The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

I honestly know borderline nothing about Indian history before the Mughals. In general what's happening is similar to OTL, but the powers that existed there got hit by the general move of the Turks off the steppe, mostly as raids rather than full-scale invasion though.
so they party all night with blackjack and hookers?
Part 73: Judicial Functions
Part LXXIII: Judiciary Functions​

Constantine VIII was crowned on May 2, 1100 in the Hagia Sophia to a properly enthusiastic crowd. That is to say, a crowd which had been paid to be enthusiastic. The actual response was far more mixed. Leo’s reign had been unremarkable, both in its foreign affairs but also domestically. Little more was expected of Constantine.

At first, he more or less lived up to this view. He held a number of lavish celebrations for his coronation, held a grand state funeral for his father, laying him to rest in the Chalcedon Palace’s mausoleum, and giving a good, but not too extravagant, ascension donative to the army. Constantine was not content to proceed as just a forgettable, but competent Emperor. He had a larger project in mind. A few in fact, but the first would be something unheard of in hundreds of years, he planned to tour his Empire. Readers will of course remember that in the 800s Leo V undertook a major trip across the entire Empire. And like that Leo Constantine VIII had no crisis to attend to, he simply wanted to see his people, let them see him, and maybe distribute some cash to make sure they remember why he was in charge.

Constantine was a highly practical man however, and so his first order of business was counting every coin he had, and he soon came to the conclusion that the contents of the treasury were insufficient. So he waited, cutting back on spending where he could in order to build up his money faster. He wanted this trip to be both special, and something people would remember fondly. Eating them out of house and home, then leaving the citizens destitute would not achieve his goal. It wasn’t until 1103 that he felt a sufficient reserve of cash was available to depart. The route was planned carefully. Constantine planned to take a similar route to what Leo had done two centuries before. He would pass through the East, down through Palaestina, into Egypt, and then take a ship to Africa, then proceed across the coast to Hispani, and then take ship from Baetica or Tarracon to northern Italy. He would then proceed to Venice, sail from there to Ravenna, then proceed to Rome and then southern Italy. From there he would cross to Sicily, before taking ship from Syracuze for Dyrrachium, making his way from there to Athens, then north again to Thessaloniki.

The party would then cross the Hemus Mountains into Dacia, travel to Moesia, and finally travel the coastal road back to Constantinople.

The trip would take years, but the Emperor felt confident that in his time away no significant crisis would develop, at least not one that his agents in the capital wouldn’t be able to handle. Constantine thus set out with a party including his wife and newborn son, the unfortunately less wise Constantine IX, the Exarch of Armenia, the Exarch of Syria, their families, as well as the family of the Exarch of Italy, who was busy dealing with a crisis on that peninsula which isn’t really super important to Imperial history save in the eventual impact on the Exarchate’s organization. As such, we will cover it in the end of century review of the governing system developing on the home peninsula.

Also going with the Emperor were five hundred thousand nomismata worth of coins (though most of these coins were either copper or silver rather than gold), a large number of valuable (but not overly so) gifts, two thousand knights, one thousand Pedinoi infantry, and some five thousand servants, retainers, and others.

The events of the trip aren’t particularly important, but it was seemingly a major success. The Emperor sat in judgement before his people, and made rulings which were, according to his own chroniclers at least, wise and virtuous. Over the course of four years the Emperor’s party moved slowly around the Mediterranean, with Constantine at each point taking careful note of local events and filing them away for later when he returned to the capital and got started on his life’s great project.

Along the way the Emperor met with the ruler of the Turks in Syria, the King of Markuria in southern Egypt, the king of Gael in Tarracon, and the king of Bulgari in Dacia. At this latest meeting his young son was betrothed to Agatha, the daughter of the Bulgari king, as stipulated by the treaty between the Romans and the Bulgari. The Emperor deeply disliked the match, but was too legally scrupulous to back out of his obligations. It would likely have been better for all involved if he had simply cancelled the union.

That’s for the future though. For now he returned to the capital in 1107, bringing with him a new daughter, Eudoxia, wife of future Emperor Romanos II. Constantine arrived back in the capital and immediately launched into activity. He had had his secretaries scour libraries on his trip for legal precedents, and local laws, as well as larger scale rulings over the old provinces. Constantine wanted to once again reform the Imperial legal code, cleaning up the six hundred years of precedents and contradictions since Justinian I had last done a large-scale rework of Roman law.

Over the centuries since the first Justinian’s only real success Roman law had once again grown extraordinarily complex. The interwoven system of old dioceses, provinces, themes, and now the exarchates had created a mess of legal overlap, conflicting precedents, and complicated jurisdictions. For example, court rulings in Theodosiopolis could only be appealed to the Exarch of Armenia, even though the actual city was no longer IN Armenia. This was a relic of the many centuries when Theodosiopolis had been one of the key centers of the old themes of Armenia.

Other examples were Attica and the Pelopponese being legally separate from the rest of Greece, even though under the new organizational structure they were centrally administered from Thessaloniki. This was a relic of the now disbanded naval themes established in the region.

Constantine wanted to fix all of this. His first move was to organize Greece into a pair of new Exarchates. These positions would be selected for a period of five years, and would be subject to epikroi review every two. The first Diocese of Graecus Oriens, eastern Greece which consisted of the coastline of Western Anatolia as well as most of the Aegean island. The Diocese was headquartered at Pergamum. The other, Graecus Occidens, western Greece consisted of the Greek mainland, as well as the islands of Crete and Euboea, and a few other smaller islands nearby. The headquarters was placed at Athens rather than Thessaloniki. This was a deeply unpopular move in the latter city, and prompted several days of riots until soldiers brought order back.

Notably, the power of these Greek Exarchs was highly limited, mostly to administrative and judicial functions. Any changes to Exarchate laws had to be sent to the Emperor for approval. Also it should be noted, the exarchates were given their official names in Latin rather than Greek because…we have no idea. Constantine doesn’t seem to have had any particular fondness for Italian nostalgia. The going theory is that he was trying to reinforce Latin as the language of laws, as was the case with the Code of Justinian. If so, it didn’t really work, as any pronouncements he made on the topic were largely ignored and Greek continued to be the language of Imperial business between Italy and Syria.

His new exarchs in place Constantine called the others to the Chalcedon Palace to begin hammering out Roman law. Legal experts and priests began the long slow process, and slowly the new Constantinian code began to take shape. A full decade of work went into the project, which was finally unveiled in 1118. Little was actually changed legally speaking. But many precedents were stricken from the record, and those which were retained were all catalogued and recorded. The most important changes however were in the realm of jurisdiction. That is to say, a lot of lower courts lost much of their sway. Constantine wanted his laws to be easily understood, and enforced uniformly. And that meant he didn’t want a bunch of local busybodies meddling with his work. A system was put in place therefore that allowed the Emperor to appoint traveling judges who would go from city to city to hear cases of Imperial law. Each Exarchate would have no fewer than six, and in the case of Syria and Italy, as many as fifteen, judges. These men would rotate through a series of planned routes, with no man going to the same place before each of his fellows had done the same.

Furthermore, the primary legal assistance of each judge would rotate as well, keeping the same men from forming close personal ties and hopefully reducing corruption.

There were exceptions of course. The Danube was still very much a militarized area, and so no such system was put in place. Instead, the various Danube forces applied justice for themselves, with the same true of the Turkish borderland, southern Egypt, and the far north of Italy.

The Exarchs grumbled about the reduction in their powers, and also the loss of money from fines, but they were mollified in the reduced workload that was required, and a slight boost in Imperial salary. Less than would be generated by the fines.

And this then also leads into another topic we must discuss. The ongoing centralization of Imperial power, and the weakening of checks on that power. Those of you more familiar with the far weaker Emperors of the Caesarii on might not understand this, so I’ll try and break it down. From the time of Julius I and Augustus the position of Emperor was a highly limited one, by design. While the Emperor was in effect master of the Roman world he had a check on that power in the form of the Senate. Yes the Senate often wasn’t much of a check, but if an Emperor grew too terrible, as Nero and Caligula did, then he could be declared an Enemy of the state and assassinated. Sometimes even in that order. Second, the Emperor’s more important check was the army.

Nero might well have survived the Senate’s condemnation had the army not been ready to mutiny as well. As time went on the army grew more and more powerful, and the Senate less and less so. Until the third century arrived and the army became not just the most powerful check on Imperial power, but often more powerful. Alexander Severus was assassinated by his own soldiers purely for military failures, and he was by no means the last.

When Diocletian took power he attempted to reassert Imperial authority by shifting away from the old Principate model of first among equals to the Dominus, or “lord and god” of the Romans. This blasphemous policy naturally was a dismal failure. But when Constantine converted the Empire to Christianity a new method was hit upon. The Emperor would be cast not as the lord of the Romans, nor as the first citizen. He would be the chosen of God to lead God’s chosen people. That is simplifying things of course, and it would take centuries to properly establish the principle. But it started there.

Now, as we’ve gone through first the Justinians and now the Thalassans the chekcs that existed on Imperial power were: the Church, the army, the magnates, and the people of Constantinople. The reorganization had also added the Exarchs. But, after Manuel II the magnates were broken thoroughly. The rich and powerful are still around of course, and they will grow in power, but their ability to challenge Imperial authority was dead, along with many of their number. The people of Constantinople had often voiced their displeasure with Imperial policy, most infamously during Justinian’s Nika Riots. But the Emperor was now headquartered outside of Chalcedon. And no matter how displeased the people of the capital grew the Imperial family was insulated from it, even if their administrative apparatus was not. So the second check had been drastically weakened.

The Church meanwhile was still internally divided by the still ongoing split between the conservative Chalcedonians, the modern Thessalonikans, and the more radical Jacoboi. It never really impacts Imperial policy so we won’t dwell on the split, but it is an ongoing point that should be kept in mind. And Imperial favor could easily shift if one group grew too hostile to an Emperor’s policies, regardless of what the ruler’s view might be. The third check was thus impotent.

That leaves the last tradition check, the army. The Imperial army was more centralized than ever before. It was run out of headquarters controlled by Constantinople, staffed by men educated in Constantinople, and consisted of men who looked to Constantinople for food, pay, and equipment. Gone were the days that local armies fed themselves. Even if local men wound up in charge or local food wound up in their bellies (and it usually did) everything had to go through Constantinople’s officials to get there. That left the army primarily loyal to the capital and with little incentive to go against Imperial decree, unless it negatively impacted them of course. So long as the army was happy that check was also gone.

The new check, the Exarchs would theoretically have acted as a final check on the Emperor’s power running rampant. But, the legal code debate shows the cracks there. The removal of judicial functions from the Exarch prerogative (except in Italy, but we’ll get to that) gave them a lot of ceremonial functions and plenty of important duties, but little actual power. If the Emperor said one thing and they said another, well too bad the Emperor’s the one who can order around two-hundred fifty thousand men. They were important. They were wealthy. They were proud. And they were glorified clerks, even if no one realized it. Even the theoretical military posts of the Exarch of Syria and Armenia mostly had staffs consisting of men who had gone through Constantinople, and whose loyalty primarily pointed in that direction.

That means Imperial power is back to the first century model, only without the Senate to provide any kind of roadblock. This was fine so far as it went. So long as the Emperor’s were basically decent at their jobs, or let men who knew what they were doing work in peace. But, do remember all of these points when we reach Romanos III. Because a lot of people wonder just how he was allowed to continue his reign for almost a decade, until two-thirds of the Empire went up in revolt, THIS is why.

There was no one who could have stopped him until the army, and his guards, did so. And the reason no one could stop him is right here.

But that’s for the future, and in no way should Constantine VIII be held responsible for his descendant’s actions. He was just trying to make the law more uniform and just. And he was largely successful. The general model of judges working routes in concert survives today, and has expanded to the rest of Europe, and even into Turki. The Koreans use a similar, though independently developed, form of it stretching all the way across the Procul Oceanum.

The Code of Constantine will be in effect for several hundred years until the next significant rewrite of the laws after the end of the Caesarii.

It was also basically the only significant event of Constantine’s long, mostly peaceful reign. There were the normal skirmishes along the various borders, a number of Cuman raids that were dispatched by the khagan and seen off by the Romans, but no major wars or crises. The planned marriage between Contantine IX and Princess Agatha occurred on schedule in 1122, with much pomp in the city, and with the Bulgari king visiting the Roman Capital as an honored guest. Feasts, game, and mass were held in abundance, and everyone had a grand time.

Everyone that is except Constantine IX, who hated his new bride intensely, and the feeling was rapidly returned. But we will get to the sad, undeserved, end of Empress Agatha, and the rapid, deserved, end of her husband next time. For now, Cosntantine VIII died in April 1130 of what we now think was an allergic reaction. He was fifty-seven years old and had been Emperor of just shy of thirty years.

Constnatine VIII was a good, but unremarkable Emperor. His legal revisions were badly needed, and generally successful, but its hard to ignore the fact that he had no particular crises to overcome, no wars to fight, nothing to prove himself to be one of the great men to lead the Empire. Outside his legal reforms he very much is a nonentity, but sometimes that really is all you need. I’m sure that if you asked the average citizen if they would rather the Empire faced drastic troubles to let the ruler prove his worth, or if they would prefer to live a long boring life while the Emperor puttered away at their books in peace, well the latter would win out overwhelmingly. And that was basically what Constantine’s reign amounted to.
Indeed for all that an excellent ruler is great peaceful and calm years are just better. Especially since the ruler still needs to be good enough to not create problems where there are none.
Sounds like Constantine is an Emperor that historians in the modern age will love, but will go unappreciated for the longest time.
Part 74: Domestic Affairs
Part LXXIV: Domestic Affairs​

Constantine IX was crowned sole Basileos shortly after his father’s death, and everyone hoped that the peaceful and quiet reign of his father would continue. Sadly, they were to be disappointed. Constantine was both more reckless, and less wise than his father, though he would likely claim to simply be more decisive.

In his first year in office he ordered the Tagmata north to the Tyras, and launched a series of raids into Cuman territory, striking at raiding camps and other targets. Similar raids were undertaken by the soldiers on the northern border of Armenia, though in significantly fewer numbers. Large quantities of sheep, horses, and trade goods were captured and brought back to be split as plunder among the men. Also brought back were several hundred captives who were exchanged for captured Romans the following year.

Constantine dutifully held a triumph after his success, and called his men home. The Cumans launched counterraids as was their wont, and fighting along the border continued as it usually did. Notably, several thousand men were also dispatched to Cherson, with orders to permanently secure the peninsula, with three new fortresses built along the Isthmus to block hostile moves into the region. In the future a canal will be dug to render the crossing even more difficult.

But it is not foreign affairs that will define Constantine’s short reign, but domestic ones. He married his sister Eudoxia off to a Greek admiral from Athens named Romanos, and set about looking for a way to divorce his hated wife. But the Pope firmly refused him the option. Constantine tried to sway the Chalcedonians to his side with an offer of appointing one of their own as the next pope, and he did get a bishop in Eastern Greece to agree for a time, but he was talked down by army commanders who advised that a divorce would mean a return to war with Bulgari.

Constantine backed down, for now. But he did not change his general view. Agatha was kept locked in a separate wing of the palace, and the Emperor forbade anyone to bring her into his presence. She was allowed only minimal servants due an Empress, and took meals alone. The poor girl was alone and isolated in a foreign world, her only friend the princess Eudoxia who visited her without her brother’s knowledge.

Constantine also embarked on a number of affairs, scandalizing Roman society and alienating him from the Church entirely. But one simply didn’t excommunicate the Emperor. It was unthinkable. Even vague critiques of the vice-regent of God were frowned upon. Priests in Constantinople gave mass with sermons focused on spousal duty, with particular focus on the requirements of the husband, but they could not, and did not, openly criticize the current state of affairs.

Naturally the women caught up in Constantine’s affairs often weren’t as lucky. While the Emperor favored them, they were safe, but when he inevitably grew bored and discarded them the city was quick to pounce. Surely these women must have seduced the Emperor away from his duty. Such was the thought at the time.

Now to be clear Imperial affairs were in no way new. They were literally as old as the old kings. But it should be noted that during the past century they have been extremely rare, and extremely private. Manuel claims to have had no affairs during his marriage, and to have kept no company after Maria’s death, which several contemporary accounts support. His own children likewise had no known flings, though its rather unlikely there actually were none. Manuel’s two successors are suspected of having a number of affairs with women mentioned in the histories, but nothing concrete is known, and these were absolutely not allowed to become public. Constantine though flaunted his adultery, and reveled in it. And unlike his predecessors he primarily dwelt in Constantinople rather than Chalcedon, though the official residence remained there, as did his wife.

As time went on however the open secret severely eroded the Emperor’s popularity. It wasn’t just his affairs or scandals, no it was the lack of an heir. Constantine had no sons, and was clearly never going to have any legitimate children. The populace began to mock him among themselves, and cheer his sister whenever she passed. Even among his own guards Constantine was widely disliked.

In 1134 Constantine’s popularity received a major, if temporary, boost when a Rus raiding fleet struck at the suburbs of Constantinople and were decisively beaten off by the Imperial fleet and local troops. This was part of a new struggle taking place in the Black Sea, as Rus raiders hit Roman towns along the northern coast of Anatolia, part of what was largely a minor trade dispute between themselves and the Romans.

To give a brief summary, Constantine had increased the fees required of foreign traders who wanted to be allowed inside Constantinople, while keeping the Roman fees the same. The already Roman favored taxes thus increased the cost to operate in Constantinople comparatively, and trade revenue began to decline. Dependent on Roman trade for hard currency the Rus began attacks, looking to force the Emperor to the negotiating table.

Constantine instead sent men with gold to the Cuman khagan, and paid the nomad leader for a truce, and then to attack the Rus instead. One point to note since we haven’t dwelt on it, is that the Rus by this point had splintered into a number of different kingdoms, of which the Romans were only actually fighting those of Kyiv. The Cumans didn’t particularly care about the distinction however, and gladly launched a number of Roman financed raids on all available Rus territory, resulting in the sack of both Kyiv and Cherigov in 1136 and 1138 respectively.

The southern Rus kingdoms were severely weakened by the blows, and would not fully recover until their nomadic neighbors were themselves dealt a decisive defeat a full century later.

Cathartic as Constantine’s funding of a war against the Rus might have been however his actions were rash and self-defeating. The debilitating blow dealt to the southern Rus freed the Cumans of a northern foe which might distract them, and would lead to more intense fighting along the Tyras border. Worse, trade with the Rus was severely diminished, resulting in a not insignificant fall in revenues, more than had been gained by the initial increase.

Constantine himself would not live to see it however. In 1136 his favorite mistress gave birth to a son, named John, and Constantine decided that he was tired of pretending his marriage was still real. He returned to the bishop previously persuaded to issue him a divorce, and now received one officially. He then married his mistress, and declared the son he’d had with her legitimate. The Constantinople populace was outraged. It was one thing to divorce his wife, that they might have allowed pass. But to do so, and then declare this bastard son of some concubine the next Emperor. No, this wouldn’t do at all.

The anger in the city built, and almost certainly would have led to a riot on the scale of Nika had events not intervened. As the official ceremony to crown the new boy was underway the Empress Agatha stormed into the chamber and denounced the proceedings, in front of a crowd of hundreds.

Constantine was enraged, and ordered his guards to seize the woman he viewed as an ex-wife. They did so, and Constantine advanced on her, absolutely furious. He railed at her, calling her all manner of base named, and denounced her as a barbarian whore unfit for any house of ill repute in Constantinople. She spat on him, and he struck her with his scepter. Then, he struck her again. And again. This third blow struck her on the temple and she slumped, and he struck her again.

It was this fourth blow that killed Empress Agatha, the poor girl from a foreign kingdom who had been tied to the Emperor only out his grandfather’s desire to end a war. She was about thirty years old, and had been locked away from the world for the better part of six years.

As her body fell however the princess Eudoxia arrived on the scene, her own guards and husband with her. Seeing the corpse of her friend Agatha the princess grabbed a sword, and stabbed her brother with it, killing him, enraged at his monstrous conduct.

That’s the official story anyway. Other, less fantastical accounts say that Constantine was stabbed to death by conspirators among Eudoxia’s guard, who had been standing in for that of the Emperor himself due to prior plans. It is almost certain the Eudoxia planned to have her brother deposed at minimum when she learned of his plans, and highly likely she always planned to have him assassinated. Agatha was likely deliberately let into the coronation of his bastard son to create a distraction while the princess readied her bid for power, with promises of safe return to Bulgari and cash promised to the Empress.

Her death was not part of the plan, and Eudoxia to her credit does seem to have been truly upset by the poor girl’s death.

Constantine IX was thirty-five years old and had been Emperor for six years. Its really hard to say Constantine was anything other than a bad Emperor. His policies were short-sighted, his foreign policy just as much so, and his personal conduct was frankly abhorrent. While not to the level of the pagan rulers of old it was a major change from recent Thalassan tradition of peaceful domestic affairs. And his final murder of his wronged wife earn him a special place in the vitriol of many modern people. If you were to ask a random person on the streets of Constantinople, who the worst of the Thalassans was, Constantine would almost certainly be the second or third choice, ahead of say Alexios III, and really only trailing Romanos III. The infamous biomembri released a decade ago likely is responsible for much of that, and to be fair it is highly inaccurate.

But even setting that aside, Constantine’s reign was a stormy time, and looking ahead provides a good look at one of Romanos III’s most infamous actions as he recognized the last real check on the Emperor, the Imperial family, and would of course take steps to neutralize it as well.
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I know that if it still exists, it is more or less irrelevant, but is the Senate in Constantinople still nominally a thing? IOTL, the Senate survived until the Fourth Crusade (its last recorded act was to elect Nikolaos Kanabos as Emperor during the Fourth Crusade).
It still exists, and is sort of at a (relative) zenith of power at the moment. The Imperial family living outside the capitol most of the time has led to a general decline in direct Imperial control over the city itself. So the Senate has found itself able to act as a sort of super city council on various matters. So long as no one else cares enough to do it themselves that is. I'll be going into it much more later when the current body is officially dissolved in the next century, but basically a bunch of the members got their heads chopped off by Manuel II, or had all their wealth confiscated by him, and were subsequently kicked out. So while its still made up of wealthy men, its mostly wealthy men either inside the city or the surroundings of Thrace with minimal holdings in the wider Empire. So far less wealthy than they used to be.
Part 75: Foreign Consequences
Part LXXV: Foreign Consequences​

Eudoxia and Romanos tried to quiet rumors of what had happened to Agatha, before sending word to her brother, the King of Bulgari, of her death. But these efforts were a dismal failure. Word spread like wildfire of Constantine’s actions, first through the city, and then away along the highway to Thessaloniki. There Bulgari merchants and pilgrims got word of events, and the news spread north to Pliska.

Word reached the king only weeks after his sister’s murder, as he was in mourning for her from the official news. King Krum was not exactly an energetic monarch, and had been looking forward to a peaceful and stable reign now that the northern wars his family had spent generations fighting were over. But he had loved his sister and was deeply saddened when she had departed for Constantinople in his youth.

Or that’s what he claimed at least. The reality is more questionable, as Krum would have only been twelve when Agatha had first gone south, and he hadn’t seen her in well over a decade when she died.

Regardless of motivation however Krum had only one thing on his mind, revenge. Or at least recompense. He sent a demand for a massive tribute to be paid, nearly half a million nomismata, for the next ten years, as well as a number of concessions along the border.

Eudoxia steadfastly refused, and instead shipped ten thousand men from Greece to the Danube as a show of force. Tensions continued to escalate, until in May 1038 the Bulgari invaded Illyricum through Pannonia. A local spy guided them through several underguarded mountain passes, and captured a number of towns throughout Dalmatia. At the same time a large Cuman raid was launched against the Tyras river defenses, coordinated with the Bulgari (not that much incentive had been needed).

A large Roman response was organized, but disaster struck in the East as fighting continued along the Rhine. Specifically, a massive earthquake hit the city of Aleppo in October 1038, devastating the city. In addition, the city’s walls, citadel, and vast amounts of homes were totally destroyed. Additional aftershocks hit the region in the weeks following, and surrounding towns were hit as well. Well over twenty thousand people are known to have died, with some claims of one hundred thousand made. The latter extremely inflated, but the impact was still massive.

The Syrian Exarch was completely overwhelmed, and sent off desperate messages to Constantinople for help. Eudoxia and Romanos were forced to decide which to concentrate more of their attention on, and chose Aleppo. They sent men and money off to fight the Bulgari and the Cumans, but the pair then departed Constantinople with a large number of architects, supplies, and cash for Syria, leaving behind bureaucrats to oversee the war effort.

There are a number of reasons for this, but two in particular are salient. First, Eudoxia was concerned the Turks would take advantage of the chaos in Roman Syria to invade, and if the Emperor and Empress were on hand it was far less likely that would occur. The Bulgari by contrast were weaker and had been defeated a number of times in the past. It was therefore thought that concentrating Imperial resources on Syria would actually distract the government less than a possible two front war would. Second, Aleppo was an extremely important holy city, and letting it sit in ruin would be a horrible sign of disrespect to God, which might make any effort made on the Danube fruitless anyway. How could they win when such a site was in ruins?

Regardless, the decision was crucial one for the development of the power of one specific individual, the Exarch of Italy. In a major battle in late October a Roman force was beaten and driven out of Dalmatia by the Bulgari, who then took the provincial capitol at Salona. Roman forces were brought up out of Greece, and a raiding force crossed the Danube to strike at Bulgari territory directly. More soldiers also arrived on the Tyras, where another Cuman raiding force was decisively beaten in early April of 1139.

With the mountain passes held against him Krum looted Salona and withdrew back into Pannonia. He would not stay there long however, crossing back across the Danube and driving the Roman raiders back across the Danube in a series of skirmishes. His attempt to follow this up by attacking the phrourions and fortified towns along the river were met with failure however as the very infantry heavy force of the Romans was able to hold their positions with relative ease.

But by that same token, without the Tagmata they had no way to take the fight to Krum either, as his own heavy cavalry and infantry had no match among the Danube armies. The tagmata however was primarily away in Syria, to look threatening while that province was put back together. A stalemate ensued for the remainder of the year. However, as 1140 began Krum decided he couldn’t risk an Imperial return to the front, and so drastic action would be needed. He thus decided to take a page from the book of the last Frankish Emperor. He would invade Italy.

Italy was incredibly wealthy, and had a much smaller military presence than the Danube. Krum thought that if he could blow through the Ravennan army he would be able to take the northern regions of the kingdom, and essentially ransom them back to the Romans in exchange for a large tribute. Gathering his army he set out in early April, and was soon crossing into northern Italy. The Ravennan army was caught completely by surprise, and the fortress of Aquilea fell without a fight.

But Krum then made his major mistake of the war, he decided to attack Venice. This seems like an obvious blunder considering the city had laughed off Louis’s attempts to take it a century and a half before, but Krum thought that the surprise of his attack would let him get a small force into the city and he would be in control rapidly. Which, who knows might even have worked. It probably wouldn’t have, but as it turned out things never got that far. Instead his march to the marshy land around Venice exposed his army to another enemy, ague. A serious outbreak of the disease had begun in Venice during 1140, and this spread to the advancing Bulgari.

On May 3, 1140 the king himself was stricken, and a few days later he died. A third of his army died with him, and the rest were severely weakened. The Bulgari retreated, leaving the Italians behind to regroup. Into this situation stepped the exarch of Italy, who raised a force of soldiers from southern Italy and raced north, gathering to him the forces of Ravenna. The Ravennan exarch had also succumbed to fever.

As it turned out the exarch of Italy was required to do little to expel the Bulgari, apart from retaking Aquileia. But he did march into Illyricum and reassert Roman control, putting down a number of Croati rebels who had thought perhaps they might win independence. Fully pacifying the area would take a few years, but the major crisis had passed.

Further east the Emperor Romanos had returned to Constantinople in April, and soon the tagmata was deployed along the Danube, launching major incursions into Bulgari territory. Things might have still worked out the Bulgari getting a Roman payment for peace, since the war was quite expensive, in the capitol a palace coup had occurred by one of Krum’s cousins, who killed the former king’s sons and had himself installed as king. This was not taken well by the Bulgari nobility, and so even as Roman troops crossed the Danube with impunity northern lords raised their banners in revolt. The new king was assassinated in short order, and civil war began in earnest.

Romanos declared victory and brought the army home.

Krum’s War as we now remember it wasn’t particularly important from a Roman perspective. It was short, low in intensity, and basically won itself. But the consequences were actually significantly larger than is often appreciated. The first, and largest, was that the Bulgari kingdom was now drastically weakened, and in coming years will lose large areas of land on its periphery. In particular the lands of the Serbs declared a local lord as their new king, and the Bulgari were not able to reassert control. Furthermore, the infighting among the Royal family would lead to the end of the dynasty that had controlled the Bulgari for several hundred years at this point, and in turn reduce the central power of the monarchy. In the north the Polans would take advantage of the situation to expand their own lands south as well.

While the Bulgari will survive it will be as a shadow of their old kingdom, and that situation will continue until the reversal in their fortunes a couple centuries hence.

In terms of Roman politics, the Italian Exarch’s authority in the Italian peninsula was solidified, as the Ravennan army was willing to obey his orders in the absence of alternative centers of power. And this of course happened when the local exarch died, to pull an example at random if he had been burned alive for treason for instance. The other consequences in Italy we will get to at the end of the century however.

For now our attention must return to Constantinople where Eudoxia returned the following year, and held a triumph, bringing in soldiers from the Danube and Ravenna to march through the city and be given honors. These men were selected by election of their comrades, and drawing of lots, and returned home with gifts to distribute to their comrades.

This Triumph was in many ways a return to the old style, as neither Emperor nor Empress had been present during the war. It was dedicated to the soldiers themselves, and can been seen as a stepping stone from the Thalassan Empire to the modern day. That said, it was something of a joke if we look at actual events. The Romans hadn’t so much won the war as the Bulgari had beaten themselves, but no one let that get in the way of victory celebrations.

Additionally, a major reform was put in place which banned the heir to the Imperial throne from marrying a non-citizen. This was of course primarily aimed at preventing another situation with Constantine IX, as well as foreign ties to the royal family at all. It also required that any member of the Imperial family be directly consulted and give assent to any union, with Constantine’s betrothal before he was even born seen as another factor in his eventual murder of Agatha.

More broadly, the sudden power vacuum in Bulgari was another factor in the Cumans gaining even more power on the steppe. Raids passed through the Carpathi Mountains at will now, and began ravaging both the Bulgari Plain and beyond. With the defenses of the region in tatters Cuman raiders struck past Bulgari as well, hitting the lands of the Germani.

But the long-term consequences of that will wait, as the final Roman showdown with the Cumans will not come for a full century. That’s not to say peace will reign, as fighting along the border will continue sporadically going forward.

For now however, Eudoxia and Romanos ruled over a relatively peaceful time.

Right up until 1156, when a series of major earthquakes hit Syria. Romanos departed the capitol to oversee the rebuilding, sent away by his wife who was ill. The pair planned to meet later, but it was not to be. Empress Eudoxia died of her illness, mere days later. With her husband out at sea he would not learn of her death until he arrived in Antioch, by which point the Empress had been buried by her oldest son, John. The prince took up the role of ruler in from the Chalcedon palace, waiting for his father to return. But the Emperor never returned to the capitol.

The 1156 earthquake was followed up by a larger event in 1157, which hit north of the ruins of Damascus as the Emperor passed through the region. In the quake Romanos was killed. He was sixty-six years old and had been co-ruler with his wife for twenty years. Eudoxia herself was sixty-three years old and had been Empress for nineteen years.

Eudoxia and Romanos II were all things considered rather forgettable rulers. Their initial plotting to get into power seems to have been more for its own sake rather than any plan or overarching goal. Certainly there were no major reforms they undertook, no grand military campaigns that they launched. They just wanted to rule the Empire, and also hated Constantine IX’s guts. Which is fair enough. They left behind two sons who will both be Emperor in their turn, and an Empire secure with a quiet northern border, and which would be able to shift attention south again, as in distant Markuria war over Egypt was once again brewing.
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Part 76: The Second Nubian War
LXXVI: The Second Nubian War​

Prince John was informed of his father’s death in late August 1157, and was immediately crowned the new Augustus Basileus. The new Emperor was in his mid-thirties, and while he was married and got along well with his wife the pair had no children. While there is obviously no confirmation in any of our sources, it has long been speculated that John was secretly homosexual. We cannot know for certain of course, but the crowning of his brother, Manuel, as heir does give an indication that John expected no children from his union.

If this speculation is true, his marriage does not seem to have suffered for it. Empress Eirene was popular with the people, having been born into a lower ranking Greek family who couldn’t believe their luck when she and John had met and grown to be close friends. The marriage of the pair six years before John became Emperor was a major boon to the family, as they were catapulted up the social ladder and awarded a number of lands that had fallen into Imperial hands in Palaestina.

The family patriarch would eventually adopt the name Tycheros, remember them. They will be very important a few hundred years down the line.

John IV himself was a rather lazy ruler. He enjoyed games, feasts, plays, and music. He did his job well enough, but he rarely went beyond the minimum required of him. In particular, audiences with the Emperor virtually disappeared under John’s reign, something that was quite unusual. While Manuel II had basically vanished from public later in his rule, his son and then grandson had always been in the public eye. His successors had maintained similar policies, but they were still at least present for mass on major holidays as well as particularly important festivals.

John though settled down into the Chalcedon Palace and did not emerge for any reason. Now we’ve seen this sort of Emperor before. Alexios I immediately springs to mind for a number of reasons, but John wasn’t like Alexios. He had grown up living a mostly pampered life, and hadn’t ever had any major responsibilities. He hadn’t even served in the army. All in all John comes across as a deeply spoiled child who never outgrew that phase of his life.

But he wasn’t a cruel and petty tyrant, which is at least something. And we’ll see why its something four Emperors from now.

The most important act John undertook from our perspective took place ten years into his reign, when he arranged for Gaius Caesarus, usually noted as Kaius Kaiseros in the histories, the oldest son of Exarch Aurelius of Italy to marry Princess Agatha, his brother’s oldest child. This union will be extremely important down the road.

But that will have to wait, as two years into John IV’s reign the defining event of his rule occurred, the second Markurian invasion of Egypt. The causes of the invasion aren’t particularly complex. Probably the most obvious was the ongoing disputes over exactly where the border was as Roman tax collectors still made forays into the Theme of Nubia, despite it being abandoned well over a century before. Usually they left after being confronted by local soldiers, but in 1156 a new Exarch of Egypt, Antonios Kommenos, a former Domestic of the Scholae who had fought in the recent war against the Bulgari, took charge. And he decided to press the issue in the south.

When Roman tax collectors went south that year they took with them escorts of soldiers. To be clear, Antonios wasn’t planning to start a war, but the ongoing disaster in Syria was causing more of a tax burden to fall on Egypt; as money, men, and food were required in large amounts.

As the people of Egypt were grumbling at the increased grain confiscations Antonius’s fellow exarch, Alexios Doukas, his civilian counterpart decided to put more effort into taxing the former Theme of Nubia. So, just to put to bed the idea that the war started as a result of some Egyptian conspiracy, Romanos II signed off on the policy in Syria.

But in the aftermath of his death no one thought to alert the new Emperor of what they were up to.

In retrospect that was a bad idea, since John probably would have shot the whole project down simply to keep the peace. But, in 1158 two thousand men were sent into Nubia alongside epikroi, and began collecting taxes. Or raiding the population if you prefer.

The local Markurian garrison took issue with this, and in a skirmish just south of the cataract that marked the unofficial boundary they attacked a Roman force, killing them all. The Romans were outraged, and Antonios immediately sent more men to the area. His reinforcements attacked the garrison responsible, overwhelmed the defenses, stormed in and killed everyone inside. As this was a fortified town this included non-soldiers. In a rather pointed statement the town was then burned to the ground, and the commander’s body impaled in the center.

What moveable wealth was present was naturally confiscated.

So, the obvious question is, why is this all happening. To understand that there is a key point which must be understood, which explains why both sides thought they were in the right. From the Roman perspective, the treaty granting them control of the Theme of Nubia was fully intact. Indeed Antonios’s predecessor had presented the treaty to the Markurians in the past when they objected to Roman tax collectors moving a bit too far south. This meant that from a strictly legal perspective the Romans could be argued to still be the rulers of the theme, even if all their soldiers had departed well over a century before.

The Markurians had what is frankly a far more correct argument when they said that the Romans had…well, abandoned the territory well over a hundred years before and then just kind of ignored it until they wanted money. And it is pretty hard to argue against this. The Romans had abandoned the territory, and its people. Banditry had skyrocketed in the aftermath, and the local economy had collapsed with both the bandits running wild, and also with the subsequent decline in Nile trade. The Romans did have a responsibility to keep order in the area, in the exact same treaty they tried to use as justification for collecting taxes. Taxes which remember, were being levied so that the Egyptians wouldn’t be paying as much to repair the damage in Syria.

The Markurians were in the right. But as so often has been the case in our history, the stronger side was going to do what it felt like and if the weaker wanted to stop them it was free to try. The Markurian King, Mark III, was going to press the issue.

He ruled a wealthy and powerful kingdom, at least as powerful as King Simeon’s centuries before, moreso in fact as his territory bestraddled the Red Sea. So, in 1159 he gathered his army, and marched into Nubia.In response Antonios sent a message to Constantinople, gathered four of his tagmas and marched south to Ptolamais. Mark wasn’t aware of this, and wouldn’t have backed down regardless, and as the floodwaters reached maximum height he marched into Egypt. The Second Nubian War had begun. This war unfortunately is not as exciting as Alexios’s I’m afraid. No long period of marching and countermarching, no great victory by a foreign mercenary leading the Emperor to need to push onward and win the war for himself. No, Mark had ultimately miscalculated. Had he just ignored the situation in the Nubian theme, or not crossed the border he likely would have lived to a peaceful old age.

Now, its perfectly well to argue that he couldn’t just let the Romans raid, um collect taxes, at will; and that might well be true. By escalating to full scale war though he ensured that the full force of the Egyptian army would be turned on him. And if he’d faced the army that Simeon had faced Mark might well have won, certainly his army was a stronger force than Simeon had led with Arabic troops now mostly on his side for instance.

But the Roman army he faced in 1157 was not the half-rotten husk that Alexios had led. It was still in the prime of power, and Antonios had plenty of reinforcements. Among those were the famous Taxidia Kataphractoi. These wondering knights were Western mercenaries who had departed their homelands for a variety of reasons, by which I mean they had either committed a crime, lost their lands, or otherwise been expelled from society, and come to Constantinople to seek their fortunes. While most famous for the men who would lead the defense of Constantinople in the 1248, including the lone non-dynastic Emperor, the Taxidia were posted across the Empire. Unlike many of their brethren they fought mostly on foot, and only rode their horses to battle, similar to the Pedinoi of the Tagmata. Armored from head to toe these men and carrying kite shields they would be the centerpiece of Antonios’s battle line.

Mark captured Thebae without a fight on the first of September, 1159 and demanded a large cash payment to stop his men from sacking it. The inhabitants tried desperately to pay, but failed and the Markruian army ravaged it, killing much of the population and carrying away all its wealth. Antonios by now was marching south, but did not reach the city before Mark withdrew back across the border and sent evidence of his treasure south to be displayed in the capital.

Antonios arrived in Thebae on the fifth of September, and after surveying the damage decided it was too vulnerable to remain. He took the population in tow and retreated north once again.

Both men were just waitng however, as Antonios did not want to march his army too far from their base of supplies at this time of year. This might seem odd given that harvest was in autumn in the rest of the Empire, but as you probably are aware Egypt was different. In Egypt the Nile flood cycle led to planting being done in January, and harvest occurring in the summer, meaning Antonios was faced with the real possibility of not being able to supply his men if he marched too far south, and in particular he couldn’t go beyond the first cataract. Little occurred in the remainder of 1159, but in January 1160 Antonios led his army south again, taking advantage of planting time to raid the disputed territory. His primary aim was twofold, to disrupt the economy of Markuria, and to prevent raids on Roman farms in the region.

A low-intensity war began, with both sides harrying farmland on the border, looking to disrupt or prevent early planting. In this the Arab light cavalry of Markuria were invaluable, and southern Egypt was significantly impacted. But as the months gave way reinforcements were shipped into the region from Africa, consisting of a full tagma and particularly one thousand Berber camelry.

Also arriving was Prince John, who brought with him a large war chest and additional ships to patrol the Nile. These additional forces in place Antonios and John advanced into Nubia itself, employing the same strategy that Manuel II had used in Aquitaine. They killed the people, stole the valuables, and burned everything else.

Mark could not let the assault continue, and so he rallied his army, and marched out to meet the Romans as they withdrew back to Upper Egypt. He caught up with the Romans at Syene, and the two armies squared off in September. A few days of skirmishes followed, but these were inconclusive. But on the fourth day the armies met fully.

The Romans set their Western knights squarely in the center of their line, with Berbers on the right, and Egyptian cavalry on the right. Behind the Berbers was the African tagma, while the Egyptian tagmas took up the remainder of the center and the right. A final tagma was held in reserve. The Romans held a slight numerical advantage, twenty-four thousand men to just twenty-thousand Markurians. But the Markurians were the more experienced force, as the Egyptian and African armies were well trained, but had seen little actual battle.

The armies advanced on one another, and soon the mounted soldiers of both sides met in a clash between the armies, while the infantry came behind. The cavalry battle moved away from the main infantry lines as it wore on, with the Markurian and Arabic horsemen gaining the upper hand over their Roman counterparts, but unable to drive them from the field.

It was in the infantry the day would be decided however. The Markurian archers loosed arrow after arrow into the Roman center, but the dismounted Western knights were heedless of the strikes. Indeed, later chronicles depict them being filled with arrows, and advancing as if they were hedgehogs from the number of shafts which had struck them but had not penetrated their armor.

As the lines met the Taxidia began one of their many tactics to intimidate the enemy, they sang a hymn to God. For some this was already too much. These seemingly invincible foes who neither slowed nor fell were a horrifying sight to even the relatively experienced Markurian soldiers, but to hear praises to God as they readied for the infantry clash was unnerving in the extreme. Then, the lines met. The Taxidia pushed through the spears of the Markurians, using shield, armor, and ax to get within killing distance, and then began the slaughter.

Markurian soldiers were for the most part lightly armored, and wielded spears and short swords for the most part, weapons that did little against the Taxidia armor. And they were set against mace and ax of the knights. There were only a few hundred such men, but they drove through the Markurian line, killing as they went, and behind them came the Egyptian infantry. After a few hours of fighting the Taxidia broke through completely, emerging on the far side of the Markurian line, and the Egyptians poured through the breach, cutting the Markurian army in half.

Seeing this the Arab cavalry immediately reacted in the heroic and brave manner of mercenaries who see their employer was going to have immediate difficulties paying them. They deserted.

Okay, that’s not fair. But the Arabs at this point of the battle did turn and flee from a cavalry battle they were almost certainly winning. And its not hard to imagine why. The Markurian rule of Arabia was deeply unpopular on the peninsula, and these men would not have been in place voluntarily. But now they saw which way the wind was blowing, and wanted no part of it. The Roman horse did not pursue, being in bad shape themselves, but instead regrouped and then moved to pin the breaking Markurian army against the infantry.

This was the last straw. The Markurians broke and fled. There was pursuit, but it was half-hearted after the Roman army overran the enemy camp. Syene was a major Roman victory, and effectively ended the Second Nubian War. In the fighting some six thousand Markurians were killed to only about five hundred Romans, although a significant number of horses seem to have been killed as well.

Captured was the body of King Mark of Markuria. He was beheaded, and his head put on a spike on the main road going south, a warning to the people of Nubia not to defy the Emperor or his army.

Antonios returned to Ptolemais without further incident. Soon afterward envoys came from the regency put in place to raise Mark’s son Simeon IV, and a new peace treaty was hammered out. Naturally after fighting over the territory and demanding it be legally acknowledged as territory of the Roman Emperor Prince Manuel immediately demanded…that the Markurians officially take over rulership of the theme.

Wait, what? What’s going on here. Well, remember what this war was about. The Markurians actually ruled this territory, while the Romans only really wanted the tax money. And that’s what both sides got. The Markurians were now officially in charge of the old theme, but they had to pay half of its annual tax revenue to the Romans, theoretically. In practice this basically just meant that Markuria was paying a tribute equal to about half of the estimated tax revenue would be.

The payment was usually in the form of slaves from deeper into Africa, or in trade goods such as ivory. It will last until the end of the Markurian kingdom, which at this stage only has about fifty years of life remaining.

But that will have to wait. For now, Manuel returned to the Constantinople and the brothers held a joint triumph with selected Egyptian and African soldiers, displaying the royal regalia of Markuria to the cheering crowds.

The war with Nubia marked the end of significant external affairs during John IV’s reign. As usual that’s not to say it was actually remarkably peaceful. A border war was fought in the Alps over Germanni Marcher lords that saw the northern border pushed north slightly to fully control the northern passes. It was mostly unimportant, except that it killed the power of the southern lords of Germanni, leaving the East and West lords as the primary centers of power in the kingdom.

The total Imperial control over the northern passes also led to major economic consequences we will discuss later when talking about the development of Italy’s political structure toward the end of the current century.

But John would not live to see it. By his fiftieth birthday the Emperor’s health was in rapid decline. He was extremely overweight from his habitual feasting and drinking, and was rarely active. As time went on Manuel and Eirene took over running the government, an arrangement that suited all three parties fine. Despite his ill health however the Emperor lasted many more years, finally dying in 1180 at the age of fifty-eight. He had been Emperor for 24 years.

John IV was a bad Emperor. But, he wasn’t that bad. He was lazy, gluttonous, and had a number of other vices. That said, like a number of the Thalassan Emperors from their initial decline, it can’t be said he let those vices impact the government. He had competent and energetic courtiers who were left in charge, and competent commanders to maintain his borders. So while he may have been bad, it could have been much, much worse. Indeed, as well see soon enough sometimes a competent and energetic Emperor can be far, far worse than a lazy incompetent.
How dominant is Greek the Empire? If the Exarchs of Italy are taking old Roman names maybe not so much.
Looks like the Makurians got off easy, a decisive battle killing their king should have resulted in more tribute or concessions.
How dominant is Greek the Empire? If the Exarchs of Italy are taking old Roman names maybe not so much.
Looks like the Makurians got off easy, a decisive battle killing their king should have resulted in more tribute or concessions.
The battle wasn’t super decisive. The death of Mark was the major win. Most of the soldiers regrouped, and could have fought against a further advance.

Greek is dominant in Egypt, Anatolia, and Anatolia primarily. It still has a major presence in Italy, Africa, Syria, on the Danube frontier, and Armenia (Syria is majority Greek but has a significant Arab minority) but isn’t as dominant in those places. Spain is pretty much totally non-Greek. Italy and Africa are primarily Latin, and Latin is the trade language of Western Europe (and it’s generally expected eastern merchants will be able to communicate in it). Latin is also still the language of army commands, even if Greek is used everywhere else in the army.

So far the law and court documents go, those tend to be prepared in Greek and then issued in both Latin and Greek.
I assume that said Emperor overextended the Empire.
Or that his competency was used to make himself better, not the empire. Romanos the Mad doesn't seem like the common incompetent, paranoid, bad emperor type, he seems more like the competent, selfish, petty and an all-around asshole type of bad emperor.
Part 77: Another Manuel
Part LXXVII: Another Manuel​

Manuel III was crowned Basileos Augustus in 1180, and immediately began embarking on projects he had wanted to pursue during his brother’s reign, but had lacked the authority. The primary point was reversing the rise of the magnates once again. This has been a process going on in the background, but there hasn’t been a good spot to talk about it beforehand.

You will recall that during the reign of Manuel II a vast amount of land was confiscated from traitorous nobles, or people the Emperor could paint as traitors, and redistributed to the Emperor’s soldiers. In effect he had made himself the magnate of the whole Empire. Most of the land was his personally, and the rents he charged were Imperial taxes.

That system is now basically dead. Imperial focus on other areas under previous regimes had seen bits of land sold off here and there, or handed off to be administered by lower ranking officials. While the Empire still collected taxes these funds were once again coming from a smaller pool of wealthy landowners. In many ways the system represented a more insidious version of the old tax farming system, where a wealthy magnate would essentially rent a large amount of land, and the workers assigned to it. He would pay the required amount into the Imperial treasury, and collect rent from the workers.

I should note this wasn’t as open to abuse as tax farming was, nor did it lead to the drastic decline in revenues seen in earlier centuries. Even as the process remained ongoing the public offices of the epikroi and the Imperial judges remained strong. But, corruption was still rampant and abuse of the commoners was not exactly unheard of. Indeed, many lower class families found themselves kicked off of land they thought was supposed to be theirs over some legal technicality, often ones which didn’t exist, simply to settle retiring soldiers who had come from the cities.

These families were then forced into the cities, where they often saw their male members join the army, voluntarily or otherwise, to get by. Note that this is mostly true of the Danube frontier and in Syria. In Ravenna Imperial taxes sent north from the wealthy Exarchate cities was mostly used to just pay off retired soldiers what they were supposed to be given in land. When that wasn’t the case soldiers were normally sent south into Italy to be settled on land taken over by the cities for one reason or another, and then turned over to the Exarch as part of the constant juggling needed to keep the Italian populace in line.

The frequent marlaria outbreaks in northern Italy were contributors to ensuring there was always land available, or places in cities. Through this cycle land revenues were in far more flux than had occurred during the reign of Manuel II, when land was in excess and promises grand. But in the long-term the system simply wasn’t sustainable. Land was finite, need for it was always growing.

Manuel III thus began his ambitious reform project, looking to reconsolidate Imperial lands under direct Imperial control. New protections were instituted against lower class abuse, and many of the legal points used to expel tenants were repealed, or outright outlawed. More homesteads were set up in Central Anatolia, where the Turks had mostly settled down into farmers rather than semi-nomads.

Most infamously though Manuel III began settling Roman subjects along the Euphrates River, both sides of the Euphrates River. Now, those paying attention might remember this as the boundary with the Turkic Empire. And he built phrourions in the new villages to enforce the point. This was in hindsight, and let’s be honest here at the time, a bad idea.

Now Manuel thought it was a wonderful idea. He could reclaim old Roman territory and the Turks weren’t likely to try their hand at a bunch of sieges. So far as he could imagine anyway. Additional towns were set up in Hispani, which was still relatively underexploited after centuries of neglect and decline. Finally, more villages were set up in the north, around Cherson. Several thousand people were settled on the peninsula, which was now transforming into a place much like the rest of the Empire. Indeed, by the end of Manuel III’s reign the peninsula’s population had doubled.

Manuel achieved some fairly significant successes, but in the long-term he failed to reverse the reconsolidation of lands in the hands of wealthy families, a process which will greatly accelerate under his successor whose need for cash from a war Manuel provoked will drive him to outright sell Imperial land once again.

That’s for the future though.

For now, we’re going to turn our attention away from that and once again to the ever-fun topic: religious infighting.

You will recall that over the past two hundred years the Empire has been gripped by struggles between the Jacoboi of the East, and the Chalcedonians of the West. We’re approaching the end of the showdown between these two factions, though as always do remember that at any given time there were dozens of minor splinter groups too small for Imperial chroniclers to even hear of, let alone the government to pursue. Since Manuel II’s reign thee Jacoboi had been ascendant in the Imperial court, but the Chalcedonians remained the largest power block inside the core of the empire itself. Greece, Anatolia, and Egypt especially were the primary centers of Chalcedonian thought.

The Jacoboi were most powerful in the East, in Armenia and Syria. But over the past century the movement has also taken solid root in Italy itself, where a succession of Jacoboi popes staffed the papal bureaucracy with like-minded priests and clerks. This led to a ripple effect throughout western Europe as these priests set up new religious orders and monasteries, smaller and less rich than those set up by wealthy nobles of previous centuries, but still centers of learning and church organization. These replaced the old organizations, which had largely been disbanded by kings or doux looking to expand their own power. From these new monasteries had come the new priests, trained by Jacoboi monks to give mass. As time passed the teachings of the Jacoboi superceded the older, pre-Thessalonikan, rites. In the central regions of the Empire such things did not occur, as the better local education system kept new priests traditionally trained.

All of this then points to the selection of another important group, the bishops. Since the reign of the last Frankish Emperor the bishop selected for a region had returned to selection by the parishioners, with approval granted from Rome (or a representative of Rome, normally another bishop). Thus, as the standards of teaching for new priests changed the progression of the Jacoboi continued throughout the West. But in the West these beliefs morphed into new forms, modified by local custom and philosophizing into a new group, the Cathari. Originating along the Rhine river the Cathari were a heretical sect which took their name from the old Katharoi heresy, an early form of Donatism, but beyond the name the two groups had little in common. The Cathari were devout followers of the word of Jesus, and believed, amongst other notable points, that the point of human life was to purge oneself of impurity in preparation for life in heaven. As such many forsook the materiel world altogether, living in communes where possessions were shared communally, and beyond their work they lived lives of simple spiritual contemplation, much like the early Christian communities.

They also paid their taxes and didn’t make trouble, so the king of Franki tolerated them. The other notable feature of the Cathari was that they returned to the old custom of allowing women to act as priests, something which had gone out of Christian doctrine at some uncertain point in history. It was thus a major scandal when, in 1176, a female priest was voted bishop of her congregation, and the bishop who was supposed to verify the ceremony refused, sending word to Rome instead.

Pope Leo VIII sent a delegation north to investigate the matter, and after consultation and discussion he vote was rejected and a man elected instead. But as might be expected that was not the end of the matter. The Cathari continued to act as they wished, and grew in numbers (and as might be expected their dedication somewhat waned as their numbers grew), and would again elect a female bishop in 1247. And by then the Church was so desperate to get the people of northern Europe to cooperate that the pope would agree to the election, if she would put out a call to her flock for soldiers, money, food, anything that could be spared for the Crusade.

To return to Roman politics however, Manuel made the decision to effectively ban Chalcedonians from holding the papal office, or the office of Constantinople bishop by requiring full acceptance of the Council of Thessaloniki, something the Chalcedonians would not do. As such the bishops of Greece and Anatolia found themselves shut out of the halls of power, and their resentment would only grow over the next fifty years, until suddenly everything would be reversed.

But that also is for the future.

For now, Manuel III would catch a bout of disease which swept through Constantinople in 1192, and died days later. Manuel III is another rather disposable ruler. He tried his best, and in some small ways he was successful in reconsolidating Imperial power, but ultimately, he has to be viewed as something of a failure. His reforms ultimately did not work, and he accomplished little outside of them.

In other ways his rule was quite bad. In particular, his establishment of settlements on the Euphrates was a stupid, stupid policy. It ensured that once the Turks were freed from their busy frontier in the East their attention would be drawn back West, to the Roman intrusion, and once that occurred war was the only natural result. We will cover that war next time as we cover the long reign of Manuel’s son Andronikos, and soon enough, the end of the Thalassan dynasty, and some would argue of the Empire.
We will cover that war next time as we cover the long reign of Manuel’s son Andronikos, and soon enough, the end of the Thalassan dynasty, and some would argue of the Empire.
Let me guess, Andronikos would be succeeded by Romanos the Mad and then Nikephorus the Last (of the Thalassans)?