRE have had it comparatively easy since the late 1400s.

    The White Palace, Constantinople, April 19, 1620:

    Andreas looked across the table, the board of Italy spread out before him. He frowned. His Apulian forces had done well, surging north to overrun Urbino and the March, then seizing the bulk of the Romagna, but now his situation wasn’t looking so well. Venice had rallied, securing her dominion over all of Italy from Gorz to Verona. Milan too was marching inexorably down the Po valley having beaten down Savoy. Both the Papacy and Florence were weakened but in a good position to flank him. Only Genoa and Pisa were not in a position to threaten him.

    “It doesn’t matter what you do; I’m still going to kick your ass.” He looked over at the speaker, his wife Elizabeth, currently the commander of Venice. The German princess had turned from a skinny little girl into a developing woman, an inch taller than him and slightly plump, but in a cute way. Her blond hair, naturally curly, was currently bound up but undone could reach down to her waist. She looked at him with her twinkling green eyes.

    “So ladylike,” he muttered.

    “I’m quite capable of being a lady…and still kicking your ass. And don’t you forget it,” she grinned. She ‘absentmindedly’ rubbed her right bicep, currently covered under frilly blue silk. But in an impromptu arm-wrestling competition started amongst the teenagers frequenting the White Palace a month ago, children of courtiers and officials and a few Imperials, she’d placed fourth. Andreas had placed…lower than that, although he’d never actually crossed arms with her.

    There was a cough to his left and Andreas looked over. The cougher was his cousin Leo Drakos, son of Anna Drakina, Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria. The black-haired, long-nosed, half-Magyar looked half-starved, which was amazing considering his appetite. A year old than Andreas, Leo controlled the Papacy and was massing forces near Perugia, where they could be directed either at Florence or at Andreas’ key supply depot of Ancona.

    “I’d be willing to help you out but I would need some gold to move things along.”

    “I don’t think so,” Andreas replied to the one making the offer. The ‘Duke of Milan’, for the purposes of the game, was another cousin, Demetrios Asen-Palaiologos. He was the grandson of Ioanna, the only daughter of Princess Alexeia, the tall mischief-making daughter of Andreas II. Like Leo his hair was black but the sixteen-year old had a decent beard going, in contrast to Andreas’ light brown scruff, and was rather plump too. He had crossed arms with Elizabeth and been resoundingly beaten.

    Andreas took two standards, one blue and one green, the game pieces denoting a field army unit (blue represented a tagma and blue a half-tagma) and placed them at Forli, then handed the dealer two notes each marked with a ‘100’. “Two units of supplies please.” The dealer noted and handed him two ‘supply pieces’, two wooden cubes the size of his fingertips. Army units had to be properly supplied. If they suffered shortages, morale and discipline suffered and making the soldiers more easily beaten.

    The dealer was yet another cousin of his, the eldest of his relations at the table. Alexandros Drakos, eighteen years old, was the grandson of Alexandros, the Princess Theodora’s youngest son, who was also the younger twin brother of Andreas’ maternal grandmother. Alexandros “the Elder” had been married to Sophia Komnena, the elder sister of Leo I of Arles. Their only son Ioannes had been married to another Sophia Komnena, this one the younger sister of Demetrios III, Despot of Egypt. Therefore Alexandros could trace his lineage back to Andreas Niketas via three of his legitimate sons; Andreas’ own blood relation to Andreas I was through an illegitimate daughter.

    Alexandros was medium in height, his cheeks covered in a mass of freckles that could still be seen through the trimmed light brown beard he sported. His face was round, a thin unibrow set above hazel eyes. Andreas may have had the Good Emperor’s nose but Alexandros had his entire face. One difference though is that Alexandros had the swarthy complexion that looked much more of Manuel I Komnenos rather than Andreas I. Alexandros stretched his right arm and twisted it, his elbow popping. He too had tested his arm against Elizabeth’s. He’d also lost but unlike Leo had made her fight for it. He currently played Florence.

    They were playing Field of Battle, a new board game recently developed, purportedly with significant input from the War Room which used it to help teach strategy. Currently there were four different fields, Iberia, Germania, Syria/Mesopotamia, and Italy, created although with its popularity a France was on the way. Andreas preferred the Italy one personally.

    Alexandros rolled a pair of six-sided dice, ending up with a three. “You have to draw a chance card.” Andreas nodded; transactions particularly in the field often had unintended consequences, sometimes good and usually bad.

    He drew a card. “God hates you,” he read. “Your new cook is English. His food blackens the teeth and softens the brain. Minus -1 morale for one turn. Who writes this stuff?”

    “Somebody who knows you very well,” Leo drawled. Sprawled across his chair Leo reminded Andreas of a somewhat emaciated but scheming feline. “God does hate you.”

    Andreas scowled. I need my luck to change. He looked up past his wife to see one of his guardsmen who seemed to be studying the table from a distance. Nikephoros Vatatzes was a twenty-year-old from Gallipoli, tall and muscularly thick, with skin almost as swarthy as Alexandros. He scratched his right nostril, prompting Andreas to scratch his left.

    He plunked down some more banknotes, taking some ‘stone’ tiles to reinforce his citadel at Forli. That would help cover the morale loss. “Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!” He boisterously yelled, pointing at his handiwork and cackling.

    Everybody at the table stared at him. “Where did that come from?” Alexandros asked.

    “I have no idea,” Elizabeth deadpanned.

    Andreas looked at her. “Join with me!” he said, stretching out his right hand to her. “And together we will rule the world as husband and wife!”

    “Ah, you say the most romantic things,” she cooed, grinning, and gripped his hand. Andreas smiled wolfishly.

    “Intervene!” Nikephoros shouted. There were two golden spheres, each the size of a fist, sitting on either side of the map. Part of the game was that campaigns did not happen in isolation; a new player could enter the scene partway through the game. To do so they had to shout ‘intervene’ and grasp one of the spheres. Those already playing could block the move by grasping the sphere first, something Elizabeth might’ve been able to do if it weren’t for Andreas gripping her hand. Nikephoros touched it and Andreas let go.

    Elizabeth glowered at both Nikephoros and him. “You set me up.”

    “Oh, don’t take it personally, your highness,” Nikephoros replied. “You’re not the only one we’re after. For my intervention I shall be King Sausage.” Elizabeth’s glower intensified. “Would you prefer Lord of the Beer?” Alexandros started handing Nikephoros his pieces.

    She looked at Andreas. “So are you going to help me deal with this guy?”

    “Nope. I still haven’t forgotten Urbino.” Her Venetian forces had managed to wipe out three of his armies in detail before he’d thrown them back.

    “I thought we were going to join together to rule the world?”

    “I’m altering the deal. Pray that I do not alter it any farther.” Demetrios sputtered into his cup.

    She shook her fist at him. “I’m going to make you pay for that tonight.”

    Andreas looked at her and then over at Nikephoros. The guard threw up his hands. “Don’t look at me. You’re on your own there.” Elizabeth’s grin made her look like a cat that knew dinner was at hand.

    * * *
    Much to the relief of everybody it is a quiet year for the Empire. The one thing of note is the oncoming expiration of the truce with the Shah. But despite negotiations, no peace is signed when delegates from both mighty empires meet. Once again a truce is agreed. This time however it is not for six years, but for only one.
    The Battle of Volos
  • Anna married her half-brother? Man, royal marriages are twisted.

    Stepbrother. She's the daughter of Stefanoz and Sophia. Although yes, that's still a little creepy.

    Kastron [Fort] of Volos, Thessaly, August 22, 1621:

    Odysseus grunted and grimaced but he managed to parry Andreas’ stroke…barely. The second knocked his wooden weapon out of his hands.

    Andreas put his own down and squatted so that he was eye-level with his eight-year-old cousin. “Keep your shield up or I’ll ring your head like a bell. You understand?” Odysseus nodded. “Good,” he smiled. He kissed him on the forehead and then stood up.

    He and Odysseus could almost pass for brothers, their facial structures and body types virtually identical. Odysseus though had significant darker skin than Andreas, courtesy of his still stunningly beautiful Ethiopian mother. He could see the frustration on his cousin’s face. Sword and shield fighting was obsolete; nobody used the latter anymore. But it was good for building muscle mass and supposedly tactical thinking.

    They were about to start sparring again when about twenty cavalry rode into the courtyard. The Kastron of Volos wasn’t that big, a brooding stone castle, still built more for pre-gunpowder battles, looming over the port of Volos, the chief port of Thessaly. “Why don’t we take a break?” Andreas said. Odysseus nodded.

    “What are you doing back?” Andreas shouted at the eikosarchos leading the column.

    Alexios Maniakes, supposedly related to the ferocious 11th century strategos, a tall but skinny man with long brown hair and an incredibly freckled face born in 1600, answered back. “Got killed.”

    “Who did it? I want to thank them,” Andreas grinned. Volos was the headquarters of the 8th Helladic tourma, currently out on training exercises with the rest of the tagma.

    Alexios glowered at him, then smiled as he tied up his horse. Grooms from the stable were coming out to take care of the equipment. “The Ninth hit us with a flank charge and we were wiped out so the Tourmarch sent us back here to help keep an eye on our new guests. The rest of the tourma will be back in two days.”

    “Want to take a look at those guests?” Andreas asked.

    “Sure.” Alexios directed a groom to take care of his steed and together the two of them walked up to the stairs to gaze across the ramparts down onto the city and harbor of Volos.

    Volos was the chief port and one of the key cities of Thessaly, second only to the capital of Larissa, with a population of almost eight thousand. A respectable amount of merchandise passed through the quays but mainly in the small lighters that flitted amongst the islands of the Aegean. The big ships headed to Corinth or Thessaloniki so the sight was currently a rather unusual one.

    Fourteen ships, each one displacing four hundred tons or more, two at least nine hundred, were riding at anchor in the bay. From four flew the banner of the Kingdom of Arles, from ten the standard of the Triple Monarchy, the United Kingdoms of France, England, and Ireland. All but one of the ships were trade convoys heading for Syria that had been driven off course by storms. The last was another Triune ship traveling separately that had arrived just before dark yesterday, also diverted by storms.

    “Have they caused any trouble?” Alexios asked.

    “Nothing out of the ordinary for bored Latin sailors.”

    “That’s a comfort. Still, they could cause a lot of trouble. There’s a lot of them.”

    Andreas nodded, scratching his chin, the brown stubble pricking his fingertips. He pulled out his pocket dalnovzor and scanned one of the Triune ships. “Something wrong?” Alexios asked.

    “Something seems different; I’m not sure what.” He lowered the instrument, a telescoping design the length of his forearm when fully extended. He raised and looked through it again. “The decks are clear. That’s odd. I could’ve sworn they were covered in trade goods.”

    Alexios pulled out his own dalnovzor, similar in size but without the silver filigree, and focused on another vessel. Men now were scurrying back and forth. “It looks like they have sand down on the decks. If I didn’t know better, I’d said they’re cleared for action.” He looked at Andreas in alarm.

    “But if that’s the case…” Cannons and muskets boomed, the sound ripping across the town. Andreas just gaped as the Triune ships opened up on the Arletians, shots tearing into them, many also missing and flying in the town behind them. Gunfire ripped down the harbor front too. He could see men on the docks firing on where the Arletians were staying onshore, and some that were not being so particular with their shooting.

    “WHAT THE DEVIL IS GOING ON?” The Kastrophylax, commandant of the kastron, Thomas Lachanodrakon (himself purportedly a descendant from the 8th century Thrakesian strategos) hobbled onto the ramparts. A portly and wrinkled man walking with a strong limp, he tugged on his long white beard furiously as he looked out over the scene. The Triunes were swarming the Arletians, which seemed to have been caught completely flat-footed.

    “All guns ready, kastrophylax!”


    The seven guns of the citadel let fly, their shots ripping down toward the Triunes. One slammed into the deck of a ship, clouds of splinters flying. Two more punctured sails, the remainder splashing down in the water. Gunners shouted out elevation corrections as the pieces were sponged. Powder monkeys scurried forward. Andreas frowned. Only two of the pieces were culverins, twenty-two pounders, the others were ten and eight pounders. The elevation advantage helped a lot but that was a big Triune squadron.

    More cannons boomed from down on the harbor, the air shrieking. Alexios tackled him as the shots slammed into the fort’s masonry. One of the powder monkeys screamed. Alexios got off him and Andreas staggered up. The boy, just a little older than Odysseus, was whimpering, his hands clutching his intestines, now outside of his body rather than in.

    Andreas snarled, both in anger and to distract him from the gorge rising from his stomach. “Michael!” he shouted.

    His steward scurried up the steps. “Yes, your highness?”

    “Get my battle gear ready.”

    Andreas’ quarters were in a small room just off from the central square. It took him only a few minutes with Michael’s help but those minutes seemed like an eternity. More musket and cannon fire were coming from the harbor, although the staggering of the volleys seemed to suggest that the Arletians were starting to shoot back.

    He emerged back into the square clad in the standard gray uniform of the Roman army, the insignia on his collar marking him as an eikosarchos of the Akoimetoi, which he officially was. The golden thread on the cuffs was the only regal flourish on the standard kit. A sword hung from his right hip, a dirk from his left. A Macedonian steel cuirass protected his torso.

    In the courtyard he could see other men girding themselves. A horseman nearly ran him over as Andreas stepped out, whipping his horse to a full gallop. Two more charged out following him. More men scrambled from a side chamber, one pushing a wheelbarrow full of coal.

    Andreas ran over to the point on the ramparts where the Kastrophylax, Alexios Maniakes, and Nikephoros Vatatzes, the commander of his bodyguard contingent, were gathered. The fort’s guns were dueling with two Triune ships although none of the Latin shots were coming near them. “How’s it going?” Andreas asked.

    “Not good,” Nikephoros answered. “The Triunes are attacking the town indiscriminately now.”

    “Latin bastards. Have they ever tried not being assholes?” Andreas muttered. He looked at the Kastrophylax. “How many men do you have?”

    “Just enough to crew the guns.”

    “What about the ovens? Heated shot will ruin their day.”

    “Just started it up. But it’s stone cold right now and I can’t fire those at the town.”

    Andreas nodded. “We have Alexios’ twenty and I have twenty.”

    “There’s probably two hundred and fifty Triunes onshore,” Alexios commented.

    “How long will it take for the eighth to get here?” Andreas asked.

    “It took us three hours and we’re all mounted,” Alexios answered.

    “Three hours…they’ll kill a lot of people by then,” Andreas growled. They could hear screams from the waterfront. Townspeople were fleeing inland and it seems the Triunes not attacking the holed-up Arletians were concentrated mainly on looting. But the harbor district was heavily populated and a lot of people wouldn’t have had time to escape.

    “I’m going down there with the forty we have.”

    “You can’t be serious!” Nikephoros protested.

    “I am. I’m not going to stand there and watch people be slaughtered. I have a Drakos family banner; they’ll think twice before firing on a member of the Imperial family.”

    “They didn’t hesitate to attack Volos or fire on the fort,” Nikephoros countered.

    “True, but while they outnumber us they’re spread out and focused on looting. Plus most of them are sailors, not trained soldiers. And the sight of the banner might make them pause for a second, which is all we need to shove an ambrolar up their asses.”

    Nikephoros looked at him. “I’m not going to be able to talk you out of this.”

    “No, you’re not.”

    “Well, let’s get to it then.”

    “Your highness,” Thomas said. Andreas turned toward him. “Good luck, your highness. I’ll keep those ships busy.”

    “Thank you, kastrophylax.”

    “And a word of advice. I’ve fought Triunes. Both the English and French despise the rest of mankind. They have a hard time imagining other people having the audacity to oppose them. So when you hit them, hit them with anything you have and don’t let up.”

    “I have no attention of doing so.”

    It took a few minutes for everyone to get fully geared up and Andreas was about to mount up when he saw Odysseus. He had his pony fully saddled, a leather jerkin covering his torso, a small helmet in one hand and the reins in the other, a dirk slung from each hip. “Stay here, Ody,” he said.

    “But I’m going with you. I want to go with you.”

    “I appreciate that, but I want you to stay here and guard the fort.”

    He opened his mouth, Andreas expecting a protest. “Fine,” he muttered.

    Andreas ruffled his hair. “I’ll take you with me next time.” Odysseus smiled.

    Andreas smiled too, then mounted his horse. He nodded at Hektor, one of his bodyguards, who unfurled the Drakos family banner. It was a golden double-headed eagle with black outline on a dark blue background, each talon clutching a sword. Every Triune looking on it would know they were facing a member of the Imperial house. It might make them hesitate for a second, which would make killing them much easier.

    He looked over his men. All of them were older than him but they were his to command. Aside from being Kaisar, he was an eikosarchos of the Akoimetoi, which gave him seniority over Alexios. “Seems like a good day for killing Frenchmen.”

    “Tis always a good day for killing Frenchmen,” Nikephoros snarked back, a grin on his face.

    “That is true. Let’s ride.”

    They cantered out of the kastron as its guns boomed down on the ships. Refugees were starting to flee up to the citadel so Alexios guided them down on the side streets. It was slower than the main thoroughfare but a traffic jam would be even worse. Here the town was eerily quiet. Houses and shops were shuttered although Andreas could see eyes looking out at him from a few windows. Most of the locals here worked outside the city walls so all that was left were children and old folks.

    They were about halfway to the harbor when Alexios held up his hand. The thirty or so men coming up the street towards them were definitely not children. The leader, a thickly built man with a wrinkled, grizzled face and a nose that looked like it’d been broken repeatedly, stepped forward as they reined to a halt.

    “Are you the prince Andreas?” he asked in heavily-accented Greek, pointing at him.

    “I am,” he answered, but in Serbian.

    The Serb grinned. “You honor me, sir. As the grandson of the blessed Demetrios, we are here to offer you our blades in this fight.” Andreas looked over them. All the men looked well built, even though many were on the older side. Most had swords slung from their belts, the remainder with axes slung from their backs. I wonder if the old Varangians looked like this?

    “You honor me. I welcome you and your men. Although I must say you do seem rather well armed for fur traders.”

    “The blessed Demetrios said we may not travel with firearms in the Empire. He said nothing about blades.” He grinned.

    “And for that, right now, I am very grateful.”

    It didn’t take them much longer to reach the waterfront, although the detour meant it was the wrong section. The harbor was shaped like a C, its open part facing to the south. Here on the western end was where the fishermen docked their smacks and cleaned their catches. The warehouses here stored bulk goods, grain, dried fruit, salted fish, and the like. There was no incentive for looting here.

    They took a break while Alexios took two of his men and one of the younger Serbs with him. They were only gone for a few minutes. “There’s about two hundred, maybe two hundred and fifty on land. They’re tearing the Pasha’s Slipper to shreds. The rest are running amok on the Arletian ships.” Andreas nodded. He expected that. The Pasha’s Slipper claimed to have the best food, wine, and women in all of Thessaly and that was where the gold and silversmiths, plus the silk merchants, had their shops. That was down on the eastern end. “They’ve also trashed Saints Constantine and Helena.” That church was also the pride of all Thessaly.

    Andreas looked at Alexios’ face. “There’s more.”

    “We heard two sailors saying that Prince Andreas was in town which was good by them. Greek princes named Andreas make good screwing, just ask the Venetians. That’s what they said.”

    “Did you get a good look at them?” Andreas growled, his hand clutching his hilt.


    “Good. I want them taken alive. They’ll not get a quick death.” Alexios nodded. “Now, what about the kastron? I want to come down the waterfront; they’ll expect an attack from the town, not the harbor. But we can’t let those ships take us in flank.”

    “The kastron’s quiet now. But there’s a lot of smoke. The Kastrophylax has got those furnaces going really hot.”

    “Alright-” Andreas started to say when all the kastron’s guns spoke at once. Andreas saw the cannonballs, glowing red hot. Splinters crashed as each shot found home, fires starting on two vessels as the roiling metal ignited wood and pitch. On a third vessel, Andreas saw the shot blast from the ramparts, scream down, and punch through the deck of one of the larger Triune vessels. A moment later the ball hit the powder magazine.

    The ship ceased to exist. One moment it was there and the next, a crash of thunder, and a cloud of splinters and sail shreds.

    “GO! NOW!” Andreas shouted and immediately they galloped out on the waterfront, the Serbs jogging behind them. To his right he heard Triunes swearing and screaming. A cannon boomed and Andreas instinctively braced himself. The ball ricocheted off the kastron’s ramparts. That was the threat to the sailors, not these men galloping and running down the shore.

    Andreas drew his sword. Several dozen Triunes were sprawled out in front of the Pasha’s Slipper, drinking and stuffing their faces. In the corner five or six were each gang-raping three women, clear for all the world to see. One Triune standing further out where a dock met the shore turned and started shouting, a moment later shrieking as an arrow slammed into his calf. One of his guards, a Philadelphian, notched another arrow. A couple of other Triunes started scrambling up, one shooting off a pistol. “SAINT THEODOROS AND NO QUARTER!”


    A moment later they piled into the Triunes.

    * * *
    Andreas clumped down to the ground, wiping his forehead. He looked at his dirt and blood-covered right hand. It was trembling. He gripped his wrist to stop it. The fight had been hard. The head of the butchers’ guild had organized some of the townspeople to try and block the Triunes from moving inland and they’d pitched into the Triunes from the other side as well. The ships were another matter but between the heated cannonballs and the arrival of the cavalry of the Helladic tagma they had been ‘convinced’ to surrender.

    “First battle?” the head Serb, whose name was Michael, asked. Andreas nodded. “You need a woman.”

    Andreas looked up at him. He too was blood splattered. Unlike Andreas, some was his own. He’d taken a gash on his shoulder. “My wife’s in Constantinople,” he replied.

    Michael smiled. “You’re named after Andreas Niketas. Why is that stopping you?” Andreas chuckled. Michael smiled for a moment and then frowned. “They’re bringing the Triune leader.” He held out a hand and helped Andreas to his feet.

    Another man, a tall, skinny man with squinty eyes, walked up to them. “Tourmarch,” Andreas said. Nikolaios Psellos was the tourmarch of the 7th Helladic.

    “Your highness,” Nikolaios said and then looked at the captive being marched toward them between two very angry looking dekarchoi. The man was several centimeters taller even than Nikolaios, with curly black hair going down to his shoulders. He had bushy eyebrows and an angular face, his nose jutting out sharply. “Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the Emperor of Constantinople.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Positive. I was ambassadorial guard commander for two years at King’s Harbor. It’s him.”

    Andreas frowned. Henri Plantagenet was the Triune King’s illegitimate elder brother. He’d never taken kindly to be overshadowed by his younger brother so he’d purchased the title of ‘Emperor of Constantinople’, which dated back to the Fourth Crusade, from the Sire of Coucy, its incumbent. I wonder what he’s doing here.

    The dekarchoi brought Henri to a halt in front of them. “What do you want, boy?” the man sneered.

    “Why did you attack the town?”

    “The Lion’s Whelp brought word that we are at war with the Arletians. So we made war with the Arletians.”

    “In our harbor? And what right did that give you to attack us?”

    “You have no right to tell us what we can or cannot do, Greek. We made war on the Arletians because the Arletians were here and you stood in our way, and then we sought recompense for our efforts. We are the chosen people of God. We have no need to explain ourselves to you.”

    Andreas frowned. “Chosen people of God. You think you are special. You’re not. You’re a typical Latin, using desire as justification for your crimes. And now you will die for those crimes. Block.”

    “Do you think I am frightened, boy? I am the brother of the Emperor of the United Kingdoms. You kill me and it will be an act of war.”

    “You attacked and pillaged one of our cities, raped and murdered our people, and fired on a member of the Imperial house. So either we are already at war or you are a pirate. And by the laws of the United Kingdoms, pirates are killed via impalement through the rectum. And what is the penalty for attempted regicide?” The man blanched.

    A large wooden block was plunked down in front of him. “Out of respect for your rank and lineage, I would prefer not to chain you for this,” Andreas said.

    “I am not a coward,” Henri answered. He got down on his knees and laid his head on the block.

    “Have you any final words?” Andreas asked as he drew his sword.

    “Kill me and be done with it.”

    “As you wish.” With one swing he decapitated the Emperor of Constantinople.

    “What should be done with the rest of the captives?” the tourmarch asked. The Triune landing party had been mostly butchered but those on the ships had surrendered.

    “Keep them captives. One of the Triune ships should be good. This whole thing is going to be a gigantic diplomatic mess.”

    “Especially after that.” Nikolaios gestured at the headless corpse.

    “A point needed to be made. But no need to overdo it.” Alexios walked up at that point. “Did those two survive?”

    “They’re both wounded, but yes.”

    He looked at Nikolaios. “They’re the exceptions. Have them impaled in full view of their comrades.”
  • Frustrated Progressive: Let's just say that Demetrios sees no reason why Iskandar should be left alone.

    ImperatorAlexander: Mesopotamia and northern Persia (Mazandaran and Gilan especially) have a pretty well built up road network and Iskandar built some high-quality military highways on his march to Samarkand. The rest of the empire, not so much, although the trade routes that made Kabul an important trade center in the early modern age are running strong. The Punjab is becoming an important economic boon to the Persians.

    Iskandar is not consciously based on any OTL figure.

    1621 continued: The battle of Volos being a ‘gigantic diplomatic mess’ is something of an understatement. In the aftermath sixteen Triune merchants are murdered by lynch mobs and one ship fired in the harbor of Attaleia. The Roman government makes practically no effort to safeguard said merchants as “such efforts are impracticable considering the reprehensible conduct of their countrymen which has aroused the just ire of an injured people.”

    However Constantinople is willing to treat the whole affair as if the handiwork of an unusually large array of unusually uniformly Triune pirates. War with the United Kingdoms is not an ideal proposition. The only way to ensure a practical blow against the United Kingdoms, considering the lack of Roman maritime activity beyond Sardinia/Tabarka, would be to send men, money, and materials to Arles.

    That is not a feasible option. Iskandar has been quite busy, forging alliances with Afghan chieftains and Rajput clans both to patrol his Indian frontiers and to serve in a western campaign. Also an administrative restructuring creates two more Khassa, the crown provinces that organize the recruitment and maintenance of the Qizilbash infantry. Money to fund these come from the carpet and cotton textile exports of the Punjab, whose markets have found eager buyers in the form of Dutch and Triune merchants.

    The presence of the latter in the Indus delta explains Henri’s presence in Volos; he was leading a diplomatic mission to the Shahanshah. Demetrios Sideros speculates, not unreasonably, that the humiliation of being his younger brother’s ambassador had caused Henri to choose a more ‘dramatic’ activity. This adds another impetus in the White Palace to focus on the Ottomans; perhaps the Triunes can be hurt more effectively there. The grant of 400,000 hyperpyra to the Ethiopian navy though has absolutely nothing to do with this but is merely a gesture of goodwill between allies, of course.

    Many on the streets though of both the Roman Empire and the United Kingdoms clamor for war, the temper of the Romans little improved by the proclamations of the Triune newspapers. “The treacherous Greeks, impeding our God-given right to dominion over all the seas, did attempt to hamper our just sailors and revered Prince Henri in their noble battle against the Arletians. Our sailors succeeded despite this perfidy. The Greeks, having forfeited their goods by their base actions, then fought our men when they tried to claim their rightful rewards. Already exhausted by their previous battle and outnumbered a hundred to one, our brave lads were finally overcome but not before striking down and sending to hell a thousand of the loathsome heretics.” Such is the account of the battle of Volos according to the King’s Harbor Herald.

    Emperor Arthur II is much less sympathetic to the jingoistic cries of his people. On a personal level he is rather glad to be rid of his overbearing and annoying bastard half-brother. That had been the point of sending him on the expedition in the first place although he had not counted on such a ‘permanent’ removal. Both governments recognize that war between them would be pointless as neither is in a position to do credible damage. As a face-saving exercise for both parties, the Roman government sells the captive Triunes to Mouley Ismail, the Marinid Sultan, although an astute observer notes that the Sultan pays four times the market rate. He then turns around and repatriates them to the Triple Monarchy and is quietly reimbursed. Thus King’s Harbor gets their people back without paying the Romans whilst the Romans don’t just release their prisoners.

    Much less to the White Palace’s liking is news that Henri was not the only diplomatic expedition sent to the Persian court. Another, going by sea around the Cape of Storms, reaches Iskandar. A treaty of friendship is signed late in October, in which the Triunes get several trading concessions and in return agree to provide naval ‘assistance and expertise’ when called upon.

    Although the exchange via the Marinids has officially closed the ‘Volos affair’, the Romans aren’t prepared to let matters rest there, especially after the Triune-Ottoman treaty. In December Demetrios II issues the Ordinance on the Armaments of Merchant Vessels. For two hundred years, ever since heavy cannons were mounted on ships, the Roman government has taken an interest in the armament of merchant vessels but for the most part has restricted itself to levying a ‘cannon tax’ (an invention of Theodoros IV).

    The cannon tax remains but now restrictions are placed on how many cannons a merchant vessel can carry (cannons are defined by gunpowder weapons throwing a three-pound shot or heavier) as well as firearms (gunpowder weapons throwing a smaller than three-pound shot). For vessels registered in the Empire proper, plus Sicily, Egypt, Carthage, and Dalmatia, the cannon tax is one hyperpyra per five-pound of shot (so a 15-pounder culverin owes 3 hyperpyra, a fifty-pounder elephant 10 hyperpyra, with the rates rounded up) per gun, owed at the first ‘trade action’ of every calendar year in an Imperial port. The weapons limit is ten cannons and thirty firearms for every one hundred tons burthen. Exemption certificates are available for purchase for merchants who sell armaments.

    The rates applied to foreign vessels make a clear hierarchy of which nations are most favored by the White Palace. Georgians, Vlachs, and Scythians get the most favorable conditions, followed by Arletians, Castilian-Portuguese, and Andalusi. At the bottom are the Dutch (mercantile relations have been declining steadily) and the Triunes unsurprisingly are dead-last, paying six hyperpyra per five-pound of shot and a weapons limit of two guns and five firearms per hundred-ton burthen. Demetrios Sideros points out that a side-effect of this is that Triune vessels trading in Rhomania will run more lightly armed than others, a fact sure to not go unnoticed by Barbary corsairs.

    The war between the Triple Monarchy and Arles which was the supposed spark of the whole affair turns out to be a minor one. In the Caribbean, Arles is clearly in control of all Greater Antillia (Cuba) and Lesser Antillia (Hispaniola) but the lesser islands are in a free-for-all. In the Windward and Leeward Islands sugar plantations under the control of the Triple Monarchy, Castile-Portugal, Lotharingia, the Holy Roman Empire, the Empire of All the North, and even one by Prussia have all appeared. But the establishment of Port Royal on Jamaica by Triune pirates drew the governor of Greater Antillia’s ire and things escalated. The war, which saw a few engagements on the high seas and a few skirmishes on the European frontier, quickly dies down with the Arletian acceptance of the new Triune colony. For once in Europe nobody seems to want a war.

    Although proposals for a Roman colony in the Caribbean to cash in on the cocoa market have been aired in Constantinople, the White Palace has no time for any antics in the far west. The truce is about to expire with Persia and Emperor Demetrios is determined to set right the concessions made by the original accord. Iskandar is willing to make an outright peace treaty and forego any more payments but insists on retaining the trans-Aras territories taken from Georgia, which were after all originally Ottoman territories before the Georgians seized them from Timur II.

    * * *
    The Sweet Waters of Asia, October 2, 1621:

    Demetrios Sideros inhaled deeply, breathing in the strong scent of fruit and flowers. Constantinople he did not care for, but here was another matter. He sat down on the bench, his favorite spot in the whole park. It sat on the crest of a hill on the far southern end, shaded by a latticework intertwined with purple flower bearing plants.

    The Imperial gardens here started back in the days of Ioannes IV Laskaris but most of the agricultural masterpiece was the handiwork of Konstantinos and Ioanna, the two eldest children of the Princess Alexeia. Massive orchards intermixed with herbal gardens covered much of the land, but there were duck and fish ponds combined with rice paddies as well. Vegetable ‘patches’, some the size of a couple of battle-line ships, supported by stones were common features as well. The poultry farm would have had Ioannes III Vatatzes green with envy and the size of some of the pigs raised here was incredible.

    To the north Constantinople gleamed on the other side of the Bosporus, the sunlight dazzling off the walls of the White Palace and the dome of Hagia Sophia. Skoutarion and Chalcedon to the south, both on this side of the waters, also gleamed. As usual the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara were full of ships, mostly small, but three Pontic grain-haulers were lumbering around one of the Princes’ Islands heading for the Golden Horn. From the Black Sea a fregata was flying down the water, her sails full of a stiff breeze from the north.

    He heard the crunch of feet on the path, approaching from opposite the direction he had come. Turning in annoyance, he immediately stood and bowed when he saw who it was. “Your Imperial Majesty,” he said, looking at the ground.

    “Rise, Eparch,” she said. Demetrios stood up and looked at his grandmother, Empress Helena the Elder. Confined mostly to a wheelchair now, she no longer was the statuesque beauty of the 1550s. Her hair was now a gleaming regal silver, her skin heavily wrinkled. Her arms trembled and her voice was often reedy. She looked up at the attendant who was pushing her wheelchair and gestured at him to move her forward a bit more. Now she was next to the bench, ideally situated to partake in the panorama. Her guards fanned out, taking up sentry posts.

    She looked out over the panorama. “I see you have similar taste to mine,” she said. “This too is my favorite spot.”

    Demetrios nodded, uncertain of what to say in reply. From down the hill came loud voices though. At the base of the hill Odysseus scrambled over a hedge lining the path, pausing to catch his breath, then squawked in surprise when the Kaisar bounded over the shrubbery. “You can’t escape me!” he cackled.

    “Never!” Odysseus shouted, bounding down the path.

    Andreas chased after him. He had Athena on his shoulders who giggled loudly and shouted “Faster, faster!”

    Demetrios grinned and glanced over at the Empress. She too had a large smile on her face. She looked at him then, her smile fading. “When I was his age, a Persian army was encamped here. Bayezid had his red pavilion posted on this very hill; you didn’t need a dalnovzor to see it from the White Palace.”

    “But the Empire endured, your Majesty. That is what matters.”

    “Yes, but it was far closer than I would like to admit.” From the shouts, which were somewhat indistinct, it sounded like Andreas had indeed caught Odysseus. “I will not have another Time of Troubles. Promise you’ll look after him for me.”

    “Of course, your majesty.”

    “I executed my firstborn son to prevent another Time of Troubles, because the concept of Romans fighting Romans, of using military power to vault oneself to the throne, had to die. The aftermath of Manzikert, the Fourth Crusade, the War of the Five Emperors, the Time of Troubles, the greatest damage to the Empire has been caused from within. I would have it end. I will be counting on you to see that it does.”

    Demetrios swallowed. “I will do my best, your majesty.”

    “I believe, grandson, that it will be enough.”
    1622 spring and summer
  • Joshuapooleanox: Thank you for the praise.

    Stark: The plans for that died when I went with Wu Australia.

    Frustrated Progressive: Good point. But I think that any language that can produce a Chaucer or equivalent is one that’s going to be rather robust.

    "For the King of the North will muster another army, larger than the first; and after several years, he will advance with a huge army fully equipped." -Daniel 11:13

    1621 continued: In Munich the Emperor Friedrich dies. Although the bulk of his reign was taken up with the war with his younger brother it can still be considered a massive success. Besides his dominion over Austria, the aftermath of the Brothers’ War has greatly strengthened Wittelsbach authority in both Saxony and Brandenburg. That combined with improvements in tax administration have led to a doubling of Wittelsbach income in the last twenty years.

    Some of those funds go to the establishment of a Military Academy in Bavaria based on the Roman School of War. Unlike the latter entry is restricted to the nobility, a proviso identical to that of the academy that opens in King’s Harbor at the same time. The one in Castile, established in 1603, also limited cadets to those of noble status but allows the ‘exceptional of the commons’ to appeal to the King for an exemption, a request frequently granted.

    The Academy does much to strengthen the officer corps, which is to lead a more powerful army. Ironically both the Emperor Friedrich and his brother Duke Karl implemented similar reforms in their lands during the Brothers’ War. Bavaria, Saxony, and Brandenburg are all divided into canton districts, overseen by a regimental colonel. When males reach adulthood, they are enrolled on the cantonal rolls unless they’re in an exemption group, and liable for military services. The cantons only furnish infantry but they do help the Wittelsbach tap an immense pool of manpower. Incidentally the cantonal system is similar to that of the tours that now cover the entirety of the United Kingdoms.

    Friedrich is succeeded by his son Manfred. Manfred’s health though is poor so he is not expected to last long. His son Theodor, seventeen years old, is crowned King of the Romans.

    Another piece of news of great import comes from the opposite direction. Hormuz, held by the Omani since 1551, has fallen. Of even more concern is that it was taken by an Ottoman army supported by a Triune fleet; the Ottoman-Triune treaty has borne fruit rather quickly. The Omani are naturally infuriated and create a diplomatic incident when they cut two Triune ships out of Kozhikode harbor, to the fury of the Vijayanagari.

    Shortly after word arrives in Constantinople of Hormuz, the time for negotiations regarding the truce come up again. Said negotiations do not last very long. Demetrios’ mind will not be changed. The trans-Aras must be restored to Georgian rule. This naturally Iskandar will not allow. So this time the truce is allowed to lapse; once again the Roman and Ottoman Empires are officially at war.

    1622: One thousand years have passed since the Prophet fled Mecca for Medina, one millennium since the birth of Islam. For all those years, Islam’s most consistent foe, the eternal enemy, has been the Rum. No other nation that stood against the Faithful all those centuries ago remain, and yet the Rum endure.

    Perhaps it is not Allah’s will that the Rum will ever be conquered, some say. Perhaps they are to endure forever, an eternal reminder to the faithful for the need for purity and vigilance. Not so, others say. Perhaps now, after so long and great a struggle, the time has finally come. Perhaps now the ancient war will finally be resolved, the victory of Islam secured, and the end of the world brought to hand.

    The years of constant war have certainly taken their toll on the Ottoman Empire. Only the substantial Roman tribute over the ‘truce’, along with the vast loot from northern India, has kept the Persian exchequer from collapse. Peace would give an opportunity to bring order to the books, but peace is not to be had, at least not yet.

    But there is still formidable strength to be had. The Shah can call on the regular troops from Mesopotamia and Persia, plus nomadic cavalry from Central Asia and Afghan infantry. The latter two, particularly the last, are unruly and obstinate but with enough gold make for hardy and brave, if undisciplined, soldiers. Furthermore the Triunes are quite willing to trade powder and shot and cannons for Indian gold and jewels and cotton textiles, and their cannons are the finest in the world. So perhaps the end of the ancient war is at hand as some say.

    There are some who would agree with that statement, but not exactly. Perhaps it is time, after a thousand years, for the ancient war to end, but not in the victory of Islam but in the triumph of the Rum. For in those thousand years, the Empire has never summoned up such a great host for battle. The Athanatoi, the Varangoi, the Skolai, the Akoimetoi, the Syrians, the Chaldeans, the Anatolikon, the Armeniakon, the Optimates, the Opsikians, the Thrakesians, the Thracians, and the Macedonians, all told one hundred and seven thousand strong.

    Included in the ranks of the Great Army is Kaisar Andreas. Despite many misgivings in the court, he has insisted on participating. He is an active eikosarchos on the Akoimetoi rolls, and as such his duty demands he serve with his called-up unit. As a compromise he is assigned to the staff of Leo Neokastrites, who has strict orders that if ‘eikosarchos Drakos’ is sent on forward reconnaissance (as is a common duty of staff officers) he must be accompanied by a heavy escort, including all of the Kaisar’s bodyguard.

    Just before he departs the capital a bit of a scandal breaks when the daughter of a Volos innkeeper shows up at the door of the White Palace carrying an infant boy, claiming it is the child of the prince. He recognizes the woman and child, much to the fury of Elizabeth, putting them up in a cottage in Chalcedon, and names the boy Zeno. It is the name of Andreas Niketas’ illegitimate son.

    Rather unusually, one of the members of Andreas’ retinue is his nine-year-old cousin Odysseus. Andreas is about to turn seventeen; he is old enough for war. But Odysseus is insistent on following his cousin, and Andreas did promise him at Volos that he would take him with him when next he went to battle. Perhaps the time came earlier than Andreas expected, but a promise is a promise.

    There is another of the imperial family in the ranks, Alexandros Drakos. He serves as a staff eikosarchos as well, attached to Tourmarch Romanos Amirales of the 2nd Thrakesian. Scoring highly on exams at the School of War, he has also showed himself a brave officer in a battle against Albanian brigands, and is highly popular in the mess of his tourma.

    Despite the size and power of the Roman army poised to invade Mesopotamia, the campaign hits a major snag before it even gets started. Demetrios II had just assumed that the Georgians would re-enter the war; the objective after all is to recover the trans-Aras territories ceded at Khlat. But old Konstantin III Safavid is unwilling to do so. The regular Georgian army was devastated during the war and he has just spent a great deal of money fortifying his new border along the Aras. From Tbilisi’s perspective, those lands are just not worth the cost. Furthermore, the Georgian resentment over being left in the lurch by the Romans is not improved by Demetrios’ assumption that they would join in ‘his’ war automatically.

    The loss of the Georgians is a serious blow but Demetrios decides to continue anyway. The Georgians may have a secure border without the trans-Aras, but no Roman Emperor can feel comfortable with Persian access to Armenia. It was through there that the Turks invaded Anatolia in the late eleventh century.

    Duhok falls after a siege of only four days, capitulating as soon as the main body arrives, and a small Roman garrison established as the host marches south. The main target in the early stage is Mosul but the garrison here is much larger, more fortified, and determined than the soldiers at Duhok. A proper siege needs to be established here.

    At first the Romans are simply harassed by local Ottoman forces while Iskandar gathers up a host of his own to challenge the Romans. But despite the valor and skill of the Mosul garrison soon they are in dire straits, their situation conveyed by divers who swim submerged down the Tigris River to pass the Roman cordon.

    By September the Shah has assembled a huge army, the largest ever fielded in the annals of the Ottoman Empire. But there is some question over how long he can keep it in the field and there is some grumbling in the ranks over the constant fighting. The old veterans are formidable fighters but they would like to enjoy their retirements, and soon. This combined with the need to relieve Mosul now, causes Iskandar to elect to try and force a battle.

    The Roman commander is newly promoted Domestikos of the East Alexios Gabras (the Megas Domestikos is sick with what historians believe to be colon cancer; whatever it is will kill him at the same time as Iskandar advances on Mosul). He has had a long and illustrious career, much of it spent fighting in the east. He participated in the initial attack on Mecca and was a long-time commander of the Jeddah garrison. He served as Strategos of the Chaldean tagma during the post Dojama-Al Khalis campaign under Domestikos of the East Alexios Philanthropenos, he who successfully disengaged his forces from the teeth of Iskandar’s triumphant soldiery during that debacle. Philanthropenos, descendant of that great general, the terror of the Turks in the late thirteenth century, had been the original commander slated for this task, but had died rather suddenly in late November of last year.

    Alexios too seems to be gunning for a battle. Considering the disaster that undertook the divided Roman armies at Dojama-Al Khalis the Romans are staying together, but that makes supplying the Romans very difficult. Plus even after taking Mosul there are a great many fortified cities in Mesopotamia; taking them all to bring Iskandar to the negotiating table will be a long and difficult campaign. But one great battle might do it. The Roman army is battle-hardened, bloodied both in the east and in Hungary, and for all Iskandar’s skill he has never faced a Roman force of such size. Unlike at Dojama-Al Khalis the Romans are united and unlike at Astara he is not facing a joint Roman-Georgian army for all the complications that entails. If Iskandar can be beaten on the field of battle, this is the army that can do it.

    Still to protect his siege progress and guard his rear from sallies from the Mosul garrison, Gabras does not want to fight close to the city. Iskandar is approaching from the east so the bulk of the Roman army crosses to the east side of the Tigris, assembling for battle as the Ottomans cross the Greater Zab.

    Both sides muster at the critical point ninety seven thousand men. It is a testament to Iskandar’s organizational skill that he has managed to gain parity in numbers considering the size of the Roman commitment. But there are still some of the Persians who are less than enthused with the prospect of battle, because of where it is to be fought and when. The armies are gathered on the Plains of Nineveh where Herakleios I won his final victory over the Sassanid Persians 995 years ago. The date is October 1, the same day on which 1,953 years ago Alexander the Great destroyed the great host of Darius III not far from here at Gaugamela.

    * * *

    The Plains of Nineveh, October 1, 1622:

    Leo Neokastrites looked out to the southeast. The horizon simmered with the heat of the mid-morning sun but he could still see clearly the huge Ottoman battle line forming up into position. He lowered his dalnovzor and then pointed to one section of the Ottoman lines. One of his aides was next to him, holding the reins of his horse in one hand while balancing a writing board on the pommel of his saddle. Leo was surrounded by a dozen of his staff, all mounted, with a hundred cavalry troops flanking them. He wanted to do some forward reconnaissance while the infantry and artillery of the Akoimetoi were getting into position.

    “I want three batteries to concentrate on that section once they get into range. It’s a hinge point between Qizilbash and Azabs.” Points where one Ottoman troop type met another were also the most brittle part of their lines. The aide nodded, making notes. His other aides were scanning the opposing line with their dalnovzors, taking notes and sketches down. Prince Andreas was one of them.

    The Roman army was facing southeast with the Roman right anchored by the Tigris River, gunboats to provide support and keep the Mosul citadel occupied. The far left was the more troublesome spot, which naturally was where the Akoimetoi was stationed. Mount Alfaf acted as somewhat of an anchor. They were out in front of it, the ancient Syriac monastery of Mar Mattai close to its southern summit clearly visible, as the Akoimetoi infantry set up their lines, the artillery positioning themselves on the height, the cavalry encamping behind to act as a reserve.

    He felt his bowels rumble and sighed. Why does this always happen to me? He looked around. His aides were still taking some sketches so it wouldn’t do to head back now. Besides the rumbling made him question whether he could get back through his lines in time. He wasn’t so young anymore. But there was a stand of a few trees just a little ways in front. “Wait here,” he ordered and then trotted over to the tree.

    Dismounting and tying his horse’s reins to the tree, he squatted to get down into business. He was almost done, starting to wipe himself with a handkerchief, when he heard the boom of a cannon from the Ottoman lines and the whistle of a cannonball that sounded like it was coming straight at him. This has got to be the most embarrassing way to die…

    The ball smacked into the ground a bit behind him, sending dirt flying that sprayed all over his back. Now that’s just rude. He finished up at the tree and then walked over to the cannonball where it lay steaming in the ground. He glanced over at his men, over at the Ottoman lines, and shrugged. Turning to face the Persians, spreading his legs a bit, he opened his fly and in full view of the largest armies ever gathered by the Romans and Persians, urinated on said cannonball, the urine hissing as it landed on the hot metal. He finished up, closed his fly, walked back over to his horse and mounted it, then headed back toward his staff.

    Some were gaping at him. Many of the others, more used to him, just shook their heads. Prince Andreas just had a huge grin on his face. Leo’s eyes met the Prince’s. “What?” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

    “Well,” Andreas answered. “You’ll be remembered for that at least, if nothing less.”

    As he finished that sentence, a few Roman guns from the center of the line spoke, sending their shot whistling towards a forward screen of Persian cavalry. And so began the battle of Nineveh.
    The Plains of Nineveh

    There, now that that is out of my system...

    "If these two armies were to stand together rather than opposed, the three corners of the world in arms could not withstand them,"-Francisco de Miranda, Castilian ambassador to the Roman Empire, attached as military observer to the Army of Mesopotamia, in report to his sovereign dated October 14, 1622

    1622 continued: It is first the turn of the cannons, two hundred and twenty two on the Roman side, one hundred and ninety nine on the Ottoman. Balls fly and men die. Despite the slight advantage to the Romans, neither side comes out of the exchange much better than the other although the Thracian tagma gets more than its fair share of fire.

    Both Alexios and Iskandar commit their cavalry at the same time, the Romans trying to outflank the Ottoman right and the Ottomans the Roman left. The kataphraktoi bowl over the first line of sipahi lancers to stand against them but a quick response by Rajput horse curl around the Roman flank and hurl them back. By now the dust cloud thrown up by the thousands of hooves makes visibility practically nonexistent.

    As a result the second line of Roman cavalry clobbers the Ottoman advance, driving them pell-mell back onto their infantry lines. Despite heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy though, the small victory has little impact. Some regrouping cavalry units, plus foot soldiers of the Shahsevan and the 22nd and 30th Janissary Ortas throw the Romans back, both sides collapsing into a battered stalemate. The failure of the cavalry also scotches any planned advance of the Akoimetoi who remain as an anchor behind which the horse can rally.

    In the center a Roman attack spearheaded by the Varangoi and backed by the Thrakesians and tourmai from the Anatolikon overrun the Qizilbash garrison holding Bartella, an Assyrian Christian town that was supposed to be a redoubt defending Iskandar’s line. Any attempt though to advance beyond Bartella is repulsed with the support of furious Persian cannonades that also set the town alight.

    Faced with a burning town, the Romans are unable to block a Persian counterattack and they are soon thrown out of Bartella. Feeding more troops into the fray, the Ottomans push on and after an intense firefight manage to take the small town of Bahzani, a mostly Yazidi settlement, seriously menacing the integrity of the Roman line. Immediately the Romans counterattack, retaking half of the town before grinding to a halt as Persian reserves arrive which then drive the Romans back again till they have but a toehold remaining. Then more Roman reinforcements arrive including units of the Athanatoi, ripping into the Ottomans with volleys reportedly at a rate of five rounds a minute (so is claimed) at the beginning of the attack.

    Many of the Ottoman troops rout, fleeing this murderous blaze of unending fire. A few crack Qizilbash units manage to keep a toehold centered on the village church, a structure surprisingly resistant to light cannon fire, but dalnovzor-equipped officers can see Roman units pulling culverins into range.

    But then to the equal surprise of the Qizilbash and the Romans, who are dangerously low on ammunition at this point due to some logistical mishaps, the Ottomans come charging back into the village. Credit to this goes to several dozen young Ottoman officers who have learned the art of war from the Shahanshah himself (the parallel with Andreas Niketas personally instructing promising upcoming officers such as Stefanos and Petros Doukas is obvious and most historians believe it to be a conscious imitation on Iskandar’s part). Rallying the routing men and plugging them in with more reinforcements, this last surge succeeds in driving the Romans out of Bahzani.

    In contrast the Roman efforts are hampered by the heavy losses amongst their officer corps, partly because of the forward position of the junior officers and the ultimate arbiter of battle, luck. In the fray around Bahzani alone six tourmarches and eighteen droungarioi are killed and wounded, three of the tourmarches in one particularly nasty ten-minute stretch. The course of the wind here which generally blows the dust and smoke of battle in the Romans’ faces doesn’t help either.

    Alexandros Drakos distinguishes himself in the firefight. In the initial attack, he and thirteen common soldiers were cut off in a house on the outskirts of town and he led the defense, beating back attacks by Ottoman forces outnumbering him at least ten to one. According to the troopers there with him, Alexandros personally killed nine Persians with his sword before the Roman counterattack reached them.

    By the time the Romans are ready to try again, having brought up fresh men and more ammunition, the Ottomans are bringing up artillery into Bahzani to pummel the Roman left at close range while much to the annoyance of the Roman artillery, Bahzani is proving decidedly less flammable than Bartella. Alexios, concerned about the damage this could cause and wanting to concentrate on more promising sectors, decides to wheel his left wing back a little to a secondary line based on the ruins of Dur-Sharrukin. By refusing his left wing, he can pull some forces out and use them to launch an offensive along the line of the Tigris. Gunboats dueling with the Mosul garrison hit a powder magazine, a massive secondary explosion crippling the riverside defenses. An attack there, with support from the gunboats, could crack the Ottoman left, but Alexios needs the extra troops to make it work.

    But the Akoimetoi plus three Chaldean tourmai, ensconced on Mount Alfaf, are to hold their position as a redoubt. It is a formidable position, too good to be given up, and their artillery there is inflicting incredible damage on the Ottoman right. There is a risk they might be isolated but before long the Romans should be pitching into the Ottoman left, drawing away their reserves. Plus any force moving to cut off the Akoimetoi would be faced by flanking attacks both from Alfaf and the refused Roman left, hardly an ideal prospect. That is assuming the Ottomans even notice; the dust clouds stirred up by the initial cavalry charge make visibility poor at best. (The wind here seems to be acting more like a proper neutral than at Bahzani.)

    With the artillery of the Thrakesians, Macedonians, and Athanatoi keeping the Ottomans pinned from moving beyond Bahzani, the Roman left can make a clear and relatively unmolested withdrawal. But then the wind shifts, blowing to the west. The clouds of dirt and powder blow onto the Roman lines, squarely in their faces, whilst giving Iskandar a clear view of the activities on the Roman left. Now the only link between the main Roman line and the troops on Alfaf are a screen of cavalry, all horsemen blown from the initial cavalry battle. Throwing in his best Qizilbash and Shahsevan from the reserve, Iskandar punches through the screen and isolates the Romans on the mountain.

    At the same time an Ottoman battery scores a lucky hit and explodes a Roman powder magazine behind the Roman right, sowing chaos in the area and seriously hampering the buildup to the planned attack. Reminded by his staff that the Kaisar is amongst the troops on Mount Alfaf (it is strongly believed by historians that he had honestly forgotten the Kaisar’s position when ordering the Akoimetoi to remain on the mountain) and with the planned reinforcements from the left still on his left, Alexios changes his plans. Perhaps he can cut off the Ottoman salient instead.

    Alexios throws in his reserves while the Akoimetoi launch their own attack but there has been enough of a pause for the Ottomans to throw up rudimentary entrenchments. The fighting is contested hard, the battle seesawing back and forth, every inch paid for in piles of dead; it is afterwards known on both sides, somewhat inaccurately as the town is not involved, as the abattoir of Bahzani. The Romans seem to be on the verge of linking up and even pinching out the forward Ottoman units when a flanking force of Central Asian horse backed by Afghan infantry pile into the Akoimetoi from the east. They are hurled back with massive casualties but it stalls the Romans at a vital moment.

    At this point Iskandar receives a crucial reinforcement, twenty five hundred Azabs recruited from the Adnanites, an Arab tribe living near Basra. It is not much but with both armies so tightly stretched, every little bit counts and all Roman reserves have been shunted to the abattoir. With the fresh Adnanites leading a charge along the shore of the Tigris, Iskandar manages to force the Roman right back slightly and draw some Romans away from the abattoir.

    Then the Shah decides to commit the very last of his own reserves, his bodyguard unit itself, feeding them into the abattoir. Refreshed and with better odds (the Akoimetoi are still beating off the Afghans) the Ottomans are able to advance, driving the exhausted Romans out of Dur-Sharrukin although not before Alexandros kills another five Persians according to his comrades. Any attempt to counterattack is stopped by the onset of night, both armies too drained to fight on.

    There is little rest though for the Ottomans though. The positions at Dur-Sharrukin and Bahzani are fortified and reinforced while more Ottoman troops work around to enclose Mount Alfaf from the east. Leo tries to break out in that direction but his troops get lost in the dark, briefly skirmishing with the Persian pickets, then withdraws back to his original post. While Alexios gears up for another attack at first light to relieve Leo, Iskandar again receives another crucial reinforcement.

    Around midnight ten thousand Qizilbash march into camp. Like the Adnanites, they had been posted along the Persian Gulf coast to guard against Ethiopian/Omani attacks, but a week earlier at the battle of Rumaithiya a Triune fleet had annihilated an Ethiopian fleet and driven it up onto the shore where the crews were butchered by the waiting Ottoman soldiery. With the threat broken, they’d marched north to join the main Persian army.

    These forces, split between Bahzani and Dur-Sharrukin, are vital to the Ottoman defense. Without them the Romans would’ve broken through and re-linked with the Akoimetoi. For three days the Romans on both sides attack the Persians but they manage to hold firm, although the casualties they suffer are massive. The Shah manages to hide the extent of his losses from the Romans by sneaking troops out in the night that ostentatiously ‘reinforce’ the Persian army during the day in full view of Roman sentries. From the Roman perspective, Iskandar has received close to twenty five thousand more men since the start of the battle. Finally, with powder and shot for his artillery running alarmingly low while war materials from the south come into Iskandar’s camp, Alexios is forced to retire back across the Tigris.

    * * *
    Mount Alfaf, the Plains of Nineveh, October 6, 1622:
    The Ottomans were getting closer now, musket fire slashing up while their cannons pounded the line of the Akoimetoi. A pair of culverins sent balls whistling back. Ammunition was running low, both for cannons and muskets, but the artillery had clear views and plentiful targets anyway.

    Odysseus chewed nervously on his lip. Stop that. He looked up at Andreas. Look like that. Odysseus was mounted on his pony behind the second infantry line, next to his cousin who sat atop his steed, looking over the Ottoman forces with his dalnovzor. “It’d be nice if he moved a little bit closer,” Andreas muttered. Odysseus didn’t need a dalnovzor to see the red pavilion that was the command tent of the Shahanshah himself.

    Andreas put away the dalnovzor and flicked the reins, his horse starting into a trot down the lines. Odysseus followed. A cannonball slammed into the ground in front of them, sending dirt spraying as high up as Andreas’ eyes, his horse whinnying in dismay. Andreas took off his hat. “I’ll let you pass, good sir.”

    Odysseus squinted at him. “Now you’re just showing off.”

    Andreas mock-scowled at him. “Stop it. You’re ruining my moment.” He dismounted. Odysseus did the same. Andreas looked at the cannonball, and then looked over at a soldier heading over with a shovel. Perhaps one of their cannons would be sending the ball right back at the Persians. “One more chamber pot for the strategos coming up,” Andreas said as the man arrived.

    “I heard that, eikosarchos!” Strategos Neokastrites’ face looked furious, but the big grin on his face said otherwise. “I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

    “No, sir.” Andreas looked over at the Ottoman line, then suddenly grabbed Odysseus by the collar of the shirt to yank him to the side, his body pivoting to speed the process. Odysseus heard the crack of the musket ball slamming into Andreas’ breastplate, the ball that should’ve hit him. Andreas dropped Odysseus.

    “Andreas!” he shouted, scrabbling up.

    Andreas was sprawled on his back, groaning. “Oh, that hurt.”

    Leo bent over the Kaisar, running his hands over the breastplate. “You’ve got a cracked plate, but it didn’t go through.”

    “Hurts like hell,” Andreas muttered. He sit up, grimacing painfully.

    “You’ve got a bruised rib at least, I’d guess,” Leo said.

    “We’ve got a rider coming! Truce banner!” a soldier shouted.

    Leo stood up. A moment later Andreas staggered to his feet, Odysseus helping him. “Can you mount?” Leo asked.

    “Yes,” Andreas replied.

    “Good. Join me.”

    Andreas did manage to mount, although Odysseus had to give him a little push and noticed his cousin biting his lip in pain. Once he was on the horse though he seemed fine. Odysseus got on his pony and followed. Leo was on a slight promontory, surrounded by some of his staff and senior officers.

    They arrived at the same time as the Persian envoy, a tall, slim man with a cropped beard but much longer moustache that curled around his cheeks over an inch past his lips. He was dressed in a long silk robe with silver filigree and gold rings on each of his fingers. Two troopers flanked him, one holding the banner of truce and the other a horsetail banner. From the number Odysseus guessed he was a Sanjakbey, equivalent to a Roman Kephale.

    “Soldiers of Rhomania, you have fought well and gallantly,” the Bey said. “But your position is hopeless. There is no possibility of relief and you will soon run out of ammunition, food, water. It is time to end the struggle. Do not let your lives be wasted meaninglessly. Surrender and you will be treated well.”

    Odysseus frowned. He knew the words were true. He’d heard that they’d run out of water by nightfall and fighting in the Syrian sun without that would be most unpleasant.

    Leo spoke. “You speak truth, but I will not surrender to a mere pup. I will surrender, but only to the Shah.”

    The Bey sputtered. “That is impossible! The Shah will not come to you! You must surrender to me if you want your lives to be spared.”

    Leo drew his sword. “Do you see this blade, boy? When I was younger than you it was wet with blood from men who if they’d captured me would’ve eaten me raw. I am not impressed by your threats. Go tell your master I will only surrender to him. And also tell him that if he decides to not accept my terms and try and kill me instead, I am much more civilized than my first victims. I cook my foes before I eat them.” The Bey swallowed and turned around, whipping his horse into a gallop once he was decently far enough away.

    Andreas looked at the strategos. “Would they really eat you raw?” he asked. He was referring to the cannibalistic head-hunters of Ceram and Halmahera who tended to eat shipwrecked sailors; reprisal expeditions were the common duty of soldiers posted in the east.

    “Nah, they would’ve cooked me first, but that spoils the threat.” He paused for a moment. “But regardless, we are going to have to surrender.” He looked pointedly at the prince.

    “I’m in no position for a hard gallop, and the Persians have this place locked down tight. And even if that weren’t so, I’m not going to abandon my post.”

    Leo nodded. “Very well.” And the two of them looked out upon the vast dusty plains of Nineveh, seat of ancient empires. The Bey was headed straight for the red pavilion.
    The Plains of Nineveh, Aftermath
  • ImperatorAlexander: It could go either way. Rhomania and Castile-Portugal have been longstanding rivals in eastern waters for decades. The Portuguese drove the Romans out of Tidore and Ternate not too long ago. But the Triunes are also friendly with the Marinids, which really annoys the Iberians.

    JohnSmith: The professionalization of the army wasn’t designed to make it better at fighting, but more loyal to the central government (as paymaster). Of course that made payroll more expensive, so some bean-counter probably decides to economize by skimping on the training budgets. Plus between the end of the Time of Troubles and the beginning of the Great Uprising, the Imperial heartland had 40 years of peace so it’s not surprising the army got flabby from lack of exercise.

    Stark: Yeah, the Romans really shouldn’t have stood by and let the Ottomans eat Persia. That’s what made the Ottomans able really to stand up and go toe-to-toe with the Romans. Iskandar just with the resources of Mesopotamia would’ve been really annoying for the Empire but something that could be dealt with provided the Empire was serious (think a 17th century equivalent of Sayf al-Dawla).

    Babyrage: Yes, but Rhomania had an extraordinarily good run in the 1400s, Demetrios Megas, followed by Theodoros IV, and then Andreas Niketas. That’s been a big part of the Empire’s problems since the early 1500s. Andreas Niketas expanded the empire so fast and so much, it’s really hard keeping everything together since he died.

    Duke of Nova Scotia: I like the way you think. I won’t give any spoilers but I have just written Iskandar’s death and the Romans are involved.

    The Pavilion of the King of Kings, the Plains of Nineveh, October 6, 1622:

    Iskandar was having a really hard time not smiling as the Sanjakbey finished his report. An old lion still has claws; it’s good to remember that. He looked down at his own wrinkled hands, the veins sticking out more starkly against his dusky skin. He was definitely in the old lion stage, no longer the twenty year old personally setting the charges to Galdan of Merv’s tomb. Now he was a fifty-four year old overlooking a bloody quagmire that made Ramsar and Astara look like schoolboy scuffles. He had taken the field of battle and isolated a good chunk of the Roman army, but there were many villages of Luristan and Yazd whose whole flock of young menfolk had fallen from Roman musketry in the confines of Bahzani and Dur Sharrukin.

    “Impudent wretch,” Ibrahim snarled. “In his position you would think he’d learn some respect.” Iskandar looked over at his eldest son, now twenty nine years old. Medium in height, he inherited his crooked nose and triangular face from his Gilani mother, but his stout build, hairy forearms, and thick crop of black hair was all Iskandar. Said crop was starting to thin out just as his had at that age.

    He was the Beylerbey of Mazandaran, the Garden of the Shahs, the Beautiful Province, the wealthiest per capita of all the regions of the empire. He also commanded its armies in the field, fourteen thousand Qizilbash, four thousand sipahi cavalry, and two thousand Uzbek auxiliaries. The next largest provincial army, that of Khuzestan, numbered fourteen thousand total.

    Iskandar scratched his chin, his gnarled fingers gliding through the silver hairs of his beard. “Yes, respect would be called for in his position, but a cornered lion is still a lion.” He still has his pride. The demand could be a way to arrange his assassination but he doubted it. Neokastrites didn’t sound like the type of man for that. Oh, on the field of battle he wouldn’t hesitate but not under a banner of truce. Plus such treachery would guarantee the massacre of every Roman on Alfaf and if the rumors were true, the strategos would never risk it.

    Ibrahim frowned. “A pity we can’t just overrun them. But that’ll cost another two thousand casualties at least and we can’t afford to starve them out.”

    Iskandar nodded. He was thinking the exact same thing. Amazingly supplying his host wasn’t as impossible as he’d feared, although the deadliness of the Roman fire line had lightened the magnitude of the task significantly. But he needed to snuff out the Alfaf enclave now. His manpower pool had run out while spies reported that a Roman column of eleven thousand had marched out of Aleppo to reinforce Gabras; it’d be here in four days. Plus he needed to turn his attention to Mosul, which was still under a hot siege and close to cracking.

    He looked at the Bey, who’d been standing there silently while he and Ibrahim talked. “Are the reports true?” he asked. He’d sent that official, who’d served as a member of the diplomatic staff in Constantinople for two years, for a reason.

    “They are true,” he answered. “The Kaisar of Rhomania is on Mount Alfaf, a staff officer attached to the Strategos himself.” There was a murmur of surprise amongst the officers and officials standing around the tent. Iskandar was seated on a throne in the back, a red carpet stretched out before him, the chief men of the empire standing off to the side, his sons Ibrahim and Osman flanking him. “Also his cousin, the son of the Eparch, is there as well.”

    “The great-grandson of Timur II himself,” Ibrahim snarled.

    Iskandar held up a hand, his son snapping his mouth shut. “I don’t care about the boy, regardless of his ancestry. The one that matters is the Kaisar.” I need to bag this now; an opportunity like this comes once a century, at best. But despite the Strategos’ demand, it was still inappropriate for him to go to Neokastrites. Men came to the King of Kings; the King of Kings did not come to them.

    “I could take their surrender, Father.” Iskandar looked over to the left at the speaker, his son Osman. Seventeen years old, his face was still beardless, his skin pale and his frame slender. His green eyes and light brown hair were from his mother, a Circassian-a people who along with the Pontics were considered the most beautiful in the world-slave girl captured in the wars.

    “Very well, do so.” He pointed at three of his most senior officials. “You’ll accompany him to oversee the details.” They bowed. Iskandar gestured at the rest of them. “You’re dismissed. Leave us.”

    They filed out, Ibrahim hanging back at the entrance. Soon it was just the two of them. “You have something you wish to say?” Iskandar asked.

    “Why did you send him to accept the surrender instead of me?” Iskandar knew why he was upset. It was a huge honor to accept the surrender of such a large contingent of Romans, including the Strategos of a guard tagma plus the Kaisar of Rhomania himself.

    “I did not do it to belittle you. Kaisar Andreas is heir to the throne of Rhomania. You are the heir to mine. Therefore you too are equal. By sending Osman I show respect, as the Kaisar is being received by a prince Imperial, but as even he is not Andreas’ equal it is a reminder who is in charge here.”

    “I understand. Thank you, father.”

    “You are welcome.”

    * * *
    Nikephoros lowered his dalnovzor. “Looks like an Ottoman prince from the retinue and the horsetail banners.” Andreas nodded, looking at his bodyguard commander.

    “Time to mount up then,” Leo said. They’d been standing under an awning set up to block the sun. It would’ve been a fine target for Ottoman cannons but for now while the truce held it was a welcome relief.

    Andreas got on his horse, grunting a bit in pain as he did so but he managed unaided. He had a nasty bruise, well over fist-sized, over his ribcage, but the doctor said there was no other damage. Odysseus on his pony trotted next to him as the group of about twenty, a mix of Leo’s staff and Andreas’s bodyguards, moved forward to meet the envoy.

    The pickets hadn’t let the bulk of the Ottoman soldiers past the line, but a young Ottoman who looked about his age was surrounded by three elder men, all nobles from their apparel, plus five soldiers whose markings made them out as Shahshevan, came through. “Strategos Neokastrites of the Akoimetoi, it is an honor to meet you,” he said as he pulled on his horse’s reins. “I am Prince Osman, son of the Shahanshah Iskandar, Lord of E-raq, E-ran, the Lands Beyond the River, and of the kingdoms of the Hindus. I have come to accept your surrender.”

    “I said that I would only surrender to the Shahanshah,” Leo answered.

    “I speak for my father and I am the closest you will get to him.”

    Leo frowned. “So be it. Were the Shahanshah anyone other than Iskandar I would ascribe this to cowardice but of that he cannot be accused. What are your terms?”

    “Your men shall surrender all your weapons and war materials. All officers however shall be allowed to retain their swords and treated as befitting their ranks. You and any members of the Roman Imperial house shall retain your mounts. All soldiers shall be guaranteed their personal possessions aside from war materials and animals save those already exempted and will not be enslaved but subject to repatriation to the Roman Empire provided suitable ransoms or exchanges are made.”

    “Those are fair terms but I require them in writing, with the Shahanshah’s seal and signature.”

    “That is a fair request and a granted one.” Osman pulled a scroll out of his jacket. A droungarios trotted over to the prince, took it, and then took it back to the Strategos.

    Leo examined the seal, then broke it and read the scroll. A minute passed before he rolled it up and looked at Osman. “Very well, your terms are acceptable.”

    “Excellent. I’m glad to hear it. Brave men such as yourselves should not have your lives wasted.” Then Osman looked over at Andreas. “Kaisar Andreas, it is an honor to meet you.” So much for not being noticed, he thought. Although his mention of “members of the Roman Imperial family” had shown that had not been likely.

    “The honor is mine, Prince Osman.”

    “We must share that honor then, your highness. But for your stay as our guest I must ask, how would you be treated?” His smile had a bit of impishness in it.

    Andreas smiled too. He knew his history; there was only one answer to give. “Like a king.”

    Osman nodded. “It will be done then.”

    * * *
    Leo, Andreas, and Odysseus were mounted at the head of the column, leading the officers of the Akoimetoi and the three Chaldean tourmai as they marched into the Imperial enclosure of the Ottoman encampment. Shahsevan in all their finery lined the column with arms shouldered, rank after rank of Qizilbash in their blue uniforms and red fezzes behind them. Andreas did notice though that he could only see the new-style Persian troops. The old-style Turkish soldiery such as the Janissaries were nowhere in sight. As the three of them trotted through the gate in the wooden palisade that marked off the Imperial zone, a band started up. It took just a few moments for the Romans to recognize the tune, the Shatterer of Armies. The march got a little more step in it as the Romans continued their way.

    The Shahanshah’s huge tent was spread out in front of them in the center of the enclosure, Iskandar sitting on a throne set in front of the main entrance, shaded by a large canopy, gold-thread tassels hanging from the fringes. Prince Osman stood on his left and an older, although still young looking, man stood on his right. Must be Prince Ibrahim, Andreas thought. A pair of black women waved peacock-feather fans. Flanking them were even more Ottoman dignitaries, Andreas recognizing the Bey who made the original surrender demand in the throng.

    There was a carpet spread out in front of the Shah and the three of them reached the front edge just as the song was entering its last refrain. They waited for the final notes and then dismounted as one, a trio of Persian grooms materializing to take the reins. They all bowed, Leo and Odysseus from the waist but Andreas just bowed his head for a moment and then looked up. “Well met, uncle,” he said in Persian, his accent betraying his Mazandarani tutor. If the Emperor and the Shahanshah were Imperial brothers, then he as the heir to the Roman throne was the ‘nephew’ of the Persian Emperor. It was either that or some really distant type of cousin.

    “Well met, nephew,” Iskandar answered. “It is an honor to have you here with us.” He then looked over at Leo. “Strategos Neokastrites, word of your long and valorous service to your sovereign is well known even here. You are most welcome here.” His right lip crooked upward. “If while you are staying with us you need to relieve yourself, the artillery park is that way.” He gestured to the left. “Dinner tonight will be mutton, although if you need something more filling there are a few courtiers I wouldn’t mind getting rid of.”

    Leo smiled. “May I choose the courtiers?”

    Iskandar smiled back. “I think something can be arranged.” Leo grinned toothily.
    Fall of 1622
  • How much has the Ottomans expanded under Iskander's rule? Keeping with the theme that he is Persian Andreas Niketas surely they should be massively and overextended by now? At least the Romans had the sea to connect them to Egypt,the Persians have to march across land.
    And given that they're alot less centralised than the romans when they don't have Iskander keeping them together, it could be another ToT, maybe worse.

    Pretty much what HanEmpire said. He expanded the empire from what's now the northern border of Iran to include Samarkand, plus Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India up to and including Delhi, plus vassalizing the Hedjaz.

    1622 continued: The battle of the Plains of Nineveh is a victory for the Ottomans, but a Dojama-Al Khalis it is not. The Romans ceded the field, the traditional criterion of victory, and lost nine thousand taken prisoner (seventy five hundred of which were on Mount Alfaf), four thousand killed, and nine thousand wounded. The losses are indeed serious.

    Until they are compared to those of the victors. From the Ottoman ranks only twenty five hundred were taken prisoner, but eighty five hundred are killed and twenty four thousand wounded. Over one quarter of the Ottoman host even after adding the latecomers is a casualty. Naturally the losses aren’t evenly distributed, some units coming out quite lightly, but for others, particularly those in the forefront of the abattoir, the losses are obscene. The 3rd Janissary Orta, whose battle honors go all the way back to the Battle of the Gates three centuries past, has literally ceased to exist. Of the 866 men who marched onto the Plains of Nineveh, only 29 can muster for roll on October 8. Of twenty eight men recruited from the village of Aqda in Yazd for the campaign, only two live through the battle.

    These horrific losses mean that for all Iskandar’s success, his primary purpose for the battle, the relief of Mosul, remains outside his grasp. Alexios Gabras’s grip on the city has not been loosened one bit and Iskandar no longer has the strength to force him out unless Gabras elects to march out against him again.

    Alexios is not willing to do that, even after the eleven thousand reinforcements reach him on October 10. Iskandar has the Kaisar, the one factor that does make Nineveh a serious reverse for the Romans. But the question remains what does the Ottoman possession of Andreas actually mean. Even if he were free it’s not as if he had power to negotiate a peace on his authority.

    Iskandar prefers to use Andreas as leverage to gain a peace. He never wanted this war; already his absence is making his Indian territories fray at the edges. He has alliances with roughly 30% of the Rajput princes, although their loyalty cannot be guaranteed long-term if he’s on the opposite side of his huge empire. As for the other 70%, their dislike for Persian lordship is well established. Many of the marauders harassing Persian outposts and detachments on the eastern frontier are Rajputs, and while Iskandar has successfully enrolled 6,000 Rajput cavalry in his ranks, Venkata Raya I has 40,000.

    But how much leverage does that give the Shah? In Constantinople Demetrios II seems to go into shock at news of the battle, his mother ‘stepping’ (not literally as at this stage she is confined entirely to her wheelchair) forward and her actions are not encouraging for Iskandar. To the Persian ambassador she says “I executed my eldest son and child for the good of the Empire. Do not presume too much on your possession of a great-grandson”.

    Another great-grandson, this one of the Princess Theodora, is still at large unfortunately for the Persians. On November 2 Stefanos Monomakos, who has been commanding the siege at Mosul (a city he has already taken once in 1603) since its inception including during the battle of Nineveh, attacks the Cobblers’ Redoubt, a key position of the Mosul defenses. Gabras has decided that possession of Mosul would be a good counterbalance. The redoubt is well defended with Janissaries and Qizilbash and Alexandros Drakos is once again in the thick of the fighting, in his own words “a cannonball sparing me the trouble of trimming my beard”. After the redoubt he is given the appellation “the bravest of the brave” to go along with “the Lion of Nineveh” he had already earned. The next day Mosul capitulates.

    The fall of Mosul is a heavy blow to Iskandar and also frees up the Romans for further offensive operations and Gabras has been reinforced. Aside from the eleven thousand that arrived shortly after the battle, he has gained another six thousand recruits from tourmatic depots back in the Empire including 500 Highland Scots who are posted amongst the Varangians (Hyperborean-the blanket Roman term for Scandinavians, Poles, Russians, and Scots-recruits are typically placed there).

    On November 10 he once again crosses the Tigris and the next day opens the second battle of Nineveh. Even with the reinforcements, in between garrisons, detachments, losses, and the sick list he fields a smaller army than in the first fray, eighty eight thousand men. Iskandar for similar reasons is in the same position, deploying eighty five thousand.

    The battle is a brutal slogging match, easily matching First Nineveh. Francisco de Miranda, the Castilian ambassador to Constantinople, is present as an observer in the Roman army. “Both armies proceeded in excellent order, crossing swords approximately two hours after sunrise, and proceeded to massacre each other mercilessly for the rest of the day. Nightfall brought an end to the slaughter but who was the victor and who was the vanquished, no one could tell.”

    There is more to the fray than the ambassador tells in his preliminary report. Part of the reason for Gabras’s delay is that a large contingent of Roman Turkopouloi backed up by Anizzah riders has swung around the Ottoman line. Iskandar has kept Andreas in the Imperial enclosure in camp, not wanting to let such a valuable prize out of his sight. During the battle they launch a direct attack on the Persian encampment, the men encouraged by the promise of 100,000 hyperpyra to the trooper who rescues the Kaisar, plus another 10,000 every year for the rest of their life.

    Unfortunately for the Romans, before they can do so they are hotly engaged by units of the Basra Azabs, the best Azabs in all the Persian army, commanded by Prince Osman himself. The brawl is incredibly confused and chaotic, at one point Roman bullets ripping through the tent where Kaisar Andreas is and wounding two of his guardsmen. The arrival of Janissary reinforcements force the Romans to withdraw without Andreas, although four hundred Chaldean prisoners are rescued.

    Nearly identical in size before the battle, the losses on both sides are also almost identical, both losing about sixteen thousand wounded and three thousand killed. The Scots distinguish themselves well. It is the typical case that when Ottoman and Roman infantry enter hand-to-hand combat the former have the advantage being better equipped with melee weapons, thanks in large part to Indian steel, highest in quality in the world. The Scots do not have this problem, their claymores cleaving many a Persian skull. Their valor and tenacity is displaying in the two hundred casualties they take but every drop of their blood is paid back fivefold.

    On the Ottoman side it is the Rajputs who show a surfeit of courage. Equipped as medium cavalry they are ill-suited for facing kataphraktoi head-on but that does not stop them. Again and again they face down their heavier opponents, their valor crucial in blunting the Roman horse’s efforts to flank the Persian lines. It is a high cost to themselves however, for of the two thousand who rode onto the plains at the onset of the first battle, only eleven hundred ride off at the outset of the second.

    But for all their bravery, it is meaningless. The war is at an impasse; both armies have completely shot their bolt. Iskandar himself admits that if Second Nineveh had continued a second day he would’ve been forced to give way or see his army break. But showing the crisis in confidence on the Roman side, Gabras declines to do so, dispirited by the failure of his cavalry rescue, and pulls back across the river again.

    Before anything else can happen on November 23 word arrives that the White Palace has agreed to a truce until May 15th and that a delegation is being sent from Constantinople to discuss terms. With that, both sides settle down into winter quarters, the Romans throughout northern Syria and Mesopotamia whilst the Ottomans spread out over central and southern Mesopotamia. Despite the truce both armies make preparations for renewing battle come May 16th although it is clear neither side is spoiling for a fight. The sands of Nineveh are having a hard time soaking up so much blood.

    Normally Iskandar prefers to spend winters along the shores of the Caspian Sea but considering the situation he instead heads to Baghdad to winter in the Topkapi palace. His court includes both Ibrahim and Osman and their retinues, plus his “honored guests” the Kaisar Andreas and Odysseus Sideros.

    Topkapi Palace, Baghdad, December 19, 1622:

    The peacock knew it was being admired and so it preened, showing off its colorful feathers. It seemed to know when he wanted a different angle, shifting its position. Odysseus examined his sketch of the bird, took one more look at the peacock, and smiled. He was finished with what he could do here. The peacock would be the center of the foreground; the background would be Constantinople viewed from the vantage of the Sweet Waters of Asia. It was a far grander background than what he had available here.

    The Sweet Waters lay on the fringes of Bithynia, often known as the Beautiful Province. Mesopotamia, in his opinion, did not come close to earning a similar distinction.

    The gardens of the Topkapi were large, although a thrill of pride went through him when he realized that the White Palace’s gardens were still larger, and neither of them came close to the Sweet Waters. This time of year also the garden was looking decidedly plain in the midst of what for the Baghdadi passed for winter. He found it quite comfortable although looking out over the garden walls he could see some of the locals heavily bundled up. Maybe that’s why the women wear so many clothes?

    He heard footsteps and he looked up to see if it was his tutor. It wasn’t. The women of the harem could buy fresh food along with jewelry and clothes from female vendors who set up shop in an enclosure from which the harem women could look out on the stalls. They placed their orders with eunuch attendants who walked out to actually pay for the items. His tutor had developed quite an interest in one of those vendors and was out ‘studying’.

    Both he and Andreas’s tutors had been allowed to cross the lines and rejoin their charges. This was supposed to be an act of generosity on the Shah’s part but Odysseus could’ve done without it. Being the Shah’s prisoner wasn’t so bad. Algebra was bad.

    He heard more footsteps and voices too. Curious, he got up, gathered his supplies, and walked off. The peacock shot him a peevish look and sauntered off.

    It took only a moment for Odysseus to find out what was causing the commotion. Both Andreas and Osman, the younger Persian prince, were facing each other in a small square surrounded by hedges and about twenty men, a mix of Osman’s attendants and the bodyguards of Andreas. The Shah had also allowed some to remain with the Kaisar and even allowed them to keep their swords, although not their firearms. It looked as if they were placing bets. Four white handkerchiefs were dropped, forming a square inside the square outside of which the retainers were standing.

    Andreas looked slightly shorter than Osman, but that could just be the latter’s naturally curly hair making his head look bigger. Both were identically attired, white silk shirts, brown riding pants, and a Toledo rapier in hand. Sand crunched as they circled, the sound interspersed as their sword blades spanged against each other. For a minute they danced around each other, parries separated by maneuvers.

    Osman moved in, stabbing hard. Parries followed, almost too quick for Odysseus to follow, their blades entangled. Osman’s sword hand wrenched hard, taking Andreas’ with it, a hard twist, and Andreas’ blade was yanked out of his hand. It seemed like the Persian prince had won.

    Odysseus smiled. Osman still had his sword but the maneuver had left it hanging out far to his right, leaving his chest completely exposed. Andreas tackled him, knocking Osman to the ground. His left knee mashed down on Osman’s right wrist, pinning his sword arm to the ground as Andreas snatched a dirk from his belt. Less than four seconds after Andreas had lost his sword Osman had a knife to his throat. “Yield,” the Persian prince said.

    Andreas stood up, sheathed the dirk, and then extended a hand to help Osman up. Both glowered at each other for a second and then grinned. “I almost had you,” Osman complained.

    “Don’t whine,” one of his attendants, his face long, said. “You’re not the one out a hundred akce.” Nikephoros grinned as the man started counting out coins into his hands.

    * * *
    Andreas swallowed the last contents of his cup. He poured himself some more from the pitcher, and when Osman hopefully held out his own he filled it too. “Almost out,” Andreas said. Osman snapped his fingers, getting the attention of one of his servants, and pointed at the pitcher.

    Osman took another drink. “I do like a good Cyprus wine.”

    “It is hard to beat.” The two of them were sitting on stone chairs around a small stone table set in one of the Topkapi garden enclosures. The Topkapi, much like the White Palace, wasn’t a single building but a sprawling complex, with palaces, mosques, armories, barracks, and warehouses, all surrounded by a huge garden with fishponds and orchards. Osman’s palace rose up to the side of them, the sun peaking over the roof as it headed towards sunset.

    “So have you heard when your envoys are expected to arrive?” Osman asked.

    “When last I heard they should be here in a month.”

    Osman frowned. “That soon?”

    “Yeah, but it will probably take quite a while before negotiations are finalized. And then the Emperor has to approve it too.”

    “Good, good. We don’t want to rush this.”

    “No, not at all.” They both took another drink, neither speaking for the moment. In that time the servant arrived with another pitcher.

    “Have you thought about what you’ll do, once you’re Emperor?” Osman asked.

    “Some.” He paused. “I want to rule wisely, rule well.” He looked off into the distance. “A wise man once told me that because I have been given much, much is expected.”

    “To ensure the safety and prosperity of a mighty empire is indeed a great calling. It’s also not an easy thing, especially with other mighty empires next door. When I’m Shah I wouldn’t want you as an enemy.”

    “Nor I you.”

    Osman smiled. “Good to hear. I do have an idea that could help us both out.”

    “Really, let’s hear it.”

    “It’s quite simple. Let’s conquer India together.” Andreas sputtered into his wine. “No, I’m serious. I take the north and you take the south. Lots of wealth for both us and it will ruin all those Latin merchants who trade in the south.”

    “It’s ambitious, and audacious…I like it.”

    Osman grinned. “Nice, but that’s for the long term.” He looked over where the sun had now passed completely behind the palace. “Tonight though I’ll just do my usual.” He waggled his eyebrows.

    Andreas scowled. “You and your harem. I’m jealous.”

    “Don’t get mad at me. It’s you Christians who hate sex, not we Muslims.”

    “This Christian likes sex,” Andreas muttered. “And at least I have all the equipment.”

    “Careful, I heard that.” Osman grinned faded. “How is Anna?”

    “She’s doing quite well, as is the baby according to the doctors.” Anna was a washer woman who’d been a camp follower in the Roman encampment who’d become his mistress while on campaign. Iskandar had gracefully approved Andreas’ request to bring her over to join his entourage during his ‘guest stay’. But not long afterward it had become clear she was pregnant.

    “I’m glad to hear that too. One child and another on the way. You really are taking after Andreas Niketas.”

    Andreas glowered again. “I really want to punch you in the face.”

    “Now, now. That’s just bad manners. It wouldn’t do to punch someone who’s about to give you a gift?”

    “A gift. Does it explode?”

    “If it does you’re doing something very very wrong.” He snapped his fingers, then pointed at another servant.

    He left the courtyard, a moment later returning. A woman accompanied him, a tall woman with lustrous black hair going down all the way to her knees. She was wearing orange silk which didn’t cover too much of her dark brown skin, and its thinness meant even what it ‘covered’ really wasn’t much covered. She had a perfect hourglass figure, a large bosom, and her body moved with the grace of a dancer. “She’s beautiful.”

    “Her name is Arjumand Banu Begum, from Agra. And she’s yours.”


    Osman nodded. “A gift, from one future ruler of a great empire to another future ruler of a great empire. Think of her as a symbol for how we can make our empire even greater, together.”
  • "The first paving stone of the road to the war was laid at Mashhadshar."-from In the Footsteps of the Ancients: A History of the War of Wrath

    : If Venkata Raya I knew of the conversation of princes Andreas and Osman, it is doubtful that he would be concerned, although perhaps amused. The feudal-tributary nature of the Vijayanagari Empire meant that projecting power outside of the imperial frontiers was always rather difficult since there was usually some vassal who needed to be smacked around. The rather weak navy didn’t help either.

    But short-range excursions and defending the empire proper were a far different matter. Seven-walled Vijayanagar was the greatest city in the world, outshining anything in China (Beijing in her heyday could’ve matched her, but she was far from her best) and putting even Constantinople in the shade.

    Relations with the Romans were odd to say the least. In the annual Assembly of Princes, whereby the tributaries arrived to make their obeisance, was included the Kephale of Surat. He ranked fourth amongst the princes and was accorded a sixteen gun salute. But the Kephale’s other boss, the Katepano of Taprobane, was treated as an independent ruler and accorded a twenty gun salute.

    While this setup certainly made the Kephale’s job confusing, it also gave him ample opportunity to observe the might and splendor of the great Indian empire, now approaching its tri-centennial. He would not have listed it as a good target for conquest. His reports estimate that Venkata Raya could, if he mustered all forces available to him, put into the field 400,000 infantry, 180,000 cavalry, and 12,000 war elephants. Even if the figures were halved, the comparison to Roman/Ottoman army size is quite illuminating.

    It isn’t until February that the Roman envoys finally arrive in Baghdad but the prominence of the officials helps to make up for the delay. Heading the party is the Logothetes tou Dromou (Foreign Minister) Andronikos Sarantenos, who has served in the Roman diplomatic corps for almost fifty years, including seven years as ambassador to the Ottoman court. His second is Bardas Trikanes, currently the Kouaistor (Judge-derived from the Latin Quaestor) of Thrace but who has served for a total of sixteen years in a variety of capacities in the Roman legation to the Ottoman Empire, including two years as ambassador. He was the official drafter of the Khlat Accords.

    Also serving in the embassy is Eparch Demetrios Sideros. His presence is somewhat unexpected since he’s never been east of Chonae but in a new edition of his History of the Laskarid Dynasty he added a substantial section also chronicling early Ottoman history from Osman I to the Timurid invasions. This addition apparently caught the attention of the Shahanshah who in the negotiations to arrange the transportation of Prince Andreas’ tutor and mistress across the lines took the opportunity to order a copy from the booksellers of Antioch.

    He received the unexpected summons whilst in the middle of one of his ‘lunch council’ meetings, most well-known from the 1908 book A Thrakesian Roman in Agamemnon’s Court, where the chief aide to one of the council members gets thrown back in time to the late Bronze Age. These biweekly meetings are held with his chief assistants and advisors, including the Synkellos of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Chief of the Constantinople Police, a department established under Demetrios’ auspices.

    On a side note, the lunches are catered by the White Tower, still in business today and run by the same family as in Demetrios’ day. Although the lunch is usually pho, Demetrios’ favorite, the restaurant purportedly served the then new Sicilian dish called pizza on a couple of occasions. Some historians are skeptical but while it still serves pho today, the White Tower is most famous today for its pizza.

    Chocolate has now been long established and much loved in the Empire, but this heralds the first substantive use of Numenorean agricultural products in Rhomania. Tomatoes, corn (used mainly as animal feed), and potatoes all first appear around this time. The last, coming from the Andes Mountains, are quite a boon for Roman agriculture given the mountainous terrain of most of Anatolia and Roman Europe.

    Potatoes though are not on the minds of anybody when the Roman delegation arrives in Baghdad. Andronikos immediately notes that Prince Andreas has certainly had an enjoyable stay as a ‘guest’. His earlier mistress Anna is clearly showing and just after they arrive Maria also announces she is pregnant.

    Maria is the Christian name of Arjumand Banu Begum, although she does not actually convert to Orthodoxy. By Roman law, Orthodox Christians cannot be enslaved and if one converted while as a slave, one is supposed to be freed immediately. Admittedly slaves are almost always blocked from conversion by their owners until the slave reaches his/her work quota and is freed, but even if a slave converts the owner usually manages to keep their services.

    Plantation owners on Cyprus can get away with that, but the Kaisar of Rhomania is a little too prominent to pull the same stunt. However staying as a Hindu, Arjumand/Maria is not unheard of in the Empire. The bulk of slaves in Rhomania (~75%) work the sugar plantations, but others work in the mines with the remainder as domestics. She falls into the last category. Now there are no laws against owners using their slaves sexually-although one could run afoul of anti-sodomy laws)-but hiring them out as prostitutes is (some female slaves do prostitute themselves to earn money which is legal, but it must be without owner coercion, and some unscrupulous owners do use this as a means to get around the restrictions).

    Naturally modern viewers are often aghast at Prince Andreas keeping her as a slave. At this point it is exceptional for a member of the Imperial family, especially one so close to the throne, to keep a domestic slave. But the crown estates which include mines and plantations have four thousand slaves and across the Imperial heartland there are about two hundred thousand slaves, around a tenth of them domestics.

    Furthermore Andreas treats her extremely well. Now a modern viewer would argue that that hardly excuses the loss of freedom, but the mindset of pre-industrial times would think differently. Society then is more hierarchical and stratified, even in the liberal (by the era’s standard) Roman Empire, and basic subsistence no guarantee. The Persian proverb ‘the rich man’s slave eats every day’ sums the position up well. Certainly there are many plantation and mine slaves who would be mortally outraged to be lumped in the same category as domestics; the terms of domestic servitude are nothing compared to that of ‘real’ slaves they would argue.

    Incidentally the second secretary of the embassy is himself the grandson of a former plantation slave, his prominent and respectable position showing that at least after gaining their freedom, the Zanj (the Arabic term has become the catch-all Roman term for sub-Saharan blacks except for Ethiopians) face relatively little legal/social bars. This is in contrast to the budding slave societies in Numenor.

    The secretary and his staff are kept quite busy recording the proceedings. Although both empires want peace and are mutually exhausted, neither side is in a clear position of strength. Despite ceding the field at both First and Second Nineveh (the Romans withdrew afterwards so it’s a technical win for Iskandar) Mosul and all of Mesopotamia north of it is firmly in Roman hands. A few raids into the Van kephalates prior to the truce proved lucrative for some of the raiders, badly for others, the whole process mainly reminding the Kurds why they hate the Turks.

    The situation in fact is even worse for Iskandar than the Romans realize. A Persian army of twenty thousand had been campaigning near Indore, securing the district, punishing raiders, and keeping an eye on the nearby Vijayanagari frontier. Near the town of Depalpur a Vijayanagari army of thirty thousand ambushed and routed the Persian force, the defeat by far the greatest reverse dealt to Persian arms in India.

    Although the Kephale of Surat hears about the battle of Depalpur, and shortly afterwards that a Tibetan army raiding Kashmir has crushed a Persian contingent of thirty five hundred, and immediately rushes a report to the Katepano of Taprobane, not an inkling of this reaches Baghdad for quite some time and not an inkling comes to the ears of the Romans.

    The negotiations take long enough that the truce is extended to September, effectively preventing any major military operations this campaigning season, an accord that is sealed by the exchange of two thousand prisoners from both sides. Some of those exchanged include the Chaldeans captured at Alfaf although all the Akoimetoi remain prisoners.

    Part of the delay to come to a permanent agreement is that no one involved wants to stay for the Baghdadi summer. The Shah elects to repair to his estates on the outskirts of Mashhadshar in Mazandaran along the shores of the Caspian. The Roman envoys and his “guests” are forced to follow, the inconvenient new locale a maneuver by Iskandar to assert his dominance.

    The terms of the treaty of Mashhadshar are signed on July 1, officially bringing an end to what is known in Roman historiography as the Eternal War. It had begun in 1596 when the Persian armies stormed across the southern frontier of the Kingdom of Georgia, the ‘truce’ at Khlat merely changing the nature of the conflict from mass armies to incessant border skirmishes and raids (the parallels to the Ninety Years War in the west are frequently noted by historians).

    The Ottoman conquests in the Georgian trans-Aras, provisionally accepted by the Romans in the Khlat Accords, are here officially recognized. The Sharif of Hedjaz is also acknowledged as a Persian vassal but the Sharif is to yearly send a high-quality stallion and three mares as a ‘gesture of respect’ to the Roman Emperor. Furthermore in exchange for 40,000 hyperpyra to the Sharif to pay for coastal fortifications Iskandar agrees that ‘warships under the suzerainty of the Shah’ shall be barred from the Red Sea unless escorting hajj pilgrims. More than one reader notes that the wordage does not exclude Iskandar’s Triune allies. As well, Iskandar disclaims any claim to sovereignty over the southern Anizzah (he did not have any in actual terms but had made some claims).

    These were all relatively easy and quick to work out; it is the situation in Syria and Mesopotamia that is more complicated. The Shah’s objective here is to prevent any more of the great Roman offensives into Mesopotamia, both of which caused massive destruction. Plus after the bloodbath of Nineveh, it is understandable that the Shah wants to come away with something tangible. His bargaining position is not strong enough to secure major concessions, such as Amida or Edessa, but he does gain some small but significant revisions to the border.

    The fact that he gains anything, considering that the Romans are occupying Ottoman territory but not the reverse, is at face value quite surprising and many historians consider the Shah’s actions here to be more brilliant than anything he achieved on the battlefield. In effect he succeeds in bluffing the Romans.

    Neither Empire is in a good shape for resuming the war but in truth, if war must be waged, the Romans are in a better position. But here the dictum that morale is to material as three to one is clearly illustrated. The Romans don’t believe they can beat Iskandar any more. They don’t know the extent of the damage inflicted on the Persians by First and Second Nineveh. Alexios Philanthropenos is dead, Leo Neokastrites is captive, and Alexios Gabras has been discredited. Stefanos Monomakos is respected as a skilled master of siege warfare, but he is not renowned for his ability in field engagements. No other Roman strategos seems to be of the caliber to face down the Shah in battle.

    In much the same way he cycled troops through to make it seem as if he was receiving a stream of reinforcements, Iskandar makes it seem he has more men than he has in actuality. If so it would make sense to the dispirited (and civilian) Roman envoys to make peace now while they still have some bargaining chips rather than continue to fight and risk making a worse peace later. Reports from Gabras, although showing little confidence in an offensive without massive (and unavailable in the quantities he requires) reinforcements, asserts that he can defend his holdings indefinitely with his current forces but are viewed merely as an attempt by the Domestikos to save face rather than a credible analysis.


    Orange represents the Roman territory ceded to the Ottoman Empire by the terms of the treaty of Mashhadshar​

    The treaty pushes the Ottoman frontier west of the Euphrates, the border since Helena ceded the land east of it to Timur II in the treaty of Van. The lands west of the river near Aleppo, former Mameluke territory, have never been permanently controlled by the Ottomans. Many of the Roman border forts end up passing in Ottoman hands, both Amida and particularly Edessa placed almost athwart the frontier. This, Iskandar strategizes, is to turn these formidable fortresses from logistical staging bases for Roman attacks to major defensive posts.

    He is not able to advance so close to Aleppo, larger, wealthier, and better fortified than either Amida or Edessa. But he does gain the major border forts of Maskanah, Masbij, and Jarabalus, all briefly occupied by the Ottomans in 1597-98 after the battles of Ras al-Ayn and al-Hasakah. This has two major effects. First, it does place Aleppo on notice, even if not as blatantly as Amida and Edessa have been. Secondly, if an Ottoman army now were to advance on interior Syria, still almost wholly Muslim and frequently rebellious, its flanks would be securely guarded against any Roman armies basing out of Aleppo.

    In all cases the Romans remove all military stores and weaponry from the citadels and tear down the fortifications before Persian forces are allowed to enter. However the materials are merely scattered, not destroyed or carted away, so while re-construction is still necessary on the part of the Persians, it is not as difficult as it could be. The one exception is the fortress at Gire Spi (the Kurdish name by which it is recorded on Roman records; the Arabic is Tell Abyad) which guards the approaches to Edessa where there is a mysterious magazine explosion that levels the structure. Even more mysteriously no one was hurt as no one was present.

    The downside of all this from Iskandar’s perspective is that he is unable to wring any financial concessions out of the Romans as well; another boost like that received for the Khlat Accords would’ve been most welcome. However prisoners are to be exchanged on a one-for-one basis once rank is considered and here the field goes to the Shah, with both more and higher-ranked prisoners that need to be ransomed after all. Leo Neokastrites goes for 25,000 hyperpyra and Odysseus Sideros for twenty thousand.

    The ransom for Prince Andreas though makes up for any lack of formal tribute. The negotiators reach back to the example of King Richard I of England for a precedent. He was ransomed for 100,000 pounds of silver, which at the current 12:1 exchange rate of silver to gold at the time is 8,333 pounds of gold or just about 1 million hyperpyra. Now Richard I was a king, but still to value the Kaisar of Rhomania at a lower or equal rate to a barbarian king would just be rude and uncivilized; he is ransomed at 1.5 million hyperpyra.

    Both Empress Helena and Emperor Demetrios II confirm the treaty and when the ransom money arrives Andreas and Demetrios are both released. Prince Osman accompanies them to the border where the two princes, now fast friends, bid each other a tearful goodbye. Prince Andreas then crosses the border, riding into Amida exactly one year to the day after he ‘accepted the hospitality’ of the Shah.
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  • Babyrage: I think the debate over who is the better general, Andreas Niketas or Iskandar, will be one hotly contested by military history nerds ITTL. Iskandar has already, even pre-Nineveh, been compared to Andreas Niketas, by his soldiers. Andreas Drakos never got that.

    And definitely from the Roman perspective the Ottomans really need to be cut down to size.

    RogueTraderEnthusiast: Well, the Romans already have a version of ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ so something like that isn’t out of the question.

    Yeah, if the Romans really wanted to hurt the Triunes they’d have to find a way to project power out into the Atlantic. They could throw the Triunes out of the Mediterranean without too much difficulty provided they focused on it, but that wouldn’t hurt the Triunes much.

    Now I know you're not used to get updates in such quick succession anymore but I'm sure nobody will complain.

    "Drink in your full of this tide of glory,
    But then children of Priam,
    look to your bridles for you will need them,
    for all that is old is new again."
    -reported final words of the Mad Mahdi of Mecca
    1624: The Empire is at peace on all frontiers for the first time in thirty years (disregarding the Indies and southern Egypt but compared to the conflicts since the start of the Great Uprising these are comparatively minor). But now that it is time to sheathe the swords, it is time to unfurl the recriminations.

    The first to fall is Alexios Gabras, who is summarily dismissed from the army just four hours after he returns to Constantinople. He had been completely discredited in government eyes ever since Prince Andreas was captured. The only reason he had not been fired earlier is that changing horses midstream, particularly in this stream, seemed a really bad idea and besides, the government didn’t have an alternative horse.

    It is a poor end to an illustrious military career that could’ve gone even further. His uncle had served as Domestikos of the West and the commander of the Army of the Sangarius during the War of the Rivers and ended his career with five years as Megas Domestikos. His retirement pension is slashed from that of a Domestikos to a tourmarch and half his assets confiscated to ‘partly reimburse the government for the expenses of the Kaisar’s ransom’. He is fortunate to escape prison and does so mainly for the lack of a specific charge.

    Next facing the chopping block is Leo Neokastrites. He had surrendered his unit en masse, an unprecedented dishonor in the annals of the guard tagmata, and many feel that such an affront should not go unpunished. Another charge against him is one initiated by Gabras, who argues that if Neokastrites had held out until the first batch of reinforcements arrived, Gabras could’ve relieved him. Neokastrites counters that he had no way of knowing said reinforcements were even coming, much less their expected arrival. Furthermore continued resistance on his part would’ve endangered the Kaisar’s life.

    Many of the senior officers view the Strategos of the Akoimetoi as rather rough and eccentric, but amongst the rank and file and junior officers he is rather popular, an advantage Gabras did not possess. As a result the motion against Neokastrites is far more controversial than the one leveled at Gabras. But what makes the situation even more serious is that the strategos has the full support of Kaisar Andreas.

    Andreas has many reasons to be rather put out after returning to Constantinople. Disapproval at court against Anna of Amida, his washerwoman mistress, and particularly Maria of Agra, is rather obvious. Both have had a bastard boy by him. His wife, Elizabeth of Bavaria, is rather put out herself by this, which only serves to alienate Andreas who now rarely sees his wife, spending his time (and nights) with his mistresses, primarily Maria. Odysseus loyally sides with Andreas in all this, which is not surprising considering that both women are quite fond of him and he of them. His little sister Athena also adores Maria.

    Leo retires as a way of compromise and he is given the pension of a strategos of a line tagma, although not of the guard. The hubbub from all of this is just starting to quiet down when Demetrios Sideros inadvertently kicks off another firestorm.

    The task of coming up with the essay topics for the civil service exams is rotated annually amongst the senior officials of the Imperial bureaucracy and this year it is the turn of the Eparch, his first time. His essay question is ‘If the now Kaisar Andreas were, after becoming sole Emperor, to be called to God without leaving any legitimate issue, to whom should the Imperial throne fall?’

    This naturally kicks off quite a stir by itself, but what really escalates matters is when Petros Cheilas enters the fray. He is Protospatharios of the Office of Barbarians, a department that originally encompassed all foreign matters but now refers specifically to the department devoted to espionage. Essentially he is the spymaster of the Empire.

    He is also in some hot water himself. More accurate intelligence on the status of the Ottoman Empire has arrived in Constantinople, information which clearly shows that the Empire could well have driven a much harder bargain. As the one who failed to provide this intelligence in a timelier manner, he has much explaining to do. This fray though provides a welcome distraction and potential cover.

    Petros strongly criticizes Demetrios for the essay topic, accusing him of self-aggrandizement considering the Eparch’s close family connection to the Imperial line. He goes even further though, all but accusing the Eparch of nothing less than treason. The Eparch had quite a leisurely time in the Ottoman Empire, involved very little with the negotiations. He spent much of his time discussing history and literature with the scholars of the Ottoman court, sometimes with the Shah involved as well. Petros claims the Eparch is now in the pay of the Shah.

    Demetrios is absolutely beside him when he hears the accusation and demands the Protospatharios be brought up on libel charges. But Petros is just getting warmed up. He also accuses the Logothete Andronikos Sarantenos and the Kouaistor Bardas Trikanes of being in the pay of the Shah, using that as the treasonous explanation for their poor showing at the negotiating table. This is a bold gambit as Sarantenos is Petros’s boss, but the credit of both men is naturally running low after they returned from Persia.

    These accusations of treason need to be investigated, but the one making the accusation is also the one who would be responsible for investigating. Furthermore he clearly has a vested interest in the charges being true as it would help obviate the accusations facing him of being incompetent. Sarantenos would be well within his rights to fire the Protospatharios, but doing so could easily backfire. Also with the treason charges floating around, the Eparch’s libel suit can’t go anywhere.

    Both Empress Helena I and Emperor Demetrios II are in ill health while Helena II is too brainless to get involved. Kaisar Andreas is on training maneuvers with the Akoimetoi. The Megas Logothete, the senior-most position of the Imperial bureaucracy (and to whom Demetrios Sideros reported as Kephales of Skammandros and Smyrna), Thomas Autoreianos, has to step in, on his own authority suspending with pay all four officials from their posts for the time being.

    Jahzara views all this with mounting fury of her own. Relations with her husband have been cool since the Ecumenical Council but any challenge to Demetrios’s position endangers hers. At a court banquet she gives a tongue lashing to the wife of Petros, before long reducing her to tears.

    As the senior officials of the Roman Empire fulminate at each other, it is the time for sovereigns to die. First to perish is the sickly Holy Roman Emperor Manfred and is followed just three weeks later by his mother, the Princess Kristina of Constantinople, the eldest daughter of Empress Helena I. Her grandson Theodor, the son of Manfred, assumes the imperial mantle.

    Then comes the turn of the Despot of Egypt, Demetrios III Drakos-Komnenos. [This is not to be confused with the Imperial line who are Komnenos-Drakos. The Egyptian Despots are descended from Andreas Niketas and Maria Dracula; if one were to argue from hereditary connection to Andreas Niketas they are by far the best answer to Demetrios Sideros’s essay question]. He is succeeded by his son, who annoyingly for students is named Andreas, becoming Despot Andreas II.

    He inherits a domain still bearing scars from the Great Uprising, but on the mend. The population is at 2.75 million, a quarter million of them Nile Germans, with a fifth of them living in Marienburg am Nil (the former Cairo). Cotton production has tripled since the start of the century, a valuable product for export. The Coptic mesoi class is expanding, getting involved in shipping and eastern merchandise. Joint-stock companies involved in eastern trade now often have Coptic investors. In fact, one ‘evidence’ Petros Cheilas used to show that Demetrios Sideros must be getting money from the Shah is some new expensive purchases the Eparch had been making. In fact Demetrios was reaping the windfall of an investment in a new joint-stock company exporting furs from Khazaria. He put up 15% of the starting capital, a total matched by a consortium of Coptic kaffos merchants.

    In the south of Egypt there has been some trouble as more raiders from the Idwait Malik-ate, former inhabitants of the area, attack the Muslim ‘remainers’. It was incidents like these that had spurred the Egyptian attack on Marsa Alam in 1606 prior to the capture of Yanbu but the situation is getting hotter as Malik Haasan is himself in poor health.

    Then it is the Despot of Sicily, Alexios I, husband of Empress Helena II and father of Kaisar Andreas. His son travels to Messina and is crowned as Despot Andreas II. He spends two months touring the Despotate, which he has never visited, and on departure appoints his uncle Hektor, his father’s younger brother, as regent for Sicily.

    The spate of death of princes in the west is surprising, but in the east it could almost be expected considering what is stirring. Venkata Raya I is not Demetrios II; he will get everything all lined up before he moves. And everything is finally lined up. The workshops and forges of the Vijayanagar Empire have been busy making firearms and cannons, all cutting-edge designs the equal of anything in Europe. Supply depots have been established and filled to capacity, troops mustered and trained. The Kaijeeta Sainya, the Emperor’s standing army, is well drilled and well armed, capable of making full use of their new gunpowder weapons. The Amaranayaka Sainya, the feudal troops provided by Nayakas in exchange for land grants, plus the troops fielded by the vassal princes, are mostly armed with traditional weapons, bow, sword, and lance. They vary in quality but many are of high value, brave and disciplined and quite numerous.

    Some of the Kaijeeta Sainya get in some bloodletting earlier than expected when an Omani fleet, supported by seven Roman and five Vijayanagara vessels, attack a Triune convoy, the Vijayanagara getting involved as Venkata Raya views them as Ottoman allies. Driving the convoy up against the Malabar coast, units of the Kaijeeta Sainya burn the ships and butcher the crews.

    But that is a minor preliminary, a barely noticeable blip to the unfolding main event. Venkata Raya himself takes the field, commanding the greatest army the Empire has fielded in its three hundred year history. Awed observers claim the combined Vijayanagara forces, split into separate columns for supply purposes, number 300,000. Its purpose is nothing less than to completely drive the Ottomans from India.

    Iskandar is not blind to this threat and is in northern India marshalling forces although exactly what he can gather that could stand up to the juggernaut from the south is an open question especially after the carnage Roman arms wrought upon his armies on the Plains of Nineveh. This is a critical moment for the Shah. Ever since he took the throne his heart has been in the east. For all the brilliance of his western campaigns it is here in India that he set his ambitions and hopes. So once again he takes up the sword.

    Meanwhile in Constantinople an astrologer brings an urgent message to Emperor Demetrios II. He has determined that a lion statue in the Hippodrome is the Shah’s double. The Emperor, though in his sickbed, wastes no time and immediately orders the statue destroyed. Although the parallels with Tsar Simeon I of Bulgaria are rather obvious, Demetrios Sideros records that the statue was indeed identified by the astrologer and destroyed on October 9. Five days later in Delhi, Shahanshah Iskandar, the Terror of the Romans, the Champion of Islam, the Undefeated Sword of God, breathes his last.
    1625 and the End of an Era
  • "You foul and perfidious people, who have crossed an ocean to wage war and slaughter on a people who have never done you any harm, you will not get off that easily. Kill me and be damned."
    -Reported final words of Negusa Nagast Andreyas, 1599​

    : Demetrios II does not have long to enjoy the news that the great foe of the Empire is no more. His health has never been the same since Nineveh and a fall down a flight of stairs in early February does not help matters. Taking to his bed on April 11, he is dead three days later. He was sixty five years old, having reigned as Emperor of the Romans for thirty eight of them.

    Amongst the Romans there are few sad to see him go. His reign has seen almost continual warfare on multiple fronts, mostly unsuccessful, with little to benefit the Empire save Dalmatia and a tighter control of Egypt via the Articles. To be fair the creation of an Orthodox Japan is a major achievement but the Shimazu are responsible for that (despite some claims made by Demetrios for his ‘inspirational’ role); Demetrios just made sure that relations with the new Japanese Empire got off to a good start. It is a useful accomplishment, but hardly anything to catapult Demetrios II to a level comparable to his namesake, Demetrios Megas.

    However Demetrios II does have a unique success to his name. He is the only Roman Emperor to have statues of him raised in his honor outside of the realm he ruled. In both Targoviste and Belgrade one can still see the statues of Demetrios II in the Old Market Square and the Court of the Kings respectively. The Belgrade one shows the Emperor pulling a battered, wounded Serb to his feet. To this day in Serbia he is known simply as “the Liberator”, an appellation even Andreas Niketas would respect.

    Normally in the Ottoman Empire, the death of a Roman Emperor would be an event of great interest, but these are far from normal times. Unexpectedly the first storm breaks from the north, an event no one in Constantinople or Hamadan would’ve expected.

    In 1620 Ioannes Laskaris, son of Giorgios I Laskaris, King of Khazaria, died in Kazan, and was succeeded by his middle son Theodoros, his elder brother having died in 1616. Theodoros’s early career is notable mainly for his capture of Vladimir and effort to suborn the Zemsky Sobor, events that were a direct cause of the Sundering of Russia.

    Despite this black mark, his career in eastern lands has been far more distinguished and successful, continuing even after he gains the throne. He delivered the killing blow to the White Horde in 1618, the pale remnant of the once vast dominion of the Mongol Khans. Even more impressively in a flurry of campaigns in the past five years that some historians compare to Iskandar’s much more well-known exploits, he has smashed the Uzbeks and Oirats, reduced many of the lords of Moghulistan to heel, and stopped the rising Dzungar Khanate dead in its tracks.

    As a result Khazar dominion now encompasses Ottoman Transoxiana’s eastern as well as northern borders. Theodoros wastes no time upon hearing of the Shah’s death, swooping in on Khwarezm, the lush region along the Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea. The area is only lightly garrisoned and quickly overrun, a powerful Khazar garrison including Cossack cavalry placed in Khiva.

    Rumor has it that even at this early stage Theodoros has his eyes set on Samarkand but he refrains after securing Khwarezm. In the east the Zeng dynasty has finally reunited China after decades of bloodshed, the new regime decidedly disdainful of foreign barbarians and particularly eager for revenge for centuries of conquest and repression at the hands of Mongols since the days of Genghis Khan himself. Their attacks on both the northern Yuan and the Uyghurs in the old Urumqi lands have sent shockwaves throughout the steppe, threatening Khazar borders.

    The loss of Khwarezm is an issue, but a minor one compared to the other trial facing the Persians. Prince Ibrahim was with his father in Delhi when he died and is immediately proclaimed Shahanshah by the Persian armies in India. This is an extremely useful boon, as these contain the bulk of the veterans and best-equipped forces in the realm. But it is also directly in the path of an immense Vijayanagari host at least four times its size, if not more.

    Prince Osman is in Basra as governor of the rich port with 60,000 inhabitants. Naturally he hears of his father’s death and his elder brother’s acclamation after some delay but upon receipt immediately springs into action. He declares himself Shahanshah, the people of Basra instantly professing their loyalty. He rides north rallying all of Mesopotamia to his banner.

    During the reign of his father, the center of power in both the military and civil spheres has moved to the Persians, much to the resentment of the Turks of Mesopotamia. He promises to restore them to prominence and even sets his capital at Baghdad, where he pledges to keep it. Before long he can field a respectable army, including Janissaries and the high-quality azabs and sipahis of the region. Except for the border districts garrisoned by Persian troops, Osman soon controls the Ottoman Empire from the Roman frontier to the Zagros Mountains.

    However critically Osman’s initial attempt to break through the mountains is thrown back by the local Qizilbash troops and he fails to follow up with a second effort. As a result the resources of Persia are left available to Ibrahim. An envoy from Rhomania arrives shortly after this attempt offering military assistance in exchange for the return of the Mashhadshar territories, an offer Osman declines. He is reluctant to begin by ceding lands won at such great cost, and cozying up to the Romans might cost him Turkish support. The Romans let the matter drop for the moment, but Logothete Andronikos Sarantenos in an effort to regain his influence pens a pamphlet arguing for a ‘wait and see’ policy. Meanwhile sixteen hundred Castilian and Pronsky recruits for the army arrive in Constantinople.

    Although Ibrahim had nothing to do with it, the Persian victory on the Zagros is a major, quite likely life-saving, boon. The resources of Persia are desperately needed. As much as Ibrahim would prefer to march west and slam a mace down on his little brother’s skull, abandoning his father’s Indian conquests without a fight is hardly an ideal start to his reign. If abandoning the Mashhadshar regions gives Osman pause, the loss of India is unfathomable. In particular, the wealth of India is a very useful sweetener to keep troops and officials loyal.

    But keeping India is not going to be easy. Encamped around Delhi are forty five thousand Ottoman troops, with another twenty five thousand scattered across the Indian conquests. Facing them are 90,000 men of the Kaijeeta Sainya, 100,000 of the Amaranayaka Sainya, and 120,000 men belonging to the various vassals. The vassals have few cannons and their firearms are limited to matchlock arquebuses, but their arrows and lances are many and sharp. Included in the Kaijeeta Sainya are the Vijayanagari armored elephants, the soldiers atop them armed with snaphance or even flintlock muskets. Those that aren’t carry bamboo longbows, the steel-tipped shafts they let fly as lethal as any musket ball.

    But Ibrahim does have one advantage. When Alexander the Great died, his empire fractured and Diadochi waged great wars over the remains. The most lethal weapon they could field in those wars were Alexander’s soldiers, white-haired veterans of decades of campaigning across the breadth of Asia, more than capable of smashing apart ranks of men a third their age.

    Well Iskandar had his veterans too, greybeards who had served under him since Ras al-Ayn and al-Hasakah, some as far back as Merv and Samarkand. They have marched and fought and bled from Transoxiana to Syria to the Punjab, a record even the veterans of Alexander the Great would respect. Although there is no formal organization, around twenty thousand can be ranked as ‘Old Redoubtables’ as they’re styled.

    The Old Redoubtables soon prove their worth as Ibrahim marches to battle. He does not dare not take the Vijayanagari head-on. His father defeated Indian armies that greatly outnumbered his own but they were coalition armies with all the weaknesses those entail. Instead he snipes at the enemy vanguard, bloodying it at numerous occasions, but the sheer size of the Vijayanagari army means that his efforts are ineffectual. Step by step he is forced to retire, evacuating Delhi with his father’s bones just three days before Venkata Raya marches in to take possession.

    After Delhi Venkata Raya is now marching into lands populated mainly by Muslims which Ibrahim hopes will give him an advantage. It does. The natives would prefer being left alone but if they must be ruled by a foreign overlord, better one who shares the faith. But offshore is a massive Ethiopian armada storming its way up the Indus River annihilating everything in its path. Although they had no quarrel with the Ethiopians, the Sukkuri answered the call of jihad to wage war on the Ethiopians during the Great Uprising, killing the Emperor Andreyas at Alula in 1599. It is time to return the favor. Arranging that had been one reason why Venkata Raya had delayed his assault until now.

    With the Ethiopians raising havoc on the lower Indus, Venkata Raya storms across the Sutlej into the Punjab, Ibrahim continuing to bleed his forward units but unable to halt his progress. When Multan and Lahore both capitulate within a week of each other, Ibrahim decides he has no choice but to sue for peace.

    The ensuing peace is harsh, at a stroke annihilating nearly all of Iskandar’s Indian conquests less than a year after he has left this world. The new Ottoman eastern frontier is formed by the Chenab and Indus Rivers, so Ibrahim gets to keep the wastes of Baluchistan, hardly something to cheer his mood. The sliver of the Punjab he can keep is worth somewhat more and he can be grateful to the logistical problems of Venkata Raya to thank for that, plus the Emperor’s fears of discontent in his rear.

    Something that lifts his mood more is that Venkata Raya, because of those concerns and so eager to gain a peace and also impressed by the body count piled up by the Old Redoubtables, agrees to compensate Ibrahim with a pile of cash and jewels whose combined worth totals around 3 million hyperpyra. It is a very useful addition to his war chest. It is not such a large concession from Venkata Raya’s perspective. His writ runs from the Vale of Kashmir to Cape Comorin, from Gujarat to Orissa; India has produced many great empires, but none so grand as this.

    The Ethiopians too are rewarded for the aid they have rendered to the Empire of Vijayanagar. The valley of the Indus from the mouth up to the city of Hyderabad, created by the Emirs of Sukkur as their southern capital, is ceded to them. Garrisoned and with a naval squadron based at Thatta, it is the first serious Ethiopian possession outside of Africa and one well placed to harass Triune shipping in the Persian Gulf.

    The Romans, although at a distance, have been following the Indian situation avidly. The Kephale of Surat is well placed to provide accurate intelligence, having sent three Roman warships to bolster the Ethiopian armada (peace treaty be damned) and 400 men to serve in the Vijayanagari army where they help to take Multan. But as peace is signed, the Romans in Constantinople are understandably distracted.

    Empress Helena’s health has been declining steadily for several months. There is some surprise that she manages to make it to January but it is clear the end is near. On March 2 she goes to bed as usual but in the morning her head maid is unable to wake her. Just after 10:00, never regaining consciousness, she breathes her last. She was ninety seven years old, having reigned a grand total of seventy eight of them, the last of the three Drakina sisters to perish.

    She took the throne in 1548 on the death of her father Andreas II Drakos. He had ended the Time of Troubles, the effort killing him. She had inherited a realm ravaged from frontier to frontier and restored its industry and prosperity. Her earlier reign, prior to the accession of Demetrios II, is known as the Flowering, a period of major economic and cultural vitality.

    In domestic affairs she was a tremendous success. In foreign affairs her record is decidedly more mixed. She and her sisters Theodora and Alexeia forged marriage alliances with most of Europe. On Helena’s death, the progeny or spouses thereof of her and her sisters sit on the thrones of Rhomania, the Holy Roman Empire, Khazaria, Ethiopia, Georgia, Sicily, Prussia, Vlachia, Hungary, and Castile-Portugal. Rhomania’s relations with the kingdoms of Europe has improved greatly as a result, but this triggered an anti-Latin backlash amongst the Roman populace. Her concern for peace meant that the Roman Empire allowed the Ottomans to conquer Persia without Roman opposition and create a far greater eastern problem than had existed prior.

    But her greatest concern had not been foreign threats. No, her greatest fear was a return of the nightmare that had plagued her childhood, which had killed her ‘uncle’ Giorgios and her father. Let the three corners of the world in arms stand against the Empire, provided that demon be slain. She had executed her firstborn son to keep that demon at bay. Only time would tell whether she had succeeded.

    On March 7 Andreas is formally crowned as Andreas III, Emperor of the Romans. It is 109 years to the day since the death of Andreas Niketas.
    Roman Lines of Succession, 1625
  • Per the request of HanEmpire, I've made an update that covers the various lines that have a claim on the Roman throne.

    Roman Lines of Succession, 1625

    Both Andreas III and his mother Helena II are viewed as having ironclad claims to the Roman throne. Nobody contests their right. However in the event of both dying without any legitimate issue things get decidedly messier.

    First off there are Andreas’ three bastard sons. At this point they’re all less than 5 years old so individually they aren’t serious contenders, but they could be a convenient rallying point or puppet for interested parties.

    First Line: Now if we’re proceeding dynastically from Empress Helena I, that exhausts the male lines. Moving to the senior-most female line, the descendants of her eldest daughter Kristina, the next in line is Holy Roman Emperor Theodor I. His accession would create a personal union between the Holy Roman and Roman Empires, although the odds of the Roman populace accepting that is slightly above the survival odds of Frosty in hell.

    Passing Theodor, things get tricky even if one is following a simply dynastic line. Arguably the next in line after him is his sister Elizabeth, currently the consort of Andreas III. Now she’s not a German Catholic anymore, having converted to Orthodoxy on her arrival in Constantinople, but the Roman populace likely wouldn’t be comfortable with her as sole ruler. She could be an ‘Elizabeth of York’ though. This exhausts the Kristina line.

    Second Line: Next is the line of Aikaterine, Helena I’s second daughter. Her son is the current Eparch of Constantinople Demetrios Sideros. One could argue that a bypass of Theodor would make him the next in line rather than Elizabeth of Bavaria. He has the advantage of being a Roman but he is accumulating some political enemies (more on this in 1626) but his son Odysseus is extremely close to Andreas III.

    Proceeding past Demetrios and Odysseus is Aikaterine’s daughter Anna, Demetrios’ older sister. She is the current Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria, a Roman vassal state, so like her brother she does have experience in governing but practically no influence in Constantinople. Her son Leo though lives in Constantinople but does not have any significant political position. This exhausts the Aikaterine line.

    Third Line: Then there is the line of Eudoxia, Aikaterine’s twin sister. Her son Theodoros is King of Khazaria. He’s demonstrated himself, after an admittedly rough start, to be a capable leader and a formidable general. He’s a foreigner, but an Orthodox one, so his chances of being accepted by the Roman populace are much better than either Theodor or Elizabeth, but still not great.

    Fourth Line: Veronica is the only child of Helena I to outlive her mother, so theoretically she could jump to the very top of the succession but a nearly seventy-year-old woman off in Gonder is not anyone’s top pick. Her eldest son Yohannes though is more impressive, with experience governing Medri Bahri and serving with valor in raids against the Persian coast and the Indus expedition. He, like all Ethiopians though, is a member of the ‘wrong’ church. Constantinople is worth a mass?

    Fifth Line: Sophia’s only surviving child is Anna, who is playing the ‘Elizabeth of York’ to the Safavids in relation to the Georgian throne. She could take the throne but while she is known for her kind and charitable manner, that’s hardly a sell for the Roman throne. Her son David could be a possible candidate. He is a member of the ‘right’ church and is the one foreign contender who would actually have a creditable chance of gaining Roman popular support.

    Sixth Line: Anna’s heir is Ferdinand, King of Castile and Portugal. As a Catholic, chances for popular support are back in the ‘Frosty’s odds in hell’ territory. Any ‘Constantinople is worth a mass’ conversions will also not impress the Romans.

    Seventh Line: The only heir here is the great grandson of Helena I, King Stephen VII of Hungary. Considering recent Roman-Hungarian relations, this would be rather awkward. Also, again, Catholic.

    There ends the succession contenders going by descent from Helena I. However it doesn’t end there. After all, one can argue that the Drakid claim to the throne in itself is illegitimate. When Emperor Ioannes VI Komnenos abdicated to Isaakios III Angelos in 1541, the matter of his daughter Theodora’s claims was not included. In no way did her Serene Highness Princess Theodora ever relinquish her claim, even prior to the accession of her stepfather Andreas III, she just declined to act on it. (This argument would if followed to its logical conclusion make the entire Drakos dynasty usurpers which no one seriously believes. However in the event of no clear Drakid succession, the argument in favor of a Theodora-based succession would gain support.)

    If one argues that the line should instead pass through Theodora based on this, the next in line is her eldest son King Anastasios of Prussia. He would be acceptable to the Roman people. Although he is King of Prussia, he was born and raised a Roman and still speaks Greek with a clear Constantinople accent and has remained continually a member of the Orthodox Church. His children on the other hand are a different story.

    Next in line is young Alexandros Drakos, the Lion of Nineveh. He is descended from Theodora’s second son (also Alexandros). Furthermore through his maternal grandmother he is descended from the Arletian Komnenoi and through his mother has descent from the Egyptian Komnenoi. Thus he can trace his lineage from Andreas Niketas through no less than three of his sons.

    After him one would then turn to the daughters of Theodora, which bring in, in descending order of seniority, the royal family of Vlachia, Andreas III’s uncle Hektor (currently serving as Regent on behalf of his nephew, and the Trebizond Laskarids, the most powerful branch of that now quite old and influential family.

    Of course if one wanted to be really difficult, one could argue that Her Serene Highness Princess Theodora didn’t have the best claim to the throne based on descent from Andreas Niketas. After all the Egyptian Komnenoi are descended from the eldest son of Andreas Niketas and as is the case with Theodora, there’s no record of them ever relinquishing their claim, just declining to act on it. Now the Despotic family does follow the Coptic faith, but if Despot Andreas II did decide to pull a ‘Constantinople is worth a Mass’, that might convince the Romans.

    Finally, there’s the reanimated zombie Theodoros IV, because at this point why the hell not?
    1626: The Kingdoms of the West
  • 1626: The troubles that beset the great powers of the West, the Sundering of the Rus, the Brothers’ War in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Great Uprising and the Eternal War that plagued the Roman Empire, naturally dominate histories of the first quarter of the seventeenth century. But less obvious (and dramatic) matters of importance in this time period come from the consolidation of the preeminent second-tier powers, Lombardy, Castile-Portugal, and Arles.

    In Lombardy the long reign of Theodoros I Doukas has seen the kingdom come to control almost all of the Italian peninsula outside the Despotate of Sicily. The only exceptions are Venetia, a highly truncated Papal State centered on Rome and its port of Civitavecchia and little else, and the counties of Saluzzo and Nice, united since 1605 under the reign of a single count. (If one considered Sardinia and/or Corsica as part of the Italian region, a viewpoint decidedly not shared by the natives of either, the Kingdom of the Isles would be added to the list.) Some regions, such as Siena and Urbino, enjoy substantial internal autonomy, but foreign powers view them effectively as part of the Kingdom.

    Milan continues to be a major center for armor manufacturing, the northern plains of Lombardy crisscrossed by an elaborate canal system that helps direct a substantial agricultural export sector. Po rice does much to feed the Roman city of Dyrrachium, itself undergoing a small boom from an expansion in ironworks. Northern Italy too is still renowned for its production of luxury textiles while the glassworks of Torino and Mantua are rising fast, although facing stiff competition from Bari which keeps them shut out of the eastern European market.

    Milan has by 1625 over two hundred thousand inhabitants, the third largest in Europe after Paris (270,000) and Constantinople (325,000), edging out London (180,000) and Lisbon (160,000). Genoa at 80,000 remains a major port, its merchants seen as far apart as the marts of Riga, Kozhikode, and Vera Cruz. Banking is a major occupation of the Genoese as well, the Bank of St. George acting almost as a state bank. Pavia has become a major printing center, producing masses of works written in the Milanese dialect of Italian and putting a sizeable dent in the Venetian book market.

    Romans traveling through Lombardy view the landscape of a vast array of large towns and small cities as rather similar to the Helladic or three west Anatolian themes. The Kingdom’s population of 7.5 million is well over twice that of Sicily, although still far short of the great powers. Central Italy is less developed, with pastoralism a major economic factor. Treaties with Sicily allow the use of southern Italian lands for winter grazing. One major exception to this is Firenze with its 110,000 inhabitants, renowned across Christendom for its artwork. Rare is the court that is without its Florentine painter; the massive canvas The Fleet of the Indus commemorating the attack on Sukkur on display to the public in the Ethiopian Imperial Museum in Gonder is the handiwork of Giorgio Vasari, who was attached to the Ethiopian court from 1617 to 1633.

    On May 13, Theodoros dies and is succeeded by his son Cesare. He is older than his contemporary new monarchs, Theodor of the Holy Roman Empire and Andreas of Rhomania. He inherits a state apparatus substantially more efficient and centralized than was the case thirty years ago, although the Lombard nobility do have many tax exemptions and court positions exclusive to themselves. One of them is officering the Lombard army, organized around 5 military districts that provide the recruits, money, and supplies for one division. In theory the Kingdom could put over 50,000 men into the field at one time although the effort would likely break the back of the government if done for long. Thirty thousand though is entirely more sustainable.

    Although the sizeable trade relations with the Roman Empire help somewhat, relations between Constantinople and Milan are cool at best. The White Palace cannot but view the House of Doukas with mistrust while the Doukai are still resentful of the curse placed upon them by Andreas II. More tangibly, the Lombard kings are viewed in Messina as desiring the subjugation of all of Italy. With Emperor Andreas III half-Sicilian and also Despot Andreas II of Sicily, those concerns are felt in Constantinople all the more.

    One peninsula to the left Castile-Portugal is also enjoying a period of prosperity, its population approaching 7 million. Its industries lack the luxury nature of Lombardy’s, but its vast sheep flocks (who also have winter grazing rights in Al-Andalus) provide the basis of a large woolen textile industry. Northern Castile has some respectable ironworks, producing cannons and shot for buyers across Western Europe. Its coats and crockery may not attract upper-class buyers who can look to Lombardy and Rhomania, but business is reliable and profit small but continuous.

    For more flamboyant and profitable endeavors one turns to the burgeoning overseas empire. Caribbean possessions, plus Madeira and Brazil, are producing massive quantities of sugar and tobacco, worked by African slaves. Portuguese slavers are the most frequent customers at Mbanza Kongo and they have as many trade factories along the West African coast as the rest of Europe combined.

    Although their preeminence is not so marked in eastern waters, they are a clear power with which to reckon there as well. They dominate both Tidore and Ternate, have the largest trading factories in Java, and the Viceroyalty of Malacca is a major thorn in the side of the Katepanate of Pahang. The Viceroy there has a strong relationship with the Kingdom of Ayutthaya which brings excellent trade benefits while the Viceroy of Sutanuti has a substantial network of tribute-paying Indian vassals. In terms of spices (defined here as pepper-by far the most common by volume, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon) shipped to Europe per year, the Castilian-Portuguese account for 40%, the Romans for 35%, and the remainder split.

    Still there are some dark clouds. Ethiopian-Omani action has largely driven the Portuguese out of East Africa save for Mozambique. Tibetan raids into the dominions of Sutanuti are becoming a significant problem. Relations with the Cham and especially the Japanese, both pro-Roman, are cool at best. Worst of all though are the Triunes who seem to be actively opposing the Castilian-Portuguese at all turns. Their large Indiamen have largely driven them out of the teak market in southern India and completely usurped the share of the pepper trade with China. Although the markup of Indonesian pepper prices in China is far lower than that of Western Europe, the far cheaper shipping costs and the staggering size of the market more than make up for it.

    Relations with Rhomania are somewhat schizophrenic. On the European stage Constantinople and Toledo have every reason to be allies. Their territorial interests do not clash, they have good trade relations, and share a common dislike for the Triunes and Marinids. However in the Far East the two are bitter rivals. The Portuguese drove the Romans off of Tidore and Ternate and shattered the Roman spice monopoly of the early 1500s. This past history is the reason why Triune incursions in eastern waters, despite all their vigor and success, have yet to provoke a combined Roman-Portuguese response.

    Relations between the Castilians and Portuguese have been very good for a long time pre-dating the personal union and they have remained so during the union. In recognition of this, plus the need to pool resources and maximize efficiency in the face of the Triune and Marinid menaces (which are viewed, accurately, as potentially linked), the new King Ferdinand VI (a grandson of Helena I via her daughter Anna) who succeeded his grandfather Felipe II in 1620 proposes an idea to a joint Cortes of both kingdoms. Although it takes some time to work out the details, on September 10 the Act of Union is promulgated. No longer linked in a mere personal union under their monarchs, the Kingdoms of Castile and Portugal are united in one polity, the Kingdom of Spain. Showing the direction this new polity intends to take, its capital is not in Toledo, the old Visigothic capital in the center of the peninsula, but Lisbon, the great and wealthy port city, the doorway to the world.

    Arles at 5.75 million is smaller than both Lombardy and Spain but still a power to be respected. Its agriculture does much to feed the expanding Spanish population and its jewelry, furniture (especially finely worked cabinets), soaps, and watches finding buyers all across Christendom and beyond (the Triunes find Arletian watches to be quite popular amongst the Chinese). Arletian merchants are active in the east although they are usually content to deal with Indian products and rarely go further than the subcontinent.

    It is in the Caribbean where Arletian overseas activities is concentrated. Their colonial holdings dwarf all others’ combined. Showing the drastic decline of Roman sugar preeminence from the late 1400s, now Europeans get 50% of their sugar from Arletian colonies, 30% from Spanish holdings, and a mere 10% from the Empire. Tobacco, cocoa, and kaffos production are also high, the last coming as a particular annoyance to the Ethiopians who previously monopolized production.

    This has done significant damage to Roman-Arletian relations, previously excellent since the formation of the Kingdom of Arles. The sugar plantation owners have a loud voice in the Empire and given the sharper competition in eastern waters, good relations with Ethiopia are also more of a priority in the White Palace.

    The success of Arletian and Spanish sugar plantations also have the side effect of worsening the lot of Roman plantation slaves. Both Arletian and Spanish plantations chew through their slaves at an incredible rate, much to the profit of Spanish slavers and Kongolese dealers. Their competition means that Roman plantation owners now want to work their slaves longer and harder. The Roman government, seeing the alarming drop in revenue from sugar export duties, is not inclined to oppose them. The Ethiopians too encourage this. Seeing competition in kaffos lower sales, selling Darfuri slaves captured in raids to the Romans is one way to make up the losses. Thus, in the words of a preeminent historian of the slave trade, does “misery begot yet more misery”.

    The competition can only get worse as a new Emperor of the United Kingdoms takes the throne. Arthur II’s reign has gone rather poorly for the Triple Monarchy in Europe with humiliating defeats at the hands of the House of Wittelsbach. His son and successor Henri II aims to change that. He is an unimpressive physical specimen. Despite a respectable exercise regimen his body tends to fat quite easily but his fleshy exterior contains a crafty intellect. The Roman ambassador to King’s Harbor says that Emperor Henri puts to his mind the image of Nikephoros ‘the Spider’.

    Henri II is 30, the same age as King Casimir V of Poland, who has been on his throne for twelve years, and a bloody twelve years at that. In the words of one biographer ‘Casimir was born four centuries too late’. A fervent Catholic, he attends at least thirty masses a week.

    That his neighbors could tolerate, but Casimir also lives for the thrill of battle and conquest and possesses a strong crusading zeal. He began his reign with a massacre of the century-old Waldensian community living in the Carpathian foothills, some two thousand killed by being loaded into moored barges then used as target practice for the royal artillery.

    Reforming the Polish army with improved artillery but primarily an incredibly deadly cavalry force, included the fabled winged hussars, Casimir has led the Poles to crushing victories over the Kingdom of Prussia, wresting the region of Prussia proper, and smashing two Scandinavian armies that came to support the Prussians. Then he turned his attention on Lithuania, the winged hussars shattering the Lithuanian armies. Although he never took the city, Casimir ravaged the suburbs of Kiev and seized several border districts. His combined conquests have almost increased the size of Poland by a quarter.

    He could have taken more in Lithuania but his depredations there against the Orthodox have aroused the fury of the entire Orthodox world. In his camp at Smolensk in summer 1626, he is met by a delegation comprising representatives from Novgorod, Pronsk, Scythia, Khazaria, and Rhomania. The first four state that unless Casimir refrains from further attacks on Lithuania, then they will “intervene in defense of our brothers”. The impending alliance, as shown by the Roman envoy, has the full support of the Roman Empire. The Roman envoy makes it quite clear to Casimir that if he decides to fight the Empire will provide weapons, supplies, and subsidies to the Russian states.

    Fuming, Casimir backs down, although he keeps what he already conquered. Having hit a wall in Russia he turns his gaze elsewhere. Moldavia looks to be a nice target. However an attack on Vlachia would bring down on him the full wrath of the Roman Empire. So for the moment he bids his time, waiting for the moment when he can ‘raise my righteous sword against the unholy empire of godless heretics’.
    1626: From Constantinople with Love
  • Luis3007: Good, good. Your hate has made you powerful. ;)

    Stark: The HRE Emperors can only do direct taxes in their own territories and in Saxony and Austria especially have restrictions in what they can get away with given the terms of those territories entering the Wittelsbach patrimony. The rest of the Imperial princes can and do contribute, but only in matters regarding common Imperial interests and of course the princes’ definitions of that do not always agree with the Emperor’s.

    So the HRE is like a bigger version of 18th century Austria. It’s undoubtedly a great power with huge reserves of manpower and material resources but somewhat brittle when it comes to the financial side.

    RogueTraderEnthusiast: Theodoros IV was the original troll Emperor. :p

    I could see the Romans trying out a camel corps in the Idwait realm. Recruiting the southern Anizzah to fill its ranks would be a good way to bring them into the Roman client network (which would also have the advantage of getting a buffer against Ottoman-vassal Hedjaz).

    1626 continued: Emperor Andreas III immediately faces a challenge. Despite his youth he is effectively the senior monarch despite the fact his mother is an Empress in her own right, as Helena II continues to be essentially a paperweight. So it is up to him to resolve the mess that has been stewing ever since the treaty of Mashhadshar.

    The senior bureaucracy is still in a shambles as the whole affray between Eparch Sideros and Protospatharios Cheilas has continued to stew. The positions of the Logothetes tou Dromou, Kouaistor of Thrace, Eparch of Constantinople, and Protospatharios of the Office of Barbarians have been vacant for almost two years since Megas Logothetes Thomas Autoreianos suspended all of them in an effort to calm things.

    Autoreianos has had his hands full administering the empire without the support of these offices and the ill health and then deaths of Emperor Demetrios II and Helena I meant there was no clear drive to resolve the matter. Andreas’ first order of business is to resolve that. A special investigative commission is set up, led by the Megas Kouaistor Alexios Komnenos (a descendant of Alexeia, the illegitimate daughter of Theodoros IV, the line legitimized in 1569), one of whose assistants is Leo Sideros [1] (son of the Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria and nephew of Eparch Demetrios) who is working on his law degree at the University of Constantinople.

    Reportedly it is Leo who uncovers the skeleton in the closet. It turns out that Petros Cheilas has been using his post as Protospatharios more to line his pockets than serve imperial interests. Using the spy networks he oversees Petros has been able to use the garnered intelligence to play the market. His annual salary is 50,000 hyperpyra but a thorough examination of his accounts reveals that Cheilas in 1621 made over 360,000 hyperpyra. When he was not informing the Mashhadshar delegation of Iskandar’s manpower situation and Indian problems, he was using intelligence on the year’s Sumatran pepper harvest to make advantageous preliminary buys on the Constantinople market, earning himself a windfall of 120,000 hyperpyra.

    Andreas is absolutely livid when this is revealed. Cheilas isn’t guilty of treason; there is no evidence he was in the pay of the Shah. So he is charged with ‘treasonous negligence’, all of his assets seized, and the eyeballs knives promptly dusted off and used on him. It is the first time they’ve been used as judicial punishment in over fifty years.

    With Cheilas out of the way, the charges of treason against Demetrios, Logothete Sarantenos, and Kouaistor Trikanes, are dropped. That said, the influence of the latter two has drastically dropped since Mashhadshar. Although Cheilas’ actions had denied them vital intelligence many feel that they still could’ve driven a harder bargain. Sarantenos retorts with justice that the court had been in the same state of malaise as they had in those post-Nineveh times and that the court had ratified their terms without even a token debate.

    Andreas, on the advice of Demetrios, just wants the matter dropped. The three are all restored to their positions and resume their duties. Also with Andreas in power, Leo Neokastrites is brought back out of retirement although he is assigned as Strategos of the Chaldean tagma rather than back as Strategos of the Akoimetoi due to the resistance of the new Megas Domestikos Nikolaios Mouzalon who argues that Leo’s retirement voided his seniority. As the most ‘junior’ strategos on the list, it would be highly inappropriate for him to be posted to the guard. Andreas, not wanting to risk a split in the army by pressing the issue considering the news from Persia, doesn’t push the matter.

    Alexios Gabras hopes for a restoration too but there he is disappointed. Although the reports from India vindicate his post-Nineveh statements, which if believed at the time, would’ve made it possible for the Romans to drive a much harder line at Mashhadshar, nobody wants him back. Leo, and by extension Andreas, have been offended by Gabras’ attacks on Leo’s conduct at Mount Alfaf. Everyone else is fine to have the former Domestikos be the designated scapegoat.

    One thing is clear after the dust has settled from this. Although as Eparch of Constantinople Demetrios Sideros is really one of the most junior of the senior bureaucrats working out of the White Palace, unofficially he is one of the most important officials. The closeness of Emperor Andreas with Odysseus, referring to him as ‘little brother’ in public, is a major factor. In fact in May a rumor starts going around the court that the Emperor, in answer to Demetrios’ essay question, is not only planning on designating Odysseus as his heir in case of no legitimate issue (since Andreas hasn’t been in his wife’s bed since his accession the odds of any issue arising look decidedly small) but is trying to find a way to ‘adopt’ Odysseus as his little brother officially to strengthen his younger cousin’s hereditary claim.

    Another cause of Demetrios’ favor with his Emperor is connected to the reason why any legitimate children of Andreas III are looking unlikely. Anna of Amida is no longer in the picture. Although all three of his bastard sons are being raised together in Chalcedon (Zeno of Volos, age 4; Theodoros of Nineveh, age 3; Alexandros of Baghdad, age 2) Anna has been married off to the new Kephale of Gallipoli; although she is decidedly lowborn, she is a very pretty woman according to all accounts, Andreas provides a rather impressive dowry (much from Cheilas’ ill-gotten assets), and the Kephale recognizes that this gets him the Emperor’s favor.

    Maria of Agra though is not going anywhere. In fact one of Andreas’ first official acts is to order construction of a new small wing to the White Palace, to be built and decorated in the ‘Indian style’, to give her a small piece of home. Some attribute her hold on the Emperor to sorcery, some to her great beauty and smart and kindly manner (no account claims she was otherwise), and some to her use of what are euphemistically called ‘zigzags’ in bed [2].

    The Imperial ambassador, the hawk-nosed and perceptive Count Philip von Stadion-Warthausen has another theory. He notes that Maria of Agra frequently visits the villa at Chalcedon where Andreas’ bastards are raised, which isn’t that surprising since one of them is her own son. However the Count notes that she treats all three boys lovingly as if they were all her sons. He points out that Andreas, who clearly cares for his children (the yearly stipend for their maintenance would cover the annual payroll of a line tourma), cannot help but be touched. In contrast, Elizabeth is seemingly incapable of hiding her disgust, sometimes being rude and abusive to individuals who do nothing more than acknowledge the bastards’ existences. In a report to his sovereign he writes ‘in view of the contrast in their behaviors, it would be a rare man who would forsake the tender and open-hearted compassion of his mistress for the vicious jealousy of his wife.’ It is a bold report since his sovereign is Empress (Elizabeth of Bavaria had been crowned as such a week after Andreas) Elizabeth’s older brother.

    Most court officials are smart enough to keep their mouths shut about the whole affair but Demetrios is openly supportive of the Emperor. Andreas understands why and immediately repays the debt. At a court banquet Demetrios arrives at his usual place but is accompanied not by his wife but by his long-time mistress Eudoxia of Chios.

    She was formerly head of the Prostitutes’ Guild in Smyrna, where they’d met. As Eparch, Demetrios had pulled some strings so that now she runs the Shah’s Harem, the most luxurious restaurant and brothel in all of Constantinople. Although some silver is starting to creep into her floor-length golden hair, according to the Chartoularios [3] Pavlos Kinnamos she ‘does not possess the graceful and exotic beauty of Maria of Agra or Lady Jahzara of Axum, but is still a handsome woman with a full and ample figure’ and goes on to remark that she is also ‘extraordinarily flexible and acrobatic’, although how he gains that information he leaves unmentioned.

    Now having an affair isn’t uncommon amongst the court officials, but bringing them to court is. Then to bring a mistress to an official Imperial banquet, and this mistress of all mistresses, that is not just unheard of; that is beyond the pale. But instead none other than Emperor Andreas III personally welcomes Eudoxia to the White Palace. At the Emperor’s side is not the Empress but Maria of Agra.

    The Empress Elizabeth is absolutely ballistic at this and Demetrios Sideros receives a full broadside of her fury. She refers to him openly as a pimp at court and in a long stream of letters that go to her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Theodor I in Munich, complaining of her treatment she goes into much abuse of the Eparch.

    Around Demetrios is coalescing a faction of the bureaucracy, some of whom see him as a path to favor with the Emperor and others who are interested in some of his reform ideas that he has expressed, both recently and in his younger days. Chief amongst these are the Logothete Sarantenos and Kouaistor Trikanes, both of whom are very grateful for his support in restoring them to their former ranks.

    Forming around Elizabeth is what can be called an anti-Demetrios faction. Elizabeth wants Maria of Agra gone so that she can be Empress in actuality. Supporting her are the Patriarch Isidore III, who strongly disapproves of both Demetrios’ and Andreas’ affairs, and the Logothetes tou Genikou (Chief Finance Minister) Romanos Xiphilinos, who sees most of Demetrios’ ideas as encroaching upon his turf.

    Both profess their loyalty to the Empire and to the Emperor Andreas III but it is clear to all where his sympathy lies. In June he directs Demetrios to begin drafting a new tax code using his ‘tax level’ system, much to the protest of Xiphilinos who argues rather reasonably that such a task should be his responsibility. Andreas responds that the Logothete will have a chance to review and revise once Demetrios is done, but does not transfer responsibility or cancel the project, leaving Xiphilinos fuming. He is even angrier when Demetrios taps Thomas Vatatzes (cousin of Andreas’ bodyguard commander), Dioiketes [4] of Nicaea, as a personal assistant. They’d worked together while Demetrios was both Kephales of Skammandros and Smyrna.

    Andreas has some other projects going at the same time. A top priority is a thorough purge of the Office of Barbarians. Cheilas’ rot had sunk in deep; he had been in the post for fifteen years. Many of the agents were complicit in his activities, while many others had taken a cue from their leader and taken to feathering their nests above all else. Andreas doesn’t quite gut the organization but its rolls are drastically shrunk. Naturally the Office’s abilities are severely weakened at the same time. To make up the shortfall Andreas pulls agents from the Emperor’s Eyes, at the same time making de jure the de facto division of responsibilities that has existed between the Office of Barbarians and the Emperor’s Eyes since the death of Andreas II. The Office of Barbarians will oversee foreign espionage while the Eyes take care of internal security.

    The Emperor also wants to expand the training budget for the Roman army, with a specific aim of improving the quality of the dekarchoi. At Nineveh the heavy casualty rates amongst the officers had seriously weakened unit effectiveness. In many cases the dekarchoi had stepped into the breach, but in many they had not. The aim is to improve their training and morale, the latter by a pay increase. Andreas also wants to streamline procurement, hopefully to minimize snafus like the one that sent the Athanatoi into battle with half-kits of ammunition. Plus there is this new Spanish invention, a ring ambrolar that allows it to be used while still enabling the user to fire his musket. That should help even the odds when facing Persian infantry in melee. Given the course of the Persian civil war, such abilities may be needed sooner rather than later.

    [1] Mistakenly referred to as Leo Drakos in the 1620 ‘game update’.
    [2] A reported maneuver of Josephine, first wife of Napoleon IOTL.
    [3] “general term for lower-ranking official with fiscal and archival duties in various bureaus in both central and provincial administration;” see The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, pg. 887.
    [4] Individual responsible for tax collection within a district; naturally as such Xiphilinos is his boss.
    The Worth of a Hyperpyron: An Interlude
  • Babyrage: He doesn’t have any claim to the throne himself. But his clout is enough that he’s easily in a position to play Emperor-maker.

    Roman TV shows: There was a miniseries on the war against Shah Rukh, then The Komnenoi, and another covering the Time of Troubles and the early Drakid dynasty. They were inspired by the TV shows The Tudors and The Borgias actually; I hadn’t read or seen GoT by that point.

    There’s a lot of Byzantine history that would make for good TV/movies, but will never get made IOTL because not enough people have enough of a clue to be interested in that sort of thing. TTL will be drastically different.

    I was going to post the next narrative update but then a footnote for an upcoming update ballooned massively. So I’m going to post the footnote as its own mini-update. I think people should find it informative and interesting. Plus considering the amount of time I spent on it, I’d be really annoyed if I left it in just as a footnote in a regular update and then it went unnoticed.

    The Worth of a Hyperpyron

    [This was originally written as a footnote to the narrative regarding the worth of a sum of money] To try and determine what that’s worth in actual terms, according to “The Industries of Art” by Anthony Cutler in The Economic History of Byzantium, pg. 566, a horse was worth 14 hyperpyra in Thessaloniki in 1384 OTL. Now according to “Prices and Wages in the Byzantine World” by Cecile Morrisson and Jean-Claude Cheynet in The Economic History of Byzantium, pgs. 816-17, if a late 10th century hyperpyron of 23 carat gold has an index value of 100, a silver hyperpyron from the 1380s has a value of 39. The hyperpyron of TTL has a value of 89, so the 14 OTL hyperpyra convert to 6.1 hyperpyra TTL. That’s 1384 prices.

    Now according to The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II by Fernand Braudel, pg. 520, in Bursa the price of salt (I choose this because it’s consistently necessary but not subject to climate-induced price fluctuations like wheat, for example) in 1489 was 6 aspers but 35 aspers in 1633. For simplicity’s sake I’m going to round it to a 6-fold increase.

    However the asper also depreciated during that time, so it wasn’t all inflation. According to a table “Silver Content and Exchange Rates of the Ottoman Currency, 1326-1914” from Dr. Sevket Pamuk’s faculty member page from Bogazici University: The Ataturk Institute for Modern Turkish History website, the akce/asper had a silver content of .675 grams in 1489 but was down to .225 grams in 1632. So if the akce had remained stable in silver content, prices would’ve only doubled in terms of coinage required.

    However that last statement is dependent on silver remaining consistent in value between 1489 and 1633, which considering Potosi was a thing in this period, is highly doubtful. Going back to Fernand Braudel, pg. 473, in Europe the exchange rate of silver to gold was on average 11:1 in 1500, 12.5 to 1 in 1650, so silver lost 14% of its value in relation to gold in those 150 years. So if in 1500 the silver content of 1 akce could purchase X salt, in 1650 the same content could purchase .43X (factoring in loss of silver in relationship to gold bumps it down to .86, and then halving it to .43 because of general price inflation). So in 1650 to purchase X salt, one would need 2.3 of the 1500 akce.

    Assuming for the sake of argument that the Thessaloniki horse price follows the same trajectory, that same horse in 1650 (I’m also assuming that inflation between 1384 and 1489 was minimal) would require 14 TTL hyperpyra. Now I say that, but the influx of Mexican and Peruvian silver has been delayed and decreased compared to OTL (greater Japanese involvement makes up for some but not all), so the “actual” TTL price would be around 11-12 hyperpyra.

    In an interesting side note, sergeants at Argos in 1394 were paid 8 hyperpyra a month (see The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society, 1204-1453 by Mark C. Batusis, pg. 152). Assuming that soldier wages followed the same trajectory (I don’t have any sources on how the pay of late medieval soldiers compared to early modern ones), the above calculations give a rough idea of Roman troop wages at this point ITTL.

    According to This Seat of Mars: War and the British Isles 1485-1746 by Charles Carlton,

    In 1588 it cost 1700 pound sterling to maintain an infantry company for a year, 3700 for a cavalry troop, and 68000 for an artillery train (I’m assuming for the whole army). How well units match up is questionable, but I’m going to assume that an infantry company = 1 infantry droungos and one cavalry troop equals one cavalry droungoi and I’ll round the figures up to 2000 pounds sterling per infantry unit and 4 thousand per cavalry unit. So one Roman tourma with 8 infantry droungoi and 2 cavalry droungoi would cost 24000 pounds sterling or 48000 hyperpyra. Let’s add 6000 pounds/12000 hyperpyra for the artillery, so 60000 hyperpyra per tourma and 600,000 per tagma.​

    The above paragraph is from an earlier calculation I made trying to figure out an army budget for the Romans. Using the Argive wages as a base and using the above calculations, the troops now would be making 6.9 hyperpyra a month. The 60000 per tourma is coming up short, even if one follows the common OTL tactic of dividing the year into 10 ‘pay months’ and paying a monthly wage based on those rather than on the calendar months.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable that the average wages of soldiers would go down in this period. After all, this is an era of rising prices. Also in the Roman army soldiers get pay increases after certain years in service, plus the cost of army equipment and material has gone up as well. The 60000 estimate is looking woefully inadequate. Let’s up the amount to 80000.

    In that same analysis I calculated that the Roman army cost at minimum 8.4 million hyperpyra. If everything goes up by a third, that comes to 11.172 million hyperpyra per year. That converts to 500 metric tons of silver a year and I’ve established earlier that the total Roman revenue per year is around 750-800 tons per year. Tax reform is looking more necessary than ever.

    I’m not sure what makes me more of a nerd, the fact that I sat down and actually did all this, or that I have a copy of every piece of source material cited.

    Everyone, please let me know if you have comments, questions, suggestions, corrections, or more data to add to the above.

    EDIT: Thanks to Lascaris providing me with figures regarding the pay of early modern soldiers, I’m revising the army pay figures I was working with above. A line infantryman begins service with a pay of 3 hyperpyra per calendar month, which comes to 18 pounds a year, comparable to that of Dutch infantry in the 1630s. Now the Roman soldiers do get pay increases as they complete years of service (an anti-desertion measure). Now Roman soldiers sign up for an eleven-year term. The silver miliaresion, the most valuable Roman silver coin, was worth 10 to 1 hyperpyron back in 1400 but with silver devalued compared to gold I figured it had declined to 12:1, so if a soldier gets his pay upped by a miliaresion a year except for two points, say beginning of year 4 and year 9 it is upped by two, so that when he finishes his contract he is paid 4 hyperpyra a month, so 24 pounds a year, comparable to a soldier in Marlborough’s army. Officers and specialist troops (like cavalry) are naturally paid more. This pay scheme works well with my earlier estimate of about 60,000 hyperpyra per line tourma.

    So in keeping with my estimating the Roman budget at around 16-18 million hyperpyra (730-820 metric tons of silver, slightly less than France in the first decade of the 1700s), the breakdown of the budget would be 9 million to the army, 4 million to the navy, and the remainder to fund everything else.

    Pay of a Roman soldier should be in the same area as an unskilled laborer, possibly a bit less but that’s compensated by the fact that the soldier gets a guaranteed wage and the laborer doesn’t. Back in 1400 one copper follis (100 to the hyperpyron) could buy a one-pound loaf of barley bread, assuming the harvest is good and available. Now with inflation it’s more like 1.75 follis for the loaf. Assuming 2 loaves a day, a day laborer earning 3 hyperpyra a month is spending one-third of his income on bread alone.
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    1626: Looking East
  • 1626 continued: The winter and spring of 1625-26 has seen both Ibrahim and Osman working furiously to consolidate their positions. One of Ibrahim’s most pressing tasks is to ensure that he faces no threats in his rear. In one sense the loss of northern India is a gain as he has no need to garrison such a vast swathe of territory anymore. The peace terms with Venkata Raya mean there are no Rajput raiders now. The Ethiopians’ quarrel was with the Sukkuri and a peace on the status quo ante bellum is soon established. The Omani are a tougher sell as they are still angry over the loss of Hormuz but some of that Indian gold and gems convinces them to swallow the bitter pill.

    Crucially Osman fails to make any effort to recruit the Omani to his side. If he were to offer them Hormuz that might do, but at the serious risk of having the powerful and wealthy Basra merchants turn on him. In that bitter trade rival of Muscat, the re-conquest of Hormuz was easily viewed as Iskandar’s greatest achievement.

    Ibrahim has cause to be grateful for the Vijayanagara Emperor’s consolation prize. The Afghan and Baluchi tribesmen were never the most quiescent subjects even when his father was around and the new state of affairs has not improved their disposition. But the Indian gold and gems bring them around to seeing things Ibrahim’s way, freeing him from potential raids along his eastern border and giving him access to a supply of tough infantry troops. That said, Ibrahim is well aware that their loyalty will last exactly as long as the golden tap remains on and not one second more.

    Although muttering under his breath, Ibrahim also acquiesces in the loss of Khwarezm. Once he’s finished redecorating his little twerp of a brother’s skull then he can address this matter. Besides, the Zeng offensives into the Mongol heartland have the steppe in an uproar. Ibrahim’s sympathies for King Theodoros’ upcoming headaches are minimal.

    On the other hand, Osman’s diplomatic activities have been directed solely in one direction, Constantinople. After all, what would a few Afghan tribesmen matter if he had three or four, or ten, Roman tagmata at his back? He places great trust in the bond of friendship established between him and now Emperor Andreas III during the latter’s captivity.

    Andreas certainly wants to help his friend and by August the eastern tagmata are mustered so that they can move as soon as possible. The Roman court is all in agreement that backing Osman is the preferred course. With everything east of the Zagros under Ibrahim’s banner, Osman is the weaker party and therefore the one who can be convinced to pay up more for Roman support.

    Unfortunately for Osman the negotiations are being overseen by Logothete Andronikos Sarantenos. After Mashhadshar, he is not in the mood to go soft and, friendship notwithstanding, Andreas III is clear on the minimum price before anything happens. Not one copper follis, not one boot sole, not so much as a hardtack biscuit, never mind three or four or ten tagmata, are crossing the frontier until the Mashhadshar territories are back in Roman hands.

    Osman balks at this. He has been exploiting the propaganda effects of Ibrahim’s loss of northern India and now the cession of Khwarezm as far as they will go. While the Turks and Arabs of Mesopotamia didn’t get as much benefit out of the conquest as the Persians, there are still many greybeards who made their fortunes plundering northern India. So to turn around and do the exact same thing (and at least Ibrahim fought and fought hard and well for India) hardly looks good.

    Furthermore the people of Mesopotamia fought and bled and died by the thousands at Nineveh and after the devastation wreaked by the two Roman invasions in the Eternal War they do feel much better with those Roman forts in Ottoman hands. Another potential factor giving Osman pause are reports from his spies that many in Rhomania think Mashhadshar should be just the up-front portion and the trans-Aras the ‘pay on delivery’.

    Sarantenos’ personal letters at the time prove that he is one of those, arguing that such cessions should be the minimum demanded if Roman troops are committed. In a letter to Demetrios Sideros, he uses the precedent of the cessions given to Maurice by Khusrau II. Demetrios in his response points out that if his analogy is correct, than ‘any gifts sent to Osman should explode upon collection.’

    Some argue that the Romans should just move in and take the Mashhadshar cessions without Osman’s permission. After all the regions are garrisoned by Persian troops who, although they haven’t declared for Ibrahim, haven’t declared for Osman either. Although it could be argued that Osman is choosing to concentrate his forces on the Persian threat, some Romans believe that Osman purposely didn’t push the matter with the garrisons as an excuse for not handing them over to the Romans on the grounds that he can’t cede what he doesn’t control.

    Andreas believes the first rather than the second and he is firmly against any preemptive action. A Roman invasion could seriously delegitimize Osman’s position. If the Mesopotamians feel he can’t protect them, they might turn to Ibrahim. In fact Osman argues that he portrays his personal friendship with Andreas III to the Mesopotamians as a guarantor of their safety and if the Romans marched into the region to ‘free them from the Persian yoke’ they would see that. At that point he could cede the Mashhadshar districts without trouble, but until then he can’t hand them over.

    Andreas is willing to accept that argument but he is the only one in the White Palace to do so at first. Surprisingly Empress Elizabeth then agrees with the Emperor, Sarantenos believing it to be a cynical ploy to regain her husband’s favor. But then Demetrios Sideros comes out firmly against it much to the fury of the Empress who believes it to be a ploy on the Eparch’s part to maintain his influence by ensuring no alternative source such as the Empress can get established. The Empress’s anger is only aroused further when the Emperor listens to the Eparch rather than her (and to the combined argument of his entire senior bureaucracy, the Patriarch points out to her).

    There is no way of knowing how long this whole imbroglio could’ve continued but Ibrahim decides to break the deadlock by launching an invasion of Mesopotamia. Osman marches to meet him without any Roman aid instead of retiring towards the Roman frontier as Andreas advices. Andreas argues that if Osman can draw Ibrahim out after him, the Romans can combine with him and crush his brother in one fell swoop at the onset, rendering the whole matter of ‘forts before-or-after aid’ moot. Osman disagrees, expressing concern that his brother would instead swoop down on undefended Baghdad or Basra instead, crippling his power base. Furthermore there is an element of pride involved. Osman wants Roman aid, but on his terms. He has no intention of being slandered as a Roman puppet, in power only by riding along on their coattails.

    The two forces meet in battle at the town of Jalula, a site Osman presents as propitious, ironically on the fourth anniversary of 1st Nineveh. On the same grounds the Rashidun Caliphate had inflicted a serious defeat on the Sassanid Persian Empire almost a thousand years earlier. Perhaps they shall see another great defeat of a Persian horde. The precedent is one that Osman sorely needs. His army musters thirty two thousand to his brother’s thirty nine thousand. Both sides are a mix of veterans and new recruits, Osman drawing from the Janissaries and Azabs and Ibrahim from the Shahsevan and Qizilbash, but Ibrahim has a slightly higher portion of veterans. In artillery they are more closely matched, Osman with forty one cannons to his brother’s forty six.

    The battle seesaws back and forth for a while, Osman staying on the defensive to make up for his smaller numbers. But the gunnery of the Old Redoubtables is still murderous on his lines and he has nothing that can match the armored Persian lancers. Recognizing that the battle is starting to veer against him he begins an orderly withdrawal. Unfortunately for him, some of his new recruits panic at this, triggering a rout amongst many of the neighboring units.

    By the time Osman regroups he finds himself down to twenty four thousand men, his brother’s force somewhere around thirty six thousand. Seeing no other option he swallows his pride and appeals to Andreas for aid, ceding the Mashhadshar territories up-front. Andreas III at this point is in Antioch and immediately orders the armies to cross the frontier.

    Both the Amida and Edessa ‘pockets’ (the latter connects with the territory covered by the three great forts so is not a pocket per se), the strips of the Roman border regions menacing those two major Roman cities ceded to Iskandar, are overrun within a week. Twenty five thousand Roman soldiers, comprised from the Anatolikon, Armeniakon, and Chaldean tagmata, march into the Ottoman Empire proper with orders to link up with Osman. They are under the command of the Strategos of the Armeniakon, Konstantinos Mauromanikos, a veteran soldier who has fought in every major engagement of the Eternal War from Ras al-Ayn to Second Nineveh (he has five weeks seniority over Leo Neokastrites going by his reinstatement as Chaldean Strategos).

    Meanwhile the great fortresses of Maskanah, Manbij, and Jarabalus are all placed under siege, operations directed by Stefanos Monomakos who has been promoted to Megas Poliarchos, the ‘Great Master of Sieges’. Any siege trains and operations undertaken by Roman forces anywhere fall under his jurisdiction. Unfortunately all three sites are well-fortified with modern defenses, well-manned, and well-supplied. And as Persians who incline toward Ibrahim, Osman’s cession means nothing to them. To make matters worse, plague spread from Egypt has broken out in Syria, wreaking havoc on supply networks.

    The mood of the Turkish troops, already bad since the defeat at Jalula, quickly turns mutinous at the news the Romans have ‘invaded’, which is how they view the Roman activities. Ibrahim’s agents meanwhile are at work spreading discontentment and a little golden sweetener. A week after Jalula a band of disaffected officers try to seize Osman for deliverance to his brother, for which they have been promised a mountain of silver.

    Osman, catching wind of the conspiracy and unable to trust the rest of his men, flees, riding hard for the Roman army currently marching toward him. Upon his disappearance there is pandemonium in the Turkish camp until the conspirators manage to bring everybody in line. They argue that Osman’s actions clearly show him to be a Roman puppet and that Ibrahim is the only force that can stop them. Thus the officers eventually convince the men to acknowledge Ibrahim as Shah, although they do force a concession from him that half of all senior military and court positions shall be reserved for Turks (the Arabs of southern Mesopotamia are thus left out in the cold but that doesn’t bother the predominantly Turkish soldiery of Osman’s army).

    But while the Turks are forcing this concession from Ibrahim they do have cavalry out looking for Osman, recognizing that possession of him, either dead or alive, would be a valuable bargaining chip. Ibrahim promises a reward of 2 million silver akce for the patrol commander who brings him in and 200,000 for every member of said patrol. (By comparison 600,000 akce builds and outfits a war galley.)

    On October 11, just ten miles from the Roman forward screen, Osman is cornered by one of the Turkish patrols and killed, his severed head delivered to his delighted brother (who has already arranged the death of two younger brothers, both children, who were living in Mazandaran). Uniting the Turks with his Persians he now advances on the Romans.

    The Romans, unexpectedly facing an Ottoman army twice the size of their own, fall back to the pre-Mashhadshar border but do not abandon the pockets. Meanwhile Monomakos has seized Jarabalus, the northernmost of the three ‘Aleppo’ forts, and re-garrisoned it but Maskanah and Manbij still remain defiant. The siege forces are riddled with plague and poor forage has hundreds of horses down with colic which will kill most of them.

    Andreas, recognizing that the situation is not ideal, decides not to contest the issue, too much. He was riding for Mauromanikos with four tourmai and a thousand Anizzah riders as an escort but while retiring to Aleppo a contingent of four thousand Turks veers a little too close. At Sarrin said contingent is roundly trounced, forced to flee after suffering over six hundred casualties to 126 Roman and 19 Anizzah.

    After he retires back across the Roman border and Mauromanikos encamps at Amida, Andreas orders the sieges of Maskanah and Manbij abandoned but at the same time reinforcing Jarabalus and the ‘pockets’. He has no intention of giving up what he has already taken. Ibrahim, who has no desire to get embroiled in another Roman war, accepts the situation, reinforcing Maskanah and Manbij but keeping his troops well clear of the reclaimed lands.

    Neither Andreas nor Ibrahim want to fight with the plague raging around them, this being a particular nasty outbreak. In Antioch alone twelve thousand have died and the number of dead in the Roman army camps is comparable to that of both Ninevehs. Andreas sets up camp in the suburbs of Antioch arranging relief efforts for the stricken region, organizing grain shipments from as far away as Scythia and Arles. In one particularly famous episode he visits the plague hospital at Lattakieh, conversing with the sick. Twelve die at that hospital that day, Andreas pledging a stipend for all their families to be drawn out of his private incomes.

    As winter arrives the situation improves, the plague fizzles out to the relief of everyone. Still Andreas elects to remain in the region. He marched through the area to and from the Persian campaign but apart from that has spent little time here.
  • 1627: Spring finds the Emperor in Damietta. Over the course of the winter he has traveled through southern Syria and Palestine, his primary stops Tripoli, Tyre, Acre, Damascus, and Jerusalem. In Damietta he is attended by Despot Andreas II Drakos-Komnenos and earns the gratitude of the Egyptians when he publicly praises the performance of the Egyptian tourmai in military exercises conducted before him. Since the outbreak of the Great Uprising the Copts have become used to Roman disdain for their martial capabilities.

    Andreas takes ship from Damietta but not with Constantinople as his destination. After a brief tour of Cyprus (the first time an Emperor has visited the island since Manuel II in 1320) where the sugar merchants complain constantly about Arletian, Spanish, and Triune competition, he lands in Cilicia. Having enjoyed his tour of Syria and Palestine, he intended to do a circuit of Anatolia with a particular focus on the eastern themes. In Tarsus he is joined by Maria of Agra, escorted by Odysseus Sideros.

    The next several months are spent touring the eastern provinces. Although enjoying himself, Andreas is also working. There are many provincial officials who have a surprise audit personally supervised by the Emperor and not all of them pass. In fourteen different towns Andreas holds ‘open sessions’, where any petitioner may approach with requests.

    He also attends four military reviews each of elements of the Anatolikon, Armeniakon, and Chaldean tagmata. Ribbons and small cash donatives are awarded to soldiers who distinguish themselves during the exercises and war games and Andreas personally distributes these to the men, recognizing faces from the battle of Sarrin in the process.

    Near Kerasous he takes command of five Chaldean tourmai in a war game, pitted against the other five commanded by Leo Neokastrites. The War Room officer overseeing the game awards the victory to Andreas. The Emperor inquires as to the health of the officer’s eyes and orders him to re-analyze the records. The victory is awarded to Leo Neokastrites, his victory purse paid personally out of the Emperor’s pockets.

    All this time he is accompanied by Maria and Odysseus. The soldiers of the eastern themes are tough, hard men, drawn from the hill-men and herdsmen of central and eastern Anatolia, miners from the Taurus and lumberjacks from the slopes of the Pontic Alps. They are not easily impressed. They are also discouraged and frustrated. They fought and died in the Eternal War and for what? Nothing. Some have been inclined to blame Andreas for the defeat. After all, if he hadn’t been captured, the bloodbath at Nineveh might have been worth it.

    But his actions since his accession have changed their minds. They don’t know of the intrigues, of the factions in Constantinople. What matters to them is that they have an Emperor who walks amongst them, talks to them, listens to their problems and complaints, and works to address them. Not for over a century have they had that.

    By now they love Andreas but they positively adore Maria. So she’s not the Emperor’s wife, who cares? Andreas Niketas on his first military campaign was accompanied by his then-mistress Kristina of Rus, the future Empress of Blackbirds. Besides the Empress is a beer-drinking German who’s probably still a papist in her heart. Plus the men of the east are practical men. Andreas is a young man and certain desires come with the territory. Now a wife naturally wouldn’t be pleased with her husband sowing wild oats but no man amongst the eastern themes fault Andreas for considering his wife to be overreacting and taking comfort in such a kind and beautiful mistress. Which one of them wouldn’t?

    In mid-September Andreas enters Trebizond, many noting that in the procession that Maria takes the position accorded to the Imperial consort and Odysseus to that of the heir-apparent. A few days later Maria of Agra formally converts to Orthodoxy and is granted her freedom by Andreas in accordance to Roman law. She is baptized into the Orthodox Church, the metropolitan of Trebizond presiding. Anna Laskarina, the sixty-nine year youngest daughter of the Her Serene Highness Princess Theodora Komnena, is Maria’s godmother.

    In Trebizond Andreas also meets with King Konstantin III Safavid of Georgia and his son and heir forty-eight year old Vakhtang, whose wife Anna is a granddaughter of Empress Helena I. Failure to secure Georgian assistance is viewed as one of the key reasons for the failure of the Nineveh campaign. Andreas does wish to hold off for a few years to rebuild and reform the army, in particular clearing out some of what he views as deadweight in the senior commands and replacing them with officers who have bloodied and distinguished themselves during the Eternal War. His appointment of Mauromanikos was just the start. But starting a war after firing most of his strategoi seems like a really dumb idea.

    Konstantin is highly gratified to hear that. In 1622 he wasn’t opposed to the principle of a renewed attack on the Ottoman Empire. He just thought it was too early for Georgian participation. But now the Emperor of the Romans is actively requesting his assistance rather than just assuming it’s available and also wants to delay a few years. Nothing specific is agreed at this time but Andreas leaves with the assurance that when he marches on Ibrahim he will have the support of the Georgians.

    Andreas also acquires a highly valuable ‘commodity’ from the Georgians in Trebizond, the custody of eight-year-old Iskandar, aside from Shah Ibrahim the only living son of Iskandar ‘the Great’ (as he is already being styled). His nurse and tutor had managed to smuggle him out to Georgia before his elder brother’s agents arrived.

    He is certainly a valuable catch but Konstantin is uncomfortable with the glare coming from Hamadan as a result. Plus the Romans are offering 400,000 hyperpyra up front and another 400,000 to be paid in annual payments over the next four years. The Ottoman prince, plus his faithful nurse and tutor, join the Emperor’s retinue.

    After Trebizond Andreas decides that it is time to return at last to Constantinople, much to the joy of the people of the capital. He has been gone for well over a year. He even makes a courtesy call on the Empress in her private apartments on his return, an act that shocks the court. This seems to have been done on the advice of Megas Logothete Thomas Autoreianos. Although wooed by both the Demetrian (in actuality Sarantenos and Jahzara have done the wooing) and Elizabethan factions, he has remained outside of their disputes. He is the elder statesman of the Empire, having served since as far back as the War of the Rivers. His loyalty is to the realm. So in the interest of the realm, could the Emperor and Empress please make some legitimate heirs?

    Considering that despite the procession at Trebizond Andreas has made no move to make Odysseus his legal heir, many historians believe that the call is Andreas accepting his senior-most official’s advice. A legitimate heir certainly simplifies things. But Elizabeth doesn’t see it or care about it. All that matters is that Maria returns to Constantinople clearly showing a belly. Nobody knows what exactly was said between the two but a furious Andreas storms out of the Empress’ apartments and swearing that “by God, the Virgin Mary, all the saints, and the throne of Andreas Niketas that I will not touch that woman as long as I live.”