The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Part 51: The Western Collapse
Part LI: The Western Collapse​

Louis IV took power in the Frankish Empire in 988 following the death of his father, Pepin VI. Louis was an eager student of the old Roman ways, and was dismissive of Frankish tradition in favor of the Roman style. Along the Rhine he implemented a large number of projects similar to those of the old Romans. In particular he began implementing a new law system for directly ruled Imperial territory, and a key part of life which would directly lead to his conflict with Rome: the Church.

At this time the Church, both in Roman territory, and in the West was horribly corrupt. We’ve touched on it a few times, but the issue has been skated over as the Romans have faced more pressing problems, but the expansion of Church land was highly damaging to both Frankish and Roman finances. When nobles without children grew old they would found a monastery to avoid taxation, giving all of their lands over to the Church while acting as the local abbot. Furthermore, nobles looking to gain church favor in some dispute, or to soothe their consciences after some horrid act of violent depravity, donations of land to the Church were common. In either case land which would have paid taxes to the Roman Emperor, or provided soldiers and supplies to the Frankish, was suddenly removed from those ledgers.

Interfering with church property was something a lot of men knew needed to be done, but they simply would not risk the wrath of God, or of their faithful followers, to actually carry out the work.

But the rot at the core of the Church went far deeper than just the monasteries. The bishops and even priests were often made up of wicked and capricious sinners hiding behind the cloth to amass vast fortunes for themselves in the form of tithes and donations from peasants who feared the wrath of both God and their lord should they put his soul in jeopardy through their disobedience. Or put his children’s livelihood in jeopardy as lords often paid princely sums to ensure their younger children were put into supreme positions of authority within the Church.

Bishops were technically forbidden marriage, but often did so anyway with no punishment from higher authorities. The bishop positions had even shifted in some cases to being hereditary, passed from illegally married father to illegitimate son generation to generation, amassing more power and wealth with each generation.

When Louis came to power then, he had had enough. For the first two years he specifically began pursuing the wealthy lands owned by monastaries and Churches in the primary Imperial territory near the Rhine. Six monastaries were investigated, and stripped of at least half their land. Church officials protested, but Louis steadfastly ignored them, making it very clear that he might go after them if they continued. The bishops were deeply angered, and wrote to Rome asking for papal interference. Pope Innocent II heard their plea, and in 989 he sent his own letter to Louis reminding him of the sancrosanctity of Church property, and warning of dire consequences for the Emperor's soul should he continue on this path. Louis took the warning to heart at first, scaling down his attacks on monastaries and other sources of Church wealth. For about six months.

The situation came roaring back in 990 when, according to legend, Louis was visiting Parisius and attended the local mass, only to find that the bishop conducting the ceremony was a twelve-year old boy who spoke barely a word of Latin. Infuriated at what he viewed as sacrilege had the boy seized, stripped, and thrown from the Church, his robes being burned in a public ceremony behind him. The boy fled the city and went south to Aquitaine where he met with the Archbishop of Massilia who had inherited his position, though not as young. Horrified at the actions of the pious Louis the bishops wrote to the Pope Innocent II and demanded that the Frankish Emperor be excommunicated.

The pope complied. In Innocent's view Louis's attack on the bishop of Parisium was a continuation of Louis's attacks on the Church in general. He cared little about the boy, whom the pope himself privately agreed needed to be removed, and he may have approved the move had Louis gone through Church channels. The fact that such a move would also have strengthened the pope's authority over the Western bishops at the same time, since the threat of removal backed by state power would have been a big power boost to the Pope.

I should note here two key facts. While the Eastern Church viewed the pope in Rome to be more pious and spiritual than the Patriarch of Constantinople the view among the Western Church was exactly the opposite. Had the West ultimately been able to impose its view on the Church as a whole the Patriarch probably would have ended up the highest Church figure. As it was of course the opposite was the case.

The southern lords, chafing under northern Imperial rule rallied to the Church's cause, using it as an excuse to oppose the Emperor with what they hoped was God's blessing.

The northern lords meanwhile were less than pleased at Louis’s antics, but the Emperor countered the pope’s order by declaring that by the right of God, granted to him by the Roman Emperor, THE viceregent of God on Earth, his authority was superior to that of any Church figure, and therefore it was illegal to excommunicate him. After significant debate the Archbishop of Aachen heard the arguments put forth by both Imperial and Church officials, and in a shocking decision he agreed with Louis. The Church was subordinate to the Roman Emperor, who had by his own hand granted the Frankish Emperor a position in the hierarchy in the world where only the man who ruled Constantinople was of higher rank.

The Church therefore was subordinate to the Frankish Emperor inside Frankish territory as well. Accusations of bribery were thrown around by everyone, but when Louis called his German lords to march south and expel the bishop who had written to the pope, his lords agreed.

Louis marched into Aquitaine, and defeated a hastily mobilized local army decisively, capturing the rebellious archbishop, the archbishop of Parisius, and Lord Raymond of Marseille, leader of the rebel lords. Raymond was behead, and both the archbishops were stripped of their rainment (for a second time in the latter’s case), and then they were whipped in full view of the army before being expelled from the Church by the Emperor. With his right to rule now solidly proven in battle Louis wrote to the pope and demanded his excommunication be lifted.

This demand was refused. Innocent had acted rashly, there was no doubt of that. He should have simply let the matter rest here, there was no reason for conflict to continue. Louis had won, and it would have been for the best to let the issue die, maybe to take it up again in future when the Emperor's position was weaker. But Innocent was too stubborn. Louis's refusal to back down wasn't just an attack on this stupid child bishop. It was an attack on the Church itself. Backing down and lifting the excommunication without the Emperor doing anything to supplicate himself might well have destroyed Papal authority in the Frankish Empire. So, thinking he was safe behind the Romans, Innocent dug in his heels and let the situation escalate. He ordered all bishops and priests to refuse sacraments to any lord who had taken the Emperor's side in the fighting.

Angry at this treatment Louis wrote to Alexios demanding the order be rescinded. But Alexios, focused on his Eastern border either never received, or ignored, the letter. Louis wrote again, and this letter we know was received in Constantinople in 996, and it was sent forward to the Emperor for review. But at some point in the next few months it disappeared, probably going up in flames in the Emperor’s tent in the aftermath of Dara, never having been read.

Furious at the apparent spurning of his demands Louis went forward on his own initiative, ordering that the interdict be ignored under his own power as the man over the Frankish Church. For the next two years a stalemate took place as portions of the Church, usually laypriests, took the Emperor’s side while bishops and abbots took the pope’s. Deciding that something had to be done to break the deadlock Louis called for an Ecumenical Council, but again his call went unheeded by the distracted Roman Emperor.

Looking for a way out of the situation Louis hit upon a new interpretation of the Frankish crowning. While he was technically Emperor of the Franks, his Imperial rainment and domain was basically the Western Empire, less Spain, southern Italy, and Africa. His realm was Roman, in spirit if nothing else. He claimed therefore the title of Western Augustus, the first in five hundred years. His position was unchallenged as Constantinople remained firmly fixed on the East. Also they may not even have known of the claim.

Lacking authority to call a full church council alone Louis decided to fix the matter himself, and began seizing monastic property. Monks were thrown out of the buildings and new lords put in place. To say that Innocent was furious would be an understatement. He issued a papal bull excommunicating every priest in Franci did not side against Emperor Louis. This unfortunately caused most of Louis’s supporters to desert him. While they might believe that the pope did not have the authority to excommunicate the Emperor, the same was not true for themselves.

At this point however Louis had had enough. He began gathering his full army, and promising his lords the rich lands of Italy if they backed him up. Most agreed, for both spiritual and financial reasons. Sending out one last call for an Ecumenical Council, which never arrived in Romanos’s court, Louis moved his army into Frankish Italy, and wintered there, hoping his show of force would convince Innocent to back down. But certain that Rome could withstand a Frankish siege until the Basileos arrived.

Louis’s army marched out of Genua on March 6, 1000 and began heading south into Roman territory. The army was forty thousand strong, and a second force was led out of Pataviom by Louis’s cousin Matthieu consisting of fifteen thousand men. This army was tasked with securing the East Coast of Italy, in particular the city of Ravenna which functioned as the headquarters of Roman Italy.

Matthieu successfully seized Bononia in late March, but Ravenna refused to surrender. Garrisoned with four thousand men with both strong walls, a port, and surrounded by swamps the Romans inside had little to fear from a siege. Recognizing this Mattheiu abandoned his siege and moved south taking Faventium and Ariminum, cutting Ravenna off from the rest of Italy.

In the meantime Louis had taken the trading city of Pisae without a fight, and swept through Tuscia, forcing surrenders everywhere he went. Italy was well fortified to ward off Varangiann attacks, but few of the citizens had known real war, and going through a siege was quite beyond them. With no Imperial soldiers present the local militias faced the prospect of either trying to hold out against the Frankish soldiers, or simply give up and throw themselves at Louis’s ever present mercy.

Louis responded by not letting his soldiers perform any sacks. These were Christian cities after all, and ones that were showing their allegiance to the Emperor through their surrender. Small garrisons were put in place, new lords were created, and the army moved on. As 1000 ended all of Tuscia was in Frankish hands, as was most of Flaminia in the East. Only two Roman positions held out. Ravenna with its impervious defensive position stood strong against Frankish attack, and to its north sat the powerful merchant city of Venice, which utilized its massive local fleet to launch attacks against Frankish positons along the coast, daring the Franks to try retaliatory strikes.

The next year Louis drove straight for Latium. First he moved along the West, cutting off the Roman ports at Ostia and Portus Romanus, then moved north to completely encircle the Vitelian Walls. Rome’s garrison of six thousand was dwarfed by the thirty thousand men Louis still had, and the two sides settled in for a siege. Innocent, realizing that maybe this was out of hand tried to negotiate a comprimise with Louis, but the Emperor wasn't having it. The pope had shown himself to be a corrupt and cowardly man, a servant of Satan in the cloth, and he would not only be removing the Pope from office under his theoretical authority as Western Emperor, but likely executing him as well. Innocent had no choice but to wait for a savior in the form of the Roman army to arrive.

Indeed, even as the siege was going on, Romanos was racing West at the head of his own army made up of the survivors of his battle Anatolia, six thousand Turkish mercenaries, and additional forces he’d picked up in the Balkans on his way to the port at Dyrrachium. In March the army made a quick crossing and the Emperor heading north, picking up more men along the way until the two sides were roughly equal in size, if not in quality.

Reaching the Via Appia the Roman army pushed north to the Eternal City with all haste, looking to quickly defeat the Franks and then drive their forces back out of Tuscia before returning Imperial attention to the East. Unfortunately what is about to happen would not match Romanos’s vision.

Louis heard of the coming Imperial army and broke off the siege to confront the Eastern Emperor. They met just north of Campania. Alexios deployed his horse archers, still the dominant striking arm of any Imperial army first, with other forces arrayed behind them, while Louis put his heavy knights at the direct center of his army. As the battle began the Turks and Pechenegs charged forward, firing arrow after arrow into the Frankish lines. Where the great horses of the Franks were struk formations were disrupted, but the heavy shields and armor of the knights could withstand the arrows with little difficulty. It was only as the knights came closer that the nomads realized how little effect their weapons were having. But rather than retreating the impetuous men, drew their swords and charged the knights.

What followed was a complete rout. The steppe archers were completely outmatched in the close quarters fighting that the Franks excelled at, and in a brutally one-sided encounter over two thirds were killed. The knights quickly reformed as the nomads fled and once again began advancing forward. They sang hymns as they came, slowly at first, then gathering speed. Their lances came down, and the Roman infantry couldn’t stand it anymore. They fled. The knights ran them down regardless, and behind the knights came the rest of the Frankish army.

They killed and chased for the remainder of the day, until the Imperial army was completely scattered. Of Romanos’s force seven thousand were dead, and the remainder ran for the mountains of Central Italy.

The Emperor escaped with his Tagmata partially intact, but with no prospect of raising another army during the year. Dejected he returned to Brundisium and sailed back to Greece. News of the Emperor’s complete defeat at the hands of the Franks was a thunderbolt to Italy. Innocent committed suicide rather than risk capture and humiliation. Rome surrendered the very next day. Across southern Italy cities began to fall over one another to send their own surrenders, with only the far southern regions of Rhegium and Calabria refusing to follow suit.

Louis was content for now, and installed his own anti-pope in Rome, the former bishop of Aachen, Vitelian VI, who naturally reversed the completely incorrect calls of his predecessor, affirmed the supremacy of the Emperor in Frankish Territory, and recognized the Frankish Emperor as the legitimate Western Augustus.

Romanos stewed in the Balkans for a few more years, but as the Anatolian situation continued with no end in site, and the Syrian armies came under attack from the Persian Turks there simply wasn’t anything for him to do. And so, in 1003 he sent envoys to Louis offering recognition in exchange for the Franks leaving in place the remaining Roman positions in Italy: Ravenna, Venice, Calabria, Rhegium, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia.

Louis, who didn’t have a navy capable of beating the Roman fleet agreed, and on July 31, 1003 an official peace was agreed to.

But in signing the peace Romanos sealed his own fate. His brother John had been present in Italy as well, and had been disappointed in Romano’s utter failure. With the surrender of the home peninsula, and the failure to salvage the situation in the East, his cousin’s position was now unacceptable. Plotting with high ranking army officers, chief among them the Kommenoi, John brought a group of armed men into the palace, seized Romanos, and sent him to a monastery. The former Emperor’s nose was slit, and it was thought he would not trouble them again. John was crowned Basileos, and set about trying to reverse Roman fortunes. And for that there was one thing he needed above everything else, the Armenians had to be bought off. By any means necessary, financial or spiritual.
 
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And so, in 1005 he sent envoys to Louis offering recognition in exchange for the Franks leaving in place the remaining Roman positions in Italy: Ravenna, Venice, Calabria, Rhegium, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia.
So the Franks are officially recognised as the Western Emperors, equal to Constantinople? I’m surprised no territorial concessions were made because it’ll be really difficult to dislodge the Franks from their conquests.
 
So the Franks are officially recognised as the Western Emperors, equal to Constantinople? I’m surprised no territorial concessions were made because it’ll be really difficult to dislodge the Franks from their conquests.
The Franks couldn't realistically take anymore territory. These are all coastal areas, with no way for Louis to actually siege them out. And raids on Frankish territory from Venice and Syracuse were getting annoying. Getting official recognition of the title, was the real prize.
 
Where the great horses of the Franks were struk formations were disrupted, but the heavy shields and armor of the knights could withstand the arrows with little difficulty. It was only as the knights came closer that the nomads realized how little effect their weapons were having.
Were the horses armoured as well? Don't think the armour will do too much if your horse catches an arrow in the skull and throws you.

Guess the Holy Roman Empire is now a thing ITTL.
This is one step beyond the HRE, actual recognition from the Eastern Emperor, I guess he's the legitimate Western Emperor now.
 
Were the horses armoured as well? Don't think the armour will do too much if your horse catches an arrow in the skull and throws you.
Lightly. Cloth rather than metal. Had the archers kept their distance they could have won. But the Turkish soldiers hadn't really faced soldiers like the the Frankish knights before. They didn't realize how armored they were, or how dangerous it would be to engage them at close range. Its similar to what happened OTL during the early days of the First Crusade, and in the Byzantine War against the Normans beforehand.
 
Map at the end of Romanos I's reign
1000.jpg


Important things to note: The Danish kingdom in Saxeland (England) has been conquered by the Normans (conquered is a bit of a strong word, not much has actually changed there apart from the local kings recognizing a new guy as their boss). The Gothic Kingdom has also officially disintegrated. Both of these will be covered in-story at a later date.
 
well i hope things turn out the better for the empire in time and that they are able to regain lost land
 
Part 52: The Thalassan Restoration
Part LII: Thalassan Restoration​

When John III took power he immediately crowned his oldest son, Matthios co-Emperor, despite the boy only being three years old. John was technically a usurper, and he needed to sort out the succession immediately to ensure that if he died in the coming years there would be someone immediately available who could take his place. To ensure that any regency would be smooth he appointed a good friend of his, frustratingly also named Romanos, to the position of Domestic of the Scholai.

Romanos Abbasios was of Arab descent, specifically from one of the powerful families that had grown to dominate Syria during the days of the Caliphate. When Leo marched his armies back into the region the Abbasoi had switched loyalties without too much fuss, and had remained powerful nobles owning large tracks of land In Assyria, eventually rising to hold the position of Strategos.

In the 800s there had been a split in the family, with a younger brother, al-Amin, who was not in line to inherit anything, taking a loan from his father and departing for southern Italy. Eventually arriving in the city of Syracuse al-Amin bought his way into the shipping business, becoming a wealthy trader and beginning to buy land in southern Italy, in particular in Calabria.

Over the century that followed al-Amin had built his own branch of the family with several sons, and in turn they had built on the business as well. By the late 900s the Arab family was culturally fully Greek, and were expected to be fluent in Greek and Latin, as well as being required to have a mastery of mathematics and be expert negotiators.

Into this world then was born Romanos Abbasios. He was the second son of a third son, leaving his prospects for inheritance slim. As the youngest son of a youngest son he had little prospect for even a Church career, as he already had two cousins who had entered the priesthood. Knowing this Romanos Abbasios did as his ancestor had done, taking a small portion of the family’s great wealthy and departed for the City. Constantinople shined on his horizon, and Romanos used his family money to buy entrance into the Unviersity of Constantinople, looking originally to become a lawyer.

But in the university he met John, and the two became close friends early. At John’s suggestion Romanos Abbasios began studying the history of warfare, and soon showed an aptitude for the subject. Dropping out of his law studies Romanos joined the Tagmata with the prince’s recommendation. Soon showing himself to be a natural in the saddle Romanos quickly rose through the ranks, until he returned to the university to be trained as a centurion.

When the Frank invasion of Italy began Romanos was one of the soldiers sent with the Emperor, and saw firsthand the defeat at the hands of Louis’s army. He came away from the battle with two key observations. First, the Frankish knights were a seemingly unstoppable force, and if the Romans couldn’t match them there would be no retaking Italy. Second, the steppe archers were completely unused to fighting a force like this. The Frankish horses had been vulnerable to arrows, but rather than focusing on that the Turks had let themselves enter melee, and been slaughtered. He filed both facts away and returned to Constantinople with the defeated army.

When John began looking for plotters for his coup then Romanos Abbasios was one of the first men he turned to, and Romanos agreed without hesitation. He planned the entrance to the palace, and recommended simply killing the Emperor rather than tonsuring him. This recommendation was refused, but John was still confident in his friend’s abilities.

In the post-coup shake-up John elevated Romanos Abassios to Domestic of the Scholae, effectively giving him command of the Imperial Army. From this post Romanos was given the most important job in John’s regime, getting the Armenians back into line. To this end Romanos departed the capital in 1007, sailing for Trebizond on the northern coast, and then riding hard to Theodosiopolis where the Armenian army had made their camp.

He was authorized to make any promises necessary.

On arrival Romanos Abassios did not reveal himself immediately, instead mingling with the men to get a feel for their mood and gauging what it would take to end the mutiny. What he found were two primary grievances, first the Armenian army was underpaid. Armenia was still fairly poor, and the men were angry that they were being called on to fight and possibly die to save the lands of their much wealthier nobles. Especially when most of these men had no land in Armenia to call their own, being mostly younger sons with no prospects back home.

Second of course, was the question of religion. The Jacoboi heresy was firmly entrenched in the Caucus Mountains now, and a prevailing attitude among the soldiers was that the Turk conquest of Mesopotamia and Central Anatolia was God punishing the Romans for not realizing the truth of the Jacoboi teachings. So long as that problem remained unaddressed many believed they stood no chance of victory if they fought to restore Imperial territory.

Romanos returned to Trebizond to send his findings to the Emperor, and plan his next move. John was leery about giving into the heretical demands, but agreed to promise to at least hear out the arguments when the war was over. And if that wasn’t good enough then Romanos should promise a full Ecuminical Council, with Imperial promises of a fair hearing and debate when it occurred. The issue of pay John addressed by sending much of the year’s tax receipts to Trebizond, with instructions to pay each man up to three year’s pay in advance.

With so much gold going off to the region however John was left with a massive deficit, and so he undertook once again a move he knew would be incredibly unpopular, he ended the free grain dole. It was a luxury for good times, and these were not good times. The populace were enraged, and rioted for two days before local soldiers could get them back under control. In the fires the Hagia Sophia was badly damaged, and was not repaired for decades.

Back in Trebizond Romanos received the gold and left again for Theodosiopolis, this time in full uniform and with his bodyguard and staff. When they arrived the men were generally respectful of the Imperial commander, but few welcomed him. To get on their good graces Romanos immediately gave out a year’s pay to every man, which softened them significantly. It also cost a full third of his immediate cash.

His meeting with the army’s commander was less than fruitful, as the man had little faith that any Imperial promises would be kept once victory was achieved, and if those promises were unfulfilled then God was unlikely to grant the Romans victory regardless. No bribe was acceptable. The army had to have some tangible proof of the Emperor’s seriousness.

Romanos wrote to John again, and John took an unprecedent step, he sent his younger son as a hostage in 1008. The boy was only five years old, and represented a direct threat to John’s careful succession plans. The only better option would have been Matthios, who the Emperor could not risk outside the capital in case of a power vacuum. The child prince in tow Romanos Abbasios presented him to the men of the Armenian army as a sign of the Emperor’s trust in them, and his dedication to fulfilling Imperial promises. Moved by the gesture the men and officers swore to obey the commands of their Emperor once again. To make sure their loyalty continued to be solid Romanos paid out another massive bribe, and departed for the capital again, leaving instructions to defend Roman territory until John was ready to retake Anatolia.

Before that however John had to deal with an immediate threat. Basileos Malik had put down the rebellions among the tribes still under his control and was marching into Syria, looking to crush the Roman army there and use the Taurus mountains to bring his Anatolian subjects back under his command.

Realizing the danger John dispatched Romanos Abbasios once again, this time to Dorylaeum to meet with the Anatolian Turks. Neither army could match the Persian Turks alone, but if the Anatolians sent an army into Syria and linked up with the local Roman army they could throw Malik back. With some hesitation, and quite a bit of bribery, the Turkic leader agreed. I should note here we don’t actually know the names of any of the leaders of the Anatolian Turks. All of our primary sources are Manuel II’s writings on the subject, and he specifically does not list any of the Turkish leaders.

And I should also note that it is from Manuel that we get the name Malik for the Basileos of Persia. For obvious reasons he refused to recognize the man’s title, and the Romans seemingly never actually learned his proper Turkic name. So instead they called him what the Arabs who fought the Mesopotamian Turks did, which was Malik, an Arab word for king. This was obvious to people at the time, but as the Arab language continued to hybridize with Greek the meaning is often lost on modern readers.

Regardless, in 1010 John and Romanos Abbasios sailed south with an army of ten thousand. These soldiers were mostly garrison forces from the Balkans, Slavs and Croats in particular, and they were met in Syria by the local theme armies. The two forces combined until they numbered some twenty-five thousand. Independent Bedawi groups who had been fighting the advancing Turks also joined up with the Roman army, viewing the mostly passive Roman Emperors as a better neighbor than some new aggressive king. Also joining them were a force of seven thousand Anatolian Turks, who were only there to fight against their theoretical overlord.

The two armies met at near the city of Beroea in September. Romanos Abbasios prepared the ground carefully, using an old trick from the Sassanid Wars. He secretly had his men dig a large trench , leaving bridges in specific spots for his cavalry to cross in advancing and retreating. He then carefully trained the cavalry so that they would not plunge in themselves and leave the Persian Turks unopposed on the field.

The Roman force was now nearly forty thousand, and arrayed against them were twenty-five thousand nomads. Romanos sent his own Turks forward first, letting them shower the enemy with arrows and begin a long-range duel he hoped would inflict heavy casualties on both sides. After several exchanges of missiles a retreat was sounded among the Romans, and the Anatolian Turks began to fall back across the trench.

Malik ordered his men to follow, and they came on rapidly, loosing more arrows into the retreating Roman mercenaries. Malik sensed something was off and ordered a signal sent for his men to cease the pursuit, but for the front of his army it was already too late. As the trumpets blared a halt hundreds, of men and horses plunged into the trench to their deaths, The Persian Turks fell back, but left behind nearly two thousand of their number inside. The Romans, now greatly cheered by the success of their ploy now began to advance, crossing the bridges themselves and pressing toward the Turk lines. Roman cavalry swept around and tried to fall upon the flanks of Malik’s army. Fighting was fierce, but in the end Imperial numbers won the day, and Malik was forced to retreat back into Mesopotamia. He left behind eight thousand dead on the field compared to just five thousand among the larger Roman force.

However, no sooner was the battle over than the falling out began. The Bedawi, their enemy beaten, immediately packed up and left, and the Anatolian Turks who had taken the largest number of casualties felt ill-used by Romanos’s plan, feeling that he had let them take heavy losses to weaken them for Roman reconquest. They departed with extremely bitter feelings on both sides. Romanos returned to Constantinple in 1011 as a conquering hero, having dealt the Turks a solid defeat, the first major defeat of the War.

John gave him significant honors, and then immediately sent his general to Anatolia where the Turks there had decided to avenge themselves on the Romans by taking Dorylaeum, and using that as a springboard to overrun the West coast of the Peninsula. Romanos arrived with six thousand reinforcements, and began gathering men from Roman Anatolia to man the walls against the oncoming force.

In 1012 the Turks made their move, laying siege to the city and sending raiding parties past it to hit the Roman lands beyond. The siege would last two years off and on, with sporadic fighting sometimes letting the Romans bring in more supplies, and sometimes leaving them stuck for months in close quarters. Disease was rampant, but the defenders held out.

Romanos meanwhile waged an irregular war against Turkish raiders, using the tactics of the years of Caliphate to ambush and trap small bands of Turks and destroy them, until finally the siege was broken off and the Turks retreated back onto the plateau. The cost had been high however. Ten thousand were dead on both sides, and for the Romans the cost was worse, as word came that Amorium had fallen, and with it the last major Roman bastion in Anatolia not near the coast.

Despite that Dorylaeum was another victory, and John felt that the time had come to begin planning the Roman return to the plateau. To that end in 1015 he dispatched Romanos to Theodosiopolis once again to prepare the Armenian army to march out of the mountains, and check on his younger son.

A truce was also signed with Malik, scheduled to last ten years. However, mere days after signing the treaty Malik came down with a fever and died, and his realm rapidly fell into civil war as his sons all tried for the position of Emperor as well.

The time was right in the minds of everyone, including Romanos I.

Stuck to stew in a monastery for thirteen years he had let his anger grow to a fever pitch, and began plotting to retake his throne. In 1016 he got his chance. Supporters freed him from the monastery, and the group entered the palace through a door a bribed servant had left unlocked. They seized John, and Matthios, and had the noses of both slit. In his triumphant march to the Hippodrome to announce his return to the crowd the Emperor and his oldest son were forced to crawl on hands and knees before their predecessor, and then unceremoniously beheaded in front of the crowd. Their bodies were thrown into the sea, and their heads sent as proof of the Emperor’s return. But Romanos was no content yet, he sent orders to Armenia that John’s younger son and Romanos Abbasios be executed as well.

John III was 33 years old, and had been Emperor for 13 years. John III was a highly successful Emperor. He began the process of reversing Roman decline, made key truces and alliances that let the Empire weather the Turkish onslaught, and laid the groundwork for the reconquest of Anatolia. He also recognized early the military talent of Romanos Abbasios, the greatest general of this era, and ensured the boy’s talents were properly developed and utilized. Once in power he did something few Emperors would have dared do, and put this great soldier into trusted positions of power

His success is somewhat balanced out by his failure to resolve the domestic crises which gripped the Empire at this point, and spent money he really didn’t have in the process. It will be this spending that leads to some of the more controversial actions his real successor would take in fundraising. Ending the grain dole so abruptly was also probably a mistake. It alienated the capital’s population at a critical time, and they might have backed him against Romanos I had John been more personally popular. But its hard to judge the man too harshly since even if he had been successful, its hard to see how he could have been a better choice than the man who actually oversaw the Empire’s coming success.

But it is important to remember, it was John III who put in place what was needed for the Empire to bounce back.

To say that this news came poorly in Theodosiopolis was an understatement. John had kept his early promises, and his son was quite popular among the troops. When the general of the Armenian army read the letter then an angry buzzing began among the soldiers, and when he finished threw it down, and then pissed on it, to show his feelings for Romanos I’s return.

Instead of accepting the counter-usurpation the general called for all of his men to proclaim the son of John III Emperor. As one they knelt and swore allegiance. They then hoisted the teenager onto their shoulders and marched him to the Church, where the local Archbishop had the boy kneel, and placed a hastily made circlet upon his head.

The boy departed Constantinople many years ago as merely a disposable prince whose death would be a tragedy, but an acceptable one. He rose as a Basileos.

As he rose a great crowd in the city joined with the soldiers to hail their new Emperor. His name, of course, was Manuel.
 
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Part LII: Thalassan Restoration​

When John III took power he immediately crowned his oldest son, Matthios co-Emperor, despite the boy only being three years old. John was technically a usurper, and he needed to sort out the succession immediately to ensure that if he died in the coming years there would be someone immediately available who could take his place. To ensure that any regency would be smooth he appointed a good friend of his, frustratingly also named Romanos, to the position of Domestic of the Scholai.

Romanos Abbasios was of Arab descent, specifically from one of the powerful families that had grown to dominate Syria during the days of the Caliphate. When Leo marched his armies back into the region the Abbasoi had switched loyalties without too much fuss, and had remained powerful nobles owning large tracks of land In Assyria, eventually rising to hold the position of Strategos.

In the 800s there had been a split in the family, with a younger brother, al-Amin, who was not in line to inherit anything, taking a loan from his father and departing for southern Italy. Eventually arriving in the city of Syracuse al-Amin bought his way into the shipping business, becoming a wealthy trader and beginning to buy land in southern Italy, in particular in Calabria.

Over the century that followed al-Amin had built his own branch of the family with several sons, and in turn they had built on the business as well. By the late 900s the Arab family was culturally fully Greek, and were expected to be fluent in Greek and Latin, as well as being required to have a mastery of mathematics and be expert negotiators.

Into this world then was born Romanos Abbasios. He was the second son of a third son, leaving his prospects for inheritance slim. As the youngest son of a youngest son he had little prospect for even a Church career, as he already had two cousins who had entered the priesthood. Knowing this Romanos Abbasios did as his ancestor had done, taking a small portion of the family’s great wealthy and departed for the City. Constantinople shined on his horizon, and Romanos used his family money to buy entrance into the Unviersity of Constantinople, looking originally to become a lawyer.

But in the university he met John, and the two became close friends early. At John’s suggestion Romanos Abbasios began studying the history of warfare, and soon showed an aptitude for the subject. Dropping out of his law studies Romanos joined the Tagmata with the prince’s recommendation. Soon showing himself to be a natural in the saddle Romanos quickly rose through the ranks, until he returned to the university to be trained as a centurion.

When the Frank invasion of Italy began Romanos was one of the soldiers sent with the Emperor, and saw firsthand the defeat at the hands of Louis’s army. He came away from the battle with two key observations. First, the Frankish knights were a seemingly unstoppable force, and if the Romans couldn’t match them there would be no retaking Italy. Second, the steppe archers were completely unused to fighting a force like this. The Frankish horses had been vulnerable to arrows, but rather than focusing on that the Turks had let themselves enter melee, and been slaughtered. He filed both facts away and returned to Constantinople with the defeated army.

When John began looking for plotters for his coup then Romanos Abbasios was one of the first men he turned to, and Romanos agreed without hesitation. He planned the entrance to the palace, and recommended simply killing the Emperor rather than tonsuring him. This recommendation was refused, but John was still confident in his friend’s abilities.

In the post-coup shake-up John elevated Romanos Abassios to Domestic of the Scholae, effectively giving him command of the Imperial Army. From this post Romanos was given the most important job in John’s regime, getting the Armenians back into line. To this end Romanos departed the capital in 1007, sailing for Trebizond on the northern coast, and then riding hard to Theodosiopolis where the Armenian army had made their camp.

He was authorized to make any promises necessary.

On arrival Romanos Abassios did not reveal himself immediately, instead mingling with the men to get a feel for their mood and gauging what it would take to end the mutiny. What he found were two primary grievances, first the Armenian army was underpaid. Armenia was still fairly poor, and the men were angry that they were being called on to fight and possibly die to save the lands of their much wealthier nobles. Especially when most of these men had no land in Armenia to call their own, being mostly younger sons with no prospects back home.

Second of course, was the question of religion. The Jacoboi heresy was firmly entrenched in the Caucus Mountains now, and a prevailing attitude among the soldiers was that the Turk conquest of Mesopotamia and Central Anatolia was God punishing the Romans for not realizing the truth of the Jacoboi teachings. So long as that problem remained unaddressed many believed they stood no chance of victory if they fought to restore Imperial territory.

Romanos returned to Trebizond to send his findings to the Emperor, and plan his next move. John was leery about giving into the heretical demands, but agreed to promise to at least hear out the arguments when the war was over. And if that wasn’t good enough then Romanos should promise a full Ecuminical Council, with Imperial promises of a fair hearing and debate when it occurred. The issue of pay John addressed by sending much of the year’s tax receipts to Trebizond, with instructions to pay each man up to three year’s pay in advance.

With so much gold going off to the region however John was left with a massive deficit, and so he undertook once again a move he knew would be incredibly unpopular, he ended the free grain dole. It was a luxury for good times, and these were not good times. The populace were enraged, and rioted for two days before local soldiers could get them back under control. In the fires the Hagia Sophia was badly damaged, and was not repaired for decades.

Back in Trebizond Romanos received the gold and left again for Theodosiopolis, this time in full uniform and with his bodyguard and staff. When they arrived the men were generally respectful of the Imperial commander, but few welcomed him. To get on their good graces Romanos immediately gave out a year’s pay to every man, which softened them significantly. It also cost a full third of his immediate cash.

His meeting with the army’s commander was less than fruitful, as the man had little faith that any Imperial promises would be kept once victory was achieved, and if those promises were unfulfilled then God was unlikely to grant the Romans victory regardless. No bribe was acceptable. The army had to have some tangible proof of the Emperor’s seriousness.

Romanos wrote to John again, and John took an unprecedent step, he sent his younger son as a hostage in 1008. The boy was only three years old, and represented a direct threat to John’s careful succession plans. The only better option would have been Matthios, who the Emperor could not risk outside the capital in case of a power vacuum. The child prince in tow Romanos Abbasios presented him to the men of the Armenian army as a sign of the Emperor’s trust in them, and his dedication to fulfilling Imperial promises. Moved by the gesture the men and officers swore to obey the commands of their Emperor once again. To make sure their loyalty continued to be solid Romanos paid out another massive bribe, and departed for the capital again, leaving instructions to defend Roman territory until John was ready to retake Anatolia.

Before that however John had to deal with an immediate threat. Basileos Malik had put down the rebellions among the tribes still under his control and was marching into Syria, looking to crush the Roman army there and use the Taurus mountains to bring his Anatolian subjects back under his command.

Realizing the danger John dispatched Romanos Abbasios once again, this time to Dorylaeum to meet with the Anatolian Turks. Neither army could match the Persian Turks alone, but if the Anatolians sent an army into Syria and linked up with the local Roman army they could throw Malik back. With some hesitation, and quite a bit of bribery, the Turkic leader agreed. I should note here we don’t actually know the names of any of the leaders of the Anatolian Turks. All of our primary sources are Manuel II’s writings on the subject, and he specifically does not list any of the Turkish leaders.

And I should also note that it is from Manuel that we get the name Malik for the Basileos of Persia. For obvious reasons he refused to recognize the man’s title, and the Romans seemingly never actually learned his proper Turkic name. So instead they called him what the Arabs who fought the Mesopotamian Turks did, which was Malik, an Arab word for king. This was obvious to people at the time, but as the Arab language continued to hybridize with Greek the meaning is often lost on modern readers.

Regardless, in 1010 John and Romanos Abbasios sailed south with an army of ten thousand. These soldiers were mostly garrison forces from the Balkans, Slavs and Croats in particular, and they were met in Syria by the local theme armies. The two forces combined until they numbered some twenty-five thousand. Independent Bedawi groups who had been fighting the advancing Turks also joined up with the Roman army, viewing the mostly passive Roman Emperors as a better neighbor than some new aggressive king. Also joining them were a force of seven thousand Anatolian Turks, who were only there to fight against their theoretical overlord.

The two armies met at near the city of Beroea in September. Romanos Abbasios prepared the ground carefully, using an old trick from the Sassanid Wars. He secretly had his men dig a large trench , leaving bridges in specific spots for his cavalry to cross in advancing and retreating. He then carefully trained the cavalry so that they would not plunge in themselves and leave the Persian Turks unopposed on the field.

The Roman force was now nearly forty thousand, and arrayed against them were twenty-five thousand nomads. Romanos sent his own Turks forward first, letting them shower the enemy with arrows and begin a long-range duel he hoped would inflict heavy casualties on both sides. After several exchanges of missiles a retreat was sounded among the Romans, and the Anatolian Turks began to fall back across the trench.

Malik ordered his men to follow, and they came on rapidly, loosing more arrows into the retreating Roman mercenaries. Malik sensed something was off and ordered a signal sent for his men to cease the pursuit, but for the front of his army it was already too late. As the trumpets blared a halt hundreds, of men and horses plunged into the trench to their deaths, The Persian Turks fell back, but left behind nearly two thousand of their number inside. The Romans, now greatly cheered by the success of their ploy now began to advance, crossing the bridges themselves and pressing toward the Turk lines. Roman cavalry swept around and tried to fall upon the flanks of Malik’s army. Fighting was fierce, but in the end Imperial numbers won the day, and Malik was forced to retreat back into Mesopotamia. He left behind eight thousand dead on the field compared to just five thousand among the larger Roman force.

However, no sooner was the battle over than the falling out began. The Bedawi, their enemy beaten, immediately packed up and left, and the Anatolian Turks who had taken the largest number of casualties felt ill-used by Romanos’s plan, feeling that he had let them take heavy losses to weaken them for Roman reconquest. They departed with extremely bitter feelings on both sides. Romanos returned to Constantinple in 1011 as a conquering hero, having dealt the Turks a solid defeat, the first major defeat of the War.

John gave him significant honors, and then immediately sent his general to Anatolia where the Turks there had decided to avenge themselves on the Romans by taking Dorylaeum, and using that as a springboard to overrun the West coast of the Peninsula. Romanos arrived with six thousand reinforcements, and began gathering men from Roman Anatolia to man the walls against the oncoming force.

In 1012 the Turks made their move, laying siege to the city and sending raiding parties past it to hit the Roman lands beyond. The siege would last two years off and on, with sporadic fighting sometimes letting the Romans bring in more supplies, and sometimes leaving them stuck for months in close quarters. Disease was rampant, but the defenders held out.

Romanos meanwhile waged an irregular war against Turkish raiders, using the tactics of the years of Caliphate to ambush and trap small bands of Turks and destroy them, until finally the siege was broken off and the Turks retreated back onto the plateau. The cost had been high however. Ten thousand were dead on both sides, and for the Romans the cost was worse, as word came that Amorium had fallen, and with it the last major Roman bastion in Anatolia not near the coast.

Despite that Dorylaeum was another victory, and John felt that the time had come to begin planning the Roman return to the plateau. To that end in 1015 he dispatched Romanos to Theodosiopolis once again to prepare the Armenian army to march out of the mountains, and check on his younger son.

A truce was also signed with Malik, scheduled to last ten years. However, mere days after signing the treaty Malik came down with a fever and died, and his realm rapidly fell into civil war as his sons all tried for the position of Emperor as well.

The time was right in the minds of everyone, including Romanos I.

Stuck to stew in a monastery for thirteen years he had let his anger grow to a fever pitch, and began plotting to retake his throne. In 1016 he got his chance. Supporters freed him from the monastery, and the group entered the palace through a door a bribed servant had left unlocked. They seized John, and Matthios, and had the noses of both slit. In his triumphant march to the Hippodrome to announce his return to the crowd the Emperor and his oldest son were forced to crawl on hands and knees before their predecessor, and then unceremoniously beheaded in front of the crowd. Their bodies were thrown into the sea, and their heads sent as proof of the Emperor’s return. But Romanos was no content yet, he sent orders to Armenia that John’s younger son and Romanos Abbasios be executed as well.

John III was 33 years old, and had been Emperor for 13 years. John III was a highly successful Emperor. He began the process of reversing Roman decline, made key truces and alliances that let the Empire weather the Turkish onslaught, and laid the groundwork for the reconquest of Anatolia. He also recognized early the military talent of Romanos Abbasios, the greatest general of this era, and ensured the boy’s talents were properly developed and utilized. Once in power he did something few Emperors would have dared do, and put this great soldier into trusted positions of power

His success is somewhat balanced out by his failure to resolve the domestic crises which gripped the Empire at this point, and spent money he really didn’t have in the process. It will be this spending that leads to some of the more controversial actions his real successor would take in fundraising. Ending the grain dole so abruptly was also probably a mistake. It alienated the capital’s population at a critical time, and they might have backed him against Romanos I had John been more personally popular. But its hard to judge the man too harshly since even if he had been successful, its hard to see how he could have been a better choice than the man who actually oversaw the Empire’s coming success.

But it is important to remember, it was John III who put in place what was needed for the Empire to bounce back.

To say that this news came poorly in Theodosiopolis was an understatement. John had kept his early promises, and his son was quite popular among the troops. When the general of the Armenian army read the letter then an angry buzzing began among the soldiers, and when he finished threw it down, and then pissed on it, to show his feelings for Romanos I’s return.

Instead of accepting the counter-usurpation the general called for all of his men to proclaim the son of John III Emperor. As one they knelt and swore allegiance. They then hoisted the teenager onto their shoulders and marched him to the Church, where the local Archbishop had the boy kneel, and placed a hastily made circlet upon his head.

The boy departed Constantinople many years ago as merely a disposable prince whose death would be a tragedy, but an acceptable one. He rose as a Basileos.

As he rose a great crowd in the city joined with the soldiers to hail their new Emperor. His name, of course, was Manuel.
Romanos I sounds like a TTL version of Justinian II.
 
Romanos I sounds like a TTL version of Justinian II.
Yeah. I've based a lot of events on stuff that happened OTL. The events surrounding Manuel II's rise to Emperorship is a combination of several of these. Mostly the overthrow of Justinian II, the kingship of Henry IV (who overthrew his cousin and took the throne of England for himself), and Edward III (whose father was overthrown, but who rallied support and defeated those who had done the deed.)
 
What makes me scratch my head in confusion is the Church situation, specifically the issue of married bishops. OTL secular kings were totally cool with their clergy being married and bishoprics being effectively hereditary, it was popes who tried to stamp out the practices, and had basically no success for first millennium of trying. But TTL, situation is reversed: pope would rather kill himself than give tacit approval to have bishop denied his inheritance. Why? OTL popes had to keep buggering kings to stamp out simony and nepotism, and kings kept answering "haha, no".
I think that if King of Franks went to war against Pope, he'd rather do so to obtain right to tax church properties than to stop bishops from marrying.
 
What makes me scratch my head in confusion is the Church situation, specifically the issue of married bishops. OTL secular kings were totally cool with their clergy being married and bishoprics being effectively hereditary, it was popes who tried to stamp out the practices, and had basically no success for first millennium of trying. But TTL, situation is reversed: pope would rather kill himself than give tacit approval to have bishop denied his inheritance. Why? OTL popes had to keep buggering kings to stamp out simony and nepotism, and kings kept answering "haha, no".
I think that if King of Franks went to war against Pope, he'd rather do so to obtain right to tax church properties than to stop bishops from marrying.
I mean the reforms of the papack ttied to stamp out this and enforced celebecy since the children of the bishops where given lands and evety thing the HRE used this as tactic to weaken the papacy elect your own bishops being loyal to you and their sons for inheratance thus weakening the papacy So yeah pretty much
 

It’s mostly just this one king, not really kings plural. And he is trying to obtain rich church properties too, and is getting back to that. Its just combined with this general anti-corruption crusade he's on. I'll go back and edit that part to make it clearer the financial motivations involved to. The pope didn't really care that much about an utterly unworthy bishop being treated less than well, and reacted as he thought was appropriate for any Church official being abused. That it was being done by the Frankish Emperor didn't seem to be that important. Then when the Emperor didn't back down he really should have just quietly dropped the matter, but instead dug in his heels for no reason other than petty pride. Down in Roman Rome there just didn't seem to be any danger in trying to keep religious supremacy. In normal times the matter would have been worked out by cooler heads. It just wasn't normal times.

One thing to keep in mind is that the pope's political position going in is very different than the position OTL. OTL the pope was leader of his own realm, and playing for what was more or less supreme power in Christendom, at least Western Christendom. Weakening the Holy Roman Emperor boosted his own position by comparison. Here though that doesn't really happen. While sure a weaker Frankish Emperor might do a little to boost the pope's prestige it doesn't really matter because no matter what the pope was always subordinate to on man, the Emperor in Constantinople. There is thus far less impetus to try and get the sort of control the pope's of OTL tried for. Stamping out nepotism doesn't get the pope as much. Louis is just a massive stick in the mud about this sort of thing. So is Manuel, as we'll see, though for different reasons.
 
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I'm really enjoying this specific, podcast-esque format with it being based on History of Byzantium. Though something I noticed is that it seems that the author here doesn't particuarly like Justinian the 1st with how he stated earlier that if Justinian the third hadn't fucked up he could have redeemed the name. I'm guessing Justinian I is not nearly as popular/well liked a figure as OTL?
 
I'm really enjoying this specific, podcast-esque format with it being based on History of Byzantium. Though something I noticed is that it seems that the author here doesn't particuarly like Justinian the 1st with how he stated earlier that if Justinian the third hadn't fucked up he could have redeemed the name. I'm guessing Justinian I is not nearly as popular/well liked a figure as OTL?
More or less correct. There are two primary factors here.

The first is that since the Empire never really undergoes complete collapse the way it did OTL (despite coming close several times), Justinian's conquests just don't look nearly as impressive. There's no map that says, "Byzantine Empire at its greatest extent under Jusitnian I" the way there is OTL. Such a map of this millenium would be "middle Empire at its greatest extent under Alexios I". There's no "Last of the Romans" mythologizing about Belisarius's campaigns, etc. So Justinian retaking North Africa and Italy isn't the last great conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire trying to reconquer the West. Its just one of many such wars, and one that didn't end particularly well. Alexios I is more likely to take the role of overrated Emperor who embarked on a war of conquest that looks good on paper, but ends up being not particularly great when you dig into the details. For historians, Justinian I is overall viewed as an ambitious Emperor, but whose talent didn't match his goals. Most ITTL Romans wouldn't think of Justinian's conquests if he's mentioned though. Or his financial difficulties. Or even the plague. They'd think of the Hagia Sophia, and even that wouldn't be completely right since its about to get a major repair and rebuilding project done that will leave the building modified from its original design. He just isn't important enough to be popular.

Second, the in-universe author is Italian, from Syracuze specifically, and his family has been from there since about thirty years after where we are now. And as such he cares more about the Gothic War than say citizens in Constantinople do.
 
I also see you compared ITTL Alexios I to Basil II in closest equivalent, I take it you think Basil II is rather overrated with his popularity amongst Rhomaniaboos?

Also good, Justinian I is a lot less overrated than he is IOTL, and even better he isn't even really remembered. Which would really get to his craw with how he seemed obsessed with becoming famous and leaving a glorious legacy IOTL.

Though it kind of does suck that it implies that Belisarious isn't really remembered either as the really competent military commander he was.
 
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