The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Part 58: The Western Changes
  • Part LVIII: The Western Changes​

    To understand the coming war we must take a step back and examine the significant changes the new millennium saw in the West. In particular we will be looking at the end of Gothic Hispani, the expansion of the Normans into Saxeland, and finally both the internal and external problems Louis faces as he tries to consolidate the Frankish Empire now that Italy had been mostly conquered.

    Since the events on Britannia are the most immediately relevant we will focus on them. You will recall that the Danes by this point had been decisively beaten by a Frankish force, and subsequently begun the process of converting to Christianity. Note however, this is not entirely causal in nature, as the Pedinoi had already been moving in that direction for a few centuries.

    The upside however was that as of the year 990 both the Danes an the Normans were Christian, and both had formed decentralized kingdoms made up of a combination of invaders and local strongmen. For the Danes these were the Saxons, and for the Normans these were the Gaels. However, in 993 the High King of the Danes died with three different heirs. His oldest son was away in the king’s homeland on the mainland, and so a younger son attempted to seized control of Saxeland, backed by local Danish leaders.

    Civil War ensued, worsened when the Saxons rose in revolt against Danish control in an attempt to throw the Saxons out. Edward, a descendant of the royal house of Wessaxe in particular proved troublesome as he took control of the south and defeated the army of the lord of Cantware who tried to expand his own territory during the civil war. A series of battles followed, but in the end Wessaxe was driven back, until Edward was forced to flee into marshes and attempt to continue the war from there.

    His efforts were less than successful, and so he snuck south, took a ship, and set out for the Frankish Emperor, hoping to come back with an army and fleet to liberate southern Saxeland from the Danes, even if he had to bend the knee to Louis to get it. His efforts however were in vain. Louis at this point of course was away in the south, fighting in Italy and no help was forthcoming.

    But as luck would have it Edward met here a representative to the Frankish Court from Alba. Hearing the Saxon plea the representative gave him a letter of introduction to the Norman High King, and Edward departed for Hiberni to once again seek aid.

    The Norman High King, a man named Rufus, was quite interested in an expedition to Saxeland, and agreed to assist the Saxons against the Danes if they would swear fealty to him. He had little love for the Danes, and indeed had fought at least one major battle against them as a teenager in 982. Throwing his neighbors out of Britanni completely was a golden opportunity. Especially when you considered that, odd as it might sound, Saxeland was at this point actually more prosperous than either Hiberni or the Britanni lands.

    Rufus gathered his vassal kings and knights and departed for Saxeland in 1002. Upon arriving in Northumbri Edward set about rallying the local Saxon lords to his cause, and after some trepidation many took the deal. Rufus marched on the capital at Eorwic, defeating the Danish king and scattering his army. The Normans fought in a rather unique fashion at this point. While they are historically famous for the use of heavy cavalry, many of their knights actually still fought on foot, only riding to the battle, acting as a heavy infantry backbone supporting archers and skirmishers to hold the enemy front line in place before their actual cavalry smashed the enemy in the flanks. The Danes in the north were badly outnumbered, and stood no chance.

    Rufus marched south, and Edward went with him, rallying Saxon lords to the banners of the Normans. Not all Saxons joined up of course, and a miniature civil war was fought between Saxons who landed on each side, but with the Danes distracted by their own internal war there was little hope of stopping the Norman advance.

    At Tamworth a Danish force of seven thousand was finally gathered under King Cnut of the Danes, and fought a major battle against a force of Norman soldiers led by Rufus himself numbering about five thousand. The Normans had secured a hill on the battlefield, and assembled their infantry and archers along it, with cavalry in reserve behind the lines.

    In this position Rufus was content to wait for an additional force of five thousand being led by his son, William, to arrive. The Danes however knew this second force was coming and so opted to attack early. This was to prove a disastrous mistake. With their superior missile troops, the Normans devastated the advancing Danish shield wall, so that when the Danes finally reached the Norman infantry their formation was in disorder and many men were already tired from the advance uphill. The Norman infantry held firm and began pushing the Danes back. As they did so Rufus led his cavalry out from the hill, circling around the Danes, lowered their lances and charged.

    The Danes broke and ran. Many were killed, and the rest scattered. Rufus occupied Tonton the same day and set up a new local king for whom he could be overlord. The Danish defeat at Tonton broke the dam of Danish rule, and Saxon revolts broke out across the remainder of Saxeland. Rufus swept through the remainder of the country in a few months, setting up new kingdoms as he saw fit. Eorwic was given to his son William who was married to a Saxon Princess, and this was merged into the Caledoni territories held by the Norman kingdom.

    Myrce was divided into three sections, Myrce which consisted of much of the western half of the old Myrcian kingdom. In the northeast a new Danish kingdom was founded to be ruled by a local Danish lord who had switched sides. The southeast was centered around Londinium, and would be ruled by a local Saxon lord named Alfred. Edward was given Wessaxe, as well as all the lands to the sea save Canterbury and the immediate environs. This was given to the archbishop and dedicated to God and the Church. In exchange the archbishop crowned Rufus by the Grace of God King of the Normans, the Gaels, and the Saxons.

    The two Danish princes who started the whole mess had died in Daneland with no one back in Saxeland the wiser. Their sole remaining sibling took the throne of the remaining Danish territory, and in 1013 he made a failed attempt to retake Danish Saxeland. This attempt was a dismal failure, as his fleet was caught in a storm during the crossing and the Danish king was drowned. The survivors limped back to Daneland and set about selecting a new king.

    Rufus was now High King of all of Britanni apart from the native lands still held by the people of the same name. Under him however were a large group of lesser kings who each was deeply independently minded, and really bore little love for their Norman overlord. And in case you think this sounds horribly unstable, then congratulations on reading ahead. But for now this powerful Norman kingdom still has about a century of life to it, so we’ll let them enjoy their place in the European sun.

    Next, we’ve covered in the past the unstable and weak Gothic kingdom that had developed in Hispani since the final expulsion of the Romans in the 600s. Had any external foe existed to take advantage of the Gothic weakness it is highly likely that the Goths would have been conquered quickly. But fortunately for the Goths the Romans were eternally distracted by the East, the Berbers were distracted by Roman North Africa, and the Franks were distracted by their internal disputes and the Germani borderlands.

    The Goths had been left alone to either sort their problems out or…well take the path they eventually did take. As Gothic disunity grew so too did local loyalties. The weakness of the crown meant local lords focused more on their own lands, and ceased to vie for an increasingly pointless throne. Any lord who grew strong enough would make a bid for central power, and either succeed or fail to little change.

    If he succeeded then equally strong lords in other parts of the kingdom would defy him as they had defied the previous king, and if he failed the king was still too weak to enforce significant consequence on the lord or his family.

    The end result of these events came in the 990s. The Doux of Asturi in northwest Hispani had amassed a signficiant power base, and rather than trying to claim the crown for himself he simply crowned himself king of his own lands and dared anyone to try and take the crown from him. No one did. Instead the secession kicked off a series of other lords looking at his actions and thinking “well why not me.”

    In short order douxes in Baetica and Lusitani both declared themselves king and officially threw off royal control. This left the Gothic king, a man named Alaric, in controlling basically just the interior of Carthagensis with a capital at Toledo, as well as loyal vassals in Tarracon. Alaric was loath to let his territory go without a fight however, and a final civil war broke out.

    For six years the combatants battled across Hispani, until in 1004 a ten year truce was agreed and the matter submitted for arbitration to the Frankish Emperor. Louis lept at the chance to make a judgement, and in 1010 he backed the Gothic king, saying that only God or an Emperor could grant a man the position of king, and that to crown yourself was blasphemy. He ordered the rebels to do homage to Alaric and accept his leadership.

    Things *might* have ended there, but before the rebels could do as they were ordered Alaric died, and he died without an heir. His holdings collapsed into chaos and the realm splintered once again. The truce did hold however, and continued to hold until 1017, when the Doux of Tarracon died, and his son decided to take the crown of Hispani for himself. Civil war once again broke out, and it became clear that the rebels were not containable. The Doux tried to appeal to Louis for assistance, but the Frankish Emperor was dealing with a major revolt among his Germanni lords and could not send aid. Over the next eight years the Tarracon army was driven further back into their own territory, until finally all crown land had been taken by the rebels. In a conference at Toledo the Carthagensis was divided amongst the secessionist states. Baetica received the coastline and much of the southeast. Lusitani obtained Toledo and the central lands, while Asturi obtained the remainder.

    This was quite a problem for the king of Tarracon, who raised another army and marched into the Baetic territory. His army was decisively defeated in 1026, and the king himself was killed. This however left his young son in charge, and more importantly his mother, who happened to be Louis’s niece. She appealed to her uncle once again, and this time Louis agreed. He ordered another truce put in place, and called the various douxii of Hispani to Marseilles yet again for a conference. Once again he ordered the douxii to give up their crowns and prepare to select a new overall king. They agreed, went back home and did what they liked.

    By 1029 Louis had had enough. He raised another army, and marched into Tarracon at the head of thirty thousand men, intent on either putting a new king on the throne of Hispani, or to simply force the nobles to accept him as overlord. It was their choice and Louis didn’t much care which one they picked. He picked up allies in Tarracon, and soon was moving south into Baetica. The Baeticans panicked as they realized just how outmatched they were and went looking for help. They found what they were looking for just across the water in Caeserea, the now recaptured capital of the Roman lands of Mauretania, and recent capitol of the Berber kingdom.

    Emperor Manuel was massing a fleet and army to wage his war against the Franks, and the Baeticans begged him to intervene. 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.

    And speaking of, we finally arrive at the ten ton elephant in the room, the Frankish Empire. The Franks have been the biggest non-Roman power around since, well since the fall of the West really. The Goths were more powerful here and there in the early days, but those days are long since gone. It is difficult to even say that the Franks of this time period are the same people as the original superconfederation of course, but the name will stick around as convenient shorthand until the disintegration of the Empire about…oh seven years hence.

    We have already met the current Emperor, Louis, who by now is an old man but one who is no less dynamic and powerful than he was in his youth. His oldest son Pepin was much like his father, and had already been given fairly significant holdings along the northern coast. Pepin will unfortunately for him be the last of the Pepinid dynasty to hold any power, and will die in chains before the crowds of Constantinople.

    Under Louis the Frankish Empire, or the Western Roman Empire as he styled it, was a highly centralized state by Western standards. Vassals did homage to the king, and his ability to call on them was strong by this point. But, this centralization depended heavily on the king being so much more powerful than his vassals, and also on his ability to safeguard the realm. Defeating the Roman Emperor had done a lot to quiet his remaining political opponents, but they were still out there. But in turn the conquest of Italy was a bit of a double-edged sword for Louis. On the one hand Italy had basically doubled the annual Frankish budget from three hundred thousand nomismata to five hundred thousand. Yes, this is a tiny fraction of what the Romans had been collecting from the peninsula. We’ll discuss that later after the war between the Franks and Romans is completed however.

    On the other the conquest had stirred up significant unrest among the powerful vassals that Louis maintained. This was because they had gone to war with him in the expectation of receiving rich Italian lands and cities with which to boost their personal holdings. This had held true in some cases, but most had spent a great deal of treasure equipping men for the war, and then led the soldiers into Italy only to find the Emperor was feeling magnanimous to the Italians, who largely had not resisted.

    Local leaders who surrendered were left in place, and no cities were given a good sacking. To say that Louis had let his lords down would be an understatement. The Germani in particular were furious, because not only had they not been rewarded, they had come home to find their lands ravaged by pagans from across the border who had taken it upon themselves to raid into Frankish territory the minute the lords were gone. Louis launched a number of retaliatory raids, but with his attentions till on the holdout cities of Italy until the peace treaty these were far less vigorous than the lords believed they should be. The situation escalated as the Germani lords demanded recompense, but Louis would not pay. And so, in 1014 they revolted. It took five years to quell the uprising, but in the end Louis was victorious. It was not a decisive victory however, and the Emperor was forced to pardon his rebellious vassals in exchange for more promises of land. The Emperor followed through, giving away Imperial lands on the Albis River. Remember that, the Emperor has given away all the lands to the east of the Albis. It will be important later.

    He also sanctioned additional wars against the pagans across the border, and had his puppet pope issue a bull starting that those who waged such holy wars would received remission for prior sin. The lords naturally took this as license to do whatever they liked, and soon had a nice border war going.

    Louis himself turned his attention back toward the south to the situation developing in Hispani. He was keenly aware of what was happening, both here and beyond. Louis’s intervention was for two reasons. First of course was his familiar interest in the affairs of Hispani. He was quite close to his niece, rumor said unnaturally close, though this seems likely to be propaganda that Manuel made up in his writing to slander the Frankish Emperor and justify what will eventually happen.

    Second, he was perfectly aware that the Romans had now gotten their eastern possessions sorted, and that the Roman Emperor now had a massive army in North Africa, and had sent large numbers of reinforcements to Ravenna and Rhegium. What’s more, the Venetians had been busy, building an additional hundred ships, that had then disappeared from the harbor headed south. Louis could smell the war coming. He didn’t want to have a major point of conflict on his southern border when he was forced once again to fight in Italy.

    So he sent fifteen thousand men into Hispani led by a trusted doux, and began marshaling his other forces to defend Italy when Manuel inevitably invaded. So confident was he in these plans that he was actually in Milan when word reached him from Spain that the Roman Emperor had annihilated the Spanish army, crossed the Pyhryni, and was currently doing his level best to level Aquitaine.
    Part 59: The African Campaign
  • Part LIX: The African Campaign​

    I’ve mentioned the Berber kingdom in passing, but have dwelt on it only a little. This is fundamentally because after this section they will play little role in events going forward. Africa will increasingly diminish in importance in the Empire as the centuries go by, even as infrastructure investments continue. Apart from Carthage itself the eternal Eastern pull will leave Africa eternally neglected until finally the catastrophic defeat at Sicily in 1708 permanently severs the last Roman ties with the Western Mediterranean outside of Italy

    The people we have called the Berbers will eventually transform into the modern Numidi, though a more accurate term would be the Mauri as this group largely originated in Mauretania. But nomenclature is a rather fickle thing and we’re stuck with the other name. For now though, the Berbers they remain. The kingdom established is known today as the Second Kingdom of Numidi, but this is anachronistic. It is a clear reference to the ancient Kingdom of Numidia, as well as a reference to the modern state.

    But upsetting convention isn’t my aim, so I’ll be using it.

    Numidi was a looseknight kingdom ruled from the old Roman city Caesarea on the north coast of Africa, about halfway between Tingi and Carthage. The Berbers themselves had originated as various similar groups living in and around Roman Africa, in particular the Numidians, the Mauretanians, and the Gaetulians. The previous two groups were settled people, and both were eventually incorporated into the Roman state. The Gaetulians however remained independent, and as Roman attention shifted elsewhere began raiding into Roman territory. They were also Christian, having converted fully in the 700s.

    Over the next several centuries Berber mercenaries served in the Roman army at various points, but peace was never a permanent situation. The Roman story in Africa since the reconquest has been one of long-term hostility, until finally a proper kingdom was forged out of Roman Africa during the long period of Imperial weakness over the past couple of centuries. Bit by bit Africa was reduced in size, until the Romans held only the coastline, and then even that was mostly lost. The African themes were abandoned as Imperial aid became rarer, until finally only the Theme of Africa itself remained.

    In the past thirty years however, even that was done away with, and the Berbers have by Manuel II’s turn West advanced to the very walls of Carthage itself, one of the last two bastions of Roman control in Africa. But the city is too strong to take, and the Berber king, Masuna, laid siege year after year. With eternal resupply by sea however, mostly from Sicily and Sardinia, Carthage held out.

    It didn’t send much tax revenue to Constantinople, making the excuse that all the money was needed to hold the city, but in truth Carthage was effectively independent by the 1020s, even if they still claimed nominal subservience to the Emperor.

    Of the Berber kingdom itself however, we know little. It had been formed from a unification of Berber tribes under the king Adrian, and had steadily begun to conquer the lands of the Africa about seventy years before. The Emperor Nikephorus had sent significant reinforcements at that time, driving the Berbers back from Caesarea and Tingi, and beginning major fortification of the latter. In the later stages of his reign however with the Pechenegs attacking from the north, and the Eastern troubles beginning, the Caesarea reinforcements had been stripped away, and the city had falled in the early 990s.

    With the African city now under Berber control a proper administration had to be built, and this was mostly done on the theme system, leaving many of the same officials in place. Powerful Berber chieftains were granted vast swathes of land in Africa, and the former Gaetulians began to settle. An attempt was even made to build a fleet which would bloackade Carthage, but no sooner had the ships been built than a combined Venetian and Syracusan fleet descended on the ports and burned it to ashes.

    Confident in their new position regardless the Berbers settled down to rule their new realm. It was thus with a not insignificant amount of shock all around when in 1028 a sentry in Carthage spotted a massive fleet sailing from the direction of Sicily, seven hundred ships in all, and that this fleet would be in the city by the end of the day. The Strategos of Africa, Alexandros Thapsos, raised his soldiers and readied for whatever was coming.

    His shock turned to horror when it was made clear that the banners of the Emperor himself were at the head of the fleet. Carthage had years of unpaid taxes, and when Manuel arrived he was very unlikely to take in the splendor of the churches and of the strategos’s palace as particularly convincing evidence of the needs of the city’s defense. Mere hours after it became clear just who was coming Alexandros had deserted his post, and was riding as fast as he could for the Berbers, where he hoped to offer his services in exchange for sanctuary.

    His caution was well-placed, as Manuel was quite displeased when the administrators left behind placed all the blame for the missing cash on Alexandros. He seized the city treasury to add to his own pay chest, and soon had called up the thematic soldiers from the city itself. They were a sorry lot, underequipped and undermanned, just a few hundred, enough in number to man the walls of the city. They were however trained soldiers, and as such were suited for Manuel’s army which primarily needed bodies.

    Carthage however was a fairly large city of about twenty-five thousand and so the Emperor was able to recruit another two thousand men from its ranks, give them crossbows, and put them on the city walls while he prepared to move into the interior.

    All told the Imperial army that arrived in Africa was some thirty thousand, and behind them another thirty thousand were gathered in Sicily for a second wave once territory was retaken. Two days after arriving the Imperial army departed Carthage, driving west, looking for the Berber king. Abbasios by now was quite good at fighting tribal armies, and knew that taking cities and territory wasn’t how he would win this war. The Turks hadn’t given up because of lost cities, they had given up because it was clear they couldn’t beat the Roman army in the field any longer. Similarly, he felt the Berbers would give up only when it became clear that to do otherwise would doom them. Cities and towns that were recaptured were lightly garrisoned, and the army moved on.

    Meanwhile, along the coast the Roman fleet moved both West and south, retaking the coastal strongpoints that could later be used to reassert control over the African interior. On the northern coast these also functioned as points through which supplies and reinforcements could enter.

    Along the Emperor’s route most towns threw their gates open, openly singing their loyalty. This was naturally a lie, most places simply didn’t want to subject their towns to a siege, assault, and subsequent sack. That said, little of the brutality which will mark the coming campaign in Aquitaine was on display here. These were people Manuel actually wanted back under his rule after all. The Turks were kept under tight control in their raids into the surrounding countryside. The strategy worked however, as the Berber king could not let this army rampage through his territory without challenge, if he had his chieftains would have deserted him, and likely made their own deals with the Roman Emperor. So, he formed up his army and marched out to meet the Romans, arriving at Constantina slightly ahead of Manuel.

    The Berbers by this time fought mostly using old Roman equipment. They had light camelry, light cavalry, foot archers, and a strong force of skilled light infantry. Their cavalry were mostly armed with spears and darts, their infantry also carried both spears and darts, but also carried long swords in the style of the spatha.

    In the hot North African climate they were perfectly at ease. The same was not true of Manuel’s soldiers, who mostly hailed from Greece and Anatolia. These men were both used to milder climates and were wearing far heavier equipment in battle. However, the Romans outnumbered the Berbers by a solid margin, fifteen thousand Berbers again a little under 30,000 Romans. With his numerical advantage Abbasios took an odd step. He divided his soldiers into three lines of eight thousand men, and then also held six thousand Turks separate to attack the Berbers independently of the infantry. The Roman heavy cavalry, now armed and equipped in the Frankish style, were dismounted and put primarily into the third line, bolstering what would otherwise have been a thin reserve into a strong backup force.

    The reasoning here was simple, in the hot African sun the soldiers at the front of the Roman army would be far more likely to grow tired and thirsty, but with three separate lines the first could retreat back through strategic gaps in the second and third for a break and to remain hydrated. When they had done so the second line could begin to pull back, and then the third would do the same, if the battle wasn’t over by that time. Throughout this the Turks would harass the Berber flanks, and attempt to hold off the rider.

    The Berber king for his part positioned his army so that his skirmishers were in the front, followed by his light infantry, with camelry on the right and cavalry on the left. Before battle could be joined however another Arab officer realized the danger of the camelry, and warned Abbasios, who changed his battle plans slightly. With the Berber riders divided his Turks would rapidly regroup when battle was joined, and assault the Berber left. Manuel meanwhile was on a horse just behind the second line, visible to the men and plainly present, but not in a position to be in any actual danger.

    The sole account we have of the battle comes from him. As expected it plays up his personal courage and heroics, which might be true but also might not be. So as always, remember that the information gleaned is only as good as our source.

    The battle began early in the morning, just after sunlight according to Manuel, though it seems more likely given his later notes that the fighting likely started in mid-morning, with only maneuver occurring for the first few hours. The Berbers were lured into launching the first attack by a feint of the Turks against the right line of skirmishers, which in turn drew forth the camelry who charged forward trying to make the horsemen panic. As this had been hoped for however the Turks instead withdrew through a gap in the front line of the Romans, and the camelry ran into a storm of crossbow bolts from the front line. They retreated in disorder.

    It should be noted here, that while ancient crossbows had existed they were rare, and as such were completely unknown to the Berbers going into this battle. The Berber skirmishers came on as the camelry retreated, trying to close to javelin range. As they did so however the reloaded crossbows again fired, and the unfamiliar weapons again wreaked havoc on the Berbers. This time however the skirmishers kept coming, and soon threw a barrage of darts into the Roman line. As they did the Turks began their assault on the Berber horsemen, loosing wave after wave of arrows into them, and the Berber cavalry charged after the Turks as the steppe nomads began to pull back.

    Seeing the battle not going well the Berber king made the fateful decision to send in his infantry, who were at this point mostly untouched. This was a critical mistake. While much is made of the Berber camelry and cavalry, it had been their light infantry which won and held the kingdom. And against the heavily armored Roman lines they didn’t stand a chance. It would not be the first rank that fought them however, since as the Berbers began to advance the retreat was signaled among the Romans, signaling the front line to fall back.

    Not for nothing were the front line made up of the most experienced soldiers of the Anatolian War, and they seamlessly broke formation and retreated through gaps in the second line, reforming behind the third. Water was called for, and the Emperor, who had also withdrawn so he was now just behind the former third, and now second, line rode up and down the line greeting and chatting with individual soldiers he recognized, and seeing that slaves brought water as quickly as they were able.

    While few could hear him, the casual air about the Emperor likely strongly bolstered his men’s morale under the hot sun. After all, if the viceregent of God saw no reason to worry, why should they? It was not critical to this battle, but for the Frankish war this morale boost would often be the difference between victory and total defeat.

    Today however, the Berbers simply were not prepared to fight a full Roman field army, and as their light infantry met the heavy infantry of the second line this became abundantly clear. The camelry advanced again as the light infantry failed, and Abbasios sent forward the third line, broken into two segments to bolster the second’s flanks. The camelry charge broke on the new soldier’s, and they fled. With the cavalry now largely scattered by the Turks the Berber infantry were left alone and unsupported. Abbasios ordered the now extended Roman line to fold in on them, killing or capturing the majority. In the end eight thousand Berbers were killed, and another four thousand captured. Though technically a significant amount of territory remained outside Roman hands the battle of Constantina effectively ended the war.

    The Berbers you see simply didn’t have the population to recover from such a decisive defeat. As we’ve seen time and again the strength of the Roman Empire during this time rested a lot on the sheer population advantage held by the Emperor’s, as well as their wealth. During the Markurian War the Nubians could win or fight to a draw battle after battle, but one decisive defeat and they had lost. The Bulgar War, the Anatolian War, all saw similar stories. Most states could only field one army, and if it was lost that was the end of it.

    The Romans were now unique in the Western parts of the world for being able to field multiple large armies at the same time, even if that capability had declined over the centuries. One defeat was a major loss, but it wouldn’t destroy the Roman capacity to wage war. For the Berbers though this defeat was it. Their army was gone, and the king had fled. There was nothing left to stop the Roman advance.

    Masuna and his family were captured by one of his subordinate chiefs and handed over to the Emperor, they were loaded onto ships and sent back for confinement in Constantinople. With them also went the Strategos of Africa, who would be treated with significantly less restraint when he was paraded through the streets in chains and then executed as a traitor.

    Back in Africa Manuel settled into Carthage while Abbasios retook the remainder of the old province, from Constantina to Tingi. The Berbers were subordinated in an agreement similar to those placed on the Turks in Anatolia. More soldiers were raised from the native African population and given quick training, then sent to get the grain flowing once again as much as they could. This was a fraction of what had once been produced, but it would at least somewhat lessen the need for supplies brought in from the East.

    For two years Manuel remained in Africa, planning for his eventual invasion of Italy. Fundamentally he, and really the one who seems to have realized all of this was Abbasios rather than Manuel himself, had a major problem though, he needed Italy intact. Not mostly intact, and certainly not devasted the way the Gothic War had destroyed Italy’s economy. Imperial finances were running along the edge of a knife, with the absolute maximum realistic amount being extracted from taxation that could be without upsetting the domestic balance. Raising taxes on the magnates too much more would probably incite a rebellion, and not getting more tax revenue would mean his army would starve or go without pay. Neither option was a particularly pleasant prospect.

    Italy though represented the solution to all of Manuel’s troubles. Not only would its recapture give him land to settle his soldiers on, which he was rather short of at the moment, it would also add hundreds of thousands of nomismata to the treasury. If it could be taken without the infrastructure and economy being devastated. But, with Louis clearly preparing for another clash with Constantinople it seemed impossible to invade without the sort of devastation that Justinian had wrought.

    But then a solution presented itself. A Baetican embassy showed up in Carthage looking for the Emperor. The Franks were once again advancing into Hispani to subjugate the south, and they wanted Roman troops to drive the Franks out. In exchanged they would do homage to the Emperor and once again recognize Constantinople as their overlord. To show the depths of their pockets…uh…allegiance, they also offered fifty thousand nomismata as an immediate show of gratitude.

    A delighted Emperor agreed and began setting up plans to invade Spain, looking to draw Louis out of Italy and let the Roman army overrun the peninsula unopposed. Abbasios though looked intently at the situation and had an alternative suggestion. What if Italy could be retaken without a single Roman soldier needing to be deployed there at all?
    Part 60: The Return to Spain
  • Part LX: Return to Hispani​

    The initial invasion force landed at Cartagonova, the Gothic city erected where Carthago Nova had once been centered, in mid-June of 1030, and consisted of about five thousand men. This force was led by Romanos Abbasios, and were supported by two hundred ships given the vital task of keeping whatever Frankish ships might be in the area off of the sea. If the supply lines back to Sardinia and Sicily were closed for any reason the entire expedition would starve, as would the reinforcements currently being marched the remainder of the journey across Africa to Tingi for a less dangerous crossing.

    Until the Emperor arrived Abbasios would have to hold back the far larger Frankish army marching south out of Tarracon. Abbasios did the natural thing. He attacked. In a harbinger of what was to come Abbasios led two thousand light cavalry north into Tarracon, and they ravaged the countryside. Fields were trampled, towns burned, and people killed. Along a mile wide front the force advanced, destroying everything in their path.

    When the local forces rallied to drive the Romans out, Abbasios retreated, leaving twenty miles past the border ravaged. He met up again with his main force, and began drawing recruits from among the local Gothic population. Baetican knights were added to the Roman force, as were local militia forces until Abbasios commanded a force of about eleven thousand.

    Note, that while when the word knight is used we typically think of the heavily armored horsemen of the Franks or the Normans, the Gothic knights in this case were actually mostly heavy infantry. Cavalry wasn’t widely used in Hispani at this point for a variety of reasons. Chief among these was simply that anyone who was skilled at riding a horse and wasn’t a nobleman typically got on a boat and sailed for Constantinople, or another Roman city. Even during the military decline of the previous two centuries skilled horsemen could always find employment in the thematic armies.

    Abbasios set up his headquarters at Sebastis, a town about halfway between Cartagonova and Tarracon. The town was fortified in the fashion of Roman fortresses, and a phrourion was erected in the town center from which Abbasios aimed to exert local control when the inevitable Tarracon counterattack came. I should also probably note here that I am using the modern border as a point of reference, not what existed at the time, as Baetica officially did not extend to the Tarracon border at this time, but as the local lords had joined their southern neighbors in the more general revolt, and will in the future be part of the same overall administrative structure the shorthand is preferred. Especially since the Carthagensis at this stage was split between the Baeticans and the Tarraconi

    It did so in early August, but was small and badly organized. A Turkic force came upon them while out foraging, and a brief skirmish ensued. After half an hour of fighting the Tarroconi retreated back toward Segobris, a Baetican town which they had taken.

    Soon however the Franks arrived as well, and when combined with their Gothic allies numbered nearly twenty thousand. Feeling highly confident the Frankish commander, a maternal cousin of Emperor Louis named Frederik whose family will be important later, advanced south, inflicting his own raids upon the local Gothic countryside. As he marched, he also extracted homage and promises of fealty from Gothic lords, ceasing plundering of their lands if they submitted. Frederik was looking for nothing less than full annexation of Hispani into the Frankish Empire, which would truly give the Emperor a claim to be the Western Augustus.

    Abbasios missed precisely none of the symbolism, and as such he committed one of the rare blunders of his military career. He decided that the danger of letting Frederik advance unchallenged was too great, and so the smaller Roman force had to provoke a battle. Abbasios chose his ground carefully, putting a forest at the back of his men that they could retreat into, and digging a hidden trench along both of his flanks he hoped to provoke the Frankish cavalry into charging into. To bolster the temptation of this target he put the Gothic infantry on the flanks, while leaving the main Roman troops firmly in the center. His hope was that the Franks would put their knights on the flanks, charged into the trenches, and then their lighter infantry forces would be annihilated by the Roman cavalry and levied troops.

    This is not what happened. Instead on August 28, 1030 Frederik looked at the Roman lines, and decided that the actual best strategy would be to test the discipline and courage of the Roman troops in the center, whom he correctly deduced had never faced a heavy cavalry charge before. Remember that at this stage the Romans had been fighting only the lighter forces of the Turks and the Berbers. The Frankish knight was a completely different beast. What’s more, the entire Roman heavy cavalry force was currently crossing the Straits and unloading at Malacca, from which they could ride to meet up with the infantry who were unloading at Abdera.

    All of this meant that the Roman infantry were now facing something they had never encountered before. When battle was joined the Frankish knights, who were all in the household forces of the Emperor’s family, moved forward as one. They silently came on, never slowing or hesitating as crossbow bolts whizzed through them. When a horse fell it was avoided by the men behind, but still they came on. Lances were lowered, and the knights began to sing a prayer to Michael the Archangel, seemingly free from any terror of battle at all.

    The Romans broke and ran. Spears, crossbows, and shields were thrown down in terror as the Romans made for the safety of the woods. Hundreds died as the knights ran them down, and then turned to their right and left, where the Goths were engaged with the Frankish infantry forces, who had been completely unbothered by the ditches. Suddenly finding themselves flanked the Goths tried to run away, but many of them were killed and the rest captured.

    Abbasios himself was forced to dress as a slave and flee, throwing aside his armor, badges, and fine clothing to do so.

    Needless to say, the Battle of Setabis was a debacle for the Romans, and had Manuel not already arrived in southern Hispani by this point and was already setting about getting support from the local lords, it is entirely likely the Hispani project would have ended there. Invading the peninsula was not exactly an orthodox plan in retaking Italy after all, and keeping the fleet constantly at sea like this was enormously expensive. Indeed, by the end of this year the Imperial treasury had spent two million nomismata more than it had collected in tax revenue, and was now rapidly descending into heavy debts, which will eventually lead into the wider backlash against the Emperor, and more particularly his wife.

    But for now, Manuel was in Spain, and he had thirty-five thousand men with him. When word reached him of the defeat the Gothic lords were horrified, but the Emperor claims to have shrugged off the setback, saying that no one doubted the power of the Franks, but that God would in the end give victory to the side of the righteous.

    That said, in the short term the Goths of eastern Baetica did homage to Frederick, and swore to serve the “Most Holy Emperor of Rome”, making sure to emphasize that point just in case. They really didn’t want to end up on the losing side of the coming struggle. Frederik for now was forced to settle in and lay siege to the castle at Sebastis, where a small Roman garrison held out doggedly against Frankish attacks. The only significant weakness of the Franks was on display here, their siege ability was not well developed. They were not as terrible at sieges as say the Turks, or indeed the Goths had been so many centuries before, but their own warfare revolved heavily around long sieges by rather small armies. As such keeping such a large force in the field of a small siege was heavily taxing on the similarly limited logistical ability of the Frankish army.

    Worsening their position was that the countryside had already been stripped bare of food by the Romans before the battle had been fought. Finally, as consumption began taking root inside the Franksih camp Frederik was forced to withdraw back toward the north, leaving the Roman garrison intact.

    He swore however to return and put the entire Roman force to the sword for defying him.

    As soon as the next year’s campaign season began Frederik was good to his word, charging out of Tarracon at the head of his army and heading straight for Sebastis. The garrison was now down to only a small store of food, and suffering their own bouts with sickness and asked terms for surrender. Frederik refused all terms, and instead slaughtered the Romans when they were too weak to fend off an assault.

    He was however soon regretful of his choice when Manuel’s army suddenly appeared on the horizon, led by a now reclothed and rehonored Abbasios, one of the points in Manuel’s favor even in the face of some rather obvious mistakes in hindsight, was his willingness to overlook errors in judgement from otherwise competent and loyal men. A lesson that many kings and Emperor never properly learned.

    That Abbasios had been around the Emperor his whole life may also have had something to do with it.

    Despite the Roman numerical advantage however Frederik once again moved his force out to do battle. His previous victory had required minimal losses, and the Romans didn’t even have a knightly class for God’s sake. What could go wrong.

    Once again Frederik deployed his heavy cavalry in the center of his line, and readied his infantry to attack the Roman flank.

    Abbasios surveyed the field and ordered his own heavy cavalry to dismount and fight on foot, and that the mopping up would be left to the Turks. The Roman knights were placed with Gothic auxiliaries on the flanks to bolster them against Frankish infantry attack, while the Romans themselves once again took the center. This time however there was a key factor that was different. Behind the central Roman line was the Emperor, his banner waving and the Emperor himself on foot, showing quite clearly that he had no intention of running away if the battle went south.

    This was absolutely critical to what’s about to happen. Manuel was very popular with the common soldiers. He felt like he was one of them, like he cared for them, and now running away would mean abandoning the Emperor to death at the hands of these barbarians. Now let’s not overstate the Emperor’s personal courage here. He might have been on foot, but had things started to go south he certainly would not have stayed that way. Manuel has a very well oiled sense of self-preservation and will show later in his life that he was not above running away and hoping to get another shot at winning some other day. But that wasn’t important here.

    What was important was that when the Franks charged the Romans didn’t even blink. The pikemen stood stock still, shoulder to shoulder, the crossbowmen fired their bolts into the Frankish knights, and the charge…failed. Straight up failed. The Romans did not break, they didn’t waver. There was a great clash of metal as the French cavalry failed to break the line, and in the subsequent melee hundreds of knights were knocked from their horses by Roman spears, and then were stabbed as they struggled to rise again. Seeing the difficulties of their center the Frankish infantry began to panic, only compounded as the Roman center began to move forward, splitting into two lines which began firing crossbows into the flanks of the lightly armored infantrymen. A rout followed. The Turks ran down hundreds of fleeing Franks, and many others were captured. Among these was Frederik himself and nearly one hundred knights and lords.

    These men expected to be ransomed as was the Frankish custom, but Manuel laughed in their faces at the very idea. No, no, these men had set up a claim of equality with the vice-regent of God on Earth, had erected an anti-pope in Rome to sway men away from the true faith, and had refused all offers of salvation when the Thessalonikan Council was called.

    No, they were heathens so far as the Emperor was concerned. And they would die for their offense. Each man was beheaded in full view of the army, and at each turn their crime against God and the Emperor was announced to the cheering of the Roman troops, and probably some quiet cheering among the common Frank prisoners for particularly hated nobles.

    In the end ten thousand Franks were killed, six thousand taken prisoner, and the rest scattered. Of the prisoners the nobles and knights were all executed, and the commoners were mostly loaded on boats and sent to Africa to act as reinforcements for the local garrisons. Many of them, mostly the unmarried men, would end up settling there, particularly in and around Thapsus.

    The rest were let loose to return home as they wished, and were given an oath not to take up arms against the Roman Emperor ever again. With this oath they were granted a piece of cloth which they were to display if a Roman army was in the area. If the cloth was so displayed any of their holdings would spared the ravages of war. In theory at least, whether that was ever actually followed is questionable.

    When all of this was complete Manuel marched north, occupying Tarraco itself in May 1031, and laying the groundwork for his July campaign, when he planned to cross along the coast at Emporiae and strike at southern Aquitaine. With the Frankish army broken nothing at all stood in his way, and until Louis heard about the fate of his Hispani army noting would be moved either.

    Next time then we will cover the Roman return to Gaul after six hundred years of absence, and the strategy which no one in the Frankish Empire had a clue how to counter.
    Part 61: The Harrying of Aquitaine
  • Part LXI: The Harrying of Aquitaine​

    Manuel’s invasion of Aquitaine was very carefully timed. Shipping enough food from Sardinia and Sicily to the friendly ports of Hispani was already incredibly expensive and required precise timing to complete. To invade southern Franki would require the army to remain supplied in hostile territory, until at minimum Marseilles could be taken.

    It was in the writings of Cato that Manuel came up with his answer. Bellum se ipsum alet, the war will feed itself. In other words, the army would be supplied by the lands it advanced into. By the nature of this strategy the land itself would be ravaged. And that meant the invasion needed to happen at harvest. Thus, it wasn’t until July 25th that the Roman army actually began marching out of Tarracon, along the coastal roads.

    With no forces to oppose them the army was over the border and into Aquitaine by August 6th. And it was here that the Imperial strategy was fully implemented. The army widened to a ten-mile wide front and advanced. Property in their path was stolen or burned. People were killed or scattered and left homeless. Local castles were seized by Roman siege engines, and then destroyed.

    Lords fled with their property and moveable wealth, their small, and often depleted retinues, not willing to stand against a force literally hundreds of times the size of their own. Little mercy was shown by the Imperial troops, and plunder piled up in the army’s baggage train. It was mostly to deal with this increasing pile of treasure trailing his army that Manuel pointed his army at Marseilles, the largest port in the Frankish Empire. He needed to reach it as soon as possible, before Louis could hear about what was going on, abandon his Italian preparations, and race West to meet the Romans. If that could be achieved, he might be able to simply trap the Frankish Emperor on the wrong side of the Alps, and plunder the rest of Aquitaine completely unopposed the following year.

    Unfortunately, it was not to be. Louis had gotten word of Frederik’s defeat by early August, and was already tearing down the castles he’d had built to contest a Roman invasion of southern Italy, and bringing his men back to the North. This was not a fast process however, and it wouldn’t be until September that the Frankish Emperor would have his full force gathered at Milan and ready to march west.

    Manuel’s army however was moving slowly. Often about six miles per day, as the need to plunder and pillage slowed them down. By the time that Louis was moving out of Milan and crossing out of Northern Italy the Imperial army had only reached the Herault river. Here however the Emperor’s force ran into a significant delay. The Herault’s bridges had all been burned or ripped down, and their maps of the region were badly outdated, with most being from the time of Constantine. Abbasios was forced to lead his men north, until they found a ford and crossed, by then Louis was at Marseilles.

    The possibility of a quick and easy victory was gone, and instead the war would drag on for the next five years.

    Not knowing this however the Romans marched on, continuing their strategy of pillaging and burning as they went. Manuel’s own writing of the campaign described the smoke of the army being like something out of the pits of Hell, and as the force advanced if you looked back there was nothing but a long black cloud following behind. Frankish historians give reports of Turkish mercenaries lining up men, women, and children in captured villages and then using them as target practice, leaving behind the corpses unburied. No Roman source mentions this, but it would not be a surprise.

    This was a vicious war. It was also not unprecedented. The sort of devastation of the land was heavily inspired by Manuel’s reading of the old Roman campaigns into Germania, as well as the Arab raids into Anatolia and Egypt that had occurred during the days of the First Caliphate. The difference was that instead of dragging the population off as slaves, which wasn’t allowed since the Franks were Christian, they were instead slaughtering them.

    I am unsure how this is an improvement, but it was seemingly morally fine so far as the Romans were concerned.

    It was also largely by accident very similar to the sort of low-level warfare that was a constant feature of the Frankish Empire, as small lords fought one another over land and slights, far below the purview of the Emperor. And understanding this point is key to understanding what’s about to happen, because Louis is basically going to lose the war entirely against his own instincts and desires. In the Frankish worldview the job of the ruler was to enforce peace across his realm, especially against outsiders and also rebels. This was why the Frankish Emperor had sailed against the Danes when they had conquered Saxeland. It was why the invasions of Germani had happened, along with some good old-fashioned plundering, slaving, and converting of course. And it was why Louis could not let the Romans go unchallenged here.

    He marched out of Marseille to a crossing of the river Rhodonus to oppose a Roman crossing there early in October. Abbasios’s Turkish scouts had seen the Franks coming and the Imperial army had a full week to prepare for the Frankish arrival. Abbasios had set his soldiers to digging trenches, and letting these be filled with water from the river. Other ditches were dug and concealed ahead of the Roman line. And all of this would be what the Franks had to come through after they had crossed the river.

    When Louis arrived he took one look at the Roman position and he didn’t like what he saw even a little. He wanted to abandon the field, find another crossing, then force a battle somewhere of his own choosing. But his lords absolutely refused. Chief among these was Charles of Saxoni, the younger brother of Frederik, the cousin killed in Spain earlier in the year.

    Charles was a powerful Count from Saxoni, which might have been obvious, and he wanted vengeance for his dead brother, who had been slain so honorlessly by the Roman Emperor after surrendering. Joining him were a clamor of both Aquitaini and Germani lords, for different reasons. The lords of Aquitaine wanted the Romans to be beaten and thrown out of the country so the pillaging of their lands would be stopped. The Germani lords on the other hand saw this as a wonderful opportunity to make a stack of coins off of ransoms of important Roman prisoners, with the most important being of course the Emperor himself. Any man who captured the Roman Emperor would instantly be the wealthiest man in the West. The Frankish army was bigger, had more heavy cavalry, and they were fighting with the backing of the Pope, or anti-Pope depending on who you talk to.

    Word had come through the day before that Pope Pius X had excommunicated the entire Roman Empire. Surely then God must be on the side of the Franks, and not these blasphemers. Louis fought back as best he could as his lords put the pressure on him. He absolutely did not, under any circumstances want to force that crossing. It was suicide he argued. The Romans would be well-prepared and ready for any Frankish attack.

    But in the end he had to face reality. If he refused to give battle here he would basically be admitting he couldn’t actually protect his people or their lands, or worse that he didn’t want to. The lord of Aquitaine would then likely turn to someone who could protect their lands, namely the Emperor currently burning and killing his way across them. What’s more, his German lords were quite clear that if he didn’t let them fight a battle to earn a bunch of money, they were going home. Their lands were not under threat, and the last time they’d come south to fight for the Emperor their homes had been raided by pagans. And they’d gotten very little out of the fighting.

    And so, Louis gave in. Against everything he could see he gave the order that on the morning of October 15, 1031 the Frankish army would advance across the Rhone, and attack the Romans. The battle of Marseille, which was actually fought a good distance north of the city, saw thirty-five thousand Franks pitted against twenty-seven thousand Romans.

    Once again the Roman knights fought on foot, as the ground was deemed too wet for them to deploy their horses effectively. This time however the Turks would as well, operating as foot archers on the flanks of the Roman army. Abbasios had arrayed his men in a wedge shape facing the river, with a ditch filled with water at their backs as protection from a rear attack.

    Louis meanwhile deployed his foot forward, and held his cavalry in reserve to take advantage of any secure points the infantry could get for the Frankish knights to move forward.

    The Frankish foot began advancing, into a wall of arrows, bolts, and even darts. Manuel tells us that the river was choked with corpses of the Franks early on, and that those who made it to the far side were now disorganized and still under fire. The Turk bows in particular reaped a heavy toll on the only lightly armored Frankish foot, while the powerful recurve bows punched straight through their shields.

    But they did eventually make it to the far side, and engaged the Roman front lines. The crossbowmen withdrew into the phalanx, which began pushing the Franks back, and Louis realized that if he didn’t act his men might be pushed back into the river, which would completely doom his cavalry if they tried to cross.

    He therefore had to decide whether to order a general retreat, which would certainly see the same problems that had caused him to commit to this battle occur, or take a chance and try to force the crossing with his cavalry before a secure point could be gained.

    Say what you will about Louis, but he was no coward. He drew his sword, unfurled his banner, and led his men forward. The lords came on, banners whipping in the sudden wind, and they plunged into the corpse-filled water. Fighting their way through the knights emerged on the other side and charged the Romans. However, they didn’t know what had happened in Tarracon, and this time history repeated itself. The Frankish knights ran into a solid wall of pikes and were forced back. Many were knocked from their horses by pikes, and fell into ditches where they drowned.

    Others tried to break off and strike the flanks, but ran into the concealed trenches dug by the Romans, and these were filled with flailing masses of men and horses. Louis himself managed to force his way through to the Roman line alongside a small number of his men, and called a challenge to Manuel to come forth and face him in single combat, as a man and a warrior should.

    Manuel, sitting on his horse a bit behind the Roman lines heard this challenge, and as answer he raised a crossbow, and shot Louis in the shoulder. The event is probably fictional, a way of explaining Louis’s actual wound which made his arm basically useless for the rest of his life. But it does illustrate the difference in approaches between the Emperor’s. Louis, as a child of what would become European honor believed firmly in the glories of personal combat and bravery as the most important attributes a ruler could have. Manuel didn’t give one whit about any of that Frankish honor, or indeed any other kind, he just wanted to win.

    As Louis was dragged back through his own lines after his injury the Franks broke and began to run. Now the slaughter truly began. Men were shot in the back as they tried to recross the river, slowing the retreat of even more men. Nobles tried to surrender, but were ignored by the advancing Roman soldiers.

    The killing didn’t end until the Roman army captured the Frankish camp, and began plundering it. The enemy now forgotten the Romans let the rest of the Franks flee north with their lives. The Battle of Marseilles was a major Roman victory. Eighteen thousand Franks were killed or wounded in the fighting, and a vast amount of treasure had been captured. Worse for Louis his military reputation, which had been sterling had now been quite thoroughly dragged through the mud. Quite literally given the terrain.

    And quite unfairly too it must be said. He hadn’t wanted to fight this battle, and had more or less been blackmailed into it by his own army. This is, for those reading ahead, a dark harbinger of what’s to come in Franki when Louis dies at war’s end. I’ll have a more thorough look at Louis, in a darkly ironic way one of the great statesmen of the age, who was just unfortunate enough to be the last man in his line to rule anything.

    But for now, the road to Marseille was open, and Manuel turned his army south and moved in that direction, scaling back his pillaging efforts. When the Roman army turned up at the city he gave a promise not to harm the city if it gave up without a fight, and with some hesitation the city agreed. To the surprise of…well pretty much everyone, Manuel actually did follow through on that promise. His men moved in and began setting up winter quarters, but they didn’t pillage. Not that they really needed to. Every man there already had a bag of treasure that could be sold off to the Venetian merchants who soon arrived with sacks of grain from Sicily, and lots of shiny gold coins to buy up all of that loot. Among the loot was also a vast amount of Imperial treasure, half a million nomismata worth by Manuel’s count, though it was more likely about half of that. This would be used to pay off the accumulating Imperial debts as much as possible, and give evidence of future payment, something Maria desperately needed as she tried to keep the coins flowing for the incredibly expensive invasion.

    And the gold needs to keep coming, because despite the defeat Louis was not beaten. His northern lords were willing to stand by him, and even the Germani who had survived the battle admitted that maybe they should have listened to his objections. And so Louis will implement his alternative strategy, inspired by another Roman leader, Fabius. Fighting the Romans in the field was a terrible idea, that was clear. But the Roman pillaging hat a fatal weakness, they had to keep moving to stay alive. Long sieges would be impossible in the ransacked lands. So he set up garrisons at strong castles and settled in to wait for the next year.
    Part 62: The Emperors War
  • The Roman strategy I should note is based on that of England during the early part of the Hundred Years War, in particular the Black Prince. And the strategy Louis tries to adopt of avoiding battle and instead forcing sieges is basically what the French eventually worked out was the best way to counter the English. Them then ignoring this point was what led to Agincourt.

    Part LXII The Emperors War​

    As the campaign season of 1032 began there were two options for the Imperial army to pursue. First, they could march east, enter Italy, and retake the home peninsula. This was one supported by a large section of the officer corps. The entire end goal of this was was to retake Italy, depose the anti-pope, and disabuse the Frankish ruler of any idea that he was a Roman Augustus.

    The latter probably could have been achieved now, with Louis now wounded and his army beaten badly in the field the Romans likely could have gotten an acknowledgement that there was no Western Emperor, not anymore. What’s more, with the Frankish army having fled north Italy itself was basically undefended, apart from the strong castles which still stood in the north. These however were mostly constructed to either face the Eastern exist of the Peninsula, near Venice, or along the old border. Since it was highly unlikely reinforcements could be sent these fortresses would not have held out against a series of sieges.

    Basically, these men felt that his primary war aims were now mostly complete. His aim wasn’t to destroy the Frankish Empire, at least it was not something he seriously considered. His proposed peace would have forced the Frankish Emperor to submit himself to a true pope for penance, and possibly make Louis go to a monastery.

    But Manuel and Abbasios opposed this idea strenuously. No, they favored the second option, continuing the destructive campaign, now to extend well into the central parts of the Frankish Empire, to force not just a peace, but full and complete submission of the Frankish Emperor. Their argument was threefold. First, it was highly unlikely they’d ever be in a position this good again. The Danube was quiet, the East was quiet, Egypt was quiet, and even Africa was quiet. The Empire only had this one front to fight on. This was a chance to properly defeat the barbarians who six hundred years before had attacked and destroyed the Western half of the Empire.

    Second, the Franks might have been weakened, but they were by no means actually humbled. Louis’s army still had tens of thousands of men, and the Emperor himself had shown himself to be aggressive, decisive, and competent at both war and administration. Leaving the job unfinished now was just begging for a rematch ten years down the road, by which point who knew what might have changed elsewhere.

    Third, the Franks were heretics, and their embrace of a false pope was borderline Satanic. The vile heresy that had led to this situation had to be stamped out, and that meant dealing the Frankish Empire a body blow that could leave no doubt that God was furious with them.

    In pursuit of these points Abbasios aimed to sack and destroy towns across the remainder of Aquitaine, and in the process flip the feudal lords over to the Roman camp. In particular Abbasios aimed to get the powerful count of Toulouse to switch sides. Toulouse controlled virtually all of Western Aquitaine, and his lands were so far mostly untouched. If he could be…persuaded to abandon Louis and instead pay homage to the Romans it would remove a major potential threat to the current Roman position in Aquitaine, but also make Frankish control of the region untenable.

    Another important figure who was leaning toward the first option was obviously Louis, who sent a delegation to Marseilles over the winter to try and negotiate peace. Louis really didn’t see a good path forward in this war. The battle on the Rhone had seen a large portion of his personal household and most loyal lords killed. He was also facing major criticism by the lords of Germani, who had conveniently forgotten that they had pushed for battle of Louis’s objections. Worse, the Lords of Aquitaine were beginning to swing their loyalty away from the Frankish Emperor, and if he wasn’t able to turn things around, they would likely go over to the Romans, if only to save their own livelihoods.

    His deal was pretty good all around it has to be said. A return to the borders before the initial fighting, a large cash payment for the next decade, and a supply of Frankish mercenaries paid by the Frankish crown to fight as soldiers for the Roman Emperor. In addition, he also surrendered any influence of Hispani, and would not interfere should Manuel decide to occupy the peninsula. Last, the pope appointed by the Frankish Emperor would be withdrawn, and a Roman one could then be put in place.

    So sure was Louis that his deal would be accepted that he actually evacuated his false pope from Rome and readied for retirement in a monastery somewhere when Manuel’s answer arrived. No deal. This was followed up by news that a force of two thousand Turkish cavalry had been unleashed in Toulouse’s lands, and an Imperial army of fifteen thousand was following them under Abbasios’s command. Manuel’s remaining forces remained in Marseille, where they were ready to march to reinforce their comrades, but wouldn’t be in significant danger.

    Louis readied an army to march south an threaten an attack to force the Imperials to withdraw, but as he did so word came from Germani. Roman agents, through Bulgari intermediaries had contacted the pagans beyond the border, and had paid them to launch raids against the borderlands. Hearing that once again their lands were under siege the Germani lords took their men and left. Louis was left with a quarter of his army gone, and the remains too weak to challenge the Imperial forces in the south.

    So the Frankish Emperor changed strategies. Picking a number of strategic castles in northern Aquitaine he set up large garrisons, intending to force a series of hard sieges on te Roman army if Manuel decided to once again march north.

    Louis has been criticized for this strategy in hindsight, with many Gaelic historians in particular dismissing him as weak and indecisive, but these later writers are wrong. Louis reacted with remarkable foresight on the topic. The battle that had lost him the south had been one he hadn’t wanted to fight, and the subsequent fight demonstrated this. The Romans didn’t care one whit about the Frankish style of warfare, nor about what the Franks might think about the lack of Roman honor.

    Indeed, in Louis’s mind the key error that the Romans had made in the Italian invasion as letting him fight the battle on his terms. Abbasios had learned the lesson there and in Spain, and had no intention of letting the Franks pin him down on unfavorable terrain. Louis then would either have to force such a battle, an unlikely prospect with the Turks running roughshod over the land ahead of the army as scouts, ambush the Romans, which had similar problems, or win a battle fought on the Roman’s terms. He saw no good way of accomplishing any of these points.

    Instead he settled in and hoped that attrition and financial shortfalls would force the Romans to the negotiating table. The latter was Louis’s key mistake. He drastically underestimated just how much gold the Roman Emperor could throw at a problem when he really needed to. We will discuss this in a follow-up about just why the Franks, and the Turks, lost the counterattacks that marked the reign of John, and the first fifteen years of Manuel.

    For now though, the strategy did seem to be a bit of a losing one. The Count of Toulouse offered full surrender if a relief army wasn’t in his territory by May 6th. It wasn’t, and Count Charles promptly swore fealty to Manuel to keep his lands from being too badly pillaged. The West now secured Abbasios loosed his men on northern Aquitaine, aiming to starve the castles that Louis had garrisoned out. Once again raiders swept across the countryside; burning, pillaging, and slaughtering all they came across. The castles were placed under siege, and after six months of hard fighting…they held. The defenders held out, and as winter of 1032 settled in Abbasios looked at the countryside and realized he had made the land basically uninhabitable for winter.

    The army was forced to march back south to Marseille, leaving all the territory they had plundered open for Frankish reoccupation. Supplies from the north were shipped in, and the defenders reinforced. When the next campaign season came around the Roman army was facing the prospect of marching back into territory they had already stripped the year before, and once again laying siege to castles they hadn’t been able to capture the year before.

    This was not tenable. The Empire couldn’t ship in the amount of food required to keep their army in the field. Instead Abbasios was forced to abandon his campaign path of the previous year and drive northwest, toward the castle at Turenne. As the army marched it expanded to cover a nearly thirty mile wide front, to extend the pillaging as far as possible. The war after all, needed to feed itself.

    Manuel himself did not go with the army this time, instead sailing away for Baetica, where he oversaw the installation of Imperial garrisons there and in Tarracon, and began negotiations to bring the other Gothic states into the Roman fold. After a series of back and forth negotiations that lasted the rest of the year a rough agreement was hammered out, and the kings of both Asturi and Lusitani agreed to accept Imperial overlordship, if only nominally.

    Both would pay provide soldiers and tax revenue for the Imperial administration, while the kings were paid a salary in exchange. It may seem odd that the kings who had started the entire mess by wanting independence would so readily sign away that independence, but there are a number of factors to keep in mind. First of all, and the elephant in the room, Manuel had just shown that he was quite capable of deploying forty thousand men in Hispani on just a few month’s notice. Furthermore, the current war with the Franks was demonstrating that not even the greatest of the Western powers could fight a fully mobilized Roman Empire and come out on top. Thus, by signing up voluntarily they skipped the whole brutal business of letting the war feed itself, and got an annual bag of cash out of it. And in exchange for what? Their subjects having to pay some extra money in taxes, not having to pay the soldiers who guarded their lands personally? Taking the deal was clearly the best path forward.

    But that wasn’t the only reason. Not at all. The second reason as just as, if not more important. The Romans weren’t going to be in Hispani forever. They had abandoned the territory for a reason. It was too far away from Constantinople, and the Empire had too many major foes in the East for the Emperor’s to keep their hold on Hispani forever. When another major crisis loomed in Syria or on the Danube, and there was always going to be another crisis in Syria and on the Danube, well who knew what might happen back in Hispani.

    As it happens this crisis took far longer to materialize to the scale the kings imagined, but sure enough when the Empire was fighting for its survival in the 1240s Hispani rapidly threw the Roman yoke off, and the Caesarii never saw a good path to restoring Roman rule in the decades following.

    What’s more, the control of much of Hispani was very loose. Don’t imagine these territories were ruled to the same extent as Greece, Anatolia, or even Africa. It all well and good to paint the peninsula in Imperial purple, but always remember that this purple had a very heavy dose of Gothic orange mixed in, to mangle the metaphor.

    Back in Franki meanwhile Abbasios was able to take the castle at Turenne in October, but then had to destroy it rather than hold the fortress over the winter, and the army withdrew with their plunder for winter yet again shortly thereafter. Despite Roman siegecraft the Frankish castles were simply too well-built and well defended to fall easily. But as the settled in for the winter of 1033 an Arab engineer with the Roman army built what we now know as the counter-weight ballista.

    Previous Roman siege engines had been torsion based. Now what that means isn’t particularly relevant, but the key point is that it provided a very limited force, and was only used with rather small stones, at least by comparison. The counter-weight ballista on the other hand could throw objects ten times as large the same distance, and was far more effective at battering through walls, or at least making the defenders keep their heads down while tunnelers did the real work. A favorite ammunition type of course was liquid fire, which could now be unleashed on castles and towns in large quantities. Frankish writers talk often of the terrifying effects that the ballista unleashed, with buildings, people, and animals consumed in a fire that would not go out.

    A number of these devices were constructed in early 1034, and dragged behind the army as it again marched north, this time with the Emperor along. The Romans marched directly up the Rhodonus, aiming for the fortress at Lyons. Lyons was a major Frankish base, holding over a thousand men, and was well-designed to hold off any conventional attack.

    Abbasios thought it was the perfect site to prove the effectiveness of his new weapons. In full view of the defenders he erected his ballistae, and began to rain destruction on the fortress. For sixteen days stones and fire rained down, until the garrison had been beaten down. Their morale low a Roman night attack managed to scale the walls and open the gates. Lyons was sacked and burned. The castle itself was razed. The fall of Lyons signaled the collapse of the Frankish defensive strategy. The castles blocking the Roman advance out of the south was now penetrated, and Abbasios drove north, spreading destruction as he went. The army did shift direction however, now moving up the Liger River.

    Finally the army surrounded the city of Orleans, and after short waiting period the city threw its gates open to avoid destruction. The Roman army was less than a hundred miles from the old capital at Parisius, and Louis was running out of options. He still had a large number of castles in place, but these fortresses simply were not built to withstand the new siege weapons, anymore than Lyons or a dozen smaller fortresses that had tried to block the Romans had been. He decided therefore to implement a slightly different strategy for the coming campaign year. During the winter of 1034 he unleashed his household knights along the roads from Orleans to Parisius, ordering them to conduct their own pillaging campaign against the region. They seized food, people, wood, anything the Romans might be able to take during the coming year. Louis guessed, correctly, that by doing so he would be potentially trapping the Roman army inside a wide ring of devastation they might not be able to escape. And when spring came that’s exactly what Abbasios faced. His best route south was blocked by his own scorched earth campaign, and his best route forward was blocked by Louis’s. The only remaining option was to move in a wide sickly cut through northern Franki, and descend on Parisius from the north.

    Doing so would be dangerous however, since it would leave the Romans with no retreat. Considering carefully however Abbasios rolled the dice.

    The subsequent march would have likely ended in disaster had fate, that is to say dumb luck, not intervened. Rufus, king of the Normans had died in 1025, leaving his son William as the new Norman High King. And William was just as land-hungry as his father had been, and he looked at northern Franki with envy. He particularly wanted control of Soissons and Brittany, and as such had been following the Roman invasion with great interest. When word came that the Romans had taken Lyons and were marching on Orleans William sensed a golden opportunity. He summoned his lords, made promises of lands in Franki, and pounced. Landing near Bayeux William set about taking control of the local lands, and driving the lords out.

    This was the straw that broke the camel’s back domestically, as the lords of southern and Western Franki abandoned their Emperor in droves. What was worse, the Germani lords were now facing Bulgari attacks in the southeast, as the Bulgar king sensed easy lands were available in the face of Frankish disintegration.

    Louis had to act, and he did. He gathered every man he could and marched to Parisius, determined to either crush the Romans and Normans now, or die in the attempt. This was not a move he wanted to make, but it was the only one available. If he did not fight now there might well be no Frankish Empire the next year.

    The Romans meanwhile met up with the Normans, and after some brief negotiation the two armies joined forces, adding some two thousand Norman cavalry and eight thousand infantry and archers to the Roman force. The army marched down the Sequana, and arrived at the gates of Parisius on the 15th of September.

    Louis was waiting for them at the head of forty thousand men.

    That sounds impressive, but the Romano-Norman force was slightly larger and forty-five thousand, and it seems unlikely at this stage that the battle was truly in doubt. The Romans took up a defensive position and set about preparations for the Frankish attack. Louis however beat them to the punch. He led his entire force into the field on the seventeenth, and attacked.

    There were no clever tactics or strategy in the following battle. It was merely a bloodbath. The Roman infantry held the center of the Imperial line, with the Normans on the right flank, and Turks on the left. Louis set his cavalry directly across from the Turks, and the remainder of his line were his infantry.

    The Frankish Emperor personally led the charge into the Turkish lines, and the Turks scattered rather than face the Frankish heavy cavalry head on. They reformed shortly thereafter and returned to attack the Frankish rear, but the knights had by then hit the Roman flank. They drove in with abandon, slaughtering as they went, but as the knights penetrated deeper the now experienced and disciplined Roman infantry managed to turn to face them. Meanwhile the gap they had driven in the ranks closed, and the knights were suddenly trapped inside the Roman line. They were all slaughtered, Louis himself reportedly being dragged from his horse by Roman infantry and stabbed over and over with daggers as he tried to free himself.

    The Frankish infantry tried to flee, but Norman and Turks ran them down.

    The Battle of Parisius was one of the bloodiest battles of the age. The Franks lost close to 30,000 men, including every single knight who had taken part.The Romans and Normans meanwhile had lost over ten thousand dead and wounded., most from the initial charge into the flank.

    Parisius itself was wide open, and in a final gesture of contempt Manuel ordered the city sacked and destroyed. As the flames died down the armies went their separate ways, and the Romans began the long, hard trek south through their own work.

    Captured in the sack was Louis’s oldest son, who was put in chains and taken south with them.

    The Normans would soon capture the rest of his family, and send them along as well. All would die in Manuel’s triumph two years later.

    We will discuss the aftermath of the destruction of Parisius and the war in general next time, as well as discuss exactly why the war went the way it did. For now, Louis Pepinus was 70 years old, and he had been Emperor of the Franks for 47 years. His death heralds the final end of the First Frankish Empire, and the groundwork that was laid for the Kingdoms of Franki and Germani; as well as the numerous semi-independent duchies in the south, and the establishment Norman conquest of the Duchy of Soisson heralding a time period retroactively labled the First Norman Empire by historians.

    Louis was overall a good ruler. For much of his reign he had centralized and strengthened state power, but had always been forced to fight with his major lords, and in the end his failure to keep them in line was a large part of why he ultimately died at Parisius. Still, in his life he had conquered a large and wealthy territory in Italy, begun the process of bringing the Church to heel in Franki, and ruled what might well have been the reborn Western Empire had things gone differently. His life was, until the last five years highly successful.a He simply had the misfortune to live too long.
    Part 63: Aftermath
  • Part LXIII: Aftermath​

    It can be difficult looking back to understand why the Romans managed to so decisively come back in the by 1035. After all, in 1005 things were looking quit bleak for the Empire. Its armies had been decisively defeated, the Emperor’s were having difficulty funding the state, and Thalassan legitimacy was plummeting in the face of internal dissension and external attack.

    So, why did the Romans win?

    They key point to understand is that despite the overall decline in Imperial strength, it was still the largest, most powerful, and richest state Europe. The Roman Emperor had an income in the millions of nomismata to spend. While yes, this was millions less than his predecessors had been able to collect, it was also still by far the largest treasury in the region. While the Roman Emperor was trying to make ends meet with six million nomismata the Frankish Emperor was making do with half a million. One-tenth the Roman income.

    The problem had always been an inability to separate critical spending from non-critical. Luxuries, building projects, infrastructure projects, church decorations. All of these had consumed the non-military side of the Imperial budget. Maria and Manuel cut down drastically on all of that, dedicating virtually every coin they collected to either collecting more coins, or the army. What’s more, when Imperial revenues did fail to match expenses the Romans had a source of cash that no one else in Europe could call on, loans from the large merchant houses who wanted to get trade going agan.

    Over the course of the Frankish war Manuel ran up nearly twelve million nomismata in debt with the cities of Venice, Syracuze, Beneventum, Ravenna, and others.

    To add to this point, the Empire’s population also dwarfed that of its neighbors. The Turks had conquered Persia with somewhere around three hundred thousand people. Not men, total. In terms of actual soldiers the number was perhaps a third of that. To put this number into perspective, Constantinople had inhabitants equal to the entire Turkish population. Now of course not all of the people of Constantinople could fight, but there were other cities to draw soldiers from. Thessalonika had a population of seventy thousand. Adrianople had thirty-thousand. Athens had forty-thousand. Corinth had twenty-five. Outside of Greece, Antioch had eighty thousand. Alexandria seventy. Syracuze had forty. In total, even after Mesopotamia fell the Roman population was still about twenty-million. The entire Frankish empire before the conquest of Italy had about 12 million.

    To fight his wars Manuel mobilized about two percent of that number for his armies. Four hundred thousand men given weapons and marched off to fight when they were able. Not all of these men saw front-line combat of course. Under half did in fact, but the rest were used as garrison troops to hold what the main army had taken. And since the pay for many of these men was so terrible the cost was under what the full armies had been paid before the Turkish invasion.

    What’s more, the structure of the Empire to put it bluntly, drastically better than either the Franks or Turks. The Turks at this point barely even qualified AS a state, what administration was in place was left over from the various Persian kingdom that had sprung up after the final Sassanid collapse. The Franks meanwhile were operating under the feudal system, though a more centralized feudalism than had existed previously, and would return during the next century.

    While Louis was the Frankish Emperor this had to be balanced against powerful regional interests, in particular his Germanni lords who constantly wanted more autonomy, and his Aquitaine vassals who wanted the same. It was a careful balancing act that Louis maintained successfully for thirty years, but was reliant on personal relationships, patronage, and in particular a deeply entrenched legitimacy built on the Emperor being the strongest man around, and being willing to knock heads together if the underlings got out of line.

    In other words, it was basically the Roman form of government, but without all of the bureaucracy that kept things running. The key point comes down to money, or rather the lack of it in the West. The Frankish Emperor have extremely limited power when it came to levying cash from his nobles. He was reliant on income from his own lands, and what could be extracted from his underlings. This as noted produced an income of only about half a million nomismata. The limited cash meant that building the sort of army that the Romans had was completely impossible. Louis was only able to maintain a few thousand personal troops, and importantly most of these died at the Rhodonus. Replacing them was an expensive and time consuming process.

    The rest of his soldiers came from the retinues of his lords, and these were not actually under his command, but under their lords, who were theoretically under his command. The most powerful lords might maintain a decent force, but many would have just turned up with themselves a handful of men. And a lot of these men were less than enthused about the whole war business. One source tells of a man from northern Franki who was required to show up with a group of five archers, but the archers shot off one volley at the Rhodonus, decided they’d done their duty and left.

    An extreme of course, but it does give a sense of what Louis was up against.

    None of this was an issue while he was winning, since land conquered represented major boosts in income for the Emperor, especially in Italy. But his great men expected there to be rewards for them as well, and Louis made the wise, but ultimately self-defeating choice of denying them what they thought was their due. When war came to Aquitaine however Louis was unable to counter the Roman strategy of steal everything that could be stolen, and kill or burn everything that couldn’t.

    The strategy he came up with was actually pretty good, but it also alienated yet more of his lords. They expected an active defense led by their master, and Louis didn’t seem to be providing it. The direct consequence of this was first the disastrous battle at the Rhodonus, and then mass defections by Aquitaine lords who felt Louis had forfeited his right to rule by not defending them properly. When Louis’s eventual successors start piecing they could back together they will build a very different state than the one Louis inherited.

    But that’s for later. For now Manuel II arrived back in Marseille and spent another winter in the now Roman city. Leaving behind a garrison the Emperor marched East, towns giving up without a fight as he went. After all, who was there to even fight for them with the Frankish Empire basically collapsed at this point. He crossed into Italy in April and set about restoring Imperial control, and taking full control of northern Italy, which by now had been out of Roman hands for five hundred years.

    The local Frankish lords came forth to do homage to Manuel, but the Roman Emperor wasn’t interested. He had them and their treasure all seized and the families expelled from Italy. A garrison of ten thousand was put in place, and Manuel went south to retake the entire peninsula. Local populations threw their gates open and made sure to demonstrate just how grateful they were at their liberation with gifts to the Emperor of gold or silver coins. A few times soldiers were present to make sure that a town which was having trouble expressing its gratitude suddenly became far more eloquent.

    No resistance was met, as the Frankish lords who had been put in place in southern Italy had heard what happened to their brethren in the north and so decided to execute the better part of valor by fleeing into the hills with their retainers and as much treasure as they could carry. From there they made their way either to the coast to passage on ships, or tried to go north. Manuel did not spend significant efforts in pursuing them, as he felt the effort expended would exceed the amount of treasure seized.

    On man he really wanted to get his hands on did escape though. The Frankish appointed anti-pope was gone from Rome when the Emperor arrived, and he had taken a good deal of gold with him. The Emperor was furious, as he had wanted very much to drag the anti-pope through the streets of Constantinople for public execution, but that was no longer possible. He contented himself therefore to just a number of Frankish bishops who had made the mistake of remaining in the city.

    As the army marched south priests from the East were put in place in the local communities to enforce the edicts of the Council of Thessalonika, either to replace the Frankish supporting priests and bishops, or in some cases supplanting local Italian ones. This was a deeply unpopular move, but one which no one yet dared resist. Additionally, Jewish property was openly seized by the Emperor, in particular any gold, which would used to pay off the mountain of debt waiting back in the capital.

    The sort of open persecution that had been implemented a decade before however was not resumed. Manuel was content to simply take property from the heathen and levy far heavier taxes going forward. The Jewish population had to choose to either stay or flee, but more friendly areas in Hispani were now also under Roman control, the Franks were degenerating into a civil war that would result in the complete disintegration of the Empire, and the Bulgari were outside the comfort zone of the Italian population. So, for now they buckled down to bear the harsher treatment.

    Pacifying Italy took the Emperor most of 1036, not because there was significant resistance, but rather because a lot of work needed to be done to bring the peninsula back into the Roman fold. New officials needed to be put in place, and bureaucracy restored. In November however Manuel felt his position was secure, and so set sail for Constantinople, leaving much of his army behind in Calabria for the winter.

    Back in the former Frankish Empire a civil war was raging, as numerous local lords asserted their power and tried to make themselves a king or otherwise gain local dominance. We are going to skip over most of that, and look at what is actually going to happen since this is still a history of the extended Thalassan dynasty, not a history of everything that’s ever happened.

    The Frankish Empire will ultimately settle into four distinct entities, we are going to call the four kingdoms. Yes this is an anachronistic, and completely incorrect term. But its also what the period is mostly known for, if only to parallel the far more accuretly named situation in Daqin until the mid-1100s. These are: the duchies of Toulouse and Aquitaine, the Duchy of Soissons, the Kingdom of Franki, and the Kingdom of Germani.

    The most familiar of these are the duchies of Toulouse and Aquitaine. These were ruled by powerful Frankish nobles who had swapped sides relatively early in the conflict. Toulouse was ruled by the doux of Toulouse, the former count, while Aquitaine was ruled by a descendant of the first Frankish Emperor, also named Louis; who owed their allegiance to the Roman Emperor. This was a very loose arrangement. Both men were required to provide a number of knights for the Roman army and pay a certain amount of tax into the Roman treasury each year. But they were largely left to govern their own affairs, and Roman law was not implemented in either case. So loose was Roman rule that it isn’t even going to survive the next decade of Manuel’s reign, let alone his life.

    When internal troubles arise Manuel will decide to cut his losses in Gaul and withdrew the five thousand man Marseille garrison. It will never be replaced.

    Toulouse was mostly intact, the Roman raids had been short affairs, leaving the doux a very powerful figure, one who had a solid shot at taking all of southern Franki if given an opportunity without outside interference. That was his theory anyway, but in 1041 the doux died, leaving behind three sons and a daughter. The only one of these who matters is the daughter, Mary, who was betrothed to the second son of the king of Alba, who we will get to in just a moment.

    This would have been a historical footnote, but when a round of plague swept through Franki in 1043, a result of the still recurrent famine caused by the Roman devastation and the civil war, all of her brothers died. Mary was thus left as the sole heir to the entire duchy.

    The doux of Aquitaine meanwhile was Philip, now the last descendant of the old Frankish line. He had flipped to the Romans during the third year of the war, likely hoping to be installed as Emperor when Manuel won. If so he was disappointed by the eventual result. But this disappointment did not stop him. When the Romans withdrew in the late 1040s Philip decided to assert his claim to all of th old Empire. To this end he invaded the budding Kingdom of Franki, and was subsequently destroyed in the decisive Battle of Aachen. He was killed alongside many of his fellows in an early display of a group we will actually have to talk about at some point, the Britannic archers who will become infamous for their skill during the next century.

    For now though, this left Aquitaine even more vulnerable to outside interference, and the duchy was conquered completely in the 1070s to form what we will come to know as the Kingdom of Gael, but that will be for later.

    Aquitaine itself was still badly damaged by the Roman invasion. Something approaching a fifth of the population was dead or displaced. Vast swathes of territory had been reduced to charred wasteland by the Roman raiders, and rebuilding would take a long time. Castles had been torn down, noble families wiped out, and entire towns just erased from the map. The region was in other words devastated. Philip likely wouldn’t have been able to hold out even if he hadn’t charged off to his death.

    Next up, the Duchy of Soissons is the name now given to the territory in northern Franki taken by the Norman king. This extended from roughly the Roman Kingdom of Soissons in the East to the Atlantic in the West, and down to the Liger in the south. To say this was Norman territory though is kind of stretching it. Many of the Frankish Lords were still in place, and the local Norman ruler was forced to adapt to their customs, adopt the Frankish language, and ultimately was married to a Frankish woman. Who was that Frankish woman? Why, it was Mary, future Doux of Toulouse.

    The Duke of Soissons was the second son of the king of Alba, William. He naturally owed allegiance to his father, but he and his older brother Roger bitterly detested one another. Roger for his part had been given Eorwic in Saxeland, and so the two were for a time separated from one another. But when their father died and Roger took the throne William was forced to swallow his pride and submit, something he deeply resented. He submitted until his betrothed came of age, and their two territories were merged into one, making a bid for independence. Roger attempted to stop the war, but was decisively defeated in a naval battle off the coast of Soissons, never even managing to land an army. This defeat in 1050 marked the major decline of Norman power, which we will discuss later. For now, it is enough that William declared himself to be the king of Gael. Since his wife was still theoretically a Roman vassal, something that would be renegotiated by their oldest son Henry, he had actually adopted the Roman name for the region.

    But as he was a Norman he mistook the Roman name as being related to the Gaels of his home islands. There was some confusion in the ensuing decades, but ultimately the name Gael stuck. It was even adopted as a point of pride among high nobility, as it showed independence from both the Franki to the East and the Romans to the south.

    Speaking of the Franki, the new kingdom had arisen to the East of Soissons. It was centered around the old Imperial lands around the Rhine river, leaving a narrow strip of territory directly controlled by the Emperor’s surviving relatives. Franki was the wealthiest and most powerful successor to the Empire, as the Imperial lands had been heavily built up by the Emperor’s over the centuries. This wealth and power would let the kings of Franki amass significantly greater power than their neighbors, and slowly bring te various lords on the border directly under their control. It would take until the middle of the next century, but Franki would ultimately stretch from the Albis to the Sequana.

    Finally, is the kingdom of Germanni. This was ruled by a group we have mentioned many times before, the German lords who were such a constant thorn in the side of Louis. By war’s end they were basically in open revolt, but distracted by raids along the border from the pagans. After Louis died the independence of his border lords basically became accepted fact throughout the region. These men controlled large numbers of soldiers due to their need to defend the border, and they promptly turned on one another to become a king. The ultimate winner was Charles, cousin of Louis, and brother of the ill-fated Frederik who had led the Frankish expedition into Hispani.

    Germani is the least important of the kingdoms at the moment, as it is by far both the least organized and weakest successor state, due mostly to the independent mindedness of the lords. This same flaw however would see more territory added to the kingdom as wars against the pagans were almost a hobby for the Germani, with any man who could pushing his own fiefs Eastward little by little over the coming centuries.

    Next time we will follow Manuel back to Constantinople where he will celebrate his well-earned triumph, and settle down into what he likely hoped would now be a peaceful reign. But unfortunately for the Emperor, just as his external problems were solved his internal troubles were just beginning to bubble
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    Part 64: Internal dissension
  • Part LXIV: Internal dissension​

    When Manuel arrived back in Constantinople at Christmas 1036 he received a hero’s welcome. The Emperor had carried all before him, and brought back large amounts of treasure that the crowds were eager to see displayed at his inevitable triumph. Preparations were of course begun immediately, and the Emperor declared that it would begin as soon as his loyal men in Italy could be ferried back to the Capitol to receive the honors due them.

    The crowds cheered, the bishops gave sermons praising the Emperor to the hilt, and everywhere people knew that peace and good times were ahead. Except of course, that very little of this support was genuine or without reservation. The people of Constantinople were distrustful of Manuel still. Yes he had been completely victorious, but he also had barely been inside the city. He’d grown up in far away Theodosiopolis after all, and then spent two-thirds of his reign away on campaign. Even while he had been home the Emperor had spent much of his time in the army camps or locked away in the palace.

    His oldest son however, John, was widely popular among the people. The boy was now sixteen, and when the Imperial army returned from Italy in March the best soldiers were promoted into the reorganizing Tagmata, of which John was placed as an officer, and granted nominal command over. We will discuss the eventual organization that the Tagmata took on under Manuel, and which it would retain until its destruction in 1247, later when discussing the wider Roman army that developed under Manuel.

    Manuel’s triumph was held in early April, an was a splendid affair. Turkish and Frankish lords who had been captured were marched through the city in chains, and executed before the cheering crowds. The culmination of the event was the execution of Louis’s entire immediate family and their children by strangulation. The event lasted for three days, and was marked by great games put on in the Hippodrome as well as feasting a celebratory mass.

    The event also marked what was possibly the only chance of Manuel’s reign going forward peacefully. The Empress Maria’s younger brother Alexandros, the powerful head of the Kommenos family had been a major supporter of Manuel’s regime, and had kept many of the noble families happy by promising on behalf of his sister and brother-in-law that the wartime taxes were just that, wartime. When peace was restored they would be lifted and things would go back to how it had been.

    But as his horse went through the streets on the third day the young noble fell, broke his neck, and died. The greatest link between the magnates and the Imperial family was dead. Manuel himself had few connections to the great men of the Empire, having spent much of his life in Armenia, and then on campaign he was uncomfortable in the palaces of Constantinople and rarely met personally with petitioners. Instead Maria or John took the lead in such matters. For the people of Constantinople this was seen as a slight, especially since Maria herself by this time was deeply unpopular due to being the face of Imperial taxes, fees, and conscription.

    Despite the triumph then Manuel was little liked by his subjects, even as they feared and respected him. The message from the top was clear. Nothing and no one could stand against the Emperor. God had shown His favor on the battlefields of Anatolia and Gaul. It is likely that from here Manuel would eventually have settled into a peaceful reign except for two points. First, he was still staring down the mountain of debt taken on to pay for his extraordinarily expensive war against the Franks, and his soldiers were owed land. A lot of land. Land that the Emperor did not have.

    This had always been an issue that Manuel was aware of, but when he was a teenager it had looked far away, something he needn’t worry about for many years. But now those years had gone, and every single man who had served with him needed to be paid off. There was significant land that had been retaken in Anatolia, and which still lay abandoned, and it was here that the Emperor turned first. Hundreds of new farms were divided, and groups of men turned in their weapons and armor and marched away onto the peninsula to be settled.

    These plots were still technically state-owned, and as such could not be bought, sold, divided, or expanded. Each was theoretically sufficient to support a man, his wife, and a number of children, but would not pass onto the man’s heir unless that heir also served in the army for a period of at least five years. Notably if the heir died while in the army the man’s younger children would not have to fulfill the military duties of their older brother.

    That said, Manuel also didn’t want to have to throw families off this land, as finding new settlers would be more expensive, and so he instead took the simple expedient of simply making military service mandatory for the eldest son of each family on land owned directly by the Empire. At first this was merely to ensure a supply of soldiers from a relatively small number of locations. But as we’ll see, after the coming Civil War it expanded to virtually every holding in the Empire.

    Now it should be noted that what Manuel is about to do wasn’t intended to be quite as far-reaching as it ended up being, but he had to have known what the men he appointed to carry out the order would do. In 1039 Emperor Manuel issued an order levying a special tax on all holdings larger than what would be needed to support a family, which basically meant about twenty acres. This tax basically took all of that land, subtracted out the twenty acres, and then the Emperor confiscated ten percent of the remainder.

    This tax, the Land Decimation was horribly unpopular among many of the great men of the Empire, and it was here that talk of rebellion really began in earnest. If the initial announcement wasn’t enough it soon became clear that when Manuel said all land would be included, he meant ALL land. Including for instance land on which magnates ran businesses, but the tax was levied on simple area, not value.

    And when the Emperor’s enforcers went out, they focused heavily on the most valuable land. So it wasn’t just ten percent of these men’s land, but the best ten percent. These men were well paid by the Emperor, and their work was coordinated by the Emperor and Empress. Land surveyors suspected of corruption were hauled back to the capital in chains and publicly tried by the Emperor, with many not given a right to speak in their own defense before execution.

    The straw that broke the camel’s back though was the very clear point that monasteries, and the Church in general were not exempt. This had the approval of the deeply anti-monsastic Gregorious, still Patriarch of Constantinople at this time, but other bishops were not nearly as understanding. They railed against the Emperor’s tyrrany from the pulpit, and agitated the common people of the Empire to stand against this invention of the devil.

    These were of course loudest in Greece, Anatolia, and unfortunately for Manuel, Italy.

    The Italians were particularly angry at this entire affair, because by now they had grown used to the far lighter taxes levied by the less efficient administration of the Franks, and the return of Roman administrators brought with it both higher taxes, and stricter enforcement. Frankish disintegration had also seen their biggest market in the West wiped out. What’s more, the annexation of Hispani had led to the Gothic merchants getting their tax dues reduced to those normally charged to Imperial merchants, which were about half those charged to external ones. Italy thus had run into a severe financial depression. The shows of thanks to the Emperor had not helped.

    But the Emperor was unmoved by protests from upper crust Italians, he had a lot of bills to pay and more land that needed to be seized. As Anatolia’s free land and taxed land began to run out in Manuel’s bid to set up a quarter of a million men with new farms he thus turned to Italy, and began an assault on the vast swathes of land controlled by the churches there. With first papal control of Latium, plus the various other grants of land going back half a millennium the monastaries and bishops of Italy controlled a quarter of the land on the peninsula, and virtually all of the best land. This had been one of the reasons trade had grown so important to the wealthy locals.

    Manuel wanted half of that land back for the government in Constantinople.

    This was too much, and in Rome riots broke out against Imperial agents. Riots that soon spread up and down the peninsula, until virtually every city was effectively in revolt. Imperial troops were spread thin as Manuel tried to cut costs, and only Ravenna and Venice maintaining control of their population on the mainland, while on Sicily the south-eastern third centered on Syracuze maintained order.

    News spread like wildfire into Greece, and Dyracchium joined the general rioting. Nobles and bishops seized on the opportunity, and declared themselves in revolt against the tyranny, cruelty and selfishness of Manuel’s regime.

    The Emperor sent out orders in every direction calling soldiers back to their banners, but it was too late. A cabal of wealthy magnates from Anatolia as well as clergymen and important middle class artisans were in motion. They invoked lingering anger at the Thessalonikan Council, and called for the deposition of the Emperor in favor of his popular son John. The populace of Constantinople, who as noted had never been overfond of Emperor Manuel were swayed, and riots began in the city itself.

    Imperial troops were overwhelmed at their posts and fled back to the Emperor’s residence to defend it.

    Messengers could not reach the European branch of the Tagmata, and the harbor was cut off. Worse, John, Manuel’s son had been caught in a different palace during the rioting, and was captured by the rebels, and taken to the Hagia Sophia where a rebel bishop (Gregorios having read the crowd earlier in the day and fled to Chalcedon before taking a ship to Trebizond for refuge) placed a diadem upon his head, with John silent throughout the affair until the roaring of the crowd made him promise the return of good and honest government, and careful adherence to Orthodoxy. If anyone noticed how vague the mob-declared Emperor’s promises were they showed no sign of it.

    Word reached the Emperor of his son’s apparent betrayal, and the Emperor by his own admission almost despaired at his fortune. But his other children were still with him, and his wife. Taking stock of the situation Manuel realized there was nothing he could do from Constantinople. If he wanted to remain in power he would have to once again claim his throne by right of conquest.

    Dressing his entire family in the clothes of slaves and taking every bit of gold they could carry Manuel fled the palace, barely making it to the harbor and aboard a ship of the still loyal Imperial fleet before the rebels realized he was gone. The loyal guards he left behind were all killed.

    When asked about the reason for his flight, Manuel repudiated the old decision of Justinian by saying that while purple was a fine color he saw no reason he should want to wear such a shroud.

    The Imperial fleet raised anchor and fled the city, heading to Armenia where loyal troops still waited, and where the loyal men Manuel had settled in Anatolia could be called back to their lord’s banner.

    Next time we will cover the civil war that follows and Manuel and Abbasios wage one final campaign together, to crush their domestic opponents and bring about a new era of Imperial administration. And the rebels learn that when you force your leader into a role against his will its often not a great idea to then actually let him rule afterward.
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    Part 65: The Last Campaign I
  • Part LXV: The Last Campaign I​

    The 1040 uprising was well coordinated as such things go. Conspirators seized control of the cities of mainland Greece, announcing the abdication of Manuel, and the coronation of his son John. Rumors flew of civil war, but for now these were little more than rumors. Many of the great men of Greece saw the missives coming, with the familiar seal of the Prince, now joined by the Seal of the Emperor, stolen in the initial struggle and accepted what they were told.

    For those of you reading ahead this will not help them when the time comes.

    The lords of Coastal Anatolia similarly went along with the plan. As did the magnates of Moesia, Dacia, and Italy. Africa however refused, declaring publicly that they rejected the coup, and firmly stood behind Manuel, who had driven back and then subjugated the Berbers. The Berbers themselves wanted no part of any of this, but soon came under attack by suspicious Africans who believed them to be in on the plot. Africa was consumed in a miniature Civil War as the two fought one another. The lords of Hispani were non-commital to either the African position, or the one in the capital.

    They opted instead for careful neutrality, wanting to see what would come from the East before committing to either side.

    The Eastern provinces however universally declared for the Emperor. In Syria in particular Ali Umayos mobilized the Syrian army and was prepared to march into Anatolia on the Emperor’s behalf, but was stopped by word of Turkish raids against the border. Ali will play a key role in the coming civil war, fighting the Turks in the deserts of Syria to a standstill, while the Armenians and men of Central Anatolia put down the rebellion.

    Had he not been as successful Manuel might well have been forced to divide his forces, with potentially disastrous consequences. We will deal with his campaign another time however, for now only noting that in 1043 Ali’s loyalty was rewarded with an Imperial bride. Maria Minor was married to him in 1041, a marriage notable in that Ali agreed that any children of the union would legally remain in the Imperial family, rather than the Umayoi. This is the first recorded instance of this occurring. Though in practice it had happened several times in the past, notably with Marcian II and his wife.

    We will of course have major dealings with the family which resulted.

    Returning to the Emperor however, Manuel and his family landed at Trebizond and immediately made for Theodosiopolis. Setting up a headquarters in the mountains Manuel sent out orders to the Armenian army to muster and join him, and prepare to march West. To Anatolia he sent out a call for both the Turks and his demobilized men to attend him as well.

    And they came. This was Maneul’s real talent. Not great administrative skills, not any particular battlefield brilliance, insight. He inspired men whereever he went. It is hard to get across the sort of respect, and even awe, that the men who served under the Emperor held him in. Not that this was entirely the result of charisma. No, something deeper was at play here too.

    You see, Manuel wasn’t just an Emperor. He was the Emperor who had reclaimed the home peninsula without even fighting on it. He had conquered Spain as an afterthought. He had returned to Gaul for the first time in six hundred years. He had retaken Anatolia when it seemed lost forever. He had made good his promises of land to his men, and (so far as many of these men were concerned anyway), he had set the Empire right with God. Who could look at his victories and doubt that God was pleased?

    Certainly not his soldiers. This rebellion then wasn’t just a power play. It wasn’t just a question of whether the Emperor was a tyrant (which let’s be clear he very much was). It wasn’t even a question of competence. No, this was about whether the Empire was on the path to righteousness. Many of the plotters believed it was not. But to the men who had served in Anatolia, in Africa, in Hispani, in Aquitaine, it clearly was. Opposing the Emperor wasn’t just incorrect, it was blasphemous.

    Most would have still revolted had he not followed through on promises made before and during the campaigns. But that hadn’t happened.

    Instead, the Emperor had assembled a solid army of thirty thousand by spring 1041 and he departed for Central Anatolia at the head of half that number. The remainder were left to hold the fortresses looking south into Turkish territory. The Emperor planned to gather more soldiers from loyal homesteads as he went, and secure all of the Plateau by late summer.

    Away in the Balkans the Theme of Dacia and Moesia came under attack from renewed Pecheneg raids, and any soldiers the local nobility might have hoped to utilize were tied down for the next several years trying to hold back the nomads. This weakened both sides, as the Magyar lords had been planning to side with the Emperor over the rebels, but with everyone now under threat neither they nor the locals could send men.

    In Constantinople the puppet Emperor John chafed under his controllers, who were led by an Anatolian nobleman named Andronikos Doukas, who emerged as the chief lord of the rebellion. Andronikos set about calling up the old theme armies, mostly those of Greece and Eastern Anatolia. These were mostly untouched by the changes to that army that had developed over the past thirty years. Joining them also were the European Tagmata, under the command of John.

    These men were largely either Western mercenaries brought on permanently, or local Constantinople forces who owed their primary allegiance to their popular prince. As word came of Manuel’s advance out of the Armenian mountains Andronikos crossed the Hellespont with his army of about twenty-five thousand, and set about marshaling the remaining forces of Anatolia. By late May Manuel had secured Dorylaeum, and was poised on peninsula looking down on Nicaea, which was held by the rebels. His army had swelled to about forty thousand, mostly veterans from the Western campaigns. But he held off for the time being. Timing for the invasion was critical. His army was large, and would need to secure the ports of Anatolia on a strict timetable. Specifically he needed to defeat the rebel army, secure Nicaea, and be in a position to sweep down the Anatolian coast and secure it ports in order to keep his army supplied from still loyal Egypt.

    It was in June that the Emperor marched out of Doylaeum and descended on Nicaea. The city was well-fortified, and could be supplied by Lake Askania, making a siege impossible. That left two options, the city would either have to be convinced to surrender, difficult given the supply situation, or taken by storm. Neither option particularly appealed to Manuel, who did not want to waste manpower on taking the key region. And so he made a fateful decision, bypass Nicaea and feint at Chalcedon, hoping to draw the rebels into a battle.

    Andronikos took the bait.

    In early July 1041 Andronikos moved his army north, positioning it on a group of hills. The rebel army was made up of thirty-thousand men. Of these there were seven thousand light cavalry, fifteen thousand thematic infantry, and critically three thousand Tagmatic heavy cavalry with five thousand Pedinoi heavy infantry. This force was positioned at the top of a hill on the right flank, overlooking their comrades who held the center. John had successfully convinced Andronikos to let him lead the wing himself. Andronikos had agreed, but put one of his own sons in actual command, with orders that he hold back as a reserve force.

    Unknown to Andronikos himself however, when his son was on the far side of the hill inspecting his troops John had him seized by loyal officers and murdered. A loyal man named Konstantine Castominos then took the son’s armor and disguised himself, then sent new orders to his men.

    Against the rebel army Abbasios had deployed his army in a slightly different formation than normal. The pikemen had been put on the flanks with the crossbowmen deployed through the line. The heavy cavalry of the Asian Tagmata was dismounted and deployed in the center. Abbasios hoped to use this formation to hold the rebel cavalry on the flanks, while the center was smashed aside by the knights.

    The Imperial army began its advance up the hill, and battle was joined soon afterward as the rebel army moved to meet them on the slops. All along the lines the armies pinned one another, but in the center the knights began pushing forward, but as they moved forward the thematic armies began to rally and leave them surrounded on three sides.

    The fighting grew more desperate, when a great trumpet blast rang out, and with a roar John’s men charged the rear of their own army, smashing the entire flank in minutes. Seeing the battle going so poorly the other flank disintegrated, men fleeing in panic as they believed the battle was lost. Andronikos himself was captured trying to make his escape, and put in chains.

    John himself came to Manuel, and knelt to offer him the diadem which had been unwillingly placed upon his head, according to legend stating that he had kept the Emperor’s possessions safe for his return. Manuel accepted the gift, and embraced John, leaving none in doubt that any rebellion on the young prince’s part had been unwilling.

    Andronikos was hauled in chains to Nicaea, which threw the gates open as they realized no further aid would be coming. Manuel was not kind to the city. Vast quantities of wealth were confiscated, all festivals and races were banned for a period ten years, and hundreds of leading men were arrested. Each was brought up on charges of treason, and none were allowed to speak in their own defense. As might be expected all were found guilty, and sentenced to be executed.

    But here one of the black marks against Manuel absolutely must be placed. Because he didn’t just convict them of treason, but of blasphemy and heresy. They were not to be given a swift execution, but rather a slow one. Two hundred men were led out of the city to prepared stakes, and burned alive. The message to everyone was very clear. The Emperor was God’s chosen, and to stand against him was to oppose the will of God. It would not be tolerated.

    Burning at the stake is a horrific method of execution, and after Manuel is gone will become a favorite of the late Thalassan Emperors, in particular of the Mad Romanos. All of it can be traced back to this decision. The Caesarii would lessen the practice, but would not abolish it until their final years.

    For now though the defeat of Andronikos took the wind out of the rebels. Many had legitimately expected God to intervene and grant them victory over Manuel, but now they were left in a terrible position. The thematic armies they commanded were scattered, and with Nicaea lost it was only a matter of time before the Anatolian coastline was lost as well.

    As Manuel marched south citizens threw their gates open, and threw conspirators and traitors to the Emperor, who executed them all, though not as brutally as at Nicaea since there had been no resistance to his march. Its been estimated that half the magnates of Anatolia were executed, and all their lands confiscated. What’s more, every monastery the Emperor came across was seized and its inhabitants expelled, to be replaced by a small garrison. By Decamber 1041 all of Anatolia was under the Emperor’s control, and he settled into winter quarters in Ephesos to await the spring, and a crossing into Greece.
    Part 66: The Last Campaign II
  • Part LXVI: The Last Campaign II​

    As March of 1042 approached Manuel faced a stark position. While he had retaken Anatolia for a second time, he was now stuck there. Rebel ships patrolled the Aegean, blocking any attempt to bring his army across. Taking Greece was virtually impossible without a fleet of his own, but the Imperial fleet was trapped north of the Black Sea, while the Venetian and Syracuzan fleets were fighting a running battle against the powerful Corinthian fleet, as well as the fleets of Western Italy.

    Abbasios however came up with a solution. They would use the Imperial fleet, but would cross not to Greece, but to Moesia. There Manuel’s Imperial army could hopefully defeat the Pechenegs, join up with the Magyar who remained loyal, and put down the rebellious magnates. This had several key benefits. First, it demonstrated that the Emperor was firmly focused on repelling foreign foes, which would give him even firmer moral ground to stand on in putting down the rebellion. Second, the Magyar offered something he badly needed, more soldiers. Western Anatolia would require a large garrison to remain behind to stop the locals from getting ideas, as well as to stop any counterattacks that might come from Greece.

    But with the Magyar added to what forces could be taken across the Black Sea, as well as any thematic troops who changed sides again, Manuel would have another powerful army which he could march south into Greece and bring the region back under control. Third, it completely bypassed all naval squadrons controlled by Constantinople. That was important, as the large defensive fleets of Greece were expensive to maintain at sea, and did not often venture past the Golden Horn. With the Imperial fleet in the area they would not risk open battle there. Manuel thus led fifteen thousand men north, bypassing the rebel held city of Chalcedon, and arriving at Sinope in mid-April. The Imperial fleet met him there, and the army embarked on ships, heading for Mesembria.

    His passing was not noticed by rebel lookouts, and when the Emperor suddenly appeared in the Moesian city panic set in among the magnates. They had believed the Emperor safely trapped in Anatolia, and with his arrival fled with whatever they could carry inland. Days after Manuel’s arrival news came from Italy however that might have been worse for the rebel cause. Imperial troops had withdrawn from Aquitaine, and had marched into northern Italy, defeating a local force and marching all the way across the peninsula until they met the garrison out of Ravenna. This force then turned, met, and defeated a rebel army near Mediolanum, putting it to flight and capturing the most important city of northern Italy.

    Mere days later a Syracuzan/Sardinian fleet had met the combined fleets of Neapolis and Pisa, destroying or capturing many ships. This victory spelt doom for Corinth’s naval efforts, as the now undistracted fleets of the Western Mediterranean were free to move into the Adriatic, though the final clash there will not occur for several months yet.

    Meanwhile in the Western Mediterranean the Baetican merchants had dispatched a force of Goths to Africa, where they were able to quell the sporadic fighting there between the local Romans and the Berbers, adding Carthage’s not insignificant naval assets to those of Syracuze.

    All of this would have been in vain however had the Greek expedition not succeeded, so we shall now return to it. Manuel set up a temporary headquarters at Mesembria, and began gathering information. The rebels had either retreated into Dacia, or south of the Hemus Mountains, leaving Moesia easy pickings. They had however left behind both the local theme troops, and the Magyar who were engaged south of the Danube against the Pechenegs. The nomads were raiding south into the region, and the local soldiers were hard pressed without reinforcements from the south. So in May Manuel marched out of Mesembria, heaving northwest. He picked up scattered soldiers along the way, swelling his army to about twenty-five thousand. Many of these soldiers were inexperienced, and lightly armed, but they knew the land and were fighting for their homes. They could at least be relied on to get a few volleys are missiles away before running.

    The main body of Pecheng raiders was only about ten thousand strong, and Manuel met them near Nicopolis. The Romans deployed in their normal fashion by this point, and the subsequent battle was a relatively minor affair overall. Abbasios had honed his anti-nomad tactics against the Turks, and the Pechengs were not the Turks. They had never encountered the retrained Roman army, and broke against the wave of bolts and wall of spears that greeted them. Most devastating of all however were the heavy Roman cavalry of the Tagmata. These soldiers were armored head to toe in the Frankish fashion, and their horses also wore some armor.

    The knights rode through a hail of arrows, and were barely slowed. The Pechengs did not retreat quickly enough, and took the full charge of the Roman cavalry in their left flank. Hundreds were slaughtered, and two thousand captured while the rest abandoned their captured booty and fled back across the Danube as fast as they could go.

    Manuel let them go, but forced his captives to agree to fight for him in the civil war, and only then to be released. He entered Nicopolis on June 1, and set about enacting vengeance upon the property of the rebel magnates. All lands held by anyone who could not account for themselves, or provide evidence of their service against the Pechenegs in Moesia by July was stripped of all land, and it was forfeited to the Emperor. They and their families were proscribed, and only special pleading to the Emperor personally could save their lives. It would not save their property and Manuel seized vast tracts of land across the province. Some he handed back to loyal Magyar lords, who came to dominate Moesia in the decades to come.

    The rest he kept for himself, and would settle more soldiers on in the future.

    Moesia secured Manuel marched West into Dacia, where the local troops fell over themselves to surrender and join up with the army that had successfully driven the Pechenegs back north of the river. Spontaneus mutinies broke out amongst units of thematic troops, their officers murdered by men who wanted to save themselves the Emperor’s wrath. Or who just wanted to kill particularly unpopular or brutal superiors. In truth it seems that while a large number of Dacian officers were rebels, or at least had rebel sympathies, many of the murdered were supporters of the Emperor who may have betrayed the soldiers’ own lack of loyalty had they been allowed to meet Manuel.

    The same proscriptions that had been put into effect in Moesia were soon meted out to Dacia, and magnates were betrayed in large numbers, oftentimes it seems likely the innocent were rounded up with the guilty. Only the most profound pleading could save these people’s lives, and in turn they had to give up all claim to land seized by the Emperor, reduced from positions of power and authority to being now mere tenants as they had once employed. Hundreds though were executed. The worst offenders were burned at the stake, while others were beheaded by axes, and their heads were displayed on the walls of cities and towns so that all could see the price of defiance.

    Dacia was pacified by August, and by then the war was truly winding down. In mid-July the Corinthian fleet had been ambushed and much of it captured by Syracuze, Venice, and Carthage. These cities split a vast amount of captured booty from the ships, not least of which were the ships themselves. Corinth was basically finished as a major commercial hub, the role of great naval power of southern Greece would instead fall fully to Athens, Corinth’s longtime rival.

    Athens’s rise was bolstered by its clear calculation about which way this war was going, and before word came from the north that Manuel had smashed aside the defenses of Macedonia and was marching on Thessalonika, Athens had switched sides, bringing the Aegean now firmly back under Imperial control.

    The rebels now held only the sliver of territory between Thessalonika and Constantinople in Greece, as well as parts of southern Italy. Thessalonika soon found itself surrounded by the Imperial army on land and the Athenian fleet at sea. The people of the city endured two weeks of siege before a mutiny broke out among the garrison. City leaders and magnates were put in chains and forty were driven from the city. They were captured by the Emperor, and six were burned alive for their role in leading the rebellion. Of the remainder sixteen were executed and all their lands confiscated. The rest escaped execution, but were rendered paupers by the Emperor’s confiscation of their lands.

    With all of Greece now secured Manuel turned his army East and marched on Constantinople itself. The city had built for itself a strong militia, and work was done to refortify the Theodosian Walls as the Emperor approached. The city had never fallen to assault, only to trickery or lack of watchfulness. It was hoped that this would continue. If the defenders were lucky new rebellions would break out across the Empire, or the Emperor’s army would break itself.

    Even with the Imperial and Athenian fleets in place blockading Constantinople by sea was virtually impossible. Across the Strait Chalcedon still held out as well, and offered a route to supply across the bridge which stood. The Emperor however was tired of this rebellion, and so he accepted the bait offered. A gate was left unlocked by a loyal man inside the city, and the Emperor sent his men through in a general assault.

    Fighting lasted for three days as the Imperial army fought its way into the capital, suffering and inflicting heavy losses. Finally however, all resistance was quashed, and Manuel II rode through the streets of his capital to total silence. The populace stared in terror from windows as the Emperor made his way through the city, bodies scattered through the streets until he came to the Hippodrome. Here he had grim news. Romanos Abbasios, his close comrade and greatest follower was dying. He had been struck by a stone cast from a rooftop.

    The Emperor wept for his friend, and swore to him that he would make the city pay for its great crime. But Abbasios stayed the Emperor’s hand, and said that to do so would make the general die in vain, for it would only cause another revolt, and so the general’s death would be in vain. He instead told the Emperor to forgive the people, and to punish only those who had misled them. Then, he died.

    That’s the legend anyway. Examination of Abbasios’s skeleton show that his skull was completely crushed by the stone’s impact, and so he would have died immediately. Manuel was the master of spinning the truth however, and when he ordered the people assembled to be informed of their punishment he told the legend, and so he pardoned all but those who had led them into blasphemy and treason. Public executions followed. Bishops, monks, and nobles were marched onto scaffolding to be beheaded, or were tied to stakes to burn.

    Hundreds were killed in the city, adding to the thousands killed in the civil war. But when the killing ended it was over. The last challenge to Manuel II’s reign had passed, and he will enjoy his middle age and then his old age in relative peace. He had already reigned for twenty-eight years, and had in that time achieved more than any Emperor since Leo.

    Next time then we will move into the early year’s of the Third Pax Romana, the rewards meted out to those who had been loyal, and finally talk more about the Emperor’s children, whose families will play such a pivotal role in the coming centuries.
    Part 67: Winning the peace
  • Part LXVII: Winning the Peace​

    The first priority when the executions stopped was to reward those who had remained loyal, and to do so in ways that wouldn’t be too harmful to the Emperor’s interests. To this end Maria Minor, Manuel eldest daughter, was married to Ali Umayos, a match only slightly slowed by the fact Ali was already married. Gregorios, now returned to Constantinople granted an annulment on flimsy pretexts, and the pair were married almost before the ink was dry on his order. I should also note here that through a fluke of lineage Ali was the last surviving male descendant of Khosrow VI, the Persian prince who had once fled across the border into Armenia to escape the armies of Khorasan.

    This will be important in about three hundred years.

    The Magyar leader Bela was made Strategos of Moesia, and granted all the power which came with that office, and as a further bonus his daughter Sarolt was married to prince John.. He was not however granted the lands of the former Strategos, who was now dead. The Emperor kept those for himself, and supported Bela’s household and staff from out of those estates himself. Similar stories were repeated across Greece and Anatolia, as the Emperor steadfastly refused to give up any lands he had confiscated, preferring instead to settle his soldiers on them and tax the new farmers.

    Modern scholarship looks as this as essentially feudalism imported from Western Europe, and it is easy to see why. These farmers were bound to the land, and their families carried both financial and military obligations for its use. Additionally, the Emperor took on responsibilities previously handled by the magnates, assuring these landed subject a certain minimum income from their land, which he would pay out should their harvests fail whether from storm, drought, or other disaster.

    In essence Manuel made himself the magnate of the Empire, to whom all others paid rents. All in the same form of taxation which still marked the Roman Empire as unique in the West. Additionally, the warehouses and plantations that produced the sole source of silk in the West were now once again under the direct rule of the Emperor, who set about expanding production as quickly as possible, and exporting it for sale. In this he saw even more profit than might have otherwise been expected, because in the East Daquin was racked by what seemed to be endless internal strife, and silk production there had plummeted.

    For a time then Constantinople was the primary source of silk for the entire trade network that stretched into the East. For a short time, gold flowed in the direction of Europe rather than endlessly away.

    Also helping the Emperor’s financial outlook was that something approaching two-thirds of his debt had been held by people who had then rebelled, and as might be imagined none of that was being repaid. The remaining four million nomismata was a significant amount, but far more manageable. With the increased revenue coming from the Emperor’s new lands annual revenues exceeded ten million nomismata for the first time ever, and will only dip below that amount twice in the coming century.

    Facilitating collection Manuel brought back to power an old organization, the epikroi. This group had long fallen out of Imperial favor, and had been corrupted by bribes and incompetence since its initial founder died. Manuel and Maria however were intent on getting the office back into shape.

    The number of officials was expanded, from about one hundred to well over one thousand. Each of these were handpicked men from the palace over a period of nearly a decade, and acted in small groups that rotated with each assignment. They were well-paid and loyal men, who could be counted on to support the Emperor’s interests in their assigned provinces. The primary task initially was working out how much each parcel of land was actually worth, and levying taxes accordingly. That said, the Emperor’s new role as the greatest magnate also required some leeway on their part, since tenants hit badly by disaster would need to have their taxes eased, eliminated, or even paid back depending on the scale of problems. When major disasters struck this had the unfortunate effect of basically paying back an entire year’s revenue back to the area.

    As the Emperor and Empress focused on their work their public appearences lessened, and then ceased. In their place their children performed the ceremonial duties of their parents. The rulers themselves withdrew from public life entirely, which will be mimicked by their successors. It is here then that the former role the Emperor, as the center of public life that had existed since sometime after the fall of the West ended

    The Basileos had spent hundreds of years leading religious processions, overseeing chariot races and games of tzykion, and engaging in public ceremonies all across the capital. But under Manuel this ended. His people saw him seldom, and when they did it was in his full majesty atop the Imperial throne on its hydraulic lift as they lay in supplication in front of him. He towered over them, and expected total submission before any judgement or grant was given. Only his family and a few select men were allowed to meet personally with the Emperor without these measures in place.

    Top of that list was Gregorios, who had taken the opportunity after the rebellion to once again stir up religious trouble in the city. After yet another encounter that had nearly spiraled into a riot Manuel made Gregorios the bishop of Rome and sent him out of the city, with strict instructions not to spark yet more trouble in Italy. As a token that Imperial favor did still rest with the bishop however he remained Ecumenical Patriarch, and for a time at least the title of Pope and Patriarch were unified. Gregorios will die in 1050, but his successor will carry on the unified title, until the Patriarchy is finally put to rest entirely by Julius II and his Italians.

    And since we have now reached the time that Manuel’s children truly enter our picture, we should introduce the others.

    We have previously discussed the two eldest. Prince John was Manuel’s oldest son, and dutifully loyal to his father. He had proven his loyalty when he led his men against his supposed allies, and from there had gone on to be the Emperor’s man through and through in the years that followed. It was on John that most ceremonial duties fell. He led the processions which began mass, and he oversaw public games and celebrations. He also led a number of small campaigns in Moesia against Pecheneg raiders. John’s Magyar marriage was deeply unhappy, and he and his wife spent little time together. They did however still have three children as both knew the responsibilities of their union. These children were Eudoxia, Leo, and Helena.

    The second child was Maria Minor, now married to Ali Umayos. Umayos had left his lands in Syria to his brother and moved to the capital with his wife by 1045, and to these two was given significant landed holdings in southern Italy taken from the last rebel holdouts who had surrendered there when word came of Constantinople’s fall.

    As part of Manuel’s project of settling his children across the Empire as local powerholders he them take on separate family names. Maria and Ali adopted as their family name the title used by Imperial princes, Caesar. As both spoke primarily Greek they thus called themselves the Kaiseroi.

    As their descendants settled into Italy however they adopted Latin, and with it the name changed, to the Caesarii. Anyone who’s been paying attention or reading ahead knows just how important the descendants of Maria and Ali will be.

    Also granted land there I would add was a young man from Eastern Anatolia who took the name of his home as his family name, Castominos. Later this would become Castominos, and be the founder of my own family, though it wasn’t until the Caesarii rose to Imperial power that our family would truly begin its rise in Italian politics.

    The third child was Helena, who entered a convent and so we will not deal with.

    Fourth was a son, Mattias. He at this point was only seven, having been born in 1038. He will eventually take up a position in Antioch, and adopt the name Amyroi, from a Greek adoption of an Arabic word, for his own family.

    Fifth was another son, Manuel, now five years old, who will marry an Armenian noblewoman and settle in the Caucuses, founding a city named Manueliopolis, after both his father and himself. He will have a single daughter before dying of a plague that swept the Mediterranean in the 1060s. That daughter will marry into a local family, the Guaramoi.

    Sixth was now but an infant, young George, still an infant, who will marry into a Spanish family and settle in Baetica.

    Last was Theodora, who will unfortunately die in infancy, the first of the Emperor’s children to predecease her father.

    I should also note now that it was at this time that Manuel officially adopted the moniker Thalassoi for the family, after his first Imperial ancestor who had come to power “from the sea”. So, we’re finally out of the highly anachronistic territory of referring to the Thalassan dynasty by that name. But as there is no other word used before this, I chose to stick with convention.

    In 1050, Manuel turned his attention to his next big project, rebuilding the Hagia Sophia. The great cathedral had fallen into disrepair over the past century, and especially in the last fifty years. Damage and neglect had piled up, and the massive dome that set atop the top of the Church had cracked in 1049, leading to the church to be closed. This was of course completely unacceptable to the Emperor. He might have withdrawn from public life, but the Church was a central piece of Imperial propaganda. It was the Emperor’s great house built to God. Having it in such a state was both embarrassing, and also rather dangerous. Manuel’s entire power base was built on his clear divine favor.

    Also, giving the perpetually cyclical workers of the Empire something to work on would keep them too busy to plot treason.

    The church had to be repaired, and quickly. Architects were brought in from across the Empire. Arabs, Greeks, Egyptians, Italians, Africans, and Goths were all gathered to begin the massive project. Thousands of people were hired to do the labor necessary to get the project finished. The scale of the project rivaled that of the initial building of the Church, as Manuel also decided he wanted the building expanded to mark not just that the Empire was as pious as it had been in Justinian I’s day, but moreso. The main building itself was significantly expanded, but the main changes happened in the building’s surroundings. New chapels, gardens, small prayer rooms, and other important additions were made. New artwork was commissioned, and the ceiling of the building was painted to reflect the sky, as if one was looking into heaven itself.

    Naturally the old iconic decorations were nowhere to be found when the project completed. The only statues left were those of Christ, the Emperors, and a few statues of Mary holding the infant Christ. And if some of the Imperial statues were remarkably similar to old statue of saints, well no one need mention it.

    The project took eight years, longer than the building’s initial construction, and cost a fortune. By Manuel’s own accounts he spent almost twenty-million nomismata on the project. Which sounds huge, and it is, but amounts to only about two and a half million gold coins per year. By contrast Justinian’s initial construction taking about six years took over thirty million gold coins, or five million per year. And his revenues were less than half what Manuel’s were. So yes, the Hagia Sophia restoration was a massive undertaking, but it was one that the Empire could afford. Sadly, the construction would for the Emperor be bittersweet. Two days before the building opened to the public his wife, the Empress Maria came down with a fever. The Emperor did not attend the festivities as he remained by his wife’s bedside all day, before she died early that night. Maria was 57 years old and had been Empress and indeed co-Emperor in all but name for 41 years. She had deftly steered the state's finances for her husband's wars, and managed adminstration with great skill and finesse, and for that the Emperor was deeply indebted to her. She had six children who survived her, all of whom were personally stable, friendly, and pious.

    Maria’s death was a grievous blow the Manuel, and one from which he never really recovered. He will pull back from public appearances entirely after she was gone, and will in time leave the city entirely, settling in a palace outside Chalcedon he will have built in the coming years. His children will take even more control over the Empire, and in time their arrangement will be formalized and solidified as we will take a look at next time when we discuss the beginning of the late Thalassan Imperial organization, the Exarchates.
    Part 68: The Exarchs
  • Part LXVIII: The Exarchs​

    We’ve seen exarchs before. Both Africa and Italy had once been exarchates, to reinforce the Roman control of the region. The exarchate of Ravenna had of course been functionally ended when the Lombards were defeated, even if the title had technically lasted a while longer. Africa’s exarch had survived longer, but was dissolved completely when its holder was on the losing side of a civil war.

    Both of those are almost always forgotten however when compared to the exarchates of Manuel, which will last for most of the next two hundred years. And after they were also dissolved by Julius II his subsequent return to the diocese was on mostly the same lines as Manuel’s borders. Indeed, even to the modern day many of the internal divisions of Imperial administration rely on the exarchates of Manuel II.

    The first question to address though, is why the positions were created. The first and most obvious reason was that Manuel was increasingly withdrawing from Imperial life. He will maintain strict control over the law, the military, and administration, but these will be conducted almost entirely through intermediaries for the remainder of his life. These intermediaries were the exarchs.

    Beyond the need to delegate however Manuel’s long years on campaign had convinced him that the theme system was hopelessly outdated. The thematic armies had been an answer to a very specific problem, the annual Arab raids while the First Caliphate ruled Syria and the Empire had too few soldiers and too little cash to go on the offensive. The idea had been to let the enemy penetrate Roman defenses, then ambush them while they left and recapture much of the plunder. This had worked, and indeed had worked very well. But the Caliphate was gone.

    The armies were too scattered and divided to present a solid front to attack, particularly against powerful foes like the Turks, and…well really just the Turks. The Pechengs were powerful, but they were no match for a concentrated Roman army. The Bulgars were strong and unified, but they are constantly distracted by endless fighting with pagans to their north, and the occasional bit of warfare on the now divided, and hence weak, Franks.

    Markuria was powerful in its turn, but any war against that kingdom would have to be fought on a very specific front, and along a route easily controlled by the Romans, the Nile. The Turks though were different. They had already overrun Anatolia and Mesopotamia once, and indeed still held the latter. And that was when their Empire was newly formed, as their hold on Persia solidified Manuel could only see trouble coming from that direction, could a new and resurgent Persia once again be an unsolvable problem for the Roman East?

    As we know the answer turned out to be…no not really. There will of course be periods of intense fighting along the Syrian border, but much like the Bulgars the Turks are eternally distracted by wars on their other border. In this case in India and on the steppe. But in large part credit for the general peace in the East needs to be given to the strong Imperial forces in the area, with a combined seventy-thousand men in Syria and Armenia by the time the Huns blow through the region.

    The first exarchate created though was in 1059, when Manuel created the Exarchate of Italy, including all of Sicily, as well as all of southern Italy, to the end of Latium. This was mostly just an administrative post, combining the taxation efforts in the most economically prosperous areas of the peninsula. Venice was also included as the city had more in common with the southern merchant cities than the more militarized north. We’ll talk a lot more about the Italian exarchate in future of course, as the constant need to balance the interests of the Emperor, the Exarch, and the wealthy merchants will heavily inform Imperial governance after the 1240s.

    He then added the Exarchate of Ravenna, named for the old military posting. But, the name is something of a misnomer. The actual capital was at Mediolanium, and Ravenna itself would eventually shift into the Exarchate of Italy as the priorities of the merchant city diverged from the heavily fortified northern command. Ravenna was run by a military officer on five-year terms. While a commander could hold more than one exarchate throughout his life he could never hold the same one more than twice, and not with less than a ten year break. Since the military staff were attached to the office, and were usually locals, rather than the person, who never was, Manuel aimed to prevent long-term loyalties forming that might incite rebellion. While he was correct and no military exarch was able to secure support for a revolt this did have the side effect of leaving the Exarchate of Ravenna heavily influenced by their southern neighbor.

    When the Julius II put the shattered Empire back together, he will be leading the army of Ravenna and the fleet of Italy.

    The second Exarchate was in Syria, and was granted to the Emperor’s second son Matthios. He was appointed Strategos of Syria in 1058 on the death of the childless office holder, marrying the man’s niece, who had no siblings, to quell muttering about Imperial consolidation. Matthios was little interested in administration, but he was a talented and capable officer. This was needed on the tenuous Eastern border. The office itself was created in 1062, and included more or less the entire old Diocese of the East, including Palaestina.

    The third Exarchate was formed in Egypt, and was not held by one man but two. One would handle the civil affairs of the region, while the second handled Egypt’s defenses. These were primarily erected along the Nile and Egypt maintained a significant fleet that patrolled the river. As with all the temporary Exarchates Egypt will fall under the influence of one of the permanent offices, in this case the Exarch of Syria.

    Fourth was the Exarchate of Africa, centered around Carthage, but extending both to the border with Egypt in the East, and to Tingi in the West. Africa was another temporary posting, and like Ravenna will fall under the influence of the Italian Exarch as time goes on.

    Fifth was the Exarchate of Armenia, created initially as a temporary position the title will eventually be passed to Manuel, son of the current Emperor. In doing so the border of Armenia permanently shifted Eastward, leaving all of the old Theme of Paphlagonia to Anatolia, including the key cities of Theodosiopolis and Trapezous. Armenia would instead consist of essentially all of the Caucuses, and would control the mountain passes into the Anatolian heartland of the Empire. The headquarters would be placed at Manueliopolis, a new city founded on the Black Sea coast. The creation of the Exarchate of Armenia begins the decline in relevance of Armenia to our narrative. For centuries now the region has been home to many of the best soldiers of the Empire, but as the mass infantry armies supported by a core of powerful heavy cavalry made up of Greeks from Anatolia or Greece itself Armenians will stay at home more and more often. It will not be until the discovery of picis in the region to compete with Arabian sources that Armenia will undergo a major reemergence on the Imperial stage.

    Last is of course the Exarchate of Spania, given to Manuel’s youngest child George in 1075. Spania is a topic there is little to talk about, as it was always the black sheep in Manuel’s empire, and will ultimately be held for only about two hundred years. When the Thalassans fall George’s descendants will permanently break away from Roman control, and independent Spania will emerge. For now however, Spania consists only of the Baetica, as the other regions of Spain retained their local power bases, and only some control could be exercised on them. Any hopes for a reunited Gothic kingdom arising in the future likely ended here.

    To ensure loyalty two key points were used. First, the exarchs were required to spend six months of each year in the capital, with the possibility of exceptions for emergencies. These were normally the winter months, as summer was expected to be spent vigilantly watching the border and keeping the army in shape. Second, the exarch’s children, and sometimes their spouse, would remain in the capital all year round. The children were well-provided out of the Imperial treasury, and received top-rate educations from only the finest private tutors. But the underlying point was clear, the Emperor has your family, and he can do away with them if you make trouble. This was not an issue during Manuel’s reign, nor in Leo’s, but as might be imagined it will be a major source of tension in future.

    To defend the exarchates the army was completely reorganized. While elements of the thematic armies were retained for garrison and fortress defense the key element of the army going forward would be the tagma, not to be confused with the Imperial Tagmata even though the names were identical. The latter also was reorganized, but we will cover that in a moment.

    Each tagma was made up of twelve Soma each of five hundred men. Of these seven would be pikemen, three would be crossbowmen and two would be light cavalry. The total number of men were six thousand, in deliberate mimicry of the legions of a millennium before. In theory at least. In truth the actual organization of the tagma varied with region. In Moesia the Magyar provided twice the number of light cavalry, as well as a soma of heavy cavalry while the infantry were reduced in number. In Armenia, an additional Soma of crossbowmen replaced one Soma of light cavalry in most cases.

    Organization also drifted during the two centuries the formation as in use.

    Critical to understanding the tagmas however is that they were, by design, an almost purely defensive force. The soldiers were supposed to hold their ground, and let the crossbowmen inflict heavy casualties on the lightly armored steppe warriors, while the pikemen kept them safe. The block of men was extremely unwieldy, and relied heavily on their comrades staying in position. As well will see, a surrounded tagma was a doomed tagma. The tagmas were in turn often organized into full field armies, for the first time since Theodosius III.

    Manuel formed four official field armies which he posted in what he deemed the most important regions of the Empire: Ravenna, Egypt, Syria, and Moesia. The armies were spread out in a number of camps in each region, close enough to the border to respond to attack, but far enough away to not fall immediately when attack came. In Egypt that meant Lower Egypt, and in particular the old fortresses around Babylon. In Syria it meant Edessa, with garrison troops holding the border fortresses of Dara and Nisibis. In Ravenna it meant Tuscany. And in Moesia it meant just north of the Hemus mountains.

    Additionally, a series of beacons were build from the border to the headquarters of the field armies, and from the headquarters back to Constantinople. The system meant that if the border came under attack the Emperor would know of it within twenty-four hours, and could begin preparing a response if additional soldiers were needed.

    A field army was made up of at least four tagmas, sometimes more. In Syria a full nine tagmas were in place, with three more in Armenia. Manuel was deeply concerned about the East after all, and being so far away meant the army in the East might well simply have to hold the border of weeks, or months, before the Emperor could arrive.

    Ravenna had the smallest force, only four tagmas, though Italy had a fifth, and Africa had two more. Egypt had the second largest, a full seven tagmas, representing Egypt’s still overriding importance to Imperial policy. Moesia had only five tagmas, but was supplemented both by a single tagma in Dacia and another in Greece, but by the tagmata itself, still headquartered around Constantinople.

    The tagmata was the crown jewel of the Imperial army. It had no light cavalry, nor crossbows or pikes. Rather the tagmata, now expanded to twenty-five thousand, was made up of twenty thousand of the heaviest cavalry in Europe. Fully armored in chain from head to toe, and riding horses that by the end of Manuel’s reign were equally well armored these Roman knights were virtually invincible on the field. Arrows, darts, bolts, and swords were useless against the Roman knight. Armed as he was with a lance, mace, sword, and shield there was no finer soldier in all of Europe. For over a hundred years this man ruled the battlefields of Europe. Where he went Turk, Pecheneg, Cuman, Rus, Nubian, and Bulgar fled.

    And when his reign ended it did so in a field of fire.

    The remaining five thousand men of the tagmata were the Pedinoi, heavy infantry armored just as heavily as their mounted counterpart, but armed with battleaxe, sword, dart, and shield. The main improvement of the Pedinoi during this time period however was not their increased armor, but the provision that each man have a horse. Not to fight on, but to ride to battle on. By mounting all of his soldiers Manuel planned to have the fastest responding Imperial army in history. And he succeeded. The Tagamata could race across the Empire in only a few weeks, resulting in maximum Imperial power presented at any time.

    Another key point to remember about the Tagmata, is that it was quite capable of taking apart a full field army of four tagmas if needed. The heavy armor and shield of the pedinoi could withstand crossbow bolts with little significant risk to the men, and they could pin pikemen in position while the heavy cavalry routed their light coutnerparts, and then fell on the flanks and rear of the exposed tagmas. A surrounded tagma was a doomed tagma. Manuel was taking no chances.

    And he would need this army, because as the centuries wore on and the Pechenegs declined in power they were rapidly being replaced by another foe from the steppe, the Cumans.

    Next time we will cover the First Cuman War, and Manuel’s final years as Emperor.
    Part 69: The latter 11th century
  • Part LXIX: The Later Eleventh Century​

    On the death of Maria, Emperor Manuel became increasingly withdrawn from public life. He took mass privately, stopped meeting with petitioners, and sent his oldest son to represent him at public functions. Almost no one saw the Emperor. There was concern at first, but as the years passed and nothing else really seemed to have changed most people accepted this state of affairs and simply carried on.

    Taxes were collected, soldiers were paid, mass was held, games were thrown, life went on. One of the payments that began during this time was of the Chalcedon palace, a large estate constructed about five miles outside Chalcedon on newly acquired Imperial land. The complex was a fortress, though one with luxurious furnishings and amenities. An aqueduct brought water, and a new road was build from Chalcedon to the site. Construction began in 1059, and was completed a full decade later in 1070. In 1065 though Manuel had deemed the palace sufficiently complete, and left Constantinople to dwell there for the remainder of his life.

    During his self-imposed exile from Constantinople John took over most functions of government, and began to share responsibility with his young son Leo. Once a week the pair would ride to the Chalcedon palace, and remain there for two or three days, while Manuel signed documents that required specifically his approval, made appointments to be carried back, and held councils. By the time the palace was completed in 1070 all of the Exarchs and various other officials were staying at the palace at least a few months of the year.

    While the capital remained at Constantinople, the real center of power was now the palace outside Chalcedon. This had two benefits. First, the palace was a very tightly controlled environment. Few were allowed in, fewer still could spend significant time there, and only a small few could remain more than a single day. Not a day and a night, only one day. All other guests had to be out of the gates before sunset. Failing to leave on time resulted in a not inconsiderate fine, which the Emperor waived for all but his wealthiest guests under most circumstances.

    During his time here Manuel also began his great History of the Roman Emperors, a selection of men he felt deserved special attention, including virtually every Emperor of both his own dynasty, and the previous; as far back as Justin I. In addition to these men he also wrote extensively of Julius I Caesar and Augustus Caesar. A handful of other names were discussed, including Aurelian whom Manuel argued was a closet Christian aiming to do what Constantine did decades later (a claim with no historical merit). One surprising name is the Emperor Domitian. Now basically a footnote Emperor of a footnote family, Domitian was a figure with whom Manuel shared a sort of imagined kinship.

    He wrote a full biography of the ancient Emperor, rehabilitating the reputation of the last Flavian, and demonizing the Senators who first assassinated, and then damned, him. Special scorn was heaped on Nerva and Trajan for conspiring to usurp the rightful Emperor’s throne (a charge Trajan is probably innocent of and Nerva is definitely guilty of). Sadly, in Manuel’s scorn for these figures his son sent orders for Trajan’s column, our only source for much of his reign, to be destroyed.

    Pieces survived and were eventually rediscovered in Church archives a few decades ago, but the vast majority is lost. As for what drove Manuel to these conclusions? I have no idea. But it might simply be that one ancient autocrat appealed to his even more autocratic successor. Manuel would leave his work unfinished, but with hundreds of pages of notes and reference material that Leo would use to finish the last volumes. Today most of Manuel’s history survives, as copies were kept in several exarch palaces down the centuries. The original was lost when the Chalcedon palace was completely destroyed in 1248, along with the city it was named for, but the copy of the Caesarii was mostly intact, save only a few decades of prior centuries.

    The work will be steadily expanded upon however by future Emperors, until the Chronicles of the Romans spanned almost a full thousand years of Emperors, plus a few others. It is one of the primary sources for this particular series, alongside more modern scholarship.

    The 1060s thus passed peacefully, only occasional skirmishes in the East and North disturbing the Third Pax Romana. In 1072 however that period of peace ended. The Pechenegs had been licking their wounds north of the Danube after a series of Roman victories (and rather larger and more significant Rus victories, but this isn’t their series), but now came under pressure from a new nomad group, the Cumans. In August 1071 the Pecheneg khagan met the Cuman khagan in battle somewhere near the Caspian Sea, and in that fight the Pechenegs were routed, their khagan killed. His entire family was captured, and the Cumans began flooding into the lands south of the Rus. In so doing they disrupted Roman trade in the area, and also drove the still free Pecheneg groups toward the Roman border on the Danube.

    The Bulgar king seeing all of this prudently withdrew his men behind the Carpathi Mountains and let the Pechenegs once again overrun the territory to the Black Sea. Into this picture comes Yazi, a Pecheneg noble who had served in the Roman army for much of his youth. He led a large group of nomads, and as the Cumans advanced he ran to the Danube and started making noise. The local strategos, a Magyar you will remember, was extremely leery about letting a group of Pechenegs past the river, but was also unsure if he should be turning back a Roman officer.

    He sent for instructions to Constantinople. John received word, consulted with his father, and led the entire Tagmata north to deal with the situation. Manuel absolutely, positively did not want any Pechenegs crossing the Danube without overwhelming Roman force there to greet them. In total the Romans mustered nearly fifty thousand men on the river to deal with the situation. As John arrived however the situation spiraled out of control. A Cuman force of some ten thousand cross the Tyras River, and began advancing on the Pecheneg position.

    In a fateful decision John decided that with the Cumans already here he needed to demonstrate immediately that the Romans did not tolerate incursions so near its borders. He gathered a large army, and crossed the river. He only took about fifteen thousand men with him, ten thousand infantry, three thousand light cavalry, and two thousand knights of the tagmata, but he hoped that the numbers would be enough to intimidate the Cumans into withdrawing. They were not. The Cumans instead attacked.

    They fell on John’s camp at dawn, and the Romans were forced to fight on the walls against the oncoming assault. Wave after wave of arrows rained down among the Romans, many of whom hadn’t had time to don their armor and many were injured. As the day wore on however and more Romans were able to pull back and equip themselves properly the tide shifted decisively in John’s favor, until in the early afternoon he led a sally of eight thousand against the Cumans. Fierce fighting ensured, but the Roman heavy cavalry decisively proved their worth as the Cumans, who had not yet been acquainted with such horsemen, failed to understand the threat they were under and let the knights, partially hidden by Roman light cavalry, in close. Slaughter followed, and the surviving Cumans fled back across the Tyras River. They left four thousand dead behind, as well as eight hundred Roman dead.

    Among the Romans was John himself. He had apparently been struck by a lucky arrow through his helmet as the Cumans fled. Caesar John was 53 years old, and had been heir to the Imperial throne all his life. John is a critical figure in Manuel’s life. It was his competence, loyalty, and personableness that let Manuel’s extended exile from the capital not bring down the Emperor’s reign the way it so easily could have. His closeness with his siblings, and the subsequent closeness of their children are on the prince as much as, or more than, anyone else.

    Manuel’s history dwells little on his oldest son, but privately he was extremely grieved by his oldest son’s death. It is claimed he wept to God, demanding to know why the Lord had taken his first-born rather than himself. John was the third of Manuel’s children to predecease their father. He will not be the last.

    Publicly Manuel was completely and utterly furious at the result of the battle. He ordered another ten thousand men to the Danube, and for the army already there to march into the region between the Danube and Tyras rivers and permanently occupy it, adding it to Moesia. The Romans began construction of Phrourions, and dared the Cumans to try again.

    The Cumans took the dare. In 1076 a large group of raiders crossed the Tyras river and struck at Roman positions, looking for plunder and captives for ransom. They successfully withdrew before the Romans could catch them, and came again the next year in even larger numbers. A running battle began between the field army stationed in the area and the Cumans, and the tagmata’s arrival in 1078 did little to tilt the balance in the Roman favor. Manuel’s third son however did. Matthios Amyroi led a large contingent of soldiers beyond the Tyras river into Cuman territory, destroying and sacking a number of camps, and carrying back several hundred women and children as captives. These pagans were rapidly sold off, and subsequently a large Cuman force seeking revenge was defeated just across the river, leaving some two thousand of the nomads dead alongside three hundred Roman losses.

    Among the captives of the battle however was the oldest son of the Cuman Khagan, sold out by his own people for better treatment. The man was dragged to Constantinople and burned alive, punishment to the Cuman leader for the death of Manuel’s own son. The remainder of the captives were sold into slavery. This is of course a rather severe departure from previous Roman policy with the nomads, who typically were simply conscripted into the Roman army after being captured. But neither Manuel nor Matthios were feeling particularly forgiving.

    For the next three years Matthios led counterraids across the Tyras, while his army remained behind to hold the river itself. Finally however in 1080 the khagan himself was hunted down (by the Rus), and a joint Roman-Rus force caught up with him. In a short battle the khagan was killed, and his body sent back to Constantinople to put on display.

    His successor asked for peace, and was granted it. The Romans would pay two hundred pounds of gold to the Cumans per year and in exchange the Cumans would serve as soldiers in the Roman army. All Roman captives were to be returned. No Cumans were returned. The Cuman slaves were mostly sent to Italy, where a large number of their descendants still dwell.

    So ended the First Cuman war. Overall a rather small affair. There were only about twelve thousand dead in over five years of fighting, plus the initial battle, and as such is often forgotten by even those familiar with the period, save for John’s death. And Matthios’s, though the Cumans can hardly be blamed for that. Eager to see his family again Matthios bordered a ship at the mouth of the Danube and set sail for Constantinople. But on the way south the ship hit rough seas, and in a sudden swell Matthios was swept overboard. His body was never recovered. He was the fourth of Manuel’s children to predecease his father.

    On the death of a fourth child Manuel withdrew fully from Imperial life, seeing only servants and Leo, his grandson whom he instructed and groomed for the position of Emperor. When he felt the young man was ready he crowned him co-Augustus and prepared to die. But death would not come for him. Instead it struck another child. Maria Minor, the mother of the Caesarii came down with a fever in 1082, and three weeks later she died. She was soon followed by Helena, the daughter who had entered a convent.

    Manuel himself lived on however, wishing for death that just seemed to never come. He still issued orders and edicts, but these came less and less often. Finally on his birthday in 1092 however he fell while struggling to rise from his bed, struck his head, and died. Only a few servants were present.

    His last words were supposedly, “George yet lives.” Word had not yet come that four days earlier George had slipped from a horse, and broken his neck in the mountains of Spain, the last of Manuel’s children to predecease their father.

    Manuel was exactly ninety years old, and had been Emperor for an utterly astounding 76 years. No one matches his reign, no one even comes close. The only man who even comes close is Caesar Augustfus, at 57 years. As such, the extent of Manuel’s influence on the Empire is almost incalculable. During his long, long reign he went through dizzying highs, dreadful lows, and was forced to watch as one by one his loved ones died around him.

    His administrative, financial, military, and legal policies are enormous. His cultural impact from the remodeled Hagia Sophia, to sponsorsip of the arts that we didn’t even cover were huge. Across the Empire roads, aqueducts, churches, fortresses, and etc. bore his name. He left a solid financial footing, a powerful military, and a strong administratve system in place. Most importantly he left a qualified and strong successor in place in Leo, who will largely continue the policies of his grandfather.

    Manuel II is widely regarded as the greatest Emperor the Romans have ever had. And despite a number of questionable decisions, failures in judgement, terrible precedents, hostility with neighbors, and long-term issues left in place, I see no reason to question historical judgement on the man. He was ultimately a product of his time, as are we all, and no other Emperor can claim to have had more of an impact, save perhaps Constantine.

    Leo's reign however will have to wait, as there are a number of developments in the wider world we need to address before moving on.
    The Roman Empire in 1092
  • Roman Empire in 1092.jpg

    First of our maps, showing the divisions of the Roman Empire on Manuel II's death. Non-exarch Spain is a very loosely organized area, mostly operating under their old local lords with some Imperial oversight added in. Mostly its divided between alternate Tarraco, Asturias, and Portugal. Plus others who are significantly smaller. The Danube is still basically divided into the old themes, just no longer using that name. They are primarily military provinces with strong frontier armies, and organization heavily relies on military necessity as the Danube is one of the most consistent trouble spots for the Empire. Thrace meanwhile is well-established on the far side of the Straits. For these purposes this basically means the area is governed directly from Constantinople rather than through local governors.

    Greece, both European and Anatolian, is still divided into their old themes, though as with the Danube the name has been dropped. The most important areas of Greece are easily Thessalonika, at this point the second largest city in European Roman territory (after Constantinople), and ffourth in the Empire after Antioch and Alexandria just beating out Carthage, Athens, and Syracuze); Athens, which will overtake Thessalonika in population sometime in the next century as its dominant position over southern Greek commerce draws more people than Thessalonika can manage. Corinth, the old third great city of southern Greece is now on the decline, and while it will remain imortant is trailing both its European Greek rivals, as well as the cities of Italy.

    Anatolia is unofficially divided between the still completely Greek coastline, and the now far less homogenized central Anatolia. Poor soldiers from across the Empire have settled the interior, and they are of course joined by the Turks who were forced under the Imperial yoke. The area is highly rural, with even major cities like Caesarea only boasting maybe five thousand people. Theodosiopolis is the largest city in the region with maybe ten thousand in a good year.
    Part 70: The East in 1092
  • Part LXX: The East in 1092​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    No one ever returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Next time we will be looking at the European situation by the end of Manuel’s reign, as the massive Norman kingdom rises to its zenith, and then just as quickly plummets to its doom. It will leave behind multiple successor states, and leave the door open for the full return of people who hadn’t been dominant in Britanni for six hundred years, the natives themselves; the Franks try to sort out just how many successor kingdoms they want to form, and the Rus and Bulgars wage their endless wars on their pagan neighbors.
    Part 71: The West in 1092
  • Part LXXI: The West in 1092​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And next time we will finally get to Leo’s reign as he tries to fill the giant shoes left behind, and the Empire will see if the decentralized autocratic system of Manuel could outlive the great Emperor.
    1092 Map
  • 1092.png

    Some areas not really covered were in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, where local kings have taken control over their affairs, but they aren't really super important on the world stage at the moment.

    Scotland meanwhile is labeled unified, but really isn't. The lowlands are, but the highlands are about as controllable as they were for most of Scottish history, namely not at all.
    Part 72: The Late Thalassan Dynasty
  • Part LXXII: The Late Thalassan Dynasty​

    When Manuel II died it truly was the end of an era for the Romans. Manuel had been Emperor for over seventy years. Entire families knew no Emperor but him. The citizens couldn’t help but be apprehensive. After all, even at the time it was very clear that Manuel had been the most successful Emperor since the first Augustus. Maybe ever.

    No matter how good his successor was he was bound to be a step down. That said, no one worried too much. Leo VI was very much a known quantity, especially in the capital. He had been the face of the Imperial family since the death of his father John, and had held virtually every important office that might prepare him for the role. He had commanded troops on the Danube, overseen games not just in Constantinople but in Antioch, Ravenna, Venice, Syracuze, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage. He had spent at least a quarter of a year in each Exarchate, and was reasonably close to his relations. He was married to an upper-class Cilician woman, and had one son and two daughters. Constantine, Zoe, and Eudoxia. In turn Constantine had married the daughter of a Turkish leader from Caesarea in Anatolia, and Zoe and Eudoxia had married into important families in Greece and Baetica respectively.

    In other words, Leo was a clearly legitimate and accepted successor. The Exarchs themselves basically shrugged at the news and carried on as before. They had already mostly thought of Leo as their direct superior regardless. Little had changed with the new title.

    Outside the Empire though much had changed with Manuel’s death. The invincible Emperor was now dead, and his grandson was in charge. Perhaps now was the time to press for gains at the expense of the Romans.

    The Turks of Mesopotamia were the first to probe Roman defenses, raiding near Dara in autumn 1092. Their force was decisively beaten by the garrisons out of the two fortresses, and the Turkic Emperor sent along his most sincere apologies, as well as the heads of a few of the leaders. And he certainly had known nothing of the attack, not a thing. Leo accepted the gesture despite his, correct, doubts and did not press for a larger retaliatory strike.

    He did however consider a campaign against Markuria for control of the Arabian coast, and the return of the theme of Nubia. The latter of course had been abandoned by Leo’s great-grandfather when the Turks overran Anatolia, and the former was being hit with heavy tolls as the Markurian kings squeezed every coin they could out of the trading ships. Ultimately however Leo declined to pursue a more aggressive stance toward Markuria.

    In 1093 emissaries arrived from Daqin to meet the Emperor, and presented themselves as representatives as the Four Kingdoms under Heaven. At least that’s what the Roman scribes said they called themselves. These were of course the four kingdoms of Guinnei, Huianan, Jiangnaxi, and Lingnan. The four will coexist more or less intact in what we refer to as the Four Kingdoms period for the next hundred years, until the Huns overrun them all.

    Gifts were brought to the Emperor and returned. Interestingly Daqin sources for this period refer to the Emperor as Manuel, meaning that news of the change in ruler had not been understood by the emissaries. When they returned to Daqin and reported that the Emperor seemed to only be in middle age interest was sparked among alchemsists that the Romans had stumbled across an elixir for extending life. By the time any expedition could be sent to uncover such secrets however Leo VI was dead, and the entire possibility was written off.

    Daqin return to the world stage however is important because it meant that imports from the region could now begin one again in earnest. Silk, pottery, and other goods flowed into Europe over the restored trade routes, while once again gold and silver flowed out. The sudden addition of so much Chinese silk had a major unintended consequence however, as the supply suddenly had increased with no concurrent increase in demand.

    Prices plummeted, and a major economic downturn began. Leo began seizing silk in vast quantities from imperial producers and stockpiling it, but the price would take years to recover. When it did Leo found himself sitting on tons of the stuff, and aware he couldn’t actually sell it without making the entire problem repeat itself.

    A solution presented itself via Africa. New trade was coming up out of the Vastitus Magnus. For centuries trade with what realms lay beyond the great desert had been sporadic at best, but in 1075 a Berber merchant had struck upon an idea. He traveled to northern Arabia and came back with camels. With these beasts he began a journey south, eventually arriving in the kingdom of Ourangdi. Some trade occurred, and the merchant returned north with his new goods.

    The trip was a dismal failure from an economic point of view, and the man was dragged away by his creditors shortly after. But the idea had been planted. Berbers, Africans, Italians, and Goths began financing their own expeditions south, and soon camels had been imported into the region in the hundreds, and then the thousands. But the question of what all to actually transport was questionable. Normal manufactured goods were taken of course, but what many of the merchants wanted was something that was high quality, light, and worth a lot of money.

    Hence, silk.

    The Emperor began selling silk at market prices to these merchants, with the very clear understanding that none of it was to be sold within the Empire’s borders. This was perfectly fine with the merchants who began trading silk south. Gold flowed back, of which the Emperor naturally took his cut. There was grumbling about the taxation, since they’d already had to buy silk from the Emperor to make the trip, but the journey was generally profitable enough that the trade-off was accepted.

    In the north however problems began to flare up. The collapse of the Franks had led to the lands settled by the Serbs, old Pannonia being taken by the Bulgar king. Worse, Matthios and John’s campaigns against the Cumans had left the Romans in control of the region between the Carpathi Mountains and the Black Sea, historically Bulgar territory. Even if the king tended to run away every time the nomads crossed the Tyras.

    Its hard to blame him on that front, but with the Cumans now batted back across the river King Simon of Bulgari wanted his lands back. He had not dared cross swords with the Emperor who had bested the mighty Franks, but against a new Emperor things might well have changed. In 1095 a Bulgar raiding force cross the Carpathi mountains and laid siege to one of the Roman phrourions. The garrison held out, and reinforcements from across the Danube sent the Bulgars into retreat. There were no deaths on either side, though a number of animals were carried off and fields were burned.

    The message was clear however.

    Leo however sent his own message, sending two thousand light cavalry across the Danube into what had once been the province of Dacia, and striking a number of villages in the region. Once again few people died, but livestock were carried off. The Romans also burned down two of the villages after forcing the population to cross the river into modern Dacia.

    King Simon’s War had begun. Raids and counterraids flew across the border, sometimes resulting in small skirmishes, but no pitched battles. Towns in both realms were burned and people forced to migrate. At least one population was kidnapped no fewer than six times in the three years the war lasted.

    For his part Leo did not oversee the war himself. Nor it should be noted did Simon. Simon was leading a major offensive against the Polans. Finally, in 1098 a major Bulgar force invaded Illyricum, raiding the lands of the Croati who lived there. But as they were withdrawing the force was trapped in a pass by the Roman army and forced to surrender. Many important Bulgar nobles were captured, as was Simon’s oldest son, Peter.

    With such a valuable prisoner the Romans were able to negotiate a peace treaty. Simon acknowledged Roman rule over the region, now known as Dacia Orientalis, and in exchange the Romans would pay a rent of one hundred pounds of gold per year, for the next fifty years. In addition, an Imperial heir of Constantine’s would be required to marry a Bulgar princess. As neither person existed yet however this was a mostly theoretical agreement.

    Casualties in King Simon’s War were as might be imagined, light. It had however been expensive as Leo had shipped an additional twenty thousand men to the Danube, and a number of new fortresses were required in Illyricum. It had however given Constantine much needed military experience which he could point to as Emperor, and dispelled notions that Leo would be an easy target after Manuel’s death.

    In the north Simon’s war against the Polans was so successful that in 1101 the king of that people agreed to be baptized. Sporadic fighting would continue against the northern pagans, but the conversion of Polans was a key point in tightening the noose on European paganism.

    The war with the Bulgars over Leo turned his full attention, and treasury to an issue that had long been pressing, but neglected. Africa. Manuel had shifted a fair amount of money into rebuilding the African infrastructure, but turning the desert back was an enormous process. One that would require still more sums of money. Leo finally began to give out that money. The project would take over twenty years, and millions upon millions of gold coins, but when complete would at least restore Africa’s tax revenues to something approaching what they had once been.

    Leo however would not live to see it. In 1100 he became overheated while playing a tzykion match and collapsed, dying mere days later. He was fifty-three years old, and had been Emperor for eight years. Leo was a moderately successful Emperor. He oversaw Manuel II’s last years, maintained the old system of the Exarchs smoothly, and was successful in his foreign endeavors. That said, he also is something of a nonentity when looking at overall Imperial history. Sandwiched between Manuel II, and Constantine VIII Leo’s short reign simply isn’t particularly remarkable.
    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.
    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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    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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