The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Why is Julius II going to be so obsessed with the earlier empire/Latin culture?
A couple of reasons. First, as noted he’s the Exarch of Italy before she takes the throne, and so has an interest in painting Italy as the birthplace of the Empire, and as such of the claimants following the last Thalassan to take the throne. Beyond that there are a myriad of political reasons just in Italy itself. As we'll see when we get there the Italians were...less than enthusiastic about the prospect of going out and reunifying the Empire, and even less enthusiastic about the step preceding that. So painting Italy, the birthplace of the Empire as, well that is part of his general political campaign in that sphere.

There's a lot of other interal political interests in Italy that dictate his course as well, and we'll talk about those when the structure of Italy is discussed in future.
Part 70: The East in 1092
Part LXX: The East in 1092​

We’ve already talked quite a bit about the Turkish state forming in Perisa, but it bears expand upon somewhat. The Turkic Empire rule a vast territory stretched from Roman Syria in the West to the mountains of India in the East, and north deep to the still uncontrollable steppe. They retained the Persian capital of the Sassanids at Esfahan, behind the Zagros Mountains. This is important to understanding the Turkish focus not on the West, but the East. Had the Turks decided to set up the seat of government at say Babylon its highly likely the Romans would have faced a greater threat in the East over the next two hundred years. But they did not, instead the Turks spent much of their time looking East themselves, both in their military focus, and perhaps even more crucially, their economic focus.

Like the Sassanids and Parthians before them the Turkic state was heavily reliant on taxes of the Silk Road, at least until better bureaucratic traditions were built up in the 1300s allowed for proper taxation. Even that however was largely forced upon the Turks as their overlords during the late 1200s did not allow the sort of heavy taxation normally enforced upon Eastern trade.

The state religion of the Turkic Empire was Eastern Christianity, led by the Patriarch of the East. For our purposes I am going to refer to it as Nestorian, to differentiate from other eastern Christians. Nestorianism was by now still a minority of the people in Persia, modern estimates guess something around 30% of Persians were Christian on the Turkic conquest, with the remainding 70% being primarily Zoroastrian, or some other native religion.

The Turks however brought with them the death-knell of all these ancient pagan cults. Zoroastrianism was specifically targeted early on, with many shrines and holy sites destroyed either in the initial conquest, or more often in the civil war that occurred in the first decade of the 1000s. Among the sites destroyed were the three legendary, and now lost, great flames which according to local superstition had come from the Ahura Mazda, the god of Zoroastrianism.

Even after the war was over and open persecution ended heavy taxes were levied on all such holy sites, equivalent to the Roman and Muslim taxes on non-Christians, but far steeper. The Turks were early into their conversion at this point still, and the zeal with which they pursued Christian aims is quite astonishing. It wasn’t unheard of for powerful tribal lords to simply retire one day and either go to a monastery, or even depart Persia entirely and head for Rome, Constantinople, or Jerusalem to live a quiet life of religious contemplation.

If you go to Jerusalem today you can find Turkipolis, the section of town once known for the large number of Turks living in the area. That said, any relation the area actually had to Turks has long since vanished, but the name lives on.

It will take two hundred years for Nestorian Christianity to completely engulf Persia, but the one strong bastion of pagan superstition would eventually be swept away.

Southwest of Persia is a place we haven’t paid much attention to since Leo’s reconquest of Syria and Palaestina, Arabia.

When last we checked in here the region was dominated by a small group of kingdoms on the coasts, with a largely disunited, or uninhabited, interior. Those kingdoms are now gone. Those on the East coast were overrun by Bedawi raiders, usually Roman veterans, in the mid 900s. The Roman ally in the Hejaz held on however, until the 1020s. The Hejaz had long been the most successful Arab successor state for a multitude of reasons, primarily its easy access to Red Sea trade, the close alliance with the Romans, and the ability of its kings to balance the interests of the city-dwellers and the nomads. But in the early 1000s everything began to break down.

First, in 990 a major revolt broke out among the Bedawi loyal to the government in Medina, and while it was put down the expense and manpower required signaled that significant challenges were on their way. What was worse, the Bedawi had begun to embrace the sort of Islamic Christianity practiced by their Arab brothers in Syria, over the more nativist form being practiced in Arabia itself. This led to significant religious conflict, as the Bedawi began appointing their own bishops following the Roman custom, and declaring the Hejaz bishops not just separate, but outright heretical. The Bedawi also were influenced by the Jacobi beliefs in Syria that looked down on veneration of things other than God as blasphemous. While Arabia did not have an icon tradition (with some scholars speculating that the iconoathieato may have been influenced by Syrian Arabs), they did have a number of holy places, notably the Kaaba in Mecca. But while the religious tensions that will eventually destroy the kingdom were in place it wasn’t the king’s main source of woes, no that was money.

Red Sea trade had been in decline for several years by this point as India was ravaged by internal struggles and Daquin’s central state collapsed. This led to a precipitous decline in Red Sea revenues. Worse, what goods did come through now had a far harder time finding buyers, as the Romans were seemingly on the verge of collapse themselves, with taxes heavy and government cash scarce. Since the Hejaz was dependent on money gained by taxing Red Sea trade, and its merchants earned most of their livings working in the industry, economic disaster followed.

To cap off the decline in Red Sea revenues the Hejaz also had a major issue with pirates out of Arabia Felix to the south. The king decided something had to be done, and in 1012 he marched a large army out of Mecca south. His oldest son and heir went with him, and so did a vast amount of treasure to keep the campaign going.

No one ever returned.

We aren’t entirely certain what happened to the king, his army, or his gold, but according to legend he was swept away in a sudden sandstorm, with the army vanishing as if called to heaven. More likely the army simply became lost in the desert and died of dehydration, or possibly from poisoned wells.

It doesn’t matter though, because ethe knock-on effects were dire. The kingdom’s treasury was now just gone. There was no money for gifts to tribal chiefs, and raising more would be difficult. In desperation the old king’s younger son begged the Romans for a large loan. But the Romans, facing major financial difficulties themselves you will recall, outright refused.

Taxes were increased, and the kingdom scraped by, but only barely. In 1030 another Bedawi revolt broke out, larger and more widespread. In fighting near Mecca the king of Hejaz was killed, and his army destroyed. The victorious nomads ravaged the holy city, destroying the Kaaba and taking the Black Stone supposedly given to Abraham away as war booty. The stone would remain in their hands for twenty-two years, until it was offered as a gift to the Emperor Manuel II for his fiftieth birthday.

The fact that a large amount of gold was then gifted back is of course completely coincidental. The Black Stone would be kept in the Imperial palace at Chalcedon for the next two hundred years, before being destroyed along with the palace and the city. Descriptions survived however, and in 1520 the Caesarii christened a replica of the stone to be gifted back to Arabia on the Roman conquest of the region. It was symbolically given by the Roman pope to his Islamic equivalent, the Patriarch of Medina, who accepted the gift and carried it barefoot back to the old holy site.

Today it sits in the Mecca Cathedral, on display for anyone who might care to look upon it. That’s all for the future though. The capture and sack of Mecca was a deathblow to the authority of the Hejaz kings, and more revolts broke out across the region. By 1040 the territory controlled by the king had shrunk from virtually all of the north-western coast of Arabia to just Medina and a small area around it. The last proper kingdom in Arabia was dead.

But even as the Hejaz was falling a new player had entered the scene. Markuria had spent the century after Alexios’s decisive victory over them rebuilding, putting down revolts, and expanding toward the Red Sea coast of Nubia. By 1000 the king controlled a large strip of land along the coastline, and had set up a number of ports in the region to exert his authority. In 1030 King Markos of Markuria built a fleet and launched an invasion of Arabia Felix, looking to do what the Hejaz had failed to accomplish some fifteen years earlier. Attacking by sea he was able to make landing and march along the coast, defeating pirates and securing territory as he went.

As with most of Arab history during this time we have scant details, but in 1032 a major battle seems to have been fought somewhere off the coast. Referred to as the Burning Masts in later records Markuria met a combined fleet of Arabs, and annihilated them. Casualty numbers are something like one million Arabs dead and ten thousand ships destroyed.

These numbers are of course, complete nonsense. It seems more likely to be a few hundred ships per side, but in the battle the Arabs must have lost the vast majority, as the ability of the Arabs of Felix to resist was completely shattered. By the end of 1032 the last tribe in the region had surrendered, and Markuria now bestrode both sides of the Red Sea, and when trade picks up once again in a few decades that will give them quite a revenue source indeed.

Markos died in 1041, but his son Matthios was eager to prove himself a capable leader of men as well, and led another fleet across the Red Sea to the city of Jeddah, capturing the city and then marching inland. On a four year campaign he conquered the old Arab cities of Mecca as well, and territory around the city. Faced with ongoing Bedawi raids the Markurians erected a number of fortresses in the style the Romans had built in the Theme of Nubia before that was abandoned, and slowly the nomads were pushed back once again, though never decisively beaten.

In 1050 Matthios marched into Medina, captured the city, and deposed the king. The Hejaz was no more. Matthios had little interest in the rest of Arabia though, and so he would not continue his march north. This was for three reasons, first all of Arabia that was worth having and within a reasonable distance he already held. Second, marching north meant getting close to the Roman border up in Palaestina. And getting close to the Roman border might have meant war with Constantinople.

And war with Constantinople, especially under an Emperor known for his invincibility on the battlefield struck Matthios as suicidal.

Third, while he might have conquered a large amount of Arab territory actually holding it was another matter. Local revolts, nomad raids, and army mutinies would plague the Markurian rule of Arabia for the next thirty years, requiring Matthios and then his son to repeatedly campaign there before finally the region was pacified. But the money gained through control of the Red Sea, though which trade from India was beginning to flow once again, was lucrative enough to make the expense and trouble worth it.

Markuria will rule the Western coast of Arabia for the next two hundred years, until the Second Caliphate throws them out completely in the 1240s. By then Markuria will be a state in decline, but they will survive in relative safety until finally finished off in the 1500s. during the Caesarii’s Eastward expansion.

Longer-term the conquest of Arabia will introduce Islamic Christianity to Nubia for the first time, and lead to major religious troubles in the kingdom, as the local Christians try to hold back the incoming foreign religion that was dominant along the wealthy coast. It will ultimately be a losing battle, and by 1300 Islamic Christianity will be firmly entrenched in Nubia as the dominant religion, solidified by the king’s conversion in 1296.

Next time we will be looking at the European situation by the end of Manuel’s reign, as the massive Norman kingdom rises to its zenith, and then just as quickly plummets to its doom. It will leave behind multiple successor states, and leave the door open for the full return of people who hadn’t been dominant in Britanni for six hundred years, the natives themselves; the Franks try to sort out just how many successor kingdoms they want to form, and the Rus and Bulgars wage their endless wars on their pagan neighbors.
Great update! Have missed this.

Chalcedon is still very close to the capital. To have such a city completely destroyed is very alarming, or maybe a natural disaster?
For Mongols to make it so deep in, the Empire would have had to seriously let some rot in considering the current trend.
Part 71: The West in 1092
Part LXXI: The West in 1092​

In the West the primary change since the beginning of the century was of course the total collapse of the Frankish Empire which had dominated Western Europe for the past five hundred years. The old Empire had shattered into three semi-distinct areas, roughly analogous to the modern states of Gael, Franki, and Germani. Gael had originally been divided into three parts of its own. Soissons, Aquitaine, and Toulouse.

The southern regions were theoretically under Roman control, but this was tenuous, and when Roman troops withdrew to fight a civil war they never returned. The rulers of both areas took some time to reassert themselves, but when Aquitaine stopped even giving lip service to Constantinople and there was no response the message was clear. The Romans did not care what happened in Gaul.

Manuel was savvy enough to have known that originally, and had never intended to keep a military presence long-term, but likely would have retained the region for at least a few decades had internal problems not caused a more rapid withdrawal.

Regardless, Aquitaine now stepped into the ring of post-Imperial Franki by trying to assert control over the Rhine river. He had some early success, but Aquitaine was still in bad shape after the Roman ravaging of the countryside, and so he was unable to muster a large enough force to actually garrison any captured territory. Instead Philip undertook a campaign similar to Manuel’s. Utilizing a pillage and burn strategy he aimed to provoke the local Frankish lords to open battle against his small, but locally superior forces. In a number of battles he was highly successful, defeating several small lords, and even a group that had banded together.

But at Aachen all that came to an end. The current master of the city was Charles, a maternal cousin of Emperor Louis, and a man who had owned small estates near the Rhine river’s mouth. When Louis was killed and the Empire died Charles had waited to see what would happen, only getting involved when his opponents had worn themselves out in fighting. He marched south in 1043, took the old capital, and had himself declared King of the Franks. His lands were virtually untouched by the Imperial collapse, and he was able to use his limited wealth to great effect using both his own retainers, and a core force of mercenaries from among the Pedinoi and the Britanni.

This force of heavy cavalry and archers were decisive against the largely disorganized and disunited lords he faced. And at Aachen they scored their greatest victory. Charles had been at Louis’s great defeat in southern France, and had barely escaped alive, and so he decided to lay a similar trap. Utilizing ditches and flooded paths he created a narrow battlefield that Philip’s army would have to cross to reach the northern lines. This created a perfect killing field for concealed archers on either side of the battlefield, who would in turn be protected by the ditches and caltrops.

When Philip arrived he played directly into Charles’s hand by attacking. But the field had actually worked better than Charles had dreamed it would. The night before the battle there had been a rain, which had overfilled the ditches, and turned the ground between the armies into muddy slog. Philips knights were bogged down as they tried to advance, and as the arrows hit them from either side many were killed, and took their comrades down with them.

When the Pedinoi moved forward to attack the southerners broke. Those who could fled, while the rest were slaughtered in the mud. Philip himself was killed by a lucky arrow through his eye. The men who could escaped, but the end result was the same. Aquitaine’s remaining power base was broken.

As Aquitaine was once again losing its leader however, events in the West and North were occurring as well. In 1043 the doux of Toulouse died, as did his two brothers. This left behind only a sister, Mary, in the family, and despite some grumbling from her underlings she did inherit, though she was still only a child at the time. Importantly however, before her father had died several years before he had arranged for her to betrothed to William, Duke of Soissons in the North. With her new position this left the couple as the one of the most powerful pairs in Western Europe. And they used it.

In 1045 the king of Alba died, and his son Roger inherited the entire Norman realm, both the islands and the mainland. But Roger and William hated one another. Hated one another enough that there is some evidence they both tried to poison the other at Roger’s coronation, though they both failed. That said, in the short-term William did not have the power to challenge Roger’s position.

But in 1047 that changed. Mary turned sixteen, and traveled to north for her wedding. Roger was not invited.

Less than three months later William and Mary declared that they were severing the bonds of feudalism that bound them to Roger’s realm. And what was their rationale for doing so? Why, they were loyal subjects of the Roman Emperor of course. After all, Gaul was his realm, and as such their rightful feudal overlord. So long as the Roman Emperor didn’t try to actually enforce that overlordship of course.

Roger naturally was having none of it. A few years of small-scale raiding and skirmishing followed, but in 1050 he raised a large fleet and tried to cross the sea to Gaul and bring his wayward lands back under control.

William and Mary had raised a fleet of their own however, and in October the two fleets met. The upside was that Roger was crushed. He lost virtually his whole fleet, and had to limp back across the Strait. On his return word of the defeat rapidly spread, and the king’s position was fatally undermined. Rebellions broke out across Saxeland as lords, both Saxons and Danes, chafing under the Norman yoke decided to reassert their independence. Roger was forced to flee back to Hibernia and raise a force from his still loyal vassals there to put down the rebellion.

Two decades of fighting followed, but at the end of it the large Norman territory was broken. Roger retained control over the northern sections of Saxeland, but he lost both Caledonia, and all territory from Myrce south. The newly independent Saxeland was divided into three basic kingdoms. The restored kingdoms of Myrce and Wessaxe, and the Daneland established in the eastern sections of the region. But the specifics aren’t important, because its not going to last.

In the lands of the Britanni the long-divided lords had been forcibly conquered by a king whose name we unfortunately don’t know, nor do we know anything about his reign. Virtually everything about the time period was written two hundred years later, and starts with the reign of this king’s son, Artri Brenin. And as a side-note, we don’t actually if that was HIS name either. While the records do use the term, there is a solid amount of evidence that this is actually just a local phrase meaning “the bear king”, and given his described stature it would seemingly be accurate. Local histories though paint Artri as a second coming of an ancient Britanni hero named Artorius, a Roman soldier from before the Saxon conquest who had waged war against the Saxons before being apparently mortally wounded and promising to return one day. The story is complete fiction (not least because there is no record OF Artorius from before Artri emerged onto the scene) as you are probably aware, but future propagandists played it to the hilt.

Regardless, Artri led an army of somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand men, mostly made up of the highly skilled archers the Britanni will be so famous for, as well as some number of light infantry. Against the powerful bows wielded by his forces the armies of the Saxons stood no chance. By 1080 the king had conquered all the way to Londinium and had himself crowned King of the Britons and Saxons. The Danes successfully fought Artri to a standstill, and eventually signed a treaty recognizing him as overlord, but not as their actual ruler. In exchange for this recognition Danes would bolster the armies of the Britanni kings going forward, while the latter would act as shields against possible Norman encroachment from the North. As with the Norman conquest the Britanni return will prove fleeting, but that’s for the next century.

In Caledonia meanwhile groups from out of the highlands had swept down and conquered the lower regions of the country, and then mostly turned on one another. Showing once again that the Caledonians of this age should really just be left well alone to fight their mortal enemy, the Caledonians.

Roger was thus left with a drastically smaller realm, consisting of the north of Saxeland, where his castles meant he could still exert control, Hibernia, the center of Norman power, and the various smaller islands off the Britannic coast. There will be fighting between, well pretty much everyone, as time goes on, but these borders are roughly what will be in place for the next hundred years.

Of note however, many Danish lords and inhabitants of Saxeland faced attack from their Saxon neighbors, and many Normans had lost their lands and livelihoods. These men would often emigrate to one of two directions. First south, the the realm of William, where many would become knights of their former prince’s household. But secondly, and more relevantly going forward, many more went north, to Smaragdus, or as it was mostly known then, the Nisi Chloeros. The Verdant Island.

A less than fitting name for an island in the north Atlantic, but it is the first time the island enters our narrative. It and its neighbor, the Nisi Aspro will take over several thousand emigres from Saxeland, as well as other regions of Varangian Europe. These communities were the death knell of paganism on the islands, as they were far less tolerant of the old superstitions than the current inhabirants.

That’s a different series though. The actual relevant point is this. When these migrants arrived in the 1080s they found islands where most of the land was already claimed. While some cleared new arable land this was not an option for many. And so they returned to their old roots as traders and sailors. And fisherman. That was the big one, because on a fishing voyage in 1096 Birgir Aland was blown badly off course while returning to the White Island. Far, far off course. Far to the West. He was forced to beach his ship on a land completely unknown, and harvest timber from the surrounding land to repair his ships. He departed the next year without incident. But, upon returning to the Green Island Birgir used his story to get more ships together, and deliberately returned. They set up several camps on what he named the Nisi Xylos, or the Timber Island, harvesting wood and other materials before returning before winter.

These camps would become a staple of life on the northern islands, eventually turning into permanent encampments. The first permanent encampments by Europeans on Borealis Transmare. Nisi Xylos was not in fact an island, but rather the northeasternmost tip of the great continent. And these initial settlements will be the basis of the eventual Gothic aim of bypassing Roman control of the Indian and Daqin trade routes, and from there the whole sometimes glorious, sometimes absurd, story of the two continents, and the civilizations that waited there.

Back across the Straits William and Mary celebrated their victory by more or less immediately dropping the fiction that they were Roman vassals at all. In a grand ceremony they instead crowned themselves the King and Queen of Gael, and making little secret of the fact they planned to conquer Aquitaine, which they promptly did. The process took twenty years after their initial independence, but there was little to oppose them. Most of the local lords approached were willing to simply acknowledge the new bosses as needed, but some held out. These were dealt with, and in 1070 Aquitaine was added as the third section of the Gallic kingdom.

Gael was heavily decentralized, much as the Norman kingdom had been. But William and Mary between them held about half of the total lands, leaving them drastically more powerful than any would-be challenger. While royal lands will grow and shrink as the years go by this powerful basis will form the center of a powerful centralized state. That’s for another time though.

Across the old Frankish Empire was rising the new Kingdom of Germani. Germani named one of their own a king, a man named Frederic, because at this point nobles among the Franks have about half a dozen names that they just keep cycling through. This Frederic is completely unrelated to anyone whose shown up before, and his line will be dead before the next century’s out. So his name will not be required material. But, what is important to know about the Franks is that they bordered the last barbarians. With the conversion of the Danes and Normans only the lands beyond Germani, and before the Rus, remained pagan in Europe.

Along the borderland skirmishes, raids, and counter-raids were common. Strong castles were built at key areas to hold off the pagans, and Germani lords often went on pilgrimage to fight in foreign lands. And if they happened to capture some prisoners who could be send down the Danube or to the coast and then loaded onto Gothic ships bound for Roman slave markets, and hence make some cash then so much the better.

The final Western kingdom was that of the Bulgari, now controlling significant parts of what had once been the periphery of the Frankish Empire. Much like Germani the Bulgars had adopted a highly decentralized state, with major lords and landowners owing fealty to the king, but with significant privileges reserved for local nobility. But Bulgar royalty was far more entrenched than the new German kings. The Bulgar royal family had been in power for a little over one hundred years, and the nobility had won for themselves the right to select a new king from among the previous king’s family. As time goes on this right will be expanded, until Bulgar nobility are selecting the king from any powerful noble within their territory.

This will still usually result in one family emerging victorious, but there were always upsets.

The Bulgari and the Romans had largely coexisted peacefully since the Great Bulgar War ended, but as the reign of Manuel II had introduced a new wrinkle. The Bulgari still considered the territory between the Tyras and the Danube to be their territory, even if it was abandoned every time a significant nomad army crossed the former. But now the Romans had occupied the region, with clear intentions of remaining long-term. The Bulgari king will not take this incursion lying down, and a significant part of Leo’s reign will be spent on the northern border.

And next time we will finally get to Leo’s reign as he tries to fill the giant shoes left behind, and the Empire will see if the decentralized autocratic system of Manuel could outlive the great Emperor.
And these initial settlements will be the basis of the eventual Gothic aim of bypassing Roman control of the Indian and Daqin trade routes, and from there the whole sometimes glorious, sometimes absurd, story of the two continents, and the civilizations that waited there.
Some things never change.
Manuel II is widely regarded as the greatest Emperor the Romans have ever had. And despite a number of questionable decisions, failures in judgement, terrible precedents, hostility with neighbors, and long-term issues left in place, I see no reason to question historical judgement on the man.
Is this THE peak of Roman Power? It’ll ebb and flow, but not reach the heights of Manuel’s reign?
Is this THE peak of Roman Power? It’ll ebb and flow, but not reach the heights of Manuel’s reign?
In terms of absolute power? Not even close. In terms of relative power? Yep. There's not even a power on the level of Parthia like there was during say the Five Good Emperors. As Turkish control over Persia solidifies, the Rus get their act together, the disparate Frankish kingdoms start to actually centralize properly, and etc. the Roman will never be at this level of superiority over their neighbors again. Basically, the Romans right now are really strong, but their neighbors are also really weak.
Are these Northern Islands the Normans settled the Faroes or are they Iceland?
Nisi Chloeros, the Verdant Island is Iceland. Nisi Aspro, the White Island, is Greenland.

Nisi Xylos is not an island. It’s southern Labrador. Which the Danish Sagas of OTL referred to as Markland or "Land of Woods." Here they have local names, but the ones given are those recorded by Roman Greeks based on accounts of Gothic traders who very occasionally range as far north as Iceland.

Is this OTL Labrador?