The main advantage of a crusader Suez would be the main advantage of our Suez, European trade with India and China and the general "Far East". The Silk Road as a round trip on average took 2 years, that would be exponentially faster by ships, even Crusader Era ships with a more reliable cargo capacity. Not necessarily greater, some of those Silk Road Caravans were massive, but more consistent.
Plus an earlier spread of Christianity to the Far East, which would have interesting consequences. And more connection between Europe and India. Wasn't India just as divided as Europe around this time, with many small and large nations jockeying for control? It would be fascinating to see how the Indian and European lords/explorers and whatnot might try to play off of one another as they scheme for power.
 
Plus an earlier spread of Christianity to the Far East, which would have interesting consequences. And more connection between Europe and India. Wasn't India just as divided as Europe around this time, with many small and large nations jockeying for control? It would be fascinating to see how the Indian and European lords/explorers and whatnot might try to play off of one another as they scheme for power.
I think that's a ways away; the ships of the era are able to trade across the Indian Ocean, but pursuing real power politics is likely beyond them.
 
The main advantage of a crusader Suez would be the main advantage of our Suez, European trade with India and China and the general "Far East". The Silk Road as a round trip on average took 2 years, that would be exponentially faster by ships, even Crusader Era ships with a more reliable cargo capacity. Not necessarily greater, some of those Silk Road Caravans were massive, but more consistent.
Why would you want exponentially faster shipping in this era? Nobility in this era is certainly not deprived, but they aren't the ancient Roman aristocracy either, with large liquid capital on their hands, allowing for great purchasing power. Things are purchased once or twice a year, maybe after the harvesting season, when everyone has some money. And then most of the non-consumable items are passed on generationally.

I think the earlier posters are right to say this is not a progressive, rapidly growing economic market- it is a conservative, largely stagnant one. There are no "if you build it, people will come" possibilities. Even today, things this big only happen when there is a clear demand for it. And there is absolutely no way that the difference in trade would be significant enough in any case to warrant expenditure and then maintainance on such a big project.

And even if you could find pockets big and stupid enough to invest months or years of revenue, (which the crusaders certainly wouldn't have, as mostly decentralized feudal nobility) you can't even sell it as a very good prestige project. Unlike a good cathedral, this one would come with an eternity of running expenses. One bad year, funds aren't there, and the canal goes down the drain. In this era, no one with even half the idea of what it entails would suggest it, and no one with absolutely any other priority would embark on it.
 
Plus a Crusader-era Suez Canal would mean the Roman Catholic Church would be exposed to the Christian communities of India and the Far East much sooner. I can envision more fanatical, emboldened Crusaders (but too many) trying to strike it as mercenaries. There may be European antiquarians trying to connect the dots between the Indo-Aryan languages and their own.
 
A we talking an actual Suez canal (which I don't think they even have to engineering chops to pull off) or just another connection of the Nile to the Red Sea, which had already been built many times and was eminently possible to redo?
 
The main advantage of a crusader Suez would be the main advantage of our Suez, European trade with India and China and the general "Far East". The Silk Road as a round trip on average took 2 years, that would be exponentially faster by ships, even Crusader Era ships with a more reliable cargo capacity. Not necessarily greater, some of those Silk Road Caravans were massive, but more consistent.
Don't think you understand the limits on Medieval sailing ships. They unlike motorships cannot just sail anywhere they like, they are subject to what the wind allows. Given the seasonality of winds ( strength .including storms , and more importantly dominant direction ) , its unlikely a ship voyage will be any faster than the Silk road overall. Whilst they can do legs quicker when the wind allows , they will spend whole seasons in port waiting for a window to be able to return in.
Later, with more knowledge and sturdier ships they can use deep ocean to go North/South and find the winds but even then its only one round trip a year if they are lucky ( greater risk of loss or damage delaying them )
 
Don't think you understand the limits on Medieval sailing ships. They unlike motorships cannot just sail anywhere they like, they are subject to what the wind allows. Given the seasonality of winds ( strength .including storms , and more importantly dominant direction ) , its unlikely a ship voyage will be any faster than the Silk road overall. Whilst they can do legs quicker when the wind allows , they will spend whole seasons in port waiting for a window to be able to return in.
Later, with more knowledge and sturdier ships they can use deep ocean to go North/South and find the winds but even then its only one round trip a year if they are lucky ( greater risk of loss or damage delaying them )

I don't think you quite grasp the time period. The main limitation wasn't any of those shipping design things. Every technique used to construct ships like the Carracks and Caravels of the Renaissance era or even the even later Galleons existed, many of them saw usage in the construction of ships like Cogs and Hulks/Holks.

The limitation was the Magnetic Compass, which OTL at the point the timeline is at was invented a century prior, reached the Indian Ocean decades prior, entered the hands of Arabic traders about a decade or two prior and reached Europe within the next 4 decades.

With that, all that they'd lack is a reason to build them.

Hell, for the record, the sails used on Galleons and general Age of Sail ships for tacking against the wind? They were invented by the Romans. Not the Byz/ERE Romans, Actual Roman Empire Romans.

Strictly speaking, there's no actual technological limitation preventing any European power from constructing a Galleon even in the 1100s. There's just nothing to make anyone think it's worth the time, effort and money when Cogs and Holks are perfectly suitable for the North Sea and Baltic trade routes and Galleys work perfectly well for the Med.

The reason a Suez Canal isn't viable is that the only power with the money to do so would be the ERE, who would be weakening themselves by doing so as all current European Silk Road trade enters Europe through Constantinople, not technological constraints on shipping making the land route faster or equivalent.
 
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I don't think you quite grasp the time period. The main limitation wasn't any of those shipping design things. Every technique used to construct ships like the Carracks and Caravels of the Renaissance era or even the even later Galleons existed, many of them saw usage in the construction of ships like Cogs and Hulks/Holks.

<SNIP>
What is the relevance of that Info dump ? Ship hull design makes no difference apart from the amount of cargo they could carry or sturdiness. None of the Hull changes really change voyage time, its the sailing rig changes which they did not have knowledge of that make the difference. Its why the Portuguese found Brazil when trying to round Africa , they needed the wind to be close enough to the right direction for practical sailing so had to keep going SW looking for a wind suitable to take them SE and hit land first.

The canal is not viable mainly due to simple economics , most of Europe's population is in absolute poverty , most of the rest in mere poverty. The existing Silk road can handle the volume of goods the rich can afford , there is no untapped market to justify expansion. Its why it was built and abandoned multiple times in antiquary, apart from a vanity symbol it could never pay for its upkeep.
 
What is the relevance of that Info dump ? Ship hull design makes no difference apart from the amount of cargo they could carry or sturdiness. None of the Hull changes really change voyage time, its the sailing rig changes which they did not have knowledge of that make the difference. Its why the Portuguese found Brazil when trying to round Africa , they needed the wind to be close enough to the right direction for practical sailing so had to keep going SW looking for a wind suitable to take them SE and hit land first.

Sorry, but you're wrong. The Galleon used the "Lateen Fore and Aft Rig" which was a combination of the old "Latin Rig" and the millennia old but not seeing much usage at the time "Fore and Aft Rig" for it's sails.

The Caravel and early Carracks just used "Lateen Rig" whereas later Carracks used "Square Rig" on the Foremast and Mainmast and "Lateen" on the Mizzenmast.

There's Archaeological evidence of "Square Rig" going back to 5000 BC.

There's nothing to be invented, only designs currently not in use that they are nevertheless aware of and combinations not used due to no current need for it.

If Europe started trading in the Indian Ocean early, they'd rapidly start using the appropriate ships. The point of my "info-dump" here and previously is that the only thing holding back the construction and design of larger ships capable of relatively fast oceanic voyages is the lack of desire and the lack of a compass.

Oh, it still wouldn't be great without a mariner's astrolabe, but all the technological requirements and knowledge to make one existed since the Hellenic period to the point people were making them for land for a long, long time.

So TL'DR, all the knowledge to build the ships, all the knowledge to make the sails and all the knowledge to navigate was just sitting around not being used other than the compass, it didn't need to wait for somebody to invent it.
 
The Persian one was an actual canal, although it might have been the completion of a project already started under the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. Stelae set up by the Persian king Darius near the course of the canal mention that he had the canal constructed and that ships passed through from Egypt to Persia, it didn't involve towing boats overland. Perhaps you are thinking of the Diolkos, which was a trackway across the Isthmus of Corinth across which boats were transported from the Aegean to the Gulf of Corinth.
I figured it out, it was a proposition by a more resint historian tring to explain this one very scechi sorse on this, sense there is no arcolongical evidence of a canal in this area before the 1800's.
And to be honest there probably was never any canal, we have good sorses on how the Roman's traded whith indea that makes no sense if the was even the wreked remnants of a canal (not like they couldn't have repaired it) and the Islamic rulers could have been easily mistaken as to whether a canal ever existed gust based on local storys.
 
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I figured it out, it was a proposition by a more resint historian tring to explain this one very scechi sorse on this, sense there is no arcolongical evidence of a canal in this area before the 1800's.
And to be honest there probably was never any canal, we have good sorses on how the Roman's traded whith indea that makes no sense if the was even the wreked remnants of a canal (not like they couldn't have repaired it) and the Islamic rulers could have been easily mistaken as to whether a canal ever existed gust based on local storys.

The canal supposedly built by Darius and later maintained by the Romans was not a Suez canal for all that it gets called an Ancient One, it did not take the same path, if it was real.

It instead connected directly to the Nile. And we do have Darius' Inscriptions on a Stele claiming that he had built it and later writings suggesting that a massively silted up canal did exist at one point.

That Stele was found by a French expedition in the 1800s which claimed to have found the remains of a canal by Lake Timsah which is now part of the Suez.

Now, whether a canal was ever fully built to the Red Sea or just part of the way there, who knows, but it does suggest that at one point a canal did exist to go somewhere.
 
Hey, guys, sorry for the delay in answering. I was a bit off the Forums. I'm intending to publish another installment this week still, so be tuned.

Just saw this:

That inspired me ideas on this TL with the future conquest of Egypt.
I don't think that the canal could be built yet, still being prohitively expansive for anyone, but I think the dream of it could become the stake of quite important powerplays in Egypt, especially between the Italian maritime republics and the Rhomaion, some vying for rights to build and control it and others to prevent them, all in turn.
Probably not a struggle perceptible in the short run, but one that could span over several decades or centuries behind the scenes or kind of.

@galileo-034 - Thanks for sending the video! I've subscribed to the channel already, love all of these History-focused channels, and this video in particular was very informative.

Now, as for the discussion you guys delved into, I'll be answering in more general terms. I'm not really knowledgeable in stuff related to shipbuilding, ocean navigation, so I'll happily concede to the arguments you had and the points raised. It is a topic I'm interested in learning more about, and, in fact, it will likely be one we'll be exploring greatly (pun intended) in time, because the transoceanic contacts between the European/Mediterranean socioeconomic sphere and the Indian/East Asian one will be very important drivers of the wordlbuilding and the narrative.

I agree with the posters that argued that the Crusaders governing Egypt would not be likely to construct or renovate an ancient Suez Canal. Their political, social and economic organization will be very much feudal and pre-capitalist (pre-mercantilist, even), even if they might inherit the more sophisticated bureaucratic urban apparatus of the Fatimid Caliphate, and this system hardly results in the surplus of capital and even of labor necessary to undertake such a massive project. The problem isn't just about building a canal (which would be a megastructure for the era nonetheless, and demand a LOT of resources), but also of maintaining it, considering the perennial problem of silting of the waters, and this will be a severe drain on further material resources and workforce. I don't think any Frankish monarch would even consider undertaking such a massive expenditure, especially because they likely won't be really seeing the gains of it, unlike in our days, in which transoceanic economic flow is much faster and impressive.

What I think is more feasible is for them to improve the venues for overland transshipment, which might facilitate the transportation of goods from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea with much less resources, and might attract the principal financers in this timeframe (likely the Italians).

@ThunderBolt47 - Egypt will likely be split, but there won't be a clear-cut/nation-state-like border situation, but rather a more nuanced territorial partition, in which everyone recognizes the overall suzerainty of the Byzantine Emperor. This is not necessarily difficult as you might imagine, because the fiscal structure of Fatimid Egypt is less based on direct land-owning and exploitation and rather on tax-farming, meaning that acquisition and distribution of revenues is much more fluid than in a pure feudal system. More like what you said on the end of the post, it is supposed to be a single government, but with distinct structures of internal management and decision-making. Nowadays, this doesn't seems like a recipe for good statesmanship, but at the time it did make sense.

@ByzantineMan - I'm not sure even Manuel would be interested on this. There isn't much breadth in the state budget for massive building projects. He might be satisfied enough with cutting the Egyptian middleman in the maritime Mediterranean-Indian commerce.

@EmperorOfTheNorthSea - I can very much envision the Byzantines/Crusaders building a circuit of fortifications in the northeast, exploiting the geographical features such as the Nile swamps and the fact that there is but a single road traversing the Sinai Peninsula. They would be very useful, considering that now the Christian states have a large border with the Arabic statelets of the Hedjaz.

Also, agreed on your commentary on the canal. The ancient Hellenic and Roman empires had much better conditions and resources available to undertake this than any contemporary Medieval state.

@pjmidd @mrmandias @EmperorOfTheNorthSea (following posts) @Darrenb209 - Thanks for the input, guys. As I said, I won't be entering the discussion in many detail, but I agree with many points you have raised. I'll be considering all of this once we see the details of the post-Crusade Christian-dominated administration of Egypt.

@phoenix101 - Good call on the "Diolkos". I remember seeing it mentioned elsewhere in the Internet (likely on useless Wiki navigation). It is something similar to what I have in mind to see a functional system of transshipment of good between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

@NauvooLegion86 @avernite - Interesting point. The Red Sea and the Indian Ocean will most certainly be venues for Catholic/Crusader-inspired proselytism. This is exactly the period when we see the first appearance of the myth of Prester John, after all, and now that the "Orient" is more accessible to the Latin Europeans, I believe there will be a strong ideological drive to explore and catechize, notably in the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Subcontinent (or the "Indies" as a whole). I believe it can be seen as a much earlier mirror of OTL Age of Exploration, as championed by the Portuguese and the Spanish.

@Sarufiyyun - Yes, you are absolutely correct. I can see it happening too. And the criss-cross of institutional and diplomatic dialogue between different Christian denominations (bad pun intended, again) will have very important theological and ecumenical implications. Can the Pope really preserve the doctrine of Petrine Primacy in a world where the different sects of Christianity, immersed in all sorts of cultural flavors (Armenian, Nestorian, Ethiopian, etc), are interwined in closer political and diplomatic relations? Its a fascinating question.

@MagicalPhantom345 - For the time being, Serbia is very much a vassal of the Byzantine Empire already. They are rarely mentioned because at this timeframe they don't seem to have played a significant role in Byzantine politics (one that grew tenfold after the 4th Crusade and during the 14th C.). I suppose there isn't much to say about them right now, for this very reason. With a stronger, consolidated Byzantium, Serbia will remain for the time being under this vassal/tributary relationship.
 
For the time being, Serbia is very much a vassal of the Byzantine Empire already. They are rarely mentioned because at this timeframe they don't seem to have played a significant role in Byzantine politics (one that grew tenfold after the 4th Crusade and during the 14th C.). I suppose there isn't much to say about them right now, for this very reason. With a stronger, consolidated Byzantium, Serbia will remain for the time being under this vassal/tributary relationship.
Makes sense. Although I do foresee the inevitability of ambitious Hungarian monarchs trying to wrestle away Serbia's vassalage for their own designs in the future.
 
60. The Rhõmaíõn Crusade For Egypt (1164-1166 A.D.) [Part 1/2]
60. THE RHÕMAIÕN CRUSADE FOR EGYPT (Part 1/2)



640px-Byzantine_Greek_Alexander_Manuscript_Cataphract_(cropped).jpg


Non-contemporary (c. 14th A.D.) illustration depicting a siege conducted by the Rhōmaîon army in Egypt. The equestrian figure depicted in golden armor is thought to be Basileus Manuel Komnenos.



I. The Hosts in Movement

In the months of March and April, 1164 A.D., a Rhōmaîon army assembled in Iconium, comprising mostly the men-at-arms and cavalry from the various themata of Asia, whose names are many. The overall command was given to John Doukas Komnenos governor of the Charsianon theme and Manuel’s nephew, the column marched to Tyana, and then to Caesarea, thus circumventing the Taurus range - the same itinerary followed by the participants of the First Crusade and by Alexios Komnenos decades before - and in Melitene they merged with an Armenian party whose leader was Thoros, Duke of Cilicia. From there, they marched to Antioch and descended the Levant along the valley of the Orontes, aggregating Syrian conscripts and Turkish mercenaries into their ranks. John Doukas’ army would perform as a vanguard, to join the army of the Franks in Palestine, as soon as they assembled, in Caesarea.

The command of the armies levied from the European themata, those from the nations of Greece, Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, was confided to Megas Doux Alexios Komnenos, and to Constantine Kalamanos - the son of Boris, a deceased pretender to the throne of Hungary - who would lead the cavalry auxiliaries, such as the assimilated Pechenegs and Vardariotes, as well as Cuman allies. Crossing the Hellespont by the way of Abydos, they followed a more extensive way by following the Aegean and then the Mediterranean coast. They were accompanied, in the sea, by a part of the fleet, which sailed from Greece, and, when they rendezvoused in Samos, the peoples and the beasts were ferried to Rhodes, and then to Cyprus, and, finally, to Frankish Tripoli, whereupon they traversed by overland.

The largest army was the third one to go on march, to be headed by the Basileus himself, assisted by his lieutenant, Prōtostratōr Alexios Axouch - who had been responsible for gathering this army in Serdica and then conducting it to Nicaea, whereupon they joined with the Tagmata, the Varangians, the Latinikon, and other units subordinated directly to the Autocrat. It included professional soldiers from Bulgaria and Serbia, and also those from the foreign allies, such as the Hungarians, the Croatians and the Russians. Manuel, seeing that this army would be composed by so many nations and races, saw fit to command it in person, so that his own presence and will was to bind them together. The sheer size of the host made its march slow, but, sustained by goods collected from supply depots previously replenished in the themata of Asia, they crossed the whole of Anatolia, from the north in Nicaea to the south in Attaleia, at remarkable speed. There, they would be transported in ships to Antioch, and from there continue overland, but escorted by the navy.

Adverse climate, however, prevented their sea transportation, and thus Manuel’s army became stranded for more than a month in the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia, but Alexios Komnenos and Constantine Kalamanos arrived fairly quickly in Palestine. In the Frankish Outremer, the arrival of these two large armies, the one from Asia, and the one from Europe, was met with a mixture of celebration and apprehension, due to the logistical difficulties of providing food, shelter and other daily resources, but Manuel had foreseen this, and kept a fleet operational to furnish goods from southern Anatolia and from Cyprus to the Levant.

Evidently the armies had been fragmented and sent in distinct parts because of the immense logistical necessities that the movement of such a large army would entail - the largest one to traverse Anatolia and Levant ever since the First Crusade. Food, water and drink were staples, and the difficulties of preserving perishable goods forced them to carry utensils such as jars, ovens and carts to carry grain, liquids, oil, and others. There had to be available textiles for clothing; metals not only for weapons, but also for daily items; plenty of wood for construction and repairs; the presence of beasts of burden, cattle for consumption and for riding, from oxen to horses, and from sheep to camels, created various necessities, to provide forage and shelter. Knowing that the movements of these armies would certainly drain the resources of the provinces through which they marched, the Basileus provided fleets to keep them supplied, but even this, over the course of a whole year, strained the supply network, especially in Asia, and more even by the fact that the summer season in the Orient was significantly dry and hot, circumstances that made the armies march slowly and demand more staples to be able to march. And then, even the usage of naval transports for replenishment was not guaranteed to provide adequate logistical support, because wind-powered vessels were mostly dependent on the goodwill and guidance of Zephyrus. In late 1164 A.D., for example, with the coming of autumn, a violent storm wrecked various ships near Tripoli coming from Attaleia, and thus hundreds of consumables and animals were sacrificed to the sea, an episode that forced Manuel - then marching across the Palestine - to detach a part of his army and send them back to Syria-Phoenicia to await for another batch of supplies, lest his soldiers might starve even before they reach their destination.

The Basileus had purposefully limited the conscription of levies - fearing that the expedition might last well beyond the campaigning season, which would force him to disband the non-professional conscripts during winter - and of unnecessary non-combatants that usually came with the soldiery, such as their wives, children and kinsmen, prostitutes and dancers, tradesmen and entertainers. This meant that the three armies, including those of his allies and mercenaries, were mostly comprised by professional soldiers, maintained by their respective salaries and stipends, a very unusual occurrence in this period, whereas the knightly and gentry classes dedicated to war formed a small part of mostly conscripted armies. Predictably, the financial costs for upkeep were massive, but the Basileus believed that the expedition would pay for itself once they harnessed the fabled wealth of Egypt, which, according to legend, had been accumulated ever since the age of the Pharaoh. There was, nonetheless, a vast following of non-combatants of various specialties: cooks, fishermen and brewers, grooms and shepherds, smiths, woodworkers, tanners, and countless others, whose services were needed to allow for fixtures of daily life in camp.


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When the Basileus arrived in Syria, he found out that the army of John Doukas Komnenos, which had been idle for months in Palestine, had returned back to the north, and was camped near the border, from whence they could receive resources from Antioch, Laodicea and Aleppo, while the one commanded by his cousin Alexios and by Constantine Kalamanos had gone to Tripoli and then fragmented, with half of it was dissolved to procure forage and goods. As it happened, their long stay in Palestine, a land notorious for the scarcity of resources, elicited insistent protests by Raymond of Caesarea and Archbishop Bernard, who had argued that the whole Outremer would starve if they remained there, and, even worse, in a breach of the treaties between the nations, the Franks began to exact extortionate prices for simple staples such as cheese and wine, a circumstance that infuriated and alienated the Rhōmaîoi.

After John Doukas and Megas Doux Alexios returned to Syria, and the latest fleets from Italy finally arrived - that being the one of the Genoese and of the Pisans -, the Franks, commanded by Raymond of Caesarea and his associate grandees, and together with the Italian navies, invaded Egyptian territory in an attempt to reduce the now fortified town of Farama. They gave up the siege upon receiving a herald from Manuel, who ordered them to await for the arrival of the Rhōmaîon armies. To Manuel's consternation, though, Raymond disbanded most of his army so that the farmers could return to their homes for the sowing season, while the Genoese and the Venetians simply disregarding Manuel’s orders and undertook various raids against the coastal ports of Egypt over the following weeks, while the Anconitans and Ragusans remained idle, harbored in Tripoli and Beirut.

By the time that he arrived in Palestine, already in the month of August, the combined armies of Megas Doux Alexios and John Doukas had indeed trespassed into Egypt, by the way of the Sinai, supported by a part of his fleet, but the Latin-Levantines had yet to re-muster their own troops to join the campaign.

It was only in September that the whole army reunited, already inside Egypt, to besiege Damietta [Arab.: Dimyat] and Tinnis, in the eastern flank of the Nile Delta, having taken Farama by storm.


II. The Capture of Rosetta and of Alexandria

In this part of the Earth, between Asia and Africa, summer is too torrid and dry, and thus autumn is very much welcomed by all the races due to its milder temperatures. In Egypt, in particular, the final months of the year are those in which the floodwaters of the Nile recede, facilitating the movement of armies. In spite of the delays and misconceived operations, the arrival of the self-proclaimed Crusaders of Rhōmanía was timely, because it coincided with some of the best months of the Egyptian year. The window of opportunity, however, was a short one, because the harvest had long since ended, and the army would depend, to survive, on the acquisition of foods already collected and stored for winter. The winter season, by itself, was inappropriate for campaigning, meaning that the host would have to be demobilized.

The problem was that their winter quarters of the Rhōmaîoi were situated in Syria. Capturing cities and lands in Lower Egypt was, then, a strategic imperative, and Manuel devised a bold stratagem. While the main part of the allied army would reduce Tinnis, Damietta and Sammanud [ancient Sebennytos], opening the road of the Sinai to them, the Rhōmaîon and Italian fleets would be committed to attack, by sea, the largest urban centers of the coast, those being Rosetta [Arab: Rashid] and Alexandria [Arab.: al-Iskandariya]. With this, he intended to subjugate the principal metropolises of the Nile Delta.

More than three hundred ships were outfitted, drawn from the various nations of Rhōmanía and from the allies, mainly the Italians and the Ragusans, and now, together in a single fleet, they easily eliminated the Fāṭimīd presence in the Mediterranean.

They remembered that sixty years before, a combined Rhōmaiōn and Italian fleet had decisively defeated the Fāṭimīd navy in the Battle of Sidon (1109). The Saracens, ever since, never recovered their naval capacities. The reconstruction of a fleet was a hard task, even more so for Egypt, because it lacked timber and iron; the main suppliers, in the Mediterranean, were precisely the Franks. Facing a shortage of resources even in those years, Vizier al-Afdal had attempted to acquire it from Al-Andalus, but the fiscal pressure of renewing the fleet proved too great, and, after he died, the attempt was abandoned. Decades later, when the German princes unexpectedly invaded Egypt, in the ending year of the Second Crusade, Vizier Ibn Maṣāl resumed the efforts, and expropriated and repurposed merchant ships operating in the Red Sea to function as a prospective fleet to protect the Nile Delta, employing conscripts and slaves to operate them, and financed Tunisian pirates to act in the behalf of the Caliphate. It was used to great effect by Tala'i ibn Ruzzik, who coordinated the last naval operations in the Mediterranean, and even sacked the port of Beirut. It was, however, a lost cause. Since they lost the Levantine ports, their range of movement was severely limited, and they could scantly threaten the Frankish dominion, by now all too consolidated. Now, in 1164 A.D., this diminished naval remnant was utterly annihilated by the numerically superior adversary, and thus the coast of Egypt became vulnerable to attack.


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Manuel’s strategy was a risky one, at best. Oversea maneuvers against coastal centers demanded a significant logistical investment, not only to secure the necessary resources for the transportation of troops, but also to keep them literally at bay if they failed to disembark and obtain a defined position in the littoral, which, as a consequence, would hinder the acquisition of victuals and other resources. In the meantime, once a beachhead was established, if they failed to obtain a fortified position, the disembarked forces would be vulnerable to the counterattack of the defending forces, and replenishment of casualties would be short of impossible.

As it happened, however, Fortune did favor the bold, in this case, the Christians. After a bad spell of tempestuous weather, the Rhōmaiōi and Italians blockaded Rosetta, a fortified town situated in the western mouth of the Nile. Hundreds of them successfully disembarked in the sandy isthmus situated between the sea and Lake Burullus, and, after crossing the Nile unimpeded, they put the city to siege through its western walls. In short notice, siege engines were employed, likely by assembling prefabricated parts, while the warships assaulted the town with artillery bombardments over its walls. Perhaps due to the fact that the city was relatively far from the national border, and that the main seat of government in the region was Alexandria, Rosetta had only a small garrison, one which, during the assault, remained quartered in the citadel near the shore of the Nile and did little to thwart the Christian advance.

By the time that the army of Alexandria arrived, expecting to relieve the siege, Rosetta had already been taken, with its defenses overcome, and the city ransacked. The governor of Alexandria was a certain Humam, better known by his honorific Nāṣir ad-Dīn [Latinized Naziradinus], brother of the current Vizier, al-Ḍirghām al-Lukhamī. Nāṣir ad-Dīn attempted to retake Rosetta by force, believing that the Christians could not reestablish the city's defenses so quickly, but he immediately had to return to Alexandria when he heard that a Venetian fleet had blockaded the city and attempted to take the harbor by force.

Once again, the preferred modus operandi of the assailants consisted of a naval bombardment, employing trebuchets and onagers, to instill fear in the hearts of the Saracens and to dispirit them in their hapless duty of defending the walls. This time, however, they did not disembark, and this left Nāṣir ad-Dīn in a difficult position for three consecutive days, until the ammunition of the attackers depleted. Only then did they attempt, again, to storm the fortifications by penetrating through the harbor. The attack was initiated in the dark of night, but the Egyptians were ready to fight. The besiegers successfully wrestled control of the harbor, but were now stranded in a tactical quagmire, because they needed to overcome the Saracens and their sturdy defenses in the second largest metropolis of the Caliphate. Nāṣir ad-Dīn, realizing their position was hopeless, repelled their attacks and thus his men gained confidence. He needed time, however, for reinforcements to arrive from his brother, because the men at his disposal were outnumbered by the assailants.

The tide of the battle turned when another Christian army arrived overland, in the following week, having traversed the isthmus of Lake Mariout [Arab: Maryūṭ]: these were the men which had recently stormed Rosetta, and now, having seemingly abandoned their position there, they came to besiege Alexandria from its eastern side. They might have known that Alexandria’s eastern flank was the most vulnerable one to a siege, because it was from the east one accessed the road connecting it to the interior of the country, and now the metropolis was blockaded by both land and sea, a circumstance that demoralized them.

The siege lasted for barely two weeks, until infighting began inside the city itself, conducted by Coptic and Greek agitators, led by none other than their Patriarch John V [Coptic Yoannis]. The Copts, having suffered various persecutions in the previous decade, welcomed the Christian invaders, and, in particular, the Rhōmaiōn Basileus, as liberators. What is even more startling is the fact that they were supported by some of the Shi’ite Saracens, because they grew to loathe the regime of the Sunni Vizier al-Ḍirghām, believing that he had usurped the throne from the rightful Imam and Caliph. Perhaps they expected that Manuel, who had been less hostile to the Muslims, could restore a semblance of order and political unity in the realm. It is certain, in any case, that Manuel would keenly capitalize on this image, and came to present himself, even among those devoted to Islam, as a restorer of order against hated usurpers. Humam Nāṣir ad-Dīn saw himself forced to sequester himself in the palace, which was eventually stormed, and he was made a prisoner.

And so it happened that, in an impressive string of triumphs, the Christian allies occupied Rosetta and Alexandria, and, by the time that a reinforcement army from Cairo finally arrived, they had secured too the allegiance of Damanhur [Latinized Damanioris, but better known by its ancient name Hermopolis] and Xois [Arab: Sakha], places with a substantial Coptic population. This Fāṭimīd army was comprised mostly of horsemen, levied from among the Bedouins and mamluks, but led by a cadre of Yemeni cavaliers whose chief was Mulham, another of al-Ḍirghām’s brothers, Nāṣir al-Muslimīn [Latinized Narizalmunzit]. Their mission was to relieve Alexandria, while another, larger army, led by the Vizier himself, would rescue Damietta from the siege.


III. The Battle of Damietta

The siege of Damietta was sustained by a large army, supplied almost entirely by sea, so as to avoid the necessity of traversing the Sinai, and by forage. The Pecheneg and Cuman mercenaries were detached and employed as foragers and scouts, while the rest remained in the siege.

They had recently taken the fortress of Tinnis, which was severely damaged by the use of siege engines, those that we mention below. The stronghold was entrusted to the care of Theodorich of Flanders, a trusted ally of the Basileus, and he immediately provided for the reconstruction of parts of the curtain of walls that had been demolished during the engagement, using rubble from the local houses.

Manuel brought a number of engineers and operators and they built trebuchets - again, they probably had brought prefabricated parts which were assembled on spot - artillery weapons whose usage was relatively novel in the Orient. They had been used to great effect by the imperial troops during the Second Crusade, facilitating the military acquisition of the Armenian strongholds, but their technology had been significantly refined, especially by the use of a counterweight system, one that made them even more powerful, due to the increasing kinetic energy employed in the missiles. Projectiles were hurled inside the city, to strike its denizens and, once again, instill fear and comply them to surrender. Certainly the shock effect was aggravated by the use of the infamous Greek Fire, an incendiary substance placed inside ceramic vases that, upon impact, immediately became ablaze and could not be quenched by water nor by wine.

Another novelty which deserves mention, according to John Kinnamos, is the mention of the mass usage of crossbows. These weapons, until the First Crusade, were unknown in Rhōmanía, but were since then adopted by Alexios Komnenos; his successor John provided for large-scale production, realizing that, even if these contraptions were less useful in the field of battle against the Turcomans, they were reliable in siege operations, and fairly more easy to use than bows. Manuel had ensured that his own soldiers would be supplied with a significant number of crossbows, expecting that it would give an edge in this war.

Now, even in face of the relentless assault, Damietta dared resist. While its denizens were not soldiers, but rather civilians, whose interest in warfare was null, the city, being the principal metropolis closer to the border, was fortified and its rule granted to a Turkish mamluk named Äsem, a loyal lieutenant of the ruling Vizier. In spite of the lack of spirit of the populace, after they suffered so many undignified deaths casualties and destruction, Damietta refused surrender, and this gave al-Ḍirghām the time he needed to assemble his army and to march against them.

At first, the Saracen general avoided an engagement, fearing that in a pitched battle he would lack advantage due to the numbers of the adversary, and only harassed them.

As per the norm in the Fāṭimīd army, it was mostly of horsemen, numbering thousands of them, whose way of war had inspirations of the Arabs, as light cavalry, and of the Turks, as archers and lancers. At this point, they were fairly acquainted with the ways of war of the Franks, and employed their preferred tactic of using archery and feigning retreat from the field of battle, so as to attract overeager knights. The tactic did seem to work, when some of the Frankish horsemen - likely those that had recently come from Europe - launched a sortie against the enemy, but were repelled with grave losses. It was, however, the exception rather than the rule: the Christians had erected an improvised defensive camp, using wagons and even parts of dismantled ships, and withstood the siege, believing that Damietta would soon starve - they ought to be consuming all the reserves stored to pass winter. And al-Ḍirghām’s situation was the worst possible one: the besiegers had absolute mastery of the sea, and their ships freely voyaged through the eastern Mediterranean, bringing supplies to the Christians; the Vizier knew that such a display of weakness would instill the boldness of usurpers and might provoke his downfall from among the daggers of courtiers even before the swords of the infidels came to him. While he feared a battle, he needed a quick victory to ensure his position, lest Damietta was to fall too. Not even the fact the Christians were, from the month of November and forward, struggling with a grave epidemic of dysentery seemed to help the Ismaelites, because the defenders of Damietta now resorted to eating dogs and rats to satisfy their hunger.

In late November, when the winds of the Mediterranean became frigid, kissed by Boreas, the Saracens attempted a desperate attack to expel the besiegers. Apparently an Arab fisherman, known simply as Ahmad, circumvented the blockade and entered the city by swimming in the Nile. Then, requesting an audience with Äsem, he gave the signal for the besieged to launch a sortie concerted with al-Ḍirghām’s army. They executed their plan during the night, and fell en masse upon the camp of the Christians. In the mayhem that ensued, the casualties escalated to various hundreds after various hours of slaughter, but the space was too crowded for the Saracen cavalry to operate adequately, and they, facing spear-men, archers and heavy infantry, were repelled with serious losses too. In the fierce melee in the eastern side of the camp, facing the walls of Damietta, a Bulgarian lancer impaled Äsem, and, in the ensuing bloodshed, many demoralized Turkish mamluks perished, thus leaving the city defenseless. In spite of al-Ḍirghām’s presence, the beleaguered citizens of the city spontaneously proclaimed their surrender, preferring to hope for the mercy of the Christian “polytheists” than to suffer a nightmarish fate of carnage and starvation.

Once Manuel was welcomed in the city, to the surprise of the besieged and probably of the besiegers alike, the Basileus prohibited his soldiers from sacking the metropolis, and, instead, employed them in the immediate reconstruction of the damaged homes and fortifications. It is almost certain, given the record of battles involving hostile religionaries, that it was the magnanimity of the autocrat that prevented further bloodshed - one, that, it must be said, the Damiettans were likely expecting, considering that the reputation of the Crusaders in Egypt was one of bloodthirsty and rapacity. Instead, the Ismaelites were granted safe conduct to abandon the city, while the Christian inhabitants - mostly Copts, but also Armenians and Syrians - were exempted from tribute.


******​


After the reduction of Damietta, al-Ḍirghām retreated to Bilbeis, expecting to amass a larger army to prevent the inevitable advance of the Christians against Cairo. During winter, however, the momentum of the war reduced. Parts of the Rhōmaîon and Latin-Levantine armies were disbanded, so they could winter in Palestine and in Syria, thus reducing the strain of the logistical necessities of the army that remained in Egypt. The region was proverbially fertile, but in this season, they depended on the goodwill of the local communities in providing for resources stored for their own nourishment. In this regard, the Copts welcomed their correligionaries - certainly the Rhōmaîon more than the Latins - and, influenced by the Patriarch of Alexandria, they obliged to support the war effort.

Predictably, this only worsened their situation in other parts of the realm: al-Ḍirghām expelled hundreds of them from Cairo, Gizeh and Bilbeis, and forced them to move to either the coastal ports of the Red Sea or to Upper Egypt. As it happened, however, Upper Egypt was enraptured by rebellious elements of his nemesis, the Arab nobleman Shāwar ibn Mujīr al-Saʿdī, the former Vizier, whom al-Ḍirghām had deposed and overthrown after a short rule, in 1162 A.D. Once he came to power, al-Ḍirghām attempted to capture and execute Shāwar, but this one, resourceful as a fox, escaped the clutches of his adversaries and eluded capture. He remained at large in the western deserts, retaining the allegiance of the Bedouins, especially the remnants of the Banu Hillal which had refused the forced migration into Africa; these peoples, recently converted to Ismailism, opposed the ascent of the Sunni elements commanded by al-Ḍirghām, and gave his enemies refuge. Now, just a few years later, as soon as he heard about the Christian offensive, Shāwar returned to Asyūṭ, where he had been governor for various years before his coup. There, he was received as a hero, and obtained the allegiance from various provinces, from there as far as ʾAswān in the border of the realm, rallying those who opposed what they saw as a weak and contemptuous ruler, and promising that he would chase the “polytheists” back to Palestine.

As one might expect, however, his efforts were directed not against the Rhōmaîoi nor their allies, but rather against al-Ḍirghām’s positions, going as far north as al-Bahnasa [ancient Oxyrrhyncus]. Now, the ruling Vizier sent to the Christians and pleaded for a truce, promising the payment of a tribute in exchange for the interruption of the military operations. The Basileus accepted the terms, and thus the war would be resumed only in the next spring.


IV. The Fatimids Counterattack

By the coming of summer, in 1165 A.D., the Christians had obtained control of other important settlements in the Nile Delta. It seems that the Coptic populations in the local communities were fairly favorable to accept the Rhōmaîon autocrat as their new suzerain; the Armenians, doubly so, for the reasons about which we already disclosed in this Chronicle. The Saracens, less so, but their situation was concerning - the Shiites distrusted the Sunni, associated with the leadership of al-Ḍirghām, who had proven unable to deal with the calamity that befell the Caliphate - and they lacked spirit or morale to resist the resolved offensive of the Rhōmaîon and the Franks.

Nāṣir al-Muslimīn, who had prosecuted the siege of Alexandria for three months, unsuccessfully, was forced to lift once the belligerents agreed to the truce in Damietta. The fact that the Franks had threatened to execute his brother, now imprisoned in Cyprus, seemingly did not concern him; perhaps he expected to have Alexandria for himself once he recaptured it, but, as it happened, he only returned in the spring of 1165 A.D., with a numerous host of conscripts and Bedouin mercenaries. Lacking adequate siege equipment, however, the operation became a protracted engagement, even more so because the Christians could be supplied by sea. Soon enough, the forces that had reduced Damietta arrived to relieve Alexandria, and thus Nāṣir retreated to Gizeh.

The Vizier, in desperation, attempted to win over to his cause the Banu Kanz - a Bedouin clan that had settled the frontier region between Upper Egypt and Nubia - promising wealth and positions of power in exchange for their arms against Shāwar. They accepted the proposal, more due to the loyalty of their chieftain Kanz al-Dawla [Latinized Chazadarmius] to the Caliph, and, using Qus as a base, they raided into Shāwar’s territory, going as far as ransacking the villages near ʾAswān. This permitted the Caliphal troops to invest more seriously against the Christians in the Delta.

Al-Ḍirghām consolidated his armies, joining with his brothers, and changed his strategy. Instead of attacking the Christians, who seemed to have established more defended positions in the coastal area, he sought to attract them to a battlefield of his choice: Bilbeis. This took some months, but, by the middle of summer, they indeed came to him, believing that the city - the principal stopping point in the way to Fustat and Cairo - was undefended.

Bilbeis had been transformed into a veritable stronghold by Ibn Ruzzik, with two concentric circuits of walls, and stone turrets. Laying in between the Nile and a canal, it could only be blockaded by land in the north and south sides. Coming from the north, the Christians realized it would be fruitless to attempt to starve it, and initiated operations to demolish its fortifications. Then, the Vizier, commanding Turkish mamluks and Sudanese infantry, made good use of the terrain and constantly assaulted the besiegers, and maneuvered with his own cavalry to cut their lines of communication and supply to Damietta. He intended for Bilbeis to be the graveyard of these so-called warriors of the faith.

During summer, the allies attempted to make their way through the northern walls, but they were the most fortified, and were protected by seasoned veterans, whose valor in battle was great. From inside the city, catapults could unleash against the besiegers ammunition containing the “Arabic fire” [naphtha] - and to see many of their brothers in arms immolated alive might have taken its toll on the morale of the assailants. The swollen waters of the Nile made the operations more difficult, because the ground became mud and was prone to constant floods, as well as to infestations. John Kinnamos reports, with some grisly detail, about the case of a dozen Frankish soldiers who, surprised by an intense flooding of the river, in the midst of a storm, were eventually preyed upon and eviscerated by crocodiles.

They lifted their camp and retreated back to Menouf, where they had erected a defensive encampment, and this time the Saracens came in chase, and, after insistent attacks on their rearguard, even destroyed some of their siege weapons.

Once again avoiding direct battle in the field, though, the Vizier simply encircled the enemy camp to keep them at bay; but this time he had time to prepare, and had assembled another separate army under the command of his brothers, whose objective was the recapture of Alexandria.


In the second part of this installment: the War continues. Can the Fatimids turn the tide? In the 8th of May we'll find out.


___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________​


Notes and comments: This chapter is fairly big, so, to facilitate reading, I opted to divide it in two parts. Part two is already written, but I need one more day to revise it for publication, so don't worry, it will be due on Saturday.

Most characters mentioned here are historical, even if more obscure, such as Dirgham and his brothers, and excepting Asem, the Turk, who is invented. I realize that the TL is fairly convergent with OTL, but I figure that while the divergences in the Outremer were massive, they impacted little in the palatine politics of the Fatimid Caliphate. This means that Dirgham rose to the Vizierate on schedule, but Shawar never did, because IOTL, he only came to power in a later date. Here, he does attempt to take power, but in very different circumstances.

I devoted some attention here to logistics, which are often ignored when people discuss Medieval warfare. The picture I was trying to portray is: it is a friggin' mess, and the whole success of the expedition depended on an amazing and intricate work of logistics. Remember that Medieval societies, in either Europe or the Near East, produced little food surplus, and it was heavily dependent on the seasons. The Byzantines have specialized state apparatus which allows for better communications and logistics, unlike the Franks or the Crusaders as a whole, and this, IMHO, gives a significant edge in the coordination of such a massive campaign, which should be huge for the standards of the period, comparable to Saladin's campaigns and to the Third Crusade, which involved massive armies and complex operations, but over the course of some years.


The mention about Bilbeis being fortified by Ibn Ruzzik has historical basis. According to the Wiki, when he died, he lamented that he could not use this stronghold to launch an invasion against the Franks in Jerusalem.

I might have perhaps anticipated a bit the appearance of counterweight trebuchets, which, indeed, would have a large role in Saladin's campaigns before the Third Crusade. However, the Wiki mentions that, at least according to David Nicole, it is likely that they might have been used ever since the 12th Century, but the low-level conflict between the Fatimids and the Franks perhaps did not permit it to develop with the sophistication it would be seen in the late 12th Century. I took some liberties, considering that Manuel had the resources and the Byzantine State had both the technological finesse and the interest in improving it. But note that the Fatimids aren't really behind. The part about Bilbeis mentions the use of catapults too. So, I believe, the matter isn't really about technological advantage by itself, but rather on the overall strategical and tactical capabilities of each state to bring them to war.

The same goes for the crossbows, which, indeed, were fairly unknown in the Orient before the Crusades. I figure one reason is due to the ubiquitous presence of both professional infantry and horse archery in the region, and the minor focus on siege warfare if compared to High Medieval Europe, but this doesn't precludes the possibility of a more conscientious ruler such as Manuel actively sponsoring it. This will surely have important consequences for the military developments of the post-Crusade military technology in the Middle East.

Notice, too, the fact that the Franks are having more contact with the Greek Fire. Some passages in previous chapters of this TL mention that the use of incendiary weapons will become more ubiquitous in the following centuries, before the coming and the development of gunpowder. Let's see how this will unfold!
 
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Yesterday, a huge update on Torbald's TL, today, a great update for this TL, and in two days, another one. What a great week for the pre-1900 forum.
 
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