The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Part 90: The Last Thalassan
Part XC: The Last Thalassan​

Even setting aside the oncoming invasion Nikephorus III inherited a truly terrible position. Imperial troops had been driven out of Syria completely, and were retreating out of central Italy, with the Ravennan army bearing down on them out of the north. The troops in Hispani and Africa had been forced to surrender when their supply was cut off by local forces.

It can be difficult when looking at the strength of Romanos’s paper army to understand just why the position of soldiers loyal to Constantinople were so rapidly defeated, despite his major additions to their strength. And those additions actually hold the key to their internal weakness. Arming, training, and housing a hundred thousand soldiers, on top of the need to replace some fifty thousand from the Turkish war was expensive, but it was also very time consuming. The Roman state simply didn’t have the capability to make such a drastic expansion to the army so quickly, at least not without far more money than Romanos’s shrinking tax collection could provide.

When Manuel II had undergone such a massive expansion of the Imperial army he had basically raised and equipped a lot of men initially, and then had just taken them along with him on every campaign. Replacing only as needed. And much of the initial preparation had been done by his father. When he expanded the army after his victories to secure the peacetime gains he’d done so over nearly fifty years.

Romanos by contrast had tried to do so immediately, and things just didn’t work out. But, surely you say the soldiers could have been equipped after they were being raised. Well, yes. He did reign for nearly twenty years after all. But here Romanos’s reliance on army officers cost his regime dearly. Because being an army officer absolutely did not give the sort of skills necessary to coordinate mass equipment of men. Nor did his gutting of the civil administration do anything to cut down on the corruption endemic in any pre-modern supply system. So basically, there was a stream of equipment being sent out. Just not enough, and much of the money was ending up in the pockets of men who suddenly had very little accountability.

To compound matters, the influx of senior officers into these civil administrative roles had the added problem of consequently ensuring that the men staffing these new tagmas were not as experienced or as talented as might have otherwise been the case. Romanos’s centurions and other commanders who had won against the Turks, the Berbers, and the Cumans were either out of the army, or back in the capital where they might win Imperial favor and subsequently lucrative civil positions. Many of the men who might have left the civil posts and taken command of the provincial armieshad been surrounded by local troops engaged in the mass mutiny when the rebellions broke out. They were now either dead or prisoners awaiting trial for a multitude of crimes.

That said, the central army was still easily the most powerful force in the Empire. When taken together the Balkans, Anatolia, and the tagmata amounted to nearly one hundred thousand men, including the most elite and experienced soldiers and officers still in the army. So long as say a powerful foreign foe doesn’t come along and massacre the lot of them Constantinople had a pretty solid chance of putting down the Eastern rebellions fairly quickly, and then putting down Italy with the combined resources of the East.

Good thing one of those isn’t on its way.

Nikephorus did not actually start his reign trying to put down the rebellions with vicious violence and reprisals however. He had hated Romanos just as much as any of the rebels did, maybe more since the Emperor had murdered his entire family and then kept him under house arrest for twenty years. He totally got the desire for revenge. Instead he spent his early days, and that title is very fitting, sending out messengers to Syria and Italy to get the rebels to agree to talks. He made promises, spoke of how the tyranny of the old regime was at an end, and really tried to get everyone to agree to go back to how things had been. However, in this he ran into two extremely important obstacles.

First, the rebels really didn’t feel like taking orders from someone in Constantinople. They had been doing that for a long time, and they were sick of it. A multitude of complaints at the capital since the reign of Manuel II, and indeed before him that just hadn’t reached a boiling point now were very nicely simmering away, as the tyranny of Romanos had made all of those issues suddenly seem much larger than the benefits normally gained through the united Empire.

Second, and this is by no means exclusive with the first, none of the rebel leaders actually trusted him at all, or more accurately they did not trust his advisors. Remember, while we might today remember Constantine the Younger for his heroic actions as Emperor in the coming year, that wasn’t what anyone saw at this point. All that Julius in Italy, or Michael in Armenia, or John in Syria, or George in Egypt could see was the old regime just without the old leader at its head.

Also, for reasons not particularly relevant Egypt and Syria fell out pretty much immediately, and a new kingdom has been declared in the former.

And they weren’t exactly wrong either. Nikephorus might have been Emperor, but its not like he suddenly had all this power. The capital was still controlled by Romanos’s former troops. Sure they might have overthrown him, but that was mostly a reaction to his cruelty and a desperate attempt to keep their whole power structure from falling apart. Nothing really changed in the way they wanted to run things. They still wanted the lucrative civil posts out in the provinces, and would you look at that suddenly there were just a whole heap of job openings available. And even as Nikephorus was sending conciliatory messages these same officers were whipping their troops up to get them ready to go and crush the traitors.

And then, everything changed.

In July 1241 a massive nomad army suddenly appeared from out of the Zagros Mountains, and in three weeks had smashed the Turkic state setting itself up in Mesopotamia. The self-proclaimed Emperor fled south into the Arab Caliphate, and the nomads turned north, laying siege to Nisibis. Heralds went flying to Antioch, and the local Syrians were forced to marshal their troops and ready for a march east. Before the pivot could be completed however Nisibis fell in early August, with walls quite literally blown through by this nomad army. The city was razed to the ground, the garrison and population were slaughtered. They moved to Dara, which promptly fell as well.

By August 25th the two strongest fortresses on the Roman frontier were just gone.

Nikephorus heard of this, and readied to march east when he got news that another nomad army had been spotted by traders heading to Cherson, and would be at the Tyras River by mid-September. Constantine the Elder immediately took the army that had been gathering and went north as fast as possible, reaching the Danube as the nomads reached the Tyras. Both armies crossed, and with the phrourions useless against the nomad siege weapons, something that everyone had thought a contradiction in terms, all that stood between Moesia and a foreign invasion was the Roman army. And what an army it was. Eighty thousand men all told. Twenty-five thousand of them the finest heavy cavalry in Roman history. Men and horses armored head to toe in chain and scales. Five thousand Danes equally armored and wielding massive axes to decapitate horses and men.

And with them the best infantry in the empire.

And they were about to be wiped out.

The battle of Tyras is one of the single most depicted battles in history. Something about it captivates audiences the way that Cannae might have an old republic citizen. On the one side the might of the great Roman Empire, which had stood in some form for two thousand years. If you squint and count the legendary kings that is. On the other an up and coming force, but which now commanded the largest land empire in history.

The Romans were commanded by Constantine the Elder, with Nikephorus present to give the young man much needed credibility as a military leader, even if all he was supposed to do was sit on his horse and look inspiring. Constantine the Younger had been left back in Constantinople with a garrison of about two thousand men to keep order until his father’s return.

Constantine deployed his troops in a fairly standard formation, putting all of his heavy cavalry on the wings, with light cavalry as support. The center was held up by the infantry force of pikes and crossbows. A reserve of Danes was in the rear to reinforce the infantry lines should it be required.

Their opposing number, Tolui, commanded a force of some five thousand Syrican mounted infantry, who were mostly there to screen the cavalry should the need arise, and the forty-five thousand cavalry who made up the heart of the Hunnic army. These soldiers were often heavily armored, normally with llamelar. This was similar to scale armor used by the Romans, and offered excellent protection for them. It also was something that the Romans weren’t really prepared for. Most of the nomad tribes they had fought used little heavy armor, and so it came as a surprise when these soldiers were so well protected. But if that was one surprise it absolutely paled in comparison to the other. Firepowder. And in particular the fire lance. Nearly ten thousand men were equipped with one of these weapons, and another five thousand were equipped with fire arrows.

The battle opened with Constantine sending his light cavalry forward to skirmish, which Tolui matched. He critically held back his firepowder armed troops, wanting to save the shock of their attack for the charge. In the fighting which followed the Roman light cavalry was driven back, but the Mongol skirmishers were subsequently caught in a counterattack by the heavy cavalry, and hemmed in by crossbow bolts fired by the infantry. The skirmishers broke and fled back to the Mongol lines, suffering heavy losses.

This, despite some claims to the contrary, does not appear to be a feigned retreat. That was coming.

Seeing his advantage Constantine ordered an advance, looking to pin the Syricans in place with his vastly superior infantry, while holding the cavalry at bay with his own. When the infantry’s work was done he could split his own infantry and destroy both cavalry wings separately. The infantry raised their pikes and advanced, protected by arrows by their shields. Crossbow bolts returned as counterfire, and these weapons did extract many losses from among the Hunnic ranks. But Tolui still held his men in place, trusting to the armor of his most important troops to defend them. And these men were all battle-hardened and experienced, or were with their fellows who were. As the Roman cavalry came on he ordered his own men forward, but only the cavalry. The cavalry thus met at ahead of the Syrican infantry. Constantine seeing this, and mindful of Varro’s mistake at Cannae ordered his men into a square rather than a line, with men on the outside ready to extend their pikes outward should that be necessary.

As the cavalry forces met the Roman tactic seemed to have done its work well. The knight had charged, in complete silence, looking like nothing less than a soulless automaton, completely immune to minor things like some number of them who were killed. They lowered their lances, and slammed into the Hunnic cavalry. A brief fight ensued, but then the Huns broke and fled.

Surprised at the ease of this win Constantine ordered a disciplined pursuit, but hoped to retain some horsemen to turn and smash the flanks of the Hunnic infantry. That however did not happen. The Roman cavalry pulled away from their infantry, and another signal was given on the nomad side. The retreating cavalry suddenly turned, and countercharged the Romans. Leading the charge were the men armed with fire lances, which at this point were still unused. The Romans were momentarily thrown off by the rally, but were too disciplined to break and run at the turn. They steeled themselves and prepared to meet the countercharge with one of their own.

Then the fire started. As one the Huns blasted flames out of their own weapons, directly into the front lines of the Romans. Men and horses were burned by the attack, but the real devastating effect was on morale. The ignition of firepowder weapons brings with it an enormous roar, one that its almost impossible to understand unless you have just never seen an ignifera. To men from this era the noise was quite alien, and the addition of the jets of flame roasting their comrades alive was too much. They fled. In the press of bodies Constantine was knocked from his own horse as he tried to rally his men, and trampled to death.

And now as the Romans fled the fire arrows were added to the attack, unleashing yet more explosives onto the panicking Roman cavalry. Men and horses were slaughtered as the Huns pursued, and the infantry watched nearly helpless as the tagmata was slaughtered outside the ranges of their crossbows. And that’s it. Just like that six hundred years of history of the great Roman tagmata was over. They’re all dead.

Well, not quite all. The Pedinoi were still there to carry on the glorious name. For oh, about an hour. Nikephorus from his spot among the remaining men stood paralyzed with indecision, and his subordinates were little better. The army’s primary commanders were all dead, and victory now seemed impossible.

But then the nightmare just kept getting worse. The massive, slow, lumbering things that Tolui had dragged across the steppe to the Caspian Sea, then hauled onto trading ships, sailed across, then had dragged to the Black Sea, and loaded onto other captured ships, and then sailed along the coast until he thought a battle imminent now added their own voices to the battle.

The canna were big, slow to load, and almost as dangerous for the operators as for the enemy. But he had a very specific use in mind, and he didn’t need that many shots. He only had six of the things, but they exactly what he wanted. The Roman infantry remember were still in that big, immobile square that Constantine had put them in to ward off cavalry attacks. And while the canna might be truly useless against a moving target, they could, sometimes, hit a stationary one, and he would only get the one shot. But when all six of his canna fired, or rather five fired and one did nothing, he managed to hits. One was glancing, doing minimal damage to the Roman line. But it sure terrified the people nearby when suddenly the people standing right next to them were suddenly not standing, but instead were covering them in body parts. The other however impacted at a perfect angle and plowed through half a dozen men before smashing into the ground. The roar of the canna and the impact shook the infantry badly. Then the fire arrows came down on them. And that was it. They began to run. Men threw their weapons down and fled, and the Huns came on them from the sides and the rear. Then a group of three thousand circles around, and just charged from the front too. And the Roman soldiers were slaughtered in droves. Nikephorus’s horse was killed from under him, and he was promptly killed by the charging cavalry.

Some pockets of Pedinoi fought to the bitter end, but they were completely outnumbered and outmatched. By the end of the day barely one hundred Romans had survived, while the Huns lost about five thousand men. Nikephorus’s body was brought to Tolui, who had the Emperor decapitated, and put his head on a spike to parade before the Roman capital before he razed it as punishment.

Nikepherus III was 25 years old, and had been Emperor for about six months. He is impossible to rate. He did little, and was in a position to do little more. If it wasn’t for a quirk of history he would completely forgotten.

He was the last of the Thalassan dynasty, the family which had ruled the Empire since the dark days of the First Caliphate. From the lowest point of Roman fortunes, to a zenith under Leo and Manuel. The family left a permanent mark on the Empire, and the extended clan weren’t even close to being done. But Nikepherus was the last of them, and his death really does mark the end of the Empire as it had been for almost the past thousand years.

But at the time there was no time to think about any of that, because Constantine the Younger got the news a few weeks after of the disaster, and he immediately sent out desperate calls for help both East and West, promising anything that the rebels wanted if they would drop their grievances and come to Constantinople NOW.

Only, no one was really listening.

Well, almost no one. In Italy Julius II was eyeing the situation, and he thought he saw a once in a lifetime opportunity. Maybe once in a millennium. But to accomplish it he was going to need help. A lot of help.
 
Constantine the Younger got the news a few weeks after of the disaster
How did he find out about it? From the few dozen men who made it out alive (as you said a hundred Romans made it out by the end of the day)? The Mongols telling him that while bragging about their victory?
 
How did he find out about it? From the few dozen men who made it out alive (as you said a hundred Romans made it out by the end of the day)? The Mongols telling him that while bragging about their victory?
Survivors making it back to the Danube (as the Mongols do have to lug those cannons around, and that's pretty slow, and Tolui had to make sure that his prepared supplies are sufficient since he's now beyond the reach of his prior preparations). From the Danube riders went back to Constantinople pretty quickly.
 
Survivors making it back to the Danube (as the Mongols do have to lug those cannons around, and that's pretty slow, and Tolui had to make sure that his prepared supplies are sufficient since he's now beyond the reach of his prior preparations). From the Danube riders went back to Constantinople pretty quickly.
Anyways, this update, as epic as it is, isn't threadmarked yet.
 
Dear god, it’s worse than I imagined.
Only 2000 men left in Constantinople to contend against cannons? How is Julius going to get to Constantinople in time? And there’s 2 Hun armies!!!
 
Will the disaster brought by Romanos result in actual, canon tax evader kingdoms?
Not quite sure what you mean. But central authority will be taking/has taken a major hit, and some areas are going to be lost either permanently or temporarily even after things settle down.
 
So almost 80,000 of the best soldiers in the world just got butchered? Guess the Roman’s days of being the hegemon are over. Maybe the Huns will have a go at Central Europe after this is over?
 
Nikephorus’s body was brought to Tolui, who had the Emperor decapitated, and put his head on a spike to parade before the Roman capital before he razed it as punishment.
Guess Constantinople is going to fall ITTL, unless this refers to Chalcedon being destroyed or Tolui's plan for Constantinople.
 
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Not quite sure what you mean. But central authority will be taking/has taken a major hit, and some areas are going to be lost either permanently or temporarily even after things settle down.
Polities founded from Roman territory to avoid paying taxes.
 
Part 91: The Siege of Constantinople
Part XCI: The Siege of Constantinople​

As Constantine’s pleas fell on deaf ears the situation inside the city grew dire. Riots broke out as people realized that they were seemingly completely defenseless if this horrible enemy broke through the Moesian fortifications, which no one had any illusions about holding. Not with so much of the Moesian army dead beyond the Danube. What soldiers remained to Constantine the Younger put down multiple riots during the course of the month following news of the defeat, and as no word of reinforcement arrived the young man was forced to conclude that there was every likelihood that he would have to defend the city alone.

And to that end there was only one option, to be declared Imperator and Basileos, giving him the legal authority to make the needed moves to hold the city against siege or assault. Thus was the lone non-Thalassan Basileos crowned, the last man who would bear that as his part of his official title. With new authority in hand Constantine began the process of raising a new army, but it was both hard and slow. The cities of Thrace were closing up their gates to Imperial envoys, hoping to cut deals with the invaders and leave the capital to its fate. What food could be gathered was, and in a stark decision Constantine expelled a vast portion of the capital’s population, including virtually the entire upper class of the city. What people who could were shipped to the coast of Anatolia, but many were just forced from the city gates at spearpoint and left to fend for themselves. Anyone who could not produce a man to bear arms or work the fields and orchards behind the Theodosian Walls were out, and every scrap of food that could be stockpiled was, while docks were hard at work building more fishing vessels to keep the capital supplied. Constantinople’s population was reduced from three hundred thousand to merely one hundred thousand by the time three months had passed from Tyras.

And it would all be necessary. In October the Huns hit Moesia, and the phrourions which had served as strongpoints were swept away or bypassed. Vast quantities of food were seized, and by the end of the month virtually the entire province was under Hunnic control. Tens of thousands were slaughtered wholesale by Tolui, and many of the rest driven from their homes which now served to house the invaders. Tolui had scouted out the area, and did not wish to test the Roman capital, which he had been assured was the most heavily fortified city on Earth, during the winter. No, better to wait until spring was upon them before doing so. The army therefore settled in with their stolen provisions and waited.

Away in Italy Julius was at this point in full swing grabbing the Italian elite over to his idea to retake control not just of their own affairs, but of the whole of the Roman Empire. The Empire had been built by Italians he argued, it had been strongest under Italian rule. But then it had slipped into the hands of Greeks and barbarians, and now those men had driven it to the brink of ruin. So it would be fitting he claimed for the Italians to swoop in and save the Empire that they had founded.

This as pure spin. Not only had the Empire always been a highly multicultural affair, with Italians all being divided into their own petty kingdoms and squabbling tribes before the Romans came and united them, but the men he was making this to weren’t even the original Italians. Oh sure there were some, but these men were Lombards, Goths, Gauls, Franks, Greeks, and a hundred other points of origin that had all made Italy what it was. But oh boy did they buy what he was selling.

Not hurting matters was the fact that it wasn’t just invaders coming to destroy Rome, after all barbarians had once taken the Eternal City itself hadn’t they? But those invaders, the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, they had all been Christians. Maybe the wrong kind of Christian, but Christian. But the Huns? They were pagan monsters out of nightmares. Attila reborn so far as Julius’s arguments were concerened, and indeed he is the one who gave this group of Huns the, rather unfair and inaccurate, name they are saddled with today. They would destroy Constantinople, the city of Christianity which the great Constantine had built to be a light shining in the pagan darkness. How could God ever look upon his Chosen People again with favor if they let that light be extinguished?

The idea of the glory of retaking their rightful places as masters of the world, being the saviors of Christendom, and the wealth that would come with all this was very tempting, but they did require certain guarantees from Julius, which he granted, and which would form the basis of his Charter, which we will reach when he finally takes his place in Constantinople as Augustus.

So caught up in all of this was he that Julius had the pope convinced utterly that Christendom itself was on the verge of complete annihilation, and the call was sent out not just for Romans to join in the march East, but for their brother Christians in the north.

And it didn’t take long for Julius to realize that this was very much a needed thing. He could only muster about thirty thousand men to march to Constantinople’s relief, and that was of course going to be nowhere nearly enough. And he did not have a realistic way of transporting that many men to the city itself. Instead in March 1248 Julius departed from Beneventum with a force of ten thousand loaded onto ships, and sailed for Constantinople, to defend the city until help could arrive.

He arrived days later, to find the situation already dire.

Tolui had arrived in force on March 27, 1248 and had immediately begun an assault, as a means of probing the city’s defenses. The attack was repelled, but the undertrained and underequipped militia of Constantinople that Constantine X had managed to organize had suffered badly, losing nearly half their strength of ten thousand and almost being driven from the wall under missile fire from fire arrows.

The sudden arrival of ten thousand Italian soldiers, and the promise of more to come, was a massive boost to the morale of the defenders, and Constantine immediately offered to abdicate in favor of Julius. The young Caesari however was shrewd, and encouraged his Imperial partner to keep the crown, since after all the city might need more than one leader before the siege was over. That said, he absolutely had no intention of sharing power long-term.

The Italian reinforcements also broke Tolui’s hope of breaking the city immediately, and he set about preparing a long-term sieged. Portions of the Hunnic army were dispatched to ravage Greece, stealing all the food and supplies they could, while a number of reinforcments from minor subjugated steppe tribes arrived from the north, eager to take part in the spoils of the fabled Roman capital.

What Tolui really wanted however was for his Syrian reinforcments to arrive, and on April 6th, they finally did.

The Syrian branch of the Hunnic army had swept West after the destruction of Nisibis and Dara, eventually meeting the Syrian army near Aleppo in early September, 1247. There sixty thousand Syrians had faced forty thousand Huns, and you can probably guess the outcome. Four thousand Huns dead, forty-thousand Syrians. Self-proclaimed Rex of Syria John had successfully withdrawn from the battlefield, but had been forced to retreat to the nearly impregnable position of Antioch with ten thousand of his surviving troops.

The rest had retreated south, looking to call on Egyptian reinforcement.

The commander of the Syrian army, Temujin, approached Antioch, but after significant initial work decided that he had little chance of taking the city due to the surrounding mountains, which would let the defenders rain death on his men even if the walls were breached, and as he was reliant on firepowder mines tunneled underneath walls, having no canna of his own, he saw little chance of success. However, he absolutely did not want this garrison, reinforced from the south, to be able to come up on his rear either. And so, he made the second Hunnic blunder of the war. He also divided his army.

Now, its understandable why he did this. His father would be waiting in Europe for his son to arrive and place the far side of what they thought was the Roman capital under siege. Then the two of them could divide Roman attention, and destroy both parts in turn. Given his own experience with the Roman army he also knew his father had probably defeated the Roman army with minimal losses, so his own force would be less critical. And if the Egyptians did send reinforcements it would leave his army trapped in hostile territory with no retreat. So those reinforcements had to be destroyed.

BUT, dividing the Hunnic forces at this point was not what he should have done. Instead Temjin should have advanced south with his entire army, destroyed any reinforcments out of Egypt, ravaged Syria, and only then tried to force Anatolia, or even just conquered the entire Roman East, including if possible the ability to build a functional fleet with which to threaten Constantinople. It might have delayed him by a few months, but in dividing his force further he doomed both to destruction.

The southern force had a commander who is completely irrelevant, because after Temujin sent him south he ran into an unexpected factor, the fact that Palaestina had called for aid of its own, and with the Romans seemingly helpless in the face of Hunnic attack, they had turned to the Arabs instead. The Arab Caliph al-Adid, accepted and marched forty thousand of his own men into Palaestina. And at the Battle of Jerusalem, actually fought thirty miles north of the city but that didn’t sound as good to the people naming it, a stunning upset occurred. The Arab army, heavily reliant foot archers, devastated the Hunnic horse archers. But then to the intense surprise of the Huns, the Arab camelry panicked their horses, resulting in the attempted use of fire lances, so effective in previous encounters, to backfire spectacularly.

In six hours of fighting the Arabs lost fifteen thousand men, while the Hunnic force of twenty-thousand was completely wiped out. Shortly thereafter all of Palaestina was occupied by the Arabs. But al Adid was not finished, instead he turned East, to Mesopotamia. Now held only weakly by the Huns’ Turkic allies the Arabs invaded in April 1248, and over the next year they overran the entire region, eventually taking all the way to the old Persian border with Rome when they officially took the ruins of Dara, but by then events in the West had overtaken them.

Temujin however was unaware of any of this, nor of how the presence of his army at Jeruslaem could have broken the Arabs and prevented both that and his own eventual fate. For now, his invasion of Anatolia was a smashing success. The Turks of the Eastern region were driven before the Huns, pushing into the northern mountains to hide, while a vast booty of sheep, cattle, and horses were captured and taken with his army to help their supplies. Western Anatolia fared little better, as farms were destroyed and their inhabitants slaughtered, with provisions being taken from the stocks that were captured. In November, as the last action for the year, Temujin successfully broke the walls of Dorylaeum, slaughtered the population, and settled in to wait out the winter in the gutted city.

I should note here then that the winter of 1248 was extremely hard on the population both of the Anatolian plateau, and of Moesia. The food and fuel that they had stockpiled for the winter was virtually all gone, homes and farms had been burned and vast portions of the population were just left out in the elements. And it was here that the true toll of the Hunnic invasion was felt. Because over the winter of 1248 something like two million people died. Not of enemy attack, not out of revenge for some action against them. Just from being left outdoors during the winter with no food. Even more were left crippled and would die in the spring, before any kind of harvest could be attempted. Ultimately some three quarters of the population of central Anatolia and Moesia were dead by the time the Huns moved on.

In Syria things weren’t as bad, in part because the Armenians and Arabs sent what aid they could to the starving, something which Julius very pointedly will pay the Caliph in full for when he is in power. Full-scale famine in the East was averted due to these actions, and also due to the vast shipments of grain that arrived from Egypt as the three Eastern Exarchs coordinated with one another to survive a possible second wave of invaders, a wave which thankfully for them would not come. That said, half a million people still died in Syria over the winter of 1248, in addition to the tens of thousands slaughtered during Temujin’s initial invasion.

In March however he was on the move again, though made slow progress as his army dragged along the vast quantity of captured booty they planned as only the first great addition to their wealth, which would surely be dwarfed by the Roman capital. On March 24, the army reached the Imperial palace outside Chalcedon, and overran it. The palace was burned to the ground, and virtually everything inside was stolen or destroyed. This included the Imperial Mausoleum here Manuel II, his wife, and his successors were interred. Also destroyed here were innumerable manuscripts, records, pieces of priceless art, and other objects which were consumed by fire.

Chalcedon itself was for the moment spared as Temujin’s army ravaged the countryside to the East for several days, before turning back on the city itself. On April 6th his army arrived and encircled the ancient city where an Ecumenical Council had once set out Christian dogma across the East.

On April 15th, a successful tunnel under the walls of Chalcedon had a firepowder mine set in place, and then detonated. The wall as blown open, and Huns poured into the city. Chalcedon’s defenders fought bravely, and in a great act of defiance Alexander of Chalcedon, an otherwise unknown figure held his unit in place on the bridge into the city of Constantine while defenders on the far side set the bridge aflame. He and his men were slaughtered to the last, but others fleeing on boats watched their final moments as behind them the burning wooden hulk fell from where it had stood for centuries, and the link between Thrace and Anatolia was severed. Of the ten thousand or so residents of Chalcedon before the battle only about one thousand safely made it across the Strait and behind the relative safety of the Theodosian Walls.

Similar mining attempts of those defenses had been foiled, and the defenders now were on the watch for such efforts.

The destruction of Chalcedon was a great triumph for Temujin, who had now destroyed what he saw as the eastern bastion of the Roman capital. But it did little to change the stalemate settling in on the far side of the strait. Tolui needed reinforcements of crack troops that Temujin could bring, but the water was simply too much of an obstacle. Correspondance between the two was seemingly unnoticed by the Romans, as small boats passed between them at night, were almost undetectable by sentries of the defenders.

Temujin himself desperately needed to cross as well. His supplies were beginning to run dangerously low. Food, fodder, and powder were all low, and he now realized there was a solid chance he might have to retreat across the barren Anatolian Plateau, either risking an unknown path, or retreating back across territory his army had already stripped bare. Both of those were bad options. His hope was that the army he had sent south would get word to him that Syria was open, and he could order them to bring supplies from the now pacified region up to support his army, which could then proceed south and ravage the Anatolian coast.

But on May 6th he finally got the news from riders who had escaped Jerusalem. His reinforcing army wasn’t coming, and the passes through the Taurus Mountains were held against him by the Syrians. There would be no retreat out of Anatolia.

Looking over the situation then Temujin decided there was only one option, he was going to have to force the strait. He had captured a large number of boats when Chalcedon fell, and more had been taken along the coastline north and south, enough to probably move his entire army, but not their horses. After consultation with Tolui the young Hunnic prince decided that despite how dangerous it would be, it needed to be done soon. But, critically, it was now that a particular point should be made, namely that the secret correspondence between Temujin and his father was in fact known to the Romans, not its contents, but that it was happening. And so as Temujin readied his fleet of captured ships to cross Constantine and Julius knew it was happening. On May 25th, 1248 the Huns finally attempted their crossing under the cover of night.

But they were caught by Italian patrol ships, and soon the entire capital fleet was bearing down on them. And as the fighting raged the Huns were introduced to the Roman’s own weapon of fiery terror. Liquid fire was unleashed in the tight confines of the Strait, and consumed the Hunnic ships as their comrades on the far shore watched in horror. The carnage lasted for the remainder of the night, and when the sun rose Tolui could only look on the burning wrecks in the sea, and knew that his son and all his son’s men were dead. Burned alive by Roman ships.

Furious at this loss Tolui immediately set about a new round of preparations for breaching the Theodosian walls, and as his canna roared he had a new tunnel dug, under cover of darkness and well concealed, and this one went unnoticed by the defenders. The tunnel was ready on June 17th, and as it was finished the Huns finished blasting holes in the outer wall , and sent their men forward. As they began the massive explosive planted under the inner wall was detonated, blowing a hold through the Theodosian Wall. Men panicked and retreated, with the Huns rushing through the breach and fighting began in the outer section of the city. The Blachernae Palace was overrun and burned, and over the course of the next six days the defenders were forced back, until finally they were forced to retreat behind the walls of Constantine.

It was in this fighting that Constantine X took a sword through his back as he led his men in a retreat, which some still claim was ordered by Julius II, which to be fair even if he was innocent of this particular order, he as absolutely guilty in spirit. Constantine was carried back to the inner city by his men, but had been left crippled from the waist down. Knowing he would never recover Constantine called Julius, and arranged for his daughter Adelheid to marry Julius’s young son when the two came of age. He also made clear his intention to abdicate when the siege was over.

Julius accepted.

The fighting of late June wound down, but the siege had now taken a very bad turn for the Roman defenders. In total nearly eight thousand of them had died, leaving under five thousand remaining in the city. But worse than that, the orchards, gardens, and fields between the Theodosian and Constantinian Walls had been captured mostly intact by the Huns, leaving the invaders well provisioned going into July. The defenders now were entirely reliant on fishing in the Black Sea, and occasional shipments from southern Greece.

Tolui gave his army several days to rest, then renewed his bombardment of the Constantinian Walls. Fire arrows streaked over the walls as well, setting fire to the inner city, with the defenders forced to fight the blaze as well as defend the remaining walls. On July 9th, as things looked completely hopeless for the defenders, and Julius himself seems to have been considering simply abandoning the city and trying to meet up with his army somewhere off in Greece however everything changed. In the distance trumpets were heard, and banners were spotted far off, outside the Theodosian Walls. The combined army of Christendom had arrived.
 
Are there any more large Mongol forces in their Empire? Looks like the Roman invasion force has been destroyed piecemeal with the last part trapped between the relief army and walls.
 
I'm guessing in terms of TTL historical significance, this will be like the relief army at the Siege of Vienna x100. They're literally saving the capital of the world against the hordes of hell.
 
Well, guess the Mongol army is trapped between a rock and a hard place. Imagine what it’ll do for Julius’ legitimacy if he captures the Khan alive and parades him through the streets, it’ll be a Triumph like no other.
 
Well, guess the Mongol army is trapped between a rock and a hard place. Imagine what it’ll do for Julius’ legitimacy if he captures the Khan alive and parades him through the streets, it’ll be a Triumph like no other.
Imagine that, Julius Caesar eat your heart out, Julius II has you outmatched.
 
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