I see Theodoric of Flanders, I'm happy. :D Now I hope that the Flemings will make more appearances.
Amazing new chapter and can't wait for the second part
@Icee - Thanks for the compliment and for the support. Hope you like the following installment too.

@NotBigBrother, @RedSword12 @NauvooLegion86 - Fixed this weird bit. Thanks for pointing it out! I'm from South America indeed, so this is one of these stuff I just took for granted without thinking you need to check facts, I suppose. Like cacti in the Sahara.

@hitcho11 - Thanks for the support! Torbald's TL is "Una Diferente Plus Ultra", right? I've yet to read it, it does seems like an impressive piece.

@ike225 - Theodorich/Thierry is a fascinating guy indeed. I'm not sure, however, I'll be keeping him around. He's fairly old right now. I do have some stuff stored for the Flemings though. They had a relevant role in western European economy, and I want to explore this a bit more. And thanks for the compliment, I hope you continue to like it.

@ImperialxWarlord - I'm not sure I really can promise you that, unfortunately. While I intend for Manuel to be the more successful he can be, given the circumstances, I believe, from his historical character that he has a "larger bite than he can chew" aspect that I wanted to explore here. And it does some service, in the long run, to make sure that Byzantium remains rather "balanced", and not "we can crush the Franks at lunch and return for supper". Let's see how things will go now on.
Another dashing chapter, you never cease to amaze me with it, your use of logistics as a narrative device to show how disorganized the Crusade actually is, and warfare during this period in general, it's brilliant, I can't wait for the next part.

With how you put emphasize on the Crusaders becoming acquainted with Greek Fire, I wonder if a very special kind of grenadiers may develop a few centuries earlier for use in European armies, if you catch my drift?
I honestly expected Manuel to have less control over the Crusade, given how rowdy the Crusaders can be.

I imagine that given the distance from the Roman heartland that the Egyptian interior will be divided up between different Crusader lords with some sort of Feudal arrangement.

The Romans retained suzerainty but also gives the Crusders the opportunity to break free when the next inevitable civil war happens.
As others have said your detailing of the logistics of such a large operation/invasion is absolutely amazing. One question though, you mentioned the ship numbers that the allies have but what about on land? What's the approximate size of the crusading army?
I honestly expected Manuel to have less control over the Crusade, given how rowdy the Crusaders can be.

I imagine that given the distance from the Roman heartland that the Egyptian interior will be divided up between different Crusader lords with some sort of Feudal arrangement.

The Romans retained suzerainty but also gives the Crusders the opportunity to break free when the next inevitable civil war happens.
The Byzantines will probably place a special importance on Alexandria- it being the principal city of the old Roman Empire, and the seat of a Patriarch. Lower Egypt in general the Byzantines could establish some control over, but Upper Egypt will get more difficult. That's where I expect the Crusaders to dominate.

The Byzantines may eventually be completely kicked out of Egypt in a moment of weakness, but I expect immediately after the Crusade they'll have areas they control.
The Byzantines will probably place a special importance on Alexandria- it being the principal city of the old Roman Empire, and the seat of a Patriarch. Lower Egypt in general the Byzantines could establish some control over, but Upper Egypt will get more difficult. That's where I expect the Crusaders to dominate.

The Byzantines may eventually be completely kicked out of Egypt in a moment of weakness, but I expect immediately after the Crusade they'll have areas they control.
Tug of war basically since Byzantines could do the same when the crusader states have a moment of weakness or civil war.
This really depends on the Coptic’s since have the chance to become more influential and powerful to the point where they could possibly kick both the crusaders and Byzantine out or chose there overlord. A Coptic Egyptian state would be a fascinating idea to explore.
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Now that all 5 Pentarchies are in Christian hands, will we see another Council? It would be the first one with all 5 in quite a long time, and Manuel would want to continue the progress his father made.
You know, randon thought: Assuming that the Rhomans and Crusaders take all of Egypt, and considering that the Rhoman Emperor is technially the liege of the Kingdom of Jerusalem ... I wonder if Manuel or his heirs will look at this as the restoration of the Empire to the Pre-Justinian borders. Considering all this happened in less than a century after Manzikert, it's going to seriously impact the manner in which the dynasty views itself and is viewed by history.
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.

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.

It really shows, the logistical difficulties of deploying and using such large formations in such an inhospitable area are superbly described. So too is the Eastern Roman Empire's ability to account for and deal with these logistical issues. From moving their own army south in three pieces, to a focus on professional elite formations who would not be expected to go back home to farm, very well done indeed.

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.

A successful naval landing, complete with Varangian Ikea trebuchets. Very nice to see the Roman logistics at their best.

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.

Nice to see Manuel finding utility in magnanimity. Hopefully he comes out of this war well.

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.

Eagerly awaiting the chapter.
60. The Rhõmaíõn Crusade For Egypt (1164-1166 A.D.) [Part 2/2]

Sem título.jpg

Non-contemporary (c. 13th Century) detail of an illustration depicting Manuel Komnenos in a meeting with his generals

V. The Basileus returns to Constantinople

In the middle of the year of 1165 A.D., Basileus Manuel returned in hurry to Constantinople, by sea, with his guard, leaving John Doukas Komnenos with the overall leadership of the war theater in Egypt.

As it happened, while the best part of the Rhōmaîoi army was committed to the war against the Ismaelites, two enemies of Rhōmanía raised arms against her, and initiated hostilities.

The first incursion came from Sicily, whose lord, William, known as “the Victorious” self-proclaimed Prince of Sicily, proclaimed war to avenge previous actions attributed to the Empire against his rule in southern Italy. Manuel, indeed, soon after his coronation, had provided support to rebel nobles who opposed William, and had eventually invaded Apulia, capturing Bari, Taranto and Brindisi, in an attempt to restore the defunct Catepanate of Italy. William successfully retook these urban centers, and defeated the opposition among the Norman aristocrats, thus becoming worthy of his sobriquet. Now, more than a decade later, seeking to take advantage of the fact that Rhōmaîoi were distracted in another war, William assembled a large fleet, commanded by his trusted lackey, Maio of Bari [Italian: Maione di Bari], and preyed upon the coastal cities of the Adriatic and Aegean Seas.

It was, in any even, an opportunistic aggression, but what William could not foresee is that he would not live enough to see any other victory, because he was fated to die a mere year later. His son, however, also named William, instigated by his vassals, who were desirous of the plunder from the rich provinces of the Empire, would happily continue the war after coming to the throne. As for Manuel, he at first believed these were mere raids and piratical attacks, but it soon became clear that the Sicilians once again invading the Empire, once they captured Dyrrachium [OTL Dürres], and thus he was forced to take action against them.

The second assailment came from the Kingdom of Hungary. In an extraordinary change of events, the recently-enthroned King Stephen IV, who had been installed into the throne by the assistance of the Rhōmaîoi, was defeated in the battle of Székesfehérvár by the monarch that he had only recently deposed, Stephen III, who returned to Hungary in the midst of winter, between 1164 and 1165, now supported by Kaiser *Henry VI. Sided by Bavarian and Austrian knights, Stephen easily won the favor of the Hungarian nobility and clergy, who held little love for the usurper, regarded as a puppet of Constantinople, and humiliated his partisans. Stephen IV was imprisoned, but, the re-enthroned monarch, likely aware about William’s recent attack against Epirus and Greece, took advantage of the momentum and of the willingness of his own vassals, and invaded Rhōmanía by the way of Serbia. His intention was, perhaps, to force the Empire to acknowledge the suzerainty over Hungary over Serbia and Croatia, which had been aggregated to Constantinople's sphere of influence.

Although Manuel refused to vacate his army from Egypt, believing it to be a far more significant prize to the realm, the fact remained that such a large part of the soldiery was committed to the campaign in the Nile, that he was forced to raise new forces to check the invasions, mainly from the manpower pools of Bulgaria and western Anatolia.

In the end, he would be victorious, but the cost would be great.

VI. The Sieges of Bilbeis and of Athribis

Only with the advent of autumn, when the floodwaters receded, did the Christian allies, having recently repelled the Saracens, marched to relieve Alexandria, then under siege by the Vizier who de facto governed the Caliphate. Once again, al-Ḍirghām avoided confrontation, in spite of the numbers at his disposal. He did have reasons to fear; a defeat in the battlefield would result in his certain downfall, and he knew that, in spite of his enemy's victories, the circumstances ought to be in his favor if he bade his time. Even now, however, his preferred strategy of exhausting the invaders by attrition incurred in the displeasure of the military leaders subordinated to him, especially the mamluks - the ex-slaves that formed the Caliphal bodyguard - who, in general, believed they ought to exterminate the infidels to the last man in a glorious battle.

The Vizier’s position was worsened, indeed, by the fact that, during spring and summer seasons of 1165 A.D., the Franks had been reinforced by the arrival of more soldiers from Italy. Emboldened by the replenishment of their numbers, they decided to march once again. Once again, in the cat and mouse game, al-Ḍirghām saw himself in the defensive, against his expectations.

This time, the Christians avoided Bilbeis, and instead went by the way of the Sebennytic distributary of the Nile, which provided a direct fluvial connection between Cairo and the Mediterranean. With the coming of autumn, the waters of the Nile having been subsided, their march was uneventful, until they arrived in the metropolis of Athribis, another one that had been fortified and reinforced by the Saracens. This was an ancient city notorious for housing the very first Christian church of Egypt, dedicated to Virgin Mary; its Christian population had been significant, but al-Ḍirghām had forcibly removed the Copts from the city, sending them to the fortress of Babylon, further to the south along the Nile, and now it had been reduced to an ad hoc military citadel. The civilians were given arms and conscripted to the defense of the city.

The Christian army distributed itself evenly along the circuit of walls to besiege it. Once again they employed the dreaded trebuchets to cow its inhabitants into capitulating. Despite the fact that, unlike in Bilbeis, their defenders had no artillery to use, the siege became a bloody engagement once the Rhōmaiōi and the Franks attempted to overcome the soldiers in the walls. The humid terrain impeded the adequate use of siege towers and of sapping maneuvers by the assailants, and thus they resorted to ladders and battering rams, but were received with naphtha devices, boiling oil and heated sand, and casualties grew tenfold.

Over the course of two months, under constant assault by archers, the besiegers employed “tortoises”, mobile shelters made of wood, usually by re-purposing baggage wagons, covered with metal armor, leather and wet hides, so as to allow the construction of a makeshift sheltered walkway touching what they believed to be the most vulnerable point of the walls; afterwards, they lit fires over various consecutive days to decompose the mortar of the structure and weaken it enough to be collapsed. Even after this breach, however, the walls, when fighting was taken to the streets, the besiegers made little progress.

Having suffered substantial casualties, John Doukas Komnenos aborted the siege and retreated to Alexandria, which was, once again, under siege by the Saracens.

When the winter came, in late 1165 A.D., the Imperial armies were still committed to three separate wars, even though the Hungarians and the Sicilians both interrupted their campaigns and disbanded their armies, only to return in spring. Seeing that the strategic situation was a very complicated one, and that, in Egypt, no further progress had been made, Manuel pleaded for a truce with the Fāṭimīds.

The Vizier accepted the terms, likely hoping to reorganize his forces to face his rival Shāwar in the following months, but his act, seen as the prelude of a dishonorable capitulation by his lieutenants, would soon provoke his downfall.

VI. The Franks breach the truce

Even when the campaigning season began in 1166 A.D., Manuel, aware that the Fatimids were weakened by internal conflict, ordered John Doukas Komnenos to refrain from prosecuting the war, likely to allow them to consolidate their conquests, to repair fortifications and, perhaps, to reinforce their taxed manpower. It is likely that they would only return to the conflict later in autumn, to avoid the worst of the Egyptian summer.

The Vizier, indeed, instead of taking the war against the infidels, marched against the Upper Nile, to quench the rebellion led by his nemesis Shāwar, who had campaigned during winter and pillaged a few towns still loyal to Cairo.

Damietta had been granted by Manuel Komnenos to Theodorich of Flanders - who accepted the Basileus as his suzerain, and now, in old age, had resolved to remain in the Orient, hoping to find in Jerusalem his place of final rest - while Tinnis was gifted to the Knights of the Orders of the Temple and of Saint Michael - as a demonstration of Manuel’s appraisal of their service in the protection of the pilgrims -, but the whole occupied territory of Egypt was formally annexed into the Empire, with the political seat being Alexandria. John Doukas Komnenos retained the political and military rule, now with the hitherto defunct title of "Exarch", and coins in these years were minted with the effigy of Basileus Manuel.

Now, in reward for their assistance and allegiance, Manuel partitioned the revenues collected from rural estates and urban settlements among his allies, both the Latinikon of his guard and the Latin-Levantine nobles, and even a few Hungarian gentry-men, who, having recently been deposed and dispossessed by King Stephen III, endeavored to find their fortunes in Egypt, under the leadership of Constantine Kalamanos. This system, unlike that of Europe, characterized by proprietary domain of the land, simply incorporated the practice of tax farming adopted by the Saracens, named iqta. The Franks, who had absorbed the same practice in the Outremer, accepted the rewards, and it seems that they did not expect any actual land grants, which might have been the arrangement proposed by Manuel before the expedition was initiated. In spite of these grants, the Franks resented the fact that the Rhōmaîon autocrat had prohibited them from indulging in plunder and looting, so as to preserve the goodwill of the local Coptic and Ismaelite communities.

Now, we must explain that Franks of the Outremer, whose army had been mostly disbanded in the end of the previous year, once again mustered in Palestine and marched into Egypt, seeking to obtain plunder. When they found out that Manuel had refused to prosecute the campaign, they grew restless, believing that there was no purpose in preserving peace with the enemies of the faith, unless after their complete subjugation.

Now, they knew that, in the previous year, the Genoese and the Anconitans had ransacked the ports of Libya, known to the ancients as "Cyrenaica". These towns, such as Barca [Arab: Barqah], made prosperous by commerce and by industry, had been easy prey, distant as they were from the center of power in Egypt, fell easily to the arms of the attackers and suffered various indignities, such as enslavement of their inhabitants and the depredation of their mosques. The Venetians, who had not participated in the action, became envious of the riches accumulated by these Genoese and Anconitan adventurers, and made common cause with Raymond of Caesarea, who desired more plunder for himself and for his brothers-in-arms.

Their greed, however, made them fall to the allure of other riches, which they believed were hoarded in the golden palace of the Caliph. As the years passed, ever since they first came to Egypt, many tales would be disseminated about the proverbial “treasure of the Pharaohs”, a mythical deposit of precious metals and gemstones hidden in a city made of gold. The legend was to become famous in both Asia and in Europe during the 13th Century, and confounded with the Biblical tradition; according to it, the second son of the Pharaoh who had freed the Hebrews from Egypt, seeking vengeance against them for the ten plagues, exacted tribute for every one of his subjects and accumulated a vast treasure, with which he intended to pay the largest army ever seen, to march into Israel and once again enslave the Hebrews. Before he came to do it, however, God had poisoned the gold and the young Pharaoh became bloated and died, thus ending his lineage. The Franks believed that such fabled treasure would be confined in the halls of the palace in Cairo.

So it came to pass that, still in 1166 A.D., the Rhōmaîoi received, in Alexandria, heralds from Shāwar. This lord of the Saracens, being of an opportunistic and dishonorable disposition, sent to the Greeks, promising to share the land of Egypt with them, if they were to violate the truce and march against Cairo. While his rhetoric to obtain the support of the Bedouin tribes in Upper Egypt and in the western deserts involved the promise of jihad against the infidels, his obscure objective was, in fact, the overthrowing of the Caliphate itself; he saw that the Fāṭimīds would inevitably fall, if not by the hands of these infidels, by that of another, stronger conqueror, and he believed himself to be the worthier candidate.

Surprisingly, however, John Doukas Komnenos, after consulting with the Basileus, refused the offer, and honored the truce. It is likely that, while Manuel genuinely desired to preserve his honor and dignity, he was more concerned with practical considerations: the soldiery had suffered with epidemics and deprivation during the war, and he was now determined to campaign against the Sicilians and the Hungarians, and very much needed a respite in the Levantine theater, in which he might have intended to resume operations only in early or middle 1167 A.D.. It is even likely that he realized that it was better to have the Caliphate divided to be more easily conquered, instead of united under a single strongman.

Now, it is true that Shāwar was as clever as he was deceitful, and, seeing no use in dealing with the more honorable Rhōmaîoi, he sought to confabulate with the Dukes of the Franks, knowing very well that they were of a different disposition. To Prince Raymond - who had then already returned to Caesarea -, the promises were even grander: he would grant fabulous amounts of gold and silver, and spices and horses, to them, and the whole of the coast of Egypt in the Red Sea.

While the promises might have been too far-fetched, the Franks, driven more by arrogance, believing that they could exact from him such demands, now that Egypt was seemingly on the verge of ultimate conquest, were entranced by them. It is impossible to understand the real motives for them to accept the proposal of the Ismaelite belligerent. It seems that the Latin-Levantines were convinced by Raymond, and, indeed, his personality and demeanor suggest that he held a grudge towards Manuel, having likely been incensed by his intervention during the campaign against the Normans, and now did not see fit solely for the Basileus to claim the laurels of victory; perhaps he had realized that it was in the interest of the Rhōmaîoi to keep the leadership of the Outremer divided; or, it is possible that he sought to obtain leverage against him.


To avoid detection, this army of the Franks, going from Damietta, moved up the Nile course along the Phatnitic distributary, as far as Busiris, a town situated near the derelict city of Leontopolis. Crossing the river (Sebennetic distributary), they went by the ancient Roman road connecting it to where the former bishopric of Andropolis had been, now a ruin as well. Now going along the Canopic branch of the Nile, they went directly to Cairo, unimpeded. The speed of their movement, which took them in but a few days from the Mediterranean to the palace of the Caliph, suggests that Raymond had picked a more mobile force of cavalry - likely his own retainers and those of his allied Counts, as well as the Templarian sworn-brothers, and Syrian and Turcopole light cavalrymen, to attempt to surprise the Fāṭimīds by going directly through their defensive lines. It is very much possible that he had received important intelligence about the most favorable venue to attack Cairo, likely from Shāwar or other collaborators.

A rare eye-witness source of the campaign is the Chanson d’Egipte, by the French trouvère Guiot of Provins, who had come to the Levant attached to the retinue of Yves of Nesle, Count of Soissons, who, himself, came as a companion of Theodorich of Flanders. Yves and his French vassals returned with Manuel to Europe in 1165 A.D., and participated in the war against the Hungarians, but it seems that Guiot remained in Egypt for the remainder of the war, now employed by Simon of Montfort, Castellan and Provost of Emèse. In this song, it is told that the Franks opted to travel during the night, disguised as tradesmen and preachers, in various separate groups, and they rendezvoused near Giza, whereupon they firstly saw the ancient Pyramids. Guiot’s work would become widely popular in Europe, especially in France, and it contains detailed description of the pyramids, which, according to a legend believed by the Crusaders, were granaries constructed by Moses to store food for the exodus from Egypt.

Only when they arrived in al-Fusṭāṭ did the Franks reveal themselves, and after a day of fighting they defeated and submitted the Sudanese soldiers that formed the garrison of the city. They were likely aware about the fact that the majority of the soldiers that might have been dedicated to the defense of the Caliphal palace were situated further north, in the fortress of Babylon, and so the Christians immediately moved to assail it, perhaps hoping to capture the Caliph himself - referred, by allegory, in contemporary poetry as “Pharaoh”.

It is worth mentioning another vulgar legend, which seemingly inspired one of the fables of Reynard the Fox, tells of a Lorrainese sergeant that climbed up the walls of the palace in the dark of night and, disguised as a guardsman, in a black veil, entered its premises and stole the gilded robe used by the “Saracen king” during his bath; naked, he was forced to dress himself with the clothes of a woman.

Entrance in Cairo, however, was denied by the hardened slave-guards of the Caliph, who, in spite of their numerical inferiority, were formidable fighters. After some attempts, the Franks gave up, possibly expecting that the army in Babylon and in Bilbeis would arrive to succor the beleaguered Ismaelite suzerain, and instead they spread out across the whole nearby country, indulging in plunder and mayhem, in the manner of jackals.


The Franks remained at large, in the heartland of Egypt, for almost three consecutive months, even in the height of winter, living off the land and preying upon the hapless peasantry. They were chased by the Turkish mamluks employed by the Vizier, but the fact that they had broken their ranks made pursuit difficult. It wasn’t until January 1167 A.D., when the Franks reunited further south, in the region of Fayyum, near Lake Moeris [modern Qarun Lake], that the Saracens could do battle with them. It seems that Raymond and the Latin-Levantine counts were cornered in the oasis, perhaps expecting to meet with Shāwar, who was seemingly coming from Asyut due to the north. We do not know if Shāwar was actually late or if he deliberately calculated for their adversaries to do battle on their own, but, as it came to pass, the Christians, now outnumbered, entrenched themselves in a fishing village on the side of the Lake.

The vengeful Ismaelites harassed them with their usual archery tactics, but avoided melee, and only fell upon their line when they flanked their line. The Franks, pressured, were encircled and decisively defeated. Prince Raymond was slain in the engagement, but those who capitulated did not fare better; desirous of exacting revenge for the aggression, the Saracens humiliated and slaughtered most of them, from the counts to the knights alike, sparing only the Templarians, in recognition of their respectful and honorable treatment of Muslim pilgrims. Grandmaster Gerard of Aigremont - a Burgundian aristocrat related to the family of Pope Stephen X -, was made prisoner, but then nonetheless released under a vow of honor, having pledged to raise funds to pay for the ransom of his brothers. The mistreatment of noble prisoners demonstrates, however, an entirely hostile posture of the Ismaelites towards the Franks, certainly as retaliation for their destructive actions in the region of Cairo.

Now, this unexpected triumph of the mamluks, instead of bolstering the Vizier’s reputation, instead jeopardized it. These slave-soldiers, proud of their victory, proclaimed their own captain, a certain Fakhr ad-Din al-Aymak al-Ghazi [Latinized Facrilidinus], to be the champion of the Caliphate, and he promptly entered in Cairo and demanded from Caliph al-ʿĀḍid li-Dīn Allāh a honor; he was then granted the honorific title of al-Malik al-Afḍal (“most excellent king”).

Al-Ḍirghām, discovering about this, realizing that he had been deposed, and predicting his own assassination, quickly abandoned Bilbeis, with only a handful of followers, and spirited himself away to Al-Qusayr [OTL El-Qoseyr], the principal harbor of the Red Sea coast. There, he welcomed the arrival of a thousand Yemeni mercenaries, whose service he had acquired in the middle of the year, and entrenched himself in resistance against the new Vizier, al-Aymak al-Ghazi.

The ascension of al-Aymak initiated a new phase of the war, in which the Saracens organized a counteroffensive.

VII. The Mamluks Take the Reins of the War

Al-Aymak, the mamluk warlord, mustered an army and, by the summer of 1167 A.D. and committed himself to retake Alexandria. By then, the position of the Rhōmaîoi was fairly secure; they had constructed various holdouts in the region surrounding Alexandria, using timber from Anatolia and Bulgaria and even stone debris from nearby ruins, and convinced many of the Coptic peons to join their cause; prohibited from holding weapons for centuries, they were not accomplished warriors nor soldiers, but once outfitted with crossbows, spears and shields, and sat atop the walls of these towers, they formed a formidable deterrent against an army bent on assaulting Alexandria.

As the former Vizier had done, al-Aymak simply bypassed the other settlements that had pledged allegiance to Manuel, seeing that they lacked any strategic significance whatsoever, and instead invested against actual military targets. The army at his disposal was largely composed of professional soldiers, headed by the mamluks, but including the palatine guards, the Sudanese and Bedouin auxiliaries. He had conscripted levies to prosecute the sieges, but did not lead them into the field of battle.

Now, the Saracens brought their own machines to overcome the defenses constructed by the Christians, and, perhaps in retaliation to their constant use of the Greek Fire, employed their own incendiary devices of naphtha, to demoralize the enemy. By the month of October, they were encircling Alexandria, having suppressed other rebellious elements in the western branch of the Nile. Their violence was directly mainly against Copts - and this period witnessed several martyrdoms, the most notorious one being that of the “children of Xois”, twelve teenagers allegedly crucified by the Saracens after having participated in the defense of a tower constructed in a nearby grotto - but also Armenians and Jews.

Notwithstanding the acts of violence, the Rhōmaîoi remained steadfast and, when put to siege in 1167 A.D., they received reinforcements from Genoa and Pisa, and also from Greece, numbering in many hundreds of men-at-arms, and successfully repelled various assaults by the Muslims. On the other hand, the besiegers repulsed two attacks launched by the Franks coming from Damietta, and put to death all prisoners captured during these encounters.

Manuel himself had returned briefly to Egypt in June, coming by sea, with more reinforcements, but left after a short stay, going back by the way of Cyprus. At the time, the Sicilians, while committing most of their efforts to conquer Epirus and Greece, apparently had a fleet operating in the eastern Mediterranean, whose objective was raiding coastal towns and disrupting commerce. Apparently, they had been welcomed by Count Bohemond III and were using Tyre as a base to raid the more vulnerable provinces of the Empire, mainly Cyprus and the Cibyrrhaeots.

In Alexandria, even if encircled by land, the defenders could be supplied by sea, and, when the year came to its end, al-Aymak desisted from the siege.

Fortunately for him, he had obtained a significant victory in the later part of the year, when the Bedouin chieftain Kanz al-Dawla captured Shāwar and surrendered him in chains, to be immediately executed. Al-Aymak then turned from the Nile Delta to Upper Egypt, and, assisted by the Banu Kanz the fierce Turkish champion launched a punitive expedition against the Makurians, in retaliation for raids they had been undertaking since 1166 against the mosques and rural estates in the region, and also against the Bedouins inhabiting the western oases, who refused to accept his ascension to the Vizierate.


In 1168 A.D, with the coming of spring, al-Aymak endeavored once again to expel the Franks from Egypt, and this time he came for Damietta, aware that the Latin-Levantine army had departed to Palestine to face an invasion of the Sicilians, led by none other than the deposed Bohemond II. Now, there were many Franks in Damietta, whose holder was Matthew of Alsace, Theodorich's son, who assumed the defenses after his father went to Jerusalem in the beginning of the year. Matthew came to Egypt accompanied by a host of Flemish and Frisian Crusaders, and they were ready to fight against the Fāṭimīds.

Once again, the fact that the city could be supplied by the sea prevented starvation, and they received assistance from the Venetians, who had acquired half of the city of Damietta as a colony, but casualties amounted over the course of the following months after various attempts of the Saracens of storming the fortifications. Their manpower was seemingly endless, and the situation of the defenders became dire, even more so because they could scantly hope for reinforcements.

Then, Matthew's surprise, the Saracens in the month of August simply raised camp and abandoned the siege, to no little celebration of the Franks. He then moved west, once again to Alexandria.

As it happened, al-Malik al-Aymak received heralds from Cyrenaica, telling him about the arrival of a large host of Berbers coming from Tripolitania, allegedly numbering in more than forty thousand horsemen.

Their commander was Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf, the self-proclaimed Almohad Caliph, one who had recently made himself the master of the whole of the Maghreb, from beyond the Atlas range to Tripolitania. The Almohads presented themselves as allies and brothers to the Fāṭimīds, to protect the House of Islam against the infidels, and they readied their spears and sabers to fight the Christians, starting in Alexandria.

Unbeknownst to the Fāṭimīds, their ultimate and secret purpose, however, was to conquer Egypt and to extirpate the Shi'ite heresy once and for all.

In the next chapter: Double trouble for the Byzantines and the Franks, with the Almohads joining the Fatimids. This convenient alliance, however, is not bound to last.


Notes and comments: It might seem strange the idea of the belligerents striking a truce in the middle of the war. But these occurrences were relatively commonplace in Medieval warfare. One example is Saladin's truces with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and other Crusaders before and during the Third Crusade, with Richard Lionheart. This can be explained by the fact that it was very expensive to maintain armies for long periods in campaign.

The simultaneous wars between Byzantium and Hungary and Sicily are historical, and happened in this very timeframe. It is impossible to correctly point out the "casus belli" for them, but both do seem like opportunistic attempts of Manuel's enemies of attacking him to save face from the humiliations he imposed to them. In this case, I figured that, with a large part of the army pinned down in Egypt, both William I and Stephen III would have even better reason to make their attempts.

Maio of Bari is an interesting historical character, even if many details of his life are obscure. IOTL, he should be dead already, but he was historically assassinated by a cabal of nobles inimical to (King) William, who produced a large-scale rebellion against his rule, one that came to almost depose him. ITTL, the revolt did happen, but it was much minor in scale - the circumstances that made it happen, such as the formation of the Kingdom of Sicily by Roger II and the support of the Papacy against the Norman monarchs - did not happen in the alternate TL, so it became more of a footnote in History. This means that Maio either never suffered an attempt against his life, or survived it unscathed. In any event, he was not particularly old, so I believed he could have lingered for some years more.

Most of the characters here are historical, excepting Al-Aymak, who is invented.

"Tortoises" did exist, even if they did not seem to be common in sieges, perhaps the effort simply wasn't worth it. But I thought it would be a nice touch to the story.

"Ismaelite" here is being used as a synonym of Semitic/Arab Muslims or of "Saracen", not necessarily those adepts of Shia Islam. It harkens to the old-fashioned idea that the Arabs, and Muslims by extension, descend from Abraham's son Ishmael.
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Given that Roman Latin relations are far better TTL is there any chance the Pope will excommunicate the Sicilians and Hungarians for their treacherous behaviour? The Romans are engaged against the prime infidels afterall.
Egypt seems to be having its own Deluge, and I imagine it will take years for it to recover its wealth. The coming of the Almohads is ominous for all concerned -- of all the Muslim polities (or movements at this point in their existence) of the age, they were by far the most zealous and proto-ideological, and I'm sure they'd brutalize the Jews, Shia and Christians of Egypt.

The Crusaders don't seem like they'll be much help any time soon, what with the flower of their leadership dead at the Battle of Lake Moeris. I wonder if the Pope will proscribe the Sicilians for warring against not only the Romans but the Jerusalemites -- where the Magyars can point to undoing a usurpation, the Sicilians can point only to naked avarice.

That all being said, perhaps other continental Europeans could be drawn in? The British Isles have been fairly uninvolved, and the Russians don't seem to be inveigled in any wars at the moment...
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What an excellent two-part starter that was! Looking forward to seeing how the front in Egypt develops. But you already know what's drawn my eye, friends.

Though I know the conflict mentioned in relation to William referred to that of the mid-1150s, I couldn't help but think of OTL 1149. The Hungarian conflict here is interesting to see manifest in a different way, following more in the style of the 1171 war, except instead of following the momentum presented by Venice, it's Sicily leading the charge this time. With Stephen IV imprisoned, potential release in limbo (and no mention of Béla [OTL III] as of yet), it's going to be interesting to see how things develop there and how the actions taken during this war may shape further happenings.

On Serbia though, I am actually not entirely sure how this impacts developments beyond OTL. Per OTL, following the 1164/65 Byzantine-Hungarian conflicts, Desa was deposed in 1165/66, with Wikipedia explicitly mentioning a small force being sent to capture him and send him to Constantinople, where he would be detained before being giving his oaths to Manuel in a public humiliation after being examined on his suspicious diplomacy with Hungary. A different source, this article, puts a bit of extra doubt on the specific timing of when all of this happened, and some speculation as to why. Given his track record though (which OTL, beyond the numerous shows of disloyalty [especially regarding Doclea], included the marrying of his eldest daughter to Vitale II Michiel's son Leonardo [of Ossero?], having envoys in Germany trying to ally with a German margrave by way of marrying off his second daughter [which angered Manuel], and refusing to return the appanage of Dendra which Manuel had granted him back in 1155 [atm assuming John began proceeding TTL in late 1154 with Manuel] when Uroš II was put back in power, before due to Desa coming to power after Beloš, declared Grand Prince by Manuel, handed power over Serbia to Desa in 1161/62), I imagine that developments will roughly follow as they did OTL if things go as they do, especially with ol' Stephen IV.

If events repeat so, perhaps we might see Manuel try and test Desa's incredibly questionable loyalty beyond just public humiliation in Constantinople, and rather than be permitted to spend his days in the area of Trebinje (where he presumably died in early 1166 according to Mavro Orbini), perhaps instead the Emperor decides to put the one-time Serbian crusader to use (age withstanding, of course, whatever it may be).
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Interestingly enough, Siwa resisted Islamization and remained predominantly Christian until the 12th century. Speaking of which, control of Egypt means that the flow of Arab tribes into North Africa will end. Maybe we'll get greater Arab migration to Somalia and Eritrea.
What a chaotic war! Both the leading christian and islamic powers are dealing with wars with coreligionists while the crusade is on. Manuel seems to be doing better, but mostly due to dealing with external threats rather than internal rivals. Interesting to see that breaking the truce ended so poorly for the crusaders.

I can see the Sicilian prince being quite alone against any potential Byzantine reprisals, quite possibly excommunicated and declared persona non grata in central Italy.
Also are the Venetian city-states going to make a permanent presence in Cyrenaica? The Byzantines will no doubt have their hands full with Egypt proper.