I: The Wars of Justinian
EAGLES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
I: The Wars of Justinian
I: The Wars of Justinian
In mid-September of the fateful year 533 AD, the future of the Roman Empire was decided a mere 10 miles from the city of Carthage, ironically a place where the Romans had asserted their dominance over the Mediterranean many times in the past.
It was over half a century then that barbarian kings had ruled over Roman lands and Roman people who lived on them. Having settled at the turn of the decade a peace treaty with age-old rival Persia, one that seemed to have lasting potential, Emperor Justinian I of the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantium, though the east continued to call themselves Rhomania) turned his gaze to the ideal of Renovatio Imperii: reunification of the Empire. The daunting but noble task was to be spearheaded by the Prodigal Son of Byzantium, the famed general Flavius Belisarius, who had been instrumental in holding back the massive armies of the Sassanid Persians in the Iberian War and securing peace. The Emperor, his council, and the people of Constantinople had high hopes for Belisarius’ expedition to North Africa, a venture that was sure to leave a positive mark on Justinian’s reign following the horrors of the Nika Riots and the war in the east.
Since the fall of Rome, North Africa had been established as the Kingdom of the Vandals and the Alans, Germanic tribes responsible for the sack of Rome in 410. The Vandals not only threatened the Roman order in the vital province of Egypt should they have sought to expand further, but they occupied the perfect region for staging an invasion of the Italian peninsula through Sicily.
Landing on the coast south of the city, Belisarius commanded a force believed to be up to 20,000 men and made his way north before encountering the Vandalic armies at the ten mile marker outside the city.
The battle initially went poorly for the Vandals, falling victim to the charge of the Hunnic mercenaries hired by the Byzantines. When the Byzantine vanguard under the command of John the Armenian overran the forces of Vandal prince Ammatas, killing him, it seemed possible that the Vandals would lose the battle. Upon finding the body of his brother Ammatas, King Gelimer chose to retreat to Carthage rather than continue trying to engage the seemingly overwhelming forces of his enemy. The contemporary historian Procopius believed that a continued engagement could have meant defeat for the Vandals in the pivotal battle, but their withdrawal saved them from complete disaster and gave them the upper hand. John, his vanguard, and the Huns, continued their advance on the city ahead of the retreating Vandals. The vanguard was overrun from behind by the approaching and numerically superior Vandal army, with John the Armenian being slain. With the Byzantine army sundered, Gelimer opted to reinforce Carthage and wait for reinforcements from Sardinia.
In the weeks following the initial engagement the Vandals moved on the offensive. The Vandal fleet successfully destroyed the enemy fleet, effectively trapping them in their war camp and severing any possibility of retreat or reinforcement. With his own reinforcements Gelimer moved out of Carthage and south once more to finish off the Byzantines, swaying the Hunnic mercenaries along the way to betray them and work for the Vandals. Belisarius failed as swiftly as he’d expected to succeed, and the untimely death of the great general came as his shattered forces attempted a beleaguered retreat to Egypt by land. The prodigal general’s death made Justinian’s plans for reconquest a great deal more difficult, and arguably the reason as to why the Emperor’s vision of a renewed Rome never came to fruition.
Yet, not completely deterred from his mission, and still in command of a number of fine generals, plans to invade Italy were changed, with an invasion route being plotted through the north-east of the Italian peninsula. The Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy had been a rising power since taking over the region, and posed another unneeded threat to the East. Justinian and his generals rightly believed their greatest challenge would be breaking through the Ostrogothic hinterlands of Dalmatia, but that the heart of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Ravenna would be a simple push once the eastern coast of the Adriatic was secured.
In the spring of 535, the arrest and execution of the Byzantium-aligned Queen-Regent of Italy, Amalasuntha, at the hands of the newly crowned King Theodahad gave Justinian the pretense to invade and restore order.
The Gothic military held Dalmatia tightly for a year before Byzantium captured the provincial capital of Salona and surrounding towns, whose pro-Byzantine populace welcomed the invaders. The city changed hands again, then once more before the Goths were pushed to Iadera.
In 539, seeking to take advantage of Italy while its forces were occupied, the Frankish kingdom pursued a short lived invasion repulsed by an outbreak of dysentery and the still strong Ostrogothic forces.
By 541 the Byzantine army had made a bit more headway and threatened to cross into Italy proper, having been significantly aided by the failed Frankish invasion.
When the Plague of Justinian, a predecessor to the Black Death, began to ravage Egypt, and then eventually the entire Mediterranean, Byzantium abandoned their gains in Dalmatia to their enemies and were forced to retreat in order to conserve resources vital to the empire's survival. The mass deaths at the hands of the plague, combined with the economic catastrophe it brought to the empire, meant the Gothic War, along with the possibility of reconquering Italy, was over. Though Italy was not spared from the plague, the former heart of the Roman Empire remained strong.
Welcome to my new TL! I've been wanting to get back into writing AH, and I've had the idea for this timeline kicking around in my noggin' for like 2-3 years. I'm glad I've finally found the words to write it with.