Our Fractured Crown: An Eastern Roman Timeline

An Author's Starting Word
"It is easier to find men whom are willing to volunteer themselves unto death, than those whom are willing to endure pain with patience," - Gaius Julius Caesar
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No, your eyes do not deceive you. Yes, I have returned, and yes this is an entirely new thread with the same name as the previous.

I'll prefix this by clearing the air on why I've been gone; in short--issues within my home country got in the way. Racially charged riots against fellow minorities here as well as the continued decline of infrastructure played their part in me feeling uncomfortable continuing to work on my works here for that time.

With that in mind you might be asking why I've made a new thread? Simply put, I'm not satisfied with the previous one--and with the previous one's setting. As you all well-know a writer must enjoy what they're writing to make good of it, and looking back on that threat the prospect of continuing it doesn't appeal to me.

I've always felt drawn to the last moments of the Empire--to figures such as Constantine XI Palaiologos, and the last chances the Empire had to survive and thrive. In this I've always cautioned myself to stay clear of this because it's also one of the most contested and debates aspects of Roman history on the forum; that last gasp of air before being silenced so viciously on the 29th May, 1453.

I've decided that I'm going to take a crack at it anyway--and the most obvious year to set the beginning of this new timeline of my creation is the 24th of May, 1328. Why this date? It is the date of the official ascension of Andronikos III Palaiologos--the last Emperor with any chance of saving the Empire; the last time the Romans had enough blood left to bleed to catch a breath.

Andronikos is interesting to me because he reminds me of Constantine XI in many ways; a man with the ability and drive to restore the Empire but simply not enough means at his disposal to do so. In better times they would have been amongst the lauded Emperors, but of course they never had that chance.

My goal with this timelines start is to smooth out the exact amount of rough edges Andronikos himself possessed to allow the Empire to survive--and survive in a way that allows it to slowly regain its strength.

Those who've been with me from the start of my first timeline well-know my opinion on the strengths and bounds of the Empire; I'm not someone who believes in this grand idea of a fully reconquered Middle East or the reclamation of Italy; the Near East is where the Empire is now. It will never directly control past Antioch ever again--the path to any sort of growth will be slow and steady; as that wins the race.

I hope those of you who've stuck with me will give me a chance with this timeline--and enjoy the groundwork I plan to lay in order to set the scene as it were. Please keep safe in this uncertain times, and enjoy yourselves.
 
State of the Empire, 1328
"Where else but Constantinople?" - A Simple Roman Proverb
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Before we begin a matter of perspective must be reached--because it is important that there is an understanding of the state the Empire is in within May of 1329, as well as the journey it took to get there.
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There are several points which are looked to by historians and the like for the definitive points of permanent decline for the Empire--each of which inherently causes territorial loss and the continued spiraling of the Empire; in this I'm going to first break down each major change point by point and then address the direct state the Empire finds itself in at our start date.

The Battle of Yarmouk - One of the most notorious on the list for obvious reasons. The loss of this battle resulted in the loss of the Levant to the invading Arabs and their new religion of Islam--as well as shattering the pride and moral Heraclius had so carefully recultivated in his backbreaking reconquest campaigns against the Sassanids. Yarmouk is famous for how badly the Romans lost--and how quickly it resulted in the loss of effectively all of the Middle East and Africa in short measure. Yarmouk left the Empire with a new permanent cap on its upper limits--one it would never surpass again even during resurgence.​

The Battle of Manzikert - Often looked at with the most scrutiny, the Battle of Manzikert showed every failing of the Roman state in a rather compact and easy to understand manner. Manzikert put on display the fact that at its worst the Empire fails to work together, where as many states naturally unite when hammered, the Romans tend to scatter, and in this case they stabbed themselves in the back and effectively allowed the Turks to walk over them.​
The end result of this battle was the destruction of Roman moral and pride once again--leaving them inherently fearful and flinching at the Turks until Alexios I Komnenos managed to hammer them back into shape--as well as the permanent loss of much of Anatolia; as the Turks came to settle and call it home shortly afterward. While many consider this the death knell of the Empire it inherently wasn't; as much of the lands taken weren't as valuable as those quickly regained, and there are arguments to make that at the beautiful heights created by John II Komnenos the Empire was about as strong as it had been directly after Basil II's death.

The main thing to note with the Battle of Manzikert and what followed was the loss of Roman flexibility. Even with the loss of the Middle East the Romans retained that historic ability to lose the battle but win the war; they had that much flex in them. With the loss of so much land, as well as pride, following Manzikert the Romans found themselves forced to rely on allies to cover their shortfalls--which would eventually directly result in the Fourth Crusade. By the death of Manuel I Komnenos the Empire was like steel--strong, but if bent too far would snap.​
The Fourth Crusade - Probably the most notorious on the list for what it represents, the Fourth Crusade is unique in that it was the book-end to a long decline--rather than an event which took a still tenable situation and made it much worse. The Fourth Crusade, while a product of Latin greed and inherent moral failure, was also the product of the Romans now well-established tendency to stab themselves in the back at the worst possible moment; as the Latin's wouldn't have even had the justifications they used for their disgraceful actions if an exiled Roman claimant hadn't effectively employed them to attack his own people.​
The major end results of the Fourth Crusade are also the most devastating; leaving Constantinople a shell of its former self, and leaving much of the Empire's core Greek territories in the hands of the Latin's--putting restraints on the power the Empire could muster when it restored itself to a semblance of power in 1261.

The Fourth Crusade is the effective backdrop for the starting date of this timeline--as its affects are all around the Empire still; Greece under foreign occupation, and Constantinople still not above 70,000 in population nor as beautiful.​
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As of 1328 the Empire is at the weakest its ever been--and such a weakness has its reasons. As of the start date the Empire has just ended a 7 year long Civil War which has left it with all the issues associated with a Roman Civil War; loss of legitimacy, economy and troops.

The most major of these is the economy--as the Civil War of 1321 - 1328 resulted in the large scale devaluing of the Roman currency, as well as the inherent loss of trade and thus resources caused by the strife within the state. To cap this off the Romans are looked at from four opposing angles; to the north-west by the Serbs, the north-east by the Bulgarians, south by the Latins and east by the Turks. The former two due to the fact that the Romans had directly involved them with the Civil War--as Romans tend to do; looking to get a leg up.

To add worse to worse the military of the Empire at this point is effectively filled with peasant militia and mercenaries alone--save a few scant professional units. Such a terrible combination is often seen as a major factor in the failings of the military--as many of the few successes managed by the Romans were due to generals such as Philes Palaiologos who refused to use these troops and instead mustered their own professional levies.

If the Empire is to have any chance at surviving it will need to navigate the complex political notions of the era as well as its military in a much different way--and in order to facilitate this Andronikos III himself must change just that little bit to accommodate this. Within this timeline Andronikos will be a man bearing both the guilt of the accidental death of his brother, and inadvertently his father, as well as the fact that his state is truly crumbling around him.

In order for Andronikos to make the impacts needed to save the state he must temper opportunism with foresight and lack the Malaria that would prematurely kill him and permanently destroy any chance the Empire had at surviving. This is what I'll need to tackle for the entirety of the first part of the timeline.
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I've loved your previous work and am happy to see you are back. But at the same time I'm sad to hear the reason behind your disappearance (*), one can only hope things will improve in the future.
 
Part 1; 1328 - Picking up the Pieces
"We have been neglectful fathers then," - Andronikos III Palaiologos upon seeing the full extent of the Empire's woes, attributed.


May, 1328

The War of the Two Andronikos', or the Roman Civil War of 1321 - 1328, had just ended. It was a measured end, which was surprising considering how long it'd dragged on and how both Serbia and Bulgaria had gotten involved [1]. All it had taken was Andronikos III to ride into Constantinople at the head of his larger force and youthful precession--and thereafter his grandfather was deposed and sent to a monastery.

Andronikos hoped he died quietly, and gave no cause for further civil strife.

The last days of the month were spent tying up loose ends that needed to be tidied; first amongst those loose ends was Syrgiannes Palaiologos; a distant relation of Andronikos and a former ally, turned enemy [2].

Upon a short-lived reconciliation between grandson and grandfather, Syrgiannes had been left out in the cold. Naturally Syrgiannes felt he'd been overtly shafted both ways--and endeavoured to become Emperor himself. Needless to say that when Andronikos II found out Syrgiannes was trying to find an appropriate spot to introduce a dagger to his back the elder Emperor imprisoned the upstart.

Andronikos III decided the fate of his former friend rather quickly; the upstart would be quietly gutted in his cell and his body disposed of. The Emperor wouldn't abide by traitors and flippants [3].

Amongst other loose ends included the rest of his family; namely his uncle's and aunt [4]. Both of his uncles, Constantine and Demetrios, had been opponents against him during the Civil War--and both had to be dealt with, especially Demetrios considering his ties to the Serbian court. Both were to be tonsured and made into monks--a move that received very little pushback from his supporters considering the fact that most of them were young aristocrats such as himself; with the Patriarch Isaias siding with Andronikos on the matter [5].

The true issue came in with Demetrios' wife and daughter. The wife herself wanted to join Demetrios in his monastic exile--something Andronikos was fine with; however the Emperor at that point began to push the idea of the whole family, including Demetrios' daughter Irene, going into monastic exile. Isaias himself was uncomfortable forcing a child into such a thing, and in the end Andronikos relented--allowing Irene herself to stay in court.
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June - August

An important note on the Imperial docket was the expanding famine and akin issues growing around Macedonia; something caused directly by the Civil War. The drawing of the militias had robbed the land of the men needed to work it--something Andronikos and his supports were now forced to rectify by disbanding the militias and allowing them to return home with whatever pay could be mustered; John himself paying out of pocket for many of these disbanded militiamen in a gesture of goodwill to his friend Andronikos.

This left Andronikos with only a meagre personal guard and whatever men could be mustered from Constantinople's population; but such a notion didn't matter much right now. What did matter was the Gasmouloi, the mixed race Romans of Latin-Roman relations. They'd become skilled sailors and loyal citizens under Andronikos' great-grandfather Michael VIII who had attempted to restore the navy to working order, but with Andronikos II's disbanding of the navy they'd turned into mercenaries for the Turks and Venetians, as well as pirates that plagued the Empire's trade routes.

It was John himself who organized the required pay in his capacity of Grand Domestic [6]--as Andronikos simply didn't have the mind for administrative duties. To this end, Alexios Apokaukos, another of Andronikos' supporters and friends, was put to the task of contacting and reorganizing the navy; using his connections as a Bithynian-born former humbler as the stepping stone.

By mid-July the Imperial Fleet was beginning to take shape again--if slowly, with many of the older hulls in the Imperial docks of Constantinople being refitted and recrewed by those Gasmouloi willing to serve the Empire. By this point however a new initiative was being undertaken by Andronikos with John's aid; the restoration of the coinage.

Due to the nature of the nature of the Civil War the Empire's coinage had been debased to make pay for the troops and akin by Andronikos II--this because Andronikos II himself controlled very little of the Empire's territory for much of the Civil War and thus had less income. This had had its affect though--as the debased coins had been circulated throughout what was left of the Empire in those 7 years and when combined with the ongoing famine and disrupted trade was causing an economic recession.

It was decided that whatever coins could be recalled right then and there would be--and that a coinage based on those made and used by the Venetians would be put together; the primary terms for these being the standard Hyperpyron for gold and Stavraton for silver coins. These reforms were carried by Alexios following his return--within his capacity as the effective chief of finances for the Empire.

In this time Alexios stimulated the local economy of Thrace with some low-level building projects; including a personal fortified tower in Selymbria, which he garrisoned with his retinue. All of this was done at the permission of Andronikos--as long as Alexios' tower and retinue were put to use if needed.

It was around this time, around the end of July, that Andronikos began to take up residence in the Botaneiates Palace--finding himself drawn to the baths and other amenities offered as well as the near-central location of the palace within Constantinople. It was a change that his wife Anna of Savory found displeasing at first, but eventually she would come around to the idea once it was clear Andronikos intended to continue staying there. It wasn't long before the Botaneiates Palace became known as the Palaiologian Palace.

By August Andronikos' mind began to focus on matters of war. Serbia was looking over ominously, and there were rumblings in the east of a Turkish nature. In this he, as a man who'd led his own troops in the Civil War, well-understood what a mess the Imperial forces were. They were naught more than farmboys with spears and shields thrust into their hands with some professional knights interspliced here and there.

While his retinue was a professional force of horsemen numbering roughly 150 men was a viable tool it was the simple truth that the Empire needed more trained men--men led by the Emperor directly to ensure their loyalty.

Andronikos took his time at first with this initiative--Alexios helping him pin down some viable recruiting spots around the capital's environs as well as within the capital; the Emperor slowly drawing in experienced hunters, trappers and militia men. Andronikos only allowed himself the barest budget needed--mustering enough to pay 4,000 men fairly; using the fact that the Palaiologian Palace had several rental properties to create 10 sectioned off barracks made up of multiple properties each; sectioning off his men into Droungos of 400 men each with a Droungarios leading each one. The whole unit of 4,000 would eventually come to be called the Hikanatoi; meaning 'Able Ones'--a name taken from an older, defunct, unit founded by Nikephoros I in the 9th century.

Their separation into separate barracks ensured they could never be united enough to pose a real threat to the Emperor, as well as creating a unit mentality that would instill in them a will to stick together; although this would take more time to manifest.

Their training was based on their previous experiences and latent talents; hunters and archer militiamen being trained as lightly armoured archers, trappers as medium armoured cavalrymen and the bulk of the former militiamen would be properly trained into heavy spearman.

The creation of such a force within the capital itself caused small bits of concern from his supporters--as there had been no major bodyguard force since the Latin capture of Constantinople and the death of the Varangians defending it, which had allowed the aristocrats to make extra money on the side by allowing their own retinues to police sections of the city in exchange for payment.

Andronikos bluntly waved them off with a firm warning, and the mood that followed was rather tense. Tense enough in fact that Andronikos threw himself into important matters of war further to distract himself. This would prove timely as messages from Michael III of Bulgaria would begin to flutter in asking for coordination of an invasion against Serbia--considering the Serbs seemed to be prepping themselves for war against the Bulgarians and Romans according to reports from Michael's border forts.

The date for a mutual invasion--one in which the two Emperor's would work together--was set for mid-1329 after some managed deliberations in which both John and Anna offered their own inputs on the state of things; although Anna's mostly boiled down to how much time Andronikos would be forced to take away from the capital.

With the month ending Andronikos made plans to depart from Constantinople with a portion of his Hikanatoi in order to tour the Empire's European territories and get an idea for what was going on. He'd put Anatolia off for later; after all, Europe was where he needed to focus.
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September - November

Andronikos and his chosen Droungos, the 6th, and its Droungarios Artemios, were ready to leave by late-early September--with the Emperor entertaining the idea of perhaps taking Anna along with him. However the former Italian found herself more drawn to refurbishing the Palaiologian Palace while Andronikos was too far away to counter her décor choices more appealing than marching up and down the Balkans.

The first city stopped at was Adrianople, the city in which Andronikos himself had ruled from as Co-Emperor as well as being the heart of his efforts in the Civil War. His stay there was brief; just enough time to pay service to the locals and pay respects to the local temples before moving off. The march from Adrianople made obvious the fact that the roads were becoming a problem due to years of neglect--something Andronikos would mark down for later.

His next major destination would be Thessaloniki--the city which had served as his powerbase in Macedonia during the Civil War. Its reputation as the second city of the Empire made it an important city to visit always, and Andronikos himself enjoyed the coastal airs, inspecting the harbours and akin before paying his respects to Saint Demetrios and departing. The position of Thessaloniki reminded him of how precarious things were; if Serbia were to successfully swing downwards Thessaloniki would be right in the path of a decapitating blow that could permanently strip the Empire of its European territories.

Moving southward Andronikos quickly got reports from Kastoria of raids hitting the Empire from Thessaly--a land controlled in part by the survivors of the Catalan Company that the Romans had betrayed decades ago; Latins, just as well as Romans, were slow to forget injustices [7]. Andronikos would measure his march before breaking his forces up into two halves--giving the other to Artemios to command; moving to stem the small raiding groups coming from the east while Artemios took the west.

The fact that Andronikos and his troops were already in the area allowed his troops to catch the Catalan's off guard--causing many to flee. Those that were captured would be forcibly resettled in sectioned groups away from each other along the south Balkans--their equipment taken and redistributed amongst the 6th Droungos when the two halves reunited at Kastoria by the near-end of October.

The Andronikos and his troops would rest in Kastoria for the rest of the month, before breaking camp and marching up into the borderlands between Epirus, Rome and Serbia. He couldn't help but think on the possible reconquest of Epirus from the Latins currently ruling it; to perhaps regain his sister's body. But he cautioned himself and instead spent the next half-month checking the forts along the mountains with Epirus, before arriving at the important border city of Ohrid to inspect its population and walls.

Ohrid was effectively the only major bastion between Thessaloniki and the grubby hands of the more and more expansionist Serbs--and Andronikos made sure to take his time there to ensure it was in proper order; even leaving behind bits of unneeded equipment to supplement the garrison of Ohrid before leaving.

The Emperor would take the long rout along the Serbian border on the way back--paying respects to the city of Philippopolis along the Bulgarian side of the Roman-Bulgarian border before pivoting back to Adrianople and then Constantinople.

His presence across what was left of the European part of the Empire ensured a settling stability in this regions, and made it clear that he was a Basileus intent on keeping his Empire intact. Andronikos arrived back at Constantinople around the 22nd of November, 1328.

December

December was consumed with rest for the Emperor and his men in the early days--before they were set back to drills to keep their hands busy while the Emperor reevaluated things with both John and Alexios. During his effective half-year touring, John had managed to clear up several disputes over rights in Constantinople for Andronikos--quietly cutting down former supporters of theirs to clear the board of possible aristocratic enemies considering the power the administration under Andronikos was trying to re-exert over the capital. Alexios on the other hand had been playing double duty; carefully managing the finances to balance the books and streamline what tax and trade income did come in [8] in order to pay for the navy's refit, the employment of the bureaucracy and the Hikanatoi--while also acting as the effective head of the Roman navy.

Much of the Blachernae had been stripped to furnish the Palaiologian Palace, with whatever couldn't be added being used to cover other expenses. Thus by the time of the Christmas celebrations the Palace had that womanly touch only a former Italian noble lady such as Anna could muster. Such a touch was enough to avoid Andronikos making too much of a fuss--and the reactions given by John, Alexios and Isaias were favourable.

But even as he enjoyed his Christmas, and then the scant few days following, all Andronikos could think on was one thing; Serbia.


[1] Serbia and Bulgaria each joined in on one side of the Civil War--Serbia with Andronikos II and Bulgaria with Andronikos III. The fact that Andronikos III had been the one to win the Civil War, and that Bulgaria had aided him, is considered the basis for the long lasting alliance between the Palaiologoi led Rome and Bulgaria.

[2] Syrgiannes had been one of the principal instigators of the Civil War for Andronikos III--alongside John Kantakouzenos, who was the now-sole-Emperor's closest friend. He'd turned to the opposing side when he felt like his contributions weren't being properly rewarded, and caused several issues for Andronikos.

[3] Andronikos in this timeline puts a lot more stock in personal loyalty and oaths between friends--as well as those between allies. The killing of Syrgiannes here avoids a headache for the Empire later.

[4] Andronikos III had no other real family to worry about; his brother Manuel had been killed in a misunderstanding by Andronikos' own retinue, and his two sisters had both been the consorts of Epirus and Bulgaria respectively--and with the elder Anna dying to sickness following the Orsini take over of Epirus, and Theodora still serving as the consort of Tsar Michael III of Bulgaria. Theodora herself was vital to the alliance and peaceful relations between the Romans and Bulgarians.

[5] Isaias was a known supporter of Andronikos III during the Civil War, and was even confined to selected quarters by Andronikos II because of this. His release by Andronikos III, as well as the musical precession he was given upon his return, endeared him to the young Emperor.

[6] Originally a military position known as the Domestic of the Schools, the Grand Domestic title was once held by those who were given supreme command over the Empire's army--second only to the Emperor. By the time of Andronikos III it has become the title used by what equates to the Steward; given supreme authority over the administration and the like of the Empire.

[7] The Catalan Company was a company of skilled mercenaries who had been involved in the Sicilian Vespers prior to their employment by Andronikos II. Andronikos II had employed them for the express purpose of retaking and reinforcing Anatolia from the constant Turkish efforts made against the Roman lands there. Led by their Captain, Roger de Flor, they won massive victory after massive victory and greatly stabilized the east for the Romans. The issues came in when Roger began treating Anatolia as a personal governorship--or at least that's what was claimed to Andronikos II, who would see Roger and most of his fellow companymen butchered in a betrayal at Adrianople by Andronikos III's father Michael IX. The surviving Catalans would sow deadly revenge across the entire Empire for years before retreating south to pledge their service to the Latins there; they've been a thorn in the size of Constantinople for decades.

[8] Despite what many think most of the Empire's funds came from taxations placed on the land and its renters--not trade. It was for this reason that Alexios I Komnenos was willing to part with tariffs for Venice--as it didn't take a massive chunk out of the Empire's income. What trade income did provide was access to easy liquidity--and allowed the Emperor to quickly make payments at any time; this is what was lost. By now the Empire's taxes and trade incomes have degraded down massively--with the biggest bites being taken by the Italian trading Republics and the Pronoia grants; which saw the taxes gobbled up by the landed aristocracy in-exchange for military service. The main source of taxes for the Empire now was on the land personally held by the Emperors--although all the land within the Empire was technically, and legally, the Emperor's the Pronoiars still held power over their domains.
 
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Interesting timeline. I wasn't familiar with the original, so this is new to me. I like the premise though, and am looking forward to see how it goes.
 
I've always felt the same that Andronikos III was the last chance for the Empire. Avoiding the 1341 Civil War would have been huge and while I do think the Empire was doomed after the 4th Crusade it's certainly plausible to see it survive to present day. Excited to see how this timeline pans out!
 
Looks like with Syrgiannes already dead the Romans will have more breathing room in Macedonia versus OTL. More room to go on the offensive versus Serbia then eventually Epirus and the rest of Greece?
 
Looks like with Syrgiannes already dead the Romans will have more breathing room in Macedonia versus OTL. More room to go on the offensive versus Serbia then eventually Epirus and the rest of Greece?
What effectively occurred OTL was that Syrgiannes managed to weasel his way back into favour with Andronikos and was later given what amounted to the governorship of the reclaimed Thessaly.

Syrgiannes would then betray Andronikos, and the Empire, again and side with the Serbian would-be-Emperor Stefan IV Dusan. This betrayal effectively allowed Dusan to bullrush Macedonia and take effectively everything but Thessaloniki; with Syrgiannes and Thessaly becoming a puppet region of Dusan's until the Ottomans effectively smashed the region up and took control.

Syrgiannes dying here effectively removes Thessaly being taken away from the Empire after it had just regained it--and removes the major momentum Dusan used to break Rhomania over his knee and steal its most important territories.
 
Nice, guess we’ll see some major divergences now.
Don‘t believe the battle of Pelekanon has happened yet so with a weakened Serbia perhaps the outcome in Asia minor can be avoided.
 
Nice, guess we’ll see some major divergences now.
Don‘t believe the battle of Pelekanon has happened yet so with a weakened Serbia perhaps the outcome in Asia minor can be avoided.
That occurs in June of 1329, where as the major battles with Serbia occur a year later in 1330. The Battle of Pelekanon is rather interesting in that a superior, and much larger, Roman force was defeated through a combination of factors that have already been addressed in the previous post. If even one thing changed about the composition of the Romans in that battle they would have won.

The big thing to note about Pelekanon is that it acted as a new Manzikert for the Romans; it shattered their resolve to fight in Anatolia and put the fear of the Ottomans into them. After Pelekanon they permanently abandoned Anatolia; winning sees that never happen, and they continue to fight for Anatolia.
Glad to see you back!
I'm not as well versed in the late empire compared to 1000s but still more Eastern Rome timelines are nice.
Glad to have you here! It's always going to be a fun TL to work on when you're around :)
 
Part 1; 1329, January to June - Not One Step Back
"One no longer needs to wonder why the Romans of Anatolia don't mind the yoke of the Turk anymore," - Artemios, Droungarios of the 6th Droungos of the Hikanatoi, remarking on Pursa.

January - February

The start of the year went about as expected; with several issues that needed tending to rolling in from all the corners of the Empire.

The highest amongst them was the continued entrenchment of the Genoese further up the Aegean and even in the Black Sea with their colonies--and Galatia was making itself a permanent fixture within the Empire's trade network. It was simply troubling to have such a powerful mercantile and naval rival right on the doorstep of the capital.

The other on the list was the Ottoman Turkish assault against the Empire's remaining stronghold cities in north-west Anatolia; Nicaea, that jewel of Roman history, being the one under the longest siege--for almost 30 years. The reports coming back from Nicaea weren't good--and they were sparse at that, making clear how strong the siege was becoming.

Orhan Gazi was a siege expert in comparison to his noted father Osman, and the Ottomans had had years to cut their teeth on the practice while taking Pursa [1]; their now capital. They were on the cusp of taking Nicaea--the only thing stopping them was the uniqueness the city had with its lake-harbour that allowed it a semblance of supplies when the Ottomans let their guards down.

This was the spark of a fire for Andronikos; something military he could understand and get attached to [2]. He placed the task of creating a functional supplyline to contest the Turks at Nicaea on Alexios; relying on his general naval cunning and skill with finding the right people for any job that needed doing. In this he also wrote letters in his own hand to the leadership of the city; promising support in a few months time, and then a more watchful eye from then on out to ensure they didn't suffer as they did now.

It was only by the end of January that Andronikos, with the aid of John, had made a dent in the reports and requests flooding in--mostly from the frontiers of Albania and around the fortress of Kastoria in upper Macedon. The reports weren't any better than those from Anatolia; the Serbs were more restless than ever, and were starting to pressure the Bulgarians more heavily--even exerting soft power over Macedon as Andronikos had feared a year earlier.

The requests? They were pleasingly mundane by comparison. One of the most pleasing Andronikos himself got was from Mount Athos, an important religious community given effective rights of control over the Athos Peninsula of Macedon by his grandfather; one of the few things Andronikos found himself agreeing on with his predecessor [3].

It was a simple letter from Gregory Palamas, a noted monk from Athos who had become the effective spokesperson for a unique ideology of Orthodoxy champion on Anthos. The letter in question offered Gregory's adoration of the Emperor and his piety, as well as hopes and well-wishes for his health, with the monk asking for small trading rights so that the monasteries on Athos might sell their self-produced goods in order to gain an income to keep themselves afloat without help. Such a simple thing brought a unique joy to Andronikos' heart, and he wrote back in kind--noting that he hoped to meet Gregory when times were easier, and giving him the asked for trading rights.

While John himself raised a brow at this he didn't contest it, considering his own piety, and went about piecing together the needed documentation to make it happen; this coinciding with similar trade issues that were starting to crop up now that the Imperial Fleet was getting strong enough to police sections of the Marmara and extract tariffs from merchants without the concessions given to Venetians and the Genoese.

The Genoese in particular began to feel like the Empire was stepping on its toes within the region, and rumblings began to be heard as the end of February came into focus [4], but with the eyes of Alexios on the region due to his task of supplying Nicaea they held their actions in check for now.

March - April

It was around late-early March that letters began to come from Michael III of Bulgaria; they were pressing for Andronikos' to decide on an official time to make a joint effort against the Serbs led by Stefan III. Andronikos himself was rather simple and honest with Michael III in his replies; indicating that his Anatolian cities needed him at this time, but he did not wish to leave Michael out in the cold.

To correct this he used some of the wealth the Empire had begun to recoup in order to extend the contracts of the remaining Mercenaries in the Empire; most of which were Bulgarians and Turks anyway. This contract extension was set until 1332, and in this Andronikos transferred their command to Michael, sending them to Tarnovo to serve him. These mercenaries numbered roughly 5,000 men.

If Michael wanted to continue using them past 1332 he would have to pay them himself--but the gesture elicited a uniquely pleased response from the bellicose and prickly Emperor of the Bulgarians [5], and saw him ease off his efforts to court Andronikos for further aid when the news reached him at the end of March.

Much of early April was spent checking the equipment of his Hikanatoi in order to ensure it was at least up to basic par, before he and the city were consumed with Easter Celebrations and the Emperor's mind was drawn off by the need to indulge his wife's needs and wants for a time. Andronikos himself at least wanted to keep her on side, as they'd known each other a while, and while they disagreed on many things there was still an underlying love there.

It was only by late April that the Emperor found himself able to pull away from domestic affairs and approach his Hikanatoi once more. Ever a military mind, Andronikos had devised a system of swapping out the core of the forces for each campaign--as the surrounding enemy states rarely had a core of professional troops as large as 4,000. In this he hammered in a system in which the 10th Droungos led by Theodore would remain at the capital at all times as a defense force, while the core of 5 Droungos he took with him would be interchanged following each campaign; while the 6th would always remain at the core of it.

Thus, for the planned expedition to Anatolia, it would be the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th, and Andronikos ensured to begin their drilling and equipping accordingly; as an early start to this would give them a leg up.

May

May was effectively consumed entirely with preparations for the campaign; Alexios had told Andronikos bluntly that the Turks were well-aware of the fact that the Romans were coming in soon due to the supply-efforts Andronikos had instructed Alexios to handle, and thus warned the Emperor that the latest they could viably get to Anatolia without interference from the nearby naval Beyliks of Karasi and Aydin would be late-early June.

Andronikos made the drills about one thing and one thing only; Turks. The Turks were famed for their use of horsearchers and akin, as well as their current lack of a real infantry body and reliance on Ghazi raiders. Andronikos hammered his chosen troops into shape; carefully lessening the natural fear 'civilized' men had of horsearchers with a firm hand.

The Emperor understood however that all soldiers needed rest, and would often intersplice training with allowances--such as allowing them to make use of the secondary baths at the Palaiologian Palace to ease their bodies after a long stint of training.

What really endeared Andronikos to his troops is the fact that he endured everything they endured; making a point to be the first 'subject' of the training to show the functionalities of it--as well as always eating with them, as well as what they ate. He made it clear that as their commander he would suffer through everything they suffered through, and created a bond with those he would take with him to Anatolia by the time the month ended and the Romans were forced by news of Karasi activity along the Hellespont to get moving.

The last days of May were used to stockpile supplies and prep the transport ships to cross the Bosporus--that time also taken to lay out some directives for John and Alexios to follow considering the fact that the Emperor would be away from the capital for a good few months and it was unlikely he'd be able to keep up regular communications considering the circumstances.

June

The army of the Emperor, and it's Emperor, left Constantinople at roughly 2 am on the 1st of June; arriving in Chalcedon roughly 3 hours later under the cover of the early morning. The army itself rested for a day in Chalcedon, checking through supplies and equipment as well as taking in the arrival of messengers and scouts to get a lay of the land.

It became clear quite early on that there would be fighting before they even reached Nicaea to relieve it--as there were reports of Ghazi raids across Bithynia--notably around Nicomedia. During the stay in Chalcedon Andronikos unloaded excess equipment he and his forces did not need--mostly excess armour, and gifted it to the militia of Chalcedon, as well as ordering that trees be cut down from the western side of the city along the coast in order to build simple defenses so that the city might have more flexibility in a siege.

When everything was ready the Emperor and his forces departed Chalcedon at around early day, the 3rd of June, marching down with a managed pace to Nicomedia. This march was interrupted when the scouts reported that there were Ghazi raiders within the vicinity of the city; the Andronikos breaking his forces up into two sections along the lines of foot vs mount.

Andronikos gave control of the cavalry detachment of his forces to Artemios, ordering the Droungarios to curve around the local forestry and keep a distance until the Palaiologian banner went up. The archers and footmen led by Andronikos caught the Ghazi raiders that had been terrorizing Nicomedia roughly an hour after that, resting at a watering spot and weighed down by their plunder of the local villages.

The ensuing battle was a sort of test case for Andronikos and his men--his footmen holding firm behind their shields and spears and keeping the Turkish horsearchers off of the archers as said archers began to gradually pick away at the riding Turks with sustained fire. When it looked as if the Ghazi might flee that is when the banner was raised and Artemios arrived to firmly cut them off.

The result of the battle was a decent spoil of horses, Turkish armour and arms, as well as some prisoners. Andronikos gave his troops rite to take as they wanted from the spoils; many riders taking to new and better horses while the infantry equipped themselves with extra pieces of medium Turkish armour. Much of the spoils had only been possible due to the unique approach the archers had taken to the horsearchers; one only open to them considering their history of being hunters prior to being recruited [6].

The prisoners, roughly numbering around 100 all and all, were sent as military colonists along the Roman-Serbian border--split up amongst those villages in need of excess men with soldiering ability.

It was the 5th of June by the time the Emperor and his troops reached Nicomedia; confident they'd cleared out enough of the surrounding Ghazi to move onwards. Within Nicomedia the troops sold what could be sold from their spoils, and they and the Emperor held a service in the Hagia Sophia of Nicomedia in thanks for their victory.

Their time in Nicomedia was time enough for Andronikos to write to his wife Anna as well as his administration--namely John, on the progress made and to affirm their movements now southward to Nicaea. John himself would later arrive with a small personal guard of roughly 100 men, as well as fresh supplies. After some time affirming things with John, the Emperor would order the Hagia Sophia of Nicomedia restored with local building materials and inspect the fortifications before he and his troops left after a decent rest on the 9th of June.

The march further southward wasn't an easy one--as the area was heavy with death and destruction due to the continued raiding of the Ghazi--as well as the simple fact that Nicaea's environs had been hit over and over again with no chance to recover for nearly 30 years. This march began to pick up stragglers--namely militiamen wanting to fight alongside their Emperor--and by the time the Romans were intercepted roughly a days march from Nicomedia, their number had grown from roughly 2,100 to 2,700.

This interception would be along the hilled interior environs of Nicomedia by Orhan Ghazi himself, and his mustered column of troops. The Ottoman Bey had camped upon the strongest positions of the area, and effectively blocked their passage forward with a superior force outnumbering the Romans almost 2 to 1. If Andronikos wanted to progress forwards he'd need to deal with the Turks.

The following battle, known as the Battle of Nicomedia, would be of importance to the entire history of the Romans.

Hostilities truly began when Orhan sent roughly 300 riders down from his encampment to harass the Romans--hoping to at worst disrupt their own encampment and at best draw them off into a fight they couldn't win. The outcome was that the Romans refused to budge--they stonewalled the Turkish riders until they were forced to retreat back to their Bey without achieving much.

Andronikos would wait until the light of day began to fade before sending out John and his 100 man escort; ordering them to return to Nicomedia and bring its garrison to aid in the battle. John himself and his men were almost caught by the Turks patrolling the area; this only avoided by the distraction caused by Artemios and his riders; who turned the event into another inconclusive skirmish that only saw both parties retreat back to their camps.

This is how it was for the rest of the daylight, before both groups permanently retreated back to their camps. Orhan himself wrote to Andronikos--urging the Emperor to simply retreat; saying that he and his troops would allow it. Besides this being a slight snide remark at Andronikos' expense, the Emperor also knew it to be nonsense. Orhan's efforts had been to cordon off the Romans and stop them from retreating--not to drive them off.

The following day hostilities flared up massively--as Orhan made a genuine effort to dislodge Andronikos and destroy the Emperor and his troops. It wasn't long before they were forced to abandon their camp due to a fire started by the Turks.

The only things holding the Romans together was the fact that the Turks couldn't make full use of their riders due to a combination of Andronikos' archers and continued cavalry blows led by Artemios--the lance-equipped Roman riders doing serious damage to the Turks with each pass. To bolster moral Andronikos made a note of riding up and down the line; yelling encouragements.

This would suddenly cease following a particularly deep attack which saw the Emperor hit by an arrow and thrown from his horse. While the wounds were comparatively minor rumour quickly spread that the Emperor had been killed--or at least mortally wounded. When this news hit the army at full force one would have expected them to break, but instead they flew into a rage and threw themselves at the Turks.

The following enraged battle seemed to only be another inconclusive skirmish--at least until John arrived with Nicomedia's garrison. The sudden arrival of reinforcements, as well as the moral boost it further caused, saw a surge that forced Orhan to retreat--his surviving troops managing to escape due to them all effectively being riders.

It was a major day--one made sweeter when it was realized that Andronikos himself was simply wounded, and not in any way close to death. The Romans had lost roughly 300 men--mostly infantry, while the Turks had lost around 2,000 [7]. The battle ended properly on the 11th of June.

The Romans were forced to march back to Nicomedia after this--the city receiving the returning Emperor with as much pomp as it could muster in these trying times. Andronikos and his men needed time to recoup and reequip; especially the Emperor considering his injuries. It would take roughly two weeks for the Emperor to get back on his feet fully.

By the 24th of June the Emperor and his forces had been reinforced by new men levied from Thrace, as well as resupplied from Chalcedon and Gallipoli. John himself would return to Constantinople to take the wheel of state back into hand, but leave most of his guard behind to aid his friend. By the time the Romans left Nicomedia for the second time they numbered around 2,500.

The last days of the month, as well as the first 5 of the next, were spent along the coast of the Marma; clearing out the towns and little fortifications Orhan had gradually conquered with his columns; drawing in recruits and resettling unwilling Turks westward once more along each port they came across. This process only stopped at Cyzicus, which had its walls reinforced and its garrison reequipped with captured supplies, before Andronikos led his men back up northward [8].

[1] The Ottomans had absolutely no skill with siegecraft prior to their taking of Pursa, now known as Bursa. It had been an ordeal taking around 6 years that effectively boiled down to starving the city out. This had only been possible because the Empire was too focused on fighting itself in the Civil War of 1321 - 1327. By now the Ottomans had begun producing counterweight trebuchets, but in only small numbers; which when combined with Nicaea's unique harbour allowed the city to survive a multi-decade long siege up until this point.

[2] Andronikos III was a military man first and foremost. John Kantakouzenos himself was actually considered the representative and 'beacon' of the younger generation Andronikos III led against the older one of his grandfather. John was also responsible for the continuation and expansion in scope of the Palaiologian Renaissance, and is still considered a very important figure within Greece today for his contributions. Considering there will not be a Civil War caused by Anna of Savoy's unfair distrust of John he will instead serve as the tempering factor in John V's development; resulting in a man with a more measured approach to rule that won't rely on someone like John Kantakouzenos to run the entire administration for him.

[3] Andronikos is a rather religious man, and this will play a large part in how the Empire diverges from the OTL, which will be explored later. Athos at this point is at the center of an, as of now, small scale revolution in Orthodox ideas with the introduction of hesychast spirituality--something which will have a larger impact, and earlier, than it did OTL.

[4] While many rightfully hate the Venetians for their tendencies, the Genoese are unique in that they actively go for the throat at any sign of Imperial recovery. They have a history of directly attacking the Imperial Fleet when its in port and burning it--as well as threating the Empire more deeply considering the position of Galatia. These will be responded to in a rather brutal fashion by Andronikos, and his successor John V, when it does occur.

[5] Something in need of clarification, the Romans themselves don't mind foreign 'Emperor's as a concept--contrary to what most think. While it needs the state and its leader in question to be powerful enough--or rather threatening enough to Constantinople, to be 'allowed' the title. What the Romans took issue with explicitly was anyone proclaiming themselves as Emperor over the Romans, rather than their own people, which is why the Romans played broken telephone with Charlemagne and Otto; allowing them the title of Emperor, but not Emperor of the Romans. The direct result of the rising number of Emperor's around them saw the Romans adopt the title of 'Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans' to make sure their title was still 'superior' to those Emperor's around them. A bit of classic Roman one-upmanship.

[6] The archers used by Andronikos were known to make use of 'Lipsi' shots, or 'Taking' shots--careful volleys designed to kill or incapacitate enemies--especially riders--so that the horses would be left alive to sell later alongside their gear. It was a practice Andronikos allowed because it gave his troops spoils they could sell and earn excess money from; thus making them more loyal in the long run.

[7] This was the first time the reigning leader of the Ottomans, and the Emperor of the Romans, ever met in battle. The Roman victory set a precedent, and the Ottomans never found the stomach to truly hammer the coast of the Marmara again after this--instead choosing eastward expansion at the expense of other Beyliks. Funnily enough this contributed to their survival, and eventual auspicious movement to Mesopotamia in the late 1300's.

[8] Andronikos ensuring Nicaea had a supplyline from Roman Europe ensured it could last the siege longer--as well as making it clear the Romans still supported the city. This put Andronikos in the unique position of being able to meander his armies around and clean up everything behind him so that he could fully focus on Nicaea when the time came.
 
Im quite confused did the Romans reconquer Prusa yet or not ?
Despite that amazing work !
No, Pursa/Bursa still remains in the hands of the Ottomans. It's their capital. What Andronikos has done is methodically cut out the Ghazi raiders from Bithynia and move southward along the coast to reclaim the towns Orhan historically took prior to this point while also capturing the minor fortifications the Ottoman Bey built in the area.

Andronikos paused at Cyzicus to repair its fortifications--since it's an at-risk city from both the Ottomans and the Karasids. He's making his way back up to now to relieve Nicaea.
Good update, Andronikos is moving methodically and purposefully, making sure to secure his gains. This looks promising.
Danke, I'm glad you're enjoying it and that I carried the point of his methodicalness along well.
 
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[7] This was the first time the reigning leader of the Ottomans, and the Emperor of the Romans, ever met in battle. The Roman victory set a precedent, and the Ottomans never found the stomach to truly hammer the coast of the Marmara again after this--instead choosing eastward expansion at the expense of other Beyliks. Funnily enough this contributed to their survival, and eventual auspicious movement to Mesopotamia in the late 1300's.
Ooh, are we going to end up with another Ottoman dominated Persia/Mesopotamia timeline while Romans survive? I'm excited.
 
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