Our Fractured Crown: An Eastern Roman Timeline (1078 - Onwards)

Introduction - Explanations
"I am forced to force those whom I do not wish to force," - Isaac Komnenos.
Before we move into this period of history, and the timeline I will be crafting around it, there are many things we need to address on it and it's functionalities. Some are small, some are large--and will directly impact how I handle this timeline.

The reason for this 'introduction', before we get into the meat of things, is that much of what I'm about to present to you isn't common knowledge--and required years of learning and study for me to fully grasp; in this I hope to impart some of this onto you.
[1] The Komnenian Restoration was a true and great restoration of the Empire - This both is and isn't true. In notion the efforts of the Komnenoi--notably that of John II Komnenos, were great. They turned an Empire with empty coffers, lacking territory and an imploding social situation into a powerhouse that made the Mediterranean look over once more for the first time in 50 years. That is not something to scoff at; however the facts are the facts--despite all this, in functionality however the economy was always one twist away from crumbling, and under the reign of the Komnenoi--especially under Manuel I (whom I consider a rather mediocre Emperor when you place his accomplishments together)--it would be that the adynatoi (rural poor) as a class would be crushed, and the overbearing nobles of the dynatoi would fill in this void; turning the Empire gradually towards feudalism. Despite all this, the golden age years of John II are noted by scholars as a time when all these issues were; "almost invisible".

[2] The Romans lost Anatolia in it's near entirety - According to most maps you find on the time of Alexios I's reign, before the 1st Crusade, you will see all but Trebizond as lost to the Empire. This, when combined with the way the events are described in most texts, gives us a rather grim and untenable picture where the Seljuks were right at the gates of the Empire from almost the outset. In truth it's a lot more complicated; Anatolia was rather fractious--with the Turks being given cities for one reason or another (usually to cultivate them as mercenaries by rogue generals) over and over again as a sort of release valve as things began to break down in the Balkans. By the time Alexios firmly had himself as Emperor and he and his family began to rework the internals of the Empire the Romans held Trebizond and most of the West Anatolian coast. Cities who maintained their garrisons and had a small navy for themselves along the coast did quite well in maintaining themselves as Roman possessions. It is this that allowed Alexios to effectively turn his back to Anatolia for 15 years to deal with the Normans and Pechenegs without his entire right flank collapsing on him; he still had a sliver of land to act as a buffer.

[3] Artistry - Art is an impressive and beautiful thing; especially the mosaics and scripture pieces that survive into this day. However, the rather funny thing is that research into the figures they represent digs up the fact that they are inaccurate in most cases. Most art we find of figures such as Alexios I Komnenos at this stage show them with olive skin and black hair and uncoloured eyes--which isn't true. Alexios himself was a redheaded man with piercing eyes according to Anna's repeated descriptions--his red hair noted as curly; often getting dirty in battle often due to its textures. I'll be playing with this notion a lot in this TL--as the Romans themselves aren't just a single ethnic group--but multiple ones with wide ranging skin tones, hair and eye colours--and it is often surprising how often you find notes of European born Romans with pale skin and unique hair colours--such as red beards or curly dirty blonde locks.

[4] Things will be slow - Many people I meet just getting into this timeperiod don't quite understand the pace of things within this period; which I find rather odd considering the way the dates are presented. The Komnenian efforts were a slow slug as they were first forced to dig their claws into the Balkans and then gradually push against the Turks in Anatolia--even with the momentum from the 1st Crusade. Many early blunders (which will be touched on in the next point) saw things drawn out longer than needed--and further intrigue (especially from the Crusaders) made efforts even harder. While the pacing will be slightly faster, as Artemios doesn't quite make the same mistakes as Alexios himself did (although he will make mistakes, count on that), there is simply no way to avoid the chessboard warfare the Komnenoi and Seljuks indulged in--taking land inch by inch, fort by fort--only for it to reverse and start again.

[5] Alexios was not a good Emperor, until he became one - One of the most interesting things I first learned about Alexios was that he was rather young when becoming Emperor; in context you have to understand that he conquered the throne with the aid of his family at this age--he wasn't born into it as effectively every other young Emperor was. Alexios himself was a man with skills, yes, but he lacked the experience needed to govern. In fact he relied on both his mother and brother heavily--his mother for her near-impossible skill with intrigue and manipulation which had laid the groundwork for everything in the first place, and his brother Isaac for said brother's experience in administration and the like due to Isaac's appointments as governor of Antioch. Alexios himself was supposed to be the military Emperor who led the Empire in its time of need while his family played the efforts at home--instead his inexperience saw the Empire's armies decimated and the natural core of native troops that the Empire relied on laid to waste. Alexios saw the Empire's guts finally torn out; leaving it a half-dead body grasping at the air--and yet what made Alexios great was that his steel-like will refused to let him give up. For 15 years he dragged along this half-dead body; stuffing its guts back in moment by moment as he led the victories that gradually clawed back control of the Balkans and gave the Empire a position to reconquer Anatolia from. I think that is the truly impressive thing about Alexios and his reign; while he had every indication that this was it for him and his people he refused, and simply kept on going and going. I want to address this with both Artemios and Alexios.

[6] Nothing is simple - This whole period is one of interesting notions; that much is obvious. Everything surprisingly hinges on a collection of outright unforeseeable events such as Alexios' rise to power, the fact that the Romans managed to stop stabbing themselves for a long enough moment to regroup, and that the Turks in Anatolia even managed to cobble together a state. Each has their own reasons--but the most interesting thing for me is the final point; the Seljuks themselves weren't Turkish tribesmen as their Turkish brethren in Anatolia were--they were exiled nobility. It was the Seljuks and their vision that first began to pull the Turkmen in Anatolia into statehood--as they had the vision to form a base of power to protect themselves from the Seljuk Empire itself to the Middle East. The funny thing is, the final push that solidified them was when the Seljuk Empire's Sultan, Al-Nasir, offered to aid Alexios in crushing the Turks in Anatolia because he saw them as a threat to his own rule--only asking that Alexios in turn ensure that Antioch and the like were handed to him. This 'threat' allowed Suleiman to rally his Turks in Anatolia--and prove enough of a hitter to, for lack of a better word, bitchslap Al-Nasir into backing off. This would have the affect of leaving a much harder job for Alexios and the Crusaders, and especially Alexios' descendants, when it all came to it. I'll enjoy playing with this dynamic, I'm sure.
Getting the sense that Artemios will fulfil much more of the traditional “Emperor” responsibilities whilst freeing up Alexis to be a full time general without any additional baggage. Provided Komnenoi remain loyal it sounds like a more potent combination.
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The next update will either happen really late today (April 19th, GMT+2), or the following day.

I'm currently working on family trees to the point of 1181; roughly a century from the starting point. The groups who're getting family trees for sure as of now are the Argynoi, Komnenoi, but I'm open to suggestions and the like as well as quick deep-dives if you feel you have something to add!
Well, you have to revive one for my, by far, favourite eastern Roman surname, if that even was a familial name and not a nickname.

Michael Lachanodrakon, the Cabbage Dragon.
Introduction - 2 - State of the Roman Army
"We are in such a state that we must ask our western brothers for men, likely those who fight for coin, to ever have a chance," - Alexios Komnenos, Sebastokrator, on the state of the army following the brutal loss at the Battle of Dyrrhachium.

It is not hyperbole to say that the army of the Eastern Romans, by this point, is hanging on by threads--all simply waiting to be cut. Surprisingly, the notion of Manzikert being a shattering battle wasn't because it damaged the army in any major way; instead it was how it damaged the Roman thought process. In the progress of the battle the Romans turned on each other; and spent so much effort putting their own knives into each others backs that the Turks simply had to press down on the hilt to lay it all out.

Near all the Roman army escaped Manzikert, but the continued infighting and refusal by the core generals to work together resulted in mounting casualties over the years until all that remained of major forces in Anatolia where two blocks of troops--those led by Alexios and his relative Nikephoros (this is obviously altered in this TL to there being three; with Artemios' army being the third). It was such that Alexios, himself a young man, had been ingulfed in war for most of his life--a running battle through Anatolia, which forced him to the forefront of the military as its supreme commander.

So small was the surviving native core troops that Alexios himself had under his command that when the city of Constantinople was taken and sacked through bribery by Alexios that the Emperor-to-be had to wait patiently as his forces were outnumbered by the roughly 5,000 strong Varangian Guard.

In this we have to explain why there was such a steep drop in the armies fighting capacity--besides the obvious continuous attrition caused by the multi-prong civil war that wiped out whole aspects of the army; including the garrisons of whole cities. The predominant reason was the loss of supply in terms of equipment to the army.

The Empire itself held together such a professional army not just through continued tempering--as was done by the Conquest Emperors of Nikephoros II, and John I as well as Basil II, but also through a complex but functional system of production which saw warehouses throughout the Empire filled to the brim with armour and arms which were then payed for by stock-choice by the army through the use of a portion of their pay.

It won't surprise you to find out that most of these were in Anatolia; notably around mustering locations such as Ankyra and Caesaria, and thus they would be taken and put to use by the Turks--robbing the Romans of needed supplies.

Of course, besides all this, it was simply the fact that the army itself was no longer staffed with well-trained and drilled personnel; instead only the very core was, the rest were newly drawn recruits that would take at least 2 years to become hardened by battle, rather than single year through training and battle both.

Such was the decline of the army that when Alexios led it against Robert Giscard and his son Bohemond at the Battle of Dyrrhachium that the entire core of the army; it's elite cavalry--alongside almost every Varangian, were killed. I cannot overstate the impact of this. The closest equivalent that comes to mind is the hyperbolic note that the English destroyed the French 'Flower of Chivalry' at Agincourt due to how many knights and great men were brought down. Yet this is the truth; thousands of men--each of them in units with a direct military ancestry to those same units who fought for the United Empire under Constantine the Great--were dead and gone. Their traditionally learned skills, tactics and motives were snuffed out with them. Their unit names, standards and the like would never be noted or used again.

This would force Alexios to cobble together a force from scratch--and continuously smash it into the Norman and Pechenegs until it gained enough of a bloodied nose and hard chin to win.

Such is a fate that I'll have to write out, at least in part, for this TL.
Loving this so far! Really appreciate the historical background you've included as well to start things off.
Introduction - 3 - How did we get here?
"Had one event played out of tune we might not have suffered through this long yet obvious decline," Eudokia Makrembolitissa
The path towards the coup against Nikephoros III Botaneiates, and the installment of Artemios I Argynos is one that needs to be noted before we even begin; as it is a confusing web of notions and events that will constantly sit in the background otherwise.

The obvious place to begin would be with Constantine IX Monomachos; the Emperor in which the Empire truly began it's decline despite all his attempts to keep it together. In his tenure we see the beginnings of everything that begins to tear away the stitching of the Empire; Turkish raids, wars with the Pechenegs and that ever insidious killer--currency debasement.

On his death bed Constantine IX tried to dig around for a skilled general to elect as his successor--as the Empire clearly needed someone of such a skillset; who would likely be austere enough to also patch up the currency. In this, as he died, he was overruled by his female co-ruler Theodora (who was the niece of Basil II)--who placed Michael VI Bringas as Emperor. Bringas was an old man--and one without gravitas--so it was no surprise when the charismatic and skilled Isaac I Komnenos took the throne away from him in 1057 following a riot in his favour within Constantinople itself.

Isaac I himself was a skilled and just Emperor who made obvious and clear attempts to fix the Empire's issues--being able to stonewall any attempts at invasion in the East as well as crushing the Hungarian and Pechenegs and their attempts against the Empire; but his sudden and heavy decline in health forced him to abdicate and pick a successor. In this he chose his friend, who was himself also a skilled general, Constantine X Doukas. It was clear that Isaac himself wanted Doukas to continue his reforms and efforts--however Doukas proved a lazy and uncaring .

Under his watch the Empire was smashed by the Seljuks in Anatolia--and the Hungarians once more rose up to occupy territory in the Balkans--notably Belgrade. As his health declined Doukas decided to give one last insult to the world by demanding that only his son succeed him--as well forcing his wife Eudokia to vow she would never remarry. His death in 1067 should have been the end of the crisis.

Eudokia would break this nonsensical vow though and marry the charismatic and skilled Romanos IV Diogenes; a man utterly determined to push on and save the Empire. In this he almost succeeded; pushing heavily against all the Empire's enemies and leading a campaign against the Turks in Anatolia. The first day of battle in what would become known as the Battle of Manzikert was a Roman success--as if the tide was turning.

Then, during the night, a Doukai led party attacked, and the Romans fought each other--Roman against Roman--while the Turks were right across the field. They killed each other; and the Turks simply had to finish the job. While most of his army survived and fled, Romanos was imprisoned by the Turks--and deposed in a coup by the Doukai while he was unable to defend himself. He would later be killed attempting to lead a counter-Doukai effort after being released from his imprisonment in 1071.

This coup previously mentioned put Michael VII Doukas, the son that Constantine X had tried to demand be put on the throne, as Emperor of the Romans--and in this he proved another failure. So famous was his failures, notably his massive debasement of the currency, that he is remembered by the nickname 'Parapinakes', or 'Minus a Quarter'. It is no surprise that he was soon met with two simultaneous rebellions--one led by Nikephoros Bryennios, noted as the best known tactician in the Empire at the time, and the other by Nikephoros III Botaneiates.

Bryennios was a skilled soldier, but a poor politician, and his efforts against his own people to gain the throne so ruined their opinion of him that he was forced to flee into Thrace which would allow Botaneiates to take the throne in 1078 after deposing Michael VII. Bryennios would later be defeated, and blinded, by the forces of Alexios Komnenos and Artemios Argynos in the Battle of Kalavrye. The sad truth of this event is that Alexios himself was forced to suppliment his army by bringing in Turkish mercenaries; he'd brought in Turks to kill fellow Romans.

And this is where we are left now; with Alexios and Artemios at the capital, with events to transpire onwards.
Hey I’m wondering if you are going to update this timeline soon. It has been awhile. I liked your previous one and I truly hope you continue this one.