The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Part 96: The Cypriot War
Edit: I meant to include a note on naming. I’ve been kind of sporadic with it throughout, but in this one got fed up and modified the way I’m going to be referring to various groups. Previously I’m more or less been using “i” as a catch-all for both people’s and countries. That has resulted in some rather awkward naming, ie always calling the Frankish the “the Kingdom of Franki” (note that this always has a hard I sound, as in the singular I). I’ve decided that always having to write around that was silly and I’m dropping it. From now on the “i” on the end of a group always refers to the people, not a state. A state will be referred to with the suffix “ia”. That will mean that I’ll be referring to Bulgaria, and Serbia, and Francia (which honestly was why I’d changed it in the first place, to try and indicate that the language had developed differently). If I’d been doing this from the beginning I’d probably have used “oi” for states rather than “ia” to indicate the influence on the eventual modern Latin, basically as later Latin speakers adopting that suffix for their own purposes, but it would mean changing way too many references to places like Syria, Armenia, and Persia, to be worth it. When this is done and I go back and edit the whole thing I’ll update earlier uses to be more consistent with this going forwards. Finally, this refers mostly to those with their own states. Those within another state (like the Italians), or say a wider geographic grouping (the Chinese/Syricans) I’m just going to keep referring to that way.

Part XCVI: The Cypriot War​

Alexios IV’s reign began quietly, which was a marked improvement for the new Emperor. He had spent many years endlessly campaigning for his father in Anatolia, and then in Syria when the Arabi made their first attempt at Antioch. But after Julius’s death none of Constantinople’s foes made an initial attempt to take advantage.

The Rusi for their part had now been pulled away by the Northern Wars, a series of battles with the various Christian kingdoms of the north attempting subdue their pagan neighbors along the Suebian Sea. These were the last major pagan groups in Europe, and as such both the last source of slaves in Europe, and targets with Church support. We will discuss them more when we reach the end of the century, but for now be aware that these are going on, and as such are consuming the attention of both major Rusi realms, as well as the smaller Rusi kingdoms such as Moscia; Germania; and the Polania. These wars will continue, off and on for the next hundred years.

Alexios was not idle however, he believed it likely that the Arabi would make another attempt at Antioch, and so invested significant amounts into strengthening the region with additional phrourions, and enlarging the garrison of Laodicea. In practice what Alexios was aiming for was a network of defenses which the Arabi would be required to besiege large quantities of in order to ensure their lines of supply would be secure against Roman raiders. In turn this scattered siege system would allow the inevitable Roman counterattack to strike not one united, strong, Arab army, but instead strike at several smaller forces with the entire Roman force.

These defenses were of course paid for primarily in the tribute paid by Salah to the Roman Emperor over the period of the truce. Both sides studiously followed their side of the bargain, but neither had any doubts about what would happen when it ended. For the Romans this peace was a godsend. Alexios was able to use it to rebuild the treasury, lower the taxes being levied on the Senate members, and in the process earn their good will since he made clear that he wasn’t willing to tax them endlessly without an emergency, and perform much needed upgrades to the Roman fleet and armaments. In both cases the meaning was the same, ignifera. Julius had adopted small-scale use of firepowder during his reign, but lack of funds and time had prevented large-scale adoption. This now changed. The Syrican engineers were put fully to work, and they were paid well, but as with the process of creating liquid fire their work was a closely guarded secret of the Imperial household. Ignifera were mounted on Imperial warships, and distributed to the Emperor’s personal troops, but they were not made widely available.

Most importantly however, the Syricans taught their methods to other Imperial alchemists, often the same men who had been taught the secrets of liquid fire, and now applied their talents in that direction. Alexios’s example here will be followed by many of his successors, eventually followed far too closely. Indeed, it was this decision, and the steadfast refusal to reconsider it even as the centuries dragged on, which would have utterly disastrous consequences down the line.

The remainder of the peaceful years were spent on the northern border, as Alexios wanted to ensure that when the inevitable rematch with the Arabi came he would not be surprised by an attack from that direction. He took with him both his sons, both still underage, but they could observe their father’s work. A number of small skirmishes were fought with Bulgari cavalry, but there was no significant action.

As 1276 came to a close however Alexios left behind as large a force as he could, some five thousand men, at Thessalonika under the command of the now adult Leo, while Marcus traveled back to Constantinple with his father, who set about preparing for the end of the truce. Two days after it lapsed in 1277 the Arabi indeed launch an attack over the border, laying siege to a number of Phrourions around Antioch. Alexios immediately set out with Marcus in tow, and sent a fleet to Cyprus to resume the previous war’s strategy. That fleet would never arrive.

Salah had spent the last ten years building up a navy of his own at ports in Egypt and Tyre, and when he had waited long enough to be sure the Emperor was on his way Salah launched his fleet under the command of his own son, Sayf, who had spent many years practicing naval maneuvers in the Red Sea. In a quick action Sayf sailed his fleet from Tyre to Ammochostos, and rapidly destroyed the local fleet and harbor defenses. The city fell the same day. The Imperial fleet arrived completely unaware of the capture of the city, until they closed to enter the harbor, and were set upon by fire ships.

The tightly packed Imperial fleet, quickly caught fire, not helped when the lead ship’s firepowder storage ignited, blowing it apart. The Romans lost nearly sixty ships to the Arab losses of just five fireships. What was worse for Alexios, this catastrophic defeat meant that not only could he not bring his navy to bear in the campaign, but that Laodicea would have to look to its own defense rather than reinforce Antioch. Leaving Marcus in theoretical command in Syria Alexios raced back to the capital to gather a new fleet. This was not easy, as the entire Imperial fleet was now gone, and he was forced to requisition ships from merchants of Italy and Greece, but these ships were far less well armed and equipped than those lost. The process of rearming them was also horribly expensive.

But by 1268 Alexios had a fleet put back together, this time of some one hundred-twenty ships, and sailed for Cyprus. On the island the situation was desperate. Sayf had overrun most of the island, with only a number of cities on the Eastern coast holding out. Alexios’s arrival however changed things, and he was able to drive the Arab prince back until the two sides held roughly equal sections of the island. This was achieved because neither navy was confident in attaining a solid enough victory over their foes. The Romans had more ships, but the Arab ships were largely purpose-built warships rather than converted merchantmen.

Back in Syria Marcus was showing some spark of tactical acumen however, and had managed to drive off Salah’s initial sieges, and settled into his own waiting game against the Arab Caliph. Marcus’s force was only about twelve thousand men at this point plus another twelve thousand garrison troops, as his father required significant numbers of troops on Cyprus, and he was facing some forty thousand Arabi. But the Romans were in the far better position behind their fortress walls.

The stalemate lasted until 1279, when in a skirmish on Cyprus Alexios was wounded in the arm. He failed to get the wound properly treated in time, and it grew infected. Six days later he was dead. Alexios IV was 35 years old, and had been Emperor for 11 years. I can’t say that Alexios was a particularly good Emperor. He reigned competently enough, but the reality is that he died far too early, leaving two young and barely tested sons to succeed him. The circumstances of his death left the Empire in a far worse position than when he inherited. And yet I’m not sure he can really be faulted for what was, in effect a freak accident. He ranks above the many mediocre rulers, but not among the particularly good either for that reason.

Alexios’s sudden death left a horrible power vacuum on Cyprus, even with his officers stepping into take charge. The men were demoralized at the death of the popular leader, and Sayf was able to use that demoralization soon afterward at the battle of Anolinda, which saw the Roman army broken in the field, and ultimately forcing a withdrawal behind a set of hastily prepared defensive positions anchored by the Olympus Mons. With the Romans now firmly driven from the center of the island Sayf was able to loose his fleet fully upon the Syrian coast, hoping to force Marcus into a confrontation. The young prince however refused to be baited, and sent word to his brother in Thessalonika for assistance. Leo however was dealing with problems of his own. When word came that Alexios was dead the Bulgari king had crossed the Danube with a powerful army, and laid siege to the phrourions guarding the passage through the Hemus Mountains. Leo leveraged the time to raise more men, and finally marched out with an army of about twenty-five thousand. In the Battle of the Vardar he defeated the Bulgari king, and advanced up into Dacia, gathering local Roman sympathizers until his army had swelled to about thirty thousand. He marched around until he felt the point had been made, then turned to return via the same route to Greece.

But he made a mistake. Thinking that the Bulgari king had retreated further north he was lax in posting guards and scouting. But King Simon was not the sort to give up easily, and had prepared an ambush. On the morning of September 26, 1279 the trap was sprung, and Simon struck the two flanks of Leo’s army as they passed through the pass through which the Vardar flowed. Taken completely by surprise Leo stood no chance. His force was scattered, and he was forced to flee all the way to Thessalonika, retaining only some three thousand men.

It should be noted that actual deaths in the battle were minimal, maybe two thousand, but the losses in equipment and available men were major leaving Leo with few soldiers under his command. Simon now advanced south out of the mountain pass and laid siege to Thessalonika. Bringing up his engineers and siege weapons the Bulgari king knocked a hole in the wall, and sent his heavy infantry in. Leo was forced to board a ship with only a few of his most trusted men and flee the city. On October 9, 1279 Thessalonika, the largest city in northern Greece fell to the Bulgari.

The loss of the city exposed the fatal flaw in the Roman border as it stood after Julius II’s consolidation. The Romans were simply not powerful enough to fight on two fronts with Anatolia so devastated and without the depth provided by the Danube frontier. Significantly better news came in November however, as an Italian fleet had broken through the blockade of Cyprus and delibered reinforcements and supplies to the embattled Romans there, boosting their numbers to some twenty-thousand. In Syria meanwhile a major battle was fought between the forces of an Arabs general and Marcus, which Marcus won, driving back the Arabi and breaking the ongoing sieges, letting all the garrisons be rested and resupplied. The year ended in an ongoing stalemate.

In 1280, the war in Syria heated up again, with Salah marching an army of forty thousand back toward Antioch, and laying siege to the fortresses guarding the city once again. Marcus meanwhile engaged smaller Arab forces in a war of movement as he tried to cut Salah off from supplies and reinforcements coming from deeper within the Caliphate. This will established the pattern of the next four years of war in Syria. Every year Salah will lead his army forward and lay siege to the fortresses. He will take one or two, and leave them garrisoned before withdrawing south with his army at the end of the year to go into winter quarters, leaving behind screening forces. Those forces will be defeated by Marcus, but the fortresses will not be retaken from the Arabi. Salah will thus be able to use those captured positions as a springboard and advance closer to Antioch.

Marcus desperately needed reinforcements from the West but none were available. Simon had used Thessalonika as a base and launched an attack East, pushing into Thrace itself and laying siege to what few defenses were present. Leo scrambled to stop him, but his efforts were largely unsuccessful. In 1283 a massive blow came when Simon captured Adrianople, and with it effectively controlled all of Thrace save for Constantinople itself. Desperate now Leo asked for terms of peace. Simon returned Thrace to the Emperor, but in exchange he was to be paid a large annual tribute of gold, and worse he was allowed to keep Thessalonika, and with it the pass through the mountains, giving his army a direct route to the heart of Greece. Unfortunately for the Romans this would not be the end of Simon’s advance either.

The peace was supposed to last for ten years, but in 1285 Leo made a massive mistake, he tried to break the treaty. With a new army raised from Thrace and Anatolia Leo planned to march out, retake Thessalonika with help from his fleet, and link back up with Greece. But the plan fell apart almost immediately. His army was deeply inexperienced, and many of his Anatolians had been forced relocations from the Taurian Peninsula, and they deeply resented the Roman government. In the Battle of the Coast which followed the Chronicle tells us that many defected to the Bulgari side, and turned on the Emperor, whose army panicked and scattered.

Leo was surrounded, and knew that being taken alive meant humiliation and probably the worst peace possible. So, as Simon’s personal guard advanced on him he bade his men to escape as best they could, then removed his armor, and stabbed himself. Leo was 28 years old and had been Emperor for 6 years. Leo is something of a failure all things considered. He did his best, but his mistakes were almost catastrophic. His first defeat to Simon saw Thessalonika fall, and now his second will see Thrace once again fall to the Bulgari and eventually Thessaly and Epirus as well. The Roman position in Greece effectively collapsed with his defeat and death. That said, he doesn’t really belong with the truly terrible Emperors either, as he did nothing horrible in his reign. He just wasn’t up to the job.

The most ironic part of his death is just how unnecessary it was. Leo had thought that by beating Simon he might be able to turn around the war in Syria by shipping reinforcements needed in Greece. Unknown to him the situation had already turned drastically in the Romans favor when three major events happened.

First, Marcus married his oldest son Petrus to the daughter of the Turki Basileus. This was technically an illegal marriage since Marcus was now Emperor, and thus Petrus was the heir, but neither of them were yet aware of Leo’s death. The marriage was the cementing of an alliance that would define the next fifty years of Near-East politics, that of the Romans and the Turks against the Arabs, which will ultimately culminate in Katerina’s reign.

Second, Salah, now an old man died in a skirmish outside one of Antioch’s phrourions. Records are sketchy, but he seems to have not worn his armor during the battle, and was shot by a young man on the battlements. According to legend Salah ordered his men to spare the lad, as he was the only one with courage and grace enough to kill a Caliph. If the event happened, which is admittedly doubtful, his men did not listen.

Third, a massive fleet led by Venetian sailors arrived on Cyprus, and in the famous Battle of a Thousand Masts, beautifully illustrated in the painting of the same name on display in Venice today I should note, the Arab fleet was virtually wiped out. Sayf’s army was suddenly trapped on Cyprus with no way home. Knowing his position was hopeless the now Caliph boarded a small ship and fled to Tyre, barely escaping Venetian pursuit. His thirty-thousand man army was left to fend for themselves. By the end of 1285 they had surrendered.

The defeat on Cyprus was a devastating blow to Arabi fortunes in the war. The number of men lost in total during that campaign were nearly fifty thousand, and represented a massive part of the Arabi army, which as 1286 dawned suddenly found itself under attack from the East as the Turki Basileus led his army into Mesopotamia. Sayf managed to successfully lead an army to Babylon and defend it, but the war effort was clearly collapsing. He sued Marcus for peace in May, and the details were hammered out over the next several months. Sayf would pay a large indemnity to the Roman Emperor, and pay an equally large ransom for the army he had been forced to abandon on Cyprus. Worse, Tyre would be foreited to the Emperor, as would all land north of it along the coast. A similar, if less punitive, peace was negotiated between Sayf and the Turks, but the Arabi had definitely lost the war.

Marcus oversaw the installation of garrisons in the retaken Syrian lands, and returned to Constantinople, to try and see if he could salvage something from the extremely bad situation in Greece. We will however be covering what happened there following Leo’s death next time.
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Part 97: Small Steps
Part XCVII: Small Steps​

After Leo’s death Simon had marched his army east, his army unopposed as it marched to the very walls of Constantinople itself. The populace hurriedly patched the Theodosian Walls as best they could, and settled in for another siege. But it did not come. The Bulgari King was not interested in a long struggle for a city like Constantinople, and instead he turned north, securing the coast of Thrace and effectively cutting the Constantinople off from any land routes into Roman territory. Over the next year his army secured control of Adrianople and the rest of Thrace, effectively reducing Roman control east of Thessalonika to the walls of the capital.

Simon left a large garrison behind at Adrianople and withdrew north of the Hemus mountains at the end of the year, but returned the following spring with fresh reinforcements and new administrators. Taxes were levied on the inhabitants of Thrace, and the king made a show of force before Constantinople again before turning west, and then south. Over the course of 1287 his army moved south into Greece, capturing the completely unfortified regions of Thessaly and Epirus without a fight. But in July 1287 Simon met a foe he could not simply bypass or take immediately, the great city of Athens. By now the largest, richest, and most heavily fortified city in Greece Athens was a bustling port with for the time enormous facilities for the production of weapons, armor, and ships.

As such it was well armed, and had unbreakable access to the sea. It also completely blocked any further progress south. Simon could not just bypass it and advance into the Pelopponese, since Athenian soldiers might well be able to march out and cut off his retreat. As such he prudently withdrew, but settled into the city of Thebes, fortifying it and spending the winter in place. This would be the greatest extent of the Bulgari kingom, which now stretched from beyond the Carpathi Mountains in the north, all the way to Attica in the south, and ruled virtually all of northern and central Greece.

But while Simon had now advanced further south than any Roman foe had since the Goths his position was far more tenuous than it might appear. He had only made it this far because Greece was so unfortified, as soon as he had to withdraw and a Roman army returned all his conquests south of Thessalonika would return to the Roman fold. But he had no choice as word reached the Bulgari king that Marcus had landed at Athens with an army of some thirty-thousand, including a force of seven thousand Turki mercenaries from Persia. Not wanting to risk a defeat Simon withdrew north to Thessalonika.

Markus did not pursue. Instead he fanned his army out and retook Epirus and Thessaly, finally building a network of wooden phrourions north of Larissa to block further Bulgari advances south. Forever cautious however Marcus did not advance further until the year was out, and his new fortresses were ready if he needed to retreat, and he was going to need to retreat.

In early 1289 the Emperor marched north, at the head of his now slightly reduced army, and confronted Simon near Servia in southern Macedonia. A battle was waged, and the heavy Bulgari infantry stood against their Roman counterparts, and beat them in the field. The experienced and well-equipped Bulgari also withstood everything the Turks could throw at them, until they too were forced to retreat.

I say forced, but Marcus was the one who ultimately ordered the retreat, which was largely in good order once he rallied his infantry. The battle of Servia was a clear Bulgari victory, as they had lost a mere fifty men for two hundred Roman dead. But as those numbers might indicate Marcus was far from beaten. His army was completely intact, and while it was clear he couldn’t beat Simon in the field the Emperor could outlast him. Turks were let loose on their own into the north, with orders to attack Bulgari foragers and reinforcements, but avoid a pitched battle. Simon could not pursue or drive off the raiders, as he had to watch for attempts by Marcus to move forward with the rest of the Imperial army. By the end of 1289 however Simon was forced to admit the inevitable, he couldn’t hold out in Thessalonika any longer, and he was forced to order a withdrawal north into the pass connecting Macedonia to Dacia. As soon as he withdrew Marcus pounced.

Gathering his army he attacked the Bulgari king’s army, and in a rare move for the time attacked at night. The aim of the battle wasn’t really to beat Simon, but to disorder his army and cause chaos. In this Marcus was entirely successful. Few men died, only about one hundred per side, but when day came the Bulgari army found that much of their baggage had either been destroyed or stolen.

Marcus returned to Thessalonika and set about creating a network of fortresses guarding its northern approaches like he had done at Larissa and Antioch. Now however the Emperor encountered a severe problem, money. His special taxes were running out, and the Senate made quite clear they would not be renewed. Without that cash further offensive action was impossible. Even the most powerful ally the Emperor had in the capital, Consul Enrico Delfini, of Venice, would not support further offensive action. The last two decades had been horribly expensive for the Senators, and they didn’t want to foot the bill for further fighting.

Delfini flat-out told the Emperor that he would have supported taxes to retake Thessalonika, which was too important for the Black Sea trade routes where Venice’s most profitable contracts lay, but would not countenance further wars now that the city was reclaimed. No amount of convincing could sway the Senators and Marcus was forced to accept defeat in 1290. He signed a peace with Simon the next year, but was forced to leave most of Thrace in Bulgari hands.

He stewed for a time, then brought in Italians to come up with a solution to his money problems. Their solution was deeply unorthodox, but fit Marcus’s needs quite well. The main problem so far as Marcus saw was that Roman tax receipts were perfectly sufficient most of the time for what he wanted to do, but then in bursts of spending would become insufficient. So he needed some way of just putting off payment for a few years, one that didn’t involve the truly astronomical interest rates he might get from various merchant houses.

The eventual solution was to organize an Imperial bank. This was not exactly completely unheard of, in that Imperial businesses were very common, but the nature of it very much was brand new. Borrowing organizational principles from the Italian banks of the time, Marcus put his personal fortune, which was naturally the largest in the Empire, behind the bank, and encouraged the wealthy men of Greece and Anatolia to invest. This was largely unsuccessful, but with the Emperor’s backing (and enforcement if need be), the bank could offer loans at far lower rates than the Italians. As low as twenty percent even. And yes, that was low for the time.

There was intense opposition from the Church which thought the Emperor should not become involved in usury, but Marcus weathered that criticism as well. The First Imperial Bank will remain in operation for several centuries, until corruption, Imperial bankruptcy, and finally Civil War destroy it, sending the empire into a severe and long depression that in many ways will last more or less until the second bank was founded much later.

The Imperial Bank basically operated as a guarantor of funds. A merchant in Constantinople would leave a large sum of gold in the capital, and receive a certificate, pre-signed by the Emperor, stating how much money he was good for. He then could carry this anywhere within the Empire, and eventually into Hispani, Gael, or Franki as well, and present the certificate as an alternative to carrying large amount of gold.

As might be expected the certificates themselves rapidly grew in popularity, and the origins of seres money can be found here. Over the next century the Emperor will increasingly rely on these notes as his gold sits in the capital and makes more money through loans. The results will of course eventually be disastrous, but Marcus can hardly be faulted for the enormous debts taken on during the Half-Century War. Nor for the ultimate colossal defeat the war would end up being.

Shortly after the war ended it should be noted, Simon made a major mistake in marrying off his oldest daughter to the king of Polania. Given he had three sons this did not seem like a problem in the future, but as we will see circumstance rendered what would otherwise have been a relatively minor political marriage into one that would have dramatic consequences.

In the short-term however his return north of the Danube gave Marcus an opening, and he marched a small army to Adrianople, which promptly opened its gates and the Bulgari garrison inside had to surrender. Marcus let them march off, but he set up his own Imperial garrison, and fell back to Constantinople once again. Simon was forced to wait until the next spring to retaliate, which he did by marching south and laying siege to the city once again. However, the Roman garrison managed to hold out, and as the year drew to a close the Bulgari king was forced to withdraw north of the mountains once again. More soldiers and supplies were shipped to the city over the winter, and Simon once more came south to try and retake Adrianople. He was no more successful this year, and once again had to withdraw.

This process repeated itself year over year, until Simon died in 1294 leaving his son Krum on the throne. Krum negotiated a new truce which saw the tax revenue of Thrace divided between the Romans and Bulgari, before he turned his attention to the northwest, where Kiev was pushing toward the Carpathi mountains. The great scandal would break out the same year, which we will discuss at a future time.

Marcus took advantage by returning to the East, where he waged a small-scale war against the Arabi Caliphate, who were in the middle a civil war in Arabia itself as a number of Bedawi tribes had tried to throw off the Caliph’s rule. After taking a number of positions in inland Syria the Emperor was able to get a better treaty from Sayf, bringing a small amount of territory between Antioch and the Euphrates back under Imperial rule.

The Emperor reigned for a number of years following, but apart from a major rebellion in Africa that had to be put down by Italian troops, but was largely inconsequential. On May 9, 1298 Marcus suddenly became sick, with what is today thought to be food poisoning, and died a week later. He was 40 years old, and had been Emperor for 13 years. Marcus overall was a fairly successful Emperor. His military campaigns were not brilliant, but they were by and large successful, and his establishment of a new method of financing the Empire would pay large dividends throughout the Caesarii dynasty.

His primary failing as an Emperor was leaving his son Petrus largely untested either in the field or at home. The young man had not commanded a campaign, nor spent much time with his father while on campaign, and he had been betrothed at a very young age, leaving him with little experience really making his own decisions on pretty much any matter. But even then it should be remembered that Marcus’s death was highly unexpected, as he was still a fairly young man, and Petrus was himself very young. But young or not the crown prince was now Basileos, and as such would have to navigate the coming years. But the true test of Emperor of the next century was already stirring in the far east once again, where in the fractured Hunnic Empire the Plague was about to once again rear its head.
Says a lot about the sad state of Constantinople that the Bulgari didn't even consider taking it.

Is it still the de-facto capital? Recall that Thessalonike had that status under Julius, but has the Bulgari occupation changed anything?
Manuel naturally will oblige, beginning the Second Frankish War, called the Great Frankish War until Paulus’s long and bitter religious war in the 1500s. And unlike Paulus, Manuel will both survive and win his war with the Franks.

Over the next century the Emperor will increasingly rely on these notes as his gold sits in the capital and makes more money through loans. The results will of course eventually be disastrous, but Marcus can hardly be faulted for the enormous debts taken on during the Half-Century War. Nor for the ultimate colossal defeat the war would end up being.
So the Half-century war weakens the Caesarii and bank, and the Great Frankish war destroys the Caesarii? Or it it related to the post-Caesarii dynasty?
Says a lot about the sad state of Constantinople that the Bulgari didn't even consider taking it.
No, more that they couldn’t take it. The city’s defenses are still extremely formidable, and it wasn’t that long ago that the Bulgarians saw just how hard the city was to take first-hand.

So the Half-century war weakens the Caesarii and bank, and the Great Frankish war destroys the Caesarii? Or it it related to the post-Caesarii dynasty?
The war with the Franks and the Half-Century War are the same thing. And while the primary conflict is Rome vs Francia pretty much everyone else is going to get involved too (eventually).
Part 98: The West in 1298
Part XCVIII: The West in 1298​

The primary events requiring our attention in the West will be different this time around because those in Hispania, Britannia, Gaelia, Francia, and Germania are largely irrelevant so far as the next century is concerned. So we will go over them only briefly before looking further East toward the Swabian Wars. In Hispania the ongoing stalemate between the Roman successor kingdoms has seen the Kingdom of Tarracon achieve temporary supremacy as it has reduced both Asturia and Portucale to the status of vassal states, while dealing major defeats to the kingdom of Baetica. That last kingdom has been forced to pay a significant tribute to keep the Tarraconi king at bay. This status quo will last for most of the next fifty years, and then steadily degrade until Tarracon eventually is dislodged from its position as peninsular hegemon in the 1350s. The most important development for our interest is the importation of large numbers of landless Norman knights from Gaelia and Alba, leading to them making up significant portions of the Hispani armies at this time.

These mercenaries are a consequence of separate, but related phenomena in their native kingdoms. In Alba the king has successfully dealt a significant blow to the power of his magnates, reducing many of them in power and leaving their younger sons without land to inhereit, leading those men to travel abroad in search of their forture. In Gaelia the process has occurred as well, but has seen the southern population, more related to the Romans of Italy in language and culture, grow more dominant over the court at Toulouse. The more foreign Normans in the north are finding themselves pressured to convert, and to adopt singular inheritance patterns. Again, the result is more younger sons traveling abroad in search of their fortune.

We should not overestimate the impact however, as it will not be until the next century that the process truly reaches full speed and suddenly thousands of knights are looking elsewhere for future possibities, at just the time that the Baeticans are searching for soldiers to defend their wider expeditions.

In Francia the kingdom has seen some success in maintaining its control over the Rhine despite the constant raids and wars against their Marcher neighbors. But to the south royal control has once again been lost, and Gaeli lords control the river between Roman Italy and Franci ports upriver.

But all of these are widely irrelevant so far as the Romans are concerned for the next century. That’s not to say nothing happened. Occassional border fighting between lords and the local garrisons occurred, one minor war broke out between the king of Germania and the Romans broke out at one point, but it was small and localized, and merited virtually no Imperial attention as local forces proved capable of holding the mountain passes, and hence winning their victory.

No, our focus now turns further East, to the Swabian Sea. For the past several centuries Christian influence had steadily crept into northern Europe, converting first the Russi, then the Pedinoi, then the Normanoi, and then the Polani. This series of conversions had left virtually all of Europe Christian, outside the eastern steppe, except for the lands along the southern Swabian Sea Coast. This region therefore represented the single most important remaining source for the Mediterranean for that always valuable commodity, slaves. Before Romanos III the majority of Rome’s slave supply came from the south, passing through Markuria from deeper within Africa. These slaves were primarily manual laborers, particularly on the vast farms of Italy, Egypt, as well as mine workers. But Egypt was now lost, and with it the source of southern slaves was effectively cut off, with these men and women now sent northeast into Arabia. But Italy still needed slaves, the mines still needed workers, and a dozen other jobs needed to be done. And so, the Northern Wars.

Modern historiography has a bad habit of grouping these conflicts together into one great war that would last for a hundred years, and involve righteous Christians marching off to force the last pagan stronghold in Europe to convert after peaceful efforts failed. This is complete and utter nonsense. It is not difficult to see why the wars were fought. Simply compare the way the wars were fought, the terms of the intermittent peaces, and the flow of money. The Polani, Sveari, Russi, Germani, even the Bulgari, all contributed what they could to the yearly raids that would enter the region, fight whoever tried to stand up to them, and then leave with a few thousand prisoners to be sold south, or as time went on west into the Franki and Hispani states.

That is not to downplay the doomed efforts of the pagans, who both fought back tooth and nail, but also won multiple clear victories, especially in the early decades of fighting. The Battle of Broken Ice stands as a particular example, as in 1288 a group of Sveari and Russi soldiers returning home with captives were lured onto a frozen river by a pagan army, and the ice broke under their heavy horses and wagons. Two thousand men drowned, and four thousand more were butchered in the aftermath. All the captives were freed, and a vast quantity of weapons, armor, and other booty were captured. We’re uncertain where exactly this happened, as there was only one known surviving witness, but the loss of the army is well chronicled, and led to the 1289 ceasefire, which ended the fighting for six years while the Christian forces regrouped and the pagans prepared for another round.

Also included in this series of wars, although it really was a largely separate conflict, is the war between the Sveari and Russi against the Tavasti, in what we would today think of as the region of Finnia, in the eastern region of the Republic of Scania.

Politically however the most important event from the Roman perspective was the marriage of a Bulgari princess to a Polani prince, for reasons that will be apparent after the ascension of Empress Katarina. Polania was, due in part to the lucrative slave trade, the wealthiest and most powerful of the northern states, although Bulgaria was a close second.

The lands of the Rus by now have solidified into three basic realms. In the south the Rus of Kiev, the Notorussi, the northern Rus of Novgorod, the Vorrussi, and the central Rus who were controlled by neither state but whose most powerful and largest princedom was that of Mosci, the Kenrussi.

The realm of Novgorod was both the largest and most powerful, and was the most involved in the northern wars, but was primarily interested in gaining territory along the sea coast, and thus gain additional ports through which trade could flow from their lands to the Franks and Goths in Western Europe. Novgorod’s control was enforced through the lands directly to its north, which gave the city access to vast quanitities of salt and furs which were in demand in the West.

To the south the realm of Kiev was weaker, and primarily relied on trade with the Romans to their south, or raiding to the Romans to their south. Kiev had long been held back by the powerful steppe tribes, first the Pechenegs then the Cumans, who controlled the vast lands to their south and east, but that period is over. The northern nomads suffered greatly at Constantinople, and have been fatally weakened on their old stomping grounds of the northern steppe, although further east this is not true. Thus Kiev now has advanced its control south, and is intent on both attaining control over the Black Sea coast, but also in driving the Romans from Cherson and taking the port as their own.

Between these two lay a network of independent states which played the two most powerful Russian states against one another, and often fought amongst themselves. Largest and most powerful of these as noted was Mosci, which at this stage still sought to overtake one or both of its larger neighbors, though this ambition will ultimately crumble in the face of Novgorod assaults during the coming century, leading to the central Russian states being absorbed into their stronger northern neighbor. Mosci will however serve a critical role during the reign of Petrus.

Circling back to northern Europe we arrive at the various nations of Scania. At this stage this means Svear, Norvegia, and Pedinia. At this stage Norvegia was the most powerful state in the region, though not by a significant amount. Pedinia was closing quickly as its control over the passage between the Swabian Sea and Atlantic Ocean allowed it to charge extremely profitable tolls on Russi and Hispani ships traveling through the region. In the coming century it will grow in power and wealth until it is capable of dominating the region economically.

Finally, there is the question of the steppe tribes. As noted the nomads suffered greatly in the wars of Romanos, then the war against the Huns, losing many men in Constantinople when they joined the Hunnic army, but far more critically they lost a huge number of horses. The campaign had required a large number of the animals, and the population was slow to recover. When Kiev advanced south there was little that the surviving Cumans could to stop them, and so they fled east, uniting with other surviving steppe tribes to form the Tatar Khaganate, a confederation of various tribes which were no longer strong enough to exert influence on the scale once seen. While eventually their numbers will of course recover, by then the settlement of what had been the northern steppe, and the large number of fortifications built there as Constantinople and Kiev fight for control of the Black Sea will make their return West impossible.

This concludes our look at the Western regions of the narrative. Next time we will be looking away to Syrica to go over the death of the unified Hunnic Empire, and the fragmentation into a series of feuding and fragmented states, which will in turn form the basis of the modern Seven Kingdoms, and eventually the Empire of the East, Joseon.
Wondering if the continued decentralisation of the Iberian peninsular will delay any colonisation attempts, all energies will be spent on fighting each other. Also I’m assuming that the Romans still rule the seas.

A permanently fractured China is huge, it’ll be anarchy and havoc.
Really goes to show that nature abhorred a vaccuim, knock down the nomads, Russians take their place.
Culturally have the Rus taken as much inspiration from the Romans as OTL?