An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

The War in Korea: 1638
  • The War in Korea, 1638

    “I am not asking you to fight. I am asking you to die. But know that in the time it takes for the enemy to kill you, more will come to take your place. And you shall be remembered and revered as the saviors of China.”-Li Rusong​

    Li Rusong has not received nearly as much in the way of reinforcements and supplies over the winter as he did in the winter of 1636-37. Aside from the loss of shipping, the most significant activity has been diplomatic maneuvering by the Koreans and Chinese amongst the various Jurchen clans. Both sides have been trying to woo the clans, both to gain their support and to keep the other from getting Jurchen support. The Chinese were initially the most successful, given Jurchen annoyance at Korean overlordship and the appearance of being the winners, but the retreat from Kaesong has ruined that effect. However the Jurchens are not eager to go back under the Korean banner.

    The clan leaders eagerly game the situation, taking subsidies from both sides which are offered by both Seoul and Luoyang who won’t tolerate the other taking the lead. In short, the Jurchen clan leaders profit while the two polities get nothing for their expenses save the knowledge that the other is getting nothing as well. One consequence for Li is the decline in Jurchen support makes his overland supply route again more vulnerable to Righteous Armies.

    In contrast, the logistics for the Koreans and Japanese is the best it has been in the war to date. Some of the bugs in their organizational system have been worked out, while Korean production of gunpowder and firearms has tripled from its 1634 level. With the ability to arm, equip, and supply many more Korean regulars, the Korean army has finally recovered and more from the debacle at Anshan and the Qian. The Korean army of 1638 lacks the elite bowmen and lancers of that time, but it is much better at hurling lead downrange at its enemies.

    Konishi Yukinaga begins the phase of active campaigning by launching an offensive, not at Pyongyang, but around it. Forty thousand allied troops march northeast, linking up with Righteous Army contingents that enlarge the force to nearly sixty thousand. They cross the Taedong River at Tokchon, far upstream from Pyongyang, and pivot west. With time more important than blood, in a series of frontal, ferocious, and costly assaults the allies take the fortresses of Kaechon, Anju, and Sinanju, while simultaneously the main allied army attacks Li at Pyongyang, not to take the city but to tie him down. Allied casualties are very heavy but the operation is a complete success. By June 1 the landline between China and Li’s army at Pyongyang has been completely cut. Their only outlet to the outside world is the port at Nampo.

    At Nampo is a Chinese fleet that is surprisingly larger than the one at Haeju, 299 ships, but that is including hastily armed merchantmen with a few weapons attached and the average warship size is smaller than that at Haeju. Seoul’s concern is that Li will be able to embark the bulk of his forces on the ships and escape, which they do not want. For King Danjong and the Korean court, it is not enough that the Chinese be expelled from the peninsula. The invaders must be annihilated and that followed up by the reclamation of Liaodong, and more besides as compensation for Korea’s suffering.

    For once Admiral Yi is left loose at the beginning, rather than the end of the campaigning season, and on June 1 the allied fleet of 222 ships arrives at Nampo. The Chinese fleet refuses to be drawn out, remaining where it can be covered by the harbor defense batteries, but that does not deter Yi who expected as much. With the heavier Roman ships engaging the shore guns, the Korean panokseons sally at their enemy, Admiral Yi prominent on his flagship.

    This has been called the age of ‘wooden ships and iron men’ for good reason and such displays of bravery and contempt for danger are expected, nay, demanded, from commanding officers, from Japan to Portugal. But there may have been more than that in Admiral Yi’s mind on that day.

    The Seoul court had given way to the demand from the Japanese, Romans, and Admiral Yi to be allowed to go on the offensive, but it had humiliated many important figures at the court, especially after the demands had been proven right. Those figures have not forgotten, or forgiven that, and while they cannot take out their frustrations on the Japanese or Romans, they can on Admiral Yi, his much more diplomatic portion of the demand completely forgotten in their spite. For all that Admiral Yi has accomplished for his country, he can expect not reward, but disgrace, when this is all over.

    The fighting begins at noon and over the course of four hours the Chinese fleet is systematically annihilated and the port of Nampo seized. At just before three, by which point victory is clear although the battle still rages fiercely, Admiral Yi Sun-sin is struck by a Chinese bullet that penetrates his armor under his left armpit. Knowing the wound is mortal, he tells his nephew who is beside him “the battle is at its height. Wear my armor and beat my war drums. Do not announce my death”. A moment later he is dead. His nephew follows his dying words and the allied fleet is none the wiser until the evening when his death is announced to the grief of the allied sailors.

    Li Rusong is now completely trapped. If he concentrates enough force to try and break through the land cordon towards the Yalu, he won’t have enough men to adequately guard Pyongyang and prevent the main allied army from rolling him up from the rear. So he attempts to negotiate a withdrawal, bargaining with the fact that he has Pyongyang and the supplies to withstand a siege that he can make very long and painful and expensive. Equipment and weaponry can be replaced, but Li wants to preserve the veteran manpower of his army; it will be needed to defend Liaodong and northern China from a feared Korean-Japanese invasion.

    Konishi is open to these talks. Unknown to Li, his brief is only to expel the Chinese from the Korean peninsula; the Japanese have no interest in subsidizing a Korean empire, only protecting Korean independence. However a court commissioner from Seoul arrives to oversee the negotiations, claiming that this is a political matter, not a military one, and therefore Konishi has no jurisdiction. Dependent on the cooperation from Seoul for supplies, and with his forces now slightly more Korean than Japanese, Konishi reluctantly concedes.

    The commissioner’s demands are hardly of the type to make Li give way graciously. The commissioner makes it clear only unconditional surrender will be accepted, with no guarantees for the Chinese soldiers. Given the official’s attitude, Li suspects (rightly) that surrender and capture will mean torture, slavery, and death. He also divines that the Koreans intend to continue the attack into China, although historians are unsure of whether the Koreans realize at this point the Japanese have no intention to march beyond the Yalu.

    Li returns to Pyongyang after the talks not dispirited but invigorated. One door is shut but another is open, as the Koreans have forgotten a cardinal rule of the art of war: never back your opponent into a corner. He makes it clear to his men that they are doomed, but they still have one mission remaining, to sell their lives as dearly as possible, to make their final stand so bloody so as to break the army arrayed against them and prevent it from invading China once they have fallen. Many of the soldiers, including a large portion of the veteran noncommissioned officers, remember the days of a divided China ravaged by foreign barbarians and are horrified at the prospect of those days returning. If there had been another way out, perhaps they would’ve thought differently, but if they must die, they will sell themselves as dearly as possible. If the barbarians wish to invade China, then let them at least invade after clambering over a wall of their dead. The commissioner’s final demand for surrender is met with the hurled heads of all the allied prisoners.

    Konishi, recognizing where this is going, steps down as supreme allied commander, taking charge of just the Japanese contingent and letting the Koreans be the tip of the spear hurled at Pyongyang. The fighting is even more intense than at Kaesong; even after the walls are seized it takes twelve days for the city to be overrun, often by demolishing it street by street, house by house. The Chinese prove very adept at luring the Koreans into gunpowder traps and blowing them to smithereens. It is not enough to stop them, but the Chinese soldiers sell themselves most dearly. As for Li Rusong, the most common report is that while wounded, a Korean officer came up to chop off his head, at which point Li grabbed the officer in a headlock and hurled himself and the man off the balcony, both plummeting to their death.

    By the middle of July, the Chinese have been driven out of Korea north of the Yalu, save for perhaps a few small contingents reduced to roving bandits. But the Korean army that made such a good show just two months earlier has been gutted by the savagery at Pyongyang, made worse by an outbreak of disease from all the corpses. An offensive into Liaodong is out of the question. A new Chinese army is massing in Liaodong, but it is to defend the area, not renew the attack on Korea. At this stage Luoyang has recognized that a Korean commandery is not in the cards, but Liaodong is a part of China and will be defended as such.

    Despite the losses at Pyongyang, King Danjong wants to continue the attack. After all, by stopping now that means he lost Liaodong, one of his father’s great prizes. But Konishi is barely hiding his contempt for Seoul any longer, while the heavy losses have prompted many in Osaka to lobby for withdrawing Japanese troops from Korea entirely. In the Korean army’s post-Pyongyang state, that would leave Korea rather exposed to a Chinese counterattack. (The Roman ships would also leave if and when the Japanese did, but that is much less significant, especially after Nampo.)

    Eventually Danjong gives way and a peace made with China in the autumn. In it Seoul recognizes Chinese control of Liaodong and renounces any claim to the territory, while the Chinese renounce any claims of their own on territory to the south of the Yalu. Korean tribute/trade missions are allowed to proceed to Luoyang and the Chinese offer accommodations and subsidies for Korean students. However Danjong doesn’t encourage students and neglects to send any tribute/trade missions, believing it is a show of strength to assert Korean independence. Considering the amount of money the Cham make from their tribute/trade missions, practically all historians believe Danjong is cutting off his nose to spite his face here.

    As for the Jurchens, they are left up in the air, with neither China nor Korean clearly paramount. The chiefs continue their policies of playing the two off each other, extracting bribes and honors while doing little of actual value for Luoyang or Seoul. The political infighting between the clans, spurred on by the two sedentary states who fear a Jurchen warlord, less for its own threat than by the fear that said Jurchen warlord will side with the other guy, keeps the Jurchens fragmented precisely as Russians begin entering the region.

    In Korea, much of the northwest is devastated but the rest of the peninsula mostly untouched. However in all areas the authority of Seoul has been badly mauled with regional yangban having to take up the slack for Seoul’s myopia and incompetence. The Korean state keeps together but it is more decentralized going forward, with prominent yangban acting as local lords. With their Righteous Armies, who have little reason to praise Seoul, they have the military might to ignore Seoul’s orders if they’re not to the yangban’s liking. Seoul’s attempt to rebuild the central army and regain control are hampered by the expensiveness of the war and the loss of provincial tax revenues as those independently-minded yangban keep that income ‘for local needs’.

    The war also massively increases the Orthodox presence in Korea, which in 1635 had been just a few merchant families at most. The influx of Japanese soldiers and their accompanying priests had been the first push, but after the war several Japanese and Roman Orthodox monasteries are established on Korean land left vacant after the death of the inhabitants. Local Korean yangban encourage the efforts as a way to restore land productivity, while many former members of the Righteous Armies are interested in this new faith. They had not forgotten that more support for them came from Konishi than from Seoul.

    As for Japan, the goal of keeping the Korean peninsula out of Chinese hands has been achieved, but at a staggeringly high cost. Between all the various losses, including combat, disease, and a storm that sinks some returning transports, it is estimated that 40-50% of the Japanese expeditionary force leaves their bones on Korean ground. The political discontentment from grieving families is alarming to Osaka, but one the Shimazu manage to deal with relatively easily. However the butcher’s bill always hangs like a cloud, sharply discouraging further Japanese thoughts about mass military interventions on the continent.

    In China the war is presented, and still is to this day, as a victory. While the Chinese were not able to replace the Korean ascendancy over the Jurchen, they were able to destroy it. More importantly, Liaodong, the last piece of China under foreign rule, has been liberated. The Jingtai Emperor presents the Korean campaign as a preemptive strike to take out a budding Korean-Japanese plot to ravage and repress the Chinese, as foreigners had done so often so recently.

    Chinese losses had been high, but through their sacrifice the Middle Kingdom had been spared another foreign onslaught. Li Rusong is presented as a great hero, his family honored and rewarded for his services. Today he is still venerated with temples in Luoyang and Anshan, amongst others. His treatment makes Seoul’s treatment of Admiral Yi seem downright petty in comparison. Yi’s political enemies at court ensure no honors for Yi posthumously or for his family until the reign of Danjong’s successor when he finally starts to get his proper due. Today Admiral Yi is also venerated as a hero of the Korean people.

    Luoyang can claim a victory, but the war annihilated practically all of the Chinese navy, lost to Yi’s maneuverings and cannonades. On land China can claim honor, but at sea only humiliation and the Chinese court would just as soon avoid anything that can remind them of said humiliations. While the trade with Pyrgos continues and even expands (it is far too profitable to relinquish) and Chinese merchant communities are scattered throughout Island Asia, Luoyang makes no effort to rebuild the fleet. The Zeng are not isolationist, being heavily involved on their landward frontier in Asia, but they are definitely content to leave the sea to others.

    As for the Romans, those individually involved prospered, being awarded for their service by the grateful Japanese government. The governor of Nagasaki personally presents a sword from the Emperor as a gift to Leo Kalomeros, while Ship Lords who provided ships for the Japanese are rewarded with trade certificates that allow them to offload goods in Osaka (after presenting their goods and paying customs in Nagasaki).

    On a political level, the Japanese were most gratified by the prompt and generous aid provided by the Romans of Pyrgos when called upon. While Theodoros IV’s quip about gratitude being worth its weight in gold is often true, Japanese gratitude does have a more solid quality for the Romans. One of the greatest strengths of Rhomania-in-the-East is the ease with which the Katepanoi and Ship Lords can hire Japanese samurai.

    When Leo Kalomeros arrives in Pyrgos, he is given a promotion to the rank of Kentarchos, which in the Roman navy is a Captain, and a new ship, the 26-gun fregata Pylos, new from the Pyrgos shipyard. In size and firepower it is almost half again bigger than the Octopus. He will have need of those cannons.
     
    Lords of Spice and Sea: The Spanish Sword
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: The Spanish Sword

    “There is an unfortunate tendency in western histories, when reviewing the expansion of the west in the early modern era, to focus entirely on the actions of the westerners. Easterners, when they appear, exist merely as an exotic but irrelevant backdrop or, at most, token actors without much agency who seem to exist solely to be exploited, conquered, and absorbed. Yet even a cursory review of our period shows that is ridiculously inaccurate.

    “In the Eulhae War, which involved armies comparable in size to those mustered for the battle of Thessaloniki, the star players were the eastern realms of China, Korea, and Japan, with the Jurchens playing a supporting role. For all the attentions lavished on the Roman squadron and the exploits of Leo Kalomeros, their contributions were hardly decisive or even consequential. In that great drama, the Roman was very much a B-list cast member.

    “The same can be said for the Viet-Cham wars of the same period. And during the 1630s, Roman involvement in the Indian subcontinent, by far the biggest element in the Indian Ocean & Island Asia theater, doesn’t even reach that level. In this series, at best the Roman was a guest supporting actor in one or two episodes of an entire season.

    “Now in the Malaccan-Java War, westerners, the Spanish and the Romans, were the main characters. However the main cast also included Sunda and Mataram with the key guest star of Vijayanagar, without whose contributions the story is impossible to tell.”
    -Excerpt from This is the End of the World: A Global History of the 1630s and 40s

    “I do not find talk of ‘natural borders’ any more pleasant when it is spoken in Greek as opposed to French.”-Mateo Alemán, Spanish court official

    “It is the nature of empire to expand, or at least to desire to do so. A valuable province requires a buffer zone for its defense. However as that buffer zone is integrated as its own province, it in turn requires a buffer zone, and so the cycle repeats. The Romans of the classics did not intend to conquer the Mediterranean when they first took Sicily, and yet they did in the end.

    “That the Triune should overtake all of Lotharingia is not ideal, for that will mark a significant accrual of power to the Triple Monarchy. However its expansion, and all the complications that will entail, will draw it east into Germany, away from Spain. Thus such an eventuality, while dangerous, is not necessarily fatal.

    “That is not the case in Italy. If the Greek were to overtake all of Lombardy, this would also mark a significant accrual of power to the Greek Empire. However its expansion there, and all the complication that will entail, will draw it west into Provence, at which point the Greek will be at the very doorstep of Spain. Such an eventuality very well could be fatal to Spain. Lombardy is the Mediterranean outwork of Spain; it must be defended at all hazards, even if to do so requires allying with the Triunes and endorsing their conquests in the Rhineland.”-the Duke of Osena, Constable of Spain [Equivalent to Megas Domestikos], in an official report to the Spanish crown​

    The royal approval for a large Spanish expedition had only been issued in the autumn of 1635, but plans for a reinforcement of Spanish eastern possessions had been in the works ever since the fall of Al-Andalus had freed up the bulk of the Spanish fleet. Furthermore valuable logistical experience in provisioning war fleets had been gained by the long blockades imposed on the Andalusi and North African coasts and the dispatch of larger-than-usual convoys to eastern waters in recent years. As a result, preparations for the Spanish expedition proceed surprisingly quickly but quite effectively.

    For those expecting a sea-cracking armada, the size of the Spanish expedition can come off as rather underwhelming. It is comprised of eight battle-line ships, two fregatai, a sloop, and three auxiliaries, hardly an imposing force in the Mediterranean or the English Channel. (This is separate from the regular merchantmen planning their India runs.) However in eastern waters even a handful of dedicated warships, surrounded by armed merchantmen and smaller native craft, is a juggernaut. Furthermore all of the warships are new, the oldest just three years old, and three of the battle-line ships are of the Flor de la Mar class 72-gunners. These fine and beautiful vessels are considered by Spanish, Triune, Lotharingian, and Roman contemporaries, in a rare fit of agreement, to be overall the best warships on the sea in their day. These third-raters are about twice as powerful as the typical 50-gunner and larger than any Roman warship in the east, giving way only to the Shiva, Ganesh, and Krishna in Vijayanagar’s service.

    The commander of the expedition is Duarte Pacheco Pereira, a salt-bearded veteran with more than forty years of experience in eastern waters, ever since sailing out there as a teenager. He’s fought Acehnese, Semarang, Bugis, and Roman Malays, with a bullet still in him from the last. Although he served in the Mediterranean during the Andalusi War, his heart is very much in the east along with his Sundanese Catholic wife and two mestizo children.

    Pereira throws himself wholeheartedly into preparing for this expedition. He is strongly supported by a wide swath of the great and the good in Spanish society, particularly the great merchants and bankers of Lisbon. Many of the latter are of Genoese origin and utterly enraged by the treatment of their cousins back in their mother city. Furthermore any Spaniard who has any interest in matters beyond the Line knows that there the Romans are a far greater threat than the Triunes.

    There are certainly many Spaniards who are worried about provoking the Romans and who are concerned about the Triunes. But in the words of the Archbishop of Coimbra, “the Greeks seem to have forgotten that they are not the only ones in the world with concerns and interests.” The Spanish are well aware of the conversations that go on in the Queen of Cities, and if the Romans were going out of their way to deliberately aggravate the Spanish they couldn’t have done any better.

    The continued chatter in Constantinople about annexing all of northern Italy cannot help but set alarm bells ringing in Arles and Spain despite all of Demetrios III’s assurances. After all, it keeps coming up and sometimes from prominent officials. Roman attempts to deflect this away by pointing out the unofficial nature of the suggestions are badly undermined by Demetrios III previously making a huge deal out of the proposal from a cardinal’s secretary regarding the abduction of Orthodox children to raise them up as Catholics.

    Other Roman talk about how the Spanish should just be focusing on fighting the Triunes also sets Spanish teeth grinding. That is because for all of the talk about fighting the Triunes, no Roman has so much as lifted a finger to help contain the Triunes, and through their actions in southwest Germany, the Romans have been actively counter-productive. The Archbishop of Coimbra, who is good friends with the Roman ambassador in Lisbon through their mutual interest in ancient Greek texts, points out that if Constantinople really was in earnest, they’d be offering subsidies, not self-righteous lectures. Many Spanish view such efforts as a cynical ploy to divert Spanish arms so that the Romans can seize Lombardy without contestation and present Lisbon with a fait accompli.

    In short, there has been a drastic reversal of Spanish popular opinion vis-à-vis the Romans in just the last year or so. In 1633, the Roman ambassador was able to raise 34,000 gold ducats in contributions from Spanish notables to finance an orphanage for children from Upper Macedonia, even while the Spanish were still hotly engaged in fighting to the south. Now the ambassador watches as Lisbon prints off war bonds for financing the fleet and those same notables buying them up to the tune of 100,000 ducats.

    Pereira has the pick of the Spanish fleet for his crews, with a slew of veterans as options. Most who sign up admittedly do it simply because they need employment as the Spanish fleet is drawn down in strength after the fall of Al-Andalus. The promise of rich prize money in eastern waters certainly helps. But there is definitely at least a dash of nationalist pride, for the Spanish are a proud people with much to be proud of in their recent history, and the ambassador reports much resentment at the perceived tone of the Romans, who he says are viewed as “having grown intolerably arrogant and self-absorbed in victory”.

    The fleet departs in Lisbon in late March of 1636, well equipped with ordnance and supplies, including a ration of two ounces of lemon juice a week per sailor for three months. There has been work by Spanish scholars as a way to avoid the Triune disease, as they call scurvy, although in 1636 there are still a wide and extremely diverse range of suggestions. The choice of lemon juice for the expedition comes about simply from the fact that Pereira happens to like the taste.

    The voyage of the fleet, along with the regular eastbound merchantmen, is relatively uneventful. Rounding the bulge of Africa, swinging past Brazil, the fleet makes good time as it reaches the Cape of Storms. The Cape lives up to its name with a storm that batters the fleet, damaging spars and rigging and washing a few sailors overboard, but no ships are lost.

    As the Spanish enter the Indian Ocean, thus far it seems like a typical voyage that hundreds of Latin ships and thousands of Latin sailors have undergone. Yet it is here that Pereira departs from the usual script. Thus far Latin vessels have almost always swung up the east coast of Africa to head for southern India, sometimes stopping somewhere in east Africa or if they go around Madagascar to the east, the Mascarenes. If their destination lies farther east than Vijayanagar, they proceed from southern India through the Straits of Malacca onto their goal.

    However Pereira, with his long eastern experience, is familiar with a new navigational technique pioneered by some Spanish merchantmen in the last decade. Instead of swinging north he and the expedition continue east, catching the Roaring Forties and riding them all along the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Rough waters and sea ice are an issue, with one of the 50-gunners and an auxiliary taking hits that require regular shifts at the pumps.

    When Pereira estimates they’ve reached the right longitude (a very rough calculation with the instrumentation of the day), they pivot north, skirting the western coast of Australia which is sighted by the sloop. The next important landfall they sight is southern Bali, at which point the Spanish turn west, sailing along the south coast of Java before entering the Sunda Strait. These can be treacherous waters but Pereira knows these waters well and on August 23 the Spanish fleet sails into Banten harbor to be warmly welcomed by the Sundanese.

    The Sundanese, well used to receiving Spanish vessels battered by long voyages halfway around the world, promptly set to work repairing damages and resupplying the ships. Meanwhile the Spanish unload their own cargoes for the Sundanese while Pereira meets with the Sundanese Raja, Sang Ratu Jayadewata, to secure cooperation. It is an easy task; Pereira is married to a cousin of the Raja and his brother-in-law is the commander of the Palace Guard. Sundanese lascars reinforce the fleet, making up losses from the voyages although the rations of lemon juice mean that casualties from scurvy are much lower than usual. Furthermore a Spanish forty-gunner, a sloop, and three armed merchantmen that were in Banten are added to the flotilla.

    All this is done in a flurry of activity as Pereira wishes to strike fast. The Romans, who expected to see him first off Cape Comorin and thus to get at least a month’s warning before he arrived in Island Asia proper, are completely flummoxed to find him materialize in Banten seemingly out of thin air. On September 8th, the Spanish fleet (minus the 50-gunner still undergoing repairs to her hull) sail out of Banten harbor.
     
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    Lords of Spice and Sea: The Roman Field
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: The Roman Field

    "A: The invasion is scheduled for Tuesday.
    D: Tuesday? It can't happen on Tuesday. I'm booked for the whole day. Can they reschedule? How about Thursday at 3?
    A: No. They're quite insistent. The invasion will happen on Tuesday.
    D: Oh, fiddlesticks. Invasions are just so inconsiderate.
    A: Yes, sir. I believe that's the point."
    -Excerpt from Yes, Logothete, Roman television series.​

    Had Pereira sailed out of Banten harbor to be met with the assembled might of Rhomania-in-the-East, he would’ve been overwhelmed in an afternoon, even with his trio of 72-gunners. However that never would’ve happened, and Pereira is knowledgeable enough about the Roman East to be aware of that and take advantage of it. Rhomania-in-the-East is powerful but also far-flung, with many competing responsibilities and interests, unable to concentrate entirely on the Spanish.

    The most prominent example of this is the commitment of a quarter of all Roman heavy warships in the east to the war in Korea by the Katepano of Pyrgos, Basil Deblitzenos. Pereira was completely unaware of this until he was briefed by the Spanish chief factor in Banten, but realized its significance and ordered all units under his command to not impinge on the Katepanate of Pyrgos, despite it being a major Roman possession. Pyrgos was relatively distant from Spanish holdings in the east and there had never been quarrels between them and the Spanish. But Deblitzenos was especially concerned to maintain good relations with the Japanese, particularly after irritating the Chinese by sending ships to Korea. So as long as his governorate was not under direct Spanish attack, Deblitzenos would not be willing to risk Japanese wrath by pulling his warships out of Korea while fighting was in full force, regardless of the pressure on the other Katepanates.

    That Deblitzenos would prioritize the interest of his Katepanate over that of Rhomania-in-the-East in general often seems surprising to modern readers. Certainly at this time, if a Kephale in the imperial heartland prioritized the interest of his Kephalate over that of the Empire as a whole, they would be sacked in short order. However, the Kephalates of the imperial heartland were clearly individual parts of a much larger structure, made manifest by the constant to-and-fro of provincial and imperial officials to and from the provinces and the capital. Furthermore, officials were commonly shuffled between Kephalates as they rose from the ranks, or transferred to more prestigious postings. As an example, Demetrios Sideros served as prokathemenos in Thyatira, then as Kephale of Skammandros, then as Kephale of Smyrna, and finally as Eparch of Constantinople (which while bearing a different title is functionally similar to being a Kephale). While not intentional, this form of operation encourages cooperation and recognition of a greater whole beyond the confines of one’s particular governing patch.

    In contrast, while the phrase Rhomania-in-the-East is commonly used to describe Roman holdings in the east, there was absolutely no administrative apparatus that matched that phrase, only the individual Katepanates. Each Katepano was king of his patch, with his ties of obligation going back to Constantinople, not to the other Katepanoi. Furthermore, while eastern officials were often shuffled between districts as they rose up the ranks, they did so inside one Katepanate. This was due to the distances between Katepanates and since each Katepano had practically ultimate authority for hiring and promotion (Constantinople had to confirm major appointments, but those confirmations or denials could take up to a year to arrive), they picked candidates from the pool they knew. This unintentionally fostered a more myopic outlook, with the focus on the individual Katepanate rather than the wider whole.

    There were connections between the Katepanates, with occasional cooperation by Katepanoi against shared issues, and the Ship Lords maintained a vast array of connections in their trade networks and contacts between the various domains. But these were all unofficial. Ironically the Romans in the east were better equipped mentally to deal with a threat like Pereira back in the late 1500s, during the time of the Great Siege of Pyrgos. Then the Ship Lords were stronger and the Katepanoi were fewer and comparatively weaker, fostering a greater sense of unity amongst all Romans in the east.

    That said, one example of such cooperation was actually taking place even as Pereira was sailing from Spain. In 1636 the Dai Viet launched a massive invasion of Champa, suddenly reigniting their war of independence, except now it had morphed into a war of conquest with the Viet goal of creating a new imperial order with them at the top to replace the fallen Cham. Considering the timing, some historians believe this was done at the instigation of the Chinese to distract the Romans, but Luoyang had no desire to widen the Korean war (and furthermore the Romans were a minor player there compared to the Koreans and Japanese) and certainly did not want to see a new imperial power on its southwestern frontier. One argument in Hanoi was that a conquest of the Cham would help the Viet loosen their bonds with China. Others blame the Spanish, but there is no official contact between the Spanish and Viet at this time. This was a purely Viet initiative.

    It was also an initiative dangerous to the Roman. Champa was between Pahang and Pyrgos, with both Katepanoi and many resident Ship Lords having interests there. The Cham were very open to trade with the Romans, while the Vietnamese were adamantly opposed to Roman traders. Thus both Katepanoi very quickly agreed to jointly support the Cham, sending warships and 3500 troops. It was a welcome boost to Vijaya, but those were Roman resources now unavailable for fighting the Spanish.

    This decision was made after the Spanish had begun preparations for Pereira’s fleet, of which Constantinople promptly learned. However because of the pattern of the monsoon winds, the Romans in the east received barely any warning. The southwest monsoon, propelling ships from Africa to India, begins in June and thus Roman ships from the heartland and the intelligence reports they carried only arrived in the three eastern Katepanates a few weeks in advance of Pereira (although the Romans expected more warning as they thought he would turn up first in South India rather than seemingly materializing out of nowhere in West Java). Given the uptick in conflict in Malaya and off the Javanese coast, the Romans in the east expected Spanish reinforcements to come with the 1636 monsoon, but had no reason to think these would be out of the ordinary.

    The Katepano of Pahang at this time was Alexandros Mavrokordatos. He had only been Katepano for two years when the news arrived, although with fifteen years of service in the east before that. Coming from a family of merchants and mid-level government officials from Chios, he was the first in his family to reach such high office and determined to make a name for himself.

    He had been planning a major assault on Spanish Malacca as soon as he became Katepano and was going to launch it in 1636 until the need to send troops to support the Cham intervened. With a sizeable portion of his strength diverted, Alexandros put his plans on hold, with many historians believing that his attack, if done as proposed, would’ve triggered a major Spanish expedition east anyway, regardless of whatever was going on in Europe. Lisbon would never have been able to let such a challenge go unanswered.

    When Alexandros had gotten word that Pereira was inbound, he’d dispatched what ships he had and what he could cajole from the Ship Lords at short notice to the northwestern end of the Strait of Malacca and sent his fastest vessel to Taprobane to ask for reinforcements. His hope was that between his own ships and those of Taprobane, they could take down the sea-battered Pereira coming from India before he could link up with the Spanish warships in Malacca. However by placing them to the northwest of Malacca, there was now no Roman force between Malacca and Banten.

    Mavrokordatos was utterly appalled when he heard that Pereira was in Java. He sent a fregata to his fleet, hoping they could redeploy and cut off the Malacca fleet before it had time to mobilize and join Pereira. However the fregata ended up blundering right into the Spanish Malacca squadron, mistaking it for a Lotharingian fleet in the area terrorizing Triune outposts, and was taken as a prize to Banten, fitted with a Spanish-Sundanese crew, and added to the Spanish fleet. Meanwhile the Pahang ships patrolled the empty sea north of Sumatra for six weeks before returning to Pekan (the Pahang capital) and learning what had happened.

    The other Katepano, this of New Constantinople, most opposed to the Spanish was Thomas Motzilos. Even if he’d known of Pereira’s fleet earlier it is questionable whether he could’ve done anything about it as all of his strength was already committed. The climax of the Mataram-Semarang war had arrived, with Sanjaya marshalling his army for a siege of Semarang herself with the aim of the destruction of the Sultanate. He expects the full support of the New Constantinople fleet.

    The alliance with Mataram has been most fruitful for New Constantinople. Semarang kept the Romans out of Java for three generations but now they have major merchant districts in all the key ports on the north shore of central and eastern Java. Mataram provides timber and foodstuffs needed by New Constantinople’s domains, whose tiny island specks provide valuable spices but little else. But in just the few years of the Mataram-New Constantinople alliance, it has already created a dependency on the part of the latter. Thomas, who needs access to Javanese foodstuffs, cannot afford to alienate Sanjaya by saying no. That said, until Pereira turned up in Banten, Thomas had no reason to say no and committed his fleet to the siege of Semarang.

    Far to the west, the Katepano of Taprobane is Konstantinos Laskaris, with another major figure being the Roman ambassador to Vijayanagar, Nikephoros Laskaris. They are brothers, both able to trace their descent back to Nikephoros Laskaris, Theodoros II’s martially brilliant younger brother, and have held their current offices for over fifteen years each. Their high bloodlines and long tenure help to boost their position in Vijayanagar’s eyes.

    Both are very knowledgeable about the Indian subcontinent but neither have been east of Bengal and frankly, India itself is enough to keep one occupied. Dazzled by the power and wealth of Indian courts, particularly the Jewel of the World, they have little concern or knowledge of matters east. One of Konstantinos Laskaris’ responsibility is to ensure the flow of shipping between the Red Sea and the east, but that is only in the western Indian Ocean. Beyond the Andaman Islands his authority and responsibility vanishes.

    The Katepanate of Taprobane has the most ships of any of the Roman Katepanates, but they are kept busy with their normal duties. The coastal shipping of Vijayanagar attracts a great many pirates and many of those pirates are European renegades. Because all of the Christian powers try to maintain their legal authority over their people in Vijayanagar, the Vijayanagara will then turn that around and hold the Christian authorities responsible for the actions of ‘their’ renegades. There are a great many Roman renegades turned pirate.

    Konstantinos is quite familiar with the Spanish who are active in India, but his relations are far different than out east. India is before the Line, and thus peace treaties in Europe hold sway here between the Romans and Spanish. Furthermore, both Romans and Spanish are surrounded by Indians that outnumber them on an order of 10,000 to 1, which makes the two feel more connected to each other than would be the case back in Europe or in more lightly populated and tension-filled Indonesia. Also, Spanish grievances here are not with the Romans but with the Triunes for the loss of Bengal, and the Spaniards Konstantinos know are mostly old Bengal hands. And finally, given the Triune power base in Bengal, the Triunes weigh much more heavily on Konstantinos’ mind than they do on any of the Katepanoi further east.

    Thus Konstantinos has a very different plan for how to react to Pereira. Based on the Spaniards with whom he is used to dealing, he feels he can convince Pereira to scrap the Indonesian expedition. Instead he wants to combine his fleet with Pereira’s and launch a joint attack on Bengal, with military support from Vijayanagar. This will both eliminate the Triune threat and also elevate the Romans in the eyes of Venkata Raya. If the Romans are the driving force in this arrangement, then clearly they will be the best choice for an alliance with Vijayanagar.

    This plan completely goes off the rails when Pereira bypasses India altogether. However Konstantinos is not willing to send ships east anyway. There have been a recent series of attacks by Roman pirates on Vijayanagara shipping, which while nothing major yet is a problem he wants to clamp down on sooner rather than later. Furthermore, he knows the Vijayanagara, and he knows with them that a display of power is very important. The three big second-raters of the Vijayanagara navy are not the nucleus for a battle fleet; the three ships have never trained together. However they are a clear display of military might, towering over smaller Roman ships. The mere act of looking bigger carries a weight of its own.

    The Spanish in India are carrying on as if everything is normal. The warships stationed here are patrolling for pirates who might be Spanish renegades, while merchantmen that sailed from Lisbon at the same time as Pereira are unloading their wares and going to market. If Konstantinos sends his ships east while the Spanish continue as normal, the Spanish will ‘look bigger’. Now it would be temporary and at other times it wouldn’t matter if that was the case for a little while. However Nikephoros is keeping his brother well aware that Venkata Raya is considering an alliance with either Spain or Rhomania, and both are adamant of the need for it to be Rhomania and terrified at the prospect of Venkata Raya choosing Spain. That concerns overrides all others in the brothers’ minds. This is precisely a moment where Rhomania cannot afford to look smaller than Spain, not even for an instant.
     
    Lords of Spice and Sea: Prestige and Parasites
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: Prestige and Parasites

    Pereira sails east along the coast of Java, having been informed by the Sundanese of the Mataram siege of Semarang and the Roman blockade. Neither he nor the Sundanese have any love for Semarang, which was the terror of Sunda and a thorn in Spain’s side until the beginning of the 1630s. But it gives him the opportunity to take on the Romans of New Constantinople before they can combine with the other Katepanates.

    On September 12, when the Spaniards hove over the horizon, Semarang is still holding out although the city defenders are on the verge of surrendering. When Roman lookouts see the approaching vessels, their first thought is that this is the Lotharingian fleet in the area. While the Romans have heard some rumors of a large Spanish force arriving in Sunda, thus far they have discounted them, some speculating that they were started by Semarang to distract them. A Spanish expedition would come via India and the Strait of Malacca, meaning that if said expedition had reached West Java the Romans would’ve received an official report before now. Once the ships get closer, the Romans realize their mistake but valuable hours that could’ve been used to concentrate the blockaders have been lost.

    The Romans have the advantage of numbers, with twenty ships to the Spanish fifteen. However the Roman force is indisputably lighter. The Romans have two fourth-raters and two fifth-raters, mounting between them 184 cannons, while the Spaniards’ three third-raters, four fourth-raters, and one fifth-rater carry 456, and more of heavier caliber. In addition, eleven of the Roman ships are armed merchantmen, not purpose-built warships, whereas all but three of the Spaniards are warships.

    With that, it is hardly surprising that the Spanish sweep the Romans off the field, the Romans losing thirteen of their twenty. Six are captured, including both fourth-raters, another three smashed to splinters and sunk, while another four break their backs on the Javanese shore, the crews rescued and protected by the Mataram army. In contrast, the Spanish don’t lose a single ship, although three are badly shot up. The Spanish don’t remain in the area, Pereira having accomplished his initial mission, and proceed west toward Malaya where he hopes to waylay the Pahang fleet.

    At the same time as the Spanish fleet sailed from Banten, a Sundanese army of four thousand crossed the frontier to raid former-Semarang territory that has recently been conquered by Mataram. Detaching some troops from the siege, Sanjaya sent a force of some seven thousand to meet them, the two sides coming to blows at the village of Adiwerna.

    The Mataramese, taking advantage of their greater numbers, move to outflank the Sundanese while the two centers exchange gunfire. But the Spanish cargo Pereira just delivered to the Sundanese were state-of-the-art Spanish flintlock muskets, while the Mataramese are using the obsolete matchlocks provided by the Romans. The Sundanese are new to their weapons and not comparable to elite Roman or Spanish infantry, but they still can get off 2 shots a minute while the Mataramese struggle to fire one round every 2 minutes.

    With their flanking maneuver, the Mataramese might still have won this, but their center, stunned by the sheer volume of fire pouring down on them, breaks apart and flees, prompting the rest of the Mataramese army to fall back in disorder. Afterwards the Sundanese continue to raid, seizing a few thousand captives from the countryside as slaves, until Sanjaya temporarily decamps from Semarang with seventeen thousand men. At this, the Sundanese retreat back across the frontier while Sanjaya returns to the siege. Materially, this is not much of a blow to Mataram, but it is a profound humiliation.

    To add to Sanjaya’s frustration, Semarang had been at the point of capitulation. But first the destruction of the Roman fleet and the delays and defeat from the Sundanese have revived the morale of the defenders. With Java’s rainy season approaching rapidly, they defy Sanjaya’s demands, although some are worried about the gamble since their land fortifications have already been smashed in several places.

    Not wanting to break off now when total victory in the long struggle is so close, on October 10 Sanjaya launches an utterly massive frontal assault at the breaches. Fighting is intense, but the third wave breaks through and resistance collapses. Despite the heavy casualties, the Maharaja of Mataram is completely triumphant over the Sultan of Semarang. The inhabitants not killed in the initial frenzy of violence are rounded up and carted off into slavery in the interior, including the female members of the Sultan’s family. Many of them end their days as servants in the Maharaja’s palace. It is a tremendous victory, making Sanjaya the undisputed master of central Java, but events of the last few weeks still leave a bitter taste in his mouth.

    To the west, Alexandros Mavrokordatos is busy implementing his riposte to the Spanish incursion. His spies in Malacca report that the Spanish squadron successfully made it to sea and is now on its way to Java to reinforce Pereira. The combined force will be too powerful for Pahang to tackle alone, but in their absence Malacca is vulnerable, although he knows the window is a short one.

    So he pulls out his operational plan for a major offensive against Malacca and starts setting it in motion. However this new version has several issues compared to the original. A respectable fraction of his forces, including most of his best troops, are fighting in Champa. Alexandros won’t withdraw them for fear of demoralizing and alienating the Cham and besides, they couldn’t get back here in time. Furthermore, the naval component is much weaker, comprising a mix of small armed merchantmen and eastern-style ships with only two proper warships that mount 26 cannon between them, which also means he lacks the sealift capacity to send the army by sea. That said, Mavrokordatos expects these to be reinforced by his regular fleet as they return from their Andaman patrol. Finally the expedition must be quick, because in addition to taking Malacca before the combined Spanish fleet returns, the expedition must take Malacca before the onset of the monsoon in November.

    The Roman army is harassed as it invades the Viceroyalty of Malacca but there is no attempt to stop it in open battle. Still Roman progress is slow, the 267 kilometers between Pahang and Malacca being covered in twenty eight days; one does not march quickly through jungle. By the time the Romans are within gun range of Malacca, it is mid-October. They have at most a fortnight to take the city, and they only have field pieces plus some naval artillery taken off the ships; siege guns would’ve slowed them even more.

    The Romans do have one advantage; Malacca is lightly garrisoned with the Romans having a 4-to-1 advantage in at least semi-trained soldiers. Many of the Spanish troops had gone with the squadron, as they did not expect Mavrokordatos so close to the beginning of the monsoon.

    On October 16, the Romans launch a joint attack from the land and sea. The land assault makes good progress against its outnumbered opponents, but the motley Roman fleet is badly punished by the shore batteries and forced to retreat. The seaward defenders rush to reinforce the land walls and that attack is soon beaten off. Still, the Romans are confident. Any moment now their regular fleet will arrive and if the sea assault is launched with half a dozen proper warships instead of some merchantmen, such a tactic is guaranteed to succeed.

    On October 18 the monsoon breaks, nearly two weeks earlier. The army camp isn’t turned into a sea of mud, yet, but it will, and it’s impossible to keep the gunpowder dry. At a stroke the siege becomes hopeless. The Romans spike their guns as they can’t move them and begin retreating on October 20.

    It is a nightmare retreat, not because of enemy action, which is practically nonexistent, but the climate. Aside from the tigers and alligators, there is the malaria, which is by far the greatest killer. However there are other threats to health. Alexios Xatzigiannis is an eikosarchos in the 2nd Pahang, like many junior officers the son of a Greek father and Malay mother. Literate in Greek, his journal is a valuable first-hand account of the soldiers’ experience. [1]

    On November 17, Alexios recounts going to the latrine at the end of the day and finding one of his men there squatting over the trench and looking very worried. Upon examination, he discovered that the head and at least six centimeters of a tapeworm were sticking out of the man’s anus. Cutting it off was a bad idea as leaving the corpse inside the man’s intestine guaranteed a nasty infection. Alexios got an archiatros who very carefully managed to extract the parasite alive from the man; it was two-thirds of a meter long.

    Despite the lack of artillery, the rains mean that the Roman army only finally gets back to shelter on December 12, the entire army haggard and sick. Alexios, like the rest of the army, had not been able to take off and dry their boots in nearly six weeks. He described his feet as pasty white with a smell that was indescribable but which could be smelled over a kilometer away. The soldiers fire off blank charges of gunpowder to ‘clear’ the air.

    In terms of lives lost the numbers are not so bad, but the health and vitality of the soldiers on the expedition has been gutted, sharply weakening the land forces available to Pahang.


    [1] The stories are taken from Burma: The Forgotten War by Jon Latimer.
     
    Lords of Spice and Sea: In the Shadow of the Volcano
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: In the Shadow of the Volcano

    Pereira’s goal is to destroy the Pahang fleet before it returns to harbor to shelter during the rainy season, but the Roman fleet slips past him mostly unscathed. The one exception is a sloop that gets separated from the main fleet and is sighted by the Spanish and pursued. Hopelessly outmatched, the Roman sloop only manages to escape by jettisoning a good portion of her stores, including many of her guns. A day after slipping away from the Spanish, at dawn it is surprised by a small Acehnese squadron and quickly captured.

    Despite the failure, Pereira has good reason to be proud of his accomplishments. At this time in 1635, the Romans had seven fourth-raters and twelve fifth-raters in all of their eastern holdings. In contrast, the Spanish only had two fourth-raters and four fifth-raters. Now, the Spanish have sixteen heavy warships in the east (8 from the expedition, the six already in the east, and the two prizes from Semarang) while the Romans are at seventeen. In addition the Spanish have the advantage of generally heavier ships and particularly a unified command. Now this analysis does not factor in lighter warships and armed merchantmen, still a major component of naval warfare in the east, but it is clear the Spanish position is vastly strengthened from its pre-expedition level.

    Alexandros Mavrokordatos and his Doux, Michael Angelos, set to work with all haste to prepare for the next confrontation with the Spanish. Of the three easternmost Katepanates, Pahang is the best initially prepared to face the Spanish, unsurprisingly considering the proximity of Malacca. The largest of the Roman warships in the east, a sixty-gunner, is in the Pahang fleet, supported by two fifty-gunners, a pair of 44s, and a 40. Furthermore, Pahang has a larger number of ‘heavy fregatai’ mounting more than 30 guns. They can’t stand up to a Spanish battle-line ship but they still have their uses.

    In addition, Mavrokordatos and Angelos have access to a number of larger merchantmen, many built of teak, provided by alarmed Ship Lords. They aren’t as good as purpose-built warships, but their sheer size and teak construction makes them more formidable than the typical armed merchantman. Angelos plans to pair each of these with a heavy fregata; the duo should be able to handle a Spanish fifty-gunner if they work together.

    The Spanish third-raters are a different matter; pitting merchantmen and light warships against them isn’t war, but murder. Angelos has some ideas for how to deal with them though. One is an up-gunning of his regular warships, replacing some of their lighter pieces with heavier artillery, although only so much can be done without the weight compromising seaworthiness. The other is to outfit smaller vessels as fireships. The Doux is a bit doubtful that the fireships will successfully destroy any of the third-raters, but he hopes at least to use them to tangle up the third-raters in dodging them. That will give him an opportunity to crush the smaller Spanish ships (of the 456 big-ship Spanish guns at Semarang, 218 were on the three third-rates) and three ships, no matter how powerful, are far too few to dominate the seas of Island Asia.

    As the rains fade in 1637, making combat operations possible again, it is clear though that even with all their efforts, Pahang alone does not have the number of ships needed to take on Pereira. Both Deblitzenos in Pyrgos and Laskaris in Taprobane are infuriatingly deaf to Mavrokordatos’ admittedly-not-very-diplomatic requests for aid, citing concerns in their own districts. In addition, further plans to build more ships and buttress existing merchantmen runs into shortage issues, particularly of teak. The best teak comes from Ayutthaya, which currently has a Spanish national as prime minister and is playing host to a Spanish military mission. The next best is Pegu, but to get there from Pahang requires either sailing by Malacca or sailing the long way around Sumatra, which takes one past Sunda. At this time, neither is ideal.

    More helpful are the actions of New Constantinople, where Katepano Motzilos is overseeing similar work to that being done in Pahang. However he is operating from a smaller resource base, made much worse by the losses at Semarang. One item he brings to the table are even more and even larger merchantmen, great spice haulers that are designed to run heavily armed because of the profitability of their cargo. However these are currently equipped with a slew of light cannons, since that was all that was necessary up to now. Bigger weaponry would’ve taken up space that could be taken by profitable spices. Yet if they can be refitted with heavy armaments, the biggest of these could hurl a broadside equal to that of a fourth-rate.

    The issue is that the ships are in New Constantinople while the heavy guns are in Pahang. Because of the tin deposits, most Roman artillery in the east is manufactured around Pekan. First, Angelos needs to get to New Constantinople, which is an issue because Pereira gets the drop on him and blockades Pekan harbor before he has the chance to get the Pahang fleet out and away.

    For three weeks Angelos prays for a good storm to scatter the blockaders or at least provide cover for a breakout, but the weather fails to oblige. So finally, when presented with a clear day but a good seaward breeze, he sails out, his vanguard comprised of fireships. None of them manage to hit any targets, but they knock Pereira back far enough for the Pahang fleet to get out to sea. The Spanish pursue but now a squall brews up, covering the Romans as they make their escape. Pereira tries to get directions from a passing Lotharingian merchantman but the captain’s local mistress had just run off with a Spanish merchant, reportedly after criticizing his equipment. As a salve to his wounded pride, the Lotharingian deliberately sends the Spanish the wrong way, telling him the Romans sailed north around Borneo rather than south.

    Angelos arrives in New Constantinople on June 8, where he assumes command of the combined Roman fleet with Katepano Motzilos’ approval. He brings along a cargo of artillery to refit the large merchantmen and the city is immediately filled with the noises of the dockyards. Pereira arrives on June 26.

    Most of the fleet remains on station outside New Constantinople, but smaller detachments sally out to raid and harry the rest of the Despotate, seizing ships and burning spice plantations. What cannot be carried away by the Spanish is destroyed. Yet despite the massive financial losses caused by the depredations, Angelos refuses to budge. He is reluctant to commit to an all-out battle with the Spanish fleet yet since he is hoping for more regular warships from either Taprobane or Pyrgos, underestimating the fixations of both on their own issues.

    Pereira has to break off the blockade on July 16 due to supply issues. Ternate and Tidore don’t have the provisions necessary to support such a large fleet, while he is unwilling to risk breaking up the fleet into smaller sections and risk defeat in detail. So instead he withdraws back to Banten to resupply, taking the opportunity to cruise along the Mataramese territories of the former Semarang Sultanate, a show of power to impress Maharaja Sanjaya.

    That does not alleviate the Romans’ problems in New Constantinople. Even in peacetime, New Constantinople had to import foodstuffs, the strain made far worse by the presence of their own large fleet. Now most food comes from Mataram, the regular reliable supply allowing the city’s population to increase 50% in the last half-decade. But Sanjaya is now being difficult.

    Sanjaya was very unimpressed by the Roman showing at the battle of Semarang. The shrewd monarch knows the difference between armed merchantmen and proper warships, but for his own reasons plays dumb and criticizes the Romans for losing a battle where they had numerical superiority. And speaking of numerical superiority, he is furious about Adiwerna; he has been humiliated entirely due to his Roman-provided weapons being woefully inferior to the Spanish muskets given to the Sundanese. Besides, their alliance was against Semarang, now destroyed, the death blow being delivered entirely by himself, he adds.

    On July 20, some reinforcements finally arrive from Pyrgos. While Katepano Deblitzenos is still not willing to pull his ships out of Korea, where the fighting is in full force (the battle of Haeju Bay is still in the future), some scattered victories over Sulu raiders give him the breathing room to send some of his remaining troops. Naval-wise they are unimpressive, a sloop and three medium armed merchantmen. But they carry 900 top-notch samurai, skilled in wielding both of their signature blades as well as the flintlock, commanded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa is a veteran of Roman service, a key architect in the Visayas campaigns, rewarded for valor and martial prowess with the title of Kyr and both the Order of the Dragon and the Order of the Iron Gates.

    Grateful for at least some more forces, even if he hoped for more, Angelos knows that no more reinforcements are coming. With the supply issues growing ever more serious, particularly with those hungry samurai, he must put out to sea. The Romans set out for Surabaya, a formerly Semarang city that was taken by a joint Roman-Mataramese effort, so Angelos hopes for a good reception from Sanjaya. The Maharaja makes no trouble about provisioning the fleet and supplying a rice shipment for New Constantinople at the normal prices, which is promising, although he insists on cash up front.

    Once restocked, Angelos promptly puts back out to sea despite reports, albeit unconfirmed, that Pereira has put out from Banten and is headed east himself. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Angelos is concerned about being blockaded in a Mataramese port; the Doux does not want to presume on Sanjaya’s hospitality too much. (Sanjaya had asked for some flintlocks but Angelos, who needed all the weapons he could get, had been forced to refuse, visibly irritating the monarch.)

    Secondly, Sanjaya did supply some important intelligence. The Raja of Gelgel, the most powerful of the Balinese monarchs, has been in talks with the Spanish and is willing to provide an army of up to 6000 men. If Pereira gets that army, he would have a very good chance of seizing and keeping New Constantinople herself. So Angelos sails toward Bali, hoping that his battle line will convince Gelgel to stand down, and if that fails, he can encourage the other Balinese Rajas against Gelgel and make him keep his army at home.

    On September 7, the Roman fleet is northeast of Bali, currently rounding the island in a clockwise motion, with Mount Agung, the highest point in Bali, standing majestically over the scene. The volcano is smoking a little from its summit. Then Roman lookouts sight sails to the west, lots of them. It is the Spanish fleet in full force.

    Doux Angelos does not want battle here. His preferred battle site would be somewhere off Ambon, where the Romans know the waters well, and preferably after the Spanish have been worn down by blockade duty. Here the Spanish are fresh, recently resupplied from Sunda, and the Romans are not familiar with Balinese waters. Neither are the Spanish to be fair, but Angelos wants every possible advantage on his side before tangling with those third-raters. Furthermore it would be nice to give tropical parasites a few more months to chew on the European-timbered Spanish vessels.

    However they are being watched. The Balinese on the slopes of Mount Agung can see the whole array, and what they see will be reported to all of Bali, including the various Rajas. The Romans have the advantage in number of hulls. There is more to naval combat than hulls, but still if Angelos retreats it will look to the Balinese as if he is fleeing in the face of a foe he outnumbers, and there goes any chance of intimidating the Raja of Gelgel or encouraging his local rivals to challenge him. And then there is Sanjaya of Mataram. Gelgel has offered 6000 men to Pereira; Mataram can offer ten times that. If he gets word that an enlarged Roman fleet, far greater than what he was used to seeing in their joint operations, flees at contact with a numerically inferior force, his questioning of the value of his alliance may lead to outright rupture, which cannot be allowed to happen.

    Furthermore there is the matter that Pereira’s fleet is faster than his. Angelos’ fleet has many heavy merchantmen, with firepower he desperately needs but at the cost of a slow speed. Without a convenient squall Angelos may be forced to accept battle whether he likes it or not. And if he must fight, Bali may work as an anvil to hold the third-raters in place for a fiery hammer.

    Doux Angelos accepts battle.

    The battle-line breaks down as follows, with Spanish numbers first and Roman second:

    Third-raters: 3 to 0.
    Fourth-raters: 6 (2 Roman prizes from Semarang) to 3 (Roman flagship is by far the biggest in this category).
    Fifth-raters: 4 to 5 (slight average per-ship size and firepower advantage to the Romans).
    Sixth-raters: 3 to 13 (10 of the Roman are of the heavy variety).
    Seventh-raters: 3 to 3.
    Armed merchantmen: 6 to 14 (massive average per-ship size and firepower to the Romans in this category).
    Fireships: 0 to 6.
    Total: 25 to 44.

    Both fleets sight each other in the early morning (the Spanish coming out of the west sighted the Romans at the same time as the lookouts spotted them), but it is not until just after noon when the first cannon shots ring out. Both form into a line-of-battle (one of the earliest known examples of this tactic), exchanging long-range fire, with neither side scoring significant damage shooting at range. However by 3 PM the Spanish and Roman vans are almost abreast of each other, the extra Roman ships tailing behind the main engagement.

    Both fleets have been proceeding southeast, but now the wind shifts to the southwest and Angelos pivots to sail directly south. Pereira pivots to match the Romans’ course to avoid his T being crossed, the range between the two sides shortening in the process. A Roman cannonball snaps the mizzenmast of one of the Spanish fourth-raters, which starts to lumber behind where two Roman merchantmen and heavy fregatai begin maneuvering to gang up on it. It is the first serious blow to either side.

    The Spanish are now starting to pull ahead of the Roman line, which Pereira doesn’t want. With the winds blowing southwest, he can’t tack east to cross the Roman T, so pulling ahead doesn’t do anything. He starts to shorten sail to slow his speed.

    Now Angelos strikes. Both commanders have placed their most powerful warships in the head of the line. Pereira knows his third-raters are the most powerful ships in the eastern seas, but individually they can be overwhelmed by superior numbers. Keeping them together though makes them nearly invincible. Angelos keeps his big ships together in front because he wants them to block the Spanish view of his fireships.

    At a signal from Angelos, the Roman van and center pivot hard to the west, sailing to break the Spanish line and snarl them up in a melee. Meanwhile the rear, which has been lagging behind the battle, is to tack southwest and sail around to the west of the Spanish line, the two Roman forces hitting the Spanish from both sides. The double assault should make up for the average smaller size and firepower of the Roman ships.

    The issue is those third-raters, as a close-range slugging match with those leviathans would be murderous. As Angelos pivots, he lets fly all of his fireships, hurling them straight at the Spanish trio. He needs to knock those ships away from the battle, and right now with the winds blowing southwest toward Bali where Mount Agung now looms overhead, the third-raters lack sea room. Now is the best chance to destroy them outright, so Angelos does not hold back. Pereira can’t stand and face the fireships; it’s far too big of a risk to his ace cards. Instead he flies southwest, pursued by the fireships.

    The Romans and Spanish pile into what one participant calls ‘an absolute holocaust’. Now it is just a straight slugging match, both sides pounding each other. Cannonballs smash wood into splinters the size of a man’s thigh that impale sailors. Japanese musketeers reap a frightful slaughter of Spanish officers, while Tokugawa Ieyasu leads a boarding party and personally kills the captain of a Spanish fourth-rater. To the side of the slaughter, the Roman and Spanish fifth-raters Aghios Stefanos and Santo Estevao have a private duel that leaves both vessels as shattered hulks with two-thirds of their combined crews dead or wounded.

    The wind has been steadily slackening, which slows the Roman rearguard trying to come up, but finally they pile into the fray, and while the fighting is very tough and costly, gradually the combined attacks from both sides start to overwhelm the Spanish. Four Spanish ships in the rear strike their colors in a twenty-minute period, one of which is one of the Roman 50-gunner prizes from Semarang. The Spanish center and van are still fighting furiously, both sides enveloped in a great cloud of powder, as the wind has stilled.

    Meanwhile Pereira has managed to shake off the fireships, helped by the slackening wind which slowed their approach, although one of the warships got singed and lost a sail before the assailant could be shoved away. Now he has been trying to work his way back into the battle, making pitiful progress with the limp breeze. But then the wind picks up, reversing course as the evening draws on, and now the Flor de la Mars are flying with the wind, plowing into the melee with a vengeance.

    Angelos’ flag is the 60-gunner Nikephoros Ouranos, which has been pounding a Spanish 50-gunner to pieces and would’ve forced it to strike if given five more minutes. Instead the sixty-gunner is pounded for ten minutes by three 72-gunners, the sole target for their fury. The ship is raked repeatedly, with three-quarters of her crew killed or wounded. The body of Doux Michael Angelos is never found. Most of his red coat is discovered after the battle; the garment had been a dark blue that morning.

    The Spanish third-raters proceed down the line, an unstoppable force of destruction; the smaller and battered Roman vessels still locked in combat with other foes are absolutely no match for them. Only those who can disengage in time and flee manage to escape, although the same wind that drove on the Spaniards also facilitate their flight. The rest fall. When the sun sets behind the smoking Mt Agung, it sets on a very bloody, but Spanish victory.

    The greatest victors are the sharks of the region, who swarm the area drawn by the rivers of blood scumming the surface of the water. At least a third of the combined Spanish-Roman forces that fought in the battle of Agung were killed or wounded in the fray.

    The Roman fleet that limps into New Constantinople is a sadly reduced force. All of its original fourth-raters are gone, although somehow the prize crew for the Roman 50-gunner captured at Semarang and recaptured at Agung makes it to New Constantinople. Of its five fifth-raters, two are gone and the surviving three are shot up horribly. Of the heavy armed merchantmen, which were in the rear and thus had more opportunity to flee, things look better with 9 of the 14 escaping, alongside 9 of the 13 sixth-raters. So the Roman fleet, while badly punished, is not toothless, although it needs weeks of yard work to even think of putting out to sea again. One of those who will be putting out to sea again is Tokugawa Ieyasu, who managed to get on one of the escaping ships.

    Pereira though has little reason to cheer. He took a number of prizes which he wanted to get back to Banten as soon as possible to be patched up, but on course back to Banten a storm brew up and battered the fleet, sinking many of the half-wrecked ships from the battle. When he gets to Sundanese territory, his fleet is actually down a fourth-rate and fifth-rate, although up a sixth-rate (one of the Roman heavies) and a big armed merchantmen. Manpower-wise his losses are staggering. Between all factors, close to 40% of the Spanish who sailed out with him from Lisbon are dead. Also he knows the Roman fleet was not destroyed, so he needs to keep his concentrated, especially since he is painfully aware that while Pahang and New Constantinople have been mauled, Pyrgos and particular Taprobane have hardly entered the lists. He needs more men to refill those lost at Agung, and he still needs armies that can siege and take Roman fortresses. The victory at Agung has not solved his problems.

    In addition the battle plus the retirement back to Banten to secure his prizes (which were mostly all lost) and the needed repairs has thrown the entire Gelgel operation out of joints. There is no longer enough time to go back to Bali and load those troops before the monsoon, meaning major operations against New Constantinople are not possible until next year. And the wheels of diplomacy will be turning.

    Yet Agung has certainly made life harder for the Romans of Pahang and New Constantinople. The fighting between Christians will continue, but the course of the war shall be decided not by them, but by three Hindu monarchs.
     
    Lords of Spice and Sea: The Might of Mataram
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: The Might of Mataram

    As the Romans and Spanish battled in the shadow of volcanic Mt Agung, Sanjaya had been sovereign of Mataram for nearly forty years, ascending the throne in 1599. On that day, Mataram had been a small and embattled kingdom, pressed by local rivals and menaced by the looming Semarang Sultanate which had finished off fabled Majapahit and seemed poised to swoop down on the lot of petty states in the interior.

    That had not come to pass, but Sanjaya’s reign had been a long struggle of war and intrigue to build up the might of Mataram, first subduing those neighboring states and then the long grind against the Semarang Sultanate. That long grind is now finally over and in total victory, but the Maharaja, despite enjoying the congratulations of Venkata Raya, is still uneasy. It had taken substantial Roman aid to break the deadlock, which was galling, and the knowledge that what he had been given was obsolete infuriated him. Furthermore, the Sundanese had not seemed like a threat to the greater Mataram realm, but the thunder of their flintlock muskets at Adiwerna had corrected that misconception.

    Clearly Mataram has much to learn if it is to survive in this cutthroat world. But survival, avoiding the crush and fear of constantly pending doom, as Sanjaya had faced in his youth, is merely the bare minimum. He wants more. He is named after the founder of the Medang Empire which had dominated central and east Java for a quarter millennia, nearly a thousand years ago. In his campaigns he rediscovered the great Buddhist temple at Borobudur, hidden in the jungle and near 8 centuries in age, and been awed by the example of ancient glories, lost but now found and given a chance for renewal. That had been the dream before Semarang.

    But perhaps there can be more. He now controls the ports of northern Java, once the heartland of fabled Majapahit. Is it possible that this great past glory could be renewed? Sanjaya could not say for certain, but when he ascended the throne as a mere teenager, he had believed in a few years he would most likely have his skull cleaved off him, and now look at what he had achieved. Yet in pursuit of ancient glory, Sanjaya will not be like the Zeng, copying past glories while ignoring changing times.

    Sanjaya gets word of Mount Agung even before New Constantinople does, and he is delighted by the results. The Romans will no doubt be desperate for his aid, and be willing to pay a high price for it. He is willing to work with the Spanish if they are the only option for getting what he wants, but he would very much prefer to work with the Romans. The Romans have angered him, and he will make them pay much in recompense, but the Spanish turned the Sundanese from an annoyance to a major threat, and their attack on the Roman fleet at Semarang nearly ruined his final victory over the Sultan, and made it cost far more in the process. That didn’t anger him; that enraged him. He can overlook that if he must, but he’d be happier getting a bloody revenge for that instead.

    Right when he expects it, Sanjaya receives a delegation from New Constantinople seeking an alliance against the Spanish and their allies, the Sundanese and Bali Gelgel. It is headed by Katepano Motzilos’ chief secretary, a clear sign of how in earnest the Romans are. The Maharaja welcomes them graciously, providing them all the hospitality he can muster in Surabaya where he is currently keeping court. The choice is deliberate to ease communication with New Constantinople; Sanjaya places much importance on these alliance negotiations, but he is extremely careful not to show it. Despite the fine foods and dancing girls he provides for the Romans’ entertainment, he makes it quite clear he expects to be thoroughly compensated.

    The delegation takes his terms back to New Constantinople to discuss, where despite the urgency it is hotly debated, because Sanjaya is demanding a lot. He wants modern flintlock muskets and cannons, and the tools to assemble them, and technicians to teach the Mataramese how to make the weaponry and the tools needed to do so. He wants printing presses with premade typesets in the Javanese script, and technicians for how to make more. He wants astronomical tools and cartographical equipment. He wants clockmakers and glassblowers. He wants shipwrights skilled in making western-style ships. In short he wants all the tools and workers necessary for Mataram to independently produce all the most advanced equipment and weaponry of the age. And money too.

    The Romans are very worried that to defeat the Spanish menace by giving in to Sanjaya’s demands, they will create an even greater monster for them in the future. There are about 15,000 Spanish in the east in 1635. (By comparison, there are 22,000 Romans of heartland ethnicity. Despite the significance given to them by economic historians, the oceanic trade routes between South and East Asia and Christendom in the early modern did not result in large movements of people, particularly in comparison to Atlantic colonization.) [1]

    In contrast, the domains Sanjaya already controls have around 3 million inhabitants. Now by the standards of most of continental Eurasia, including Europe, that is not much. But Southeast Asia is surprisingly empty of human habitation. From the jungles of Burma and the pirate shores of Arakan to the Red River Delta to the northern tip of Luzon to the Moluccas to Bali and Sumatra are 25 million people, less than that of the Holy Roman Empire, a drastically smaller geographical area. And Sanjaya already commands nearly 1 in 8 people in that zone. In addition, the fertile rice fields of Mataram are a key commodity in feeding the region, giving him even more local clout than would be justified by his demographic resources. In this corner of the world, Sanjaya has the muscle to build a new empire, and the Romans know it.

    Yet while they recognize the danger, the Romans also know they really have no choice. Mataram may become a grave threat tomorrow but the Spanish are a threat today, and can only be parried with Mataram’s support. So despite the debate, Sanjaya’s terms are accepted in total. An initial installment of thirty cannons, two thousand flintlock muskets, and a few artisans are promptly sent to Surabaya. (Although the Spanish did not lose many ships at Mt Agung, the damage suffered by so many of their vessels keeps Pereira’s fleet in port for repairs so he is unable to intercept the communications between Mataram and New Constantinople.)

    Now while the Romans will complain about the cost, even they must admit they get value for money. As soon as the Roman agreement is received and the weapons unloaded and inspected, Sanjaya immediately dispatches a flying column to raid Blambangan, the small kingdom on the eastern periphery of Java. The expedition nets some captives who will be taken back to Mataram as slaves, but that is not the goal. Instead the army pushes through the kingdom all the way to the Bali Strait, burning campfires menacingly. The strait between Bali and Java is only 2.4 kilometers wide and so the army camp is easily visible to the Balinese. The Raja of Gelgel, who has fingers in the Blambangan pie, is alarmed by this. When a Spanish envoy arrives to discuss preparations for the Spanish-Gelgel operations next year (it’s too close to the monsoon to consider further major operations this year), he is only willing to offer 800, a far cry from the initial pledge of 6000, and those are only because the Raja already received the down payment.

    There aren’t any such big pushes against Sunda, which is much larger than Blambangan although still small compared to Mataram, but Sanjaya launches a few pinprick raids before the rains shut down major operations. Yet these are extremely alarming to the Sundanese who’d been hoping that the clear Spanish aid and Roman reversals would deter Sanjaya.

    This is all immensely frustrating for Pereira. With Mataram weighing in, both Gelgel and Sunda are looking to their own defenses rather than providing the ground forces he needs. Meanwhile Malacca and Pahang are probing each other’s defenses, neither side gaining a clear advantage but keeping the other occupied and unable to spare reinforcements.

    Pereira wants to concentrate his efforts on New Constantinople. It is the smallest of the Katepanates, geographically isolated, the most vulnerable to naval assault, while controlling extremely lucrative clove and nutmeg plantations. Yet even with all those weaknesses, particularly after Mt Agung, Pereira finds himself still needing more men. The danger of trying to do so with the token ground troops at his disposal has been already illustrated.

    After Mt Agung, Pereira sent a small expedition to the Banda Islands. They’d been repulsed from Great Banda by the Roman garrison, but established outposts on the islands of Neira, Ai, and Run. Pereira had ordered the commander to only keep a garrison if he could seize Great Banda itself and concentrate all his forces there, as that island was by far the best fortified. But the Spanish sailors had been enthralled by the money they could make from seizing the nutmeg of the smaller islands and gone in despite orders. With Spanish naval superiority they felt there was little to fear from a counterattack, despite the small size of the garrisons.

    The Kastrophylax of Great Banda is Leo Michalitzes, a former Danube gunboat commander, veteran of nearly all of the riverine combat and whose ship fired the opening shot of Fifth Ruse. He is resolved to do something about these interlopers. Reinforced by ships also carrying 300 troops that snuck into Great Banda under cover of night, he outfits one of those as a fireship to supplement the pair he’d made from his local resources. On October 14 he launches his attack on Neira, the nearest Spanish outpost to his position and the one most heavily garrisoned.

    The Romans set out from Great Banda when it was still dark, comfortable in their familiarity with these waters, so as the dawn blooms the Spanish are horrified to find fireships bearing down on them while they’re at anchor. Despite the surprise the fireships only burn down two armed merchantmen, but while the Spanish are disordered and dealing with them, the conventional Roman fleet has sailed out of Great Banda (it was considered too risky to send the main body out at night) and is now bearing down on them as well. Over the course of the morning, the Romans capture or destroy seven Spanish ships (including the 2 lost to the fireships), mostly armed merchantmen but including one fifth-rater as one of the prizes. The island garrisons, too small to defend themselves without naval support, surrender one by one without contest over the next two days. A fregata escapes bearing news of the debacle to Banten.

    The battle of Neira is not a reversal comparable to that suffered by the Romans off Bali, but it is a clear reminder that the Romans still have teeth and that smaller Spanish expeditions risk being defeated in detail. For the men he clearly needs to press the attack fully, Pereira must look further afield due to Sanjaya’s intervention. Pro-Spanish Ayutthaya may provide a few, but not in the quantity he requires. For those numbers he must turn west, to Vijayanagar.


    [1] This matches OTL developments. In 1600, after a century-old presence, there were 15000 Portuguese east of the Cape, and in 1650 a comparable number of Dutch. In contrast, Barbados alone had 30,000 European inhabitants in 1640. See Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648 by Mark Greengrass, pgs. 159-60.
     
    Lords of Spice and Sea: The Elephant and the Eagles
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: The Elephant and the Eagles

    Pereira ensures that the embassy he sends to Vijayanagar is lavishly equipped, carrying captured Roman banners and loot to show the might and prowess of Spanish arms against their foe. It is a splendid array that certainly sets people talking as it makes its way from the coast up the great highway to the City of Victories. There are still some old folks who remember a similar display of captured Roman pride, wrested by a Vijayanagara fleet when the Yavanas had forgotten that they were guests, not masters, in this corner of the world.

    Venkata Raya is certainly intrigued when his officials give him an initial report before the embassy arrives and he enjoys the embarrassment of the Romans. He has no particular animus towards them, but arrogance in others is always annoying, and seeing it punctured is always satisfying. Most of the Romans here are experienced with dealing with the Vijayanagara and so know how to act with confidence and pride without crossing into self-importance, but some new arrival regularly turns up and annoys the Vijayanagara.

    Pereira (who is not part of the embassy) is a veteran with decades of service in the east, but nearly all of that is in Island Asia. He knows almost nothing about dealing with Vijayanagar, and the same can be said of his closest advisors. The Spanish hands familiar with Venkata Raya and the Jewel of the World have been in India, attending to normal trade while Pereira and the Spaniards of Island Asia have been fighting and dying, and so the latter are not particularly keen to listen to the advice and warnings of the former.

    Nobody is able to pinpoint precisely what the Spaniards did wrong; the issue was with the tone, rather than the content, of the message. Talk of Spanish might and prowess came across more as arrogance than confidence, the displays of captured Roman banners conveying a hint of menace rather than a show of how useful of allies they would be. The Spanish audience is not some minor Indonesian kingdom which can only put a few thousand men into the field. This is Vijayanagar, the Jewel of the World. One does not come prancing into their halls as if one is lord of the world. If one does, the Vijayanagara will not be impressed.

    Venkata Raya is politely diplomatic, accepting the Spanish gifts and giving them permission to hire sailors and soldiers for their war effort. However he will offer no governmental support for the Spanish to do so; if the Spanish want men from Vijayanagar they must find the pay to attract them. Given the numbers Pereira needs that will not be cheap; lascars won’t take captured Roman flags as pay.

    Venkata Raya is still undecided over whether he would prefer the Romans or the Spanish as allies to counter the Oudh-Bengal accord to the north; other western powers such as the Lotharingians or Scandinavians are viewed as too weak to be of any use. On the one hand, in Indian waters the Romans are indubitably the stronger, meaning the Spanish seem like much less of a threat. On the other, the Spanish were the overlords of Bengal before the Triune expulsion, and while Venkata Raya wishes to drive the Triunes out of Bengal, he has no wish to simply see them replaced by another greedy westerner.

    But having said all that, this latest Spanish display has shifted that narrative somewhat. The Spanish seem like more of a potential threat now, and the Romans display more tact and respect than this latest batch, which hardly endears the Iberians to the Vijayanagara.

    Yet the narrative is only shifted somewhat. Venkata Raya is not willing to come out actively in favor of the Romans as a long-term analysis still suggests them being a greater threat in Indian waters. Furthermore the Spanish are valued customers whose cotton cloth exports (often to purchase African slaves to work Caribbean plantations) provide lucrative customs revenue for his exchequer, so he doesn’t wish to alienate them.

    The Roman ambassador to Vijayanagar, Nikephoros Laskaris, has a Telegu mistress. There’s an awkward moment one night when she comes to him and Nikephoros discovers she is wearing a necklace that had been part of the Roman loot turned Spanish gifts presented to Venkata Raya. She’s been given that by a senior member of the court. When Nikephoros realizes the provenance of the gift, she tells him that the court felt such a gift was most fitting for her, although they believed that a matching gift from Nikephoros would greatly improve the outfit.

    Nikephoros is a veteran of the Vijayanagara court of Venkata Raya and so the subtle message comes through loud and clear for him. The necklace is Roman loot gifted by a Spaniard; a matching gift wouldn’t be a similar necklace, but a Spanish loot gifted by him, a Roman. This is a very backchannel way of Venkata Raya indicating his approval for a Taprobane-Roman counterattack against the Spanish, without doing so openly and risking a rupture with the Spanish. Nikephoros immediately sends word with all haste to his brother.

    His brother Konstantinos, Katepano of Taprobane, has been having a frustrating time ever since the Spanish embassy arrived. Pereira had deliberately avoided attacking any of Pyrgos’ holdings to avoid Deblitzenos yanking his big warships out of Korea in response. Yet in his need for manpower, Pereira had been forced to intrude onto Laskaris’ patch, and he is not happy about it. The embassy, particularly with its swagger that already tweaked the Vijayanagara, suggests the Spanish might intend to muscle in on Roman holdings in India, and he will not take that lying down.

    He would very much like to retaliate against the Spanish before the apparent threat can manifest more thoroughly, and in this he is joined by alarmed Ship Lords who fear intensified Spanish competition, so resources aren’t an issue. The problem is that an overt display of major Roman power, even if directed away from India, could alienate the Vijayanagara who still view the Romans as more than a threat than the Spanish. So Konstantinos must muster a strong Roman force while not appearing too strong to the Vijayanagara, a difficult feat considering that battle-line ships are really obvious.

    The report from his brother is an absolute godsend, greatly simplifying the task. Yet even then there are still limits; the two Laskaris brothers note that the approval is extremely unofficial. The shipyards at Colombo have the ability to build merchantmen the size of a first-rater, yet a warship of that size would be bigger than the three large second-raters in Vijayanagara service. Producing a larger ship, or even one comparable in size, could be too easily construed as an insult or challenge. Outshining a monarch is a good way to lose one’s head, after all.

    Although Laskaris has not sent any ships east to Island Asia, the Colombo shipyards have been busy; the ability of the Spanish, and therefore any Latin power, to send larger warships directly to the east makes clear the need for the Romans to have larger warships. By the time the monsoon winds begin riding out from Africa onto India’s west coast in 1638, one 70-gunner and a trio of 64-gunners are completed. They’re not as big as the Flor de la Mars, but the designs had been made and timbers of the appropriate type readily available in Pegu at the time of inquiry; bigger ships would’ve taken longer to build.

    Riding that 1638 monsoon from the west are reinforcements from Rhomania. In raw material terms it is rather underwhelming: 1600 Roman troops aboard some hired merchantmen. The Suez shipyard can only build oared vessels for use in the Red Sea. Given the tricky winds and currents of the Red Sea, it is extremely hazardous to use vessels powered only by sail there, so the Romans see no point in building facilities there to construct big sailing ships. No one wants to pay for a shipyard to build a battle-line ship, then pay for the battle-line ship, and then for said battle-line ship to hit rocks off Yemen and sink two weeks later. That’s why the Romans built the shipyards at Colombo instead. (This is also the reason for the prominence of ports like Aden and Zeila. They serve as the transfer point between the ocean haulers and smaller oared vessels that make the run to Suez.)

    There is more substantial aid from another source. In exchange for substantial Roman subsidies [1], accompanying the soldiers are eight Ethiopian warships, four 40-gunners and four 20-gunners, plus another 400 Ethiopian infantry. The overall force is commanded by Doux Gabriel Papagos, the victor of the battle of Palmaria, who carries an Imperial chrysobull with Demetrios III’s personal signature. This bestows on him the rank of ‘Exarch of the Eastern Territories’, giving him authority over any and all Romans between the Gulf of Aden and Japan, including the Katepanoi themselves. His powers are both civil and military and can only be countermanded by an Imperial order bearing the Emperor’s signature. (As a security measure, the authority will automatically lapse in 2 years after the issue unless renewed by an additional chrysobull, and during that time Papagos’ family must remain within the city limits of Constantinople.)

    It is very fortunate for Konstantinos Laskaris that the Doux finds him hard at work openly preparing a major military expedition east. Had it been otherwise, he very well might have found himself sacked and hauled off back to Constantinople as Gabriel was empowered to do if he saw fit. However, since Konstantinos is doing what Gabriel wants him to do, he leaves him in place, as it might disrupt preparations, which Gabriel wants to avoid. He knows the forces he brought east are woefully inadequate; he needs Taprobane’s resources.

    To give credit to Konstantinos, once he had decided to move against the Spanish in Island Asia, he is a capable organizer. Gabriel has little work to do upon his arrival before declaring the expedition ready. Just as the Spanish expedition of 1636 marked the greatest Latin armament ever dispatched to the east to date, the Taprobane expedition of 1638 marks the greatest concentration of Roman naval might outside the Mediterranean to date.

    There are the 70-gunner, three 64-gunners, two 50-gunners, and eight fifth-raters (4 Roman, 4 Ethiopian), backed up by 8 sixth-raters, 8 seventh-raters and sixteen heavy merchantmen. And those numbers do not include the troop transports.

    Some Romans, seeing the arrival of reinforcements and leadership from the heartland and the fact that the expedition is built mostly on Taprobane’s resources, seek to minimize Vijayanagara significance in these events. However it was the Spanish expedition to Vijayanagar that spurred Konstantinos to begin preparations earlier, and Vijayanagara approval that allowed him to work openly and thereby effectively. With Doux Papagos’ arrival, there would have been an expedition, but if he’d had to start from scratch, it would’ve been impossible for him to proceed with a credible force prior to 1639, at which point the thread of events in Southeast Asia was getting entangled with the thread of events in Italy and North Africa. Plus, the outfitting of a Roman expedition of this size without Vijayanagara approval and irritation with the Spanish probably would’ve sparked a much bigger backlash in the City of Victories.

    Venkata Raya, when he receives word of the size of the Roman fleet, orders the construction of more heavy warships and the first joint training exercises for his second-raters. Given the increased might of the Spanish, who can certainly be copied by other westerners, and the apparent might of the Romans, it would be ever more important for Vijayanagar to command a powerful fleet of its own.

    [1] The eight Ethiopian ships, with the quartet of fifth-raters, represent a quarter of all Ethiopian warships, with a higher percentage of their naval firepower, and is thus a major commitment. For the ships, crews, and soldiers, Rhomania pledged to cover the expenses of the entire Ethiopian navy while the ships are in Roman service and provide the Ethiopians with a new and fully outfitted 56-gunner at the end of term.
     
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    Lords of Spice and Sea: The Sea Knows No Master
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: The Sea Knows No Master

    Doux Gabriel Papagos has assembled a powerful force of warships and soldiers in Colombo harbor in mid-1638, but geography makes his task more difficult than it would seem. He wants to reinforce Pahang and New Constantinople and go on the offensive against Malacca.

    (The Exarch is informed of the agreement made with Sanjaya and so focuses on Malacca as the Maharaja will deal with Sunda. He approves of the treaty, although with misgivings, recognizing the danger. Reneging on the deal with no just cause, especially after Sanjaya has rendered good service, would completely undermine Roman credibility and enrage the Maharaja, possibly pushing him into the Spanish camp.) [1]

    But getting to Pahang or New Constantinople is not straightforward. The direct routes going around Sumatra entail passing by either Malacca or Sunda. Some Roman ships have swung south of Sumatra, Java, and Bali before pivoting north to New Constantinople, but that is a long haul in waters not too familiar to the Romans. Papagos has thousands of men that consume literal tons of food and water a day; a long sea voyage is not an option.

    A straight shot at Malacca from Taprobane eliminates those logistical issues but presents other problems. It would be making a landing on a hostile shore without making contact with the local base and means of support (Pahang) and in the face of a powerful and capable fleet. Papagos is confident in taking on Pereira in open battle, but he has crowded troop transports that are incredibly vulnerable to skillfully handled light warships that he must protect.

    Papagos goes for the straight shot at Malacca, setting out with the fleet and transports. He doesn’t want to make a sweep with the fleet alone to try and take out Pereira first for several reasons. Firstly he doubts Pereira will cooperate and it will use up valuable time; Papagos does not want to attack Malacca during the monsoon. Also tropical diseases are guaranteed to start eating away at his manpower sooner rather than later. And all the men are eating through the available stockpiles at an alarming rate already.

    Secondly, for purposes of Roman prestige he wants to strike a major blow at Spain before Sanjaya overruns Sunda, because any blow struck afterwards might get diminished by claims of it only being possible after said Mataramese victory. Thirdly, Papagos is well informed of events in Europe, at least up to his departure. The bombshells in Italy and North Africa go off after he leaves, but even as his galleass started beating her way out of Suez, the smell of burning fuses was in the air.

    Pereira is well informed of Roman activities and intentions in Taprobane, thanks to the Spaniards in India and some information delivered discretely courtesy of Vijayanagara agents. Vijayanagar’s annoyance with Spanish arrogance has faded, somewhat, with the display of Roman power mustering off Colombo, although that is the extent of aid they provide to the Iberians. As a reminder of their own power, Ambassador Nikephoros is ‘requested’ to attend a review of 40,000 Vijayanagara soldiers outside the capital.

    Pereira has been busy, launching more raids on New Constantinople and on the Mataramese coast, most of which have been brilliant successes. In the Katepanate, the raids still fail to seize any defendable holdings because of the lack of ground troops, but in Java the snarl of attacks keeps Sanjaya’s army pinned down in defensive mode rather than raiding Sundanese territory. He hopes the raids will bring Sanjaya to the peace table and he is conducting unofficial talks with the Maharaja. However the Maharaja is using the talks to frighten the Romans so they’ll keep up their end of the bargain. So long as the Romans keep their word, Sanjaya has no intention of siding with the man who nearly denied him Semarang.

    The news of the Roman armada at Taprobane yanks him away from Java to defend Malacca. The latter can hold off Pahang, but not Pahang and Taprobane. Yet Pereira may be able to maul the armada before it makes landfall. And while Mataram has a huge numerical advantage over Sunda, due to an improved Spanish blockade the modern weaponry advantage still lies with Sunda, for now anyway.

    The Roman and Spanish fleets make contact near the Andaman Islands. Pereira has a smaller fleet but his is purely comprised of warships, unlike the larger mixed-bag Romans. He tries to draw Papagos away from the transports, needling him with light warships that skirmish with the Roman screen. He successfully annoys Papagos, but the Doux keeps firm to his escort duties. The Romans can’t drive off the Spanish, but the Spanish can’t break through either.

    Then a storm brews up. As tempests go it isn’t bad, but it briefly scatters the battling flotillas. The Spanish, smaller in number and with ships with similar sailing characteristics, are able to recombine more quickly than the Romans. They snatch up a pair of Roman troop transports before they can take cover behind their escorts.

    The skirmishing continues much as before the storm, and then another brews up, again scattering the fleets. Before they recombine, the Spanish snap up another pair of troop transports plus an armed merchantmen (the slower merchantmen are more vulnerable in these scattering moments), although the Romans get some revenge by mauling a Spanish fifth-rater that got separated too far from the main body. The ship is captured, but battered as it is with the Spanish fleet nearby, it is scuttled to keep it from being recaptured.

    A third light storm brews up as they near the Malay coast, again allowing the Spanish to snap up another pair of Roman stragglers, at the cost of one of their sixth-raters. By now Papagos is really getting frustrated; while he is used to long blockades off the Lombard coast, there he was the one needling the enemy with raids. Being on the receiving end is much less fun. Plus he has lost 30% of his ground troops in those captured transports.

    On August 10, the Roman fleet makes landfall at Kuala Sepatang, a small fishing village on the west coast of Malaya. It isn’t much to look at, but there is an island that is a barrier between it and the sea proper. With the island fortified with artillery, it seemingly makes for a safe anchorage for the troop transports. Meanwhile the army unloads onto the mainland with all its equipment and supplies.

    The plan now is for the army to march along the coast covered by the fleet. On land it will be able to defend itself in case yet another storm brews up, while Papagos hopes that now he can force a battle since he isn’t tied down by covering the transports. If he can take down Pereira, then the troops can re-board the transports. On the other hand, if Papagos can’t, it is a march of over 400 kilometers, meaning the approach will be much slower than a seaborne assault and there are only so many supplies. Riders are sent to Pahang overland to ask for supplies and reinforcements.

    Mavrokordatos has been steadily rebuilding his strength since the debacle at Malacca in 1636, probing the border with small raids, the Spanish responding in kind. There are a few hot scraps, but much of the movement on both sides is noise to keep the Malay chiefs loyal to their overlord. Because of the tropical diseases that scythe through western troops, most of the soldiers on both sides are ethnic Malays and the support of the chiefs is crucial to control territory and guarantee access to manpower pools.

    He gets some substantial reinforcements in early 1638. Although achieving initial success, the Vietnamese invasion of the Cham Kingdom was eventually destroyed through a series of great ambushes and battles. The defeat is so total that ‘the trees are speaking Cham’ enters the Vietnamese lexicon as a sign for when things are about to end really badly for the participants. But the northern reaches of Champa were also devastated in the fighting, so both participants are willing to go back to the status quo ante bellum.

    With the end of the Cham-Viet war, Mavrokordatos gets the troops he sent to aid the Cham back, as well as those that came from Pyrgos originally, dispatched as reinforcements from Deblitzenos.

    The Roman troops themselves, because of their small numbers, did not make much of a difference, but the modern weaponry provided in larger quantities to the Cham did make more of an impact. (Nevertheless, it was Cham bravery and skill that was the decisive factor.) Unlike Sanjaya, the Romans consistently provided the Cham with the newest muskets and cannons. Their alliance, negotiated by Andreas Angelos the Salty Prince himself, is much older than that with Mataram and the Cham are not perceived as a threat. Furthermore they are useful counterweights to less friendly powers like Ayutthaya and particularly China, in which case they really need the best weaponry. [2]

    Yet the gesture mattered and the Cham are grateful. The Romans supported them in their hour of need, and now it is time for the Cham to repay the debt. In addition to the Roman troops coming into Pekan are 4000 Cham troops, all now skilled veterans in jungle fighting, perfect for the combat to come. And while Papagos is getting frustrated at Pereira snapping up his straggling transports, while Pereira does so west of Malaya he is unable to do anything about these reinforcements coming into Pahang from the northeast, first the soldiers from Champa and later the ships returning from Korea.


    [1] There is, at one point, some unspecified logistical issues in providing the items required by Sanjaya. He understands, as he too faces unspecified logistical issues in providing the foodstuffs required by New Constantinople. Curiously, these similar but geographically distant issues disappear shortly and simultaneously afterwards.

    [2] It is fortunate for the Romans that Sanjaya is unaware of this double standard.
     
    Lords of Spice and Sea: A Soul for a Ball of Rice
  • Lords of Spice and Sea: A Soul for a Ball of Rice

    In the third quarter of the year 1638, the Spanish in Malacca are faced by two separate Roman offensives. One is from the northwest, the Taprobane expedition, and the other from the northeast, the combined forces of Pahang and Pyrgos. If assembled together, the Roman strength would be far too much for the Spanish to withstand.

    Except they are very much not assembled together. Communications between them are virtually impossible. By sea, a ship has to loop around Sumatra and then Java and then back again to avoid passing Malacca and Sunda, a voyage literally thousands of kilometers long. (Some Roman ships try to run past the Spanish holdings; most end up regretting their decisions.)

    By land there are two options. One is to take the Kra passage controlled by Nakhon Si Thammarat which cuts across the Isthmus at its narrowest point. It is over rugged terrain, but fairly short and well developed. However the reason it is well developed is to bypass Roman and Spanish Malacca and the Prince and leading merchants of the kingdom (a very autonomous vassal of Ayutthaya) would very much prefer it if the Spanish and Romans could kindly wipe each other out. They will not allow any Roman use of the passage.

    The other is a direct hike over the breadth of the Malay Peninsula, over very harsh terrain and not at all developed, much of it through hostile countryside. Papagos sent 200 riders to Mavrokordatos to alert the Katepano of his landing in Malaya; 73 make it, and 12 of them die of diseases or injuries received on route.

    The two Roman forces are aware that the other exists and is moving towards Malacca; that is the extent of their cooperation. This provides Pereira, who holds the central position, a great opportunity and he intends to use it.

    On August 20, the Taprobane and Spanish fleets fight a running battle, trading cannonades at range. Despite the Flor de la Mars, for once the Romans have the advantage in firepower, but because so many of their ships are heavy-armed merchantmen, Pereira still has the advantage in speed and maneuverability. The battle is, by itself, a draw with minimal effect on either side’s forces, but it distracts Papagos enough for some Spanish ships to slip north.

    On August 22 they attack Kuala Sepatang, overwhelming the Roman defenses on the island and sending in fire-ships of their own that burn down all of the assembled transports crowded in the estuary. In one sense, the victory is pointless. All of the troops, equipment, and supplies have been off-loaded; they’re just empty transports. They’d served their purpose in getting the Roman army from Taprobane to Malaya. However this also means the army will need to proceed overland to Malacca, greatly lengthening its approach, and supplies are limited.

    In addition these were empty transports owned by Ship Lords, whose wealth and status is dependent on their private fleets and ability to move valuable cargoes in the Asian sea trade network. And these ships were large western-style vessels; they will not be cheap to replace. Furthermore many Ship Lords have large portions of their capital tied up in their ships. To build more ships they often must seek loans from Indian moneylenders and use their preexisting vessels as collateral. (Warehouse inventories are the other common form of collateral, but depending on the time of year and the cycle of the trade winds, the warehouse might be empty.) [1]

    The loss of an occasional ship here or there is to be expected and isn’t that big of a deal; there is maritime insurance for that. But maritime insurance doesn’t cover ships lost in combat while under service to the Roman government, as instead the Roman government is supposed to pay compensation for the lost ships. Yet the compensation is a far cry below the market values of said ships and the loss of so many vessels all at once make it far more painful than the same loss if it’d been spread out in drips and drabs over a decade.

    One Ship Lord who finds his entire fleet, save for the one armed merchantmen in Papagos’ main flotilla where he was, wiped out and himself thereby totally ruined takes the news really badly. On August 26 he boards Papagos’ flagship and fires a kyzikos at him. The shot misses but when sailors try to grab the Ship Lord, he pulls out a sword and commits suicide with it, also slashing the arm of a sailor trying to seize him. The Ship Lord is dead within a few minutes; despite amputation, the sailor’s wound turns gangrenous and he is dead three weeks later.

    None of the other Ship Lords, still commanding their heavy-armed merchantmen, react so violently but there is clearly a bitterness in the air. The suicide was the worst-struck of all of them, but they’ve all suffered devastating blows to their bank balance and keen to protect their remaining assets, namely those heavy-armed merchantmen. Because of the limited availability of men trained in seafaring and handling naval cannons, those merchantmen are still crewed and officered by their peacetime crews. If Papagos tried to impound the ships to have tighter control over them, he wouldn’t be able to man them.

    Papagos, who is a military officer and isn’t used to dealing with insubordinate subordinates that he must live and work with rather than just dismissing, doesn’t handle the situation well. The situation is gradually patched up by naval officers who have longer service in eastern waters and so are better at dealing with independently-minded Ship Lords (one Ship Lord, upon being presented by Papagos with the Imperial chrysobull, acidly remarks that Constantinople is very far away). The fleet stays together but unit cohesion and morale is weakened and Papagos must keep his fleet tightly together to ensure that if there is a battle, the heavy-armed merchantmen will actually fight in said battle.

    Pereira doesn’t know the details of all this, but he certainly has far more experience with Roman Ship Lords than Doux Papagos does. Gambling on a newfound Roman caution, he takes the opportunity to break contact with the Taprobane fleet and race south.

    The army from Pahang is crossing the Malay Peninsula overland on a similar track to 1636 both because of a lack of sufficient sealift capability and fears about crowded troop transports running afoul of Pereira. Because of the rugged terrain and near-complete lack of transportation infrastructure, the army is again traveling light with only a few small cannons and minimal supplies (foodstuffs weigh a lot). Their provisions will come from what they can forage and what is being carried on the Pyrgos fleet.

    The fleet is mostly comprised of ships from Pyrgos, either veterans of Korea or new construction such as Kalomeros’ Pylos; the fregata is, along with another warship of equal size, the largest of the new builds. Unlike the much larger and older Taprobane yards, the Pyrgos shipyards are only equipped to construct smaller vessels. As it is, even the ability to build medium-sized warships is very new, only made possible by the increased revenues from the silver trade and the expanded Roman control of the archipelago.

    The Pyrgos Romans are, frankly, very cocky as they sail around Malaya toward Malacca. They have been used to fighting against foes that seemed superior and yet fell before their arms, so they are not worried about Pereira. Every time they were cautious and held back by the Korean leadership, at best nothing happened and at worst things got worse. Only when they charged into the fray and fought it out with cannon and sword was victory gained, and victory was inevitably gained in that war by those methods.

    That Spanish battle-line ships are not Chinese junks, and that the Romans no longer have dozens of Korean panokseons and Yi Sun-sin alongside them seems to have been forgotten. Furthermore they are not keen to be informed by their counterparts. While the Romans in the south have been losing, the Pyrgos Romans in the north have been winning, against great odds. So clearly it will be the Pyrgos Romans from whom war advice shall be taken, thank you very much.

    Mavrokordatos’ efforts to make them take Pereira more seriously do not go well. That he isn’t willing to entrust his army’s safe-keeping to the Pyrgos fleet, many naval officers take as a personal insult. Some question his courage, to which the Katepano replies that he’s ‘known more humble Englishmen’. Much to the Katepano’s frustration, he does need the Pyrgos fleet to ferry heavy artillery and supplies to Malacca. If he were to send those overland with the main army, it would take so long to get to Malacca that they’d have barely any time to besiege before the monsoon returned and he is not making that mistake again.

    It should be noted that while many Roman and allied forces are converging on Malacca, none are from New Constantinople or from the Pahang and Pyrgos forces that had already sailed there. Over there, those that aren’t busy licking their wounds are working off Java in support of Sanjaya. For the Romans of New Constantinople, securing the goodwill of the Maharaja is far more important than who controls Malacca. [2]

    The Spanish and Pyrgos-Roman fleets make contact near Rangsang Island, just off Sumatra and opposite Singapore. Pereira is shocked to find the Romans out when he expected them to be sheltering in Singapore’s harbor but he immediately takes advantage and attacks. The naval report detailing the battle emphasizes Roman valor and heroism at their guns, but in the White Palace is a copy of that report with a note in purple ink in Demetrios III’s handwriting. It says “such heroism was only necessary from a disturbing deficit in intelligence”. It is one of his last handwritten notes from just before his mysterious end.

    The battle of Rangsang is a debacle for the Romans and a complete disaster for Pyrgos. The fleet that sailed to Korea to battle the Middle Kingdom has been practically wiped out. Out of fourteen warships, nine are captured, sunk, or smashed against the Sumatran coast. Included in the captures are two Roman fourth-raters and two fifth-raters, although one of the fifth-raters is so badly shot up and Pereira lacks enough men for a prize crew that it is thus subsequently burned down after being stripped of everything of value. When word arrives in the Sulu Sultanate, great banquets are held in honor of Pereira where the pirate lords plan fresh assaults on the exposed coasts of the Katepanate.

    In addition, all but one of the supply transports (which escapes to the safety of Singapore and whose pursuers are only driven off by several salvoes from the harbor forts) are captured or destroyed. The heavy guns the Pahang army needs to breach the walls of Malacca and the food it needs to eat while besieging Malacca are now at the bottom of the ocean, or in Spanish hands. Furthermore this is another mass loss of expensive shipping, devastating yet more Roman Ship Lords.

    The one bright spot in all of this, to which the Romans cling heavily because of it being the only bright spot, is the conduct of Kalomeros. In the battle, his Pylos ended up in a private duel with a Spanish 36-gunner, substantially superior in size and firepower, and actually a captured Roman heavy sixth-rater from Mt Agung. Through deft maneuvering, Kalomeros managed to rake the Spaniard four times and then took the ship by storm as a prize. Even more impressively, he then managed to escape both with Pylos and his prize back to Singapore. His conduct gets covered heavily in the report that eventually makes its way to Demetrios III’s desk and is responsible for the young naval officer to first get noticed by those in really high office.

    Pereira, after organizing his prizes, sails back north, skirmishing with Papagos, but there are no proper battles. Papagos is wary of committing to a proper scrap now considering the questionable commitment of the Ship Lords, while Pereira has noticed the larger and better-armed Roman warships in the Taprobane fleet. If he gambles his fleet and loses, Malacca is also lost. So he does not gamble. However the skirmishing gradually eats through Pereira’ supply of munitions, already diminished by the battle of Rangsang, and he retreats back to Malacca for resupply. Before he can come out again, Papagos blockades the city and Pereira decides to remain and bolster the defenses as the land armies are approaching.

    The army from Pahang arrives first, having just slightly more than half the distance to march, and spearheaded by the Cham troops. It’s made good time by jungle standards and is in high spirits, until the soldiers get the news of Rangsang. There are a good number of both troopers and officers who are veterans of the nightmare retreat of 1636 and the thought of having to go through that again absolutely horrifies them.

    Papagos tries to improve their morale by disturbing food from the ships, but battle-line ships with their large gun crews need a lot of food of their own and the ships have been at sea for months now. There is not much Papagos can spare. The Doux-Exarch also lands some artillery for the army to use against the walls, but he doesn’t want to weaken his ships’ armament too much as Pereira’s fleet, including those 72-gunners, are literally right there. The paltriness of what Papagos lands, frankly, makes the gesture worse than doing nothing would’ve been. Their morale is further not helped by large banners emblazoned in Greek lettering saying ‘Seventh time is the charm’, a mocking reference to the fact that six times Rhomania has tried to take Malacca already and failed miserably each time. [3]

    There are some Roman deserters that alert Malacca to the mood in the Roman camp. The Spanish decide to launch a mass sally, hoping they can drive away the Pahang army before they can combine with the Taprobane army. They are repelled in a bloody mess and the Romans counter-attack, hoping they can rush the defenses and overwhelm them. Fighting is thick and brutal until eventually the Romans are beaten off with heavy losses of their own. Alexios Xatzigiannis reports a Spanish cannonball careening through his squad, killing or wounding thirteen out of the twenty on the spot, before continuing on to claim another nine victims. So much blood from his squad-mates was sprayed on him that he had to shave his head, beard, and even eyebrows, since it was impossible to get all the blood out of his hair.

    Finally the Taprobane army lumbers into position facing Malacca. It is October 15, just two weeks from the typical arrival of the monsoon, assuming it’s not early again. Due to its sheer size, it hasn’t faced much armed resistance. The Malays see no reason to die in the name of slowing the Roman army down, but they also see no reason to help the Romans either. The Roman army’s sheer size means it can’t help but eat everything in its path, and the Malays need the food for themselves. So they mostly retreat out of the way, but not before carrying off or hiding as much of their food as possible. Because the Romans need to keep moving to reach Malacca before the monsoon, they can’t stay and forage very thoroughly. Thus the Taprobane army is in even worse shape than the Pahang army food-wise when it arrives at the siege lines.

    Papagos has sent ships out to try and get supplies by sea, but with little luck. Pahang’s surplus was spent filling the transports lost at Rangsang and has little to spare. Java is too far away to be a timely aid and this is just after the Romans tried being cute with the materials owed to Sanjaya. In response he’s now demanding materials up-front before he supplies more foodstuff, no exceptions.

    Taprobane is more helpful, but the issue is that so much of the sealift capacity needed to move the bulk foodstuffs has now been sunk or captured by Pereira. With great joy, three junks from Taprobane arrive on October 16 with foodstuffs. When distributed throughout the armies and fleet, they carry enough food to feed everyone for all of two days. The countryside around Malacca has been picked clean already, firstly by the Spanish to deny supplies and then by the Pahang army. Tortures of the hapless locals by soldiers desperate to find their hidden caches do not encourage the locals to cooperate.

    If the Romans retreat, it will make even 1636 look like a picnic. Many of the soldiers will starve to death on the long march over Malaya, and Papagos lacks the sealift to carry them out that way. The only source of food for hundreds of kilometers around big enough for their needs is inside Malacca itself.

    Before dawn on October 18, the Romans attack Malacca. The siege has not progressed to the point to which in a regular siege an assault would be called, but the Romans have no choice. They attack with the insane fatalistic courage of men who know they must conquer or die. And they are met by the grim resolve of the Spanish inside who are determined not to yield. The first Roman attack breaks against the fortification. Yet more come, like waves against the seashore, until around noon when the Spanish start running low on powder and shot, the magazines having been eaten up by all of Pereira’s naval fighting earlier in the campaign. The Romans break through the defenses.

    Roman discipline, because of the starvation and desperate fighting, has been stretched to the breaking point and now it completely shatters. The Roman soldiers go on a complete rampage of slaughter and destruction through the streets, their first goal food but with a lot of rape, torture, and murder served alongside. An organized Spanish counterattack might’ve succeeded in throwing the Romans back out, but their reserves are spent. There’s nothing with which to launch said counterattack.

    However the loss of Roman control mean they leave the docks alone for far too long, giving Pereira and his crews the respite they need to re-man their ships. Burning those vessels they can’t properly crew and with the winds at their back they sally out. Better fed over the past month than their Roman counterparts (a very big deal when one has to manhandle cannon) and concentrated, the Spanish smash through the Roman blockade, sailing west toward Vijayanagar.

    He sails for Vijayanagar as he is unsure of the security of Sunda as a base to regroup, while a Roman attack on the Spanish in Vijayanagara waters will bring the full fury of the empire down on the Romans’ heads. In the ruins of Malacca it is suggested that the Roman fleet regroup, pursue, and attack Pereira even if he has entered Vijayanagar’s territories.

    The proposal goes nowhere but that the fact it was even suggested makes its way to Venkata Raya who is not pleased. He summons the Roman ambassador for an uncomfortable public audience where the visibly angry monarch berates him for a while until mollified by the Sikh ambassador.

    A large part of that was performative, done by Venkata Raya to frighten the Romans and remind them of the need for good behavior. It was also done so that the Romans would recognize the importance of supporting their friends the Sikhs even more, and in that case it is a complete success. But he is still annoyed and so the Spanish receive much more aid from Vijayanagara agents in refitting their ships than they would have had cause to expect after last year’s embassy.

    Yet even if the Romans had decided to pursue Pereira to India, they would’ve lacked the strength to do so. Several soldiers died after gorging their famished frames on captured foodstuffs. Furthermore the rampage gave the Spanish time to destroy some of the food stocks, substantially lessening the amount captured. The Romans may no longer be starving, but they are still hungry until food shipments from Java finally arrive. In addition, the wreckage of the city and the piles of dead bodies make for an unhealthy environment, which is not improved by the breaking of the monsoon. Weakened already by food deprivation, tropical diseases scythe through the Roman ranks, killing by the hundreds. Of the sixteen hundred Romans who came east with Papagos in early summer, 1100 are dead by Christmas, the Doux-Exarch among them.

    Both sides greet the order of a ceasefire from the metropoles in summer 1639 with relief.

    [1] An OTL comparison that springs to mind is plantation owners in the antebellum American South. On paper they may have a lot of wealth, but their capital was made up mostly of land and slaves, meaning their liquid wealth was very low, a problem if one had a sudden need for major financing.

    [2] They aren’t completely apathetic over who controls Malacca as exports west to India and Rhomania typically go through the Straits of Malacca. But China is a market the size of Europe and the Chinese like their spices. For every pinch of New Constantinople nutmeg that flavors a dish in the Roman heartland, three end up in a Chinese dish.

    [3] Not all, or even most, have been specifically covered in the narrative.
     
    The House of Iron: Blood, Memory, and Faith
  • The House of Iron: Blood, Memory, and Faith

    Demetrios III Sideros would’ve heartedly agreed with the sentiment behind the Chinese curse of ‘may you live in interesting times’. The first half of the 1630s, consumed by the War of the Roman Succession, had undoubtedly been more frantic and stressful. The quasi-peace of the second half was quieter and slower, but it had its own share of diplomatic and economic crises, supplemented by family concerns and crowned by the collapse of his health. Demetrios’ body had been ruined by his alcoholic coping mechanisms for the stress of the war and though his intake lightened once peace was signed, the damage was done.

    As is familiar with many families, as a father Demetrios had been close to his daughter but not so much with his son. That emotional distance had only widened thanks to the war. Demetrios had traveled to Syria and Macedonia and seen the aftereffects of war, but only after the powder had cleared and least a few of the bodies buried. Odysseus, on the other hand, had been in the thick of battle. He’d gone from a fresh-faced boy still with baby fat on his cheeks to a young man, his hands callused from sword and musket work, his skin marked by wind and sun, and his eyes burned by the sight of his friends dying.

    Odysseus Sideros was a veteran of the Twelve Days. War, in any era, is hell, but the Twelve Days were a special level. Historians are unclear about many of the details but it clearly left its scars even on the survivors. A study conducted in 2015 found that of 71 Roman officers confirmed to be veterans of the Twelve Days, 23 of them were ‘killed by Axios fever’, seventeen of them before 1645. (‘Killed by Axios fever’ means that they committed suicide; the terminology is used because the Orthodox Church has determined that a sufferer of Axios fever cannot, theologically speaking, commit suicide.)

    This extreme effect appears to have affected both sides, although study of the Roman survivors is easier because of better surviving documentation. Also for the Romans, after the mental and physical onslaught of the battle they suffer the psychological abuse from many of the Roman papers, particular from Constantinople. The soldiers remained loyal and faithful to the House of Sideros but they were understandably cool to the rest of the capital afterwards. Furthermore the survivors form a tightly-knit group, fiercely loyal to each other, for no one else can understand (save their German counterparts on the other side of the firing line) their shared traumas.

    Odysseus Sideros, for all his rank and family, is completely in this mindset. Demetrios Sideros had never been particularly fond of Constantinople, finding it too noisy, smelly, and with too many people, and that was before he had to deal with those people. Odysseus’ dislike is almost pathological. From 1635 to 1640, he only spends eight nights inside the Queen of Cities. He’s inside the City during the day more often than that, but deliberately takes residence in one of the suburban towns beyond the walls or across the Bosporus, despite the inconvenience.

    Instead Odysseus focuses on military activities, first the campaigning in Italy and then training in Anatolia and Thrace. There he is with those fellow veterans, those who understand, with whom he can belong after the nightmares of past years. That is a far better and sweeter thing than to spend time in the city surrounded by those who slandered the blood-soaked soldiers as cowards despite never even smelling a shot fired in anger.

    One frequent and very popular way of sharing comrade-ship, particularly among Roman army officers, is the hesychastic lodges. The creation of St Ioannes of the Turks, unlike in typical hesychasm where the mystical meditation is practiced in private, in the lodges it is done communally. (A guideline, but not a solid rule, is that the clergy practice hesychasm in private, the laity in the lodges.) Led by a ‘guide’, a monk or priest who has seen the “uncreated light” of the Holy Spirit through individual meditation, the practitioners engage in prayers and rhythmic breathing, motions, and religious chants as directed and guided by the guide. Aside from the goal of bringing oneself closer to God, the communal experience also serves to bring the practitioners closer to each other. Modern studies of hesychastic lodges show the practitioners’ biometric readings syncing with each other as the exercises continue.

    After returning to Rhomania from Italy, Odysseus joins the hesychastic lodge of St Mary of the Mongols in Athyra (a small town just to the west of Constantinople). The entire membership of the lodge are veterans of the Twelve Days, including the Guide, a military chaplain serving with the Thracian tagma. Other prominent members include Michael Pirokolos, Odysseus’ friend from the war, the ‘Mad Lyrist’ Iason Tornikes, and the new Strategos of the Thracian tagma, Alexios Maniakes, who’d once fought alongside the future Andreas III at Volos.

    The most unusual member though is Alexandros Turkopoulos, the unimaginative alias of Iskandar the Younger. Once Odysseus was promoted to Strategos and sent to the European theater, Iskandar had joined him as an unofficial member of his staff, in much the same way Odysseus had once served the future Andreas III in the Nineveh campaign. [1]

    Most biographers of Iskandar the Younger assert that he always remained a Muslim, as did Iskandar himself later in life. But the propaganda reasons for doing so are glaringly obvious. It is possible he secretly converted to Orthodox Christianity and later back to Islam, considering his membership in the lodge. While hesychastic lodges have always bothered more conservative and dogmatic clerics, admitting a practicing Muslim seems much even for them. Yet on the other hand, Alexandros is a veteran of the Twelve Days, and to those veterans that might override all other concerns. In other veteran lodges, German prisoners who’d just converted to Orthodoxy but were also veterans of the Twelve Days were admitted with little fuss.

    It has been remarked by many scholars that Odysseus Sideros, unlike the rest of his immediate family, was not a statesman or politician or administrator by temperament. The most common appellation is ‘romantic warrior’. Personal relationships were what mattered to him, not concerns of state. This is a vital point to remember. Odysseus did not look on Iskandar/Alexandros as a prince of the Ottoman Empire and potential future Shahanshah, but as a fellow veteran of unspeakable shared horrors, a friend, and a ‘soul brother’.

    Some writers have commented on Odysseus’ ability for great cruelty, first made manifest in Rome. There had been little indication of that before. Some have speculated that it has to do with the temperament of artists; the man widely considered to be the most evil in history was a failed artist who then became a politician. Others say that he inherited it from his father. Demetrios Sideros seemed to be a mild-mannered administrator and writer but as Emperor repeatedly demonstrated brutality when his ire was raised against particular individuals. And yet others point out that in the earlier accounts he is but a boy, yet later is a man and one who has witnessed and participated in horrific deeds.

    It is also at this point that Iskandar the Younger starts to take shape in the historical record. While in Rhomania, he received a first-class civic education. By the age of sixteen he could speak, read, and write Greek, Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and had also been educated in the Islamic faith and scholarship. This was taught by Islamic scholars from the Despotate of Carthage, members of the Berber tribes who were allies and clients of the city-state. If there was to be any chance of placing him on the throne of the Ottoman Empire and keeping him there, Iskandar had to be a good Muslim, which is why efforts by the Orthodox Church to convert him were repeatedly rebuffed by the Office of Barbarians.

    He had also been taught how to ride a horse and how to handle sword and musket, but other than that he received no formal military training. This was deliberate as there was the disturbing precedent of Khusrau II to consider. If the plan had been to limit his martial effectiveness by keeping him ignorant, this went out the window once Iskandar was allowed to join Odysseus’ staff. (This had been done on the insistence of Odysseus, who’d taken a liking to the Ottoman prince after teaching him riding and sword-handling at the request of then-alive Andreas III.) One of Iskandar’s biographies described him as one “who rarely speaks, but always listens”, a characteristic in place even in his teenage years. He undoubtedly learned a great deal watching and listening to the highly skilled soldiers and leaders around him.


    [1] I meant this to happen, but looking through the relevant parts it turned out I forgot to mention it. Hence the alias to cover up the ret-con.
     
    The House of Iron: The Fall of Men
  • The House of Iron: The Fall of Men

    “Pain is nature’s way of teaching us to welcome death.”-Demetrios III Sideros​

    Beginning in 1638, Demetrios III Sideros starts trying to be less involved in regular governance of the Empire (an effort that meets with very limited success) , principally due to worsening health. Because Odysseus doesn’t have the right mentality, much of Demetrios’ work is delegated to the Empress Jahzara and Lady Athena. Despite her frequency at earlier Imperial cabinet meetings, Athena still has a difficult time. She may have demonstrated great intelligence and wisdom, but she is a young woman, and few are more stubborn than old men refusing to take a young woman seriously. In extremis, she can call upon her father for support, and he always backs her play, but that does nothing for her own authority and is a tool that can only be used as long as Demetrios is alive.

    The situation improves for her in the third quarter of 1638 when the refurbishing of a new office and study for her is completed. It is done up very similarly to the Emperor’s personal office and study, a deliberate choice to put those summoned there into the proper mood. But it is not identical and the most noticeable difference from Demetrios’ study is the large painting on the wall behind her desk, the one any petitioner would face while addressing her.

    Sirani,_Elisabetta_-_Timoclea_uccide_il_capitano_di_Alessandro_Magno_-_1659.jpg

    Timoclea Killing her Rapist [OTL painting by Elisabetta Sirani]

    The painting is from the story of Timoclea, a woman who appears in Plutarch’s life of Alexander the Great. A resident of Thebes, she was raped by a captain in Alexander’s army after the city fell. When he finished, the captain demanded to know where Timoclea’s valuables were, to which she answered that they were hidden at the bottom of the well. [1] When he got to the well, she threw him in and then dropped stones on him till he died. When brought before Alexander, he pardoned her.

    It is a special commission by Athena. Although Timoclea’s skin is substantially whitened (for historical accuracy), otherwise Timoclea bears a startling resemblance to Athena. As for the Thracian captain she is throwing into the well, he looks a great deal like former Logothete of the Drome Andronikos Sarantenos, a reminder of what happens to troublesome officials who cross the Sideroi.

    The artist is a Sicilian woman, Anna Albanese, who moved to Constantinople just before the outbreak of the war; there’s a much bigger market for her studio productions in the Queen of Cities than in Bari. A more personal reason is that Anna was raped by a student of her father (also an artist) in 1628. Taking her rapist to court, the trial soon became more about her, raking over her character to see what she’d done to “entice her assailant”. The obscene and ridiculous practice of blaming the victim of rape rather than the perpetrator for the act is sadly very commonplace. Even though she ended up winning the case (although the rapist’s penalty was insultingly mild) Anna naturally wanted to be somewhere else, hence the move to Constantinople.

    While Anna is painting for Athena, Demetrios is writing. Another reason for his lessening involvement in governance, aside from ill health, is that he is hard at work on what many historians consider his magnum opus, The History of the War of the Roman Succession. Curiously, he does not call it ‘the Great Latin War’ even though that is a term he coined. The most commonly accepted reason among scholars is that the history doesn’t just cover the war and fighting between Theodor and his allies against Demetrios, but also connected conflicts. These include the Ducal War in Lombardy, the diplomatic maneuvers in the Mediterranean and the fighting in the East between Spain and Rhomania, the Ravens’ Rebellion, and the Third Rhine War, although his coverage of many of these is cut short because he dies before the events he is describing conclude. However some biographers argue that another reason is at play.

    It is not the only thing he is writing, although the history is the main task. Another work is A New and Ancient World, which is not published during his lifetime and when it is it is done under a pseudonym. Many question whether Demetrios finished the text before he died as it is not clear that the ending was meant to be the end of the story, or just the first part. Historians are unsure of what to make of it. A Roman Emperor writes the tale of a Roman expedition to the moon. There the expedition, through pride, arrogance, and greed ends up awakening a far greater power that would’ve happily stayed slumbering and unaware of Rhomania’s existence until the expedition’s aggrandizements had awakened it. The book ends with the tattered remnants of the expedition fleeing back to Earth while the power marshals all its forces for an attack on Rhomania itself.

    Despite the pseudonym, scholars are certain that Demetrios III Sideros is the author of A New and Ancient World. There are more questions regarding Sancho Panza of Seville, or, the Silver Elephant. It is a play that comes out in late 1638, about a Spanish merchant. Traveling the world, he becomes staggeringly wealthy, but then in a series of mishaps and disasters, mostly in events out of his control or doing, he sees everyone around him and himself lose practically everything save the small silver elephant pendant around his neck, a symbol of wisdom and memory. Losing his mind, he eventually commits suicide. It seems unlikely that Demetrios wrote the whole play, but a number of scholars think he may have penned the final speech of Sancho Panza.

    * * *
    Empress Theater, Constantinople, March 18, 1639:

    Demetrios took another sip of opium-laced wine, settling back into his seat. The recently-added cushioning felt good on his bony frame; food scraping, ripping, gnawing, clawing through his ulcerated weeping-mucus-and-blood intestines was something he preferred to avoid nowadays.

    ‘Juan the Black’ entered back onto the stage. Juan was a Spanish actor, one of the most popular on the Constantinople stage, particularly with the ladies. ‘The Black’ came from his thick and naturally curly black hair, reportedly an inheritance from an Arabic mother. Juan strode to the center of the stage, brandishing a dagger in his right hand. He was wearing the elephant pendant over his blue jacket, although Demetrios could tell the jacket was draped a little more loosely on Juan’s body. That was to make room for the bladder filled with pig’s blood underneath it.

    Juan cleared his throat.

    “I have seen many amazing things, things wondrous to behold,
    In my days across the Earth.
    A humble Englishman, two generous priests, three abstemious Greeks,
    Things that would fill you with awe.
    But do you know what I have not seen, in all my travels,
    In all the nations and peoples of the Earth?

    Justice to the poor, mercy to the widow and orphan,
    And compassion to the sick.

    These things I have not seen, in all the world.

    I have heard many words to these effects, and yet no deeds.

    Justice and compassion must be bought in gold.
    If one lack the means, the pleas are met with the club.

    The priest and the king speak of justice, and yet there is none.

    And so I wonder, why is that?

    Perhaps God and Satan are just beings we conjured in our minds,
    To absolve us of our sins.
    God to forgive and Satan to blame.

    Perhaps heaven and hell are also just vapors of our brains,
    Formed to condone the lack of righteousness on Earth.

    Perhaps there is a God, and we are just the dreams and scribbles of a madman,
    Created to entertain a twisted audience who delight in our sorrows and find our torments good cheer.”

    A pause.

    “I will not speak any longer, for I know you do not listen. Because I am mad, and therefore I must be wrong. That is all that need to be said to prove that I am at fault.

    Well, I am mad. This I do not deny. So I know the face of madness, and that is what I see. Madness is a world that applauds justice and then beats those crying out for it. Madness is a world that preaches compassion and spits on the widow and orphan. Madness is a world that talks of God and yet worships the devil.

    Do with this knowledge what you will. Ignore it, face it, pretend it is not so. I do not care. But as for me, I have had enough of capering for this cruelty called entertainment.”

    He hefted the dagger high above his head. “I bid full scorn on this demented world, and call myself glad to be quit of it!” Juan plunged the dagger into the bladder hidden under his jacket, the blood spraying across the stage. He staggered to his knees, and then fell as the curtain drew closed.

    * * *

    Some scholars have questioned Demetrios’ authorship of the speech, partly because of its criticism of rulers, and what could be construed as condemnation of himself. Most of his executions were during the war period, but his most famous and cruel ones date from the post-war period. And the evidence of the most famous one is still on display in Constantinople to this day.

    Empress Jahzara wrote that she very rarely saw her husband truly enraged, but on those few occasions “who I saw there frightened me. I saw the depths of which he was truly capable if he so desired, and I thank a merciful God that Demetrios Sideros lacked ambition.” Perhaps Demetrios was aware of and critical of this tendency; some historians argue that the viciousness of the latter executions may be because of his ill health and bodily pain. Others disagree on the grounds that the self-criticism is unfair, as many to this day argue that the executions were justified and actually a highly beneficial precedent for Roman society. But Demetrios would not have known that, and many of the execution-supporters admit the actual form was excessive.

    In 2007, the librarian at the Monastery of St Ioannes of the Turks in Ikonion discovered a manuscript journal dating back to the 1640s in the archives. The owner had bequeathed all his possessions to the monastery in exchange for a stipend and support for the remainder of his life (a common way to secure support in one’s old age). This was as part of a historical study of the monastery and he avidly began reading, but some was in cypher. After diligent effort and help from a friend at the Imperial Cryptography Section, the code was broken.

    No one could’ve predicted what the text said.

    The encoded sections were from the late 1630s and detailed the author’s study of a substance he called Thessalian milk (why is never explained). According to the text, if the substance was heated or if vitriol (hydrochloric acid) was added to it, “poisonous vapors” were produced. The author admitted he couldn’t figure out a delivery system for these poisonous vapors that wouldn’t have massive backfire risks on the launchers. However “as a method for disposing of obstinate Ishmaelites these vapors would be most useful. The Ishmaelites could be herded into chambers, locked inside, and exposed to the poisonous vapors until all succumbed. Then the bodies could be removed and buried. Another advantage of this method is that valuable materials such as clothing, gold teeth, fat, and hair could be salvaged from the corpses which might be damaged by other disposal methods and put to productive use.”

    As soon as this bombshell was published, chemists set to work and quickly divined the process. Thessalian milk is sodium hypochlorite, used as a liquid bleach for centuries, originally developed for use in the textile industry, but not as early as the 1630s. But when heated to 35 C or when hydrochloric acid is added, it produces chlorine gas.

    Historians and archivists across Rhomania immediately began scouring the sources to try and find the end of the story. In 2011, the archivists who manage the original manuscripts of Demetrios III found the answer in some of his notes. When informed of the proposal, he reacted promptly, killing the project and buying the silence of everyone involved. The journal-writer had retired from his studies with a large donative, which in the early 1640s he lost in some bad business ventures and hence his bequeathing of the remainder of his possessions to the monastery.

    The whole tale explains a curious remark in Demetrios III’s journal that no biographer had been able to explain until that time. “I was presented with a great evil, the likes of which even my most cruel impulses could not imagine. I hope, I pray, to a merciful God that I have succeeded in silencing it. I know it shall come forth eventually, for now I know such an evil is possible, and the mind of man is twisted and cruel. If it can be done, it will be done. But I pray, let this cup of evil come from another people’s hand, and let this monstrous crime be added to another’s account. Let it not be said that the Roman people brought this forth.”

    His prayer was granted. Sodium hypochlorite would be developed by Roman chemists later in the 1600s, but no one then would think to develop it into a poison gas chamber as a tool for ‘social ordering’. That dubious honor would fall to another.

    Thank a merciful God that Demetrios III Sideros lacked ambition.


    [1] The city had been besieged, so naturally the residents had taken to hiding their wealth to hopefully keep them from being stolen by the victorious soldiers. This is a common practice and why sacks of cities see soldiers torturing residents. The soldiers are trying to find the hiding places.
     
    The House of Iron: Chips and Cheese
  • The House of Iron: Chips and Cheese

    The mobilization of Roman industry and society for the efforts required in the Great Latin War/War of the Roman Succession was unprecedented and a truly remarkable effort, made possible only by the economic advancements from the Flowering combined with the administrative reforms of Demetrios III Sideros. Yet it was hardly a perfect sweep, with plans rushed, leading to inevitable sloppiness, and even those well implemented would be subject to growing pains.

    Most of Demetrios III’s limited energy in the late 1630s would be focused on internal affairs. Foreign policy would be left adrift as a result, which explains the rather poor Roman performance in this area in this period. For example, Demetrios’ ‘wait and see’ policy regarding the Ducal War in Italy was definitely left on the stove too long. Furthermore the lack of clear directives from the top allowed a clique of ultra-war hawks to form in government circles. In numbers they weren’t that many, but they made up for that and more in volume, and they knew how to use the burgeoning Roman press to spread their message. Their brazen greed, contemptuous indifference to the concerns of others, and sheer bloody-mindedness was tailor-made to alienate foreigners. Demetrios III in his history makes it quite clear that their rhetoric provided opportunities for both Henri II and Ibrahim that they never would’ve received otherwise, and which they skillfully exploited to Rhomania’s detriment.

    Some historians have criticized Demetrios III for this lapse, with some fairness. Demetrios himself acknowledged that a lot of his own rhetoric from the war provided the intellectual underpinnings for the war hawks. But in his defense, the damage done by the war hawks wasn’t truly apparent until it was largely too late. Furthermore, leaving aside the Emperor’s bad health, internal affairs were a large enough plate to deal with already.

    Not all of that was specifically to do with the various administrative reforms. By the end of 1637 most of the serious spade work had been finished and it was mostly a matter of smoothing off any edges. But then the three great financial scandals of the late 1630s started to break and Demetrios was left scrambling to clean up the mess.

    The scandals broke in order of severity, going from mildest to worst. The first, which became clear in early 1638, is known as the ‘Trebizond Yard Scandal’, although the name is more specific than the extent which was hardly exclusive to Trebizond.

    Naval procurement was a particularly good field for cultivating corruption. This was hardly exclusive to Rhomania. The quantity of money needed to construct battle-line ships, the vast array of materials and technical sophistication involved which meant numerous contractors, all provided plenty of opportunity for graft, from high to low.

    One of the ubiquitous examples is that of ‘chips’, a common tradition in shipyards across all of Christendom. Shipwrights, in addition to their regular compensation, were also allowed to keep any ‘chips’, which meant any leftover timber pieces (or other pieces like rope or sailcloth, although lumber was by far the most common) were theirs to take. These chips were sold on the side for extra money, and since any sales were pure profit, this was a highly valued and fiercely guarded practice. The only restriction was that the chips had to be carried out by the shipwright personally. The issue was that ‘leftover’ tended to get broadly interpreted and sometimes shipwrights would walk out with a fully worked ship-timber plank; so long as they could balance it on their shoulders and walk out of the yard, this was technically allowed. [1]

    Chipping is an example of low-level graft that was constantly active in the background, and generally accepted as the price of keeping skilled craftsmen happy. Any one of the naval powers would be happy to poach qualified shipwrights from competitors. But it shows how naval construction was a field in which a lack of corruption would be far more surprising than its presence.

    The Trebizond yard scandal was on a much larger scale, but in its own way was typical of a naval procurement scandal. What made it special was its size. There had been a massive wave of naval construction for the war effort, both beforehand in preparation and during to keep fleet levels up. The constant blockading of the Italian coast had taken its toll on Roman hulls, and this is before the naval powers knew how to copper bottoms to protect hulls against marine life. (There had been some experiments with lead sheathing, but these made the iron nails underneath rust and fall out, which was obviously a problem for structural integrity. The experiments were quickly discontinued, but that meant more building to repair or replace the ships compromised.)

    Shipbuilding timber needs to be properly seasoned, meaning left to dry after being cut, for up to three years before actually being used in construction. Many of the largest structures at naval yards were vast drying sheds in which timber would season. This was expensive because it was large long-term storage and it was especially important that the timber not get wet in the process since that would defeat the whole point; a ramshackle shed would not do.

    However timber, once fully seasoned, wouldn’t leak nearly as much as green timber, substantially lengthening the longevity of a vessel before it needed major rebuilding or replacement. Considering the expense of building a battle-line ship, this was extremely important to Admiralties. One could build a warship from green timber, but it was an expensive choice best avoided unless absolutely necessary. The Roman Admiralty’s 1627 regulations state that a seasoned warship is, assuming normal operational wear and tear and proper maintenance, expected to last around 25 years, a green-timbered ship only 5 years, at most.

    Private contractors had been used to build warships for the Roman navy, as was usual, but in the unprecedented urgency and volume of orders, quality standards had lapsed. Several contractors were paid to build warships with seasoned timbers which they claimed to have on hand. However what they actually had were timbers in the drying shed that had not completed the process and those were what they used to build the warships.

    Ploys like this are expected, which is why the Roman Admiralty prefers to build warships from its own yards where quality control is easier to enforce. However the Imperial Arsenal, while effective for churning out galleys in the 1400s, is too cramped to build very many of the much larger battle-line ships at any one time. The Venetian Arsenal suffers from a similar problem. Thus private contractors are all the more important.

    Another factor encouraging the use of private contractors is the growing difficulty of procuring naval supplies. Contracts to build warships places the onus of getting the material on the contractor rather than the government, much to the relief of the latter. For example, mandates to protect the remaining Pontic forests for ship-building timber are two centuries old by this point. However the skyrocketing demand for lumber required by 17th-century battle-line ships compared to 15th-century galleys plus the other calls for timber from a growing population mean that those mandates are now distinguishable mainly by their glaring ineffectiveness. It is much simpler, from Constantinople’s perspective, to pay the contractor and let them deal with getting the literally acres-worth of trees needed to build just one battle-line ship from wherever in Russia to the Pontic yards.

    Naval maintenance in early 1638 reveals that nine of the Roman battle-line ships were made with the green-timber, well over 10% of Rhomania’s entire battle-line. [2] The Piraeus Yard superintendent reports of one 64-gunner that if it were to sail to Spain, the Spanish wouldn’t need to do anything to make it sink other than sit back and watch. (Unbeknownst to him, the Spanish navy is suffering similar procurement-corruption scandals from their own unprecedented naval buildup for the Andalusi War.)

    In order to maintain the navy at current strength, substantial and unexpected and expensive construction is needed. Fines from the private shipyards responsible help some, but they are limited as the level of fines is dictated by the original contract. The yards were paid to furnish seasoned-timber warships, and since they delivered green-timber ships they must pay back the difference from what they would’ve been paid for delivering a green-timber ship in the first place. In addition they must pay a breach-of-contract fine which was already specified in the original contract. Beyond that the Roman government cannot go without jeopardizing relations with the other private yards, whose expertise and resources they need.

    This unexpected budget item comes at the same time the treasury is doling out a large outlay to the Ethiopians for their services in the east. Which also happens simultaneously with another demand on the Roman exchequer that, while not permanently affecting Roman-Vlach relations, serves as a useful example that for small states, having even a friendly great power as a neighbor can be constricting.

    Large subsidies from Rhomania kept the Vlach state from going bankrupt from military expenses during the recent war, but that was all they did and they ceased after the fighting stopped. By 1638 the Vlach state is broke. The Banat estates that helped fund the royal exchequer, stripped and ruined by the Germans, are still well below pre-war production levels, wounded veterans unable to work are demanding disability payments, and many would-be taxpayers and laborers are crossing the Danube south into Rhomania.

    The Vlach Diet that assembles in Targoviste knows that things need to change. An earlier royal effort to get some more Roman subsidies goes nowhere as it unfortunately arrives just after the Trebizond Yard scandal breaks. More debits is not what Constantinople wants right now. The Vlachs are irritated by this, feeling they are ill-compensated for the pivotal role they played in the Ruse campaign.

    The Diet thus raises export duties on cereals, cheese, mutton, beef, wool and leather, all commodities Vlachia exports in bulk to Rhomania, particularly to feed hungry Constantinople. The great landowners are, in a sense, voting against their interests since this will raise their own expenses. However their Vlach pride has been affronted and they also reason that the White Palace, which needs to feed Constantinople, will pony up the extra cash needed for the price markup. (Vlachia can’t provide all the food for the Queen of Cities and the other cities of the Aegean basin, hence the need for Scythian and Egyptian grain, but its proximity makes Vlachia the ‘first-call’ breadbasket for Constantinople.)

    Another issue the Diet wishes to address is a limit on emigration. Vlachia is a poor, under-developed, and under-populated country, with less than 2 million people even after its post-war acquisitions; its capital Targoviste is the largest city, more than twice the size of the next biggest, but it has only 16,000 people, one-twentieth that of Constantinople. And the main cause for this is Rhomania.

    Low import duties on Roman products mean that Vlach artisans are faced with a tidal wave of Roman wares that are often of higher-quality and comparable or even cheaper in price. Textile workers are especially hit hard. Extremely limited capital means it is practically impossible for artisans to finance expanded operations (export of bullion out of Rhomania without a license can result in the death penalty), so Roman economies of scale swamp them. Many, rather than struggle against the tide, prefer to immigrate to Rhomania where wages are higher anyway.

    Large landowners, who profit from feeding the hungry masses of Roman cities, expand their holdings at the expenses of smaller landowners who can’t compete. Many of the latter are forced to become either tenant farmers or landless laborers. For those farmers who do not care for that their choices are limited. They can try to go into forestry or mining, but the guilds fiercely guard their privileges and independence and one way they do that is not to antagonize the great landowners (who comprise the Diet) by poaching laborers. They can try to enter the church but that often costs money (monasteries are some of the biggest landowners in Vlachia).

    The best option is to emigrate to Rhomania, especially after the Empire has a major de-population event, such as losing 800,000 in a war with Latins and Ottomans. In those situations Constantinople sets up lots of incentives to entice new blood, and poor Vlachs are always the first ones to answer and in the greatest number. Georgian laborers are a common sight in Anatolia, but they come and work for a few years, save up money, and then return home with their earnings to marry and start a family. Vlachs though usually never go back to Vlachia, and remittances are rare. Rhomania is effectively a vampire sucking Vlach lifeblood away when it is feeling depleted. The Diet wishes this to stop.

    The Roman government is most displeased by what it hears is transpiring in Targoviste. Simultaneously trying to raise the cost of provisioning Constantinople and restricting the flow of new labor to recover from a de-population event is hitting the White Palace in two very sensitive areas. The Roman ambassador immediately starts putting pressure on the Diet members and the Vlach government behind the scenes.

    An agreement is eventually reached, although one weighted heavily toward Rhomania, unsurprisingly considering the disparity in power. The proposed increases on customs duties and emigration restrictions are both dropped. In exchange, the Romans will pay the disability payments requested by Vlach veterans since the injuries were incurred in defense of the Empire. This helps some of the Vlach financial issues, but hardly resolves them.

    To do that, the Vlachs must turn to other methods. One is to step up the pressure on the Székelys minority in Transylvania, whose loyalty inclines more to Buda and whose faith is Catholic. Lands and properties are stripped away as penalty for minor infractions, and if those aren’t available trumped-up charges will do. The Hungarians protest, but the final part of the agreement is that the Romans back the Vlachs in this dispute.

    Another reform the Diet makes is a different tax increase from the one initially proposed. The customs duties increase would’ve fallen predominately on the major landowners who produce for the foreign market, not the smallholders. Instead the Vlach people get increased consumption taxes on various items, a form of taxation that falls more onerously on the already suffering poor. They are also burdened by new laws restricting internal movement for the agricultural poor designed to circumvent Roman disapproval of emigration limits. Off the estates they have to have a passport from their landlord and can only move away if they are debt-free, a rarity, and even then only during a fortnight period after the harvest. Effectively they are staked to the land.

    [1] This is all from OTL.
    [2] The 91 battle-line ships mentioned in the ‘Wooden Walls’ update include 18 Sicilian vessels.
     
    The House of Iron: People of the Book
  • The House of Iron: People of the Book

    “No wild beasts are so deadly to humans as most Christians are to each other.”-Ammianus Marcellinus​

    At about the same time the Trebizond Yard scandal is breaking, more money-related issues are popping up, except these are entangled in matters of faith as well, making them potentially even more sticky.

    Fighting along the Roman-Ottoman truce lines has never died down entirely, with both sides acting through Bedouin proxies, the Romans via the Owais, Haddad, and Anizzah, and the Ottomans with the Howeitat. The skirmishes go back and forth, serving mainly as a way for the two powers to irritate each other, doing negligible damage to either empire but making the hapless locals caught in the middle thoroughly miserable.

    In April 1638 there is a battle at Solomon’s Pools a few kilometers southwest of Bethlehem, larger than the usual skirmishes with as many as twenty five hundred combined combatants. It is a crushing victory for the Howeitat-Ottoman forces, who inflict more than 200 casualties on their foes and take nearly as many prisoners.

    The scale of the victory was made possible by timely intelligence and information about the landscape provided by the Orthodox Christian villagers of Bethlehem. At this point they just want to be able to work their fields in peace, and in that regard it is the Roman-aligned Bedouin that are the problem. Eager for plunder and not too particular about where they get it (especially since regular Roman forces aren’t in the neighborhood to keep them honest), they’d already devastated the outskirts of Bethlehem last year.

    Aside from the villagers killed in the attack, the resulting harvest shortfall led to several hunger-related deaths over the winter, and the raiders also killed four monks of the nearby St. George’s Monastery. The Monastery houses the chains of St. George, a relic considered holy by both the local Christians and Muslims for its healing powers. Used to being a Christian island in a Muslim sea and wanting to safeguard their property, the residents stayed where they were, protected by the power of St. George.

    Among the haul of prisoners and dead bodies on the field are thirteen regular Roman soldiers. If they were there to prevent the Bedouin from attacking Orthodox Christians on the ‘wrong side of the line’, they failed. The Owais and Haddad were on course to raid Bethlehem again when they were ambushed at the Pools. Probably they were there as military advisors or to conduct recon on Ottoman positions.

    Both powers know the other is supporting the Bedouin raids, but the haul of prisoners provides inconvertible proof that the Romans are doing so, proof Ibrahim can use. If the Romans are not abiding by the terms of the truce, there is no censure for him not abiding by some of the terms either. The proof from the prisoners provides the legal cover for his following actions.

    Last year, even with the proof, Ibrahim may not have decided to go forward with his deeds. Breaking the truce early, if it came with the risk of a Roman offensive, was not worth it. But Ibrahim is well aware of the events transpiring in Italy and knows that because of the debacle unfolding there, there is absolutely no chance he will face an early Roman offensive. In fact, in the best case scenario he might be able to use the situation to restore the pre-war frontier at no cost to Ibrahim.

    That best-case scenario is admittedly unlikely and Ibrahim knows it. Yet it still provides him with the opening to act without facing repercussions, and even in the worst-case scenario he will still be providing the Romans with a lovely time bomb to blow up in their faces.

    The Roman territory controlled by the Ottomans during the truce contains a huge swath of Christian churches and monasteries, unsurprising considering they include the Holy Land. Well-endowed with bequests from the faithful, these churches and monasteries can be quite wealthy. Many of them suffered loss during the war, but the damage was irregular and their assets are still substantial.

    Starting in May, Ottoman troops begin visiting many of these churches and monasteries, ransacking them for valuables. Practically anything of value that can be moved is carted off, not just money but also fine vestments, liturgical vessels, finely decorated books, livestock, and tools. Christian establishments inside Ottoman territory were not to be molested under terms of the truce, but Ibrahim claims he is confiscating these assets as a reprisal for the illegal Bedouin raids the Romans are sponsoring.

    The exact value of the losses is uncertain. The combined claims for damages by the affected institutions sent to the Roman government totals a little over 3 million hyperpyra, enough to finance 5 full-strength tagmata for a year. Not all of that wealth is readily transferable into a form useful to Ibrahim and many contemporaries, both Muslim and Christian, are certain the damages are being exaggerated in an effort to get additional compensation.

    The stripping of clerical assets, while painful for the Orthodox Church, is not out of the ordinary. In Muslim lands, despite their dhimmi status, Christian establishments are frequently squeezed by Islamic rulers and Roman Emperors have done such expropriations in times of emergency. It is what follows that is truly troublesome from the Roman perspective.

    The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the holiest place in all of Christendom, the destination of thousands of pilgrims almost every year. And its use is restricted to the Orthodox Church and those churches in communion with it. Pilgrims of all denominations can come to the Church (and donations from all are accepted), but only Orthodox and those in communion can hold services within the building. All others are barred from doing so, including the Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and even Ethiopians.

    Ibrahim declares that the excluded churches must be provided access to the Holy Sepulcher to conduct services and sets up a rotation schedule for them. First up are the Armenians, who are ecstatic about the opportunity. The procession is escorted to the Sepulcher complex by Ottoman troops although the Muslim soldiery do not continue inside. The Armenians enter but find their path into the church itself blocked by the Orthodox clergy who stand in their path. Angry words are exchanged, then shoving, and before long a full-fledged brawl breaks out, the clergy using fists, walking staffs, liturgical vessels or books, whatever weapons can be improvised. The Orthodox Bishop of Tripoli is said to have most dexterously used a large manuscript copy of the Bible with a leather cover embossed with bronze as a club.

    The Muslims watching this, including the soldiers, find the scene hilarious and it is a little while before the Ottoman troops move in to break up the fight. The Orthodox clergy only stand down when the Persian commander threatens to set whip-and-club-armed soldiers on them. Those of the battered Armenians in condition to do so conduct their service. Next week it is the turn of the Copts, and the Orthodox clergy again attempt to bar them from the church. However now the Ottoman troops escort the Copts to the doorstep and the Orthodox, on seeing the soldiers, stand aside without incident.

    The number of injured in the fight is around twenty, but two Armenians are killed, a deacon and an elderly priest. (Despite the improvised weaponry, the Orthodox who were expecting a fight seem to have been better prepared.) Slain on the doorsteps of the Holy Sepulcher, their blood flowing near where Christ’s body was laid to rest, the Armenian Church hails the dead as martyrs for the faith.

    Armenians throughout the Empire are outraged, which is problematic for Constantinople. The largest minority group, they are prominent in eastern Anatolia, a region of obvious strategic importance, and dominate Cilicia. The latter is one of the most developed regions of the Empire. Endowed with abundant labor and easy access to raw materials mined from the Taurus Mountains, Cilicia produced one-tenth of all D3 muskets made in the Empire during the war.

    Ibrahim doesn’t stop there but seizes several monasteries [1] from the Orthodox Church and distributes them to the various other Christian churches. Some, such as the Nunnery of the Holy Martyr Thekla, are handed over to the Georgians. Notably, all of these were originally Georgian foundations that had eventually been absorbed by the better financially-endowed Roman church. Efforts by the Georgian Church to get them back in recent decades had been mostly unsuccessful.

    Two other monasteries are handed over to the Monastery of St Alexander Nevsky, which as the name suggests is a Russian establishment. It was founded by the bishops of Pronsk who heavily patronize the institution and often retire there to spend their last days. The Bishop of Pronsk is the senior cleric and a very important figure in Great Pronsk, by far the most powerful of the Russian states with a population just a few hundred thousand smaller than the entire Roman heartland.

    Three monasteries are handed over to the Ethiopians, including the Monastery of the Prophet Elijah, while the Copts receive seven, including the great monastery of Mar Saba. Over a thousand years ago, ascetics lived in the caves near the site of the monastery. One of the churches at the monastery, the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, has a fresco with Manuel II Laskaris, the grandson of Theodoros Megas, who financed its reconstruction in the early 1300s.

    The Armenians get nine, including the most famous monastery in all interior Syria, the Monastery of Saydnaya, which houses an icon of the Virgin. Said to be painted by St Luke himself, it is venerated for its healing powers, including by the Muslims. It is over a thousand years old, founded during Justinian I’s reign.

    The churches happily accept these grants. Aside from the religious significance, many of the monasteries, particularly Mar Saba and Saydnaya, come with substantial property endowments attached. Saydnaya has extensive orchards and vineyards, the products of which are sold profitably in the nearby markets of Damascus. Now not all of the properties are in Ottoman-controlled territories, but many are and the gains are substantial. The Ethiopian Church’s revenues from holdings in the region increase by 180% as a result of Ibrahim’s actions. Furthermore, Ibrahim’s confiscations of moveable assets fell less heavily on these monasteries.

    Ibrahim knows he cannot hold interior Syria once war resumes with the Romans, and he has no intention of trying. But he has presented the Romans with a poisoned chalice they must drink when they retake the area. Either the White Palace can do nothing and thereby enrage the Orthodox Church which will want some of its oldest, most venerable, and wealthy foundations back. Or the White Palace can take them back and thereby alienate the Armenians, the Copts, the Russians, and the Ethiopians, who will naturally resent the loss of their recent gains.

    [1] The information regarding monasteries is all taken from Arab Orthodox Christians Under the Ottomans 1516-1831 by Constantin U. Panchenko. TTL Manuel II Laskaris is, IOTL, Ioannes VI Kantakuzenos.
     
    The House of Iron: A Diet of Pepper
  • The House of Iron: A Diet of Pepper

    During the summer, it was common practice for the Imperial family to remove itself from Constantinople, a habit followed by those wealthy enough to afford country estates. Despite the best efforts of Roman sanitation, during the summer heat the great city with its population inching back up to 350,000 could get a little ripe, even by the standards of a less nasally sensitive age. The White Palace with its sea breezes wasn’t nearly as bad as the heart of Constantinople, but it was still nice to get away. The Sweet Waters of Asia had started as a summer resort before it was turned into a garden complex, although it still functions as both. It is away from the Constantinople air but close enough for easy access to the capital if needed.

    However the plans for summer 1638 were supposed to be different. Instead of going to the Sweet Waters Demetrios III is supposed to go to Prousa, to the spa near Mt Olympus. In an effort to ease the Emperor’s pain, he was to undergo a surgical operation to remove kidney stones. This was a dangerous procedure and the conducting surgeon wanted to operate on the Emperor in Prousa so that he could recuperate at the warm baths. He was also supposed to not have to deal with any Imperial business for six weeks afterwards.

    But 1638 is one of those years that is not inclined to cooperate. Delegations from the west arrive for negotiations regarding the situation in Italy and these are important and tense enough that it is felt that they should receive a full Imperial audience when they arrive. The negotiations are to be conducted mainly by the Logothete of the Drome with instructions from Demetrios III, but rumors that the Basileus’ instructions are conciliatory cause an uproar amongst the ultra-war hawks, who stir up an uproar of their own in the court in response.

    The presence of these large, senior, and irritated Latin delegations also mean that Roman reactions to Ibrahim’s religious actions in Syria-Palestine are muted. There are cries of outrage but no action, as Ibrahim expected. If diplomacy with the Latins fails, war is almost inevitable, and the war hawks are doing their best to ensure that diplomacy fails. Demetrios and the War Room do not want another two-front war, and if they start up the war with the Ottomans early, it will only encourage the Latins to be demanding, increasing drastically the odds of another two-front war.

    Demetrios’ relationship with the city of Constantinople is not going so well either. On the annual Day of Victory games celebrated in the Hippodrome on May 29, the extravagant games, with entry and copious concessions free of charge, proceed as usual. However Demetrios III, because of his poor health, is conspicuously not present in the Imperial box. In response, the crowd boo and jeer when his name is mentioned, complaining about his absence.

    Demetrios, who is having an especially painful day, is furious when he hears of this. The games, food, and drink they are all enjoying free of charge are because of him, and the people enjoying them are mostly those who have had their taxes lightened thanks to his differential taxation plans. And yet just because he won’t attend the games they find it as just cause to curse his name.

    The tale that it takes the combined efforts of the Empress Jahzara, the Lady Athena, and the Lady Maria of Agra to talk him down from sending Odysseus and some of his fellow Twelve Days veterans to “do a Nika” is apocryphal. It was made up by angry sports fans who rioted and started some fires after the games because their team won and were then crushed by the tzaousiosi. Several of the rioters responsible for the arson, after being arrested and convicted, were then executed. Starting an uncontrolled fire in Constantinople is not taken lightly given its potential for mass carnage, but the executions still incurred an angry backlash in public opinion.

    It is historical that Demetrios quotes a slight adaption of the tomb inscription of Scipio Africanus: Ungrateful city, you will not even have my bones. Construction of the Sideros family mausoleum, along with the proximate church and monastery (which bring in a good amount of business for the area both from the clerics’ needs and the pilgrim traffic for the icons and relics) and hospital for the poor, begins at the end of summer and is not in Constantinople but in Athyra.

    The second financial scandal, the “Zeila Pepper-Kaffos scandal” breaks just two weeks later. To understand that requires taking a closer look at the maritime trade between East and West, and a comparison of the Suez route used by the Romans and the Cape of Storms route used by the Latins.

    The Cape Route was a long haul, stressful on both ships and crews. Losses from shipwrecks and storms were a constant hazard, although these can sometimes be exaggerated if one looks solely at famous early expeditions (whose losses were higher out of inexperience) or at particularly bad years. One example is 1629, when three of eight Lotharingian Indiamen heading back to Europe go down somewhere off the east coast of Madagascar. Those bad years happened, but because of the drama attached they draw more attention than their frequency deserves. The main source of loss on these voyages was amongst the crew, from accidents, poor rations, and the dreaded scurvy. [1]

    The advantage of the Cape Route was that it was direct. A ship could load up its cargo of pepper, spices, chinaware, silk, tea, or other eastern goods in an eastern harbor. Once cargo and supplies were all aboard, the ship then sailed to Lisbon, Antwerp, London, Hamburg, or the like. Many of the goods would then travel on to other markets in Latin Europe, but from the east to the seaboard of Europe there was no need for transferring or middlemen. This meant that while the route was slow, it was comparatively cheap.

    The Suez Route was much faster. Monsoon winds imposed their own schedule that men ignored at their peril, but on average an eastern ware could get to Constantinople twice as fast as to Lisbon or Antwerp. But an eastern good going this route was first loaded on a ship in an eastern port, the ship sailing to the entrance of the Red Sea. There it would be transferred to an oared vessel for the passage up to Suez as the Red Sea was considered too hazardous for ships with only sail-power, particularly if they were carrying valuables. At Suez it would be put on a barge through Marienburg am Nil and then up to Alexandria, where it would go on another vessel for the leg to Constantinople. As a result of all these transfers and middlemen, the cost of shipping on the Suez route was substantially more expensive than on the Cape, which reflected in the cost of the product.

    Moderns, used to instant replays, electronic communications, and next-day delivery crave speed and will often pay more to get things faster. People in the early modern did not think the same way. Theirs was a much slower world. There were no timetables since no mode of transportation could be that precise. The fastest a human could go was either by riding a galloping horse or falling from a height until one reached terminal velocity, and neither experience could last long, particularly the latter.

    As a result the cheapness of the Cape Route made it the winner. Now it wasn’t a complete rout. Eastern goods would be cheaper in Lisbon or Antwerp than in Constantinople, but as they trickled through the European trade network the shipping cost and thereby their own cost would gradually tick up. An eastern good arriving in Constantinople via Lisbon would have no price advantage over one arriving via Suez. As a result, eastern goods via Suez won out in the Orthodox world and Hungary, a sizeable market, but the rest of Europe went for Cape route goods, a much bigger market.

    Roman merchants are aware of this weakness and are trying to minimize it. The most effective way they have found is to ensure that all the shipping, from Island Asia to Constantinople, is owned by the merchants also sending the goods. Using another carrier means paying their rates, designed to generate a profit for their owners. Using their own carrier means just covering the expenses without the profit markup. However owning shipping across such a vast network is out of reach for one individual, so multiple partnerships have developed. [2] The typical setup is a Roman Ship Lord who gets the goods to the Gulf of Aden, an Ethiopian who covers the Red Sea run (and also arranges sale of eastern goods to Ethiopian buyers), and another Roman merchant in the heartland covering the Suez to Constantinople leg.

    The war in the east has been a disaster for business, with exports from New Constantinople in 1637 at 14% of their 1635 level. The Roman heartland merchants in these partnerships thus petition the Roman government for tax relief because of these losses. Unlike modern income tax, where the tax is levied as a percentage of the last year’s income, Roman income tax levies operate on a 5-year tax cycle.

    At the beginning of a tax cycle, auditors survey the taxpayers’ sources of income over the past 5 years and take an annual average and levy that as the rate for the next tax cycle. For example, if a taxpayer’s average annual income for 1630-1635 is determined to be 60 hyperpyra and the tax rate for their level is 16.67%, they owe 10 hyperpyra in tax every year for the 1636-40 cycle, regardless of whatever their actual annual income for that period was.

    The reason for this is that auditing all incomes every year is simply beyond the capability of the Roman bureaucracy. While impressive by 17th century standards, it is still incredibly puny in relation to the size of the population compared to what would be expected from a modern state. Land taxes are based on a valuation of the holdings, with a survey done every 5 years, so income taxes follow the same schedule.

    Like with land taxes, in times of disasters taxpayers can appeal for relief as their situation is no longer comparable to when the tax was valuated. The merchants do this, citing the losses to the Spanish. However the amount of estimated lost income they report in their relief claim is surprisingly high compared to their tax rate. To use the above example, it is as if someone who earned 60 hyperpyra and is levied 10 in tax for this cycle reported a lost income for 1637 of 100 hyperpyra and so should get a tax relief of 16.67 hyperpyra rather than 10.

    This sort of thing isn’t unexpected by the Roman government; people regularly over-value their losses in an effort to maximize tax relief. That is why all such claims are reviewed by auditors before being accepted. However the claims by the merchants are unusually large compared to their tax rate for this cycle and because of their wealth, the numbers are also large compared to the usual case of a farmer’s field. Thus these claims get special attention.

    Leading the investigation is Leo Sideros. While there could be claims of nepotism being involved since he is the nephew of the Emperor, the son of his elder sister the Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria, he has already proven to have a keen eye for finding corruption and shady money dealings. What he finds here is much bigger than even he expected though.

    The Roman merchants, it turns out, have been engaged in massive tax fraud for years. After selling eastern goods in the Aegean markets, they’ve been promptly spending most of their profits in the form of Imperial bank certificates to their Ethiopian partners. As a result, they’ve artificially devalued their profits and thus their income tax rates are low. When they want their money back from Ethiopia, the partner sends it in the form of a ‘loan’. Loans are not considered income in terms of tax valuation, except these loans are interest-free and never repaid. When the merchants asked for tax relief though, the lost income had been what they’d actually earned instead of the depressed value presented to the auditors.

    The amount of tax revenue lost is unknown, although stated to be enough to more than pay for the Trebizond Yard scandal. The merchants responsible are arrested and once convicted are punished with being sent as forced labor for life at monasteries in some of the more unpleasant parts of the Empire; the marshes of the Danube delta or the more rugged sections of the Taurus Mountains are the most popular choices. There are five monasteries that are used to ‘entertaining’ such lay workers.

    All of their assets are forfeited to the state, although the dowries and wedding gifts, being legally the properties of their wives even if administered by the husband, revert to the wife. However while in this sense the matter is treated as if the husband is dead so the wife can get her property back, otherwise the circumstances do not meet the Orthodox Church’s criteria for granting a divorce. The wives, even though they’ll never see or hear from their husbands again, cannot remarry without incurring a charge of bigamy.

    That is not the concern of the Roman tax collectors. The confiscation of the merchants’ property comes as a welcome boon considering the recent extra expenses but much of that is in the form of land, buildings, furniture, furnishings, and art, items that are not particularly liquid, which is what the exchequer really wants. Furthermore, all those profits sent off to and still being held by the Ethiopian partners are out of reach. The false loans already in Rhomania are seized. But those bank certificates still in Ethiopia, having been officially received and notarized by the Ethiopian partner, are legally their property and thus the confiscation of the convicted merchants’ assets gives the Roman government no claim.

    That is not the end of the matter, because while this particular incident has been wrapped up the Roman government very much wants to make sure such a thing doesn’t happen again. Yet on the other hand, they know the flow of capital is needed to finance foreign trade and they want to bolster the eastern trade.

    The incarceration of these merchants has wrecked many of the three-part partnerships that facilitated the eastern trade which right now is really not looking good because of the battles with Spain. Lack of eastern imports has driven up the prices of the few that make it to Constantinople and as a result Lotharingian traders, despite sailing all the way around Africa and having to pay customs dues, can furnish eastern goods on the Constantinople market at rates comparable to those shipped via Suez, and in greater quantity. Now once eastern goods start flowing again this issue should go away, but it is a warning of how things could go wrong from the Roman perspective.

    The White Palace encourages other merchant firms to take the place of the convicted merchants, but with little success. With the news from the east (the heartland is only aware of events in the east up to the end of 1637) and the very effective Lotharingian competition, investing in importing eastern goods does not look at the moment. This does not improve much when the news of 1638 in the east finally arrives at the Queen of Cities (and by that point anyway the Roman economy is reeling from the fallout of the third scandal which absolutely and utterly dwarfs those of the first two combined). The fall of Malacca is impressive, but from a commercial standpoint the massive losses of Roman shipping are extremely worrisome. The Spanish-Roman fighting and destruction of merchantmen has left a massive commercial vacuum and the Lotharingians, who in Island Asia have utterly smashed the Triune presence, are rushing to fill that with all speed and much success.

    New laws passed restrict the export of Imperial bank certificates outside Roman domains (Despotates are included in the Roman domain category). It is still allowed, but the exporter must declare the transaction, the amount, and the reason. Failure to do so or violation of the terms is met with massive punitive fines. The setup is practically identical to the laws limiting the export of bullion, with the issue that a bank certificate, being a piece of paper, is much easier to smuggle than a gold bar.

    Furthermore more laws also sharply limit the ability of Roman citizens to export their assets outside of Roman domains as well. Another common tax fraud is to purchase a villa on the Georgian coast of the Black Sea, spend a bunch of money on furnishings for said villa, and thereby hide that income from Roman tax collectors since it is off in Georgia where they cannot audit. The White Palace wants this ended.

    Some economists have pointed out that these laws make it substantially harder for Roman capital to flow outside of the Empire and thus makes foreign trade harder. The Roman government would acknowledge such a point but question its relevance. From that perspective, an economic activity that cannot be taxed is an economic activity that is useless. The lesson drawn from 1204 is that a wealthy society, as Rhomania was in 1204, is useless if the state is poor, as the Roman state was in 1204. If nothing else, the state will lack the strength to guard the society against the aggression that its wealth will inevitably invite. To quote Theodoros IV Komnenos, “The pig should be as fat as possible. However better a smaller pig that can be slaughtered at the proper season than a larger one that escapes into the forest never to be seen again.” [3]

    [1] Pereira had stumbled upon the cure for scurvy largely by luck, so his expedition suffered lightly from the deficiency. But with everyone’s focus on the military events after he returned to eastern waters, this was entirely unnoticed. The official discovery of the cause and cure for scurvy would not come for many years, and after many deaths.

    [2] There have been some discussions over setting up a joint-stock monopolistic corporation to cover trade with the east, as is being proposed in several Latin states. However the powerful Ship Lords are resistant as they see it as a threat to their independence. Meanwhile the White Palace and the Katepanoi are very suspicious, viewing such a corporation as a serious threat to the Katepanoi’s power.

    [3] If you’re wondering, of course Theodoros IV charges you for your enlightenment. And there is a late invoice fee. And if you weren’t expecting a consulting fee from Theodoros IV, then you also get the ‘not paying attention’ surcharge as well.
     
    The House of Iron: A Creed All Must Believe
  • The House of Iron: A Creed All Must Believe

    No one knows when the first one appeared, but it was clear by late summer 1638 that there was a serious problem. Imperial bank certificates were not fiat currency, paper money of the type familiar to the modern individual; no establishment in Rhomania had to take them as payment. However they were often used as a form of payment, particularly for large transactions where handling bags of hyperpyra would be inconvenient or insecure. The Roman government regularly paid large private contractors providing bulk material for the war effort in bank certificates, allowing it to use its coins to pay soldiers, auxiliaries, and small contractors. Had the White Palace been forced to pay them all in coinage, it would’ve been utterly impossible to do so.

    Imperial bank certificates (IBCs for short) had a paper value. If one deposited 100 hyperpyra at a branch, one in theory got an IBC with a paper value of 100 hyperpyra. However the actual value did not always match up with the paper value. The reason for that is that it actually wasn’t as simple as depositing X in coinage and getting an IBC of X value.

    When one deposited money with the Imperial Bank, one had to pay a deposit fee, which was a percentage of the amount. The conceit behind this is the fee was a payment to the bank to compensate them for keeping your money secure rather than you just burying it under your bed. Furthermore IBCs had a ‘release’ date. Some were ‘pay upon presentation’, which meant they had no release date. They could be presented at any time to a branch and the paper value paid out in coin, thus their paper value matched their actual value.

    These though were rare. Most IBCs had a release date of varying times, before which the bank would refuse to cash it out. If one had an IBC worth 100 hyperpyra with a 6-month release and an issue date of February 1, it couldn’t be cashed out until August 1. But if it was March and one needed ready cash now and couldn’t wait, they might have to sell it to someone for 80 hyperpyra on the spot. The actual value is thus less than the paper value.

    Most IBCs are of the delayed release type because the Imperial Bank wants them that way. With the money secured till a known date, this gives the bank greater security in issuing loans for its own profit without having to worry about untimely withdrawals. To encourage those types, money deposited on a delayed release earn interest, and the longer the delay the higher the interest; money deposited under a ‘pay upon presentation’ gets no interest. Furthermore the longer the delay, the lower the deposit fee.

    The Roman government regularly participates in this. Bullion reserves are kept under the direct control of the government but a lot of revenue is deposited in the bank with the government getting IBCs in response. Since the White Palace has the ability to secure its own bullion, there is little need for ‘pay upon presentation’ IBCs, although some are used to expedite mass cash transfers throughout the Empire. There are more short-delay IBCs, but the bulk is comprised of long-delay IBCs. In peacetime with normal expenditures, this is viewed as the best use of the government’s revenue. The maximum interest is secured, while the government knows its pay schedule for its officials and soldiers and sailors and the IBC releases are tailored accordingly. [1] If an unexpected expenditure occurs, there are the bullion reserves, the ‘pay upon presentation’, the short-delay IBCs, and in the worst case scenario long-delay IBCs can be cashed out on the Constantinople exchange.

    This expansive flow of capital is made possible by the new fractional reserve system used by the Imperial Bank. Instead of the paper value of all IBCs being an even match for the amount of coinage in the Imperial Bank’s vaults, the paper value is triple that of the bullion. The Imperial Bank can make many more loans now than it could previously and the flow of extra IBCs was vital for funding the war effort.

    Yet for all its necessity, the concept is regarded very warily by many individuals. Using a paper note as a convenience rather than carting the equivalent in coinage is understood and accepted; the note is a stand-in for the real money. But everyone knows that is not the case now. A 60 hyperpyra IBC has only 20 gold coins behind it, which leads to the question: what are the other 40 hyperpyra? Just some scribbles on a page that are only worth that much if people pretend that it is worth that much. The entire concept seems entirely unethical, fabricating ‘money’ out of thin air when it doesn’t really exist.

    The Metropolitans of Athens, Ephesus, and Ikonion are all particularly against this innovation, viewing it as unchristian and immoral, built entirely on a lie. They criticize it as a way for the rich to conjure fake money for themselves while the poor are destitute for lack of real money. The Hypatos of the Philosophers, an honorary but highly prestigious title granted to the most gifted intellectual in the Empire, also comes out against it, describing it as “a false creed that requires everyone to believe in it for it to continue to be. The moment that it is doubted, it crumbles, for it has no physical reality.”

    Demetrios III is also one of those people who are skeptical of the concept, but who agreed to it because he recognized the necessity of expanding the supply of capital for funding the war effort. As a compromise he ordered the Imperial Bank to restrict the IBC value to bullion value be kept at 3:1 at most, even though some, including the Bank directors, had urged a higher ratio.

    The knowledge that the ratio is capped is a commonly known fact, which is what clues people that something is wrong in summer 1638. The amount of coin in the Imperial Bank vaults is not common knowledge, for security reasons, but people have made educated guesses and based on those can estimate how much the value of IBCs should be. In the summer of 1638 there is a growing sense of unease; the value of circulating IBCs seems to be too high based on those estimates. But it could just be that the estimates are too low.

    By mid-August though it is clear; there are way too many IBCs circulating for them to be keeping at a 3:1 ratio. The only explanation seems to be that someone is counterfeiting IBCs and putting them out on the market. The problem is that whoever is doing so is very good at their job. Nobody can tell a would-be counterfeit from a real IBC. The Hypatos’ words turn into a prophecy, for as belief fades and doubt spreads, the edifice crumbles.

    By September 1, the word has spread throughout the entire Imperial heartland, from Arta to Aleppo, from Theodoro to Tyre, and people are horrified. This is a very widespread concern as during the war Roman propaganda urged people to invest their coinage with the bank, where it could be used as part of the basis of loans for the war effort. Many people whose parents would’ve had coin hoards instead possess IBCs. Except now nobody trusts their IBCs to be worth what they’re claimed, because their authenticity is now extremely questionable. Those who can release their IBCs flood their branch office, demanding to cash them out, but as more come in with the same demand people grow even more alarmed, especially when rumors (that are true) that there is not enough coinage to go around get started.

    In four cities, literal runs on the bank trample 17 people to death and injure well over a hundred more. In Thessaloniki, Antioch, and Smyrna these all escalate to riots. Many of the rioters have lost practically everything. This is the 17th century, where the margin between affluence and destitution is rarely small and easily breached, and where destitution can easily be a death sentence. So the rioters rage with the fury of ones who know they are already damned. In Smyrna it requires elements of the Thrakesian tagma to arrive before order is restored.

    In Constantinople an appearance of quiet is maintained by having all of the guard tagmata out patrolling on the streets, an unprecedented act, but underneath the capital is seething. Per capita, the Queen of Cities is the hardest hit by these financial upheavals. In Constantinople, the bank office was closed quickly enough that there is still coinage in the vaults, with a system set up to allow those who can prove ‘extreme need’ to release their IBCs for currency.

    People who can’t release their IBCs because the release date hasn’t arrived yet are desperate to get rid of these worthless pieces of paper in exchange for at least some hard currency. Frantic, they offer them at values far below the paper value. Furthermore, the sheer number of people doing this at the same time and flooding the market further devalue the IBCs, driving them through the floor.

    This is especially a problem for the Imperial government. As mentioned, a good portion of its wealth is in the form of long-release IBCs. The White Palace maintains large stockpiles of coinage but that is overwhelmingly for paying the salaries of the military. No one has tried to pay them with paper money and now is obviously a really bad time to try. To preserve the coinage for that task, which is a major and continuous expense, most other transactions are done with IBCs.

    Yet even IBCs from the Imperial government are no longer trusted, with contractors demanding significant markups because of the insecurity. For example, an order placed with a shipyard in Sinope for building replacements for the green ships of the Trebizond Yard scandal is valued at 250,000 hyperpyra, except the shipbuilder will only accept an IBC as payment if its paper value is a half million. As a result of these expense issues, plans to replace the green ships are shelved indefinitely.

    Demetrios III has been putting all effort into finding a way firstly into distinguishing counterfeits from real IBCs, with absolutely no success. Secondly, he wants those responsible so he can make an utterly spectacular example of them. On September 19, Leo Sideros delivers an extremely detailed and confidential report to his uncle.


    [1] One example is a 6.1 million hyperpyra IBC with a release date three months before the expiry of the Demetrian Truce with the Ottomans. Demetrios III specifically set it up to finance the increased expenditure once warfare resumed.
     
    The House of Iron: The Eyes of His Father
  • The House of Iron: The Eyes of His Father

    Leo’s report explains from where the counterfeits are coming and why they are impossible to distinguish from the real IBCs. The answer is quite simple; there are no counterfeits. All of the IBCs are real, in the sense that they were issued by the Imperial Bank using the official typeface. The Imperial Bank directors had simply decided to ignore the 3:1 fractional reserve ratio and print out more IBCs than were sanctioned.

    The reasoning was also not that complicated. The Bank directors had wanted to have a higher ratio in the first place; the 3:1 was the brainchild of Demetrios III, not them. They’d viewed the expansion of IBCs beyond the bullion stock effectively as an opportunity to print money. They could make many more loans than would be supported just by the contents of their vaults and they wanted to maximize the opportunity. They’d kept to the agreed ratio during the war, focusing on financing the war effort, but once peacetime arrive they chose to expand their operations.

    There were many opportunities for loans in the post-war atmosphere. Many Romans needed to rebuild and required a cash boost. Others were getting a new start, for example army veterans who’d been landless laborers before but now wished to set up their own farms. Their saved army pay served as good collateral. The Imperial Bank had made thousands of these types of loans, paying these loan amounts out in the form of pieces of paper that the receiver thought was backed by hyperpyra. In exchange for some printings, the Imperial Bank got the collateral (which was always in the form of tangible assets), repayment in actual coinage, and if the payee defaulted, the Bank could and would seize their remaining assets in compensation.

    Many of these loans had been deliberately predatory. The Bank directors had been less interested in the trickle of currency that would come from the loans being repaid, particularly in the small amounts that were the case for most of the loans, granted to paroikoi and banausoi. They wanted the more tangible items put up as collateral, the farms and homes or even the livestock and tools. When the common folk defaulted on payments, these were confiscated to make tidy and diverse additions to the directors’ portfolios, with the loans targeted in areas where the directors already possessed holdings that they wished to expand or diversify. And if a family was evicted from their home at the beginning of the winter while the wife is pregnant and due any day, well it’s not personal, just business.

    This business had started in late 1636, but at a low level with the bank presses producing IBCs at a rate of 4-5:1 to the coinage stored in the vaults. Given the lack of knowledge regarding the amount of bullion, no alarms were sounded and the loan practices were viewed as business as normal. However in the spring of 1638 the directors were running into their elevated ‘capital cap’, but with the level of personal profit they were gaining they did not wish to stop and they surged ahead, ramping up production as well.

    On September 22, the people of Constantinople see a most unusual sight, the 1st Tourma of the Athanatoi in full battle kit led by Odysseus and Athena, both in military uniform, storming the Imperial Bank headquarters. At the same time, squads of Vigla and tzaousiosi launch raids on multiple residences, the Megas Tzaousios personally leading one of them. Twenty eight people are arrested, plus one more who resists. The squad, under orders to show absolutely no mercy if met with noncompliance, literally dismembers the man on the spot and leaves the corpse, taking the head only back to the White Palace as proof. (There are more arrests in nine other cities throughout the Empire over the next week, but the sweep in Constantinople is the largest and most noticeable.)

    Much to Demetrios’ anger, the three big fish are not caught by the net. The three are the bank directors, Manuel Blastares, Leo Eugenikos, and the chief director Ioannes Berilas. None had been in the capital on that date and were instead at their country estates in Thrace or Bithynia. By the time squadrons arrive from Constantinople to arrest them, they’d been alerted and fled, with no trace of them found by September 24. On that day Demetrios orders all of their family members to be rounded up. Three days later, a messenger arrives from Ioannes Berilas asking safe conduct for his eldest son Andronikos Berilas, who had also disappeared, to ‘discuss the situation’, a request Demetrios grants.

    * * *

    The White Palace, Constantinople, October 1, 1638:

    Athena was not sure why they were here of all places for this. There was the Audience Hall for events like this, with the great throne and the Emperor seated upon it, the might and majesty of the Vicegerent of God on Earth on full display. Instead they were in a meeting room in an adjacent wing of the White Palace, used by mid-level bureaucrats for conferences on grain quotas or irregularities in fish weir fees collection.

    It had been touched up a bit with a fine burgundy carpet on the floor. At one end of the rectangular room, opposite the entrance, Empress Demetrios III and the Empress Jahzara were seated on a couch. Odysseus was seated in a separate armchair on Demetrios’ right, while Athena was in a matching armchair on Jahzara’s left. All three pieces of furniture were a matching set, of good but not great quality.

    Demetrios had a battered courier’s bag at his feet while the walls had a few pieces of art on them which she recognized. They were landscape paintings, all from Skammandros, all acquired while her father had been Kephale there. Off to the left side of Athena was a secretary at a portable writing desk, inkpot, paper, quill, and blotting sand already at the ready. In fact, except for the Vigla guards stationed behind the Imperial family and the others at the door, one would think this was, at most, an informal meeting with a mere Kephale of Skammandros, not an audience with the Emperor of the Romans.

    The Emperor of the Romans also, to be frank, did not cut an imperial figure. His fine clothes hung loosely on his frame, but they didn’t cover the sunken cheeks and lack of any facial fat. He was slumped tiredly in his seat, his hand shaking slightly as he scratched his leg. “Send him in,” Demetrios III rasped.

    The door opened and Andronikos Berilas strode into the chamber. Athena had seen bigger Varangians, but not many. Andronikos was built like a tall barrel, at least a half-head taller than the guards, and it seemed to be mostly muscle, although with a belly that jostled a bit as he walked. His black hair was streaked with silver. He was just seven years younger than the Emperor, yet looked like he could be Demetrios’ son.

    Andronikos bowed to the Imperial family and Demetrios gestured at an armchair behind Andronikos, one which matched the furniture being used by the Imperial family. “Please be seated.” Andronikos did so. “What message do you bring from your father?” The Emperor’s voice was raspy, soft.

    “Not a message,” Andronikos said, leaning forward and staring Demetrios in the eyes. “A demand.”

    “A demand!” Odysseus sputtered.

    Andronikos ignored him, his stare hardening into a glare as it bore at Demetrios. “A demand. A demand that you cease this ridiculous and unjust witch hunt of himself, his colleagues, and their families. You have no right and no legal claim for such behavior, and you will cease it immediately.”

    “Please explain,” Demetrios replied.

    Athena bit her tongue to keep herself from spluttering. Explain, please! What the flying banana hell!

    Andronikos smiled coldly, but his eyes didn’t shift from the Emperor. Athena thought his face merited a musket butt or five. “My father and colleagues have committed no crime. There is no law or statute forbidding the creation of as many Imperial Bank certificates as the Imperial Bank sees fit. That there was some sort of agreement between yourself and my father and colleagues has not been made into anything legally binding. They have done no wrong, while you have violated their rights by attacking them and their families, a gross breach of the law which you will cease immediately.”

    Andronikos leaned casually back into his chair but kept his eyes locked on Demetrios. “Once you cease this witch hunt, we will generously agree to waive any claims for damages incurred.” Athena changed her mind; his face needed a spiked mace or seven. “We will return to work, provided you guarantee our safety and property. It is most regrettable that panic in the market has destabilized the value of the certificates. But with our expertise we will ensure that certificates granted by the Imperial Bank to the government are honored at their paper value, and we can certainly ensure some compensation to yourself as I know these market activities have caused you some problems recently.”

    “You raise some important points, but I have one question. What of the common folk whose assets and livelihoods have been affected by the market?” Demetrios asked.

    Andronikos shrugged. “What do they matter? They make no difference and there are always more where they came from. Their losses are not of any concern.”

    “I see,” Demetrios replied. “Before I reply to your request, let me tell you a story.” Athena glanced over at her father, who slowly straightened up in his seat as he continued talking. “Three hundred years ago or so, back when I had just become Kephale of Skammandros, I received a petition from a small village. They were out in the middle of nowhere and the area was dominated by one big landowner. However the landowner’s son had a liking for children, age 12 to 14. Boys or girls didn’t matter, but they had to be in that specific age range. And the landowner forced the tenants to provide their children for his son. The priest wouldn’t do anything; he’d been paid off, as had the earlier officials they’d approached. But when they heard a new appointee had arrived, they came to me pleading for help.”

    “I don’t see the relevance,” Andronikos said.

    “We’re getting to that. The landowner knew about the petition; he’d expected something like that so he came to me right afterwards. First he offered me bribes, but when I was resistant, then he got threatening. He was a big man and got into my face, speaking demands of me and threatening me with his wealth and connections. Now, I must admit I’m not the best when people confront me directly, but he’d made one key mistake. You know what that was?”

    “No.”

    Demetrios’ voice was now clear and sharp, his back ramrod straight, and somehow his frame seemed larger. There was certainly no trace of trembling in the limbs now. “He’d made me mad. Really mad. Enough that my vice of backing down when confronted personally went away. Enough to remember that I had the power, and he did not. Do you want to know what happened to the landowner and his son? I had them handed over to the villagers for justice and they beat them to death with farm implements. Nasty way to go. Took a long time and lots of screaming. Got the priest executed too for good measure.” He patted the courier bag at his feet. “They were a poor village, but they gave me this as a gift. I’ve used it ever since, even as Emperor.”

    “I…still don’t see the relevance.”

    “Well, then I’ll explain it for you. Your father obviously briefed you well on me. He told you to act confrontationally, to press me personally, and to throw in some technical reasons afterwards as a salve. That’s the way to get me to fall in line. Except your father, and you too, made the same mistake. You made me angry. I was angry at the landowner, at his cruelty, his callousness, his indifference to the suffering he caused others, but compared to the anger I feel now, back then I was miffed, slightly irked, mildly peeved.

    “You made a good point that there was no law regarding the ratio of IBCs to bullion, an oversight which I thank you for bringing to my attention. I will make sure it is rectified promptly. However your second mistake was to play technical games with me because, to be blunt, I’m fucking better at it than you.

    “You are correct in that there was nothing denying you from printing as many IBCs as you wished. However you certainly did not have my permission to create more than what would be warranted by the 3:1 ratio. IBCs are functionally equivalent to coinage and treated as such. And when it comes to coinage the law is clear. Only that permitted by the rightful Emperor is allowed. It is a symbol of sovereignty and authority. For any other party to create coinage is to assert their own claim to sovereignty and authority against that of the rightful Emperor. In short, to do so is to act as a usurper, rebel, and traitor.”

    Demetrios pulled three pieces of paper out of the bag. “These are legal arguments from the Megas Kouaistor, the head of the Department of Law at the University of Constantinople, and the head of the Department of Law at the University of Nicaea all agreeing with my analysis.”

    He pulled out another piece of paper. “Now this is the Treason Law of Helena I, issued in 1552. Now let’s see, where is that quote…there it is. Anyone guilty of being a usurper, rebel, and traitor will, by trying to seize control of the law, be considered as placing themselves outside the law. Furthermore, any relations within four degrees of consanguinity, by blood or by marriage, shall, regardless of any involvement or lack thereof with the treason of their relation, unless they have acted against said treason, fall under the same penalty. In the eyes of the law they shall no longer exist. They have no rights that need be respected and the rightful monarch may do whatever they see fit to these persons and their properties.”

    Demetrios looked up from the paper to now glare at Andronikos. “I find you, your father, your colleagues, and everyone else involved in this to be guilty of usurpation, rebellion, and treason.”

    “You, you can’t do that.”

    “Oh, I can. And I’m not going to stop there. I will see your families humiliated, dishonored, and shunned by all society. I will see them stripped of everything they hold and hurled into the waste with nothing but their eyes to weep with. I will see them utterly shivered to atoms, with nothing left but your bones to remain as a monument to make future ages shudder at your fate. This I pledge.”

    “You’re insane.”

    A pause. “No, I’m not,” Demetrios replied in a mild conversational tone. “You’re just saying that because you have no counter-argument to my argument and are therefore resorting to attempted character assassination as if that will invalidate my points. Didn’t I just say a moment ago not to play this type of game with me?”

    “But what about the financial crisis? You need our-”

    “ENOUGH,” Demetrios said. “The financial crisis that you created will be fixed without you. The only thing I need from you is the location of your father and his colleagues.”

    Andronikos leaned back into his chair, his face hardening. “I won’t tell you. And you offered me safe conduct so you can’t touch me, unless you’re going to go back on your word.”

    Demetrios snorted. “Unlike you, I try to not be a lying sack of shit. Don’t worry. I will abide by the terms of the safe conduct, to the letter. You will not be harmed. However, the safe conduct only covers you. It says nothing about anyone else, and as established anyone within four degrees of consanguinity no longer legally exists. That includes your son. I believe he’s four. Such a pretty face; it’d be such a pity if it was smashed against a rock. And your wife-that neck of hers is rather thin, probably snaps easily.”

    “You wouldn’t.”

    “I would. Because I’m out of patience and I see no point in mercy for you and your ilk. Now if you lead Odysseus to where your father and colleagues are hiding, your wife and son will be spared any punishment for the usurpation. You have fifteen seconds to decide, because frankly I am tired of your voice and face.”

    The two stared at each other, Athena counting the seconds in her head. At eight… “I’ll, I’ll do it,” Andronikos stammered, slumping in his chair.

    Demetrios grinned coldly. “Excellent. Apparently you aren’t as stupid as I thought.” He looked over at Odysseus. “Please take our…guest and get the needed information from him, then lead a flying column to arrest these traitors.”

    Odysseus stood up, smiling wolfishly. “With pleasure.” He and a couple of guards hauled a limp Andronikos out of the room.

    “Leave us,” Demetrios said, gesturing at the guards and the secretary. A few moments later they exited the room, and Demetrios looked first at Jahzara and then Athena. “So, do you think I’m crazy?”

    “No,” Athena answered. “Cold yes, but not crazy.”

    “And why is that?”

    “Because an example does need to be made. And cruelty is more easily remembered, while mercy gains little gratitude. Sarantenos should’ve been a warning. That the Berilas family and the like failed to listen…” She shrugged. “…well, they brought this upon themselves.”

    Demetrios smiled, this time with a trace of human warmth in the gesture. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” He looked over at Jahzara. “Do you ever regret making me Emperor?”

    “Some days.”

    “Is today one of them?”

    A pause. “No, not today. They brought this upon themselves.”

    * * *

    By the middle of October all three directors are in custody. In total, sixty three individuals connected to the Berilas scandal are charged with attempted usurpation, rebellion, and treason on the grounds that creating IBCs, a ‘paper coinage’, without authorization is a declaration of seizing sovereignty from the reigning monarch. All are given the death penalty, and all but one publicly executed in the cities in which they were arrested. The Constantinople executions are of a spectacle unseen in the Queen of Cities since the fall of Venice to young Andreas I Komnenos.

    The junior members get a quick death via Long Knife, but the senior members are not so lucky. Many are whipped and beaten before their deaths, which come in varying forms, trampling, no-drop hanging (so death is by strangulation), and the like. The three directors are paraded through the city, each mounted backwards on a donkey, dressed only in a loincloth, while the populace hurl abuse and worse things at them. In the Hippodrome, where all the executions take place, they are whipped ragged and then carried up to the top of a pillar and hurled to their deaths. The people of Constantinople positively adore the spectacle, reveling in the destruction of those who’d ruined so many of their livelihoods.

    The families of most of the executed are not harmed, but those of the directors are not so lucky. With the exception of Andronikos Berilas’ wife and young son, everyone within four degrees of consanguinity of the directors are also put to death, although their executions are private and they are given proper burial.

    But that is far from all that transpires for the houses of Blastares, Eugenikos, and Berilas. Every member of those families that works in government service is fired, although they at least get to keep whatever pension level they’ve earned. Every member who works in the private sector in any capacity is blacklisted from any government contract, as is anyone who stays partners with them in any venture. Their business partners promptly bail, fearful of Imperial wrath spilling over onto them. Marriage negotiations are broken off; even dinner invitations cease as no one wants to be associated with them.

    Generations after Demetrios III have criticized him for this, viewing it as gratuitous vindictive cruelty. Yet there was method in the madness. All three families were famous service families, with generations of service going back at least as far as the heyday of the Laskarid dynasty. They had been part of the service nobility, the beginning of which had been established by Theodoros Megas himself. Instead of a hierarchy based on blood ties, he’d set up a hierarchy that was based (ideally) on merit and on good service to the crown. Many of those families were still acting as part of the service nobility near four centuries later.

    These great service families did not completely dominate the upper echelon of Roman society. There was the possibility for other families to move into that tier, but the 50 or so old service nobility families made up a disproportionate percentage of that tier’s population. Their tradition of service brought them access to great power and wealth, but there were conditions. Their service was expected to be of high quality, and failure to provide sufficient quality could lead to their services no longer being required. And it was their service to the throne that provided their access to great power and wealth. Some families had failed to provide the quality and fallen out of the upper tier. Some managed to restore their reputations and get back in. Others did not.

    The advantage of this is it provided an extra level of auditing at no cost to the government. The service nobility families would vet their own family members to ensure that they wouldn’t bring disgrace on the family name. Obviously there was nepotism involved in the system (but then so does every system) but they would make sure that the nitwit cousin wouldn’t get promoted to where they could make a mess and ruin everything for everybody.

    Or at least that was how it was supposed to work. Demetrios III had overlooked Autoreianos’ shaky hands as Megas Logothete even though his family under this system should’ve encouraged him to retire. This was partly out of personal affection and respect and also because the Emperor recognized the work load was unreasonable; this was the impetus for several of his administrative reforms. Logothete Andronikos Sarantenos had been a much bigger issue. The House of Sarantenos never should’ve let a member that corrupt get into such high office. Yet they had. Demetrios had just punished Andronikos, expecting that to be enough.

    Apparently it had not, because the actions of the three families had been on a much broader scale and more of their families had been involved. They’d known, and at best had stayed silent and at worst had aided and abetted. Clearly the service nobility families were forgetting the bargain they’d made with the crown. It’d been a century, during the reign of Nikephoros IV “the Spider”, since one of the old service families had really felt the wrath of the Imperial throne. They needed a reminder and Demetrios delivered it in a form that would certainly get and hold their attention.

    The blacklists and executions do not solve the economic crisis. Those who lost landholdings or other physical assets in foreclosures that can be transferred back get those returned, but the vast majority of people affected invested money, and that is not so easily gained.

    People are demanding to exchange their untrusted IBCs for reliable coinage. On October 24, it is decreed that any IBCs issued after June 1, 1637, can be exchanged for one-tenth their paper value in coinage; there isn’t enough bullion to pay a higher percentage. IBCs issued before that date or after November 1, 1638 can be redeemed at their paper value. The very public executions were to help mollify the wrath of the populace. To also mollify the wrath of the populace, government IBCs are included, a measure considered necessary to avert the mother of all tax revolts, but a costly one. For all intents and purposes, the Roman government’s tax revenue for the fiscal year 1637 ceases to exist.

    At the beginning of November, the new management at the Imperial Bank tries to return to business as usual, issuing IBCs for deposits and loans. Demetrios III has passed explicit laws forcing the bank to keep to a 3:1 ratio, not that the managers, with the evidence of the Emperor’s wrath clearly visible throughout Constantinople, would be inclined to breach that ratio. Demetrios, despite some pressure, did not take the opportunity to abolish fractional reserve banking, recognizing its usefulness, but he makes it absolutely clear it is not to be abused.

    The Imperial Bank moves too quickly, and even though the ratio hasn’t even reached 2:1, the new spread of IBCs promulgating sparks another panic in the jittery public. Queue another bank run and market crash, albeit smaller, which ruins what little trust remained in the system.

    On November 16, the Imperial Bank shuts its door to business to halt the run. Three days later the Roman government suspends payment on the interest to its war debts. With nobody trusting or taking IBCs, the Roman government can only pay its debts in bullion, but its bullion reserves are such that if it pays its creditors, it won’t have enough to pay the army. Unsurprisingly, they prioritize the men with cannons.

    This sparks a panic on the Constantinople stock exchange as people scramble to divest their assets, many of which are tied in with those holding government debt, for hard currency and it immediately crashes. The Thessaloniki, Smyrna, and Antioch exchanges crash when they hear the news from Constantinople.

    This marks the start of a major economic depression. The Imperial Bank manages to survive, barely, but at the price of effectively abandoning fractional reserve, despite Demetrios III’s law. It issues IBCs for deposits and loans, but keeps it at a 1:1 ratio. Raising it any higher, in the face of low public and governmental trust, is impossible and it will be decades before trust improves enough for fractional reserve to return. Furthermore, the Bank’s bullion reserves are smaller as people hoard their currency, not willing to risk it vanishing in a shower of paper. The government still puts some of its money from taxes in the Bank, but keeps a noticeable larger percentage in its own vaults.

    The government, negotiating with the key debt holders, agrees to resume payments in 1641. It won’t agree to anything earlier as it expects, rightfully, a tidal wave of tax exemption requests. There are too many to audit as usual and given the public anger, nearly all are granted. Tax receipts for the 1638 fiscal year are 60% of the 1637 fiscal year. Notably, Demetrios III in his last act, dictates the debt schedule so that paying off the millions of low-value war popes (bonds) takes priority over returning to paying off the big loans floated through the Imperial Bank. That is because the low-value war popes were overwhelmingly purchased by the common people while the loan-holders are predominantly the wealthy. This is predictably met with outrage, to which Demetrios responds “I will answer to God for the duty I took in securing the welfare of the Roman people, not the welfare of your profit margins”. They are the last words history records him speaking in public.

    The flow of capital in Rhomania is sharply restricted, plummeting to less than pre-war levels. Many Romans are utterly ruined by the crisis and there is now little opportunity for aid to get back on their feet. With an inelastic supply of bullion and untrusted paper linked to that supply, there just isn’t the capability to expand the money supply.

    Yet production of physical goods, surged by growth from the war years, has been much less immediately affected. So now too many goods are chasing too little money, bringing on deflation and a drop in prices for goods. This is a disaster for producers, such as artisans and proto-factories, who see their goods dropping in value. The natural reaction is to produce more goods to make up for the loss in individual value, which leads to even more goods chasing the same amount of money, driving prices down even further. The issue is ‘solved’ by producers then going out of business and being ruined, so they can no longer produce. Estimated textile production in 1640 is half that of 1637, with other manufactured goods suffering collapses of similar magnitude.

    The Roman government does two things to try and help the situation. Firstly, tons of copper, many of which were going to be used to make bronze to replace artillery worn out during the war, are instead turned into copper coins. But follis are the small change of the Roman economy, so while it helps some on the small scale, over the big picture it does little. And copper coins cannot be used to pay taxes.

    The other is to import Mexican and Japanese silver to boost the bullion supply. (There are some domestic mines for gold and silver but they were already at maximum production in 1638 and their output is small compared to Japan and especially Mexico.) However only silver is available, not gold, so the minted silver stavraton lose value vis-à-vis the gold hyperpyra. This has been a problem ever since these silver flows entered the world economy, but the trickle into Rhomania substantially increases here. The lessening in value of the stavraton, with which taxes can be paid, is an issue for the Roman government. Roman soldiers are mostly paid in hyperpyra, so the government needs to keep a large stockpile of gold on hand. However their pay increases based on years in service are paid in stavrata, so the devaluing is an effective pay cut and they are not happy about it and they make their displeasure known. The bulk importations cease after the first shipment, the flow turning back into a trickle. That budding crisis is averted, but the money supply remains inelastic.

    Other than this the Roman government is in little position to help, even if it knew how. Tax and customs receipts are down to 1620s level, even with Demetrios III’s reforms, while expenses are much higher. There is a new guard tagma, several theme tagmata have been kept at full strength in readiness for the resumption of war with the Ottomans (rather than letting them run down a little, a common cost-saving measure), the fleet is appreciably bigger, there are more subsidies to allies, and literally hundreds of thousands of veteran pensions and resettlement payments. Finally there is servicing the war debt, the interest payments eating up a large fraction of the government’s decreased revenue.

    The replacements for the green ships from the Trebizond Yard scandal had been shelved; in January 1639 they are canceled. Other warships when they run out their terms of service are also not replaced. Planned infrastructure projects are canceled (with the exception of the Don-Volga canal, which proceeds at a slow pace with Latin convict labor from the war). Already in unprecedented debt from the war and faced with a resumption of war with the Ottomans which will not be cheap, deficit spending is not in vogue in this climate. Plus floating the kinds of loans that the Roman government got in the early 1630s just aren’t possible in the shrunken market.

    Many economists have criticized the actions of the White Palace in dealing with the fallout of the Berilas scandal. They argue that the government should’ve instead spent money on projects to revive the economy and get it moving again. However the government had an inelastic money supply and large fixed costs, namely the military. Another suggestion is that the White Palace should’ve created a fiat paper currency and forced people to use it as a way of freeing up the money supply. Except such an order, particular in the post-Berilas climate, never would’ve been obeyed. And if the White Palace had been stupid enough to pay soldiers in paper money, there would’ve been a reprise of the olden days with a popular strategos hoisted on a shield and several tagmata marching on Constantinople.

    The longer-term effects play out over years, well past the end of Demetrios III’s reign. When the depression ends is uncertain, and depends on the metrics one uses. Latin economists typically date the end as 1644-45, when some growth appears after the collapse and stagnation of the preceding years. Roman economists on the other hand use 1660 as the earliest end date of the depression, since that is the earliest point when it can be argued that the Roman economy regains its 1630s level. In Roman economic theory, a depression is defined as the period of contraction as well as the time needed to regain the lost ground as ‘just because one has started the process of climbing out of the hole doesn’t mean one isn’t still in the hole’.

    More bullion continued to trickle into Rhomania at a rate slow enough to not raise hackles, gradually loosening the money supply. Meanwhile as memory faded, the Imperial Bank was able to, very slowly and cautiously, up the production of IBCs, allowing capital flow to begin picking up again.

    The effects of the Roman depression outside the Empire were rather limited, and not to Rhomania’s benefit. IBCs in Latin hands nearly all dated from the war and so were still redeemable at full value. Those most effected were Rhomania’s main trading partners, and those were its friends and allies. Sicily in particular was hit hard as it depended heavily on exports to the Aegean where no one was buying, which hardly helped the Sicilians’ mood, already infuriated by Constantinople’s Italian policy. Meanwhile Spain and Arles were only slightly touched, while the Triple Monarchy never felt anything.

    There were more costs. Roman withdrawal from European affairs was given a solid shove. Salzburg was sold back to the Archbishop in exchange for bullion. The Latin ambassadors who’d arrived in the spring had still been in Constantinople when the storm broke. Already angered almost beyond the point of endurance by Roman belligerency, arrogance, and contempt for their concerns, they had absolutely no inclination to be generous when they smelled weakness.

    Dealing with the economic crisis and the Italian crisis burn out an already spent vessel. By the time Demetrios III is free to travel to Prousa, it is the depths of winter. The surgeon wanted to operate in the summer where the warm temperature and fresh air could help him rejuvenate. But even if it was summer, it wouldn’t matter anymore. Demetrios’ health has worsened to the point that the surgeon refuses to operate on the grounds that the procedure now will definitely kill him. According to his physician’s notes, on Christmas Eve 1638, Demetrios Sideros stands 175 centimeters tall and weighs 45 kilograms.

    There are further long-term effects, primarily a general wariness of big banks and financial institutions. The White Palace recognizes the usefulness of such things, but is now painfully aware of their ability to ruin everything for everybody. Yet it is also willing and able to act with violence if it sees them getting out of line. Some have argued that this policy stifles economic innovation, but Romans on the street support it as “unlike in Latin countries, bankers are not above the law”. It is crucial for Roman trust in their system.

    These effects still exist to the present day, as can be clearly seen if one visits the Imperial Bank. In the courtyard in front of the main office in Constantinople, a pair of 17th century artillery are pointed at the door, between them a Long Knife. In the main lobby, above the entrance, is a 3 meter by 5 meter very realistic and bloody painting of the execution of the Three Directors. And in glass cases in the lobby are the skeletons of the three Directors, displayed as a monument and a lesson to future ages. (They were reconstructed, at least as much as physically possible, after their execution. Demetrios III admitted shortly before his death that he had not thought this part out as well as he could have.)

    There stand the remains of Manuel Blastares, Leo Eugenikos, and Ioannes Berilas. Fifty nine of the other executed individuals are buried, which leaves one, that of Andronikos Berilas. He was the one not publicly executed, his head appearing suddenly one morning on a pike in the forum. How he died or where his bones lie is lost to history.

    * * *

    The Pit of the Forsaken, the White Palace, November 5, 1638:

    Odysseus Sideros led the five people following him down into what was commonly called the Pit of the Forsaken, buried beneath the oldest sections of the White Palace. There was a lot of history about these chambers, and not one bit of it had been kind.

    He opened the door to the cell, the door groaning heavily. Odysseus lit the three oil lamps ensconced in the wall, so that he could see in the dark chamber which had never seen the sun. Shackled to the far wall was Andronikos Berilas, naked and filthy.

    Odysseus turned and looked at the five behind him. All were dressed plainly, with two carrying packs. They were all former members of the partisan band of St Andreas. He knew their names. Nikolaios. Manuel. Michael. Zoe. And at their head was Anna, she who had slain King Casimir.

    Yet there were two missing who should’ve been with this famous band. Maria and Gabriel, Anna’s little brother. The two had fought in the partisan band all through nightmares that even Odysseus was uncertain he could understand. Gabriel and Maria had wed after the war and Gabriel had invested in some land distant from St Andreas, thanks to a loan from the Imperial Bank. Except he’d been unable to keep up repayment and the bank had foreclosed. Gabriel and Maria had been cast out from their home and forced to trek to St Andreas for shelter. Except that coincided with the worst storm to hit the Kephalate of Korab in living memory. What exactly had happened no one would ever know, but three days later the bodies of the couple plus their two children, huddled together in each other’s arms, had been found.

    Odysseus didn’t have to look at them; he could feel the hate crackling off of them. To have suffered so much, to have endured so much, and to have somehow, by the grace of God, to survive it all, and then to die like that…

    But then he looked into their eyes, particularly that of Anna. He’d heard the rumors about them; everyone had, about what they’d done to survive. He’d not entirely believed them, but now…he knew they were absolutely true. They had eaten human flesh, driven to it by utterly gnawing hunger. That terrible barrier had been broken down, and he knew that once that barrier was broken down, crossing it again was a much easier step. All barriers were like that.

    He could see the hunger in Anna’s eyes, not physical hunger, but hunger for revenge, a hunger so deep and gnawing it could only be satisfied by the ultimate meal. It was deepest in Anna, but he saw that terrible fire burning in the eyes of all the five.

    His father had chosen these people specifically for this. He had known this would happen, and deliberately chosen it.

    Odysseus turned away and walked over to Andronikos, who whimpered as he approached. Odysseus could feel his own wrath boiling inside him. He was not willing to go as far as the five, but he had not broken that terrible taboo, yet he still longed to pull out his sword and slash this man to bloody ribbons. But that task had not been given to him.

    He leaned over and whispered to Andronikos. “Are you afraid?”

    “Y-yes,” he stuttered.

    Odysseus sneered. “You have no idea what fear is.”

    He stepped back and looked at the five, tracing his finger along Andronikos’ throat. “His head and face belong to my father. It is needed to be recognized. The rest of his body is ours to do with as you please.”

    Anna nodded. Odysseus walked out of the chamber, closing the door as the five approached Andronikos. He had seen many terrible things, but this was too much even for him.

    As he walked out of this antechamber of hell, an epiphany struck him. He’d been working on his paintings of those dinosaurs, yet he’d stalled. There was one issue he couldn’t quite decide on, but one he absolutely had to get right. As the first scream managed to reach him through those cold pitiless stone walls, he knew what to do.

    He would give them the eyes of his father.
     
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    Look to the West: Leave Me in Peace
  • Look to the West: Leave Me in Peace

    “What would I gain from a Lombard war?
    Just enough land to cover my bones.
    While my farm at home will be claimed by the Bank,
    And my wife and little ones cast out into the cold,
    To live, or more likely to die.
    But what does that matter to the Bank?
    So if it comes down to a fight on the Po,
    Count me out if you would please.
    Let those who cry out and profit from war,
    For once stand on the firing line themselves,
    And leave me in peace.”
    -Roman poem, c. 1638, first attested in the Smyrna Herald

    The Ducal War, waged between Niccolo Farnese, Duke of Parma, and Mastino IV della Scala, Duke of Verona, showed no signs of coming to a conclusion as 1638 began. After the fierce maneuverings of 1635, 1636-37 had been empty of significant results. There had been movements and clashes of armies, but nothing to substantially change the situation on the ground.

    Part of that is because the two Dukes are evenly matched. Della Scala has superior resources both in blood and coin, but while he wouldn’t say so out loud, he knows that Farnese is a superior battlefield commander with more experienced troops. So Della Scala has been playing defensive, giving Farnese no opportunity for a knockout blow, waiting for Farnese’s strength to whittle down as his troops desert over pay arrears. He has had some success in that, but even so in early 1638 he is unwilling to commit to a big push against Farnese.

    The other factor is that both Dukes are looking for foreign aid and don’t wish to commit until they have it. The first choice of both, in 1635-36, is Rhomania. But neither can get anywhere with the White Palace.

    In early 1635 Rhomania was on the brink of forming a hegemony over the Italian Peninsula that, while it might not have matched that of Justinian between the victory over the Goths and the invasions of the Lombards, would’ve been a respectable second. It certainly would’ve surpassed the empire even of Andreas Niketas. By mid-1638, the idea of such a Roman hegemony would’ve been laughable if not for the fact that a Roman refusal to recognize that would’ve resulted in another devastating war with hundreds of thousands killed.

    That Roman clout in Italy declined so much and so rapidly is considered, by both Latin and Roman historians, to be entirely on the Romans’ shoulders. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and had only themselves to blame. The underlying cause was the nature of Rhomania’s Italian policy, namely that it didn’t have a real policy.

    Neither Duke particularly appealed to Constantinople. On the one hand, Farnese’s poorer long-term prospects meant he would probably offer more to Constantinople for aid. On the other hand, he was uncomfortably competent and capable with an army. Moreover, his secret negotiations with Rhomania during the war, done solely to stall the Romans and fish for information, suggested he would be slippery and difficult to keep to terms. In addition, in response to these dealings Demetrios III formed a personal dislike for the man.

    Della Scala didn’t look so great to the White Palace either. While he had no personal or familial history of hostility to the Romans, his two chief allies the Dukes of Mantua and Ferrara very much did. What guarantee was there that they wouldn’t steer della Scala in an anti-Roman direction? Furthermore, his power base was Verona, near Venetia, which meant he would be particularly opposed to any expansion of Roman power in northeast Italy.

    In late 1636 it was decided that della Scala was the better choice and a proposal for Roman aid was made. In exchange for troops and money, in addition to central Italy, Tuscany, and Liguria, which they (or to be more precise, with the exception of Liguria and Rome specifically, the Sicilians) occupied, the Romans were to get northeast Italy from the Austrian/Istrian border in the east to the River Adige in the west, including the city of Verona. The Romans wanted it to anchor the flank of their new holdings and protect from a Lombard counterattack.

    The demand for Verona, the ancestral seat of his family, utterly enraged the Duke. While they’d sometimes been vassals of greater lords, they’d ruled the city since the days of Theodoros II Laskaris. There was one exception, the Hungarian interregnum of 1577 to 1612, and Mastino IV’s proudest moment in his life was striding back into his ancestors’ palace as its lord and master. It is a sentiment that Theodoros II Laskaris would fully understand and appreciate and a reference Mastino happily throws in the Romans’ face when they make the proposal.

    Once rebuffed, the Romans didn’t continue the negotiations. They made no counter-offers, whether by forgoing Verona or trying to offer more compensation to induce him to give up his ancestral city. No compensation would’ve been enough to convince Mastino IV to do so, but the Romans do not even try. The Romans had presented a ‘take it or leave it’ proposal to the Duke, but apparently had made no provisions for if the Duke left it. The only result of the talks is to alienate the Duke from the Romans.

    Still there is no similar offer made to the Duke of Parma. The concerns regarding him still stand, especially since at this point there are unconfirmed reports he is in communication with Henri II.

    This is the best (but not only) example of the Romans shooting themselves in the foot in the whole Italian affair, through their utter lack of flexibility. It’d taken over a year just to settle on Mastino and the original offer made to him. No plans had been made for if he rejected it, because coming up with a plan B, after the difficulties of plan A, was too troublesome. If Mastino + Verona was not available, which was preferable, Mastino without Verona or Parma + Verona? That decision had not been made, and to avoid making it, the Romans ducked the issue by continuing the ‘wait and see’ attitude far after it became inappropriate.

    Some of the blame can go to the war hawks. While government officials in this clique were spread across all departments, a disproportionate number of them were in the Foreign Office. They were still a minority in that branch, but what they lacked in numbers they made up in conviction. They didn’t like any of the options on the table. With their conviction, they were able to scuttle them, but their lack of numbers meant they couldn’t force their own views instead. The result was vacuum.

    However the greater share of blame must go to the leadership for its lack of leadership. Such an atmosphere never should’ve been tolerated. Demetrios III was focused on his internal reforms, personal writing projects, and failing health. Italy took a back seat to those concerns, and since Demetrios could come up with good points for all arguments, he found it most difficult to favor one. So he failed to make a decision. He also failed to force the Foreign Office to make a decision of its own, even if he just rubberstamped whatever they proposed.

    The other failure can be laid at Demetrios III’s Logothete of the Drome, Manuel Tzankares. After Sarantenos’ antics, Demetrios III can be forgiven for wanting a Logothete who wasn’t super-clever; Tzankares would never have been described as brilliant. While he’d been a secretary for the Roman ambassador to Spain, he was Antioch-born and had spent most of his career at the Georgian or Ottoman courts. Thus he was far more knowledgeable about and concerned with eastern affairs. Diverting resources to Italy where they might be tied up when the truce expired with Ibrahim did not appeal to him. (After the withdrawal of Odysseus and his army after the fall of Rome the Roman forces in Italy were mostly naval, useless for war with Ibrahim; army units were overwhelmingly supplied by the Sicilians.) With the two Dukes doing no more than probing at each other throughout 1636-37, there seemed to be no rush to make a decision either way. Tzankares’ chief subordinates, appointed by him, are officials familiar to him that he trusts, which means they are overwhelmingly of a similar eastern-oriented mindset. Italy is just of lesser concern and priority than the Ottomans.

    And so the situation continues to simmer with no end in sight. The only changes to the status quo come in early 1637, firstly when Prince Andrea Doukas, for whom the Duke of Verona was acting as Regent, dies. Whether it was of natural causes or arranged is unknown. Duke Mastino is proclaimed as ‘Lord Protector of the Kingdom of Lombardy’ but does not take the title of King yet, worried about support slipping over to Parma.

    The second change is Alessandro da Verrazano is arrested by Roman soldiers on a charge of treason and executed a week later in front of the Duomo in Firenze. His replacement as Gonfaloniere of Firenze is Galileo Galilei, whose candidacy was originally suggested by the Lady Athena. The current status is recognized by all parties to be temporary; the White Palace doesn’t want to do substantial reordering in Tuscany until it is formally ceded by Milan, which cannot be done while the Ducal War continues.

    But these changes do nothing to move the situation into endgame. Demetrios III has little interest in the Italian situation, focused as he is on internal reforms. Meanwhile the personnel of the Foreign Office are divided over whether Parma or Verona are a better choice, so no strong voice arises pushing one or the other. And so the policy of ‘wait and see’ continues via inertia and lack of any alternative.

    There is a third option, pushed with increasing volume by the ultra-war hawks. That is to send the tagmata crashing north to overrun all of the Italian peninsula up to the Alpine passes and annex the whole lot. Neither Duke is a good choice, so why deal with either? However this third option runs right into an issue that many Romans looking at the Italian situation have seemingly not considered: Italy does not exist in a vacuum.

    That third option is another key reason why neither Verona nor Parma have committed to another full offensive to take down the other. Both fear that even if they succeeded in destroying the other that way, it would be at such a cost that the victor would be easily rolled up by a Roman attack. Both want to be King (despite diplomatic claims to the contrary), and if some provinces must be shorn off to secure the main prize so be it, but neither wish to become a Roman puppet.

    The concern that the Romans intend to conquer, or at least become hegemon over, the entirety of the Italian peninsula is extremely high in the courts of Western Europe, with Roman actions, deliberately or not, stoking those fears ever higher. That the Romans have not, as everyone expected, picked a side in the Ducal War is viewed with great suspicion. Most think it is because the Romans are hoping for the two Dukes to batter each other to pieces, letting the Romans sweep in with little effort.

    The real reason is indecisiveness and apathy at the White Palace, but the actions of the ultra-war hawks make it extremely easy for Latins to assume the worst. The ultra-war hawks are a diffuse and informal group and not that numerous, a mix of private individuals and public officials. Most are ‘mid-tier’ at most in their positions, but they have some prominent members that give them more clout than their numbers might suggest.

    One example is Alexios Soultanos, Kephale of Nicaea (and thus ranked #4 of the 171 Kephales). Like Andronikos Laskaris, the current Senator of Rome [1], and his family, who have more social prestige because of their royal lineage (they can trace their ancestry to Frederick II Stupor Mundi), Soultanos’ status in society gets a boost from his own ancestry. As his family name suggests, he is descended from the Seljuk Sultans of Rum.

    He is fanatically anti-Latin. Although he and his family are still wealthy from many investments across the empire, the ancestral estates near Berroia and Lake Giannitsa [2], which have been in the family for near four centuries, were utterly wrecked by Theodor’s invasion of Macedonia. He wants revenge and, viewing the Latins as a monolithic bloc, isn’t particular that the Latins specifically responsible are the ones that pay.

    Another and larger factor in amplifying the significance of the ultra-war hawks is their strong connections with the Roman press. Press censorship after the battle of Thessaloniki has lightened substantially, Demetrios III no longer seeing a need for it. As a prominent author in his pre-imperial days, he never liked the concept much in the first place. Editorials arguing vehemently for a violent, aggressive, and expansionist policy in Italy, either penned or patronized by the war hawks, appear frequently in the big papers of the major cities.

    If the goal is to bring the Roman people in general onto the war hawks’ side so that they’ll put pressure on the government, it is a miserable failure, as frankly the Roman people don’t care about Italy. The Roman people in the late 1630s, even before the onset of the depression, are tired of war and its sacrifices. They want to focus energy on rebuilding the farm, not painting the map purple. That would require money and conscriptions and requisitions, and they would derive no benefit from the conquests anyway.

    The news in 1634-35 that Roman forces were raiding southern Germany brought joy to many Romans, but one can’t live on schadenfreude. After that surge of endorphins, many Romans then went on to focus on rebuilding their lives. Security against foreign aggression is wanted. That a war with the Ottomans to redress the eastern frontier is expected and that war effort is supported, because it is seen as necessary for security. Fighting to establish buffer states on the Danube is seen as necessary for security. But not Milan.

    In Italy, that Kaisar Odysseus sacked Rome and devastated the Papacy also brought a warm glow of revenge. Keeping Rome is viewed as important, but because doing so would be a lesson to and hurt the Papacy. The focus is on the legacy of the Papacy, not the Eternal City’s ancient heritage. That heritage, steeped in Latin, while claimed as their ancestry, just doesn’t speak to them anymore. Konstantinos Megas moved the seat of Empire to the Bosporus 1300 years ago, and thirteen centuries is a very long time.

    There is no clarion call, at least among the common people, to reclaim the ancient seat of the Caesars. The call is to tip the Pontiffs off their perch and make them leave the Romans alone. There is no desire to sweep up Italy, the land of beginnings for the history of Rome. When Romans in the late 1630s think of Italy and history, they think of more recent events. Three places in Italy have spawned great sources of woe for the Romans in recent centuries. Southern Italy, Rome, and Venice [3]. And all have been neutralized. In terms of security regarding Italy, most Romans feel that their needs have been met and no more sacrifices are needed or justifiable.

    The Roman people respond to the editorials largely with indifference. But those writings have an audience far outside the Roman heartland.

    [1] When Odysseus conquered Rome in 1635, he appointed Andronikos as its governor. Historically in most Italian cities this position was known as the Podesta but in medieval Rome the title was Senator.

    [2] The existence of the Soultanoi, Hellenized descendants of the Seljuk Sultans of Rum in Byzantine service, with estates in the Lake Giannitsa and Berroia regions, are all copied from OTL. See The Byzantine Turks 1204-1461 by Rustam Shukurov, pgs. 118, 184. The route ITTL was different but ended with a similar destination to OTL.

    [3] The Milanese caused a lot of damage to Roman Europe during the Time of Troubles, but they never became a villain in the Roman psyche on a level comparable to the Venetians, the Normans, or the Pope.
     
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    Look to the West: The Surest Defense
  • Look to the West: The Surest Defense

    “The surest defense against conspiracy is to not be hated.”-Boris Morozov, Great Pronsk Ambassador to the Roman Empire, c. 1638

    “The first taste the Sicilians had of Roman rule (in Apulia, just to make things confusing) was utterly nasty, brutal, and vile, a stain on the good name of Rhomania and a just recipient of the curses hurled upon it. The Sicilians never forgot this, even after it was made right. Since then the key tenet of Sicilian-Roman relations has been that the Sicilians would take absolutely no crap from Constantinople. For death is better than surrender.”-Excerpt from A Popular History of Sicily from the Vespers to the Present

    For reasons that have already been detailed, the entire Italian situation in the mid/late 1630s had fallen into a memory black hole in Constantinople. Given its low priority in Constantinople, there was not a push to resolve the quagmire. The problem was that while Italy was a low priority for Constantinople, it was emphatically not a low priority for others.

    The Arletians were one of those who did not consider Italy a low priority. The Arletians are naturally concerned about the state of affairs in northern Italy; it is their eastern neighbor after all. Security concerns are a common issue for the Arletians, unsurprising considering their long border with the Triunes. In 1635 the Arletian court was divided into two factions, the Ocean and Europe factions; the ideological differences (as opposed to the personal) between the two were based on different ideas on how best to ensure Arles’ security and prosperity.

    Those two factions still exist in 1638, but they’re in a de facto truce, since both agree on a greater and more pressing issue. The Roman presence near their borders needs to be pushed back substantially, now, by force if necessary. The Arletians want the Italian situation resolved and by this point it is commonly felt that the Romans are more likely the problem than the solution.

    In 1634, the Arletians expected to be able to get a mutually agreeable settlement with Constantinople regarding Italy. Their comparatively good history of friendship argued for it, and the Arletians didn’t expect the Romans to have much interest in northern Italy anyway. A Roman Latium or even a Tuscany wasn’t viewed as an issue then; it was the north that was a concern, but surely a deal could be made that would satisfy both sides. When the Genoese tried to place their city under Arletian protection, the gesture had annoyed the Arletians, but their annoyance was directed at the Genoese. They didn’t appreciate the Genoese trying to mess up their relationship with Constantinople.

    If the Romans had just sacked Genoa and then left, the Arletians wouldn’t have batted an eye. There were two problems though. The first was that they didn’t leave. Instead they set up what looked like a permanent administration. Technically it was Carthaginian, but the Arletians aren’t fooled. This is a direct violation of the spirit of the agreement Demetrios III made in the Three Johns meeting, and it is not appreciated.

    At the same time Odysseus sacks Rome and executes the Pope. Rome was enough to the south that the Arletians were not concerned about a Roman garrison there, but the manner of its fall was shocking and disturbing. Not even the Avignon Papacy can condone the murder of Pope Paul IV; it is a really dangerous precedent, if nothing else.

    The precedent of Pope Paul IV speaks well to the second major problem the Arletians have with the Romans in Genoa. The entire saga of the fall of Genoa is, from the perspective of the Arletian nobility, extremely disturbing. By orders of the Roman Doux, the son of a poor country priest whose hands still bore the marks of a childhood hauling up fish in nets, the great families of Genoa had been exterminated, with most of their property then distributed to the commoners. Now most of the Genoese grandees are wealthy merchant families rather than ‘proper’ nobility, but that is an alarming precedent. And all this was after an utterly brutal battle in the streets that was a mass uprising of the lower orders against their betters.

    More historically-minded Arletians also point out that this isn’t the first time. During the conquest of Naples, Alfredo di Lecce, former peasant rebel turned Strategos, later brother-in-law to Andreas Niketas himself, and forebear of the Sicilian Despots, had bidden the Neapolitan peasantry to rise up and slay their masters, with disturbing success. That old example from far-off Naples and the much newer one from nearby Genoa weigh ever more heavily as they look on Germany and the Ravens’ Rebellion. One of the three leaders is a Greek, and they all met in Rhomania; the image is a nightmare, a red-haired giant, standing in the smoke of a fallen city, his voice booming like an elephant gun, thundering those dread words: Spare the commons but kill the lords!

    Genoa is too close.

    Odysseus and his army is shortly afterwards withdrawn from the peninsula, but notably the Roman presence in Liguria is not, even after an Arletian protest is lodged with the White Palace. The discrepancy is noted.

    Much of 1636 is spent, from the Arletian perspective, trying to figure Rhomania’s intentions regarding Italy. After all, that would be the first step in trying to come up with some amicable arrangement. As mentioned before, for a variety of reasons, the Roman government is unable and unwilling to come up with a clear intention regarding Italy, so it can hardly communicate one to Arles. The Romans aren’t willing to explain the deadlock in their own offices and the Arletians are unaware of it. The Roman diplomatic evasions and delays thus, to the Arletians, smell like stalling tactics. The Spanish and Sicilians are also making diplomatic efforts to clarify Roman aims, with a similar frustrating lack of results, which makes the whole thing stink even more in the nostrils.

    After several months of getting nowhere, Logothete Tzankares tells the Arletian ambassador Louis Chapuys, in response to a direct query, that the Romans have no preference in the Ducal War. However this statement, which is a truth, is made shortly after the failed Roman proposal to Mastino, and the Arletians know that a proposal was offered, although not the results. That information, plus the months of vague blandishments and evasions that proceeded it, means that the ambassador does not believe the Logothete. The truth, when finally presented, because of the delay, is rejected as a lie. And that makes the Arletians even more suspicious and distrustful.

    Because of the concerns regarding Italy, the Arletian court is following the ambassadorial reports closely, and the court is growing increasingly irritated and suspicious at the Roman slipperiness. The Arletians have no problem with the Romans favoring Duke Mastino but the fact that they are apparently hiding the fact, especially after repeated multiple attempts by the Arletians to get clarification, looks rather shady. By the end of 1636, the Arletian ambassador privately notes that he’d rather have an enema than visit the White Palace regarding Italy, since the former would at least be productive.

    In the spring of 1637, the Arletian ambassador wearily makes another entreaty to the Romans, but the approach is different. Firstly he is doing it in concert with the Pronsky ambassador Boris Morozov. Chapuys hopes that Boris, as representative of a fellow Orthodox state, and one nearly as populous as Rhomania too, would be able to get more out of the Romans then he could. Boris’ involvement was secured at the request of the Sicilian ambassador, who is similarly frustrated with Roman vagueness, and sees the Arletian proposal as a good way to break the deadlock. Boris, for his part, gets involved because he sees the Arletian proposal as eminently reasonable and a good way to secure peace, and while Great Pronsk has no interest in Italy itself, the cause of peace is a good one.

    The proposal is for a diplomatic conference in Saluzzo, where the Arletians will try to mediate a peace between Spain and Rhomania regarding eastern matters. Also the Arletians offer to mediate between Rhomania and the Lombards, although the latter case is understood, correctly, by everyone for another Arletian effort to start arranging a settlement regarding Italy between Arles and Rhomania. At a proper diplomatic conference it is expected that the Romans would be more cooperative than in minor audiences between ambassador and Logothete.

    Logothete Tzankares categorically and brusquely rejects the proposal. By this point he is likely as fed up with these meetings as Chapuys, although for different reasons. He doesn’t see what is so significant about Genoa (which infuriates Chapuys, who has been explaining why it is such an issue for the Arletians for nearly 18 months), and he resents being pressured by a Latin. So he effectively says that Italy is none of the Arletians’ business, or anyone else’s for that matter.

    He also questions why the Pronsky ambassador is even involved, wondering what makes it Pronsk’s business, to which Morozov, now irritated himself and offended by the brusque refusal, coldly replies that Pronsk, and no one else, determines what is Pronsk’s business. A few months later, Morozov is recalled as ambassador to serve in the Zemsky Sobor where he plays a minor but rather unique and long-lasting role, his action there almost certainly shaped by that audience with Tzankares.

    Chapuys is utterly fed up and disgusted, making his feelings quite clear in his reports to Arles, and the Arletian court is in complete agreement with the ambassador’s sentiments. The Romans have rebuffed repeated efforts to even start a serious dialogue, much less create a mutually agreeable settlement. The Arletians still aren’t sure why. At around the same time Tzankares is rejecting the conference proposal, he is busy negotiating a detailed treaty with Georgia and it is known he is doing a good job of it. So Tzankares is capable of being diplomatic, but apparently refuses to do so with the Arletians.

    A further comment should be made on Tzankares’ diplomacy. Although not official, the Roman diplomatic service is largely split into a western wing, which deals with the Latin states, and an ‘eastern’ wing, which deals with everyone else. Diplomats have an area of expertise and typically stay where they have their specialty. Tzankares had a brief stint at the Spanish court at the beginning of his career, but that was fairly unusual. He is solidly an easterner.

    The mentality behind this is that people should be placed where they’re most useful. Knowledge of Arabic is useful in Persia but useless in Germany. Knowledge of Catholic doctrines is the reverse. Tzankares, for example, can read, write, and speak Arabic, Persian, and Georgian, speaking the latter with a perfect upper-class Tbilisi accent. Supposedly the only words in a Latin language he can pronounce properly is “Eat shit, Englishmen”, although that is probably just Demetrios III’s sense of humor providing the historical record.

    One of the key reasons for Tzankares’ appointment as Logothete was because he is very good at working with the Georgians, a very important consideration since he was replacing Sarantenos after his shady dealings. Furthermore, there is the issue of the renewal of the war with the Ottomans. One of the chief flaws in Roman eyes of the Nineveh campaign was that the Georgians did not participate in it, entirely because Demetrios II Drakos did not handle the Georgians well. The early 1630s would’ve been vastly easier had the Georgians been better handled. Such a mistake cannot be allowed to happen again. Tzankares is the best man Rhomania has to ensure that the mistake does not happen. That is what matters.

    The specialty issue usually isn’t a problem, since the diplomatic staff is mixed and the groups are nowhere near the level of cliques. There can only be one Logothete, but his senior staffers are a mix of both parties, advising on topics as their expertise fits. However when Sarantenos ‘retired’, his senior staffers, all appointees of him, were fired as well because neither Demetrios III nor Tzankares trusted them. To replace them, Tzankares brought in men he knew, and because he is an easterner, they all are easterners. There’s always some shuffling when a new Logothete takes charge, but because of the nature of Sarantenos’ removal, the clean sweep at the top was of unprecedented expanse. The makeup of the senior echelon of the Foreign Office has not changed since, which is why Roman diplomacy when it comes to Latins in the mid/late 1630s is subpar.

    The key exceptions to this, such as the Treaty of Belgrade, are because Demetrios III was personally and actively involved. He recognized the importance of the Treaty and its future possibilities and implications and so he was personally and actively involved. In contrast, he has little to no interest in the Italian affair and delegated the responsibility for it to his Foreign Minister. That is what the Logothete is for, after all.

    Chapuys reluctantly tries to arrange a later meeting with Tzankares to clarify. That claim that the Arletians have no business in Italy is rather disturbing. However Tzankares is headed out of Constantinople supposedly for spa treatment for bad knees, which is true, but Chapuys thinks is yet another tired delaying tactic. He’s not going to be fobbed with some more junior official; this is far too important. He wants to talk to the Emperor.

    An audience is scheduled, but this is the point where Demetrios’ health, already shaky, really starts to decline and it has to be rescheduled on grounds of indisposition, and then the rescheduled has to be rescheduled. Chapuys wearily notes more delaying tactics; it’d be nice if the Romans were at least more creative. Finally he gets a meeting with the Lady Athena.

    In it she tells Chapuys what is mostly the truth. The Romans haven’t determined what the best course in Italy is for their interests, which is why they haven’t been able to communicate their intentions to Arles. There is still much discussion on the matter. When Chapuys brings up Genoa, she states that Genoa is part of the discussion, which is why no decision has been made. Chapuys directly says that the Arletians do not care; the status of Genoa, as has been repeatedly outlined before, is nonnegotiable, and he says that some in Arles are advocating force if need be. To that, Athena replies that she will communicate the information and it will ‘be taken under advisement’. At that point the meeting ends.

    Chapuys is utterly seething, although he doesn’t show it outwardly on his way out of the White Palace. After all the obfuscations and delays, he takes all of Athena’s words as just more lies, albeit more imaginative ones. He finds it incredible that after 2+ years, the Romans haven’t decided what they want. (He has no idea of the deadlock in the Foreign Service, split between pro-Farnese advocates, pro-Mastino advocates,-and they have mini-camps that dispute what should be demanded in payment-, and the war hawks, while the would-be referees are Tzankares and his senior staffers, all easterners who do not know much about Italy and are focused on eastern affairs, seeing no urgency.) Also enraging are the signs that the Romans do not take the Arletians as a credible force to be respected. (This explains the lack of urgency despite the repeated remonstrance from Chapuys.) The Arletian court feels the same way as Chapuys.

    At this point the Arletians give up on regular negotiations. The first suggestion is a blunt ultimatum that Rhomania must withdraw from Liguria, but the Arletians fear that the Romans won’t take it seriously. That is the theme here after all. Such an ultimatum needs to be backed with clear and overwhelming force, and the groundwork needs to be prepared for that.

    Meanwhile the Arletians speculate why the Romans seem so insistent on keeping Genoa, despite it clearly damaging Arletian-Roman relations, while claiming Genoa isn’t really a concern of Rhomania’s. The simplest explanation is that the Romans are lying. The Romans are keeping Genoa because they want to keep Genoa. It would be an excellent springboard for seizing control of northern Italy; there’s a fine highway connecting Genoa and Milan, perfect for military traffic. The newspapers show there is at least some sentiment in Rhomania for seizing all of northern Italy, which wouldn’t have been tolerated in Arles in 1634; in 1637 such an idea is now beyond the pale.

    Feelings in Spain and the Bernese League mirror that of Arles. While the Arletians have been leading the charge, all are concerned about the state of affairs in Italy and wary of Roman intentions. The continued obfuscation is just making them more and more suspicious and by mid-1637 all are fed up by it. Talk by itself has failed in the face of Roman indifference. From there, a show of force is the next logical move.

    Taking council of their fears, the Accord members now all believe that the Romans are intent on subjugating, or even outright conquering, all of northern Italy. The one assurance from Rhomania that they’ve gotten in literally years regarding that is from the Three Johns Meeting, and that was broken when the Romans seized Genoa and refused to leave, and that was the thing that started all this.

    In September 1637 representatives from Spain, Arles, the League, and Aragon meet at Roussillon. There Aragon formally joins the Accord, pledging 15000 troops to common defense. That is done publicly. In secret, it is agreed that Roman actions regarding Genoa have activated the defensive clauses of the Accord and plans for countermeasures are discussed and approved.

    While they don’t know the details, some Romans in the Foreign Office are reading the room and trying to raise alarm bells in Constantinople before it is too late. These are ‘westerners’, who are much better at reading the Latins than Tzankares and his senior staff. One way they do this is by reading Arletian and Spanish newspapers. (The Roman ambassador to Spain, after comparing Spanish and Roman newspapers, concludes afterwards that Rhomania has asserted its superiority, in the contest of who can produce the biggest hacks.) However they lack a good advocate amongst the senior staff, so it’s impossible for their voices to be heard. It’s easy to ignore a report that is a month old before it even lands on the desk. Either everyone is too distracted with other concerns or just don’t take it seriously. Many bask in the glow of victory over Theodor and his allies and think that aura will deter retaliation. Others think that Spain and Arles are incapable of posing a threat to Rhomania.

    The idea that Spain and Arles, who together can field a battle fleet as big as Rhomania’s and Sicily’s combined as well as 100,000 men to meet their minimum Accord agreement, are not a threat is one that bears limited connection to reality. That said, Spain and Arles do not want a war with Rhomania; they respect its power. But a line has to be drawn. Ideally they can get the Romans to back down with just a show of force, rather than force proper. The big concern is that if it is just the Accord doing the show of force, the Romans won’t back down, which leaves two choices then. Either the Accord commits to a war with Rhomania, which they do not want (Arles is fresh, but Spain, while recovering from the Andalusi War, is less so), or they back down, which would be an absolute humiliation.

    For challenging Rhomania, the clear choice of ally is the Triple Monarchy. With even a token Triune contribution, the odds of a show of force making the Romans back down go up substantially. Naturally this is controversial, but from the Accord’s perspective both King’s Harbor and Constantinople are acting as threats. All the Romans had to do to show that they weren’t a threat was to get out of Genoa, a task they singularly refused to do, despite multiple protests. So now from the Accord’s perspective, it is a choice between two self-righteous expansionist heretics. In which case, pick the one currently expanding away from, not towards, you, which is also the one that respects the social order.

    That is not to say the Accord members trust the Triunes. But for the four main players involved in this now, Rhomania, Spain, the Triunes, and Arles, only Arles is completely fresh. Both Rhomania and Spain are recovering from grueling wars. The Triunes are currently in a victorious but expensive war, with many conquests that will need integration. Meanwhile the Romans have armies and fleets at a higher-than-usual level of readiness for peacetime, ostensibly for the resumption of war with the Ottomans, but which could easily be turned on Italy.

    In short, the Triunes are a threat, but they’re a threat tomorrow, while the Romans are a threat today. The prioritization is obvious. The best scenario, from the Accord’s perspective, would be to use the Triunes to knock the Romans back, and then try to make up relations afterwards, perhaps by providing mercenaries for said Ottoman war. It is well known that Roman strategoi love Spanish infantrymen for their armies. Then when it’s the turn of the Triunes to be the most pressing threat, they can use the Romans against them. But first, the Romans need to get out of northern Italy.

    On a personal level, the summer of 1637 is a bad time for Henri II. His wife, Anne of Brittany, said to be the one person who he truly loved and the one person who loved him, has had four miscarriages by this point. It is believed that she is incapable of delivering a viable child and some argue for an annulment. But Henri, sentimental in this if nothing else, refuses. He does not wish to part from her. However he still needs an heir and so he and Anne make love again. In the summer she delivers a healthy baby boy, but the delivery is traumatic. Three days later she is dead.

    Henri is heartbroken, his grief made all the more cutting by the guilt that he contributed to her death. That joint grief and guilt are why Henri’s relations with his son Louis can, at best, be described as frigid. When Henri looks upon his son and heir, who takes after his mother in looks, save for the eyes which are definitely Henri’s, he does not see his son and heir. He sees the thing that killed his Anne, and the proof that he was responsible.

    Returning to his work as a shield against the pain, he is confronted by the Italian-Roman affair. Like the Accord, he finds Roman activity extremely suspicious. It makes sense that the Romans plan for the two Dukes to destroy each other so that they can sweep up the pieces, while stringing the Accord along to keep them out of the way. It’s what he would do in Demetrios III’s place, so he assumes that is what the Romans are doing.

    Henri II has no interest in conquering Arles, certainly not at this time anyway. The Rhineland needs digesting; come back to him in 20 years. Right now his concerns are securing his new conquests, not seeking more. To that end he will not tolerate Roman control over northern Italy. Genoa is the beginning of the Spanish Road, where Spanish mercenaries often made the long march to take service in Lotharingian armies. The risk of that becoming a Roman Road is unacceptable. Roman control of northern Italy is a serious threat to his new conquests in the Upper Rhine and he will not have that on his watch.

    At the same time, he knows the Accord doesn’t trust him, and he doesn’t trust them. They’re trying to use him, but if he can use them at the same time he is fine with it. With a minimal commitment, with the Accord doing most of the heavy lifting, he can remove the risk of a Roman Road. He knows that afterwards he and the Accord will go back to plotting and scheming, but that is not an issue. It’s the way the game is played, but right now both sides can use the other.

    However he doesn’t want to remove the risk of a Roman Road and have the old Spanish Road back, so his key condition for entering this coalition is that Genoa will not become part of any of the coalition members. The Accord agrees to this.

    The reason is that the first question faced by the coalition is how to do a show of force. An ultimatum on paper would be the cheapest, but the concern is that given Roman behavior, a piece of paper, even signed by all the Accord members and Henri II, won’t be enough to get them to back down. And if the Romans don’t back down, then either the coalition escalates to war with a dangerous foe that has now been given warning to prepare, or the coalition backs down and is utterly humiliated.

    The best way to ensure that the show of force makes the Romans climb down without it escalating into war is for the show of force to be big and immediate, meaning armies in the field. It will be expensive, but less expensive than a proper war. And, after all, the armies will be in Lombardy for ‘its protection’, so the Lombards can cover the expenses, and possibly the Romans too. If only they’d listened.

    To fund Spain’s contribution, the Genoese bankers of Lisbon are crucial. They provide loans at good rates to the Spanish crown for the effort. They want revenge for their family members executed in Genoa. Normally loans are strictly professional, but too many of them have lost relations for this to not be personal. Notably some of the loans come with the proviso that if Genoa is liberated as an independent commune, the loans need not be repaid. This is why the Accord agrees to Henri’s condition.

    In a later agreement, the Spanish and Arletians agree to recognize Henri’s conquests in Lotharingia and the Holy Roman Empire. They didn’t want to recognize Henri’s conquests, but Triune contribution is key to ensuring that the show of force can still work while staying just a show. In return, all Triune support for the Marinids and Barbary corsairs is ended. Henri offered up that concession on his own initiative. He’d been skeptical of the value of said support for some time and saw it as a good bone to throw to the Spanish and Arletians here.

    The final key player in all of this are the Sicilians, who at the end of 1637 have their own grievances with Constantinople. They provided 1 out of every 4 warships and 18 out of every 19 soldiers for the war against the Lombards. And what do they have to show for it? Nothing. While it is probable that parts of central Italy and the Marche will be ceded to Sicily, nothing has been confirmed. Roman subsidies for the Sicilian army in Tuscany and Liguria do not cover all of the expenses; the remainder is covered by the Sicilian taxpayer who do not appreciate this process being dragged out ever longer.

    Furthermore the Sicilians emphatically do not want northern Italy as part of the Roman Empire. Sicilian artisans and manufactures make a lot of their money selling their wares in the Aegean, helped by the fact that they do not have to pay customs while northern Italian goods do. But if northern Italy becomes part of the Empire its wares will be on an equal field with Sicilian, in which case the Sicilians lose. Northern Italy is just more populous and developed.

    Even a Despotate of Tuscany is not wanted because of the economic competition. The Sicilians want an independent Tuscany with a mutual defense pact with Sicily and Rhomania to serve as a buffer against a Lombard resurgence, but one that is outside the tariff barrier.

    In addition, the Sicilians want all this military might turned against the corsairs. While the Sicilian fleet has been up at Genoa and Livorno, in late 1636 Barbary corsairs took advantage of the light coast guard and raided several villages, carrying off hundreds as slaves. In one village of 120 people, 117 are captured. The three escapees are a teenage couple who were off ‘wrestling in the wheat’ and an old man relieving himself and who hid in the latrine. All this takes place while fine warships pointlessly bob in anchor off northern Italy. With bitterness, it is noted that the last time the Romans took substantial effective action against the corsairs that stuck, Andreas Niketas was the Emperor.

    The Sicilians do not want to break with Rhomania; the relation has been good for them. That said, the Sicilians have certain concerns that are being ignored, and that is intolerable. Whatever Roman plans are for Italy, the Sicilians have been left out. Considering that the only reason the White Palace has any say on the future of Firenze is because a Sicilian army took and garrisons the city, this is unacceptable. Roman power in Italy rests on a Sicilian foundation. Clearly they need to be reminded of that.

    Furthermore, the Sicilians really do not want to have to fight Spanish tercios. They’ve seen them in action during the Andalusi War, watching Spanish grenadiers scale up cliffs in full battle kit at night to surprise and storm rugged mountain forts. These are the spiritual heirs of the almogavars, the unstoppable killing machines of the War of the Sicilian Vespers. The Sicilians do not want to be on the receiving end of these, especially for the sake of the White Palace getting to keep a Kephale in Genoa.

    Several diplomatic messages and warnings have been sent to Constantinople over the past few years, to receive the Arletian treatment. Clearly something more substantial is required to break the deadlock. The Romans must be warned to pay more attention to Italy, but they also must be reminded of how the Sicilians must be treated.

    Despot Hektor’s first responsibility is for the security and welfare of the Sicilian people, and he will have to answer for how he fulfilled that duty before the judgment seat of God. After careful thought and consideration, he comes up with a plan. It is meant to simultaneously be a warning but also an offering, a reproach but also a way to make things right. Some of his advisors are worried about a possible violent Roman reaction. The Despot recognizes the possibility, but thinks it is small. He says “if the Romans are reasonable people, with whom we can live in prosperity and call faithful friend and ally, they will recognize the reproach but that we also mean no ill. If, Mary the Most Merciful forbid, they take offense and seek us ill for this, it will prove that they cannot be called faithful friend and ally, and that they view us only as dogs, to be trampled if we ever assert ourselves as men. For what we do here we have the right to do, as God and the Romans’ own law will attest.

    “My forebear Alfredo di Lecce first wielded his sword against the Romans, because then the Romans treated us like dogs, not men. The Good Emperor recognized the injustice and made things right, and together with the Romans ever since we have clung, through horror and triumph, to the glory and prosperity of us both. However, there is a price for that, one that must always and continually be paid. And that is that we are treated as free men, with full authority to exercise our rights as allowed by God and the law.

    “Our forebears hurled themselves and their children into the flames rather than bow to the Milanese, because they would treat us as dogs, not men. Our forebears slew the soldiers of Charles of Anjou because they treated us as dogs, not men. Our forebears slew the masters because they treated us as dogs, not men. And our forebears slew the Romans when they treated us as dogs, not men. If the Romans have become so cruel, so foul, so shortsighted, to forget the example of the Good Emperor and wish to return to those horrid days, well…I do not think it will be so, and I pray it will not be so. I still have faith in the Romans.

    “But if that faith be wrong, we Sicilians have never bowed to Roman injustice, and we never will. My forebear the great Alfredo di Lecce once said ‘Hell is preferable to Roman rule’. We Sicilians will never submit to Roman tyranny. If the Romans wish to return to denying us our rights as free men, and to be treating us as dogs instead, to go back to that age of history, then I will go back to that age as well, and follow my forebear’s example. No matter the cost. Death is better than surrender, and there are no masters where the faithful find peace.”

    There is a Roman saying, first attested in the early 1700s, but it applies here. When a Sicilian tells you to take them seriously, you do. Or else.

    In late March 1638 the Sicilian ambassador in Constantinople informs the Roman government that Sicily and Spain have signed a preliminary naval agreement, discussing plans for a combined naval attack on Algiers to be made by 1642 at the latest. This is entirely within Sicilian legal rights. According to the 1583 Treaty of Saluzzo between Rhomania and then Castile-Portugal, under no circumstances can hostilities conducted beyond the line be used to justify hostilities before the line. In 1583 the line was just east of Singapore, but it was later moved west so that Malaya would be beyond the line so that fighting between Pahang and Malacca would not compromise relations between Constantinople and Lisbon.

    That means that unless Rhomania wishes formally to renounce the Treaty of Saluzzo, Rhomania is not at war with Spain. And per the terms of the 1548 Treaty of Bari that set up the Sicilian Despotate, the Sicilians are free to conduct foreign affairs as they see fit save in those with the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. They are exercising their own prerogatives as they see fit and any Roman retaliation will be a breach of the Treaty of Bari, the legal basis of Sicily’s Despotate status.

    The ambassador continues after this, pointing out that the Sicilians are not obligated to inform the Romans of these talks as Sicilian-Spanish relations are entirely the purview of Messina. However he is informing the Romans both as a courtesy but also to invite the Romans to enter into the talks and participate in a combined attack against Algiers. Immediately afterwards he prominently attends a fine dinner party hosted by the Georgian ambassador and attended by the Ethiopian and all the various Russian ambassadors.

    The symbolism and the undertones are clear to all watching. Despite its Despotate status, Sicily’s strength and position makes it akin more to Georgia than Egypt in terms of relations to Constantinople. Sicily is a powerful ally, but one that expects to be respected. Just as Georgia has asserted its rights against Rhomania, such as at the Nineveh campaign, so too is Sicily. The announcement is a reminder that Sicily is a player in its own right, with concerns that must be respected for the current good and profitable relationship to continue. The example of Georgia, of what happens for Rhomania when an important ally is not treated with the respect it deserves, is sitting right there.

    And Georgia, amongst others, is watching.

    At the same time, it is also clear that the Sicilians do not want a break with Rhomania. Their legal argument is entirely sound and in accordance with agreed statutes; when a war hawk editor calls this treason, the Sicilian ambassador takes him to court for libel and wins resoundingly. The cause is a useful one; the corsairs are a problem. The Romans are being invited to take part in the cause. The faith can still be kept.

    The announcement also serves Hektor’s purpose in it being a wake-up call, because all this is done in a public personal audience with Demetrios III.

    Demetrios III will uphold the faith of Hektor. But as a wake-up call for Italy it is too late. Three weeks later, with the Alpine passes clear of snow, a Bernese army 21,700 strong, the largest army the League has ever fielded, invades northern Italy. Arletian, Spanish, and Triune armies are also on their way. Their first task is to settle the Ducal War as they see fit. The second task is to deal with the matter of Roman Italy, of exactly where and how it should be.
     
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