The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Part 76: The Second Nubian War
  • LXXVI: The Second Nubian War​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What moveable wealth was present was naturally confiscated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John IV was a bad Emperor. But, he wasn’t that bad. He was lazy, gluttonous, and had a number of other vices. That said, like a number of the Thalassan Emperors from their initial decline, it can’t be said he let those vices impact the government. He had competent and energetic courtiers who were left in charge, and competent commanders to maintain his borders. So while he may have been bad, it could have been much, much worse. Indeed, as well see soon enough sometimes a competent and energetic Emperor can be far, far worse than a lazy incompetent.
    Part 77: Another Manuel
  • Part LXXVII: Another Manuel​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    That’s for the future though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But that also is for the future.

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

    In other ways his rule was quite bad. In particular, his establishment of settlements on the Euphrates was a stupid, stupid policy. It ensured that once the Turks were freed from their busy frontier in the East their attention would be drawn back West, to the Roman intrusion, and once that occurred war was the only natural result. We will cover that war next time as we cover the long reign of Manuel’s son Andronikos, and soon enough, the end of the Thalassan dynasty, and some would argue of the Empire.
    Part 78: The Roman Empire in 1192
  • Part LXXVIII: The Roman Empire in 1192​

    Before we move on to the turbulent reign of Andronikos, this is a good time to look at a wider picture of the Empire to get an understanding of how things stood inside the state, and hopefully get a clearer picture of why things are going to fall apart over the next fifty years.

    As a brief overview, in the far northeast the Exarchate of Armenia controlled virtually of the Caucuses, headquartered at the city of Manueliopolis, a small city of about five thousand on the Black Sea Coast. This region was historically one of the primary centers of recruitment for Imperial armies, as younger sons were forced to look outside their home territory for prospects. Unfortunately for Armenia the military reforms of Manuel II had led to a significant decrease in its relevance to the Roman army. No longer did Armenia provide the crack horsemen of the Tagmata, or theme armies. Now the men of Armenia were shunted into either the local army, or sometimes the tagmas of Syria.

    What worsened the situation in Armenia was the increasing relevance of their neighbors in Eastern Anatolia, the Anatolic Turks who ranged much of the Plateau. These semi-nomadic people maintained vast flocks of sheep and herds of horses, and paid their Imperial taxes with the latter. Indeed the horses of the Tagmata were often Turkish raised, including all the horses used by the Pedinoi mounted infantry.

    Additionally, the Turks were facing many of the same problems the Armenians were, a growing population and not enough land or animals for them to share. Thus the Turks also headed for the army, but their light cavalry and in particular horse archers were always needed along the Danube. To say that many Armenian nobles resented what seemed to them preferential treatment for these foreign interlopers is an understatement.

    Finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough of a blow to Armenia’s importance trade was beginning to shift as well. The Turkic control over Persia was growing ever firmer, and the Imperial apparatus there adopting to be similar to that of the old Sassanids, but with a significant mixture of Roman bureaucracy mixed in, mostly imported from the conquered lands of Mesopatamia. This control send trade south, through the Zagros Mountains, and then across Syria to Antioch and from there to the sea. And an alternative route was opening up as the Turks extended their control on the far side of the Caspian, so that trade could sail across that sea, along the northern edge of the Caucuses, or through one of the many river networks in the region, and on to Cherson, from which it was a relatively short and safe journey to Constantinople. Or, once Bulgari stabilized once again up the Danube to Germani. This journey was not without its perils, as the Cumans are still very much at the zenith of their power.

    All of this contributed to the general decline that Armenia was going through, especially in economic terms.

    As noted, it will not be many centuries before the region is really restored to a major Imperial priority. But of course, the biggest factor in its decline is still to come.

    South of Armenia lay the critical Exarchate of Syria, encompassing virtually all of the old Diocese of the East. Syria was heavily fortified along the border, with phrourions maintained in large numbers at numerous points, and the once fortress cities of Dara and Nisibis now surrounded by other, smaller, fortified positions. Each city held nearly a full tagma of men, and more were held back around Antioch and Edessa. Beyond those on the border though these soldiers were untested, having faced no major campaigns in well over a century.

    Syria was the main endpoint for the Silk Road, as good would travel to the coast here and then onto Italian or Greek ships bound for either Italy or Constantinople. As such the Exarchate collected a large amount of tax revenue, which was all taken by Constantinople, with the armies of Syria paid out of the coffers of the land tax. To clarify, the land tax, not just in Syria but throughout the Empire, was very much the primary source of tax revenue. It provided around three quarters of all Imperial revenue, with the taxes on trade being a small fraction of the amount. But, the revenue brought in from taxes on trade was virtually all profit, with the salaries of Imperial officials and soldiers paid out of the taxes on land, and taxes in kind on land were used to feed or cloth the soldiers.

    Trade taxes were thus primarily used to pay for Imperial projects, such as a full rebuilding of Antioch’s sewage system in 1181 to account for the changing population of the city, or to pay for the rebuilding of Syrian cities after the disasters of the mid twelfth century.

    Antioch was by far the largest city in Syria, and the second-largest in the Empire as a whole. By 1190 a full one hundred thousand people resided either in its walls or in the surrounding suburbs. This was part of a major population boom occurring all across the Mediterranean during this time, and Syria was overall less effected than other parts of the world. But it also had a higher base population.

    The Exarchate was also one of the most religiously diverse regions in the Empire. The Jacoboi held a solid majority by this point, but there was also a significant minority of Islamic Christians, particularly on the outer portions of Syria and in Palaestina, as well as Chalcedonians near the Taurus Mountains. Keeping peace between these groups was not a constant struggle, but there was more unrest here than in more homogenous regions.

    In the southern half of Syria was Palaestina, home of the Christ and the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem Jerusalem at this point had a population of only about thirty thousand native inhabitants. Each year hundreds of Pilgrims from across the Empire, as well as those from Western Europe, Turki, Arabia, and Africa made their way to worship in the churches and receive blessings from the priests. Naturally these travelers often brought gifts with them, and the city was very wealthy from endowments left behind. Churches were common in the city, and two of the most holy churches in the world had been built in the region. The first was the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Constantine the Great on the site of the Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The other was newer, built on the Foundation Church, built on the site of the old Temple during the reign of Constantine VI, and was more modern in its design. Based on the Hagia Sophia there were plans to make this church even grander, but they were shot down by the Emperor, who threatened to end the project if a church larger or more decorated than that in the Imperial capitol was constructed.

    All in all, Syria was probably the single most critical province of the Empire. Not exactly the most important, that role went to Egypt or Italy, but it was the lynchpin on which the entire Eastern half of the Empire depended. If Syria fell, or were for some reason unwilling to fight on behalf of Constantinople there would be basically nothing standing in the way of an invader to penetrate the defenses and ravage Anatolia, much as the Turks had done two centuries prior. And if you haven’t been reading ahead, no that definitely isn’t foreshadowing.

    Proceeding further south is the ever-important land of Egypt. Now of significantly lessened importance, but still one of the wealthiest and most prosperous lands under Roman control. It was also one of the most secure, far from the constant low-level border skirmishes of Armenia, Moesia, Syria, Africa, or even Ravenna. The only threat to Egypt was Markuria, which was we will see later is currently in no state to threaten it, and will not exist by the end of the Thalassans.

    Egypt at this point is in relative decline, with crop yields largely static as other regions in the Mediterranean saw their outputs increase. There are numerous speculated reasons behind this change, but the primary one seems to be that Egypt simply had fallen behind in infrastructure compared to other lands. Irrigation was still only rarely used, and the old reliance on the Nile floods remained in place. This was fine so far as it went, and Egypt remained the single most agriculturally productive area in the Empire, but its importance was far less than the ancient days when the wealth of Egypt was the basis of the Emperor’s power.

    Egypt was, ironically considering its history, largely Chalcedonian in religious character, and indeed was the strongest bastion for that sect’s thought outside of Greece. There was a sizable minority of Jacoboi in the region, and these men took up many of the most important jobs in the government. This led to not inconsiderate resentment on the part of the local population, but civil war was not yet the inevitable result, that will have to wait.

    Demographically the most important city was Alexandria, the largest port in the southern Mediterranean. With some fifty-thousand people the city was one of the largest cities in the Empire, though not near the level of Antioch or Constantinople. This actually represents a major decline in population for the city, which had about twenty-thousand additional people two hundred years before. The decline was caused primarily by a shifting of the poor population out into the countryside through recruitment into the army, leaving the overall population larger, but less urban.

    West of Egypt is the Exarchate of Africa, stretching all the way to the Strait leading out of the Mediterranean. Africa has recovered at least somewhat from the decline in infrastructure, but at the moment it is one of the less productive provinces, and one of the least important. With the Berbers crushed by Manuel II the only major threat to the Exarchate was gone. While some raids from deeper into the interior and occasional rebellions flared up the local garrison had little to do other than keep order.

    The Berbers were at this point mostly quiet, their upper class slowly romanizing as the years wore on. Two major rebellions had broken out in the past century, but both were put down without significant difficulty by local troops and reinforcements from Sicily and Hispani. A third is coming, and the Emperor himself will arrive to put it down, in one of the most brutal campaigns waged by any Thalassan Emperor.

    The largest city in Africa is of course Carthage, which by now had a population of nearly eighty thousand. Carthage was primarily a trading city, supported by the agricultural production of its large hinterlands. As such it really fits more into the story of Italian development. But Carthage was different in that much of its trade was overland, and looked south. The wealthy kingdoms across the vast desert there beckoned, and Carthaginian merchants carrying silks, spices, textiles, and perfumes, and a vast array of other goods now traveled down along the road, while north came ivory, gold, and of course slaves. The slaves would in turn be sold on to either Italian merchants taking them East, or loaded onto Carthaginian ships for sale further East as well.

    To the northwest of Africa is what was frankly the least important and productive region of the Empire, Hispani. Conquered by Manuel II during the early years of his reign Hispani had never really been more than half-returned to Roman control by any means. And now that control is beginning to slip. Not quickly, as it will be more than fifty years before the entire peninsula goes into outright revolt, but as Imperial attention was always focused on the Eastern regions Hispani was long forgotten. Local garrisons were small, and staffed entirely by local troops. Roman officials were scarce, and largely existed only to collect the annual taxes due from Hispani’s lords. There was a larger Roman presence in the Exarchate of Hispani, but even here actual influence from Constantinople was low. The Exarch ruled as a sort of petty feudal king, maintaining relationships with his powerful noble families that he used to play each lord off of their rivals, keeping himself always on top.

    There were few major cities in Spain, but the largest was Carthago Nova with about twenty-thousand people. Most of the smaller cities were heavily invested in trade, and in particular in the trade past the Strait and in the Atlantic. Merchants from Baetica controlled a network of trading hubs all the way to the Hibernia, as well as the Gallic and Brittanic ports in between. These merchants mostly carried finished Roman manufactured goods, in particular textiles, and brought back low-value goods in bulk, in particular lumber which they then sold on to Italy for ship-building.

    We will skip over Italy for now and arrive at the core of the Thalassan-era Empire, Greece and Anatolia. These two regions had largely been excluded from Manuel II’s reorganization of the Empire, and were still administered directly from Constantinople. When I refer to Greece it needs to be understood, that this also really includes the western coast of Anatolia, as even then the two were highly similar.

    Greece was at this time one of the most urban parts of the Empire, with multiple major cities. Of these cities the preeminent were Athens and Thessalonika. The latter had long been the primary center of Imperial administration of the Greek peninsula, but by 1190 Athens had overtaken that position. This had been for a multitude of factors, the most important of which actually had little to do with Athens itself, the decline of Corinth. For a long time Corinth had been Athens’s primary rival in southern Greece, and the two cities were constantly jockeying for position.

    But when Corinth chose the wrong side in Manuel II’s civil war it had gone into a major decline. Trade and administration shifted from Corinth to Athens as the former city was punished by the Emperor, and by the time Manuel’s punishment ended Athens had gained total preeminence over its former rival. Over the proceeding century Athens had used this position to elevate itself further, while Thessalonika had stagnated in importance. Athens’s position at the entrance to the Aegean made it a perfect spot for ships heading from Italy or Africa to Constantinople to stop before the final trip directly from Athens to Lesbos. Now this wouldn’t have been a significant detriment to Thessalonika historically, as ships would still have passed by it since antiquity.

    But, a second major development had occurred in the past two hundred years. Italian, and as the technique spread other, ships had begun sailing out of sight of the coast. Now this wasn’t an entirely new idea, the Poeni had done so over a thousand years before, but it had fallen out of practice by the fall of the Western Empire. But at some point in the 1000s Venetian or Syracuzan merchants had begun the practice once again.

    We don’t know precisely who was first, or even when exactly they did it, but by 1100 it was firmly established practice in Italy. We know this not because anyone mentions it in the Chronicles, but rather from examination of ship timetables. In the 900s a merchant vessel leaving Venice would take close to a month to sail all the way to Constantinople, sometimes longer. In doing so it would make a number of stops along the way, recorded in surviving harbor records. But, in 1200 that same ship would make the journey in twelve days.

    There were two significant developments leading to this, first as noted the ability of a ship to sail out of sight of the coastline allowed vast distances to be removed from journeys, in particular Syracuzan merchant ships now simply made a straight shot from Syracuze to Athens, rather than having to travel to Calabri and then on to Greece. But, and this is by no means separate, they began sailing at night. This was extremely dangerous while ships needed to sail close to shore, since there was a danger of running aground in the dark, but by maintaining ship movement through both day and night sailing speed was effectively doubled. We’ll talk more about other consequences next time, but for now, all of this meant that ships which previously stopped in Thessalonika were now no longer even arriving in that city.

    As incidental trade in Thessalonika declined however it gained a new significance militarily. The city became the headquarters of the Greek tagma, as from its base near the city the soldiers could be rapidly deployed through the mountain passed north of the city up to the Danube. What’s more, this garrison caused a number of industries to develop in the city related to repairing army equipment, weapon and armor manufacturing, and textiles. These goods could then be sold onto the quartermasters of the Roman army for distribution to soldiers (or sold by the nearly universally corrupt men who were supposed to distribute it), or shipped north through the river valley leading up to the Danube, where it would then be sold to the army.

    Thessalonika also acted as one of the stop-off points for pilgrims coming out of Bulgari, or from further north in Germani or among the now converted Polans, and from the city they could try to find a ship headed for Constantinople or Athens, and from there a ship to Egypt or Syria. If they were really lucky they might even find a ship going directly to the East, though at this stage that was rare.

    If they were unlucky and there were no suitable ships they would then have to proceed on foot to Athens or Constantinople to find passage. And if they were really unlucky they would wind up on a ship of a less than scrupulous captain and find themselves sold into slavery at the destination. Despite assurances from Imperial authorities that such a thing was impossible…it wasn’t. There are numerous sources which say it occurred, if infrequently, and six different court cases have been found alleging the practice, in all six the captain was convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. Though we don’t know if the sentences were actually carried out.

    Across the Aegean lay the coast of Anatolia, which as noted was very similar to the Greek mainland. Here the most important cities were places that had declined, and then resurged in importance since antiquity, but the single most important cities were Nicaea, and Dorylaeum. Dorylaeum was a fortress, home to a full tagma garrison, and guarded the most direct route off the Anatolian plateau. While it had not been used in that capacity for nearly two hundred years by 1200 the position was still strongly defended, and will continue to be so. Until of course the city was razed in 1248.

    Nicaea was the largest city of Anatolia, with a population of around fifty thousand. Situated on a major lake it served as a key Imperial center for the region, effectively serving as Constantinople’s center of power in the region. Bureaucrats and adminstrators lived here in abundance and administrered the entire plateau. It was at Nicaea that Turkic leaders brought the sheep, and more critically the hundreds of horses, with which their taxes were paid.

    On the plateau itself, things were largely divided between the more Greek West and the Turkic East. The Greek west was agricultural, with village farms dotting the landscape where long ago Manuel II had sent his veterans. These had lands divided into long strips, with each family responsible for specified areas. Each strip was long, but narrow, with different farmers designated for each strip of land, and then the order would repeat so that rather than a large block of land being worked by one family they actually had a large number of these strips of land. This is often surprising to modern readers, but the reason was fairly simple. Plows pulled by oxen, or by this point horses, were very good at going in a long, straight line. They were very bad at turning off of that line. It was thus more efficient to make each area worked by a farmer to be long enough to be plowed in one day in a straight line.

    Crops were largely planted by use of a seed drill, a device that is claimed to have been invented sometime in the 1000s by a monastic community in Syria. This story is repeated often, and normally held to be true in simplistic histories of agriculture. Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you it’s a massive lie. The first references to the story we get are in chronicles from the late 1100s, and the origins actually lie not in Syria at all, but further East. The first seed drills were invented in Da Qin sometime before the first century of our lord. They seem to have been a local device, until the instability of the previous centuries drove a number of merchants out of the country entirely. One of them brought with him such a device, and it was adopted in Syria during the 1000s, and spread from there into Anatolia, and then to the rest of Europe.

    Note that at this point it had not spread to Egypt, which has been theorized to be another reason that Egyptian agricultural output was stalling at this time. Supporting that viewpoint is that there will be an increase around the time the drill is imported in Egypt in the 1300s. Though we don’t know precisely when that occurred, so its difficult to draw a direct link between the two.

    On the eastern side of the plateau the Turks were still the dominant force. Rather than the village farms which dominated in the west the East was covered by grazing herds. Tens of thousands of sheep and horses were raised here. The Turks mostly maintained their traditional lifestyle of nomadic wandering, but by the year 1200 were beginning to settle down. Turkic leaders maintained homes in Caesarea, and the Turkic strategos, the one of the last men to bear that title, also was expected to maintain a home in Constantinople and live there for a few months out of the year.

    The Turks were thus one of the primary sources of horses within the Empire, and as noted provided the vast majority of those used by the Tagmata. As time had gone on Turkic soldiers had also gone on to take up many of the positions within that body, where they fought as heavy cavalry. Due to that use of Turkic riders however many of the Anatolik Turks had lost the skills with horse archery that defined the nomadic lifestyle outside the Empire.

    North of Greece was the Danube frontier. This was the other location where the position of Strategos was maintained, normally given to a Magyar leader, or that of a Slav. Although at this point there was little difference between Slavs and their Roman neighbors, apart maybe from names. The Slavs had long begun speaking Greek, and adopted Roman customs. The Magyar weren’t quite so well integrated, but their leadership were expected to know Greek, and often Latin due to the latter languages remaining preeminence in military affairs. The number of men in the region sometimes fluctuated, but was never below six full tagmas, and could rise as high as ten if the Cumans were making significant amounts of trouble in the north.

    These soldiers were divided with five in Moesia, including those beyond the Danube, three in Dacia, and two in Illyricum. The regional economy was heavily reliant on agriculture of course, as all of the world still was, but industrially it had significant regions dedicated to military production, or trade in military goods. What’s more, trading posts operated all along the Danube as goods flowed up the river and into Germanni. The Danube was at this point of the most critical trade routes in Europe, in both directions. From out of the north came an array of low value but still sought after goods such as timber, and furs, while from Roman markets came finished goods, and the eternal export of textiles. But it wasn’t just Roman goods that went up the Danube either. On the contrary, the vast river networks of the lands of the Rus actually sent their goods down into the Black Sea, then up the Danube rather than directly overland, due to the Roman route being easier, cheaper, and critically safer.

    On the death of Manuel III, the route was temporarily in decline as Bulgari was not yet finished with the instability and Civil War that followed their defeat at the hands of the Romans a few decades before, but that war will be over by the year1200.

    That concludes our rundown of the Empire as it stood in 1192. The Roman Empire of this time period is very much the economic lynchpin that kept trade functioning in Europe, and on the surface it appeared highly stable and powerful. But, there are a large array of problems just under the surface that we will see rear their heads in the next fifty years. From religious conflict kept in check by a tolerant Imperial administration, to the centralization of power in Constantinople. All will play their part in the end of the Thalassans.

    Next time we will hone in the region skipped this week, Italy, and cover the political developments that have occurred there and will lay the bedrock for the Empire as it will stand when the Thalassans burn themselves to the ground, and a new dynasty takes power.
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    Part 79: Italy in 1192
  • Part LXXIX: Italian Development to 1092​

    Italy was of course the homeland of the original Roman kingdom, founded in the 700s before our lord. That then gave way to the Roman Republic, which stood for nearly five hundred years before being overtaken by the Caesars who transformed the unstable Republic into what we now remember as the Principate, that is to say the Imperial Republic. In this government the old Senate remained powerful, but was balanced out (or outmatched) by a powerful executive who ruled as the Princeps, or first citizen. As time went on however the idea of the princeps gave way to an executive who was first, foremost, and ultimately only the military ruler of the Empire.

    Thus, came the Dominate, formed under the foul Diocletian. The princeps became the Dominus, the Lord and God of the Roman state. Fortunately this formulation lasted only a few decades, to be replaced by Contantine the Great who rejected the pagan evils of the Roman past and embraced the true religion. At least that’s our normal narrative. In effect though Constantine’s actual political changes were basically non-existent, even if his religious changes were naturally completely correct.

    For our purposes today though what the Dominate represents for the wider Empire don’t matter nearly as much as what it meant for the home peninsula. The end of the Principate also brought about the end of the special status granted to Italy by virtue of being the origin of the entire Empire. It became simply another Diocese, and a secondary one compared to those which defended the borders.

    That last a few centuries, and then the unthinkable happened. The barbaric Goths overran the peninsula, severing it from rule by its rightful Roman masters. That in turn lasted only a short time before Justinian I began his idiotic campaigns to reconquer the West, and in the process severely damaged what was left of the Roman East, utterly failed in Spain, and managed not to reconquer but instead destroy Italy. The Gothic Wars and subsequent Lombard conquest devastated the home peninsula. Cities were destroyed, populations wiped out. And for all of that the Romans were left controlling scraps of coastline and defensible cities.

    It is during this period that a number of major events occurred. The first is that due to the devastation caused much of the Italian population, that is to say much of the surviving Italian population abandoned the old cities and set up new settlements in more defensible regions, in swamps, on cliffs, etc.

    One particular example of this was the city of Amalfi, today little more than a small town in Campania, which was settled at the mouth of a ravine for ease of defense. Sort of, the town itself began as a trading post in the three hundreds, but only rose to importance when its position suddenly became very relevant.

    Then came the following century of crisis. In the Balkans Avars and Slavs overran the Danube defenses and drove the Romans south of the Hemus Mountains. No sooner were they beaten back then the Arabs overran the east. In this storm of events Justinian II made the incredibly short sighted decision to retake Italy rather than Syria, a move which should probably have gotten him a sword in his chest. But he didn’t, and with Frankish help Italy was retaken from the Lombards in the 600s. Italy however had once again been severely damaged by the war, and would not truly begin to recover until the Thalassans began shipping colonists from the overcrowded capitol to the peninsula.

    From here life began to return to normal. The last of the Lombard dukes were stripped of their power, and trade in the Mediterranean began to recover, slowly. In the times of the Western Empire the trade networks had been supported almost entirely by the Imperial administration. Vast amounts of goods needed to be shipped to the military fronts, everything from grain to weapons and cash to pay the soldiers. And of course the massive grain fleets that kept the Empire fed were a key vehicle for small time traders. The details aren’t important. But the main point is that when the West fell this trade ceased. And in the 600s the Eastern trade collapsed as well. Why? Because with the Arabs constantly raiding Anatolia and Egypt the shipment of goods from those areas also declined precipitously. Into that vacuum stepped the cities of Italy, which needed a way to purchase the food needed to sustain themselves.

    What did they trade you ask? Slaves. Large numbers of slaves. Mostly pagan, but there were also undoubtedly Christians captured as well. These slaves came mostly from the north, where captured prisoners of Frankish military campaigns, or raids by the Italians themselves, sent large numbers of Slavs, Avars, Saxons, and others south, and then on to either the Roman fields, or to the Caliphate. Yes, they sold possibly Christian slaves to the Arabic Caliphate. A lot of people find the idea shocking, but probably shouldn’t. As recent events showed even modern courts can require an absurd level of evidence to free an enslaved Christian, and they often still require compensation to the owner.

    Its absolutely something you should be angry about, and needs to stop.

    But before I go off on a tangent, I’ll skip ahead a bit. When Leo reconquered the East he revived the old trade networks along with it, and granted the Romans a spectacular addition on that front in a port on the Arabic Sea. More goods flowed in from the East than ever before, and the Italians were right there to jump on them. Normally Italian ships purchased cargos in Egypt, or Syria and carried them on to the West, where the newly powerful court of Frankish kings, and later Frankish Emperors, highly desired the exotic goods. For this they received gold, furs, amber, and yes more slaves. These were then sold on to the merchants in the East, keeping the cycle of trade going. Notably however, all of this was done without reliance on Imperial support.

    A major disruption occurred when Louis, last Frankish Emperors, stormed south into Italy and conquered virtually the entire peninsula. Trade was obliterated under the newly hostile regimes which faced one another on the peninsula. But just a short time later Manuel retook Italy, and the cities of Italy were so, so grateful they spontaneously gave him vast amounts of gold and presents to thank the Emperor for restoring them to Roman rule. While of course men with pointy bits of metal stood nearby to make sure the spontaneous gratitude was sufficiently thankful.

    The rebellion happened, then, but more importantly for our narrative was the appointment of the Emperor’s oldest daughter and her husband to the position as the first Exarch of Italy. Based in Capua the Exarch of Italy was, like most of the exarchs, an administrative post more than anything else. While Ali Umayos was granted significant land holdings in southern Italy his primary duty was to collect Imperial tax revenue and send it on to Imperial agents. This he did with aplomp, and little difficulty. The rebellious Italians had already tested the unbeatable Emperor, and did not want to try again, especially with his large Ravennan garrison just to the north.

    But after Manuel’s death things began to change. Tax revenue was withheld unless the exarch caved to demands, and Ali’s successors were far less capable. Until a man named Romanos took power in the exarchate in 1108. He called together a meeting of the leading Italian cities: Venice, Syracuze, Beneventum, Neapolis, and Ravenna primarily, and worked out a deal under which the cities would be given a say in laws put into effect within the Exarchate, and in exchange they would provide the tax revenue required of them in accordance with their population. This agreement in hand the representatives left. And they immediately began to go back on it. Not openly of course, but the baseline of the agreement left open to interpretation how their population was counted. A race to the bottom began as each city tried to minimize its population count in order to minimize its tax burden.

    Irritated by this, and the fact that he was still having to make up portions of the tax revenue from out of pocket Romanos called the cities back to a conference that took place in Rome in 1114. Here the previous agreement was once again agreed to, and it was also agreed that the cities would send representatives to Rome for discussion each year, and each would receive voting power based on population. This was in no way a representative body though. The wealthy men had all the votes, population was only used as the measure for how many votes were received in order to eliminate, or at least keep in check the outright fraud used to keep tax burdens down.

    Rome I should note was chosen as the meeting spot as it was far enough away from the Exarch’s center of power to not be too clear that he could have them all executed if things didn’t work out, while still being close enough that he could march a force up and do just that. And also something about the city once having been important, probably not a big deal.

    I should also note now, that at first this was very much a trading cities only body, but as the century wore on other towns demanded representation too, and were slowly brought into the larger body. Finally, by 1158 every major city in Italy, that is to say those with a population of at least five thousand, were represented, and smaller towns still sent non-voting representatives to make arguments in their own interest. And while city representation was theoretically based on population, it was in reality based on tax burden, as these cities provided the vast majority of tax money collected inside Italy. This wasn’t because agriculture wasn’t important, it was extremely important, but rather that the taxes on those lands were levied on cities which claimed dominion over that land. Thus the same land tax was levied as existed in other parts of the Empire, but the city was responsible for paying the tax, and no one much cared where that money came from. This led to the rather unfortunate side effect of the cities taxing small farmers into oblivion, then the rich men who ran the cities buying it up for production of cash crops, but no one who got a vote cared.

    Until 1176, when the city of Ravenna was seized from inside by unemployed men and women who had been rendered destitute by the practice. The exarch, Aurelius defused the situation, but it was clear that something had to change. That something was a restoration of the old patronage networks that had once defined Roman life. Rather than the wealthy of the city individually having clients however the new system made the poor the clients of the entire city. In Venice for instance city leaders set up free hospitals, grain doles, and free housing for the populace. Not good housing, but at least a roof for the poor of the city. In really good years bonuses of cash were handed out.

    None of this was done out of charity as certain modern rewriters of history might have you believe, but rather because it was felt that to keep the current governmental structure intact the entire population needed to share in the prosperity. As one lord of Venice noted, “better to give the wretches a scrap rather than have them take the meal.”

    So no, no one was living well off of the patronage, but they were at least living. And that was enough for the time.

    And that out of the way, its time to address the other big development in Italy during the 1100s, nostalgia. As Italy grew more wealthy the access of the population to a classical education naturally increased. It is estimated that somewhere close to a third of the population of Italy could read by 1100, and everyone in the upper class was expected to be able to read both Greek and Latin. Those who traded in Syria were also expected to at least be passable in Arabic as well.

    This led to a resurgence among the upper class Italians of old Roman culture, or at least some rather distorted version of it. In particular in naming conventions, as old Roman names became fashionable among the wealthy. By 1160 the Exarch’s gathering of the wealthy of the peninsula was styling itself as a Roman Senate, and had begun funding a rebuild of the old Senate House, long since fallen into disrepair.

    This project was completed in 1170, and other projects to restore some measure of Rome’s past glory began as well. The old Baths of Diocletian were torn down and remodeled as the Baths of Leo, named for the current pope. By 1200 Rome was at least a respectable city, though we should remember that these projects were actually pretty small in scale, as Rome at this point had a population of only about twelve thousand, completely dwarfed by any of the peninsula’s major cities.

    Thus, began the rather odd dual role that Rome played as both effective capital of the Exarchate of Italy, even as the official capital remained at Capua, and also as the capital of the Christian Church, a role which at this point it also still shared with Constantinople.

    North of the Exarchate of Italy was the Exarchate of Ravenna, which infuriatingly did not actually include Ravenna. It was instead headquartered at Mediolanium, and was primarily responsible for holding the Alpine passes into and out of Italy. By this point in our story the Romans have regained control over both sides of the passes, granting total control over all traffic into and out of northern Italy.

    Historically the most important passage into and out of the Alps had been along the coast to the West, and this remained a major route for pilgrims, but traders now actually mostly went through the north. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important is the weak central authority inside the Kingdom of Gael, something we will discuss later. While Germanni had the same problem, it was lessened by the fact that lords along the Alps were also far weaker.

    Trade from Gael actually tended to come by sea at this point in history, either from the southern ports of the kingdom, or interestingly up the Rhodonus River to where a Roman garrison town had sprung up on the shores of the Lemanus Lake, and then down into northern Italy from there. The site had once been a small town used against a barbarian tribe in the days of the ancient empire, but the settlement had been abandoned sometime after the West fell.

    This town, Genava, was a small port, and the lake on which it sat was a key passage point in trade between south and north. On the far side sat an independent town, Lousana, which made a living transporting goods overland from the lake to the Brouy River, several miles north. That river was short, and might seem unimportant, but is a tributary of the important Rhine River, and thus was one of the shortest paths to the Sea, though the trip overland was less than desirable. Most of the trade over this route was light, but valuable goods, in particular silks bound for the courts of Franki and similar items.

    Politically, the wealth of the Italian Exarch, backed up by the Italian merchant cities, had led to a degree of dominance by Italy over the northern exarchate of Ravenna. One of the major points leading to this was the ability of the Italian cities to simply pay Ravennan soldiers in cash what was supposed to be granted as land. Even when this did not occur the land that was provided was normally in Italy. Specifically it was the land that the taxes mentioned above were often driving inhabitants off of and into the cities. This created a vicious feedback loop, where a retiring soldier would be given land, taxed off of it, brought into the cities, and then his children would enlist in the Ravennan army for a full fifteen year service period to try and get land of their own. Only to receive similar land on departing from the army, starting the entire cycle over again.

    If a soldier was lucky he would be posted at the border crossings, where he could impress a traveling merchant, who upon the soldier leaving the army would offer him a position as a guard, either for the merchant’s household or caravan. This represented a significant increase in pay, often for less dangerous, or at least easier, work. Not only would the position ensure the soldier retained employment, it also gave him an avenue for securing the futures of his children. Connections made in the merchant houses could get sons and daughters apprenticeships in important professions, or land them positions as servants in houses of the wealthy.

    And the position brought on legal protection, as actions taken against a member of a wealthy household, or patronized by a wealthy household, would result in that house taking legal action to defend their client. And if legal avenues failed, well a dagger in the back in some dark alley would also work. All told the positions at the border were highly coveted, and soldiers competed for the limited positions, to the point that commanders ensured there was always a steady rotation through the posts to ensure brawls amongst the men were never too severe.

    However, a key consequence of the policy was tying the Italian elite ever closer to the Ravennan army.

    But for those consequences we will have to wait until Julius II seizes control of the army of Ravenna for his chance at Imperial power.

    Next time we will continue our overview of the world on the death of Manuel III by looking what is happening in Western Europe.
    Part 80: The West in 1192
  • Part LXXX: The West in 1192​

    To begin our look at the West on the death of Manuel III, we shall begin in the far northwest, and then work out way down, focusing on the various kingdoms in the islands, the former Frankish Empire, and Bulgari. There are of course a lot of things happening outside that bubble, but this is still a series focused on the Romans, and so focusing on the groups most important to the Roman Empire is necessary simply to keep focus.

    In the far northwest of Europe of course lay the Verdant Island, called the Kingdom of Gronland by the locals, which a century ago ruled territory that extended into the Transmere. That territory has now been lost. As might be expected exerting control over territory so far flung proved impossible for the simplistic petty kingdom structure of Gronland, and it broke away after a short war in the 1130s. That territory maintained trade links back to the island kingdom, but otherwise was fully autonomous, until finally being subsumed into local culture in the coming century. But that local culture adopted technology from the Gronlanders, and maintained trade links to the island, trading timber and furs for iron tools, an unknown technology in the Transmere at this time.

    But for now it doesn’t really factor into our narrative.

    South of Gronland lay the Norman kingdom of Alba. Once a major kingdom which ruled over all of both local islands Alba has now lost all of its territory on the island of Britanni. In 1131 a war broke out with the king of Caledonia, which saw the Alban king killed and his castled taken, leaving Caledonia control of Eorwic. The defeat ended the ruling Norman dynasty, and a subsequent power vacuum saw the king’s sister and first cousin go to war over the throne. At the end of the war the sister, Queen Matilda, was victorious, and secured her position as queen of the island, and one of the great warrior queens of Norman history, second only to Queen Contance of the West, who conquered an empire.

    But Matilda would never be able to fulfill her dreams of restoring Alba’s supremacy over the islands, as she would be consumed by further rebellions for much of her twelve year reign, finally dying in battle at the age of forty-one. She was succeeded by her son, William who would spend much of his reign fighting rebellions as well, before finally being defeated in 1149 by a coalition of lords and reduced in influence until he controlled little territory except that around the capital as his personal holdings. The march back to relevance for Alba would be long and difficult.

    The island might well have fallen under the control of its eastern neighbors if they had been in any better shape. But Brittani is many things, stable is not one of them. The Kingdom of Brittani had been forged during the previous century, conquering the vast majority of Saxon lands, leaving only a sliver under a Dane king in the eastern portions of the island. A century of warfare on the fringes has left the Britons in full control of the lands south of Caledonia. The kingdom of Brittanni was another highly decentralized state, ruled from the old Roman capital at Londinium.

    The king however was weak, and forced to rely heavily on certain powerful lords, particularly those in the north of the kingdom along the border with Caledonia, who grew rich off of plunder from border raids and skirmishes, even as the region itself was damaged.

    Caledonia was in little better shape, the king not only checked by powerful border lords of his own, but also by the natives of the highlands of Caledonia, who were effectively ungovernable.

    South of the island of Brittani was the kingdom Gael. Founded you will recall following the temporary Roman conquest of Aquitaine, and subsequent withdrawal just a few years later, Gael extended from a less than defined border in the East, south to the Alps and Pyrenees in the South. The capital had shifted a number of times over the past century, normally being just wherever the king happened to be staying, but by 1192 it had begun to solidly exist in the city of Toulouse in the south.

    The city was selected for a number of reasons, including its proximity to Roman Hispani, from which a large number of goods passed, but also for being upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, and having a good route to Bordeaux, one of the two most important ports in the kingdom, the other being at Massilia. The settling of the capital at Toulouse signaled a decline in importance in northern Gael, which will not be rectified for many centuries, and will leave the king of Franki a window to expand his influence and power in the region. The kings of Gael were mostly energetic however, despite their overall weakness, and set about trying to establish a power base for themselves across the country. Their northern holdings were mostly passed along to bishops to rule in the king’s stead, with the hope that these men would be less likely to become entangled in local political fueds than appointed lords.

    The policy was less than successful as you might imagine.

    However, the kings of Gael were in large part the most powerful monarchs in the West overall, with a large vassaldom to call upon, and a kingdom which stood at a crossroads between Hispani merchants and the northern trade routes, and as such collected a steady revenue from this traffic. Gaelic merchants were less adventurous than their foreign neighbors, but did a great deal of overland travel, transporting goods such as salt from the coast to the interior of the kingdom for steady, if less than spectacular profit.

    East of Gael was the kingdom of Franki, the self-declared remnant of the Frankish Empire. Situated primarily on the Rhine the Frankish king ruled a long, but narrow kingdom running from the Rhine Delta in the north to the Alps in the south. By far the most urban of the kingdoms of Western Europe, the Frankish King faced a dilemma similar to that faced by the Exarch of Italy, but on a grander scale. In Italy if the cities ever got too out of line the Exarch could call in the Emperor to politely order everyone into line, and if that didn’t work then a bunch of rich men could be rounded up and get their heads cut off. Whichever was easier.

    But the Frankish king simply didn’t have the power to do such a thing himself. Hi lack of powerful noble lords, and the loss of so much territory that had once been the Emperor’s left him quite unable to raise funds in anything approaching an adequate manner. And the Frankish king needed funds. To both East and West Marcher lords of Germanni and Gael were on the offensive, conducting raids, sieges and simple land grabs whenever possible, so that the territory of the Frankish king looked increasingly fragile as the 1100s wore on. There simply was not enough money to hire mercenaries, not enough lords to call to the banners, and not enough knights even if the other two hadn’t been an issue. Indeed, the knights who might have been available for hire were far too often looking for more lucrative jobs in the Roman Empire as auxiliaries, the Wandering knights introduced in the section on the Second Nubian War.

    Therefore the king had to get the towns and cities, far more of the former, of the Rhine onboard if he was going to turn back the tide from either direction. To this end he called the first meeting of what will be called the Frankish Senate in 1146, gathering representatives of the towns of Franki, as well as the nobles and ordered them to give him the cash he needed to fight the wars needed.

    They flatly refused. But, they did begin private discussions, and the next year when Aachen itself was raided the king once again called this gathering, and when he made the demand yet again a compromise was reached. The king would be granted a sum approximating seventy-thousand nomismata to raise an army and campaign for the next year. Using these funds king Phillip I, regnal names for Franki are not considered continuous with those of the Empire, gathered a force of about six thousand Brittannic archers, militia from the Rhine cities, and knights, and set about a war against the Marcher lords of Gael. He met with considerable success, and retook a number of villages on the periphery of the kingdom, as well as capturing a number of noble prisoners for ransom.

    The next year however yet more raids came, and Philip used more of the cash voted to him to raise another army and repel it, as well as forces from out of Germanni. These Rhine militiamen are particularly important. Coming from the wealthy cities along the coast and in the Delta primarily these men were well equipped in a fashion based on Roman infantry. Each man had a mail shirt, and a metal helmet, and was armed with a weapon known commonly as a short pike, but at the time known as a falchard. This weapon really wasn’t a pike at all, and its design will heavily inspire the armies of the Caesarii, and Europe as a whole, over the following centuries after it was used to devastating effect at Constantinople. The falchard was a heavy, partially curved blade ending in a sharp point, set upon a pole that was over six feet in length. Either the concave or convex side of the blade would be sharpened, though not both under most circumstances. The falchard seems to have evolved out of simple farming scythes. These men were the most effective infantry force in Europe, at least on this side of the Alps, and demonstrated that over the course of Philip’s campaigns. When placed alongside the devastating bowshot of the Britons (who rapidly adopted the falchard themselves) the effect was devastating.Philip was soon raiding the Marcher territories himself, and by 1160 had peace treaties with many of them. He died in 1163, having sworn to never call another meeting of the Senate. Note that this name is extremely anachronistic, but its conventional to use it, so I will be doing so.

    His far weaker son however was soon beset once again by assault from all sides, and having squandered the stronger treasury his father had left was forced to once again call a meeting of this Frankish Senate. They utterly refused to give him any money whatsoever, and in retaliation the king, Charles II, signed a horrible treaty with the Marchers, and returned to wage war on his own subjects.

    That might have been disastrous for the kingdom as a whole, but fortunately for them Charles managed to mysteriously stab himself while alone in his tent while his guards heard positively nothing. And you better not question them too hard unless you would also like to have a most mysterious accident. He had no sons, and so a new king was chosen from among his extended family. Philip II was a lord from the Delta, and proved far more willing to cooperate. In 1172 Philip II signed a Charter of the Realm, which laid out a number of provisions under which he would govern, primarily among those being a requirement to call the Senate into session at least once every ten years, and that he would have the rights to collect certain fees, tolls, and taxes at all times in response.

    Much as we might celebrate this charter however, which predated Julius II’s Great Charter by almost a century, it should be noted that it wasn’t really that revolutionary. All he had done was put into writing what was basically policy already, giving his nobles and wealthy magnates a legal say in the government, but on in which the king was still more or less all powerful. Still, the Charter of the Realm is a solid document, and if you are ever in Aachen I would highly recommend seeing it, though your Late Latin would need to be quite good to understand much of it.

    It was in Franki at this time that the first of what we might recognize as the Guilds were taking shape. They were delayed in Italy by an institution of social welfare by the city leaders as a way of forestalling any kind of social revolution. But in Franki no such system was in place. And so the craftsmen took it upon themselves to implement it. A guild, as you probably know, is an organization of all the craftsmen in the city. So the blacksmith’s would have a guild, the goldsmiths, the masons, etc. These organization set out strict requirements for membership and training, though despite certain claims to the contrary by those nostalgic fools, women were allowed to join. Indeed, we have records of women not only as members, but as masters. Girls and boys could both be apprentices, though girls were of course far rarer, and it wasn’t unusual for both husband and wife to be masters in their craft, even if only one had been through the formal process.

    This was considered pretty normal, and notably when one of the partners died the other would be expected to continue on, even training the apprentices still under their care. Now it is true that widows were often required to take on new masters when their current apprentices were gone, or to simply close up show, but this wasn’t always the case. And they were still considered beneficiaries of the guild afterward, and their children were often expected to be members, and masters in their turn.

    This system was not unique to Franki, but it was far more inclusive there. As such it might not be so surprising that the Cathari arose inside the kingdom as well. And it is from this group that one of, if not THE most influential writer of the time period will emerge. Sadly, we are a number of years short of the birth of Heloise, first female bishop of Aachen, but that will be something to look forward to when we return to this place when the Pope sends out his call for soldiers, and a very popular, well-spoken woman is angling for an election to that position.

    Philip II for his part viewed the Cathari as harmless weirdos, but noted in a letter to the Pope when the latter was considering excommunicating the entire group that, they were harmless, and indeed better followed the wider laws of the Church than any of his other subjects. The 1176 mission north returned with much the same view, saying that the Cathari far from being dangerous heretics seemed rather to be ascetic extremists, forgoing many mortal pleasures and steeping themselves in prayer, fasting, and penance. One particular point of conflict with the Cathari however was their refusal to celebrate Christmas, which they viewed as, to paraphrase Heloise in one of her letters on the topic, “a horrid throwback to paganism more at home in the heathen times before the Great Constantine than a holy day.”

    The popularity of the Cathari with the tax collectors of Franki also had something to do with them not celebrating the feastdays which lingered, taking only the holy week before and after Easter as days of rest in addition to the Sabbath. They were thus some of the most productive members of their communities, and indeed viewed it as holy duty to work their lord’s land as industriously as their own, something their neighbors absolutely did not do.

    To the east of Franki then lay the final breakaway kingdom of the old Frankish Empire, the Kingdom of Germanni. Ruled in 1192 from the city of Regensborg, near the old border with Bulgari. Germanni was unique among the Western lands as it maintained an elected monarchy, chosen by the powerful Marcher princes, originally a group of eleven men along the western, southern, and eastern borders of the kingdom. But the southern lords had been smashed by the Ravennan army, and now were but a shadow of their former selves. Following a German civil war in the aftermath their votes were stripped away, leaving a group of eight men to elect the king, always from among their own ranks.

    As might be imagined this solution to the question of who would be king was deeply unstable, and prone to vicious infighting among the various princes. Worse still for overall organization the capital shifted anytime a new king was elected, if the king was from a different family which was often the case. The most popular choices however were Regensborg, the largest city in the kingdom at about forty-five thousand, Frankford, or Magdeborg.

    The most powerful nobles within Germany, the noted Marcher lords were, as in other realms, lords who maintained their power along the border, and so were able to launch military adventures against their neighbors, pagan or not, and plunder regularly. The wealth brought in through these raids attracted more men to their banners, and their power increased steadily. The king, as one of the border princes, was unable to exercise any significant control over his Marcher subjects, leaving him weak and largely ineffectual against them.

    Germanni overall isn’t that important yet, and won’t be for another century when the long wars against the Baltic pagans begin. Ironically, on paper it was probably the strongest of the surviving Frankish remnants, but the weak central government ensured that meant little. And one final detail, while the Marcher Lords always elected one of their own, this was custom rather than law. And so technically the position was open to anyone who could get himself put in place…

    East of Germani are the lands of the Polans, those people who had long been foes of the Bulgari. But in the 1100s the Polans suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Bulgari king, one which resulted in the Polani army completely routed, and their king forced to sue for peace. In the subsequent agreement the king of Polani agreed to be baptized as a Christian, and pay tribute to the Bulgari king. That lasted right up until the Bulgari king died in Italy just a few decades later, which allowed the Polani king to break free and set his own course. And the course he set was drastically different. Seeing that the Christians were gaining ground everywhere he threw himself into his faith, and began campaigns of conversion among his people, while completely reorganizing their society. He adopted Frankish clothing and structures, adopted the Latin alphabet, and by 1192 had a functional feudal state in place similar to that of his neighbors. But unlike them the king of Polani was far more powerful. He held vast tracts of land, greatly outstripping all of his nobles and he commanded a large swathe of knights and men at arms.

    Much like Germanni though Polani will become more important in a later century.

    To the south of Polani was the kingdom of Bulgari, now a shadow of its former self. Last time we looked at Bulgari the kingdom was collapsing into civil war. It is now many, many years later and that civil war is ending. It hasn’t been fought continuously of course, but over the past fifty or so years there has been a new king ever three years, almost all of whom died violently. This period of instability also saw major shifts in territory as both the Moravi and Serbi broke away from the kingdom, forming their own smaller states in what was the periphery. In the north the Polani have pushed south as well, retaking a fair amount of their old lands. Currently Paul VI holds the throne, but he will be killed in 1195, and his successor will be the one to permanently end the crisis years in the Bulgari kingdom in at Battle of Pliska in 1198. But I’m afraid the most glorious days of the Bulgari kings are behind them, and the next two centuries will not be kind to it.

    On a broader scale, Europe’s population at this time was increasingly rapidly as well, driven by an invention which was revolutionizing agriculture in northern Europe. Invented somewhere in Franki in 1126 the heavy plow was far better than the old Roman plows, which were of course built for use in the softer soil of the Mediterranean, but in the denser soil of northern Europe was far less good. Agriculture yields were thus increasing, and the population increases led to even more land being cultivated, and new villages to be founded, ones which were in good positions to negotiate better contracts with their lords. The population of non-Roman Europe having increased from about forty million in 1100 to forty-eight million a century later. The population growth occurred in all sections of society, from peasant to noble, though of course growth in the former category was larger and more responsible for the large increase in overall population. Indeed, the increase in the noble population was primarily an important point for two reasons, first it provided a steady stream of young men with military training and the means to purchase horse, arms, and armor, but not enough land to actually support them all financially. As such they became wandering knights, looking for lords to pledge their swords to. Many would find their way south into the Romans Empire, and become auxiliaries looking for a payday there after a battle, or else looking to catch the attention of their superiors and be sent to Constantinople for further training, and eventually a position as an officer in the Roman army.

    Note however, that these men were auxiliaries and as such fought under Roman officer. Those men who were sent to Constantinople were almost never posted with their comrades. For our narrative only one of these men needs to be remembered, and he has just been born in 1192. His name of course is Constantine.

    And on that note we will continue next time, as we look at the developing state in Turkish Persia, the wars on its Eastern border which are coming to an end, and finally look past Persia properly for the first time and discuss events in Da Qin, where in 1192 a messenger has arrived at the capital of the northernmost kingdom to inform his king that the northern wall is breached, and horsemen are pouring through.

    The Huns are coming.
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    Part 81: The East in 1192
  • Part LXXXI: The East in 1192​

    To begin our look at the wider East will will begin by looking at Arabia and Markuria, dominated still by the Kingdom of Markuria, now on its last legs. Since unifying Nubia several centuries ago Markuria had replaced the long fallen Abyssinia as the primary Roman contact south of Egypt. However, since their defeat at the hands of the Romans in 1160 Markuria was very clearly in decline. Arabia erupted in revolt in 1176, and while this was put down it was put down by other Arabs.

    These Arabs solidified themselves as the powers behind the Markurian throne, and soon Arabic monks were filling key positions in the Markurian court. This would continue until the 1180s, when a second major revolt broke out in the peninsula. This time attempts to put down the revolt failed, and a major Markurian army was completely destroyed when a relief fleet sent to evacuate them was caught in a storm and scattered. Soon thereafter an Arab fleet, consisting of ships captured from ports along the Red Sea Coast, met the Markurians in battle off the Arabia Felix coast, and smashed it to pieces.

    The king of Markuria still held out his claims to the coast of Arabia, but it was well and truly lost. The new Kingdom of Hejaz, under a family called the Fatimoi. This group claimed descent from the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter, though this is about as credible as claims that the original Caesars were descended from a pagan goddess. That is to say, not at all. Whether it is true or not however, the descent was claimed to claim for the king the title of Caliph, which had not been claimed by anyone since Leo crushed the First Caliphate in the 700s.

    And the title stuck, giving us the Second Caliphate. However, this new state was fundamentally different than the old. The largest difference was the meaning of the title itself. Originally a term for both a religious and political leader, the first meaning was completely dropped. Indeed, the Caliph was crowned by the Bishop of Mecca, in a ceremony deliberately designed to mimic the crowning of a Basileos Augustos in Constantinople. Also introduced was a highly professional bureaucracy, completely unlike the rather ad hoc system which had kept the First Caliphate running in its century of power. The Bedwai were kept in line by a highly professional force of soldiers who had made their names serving as soldiers in the Markurian army, both as infantry and as the premier cavalry force of the kingdom.

    As we will see in everything from organization to military prowess the Second Caliphate far eclipsed the First.

    The loss of Arabia was a devastating blow to Markuria, both militarily and financially. The kingdom derived the vast majority of its revenue from taxes and tolls placed on Red Sea trade, but with the Arabs now gone there was a sudden boom in competition in the region, and the better organized Arab state that emerged was able to collect more revenue despite lower fees, pushing more merchants into Arab ports rather than Markurian. Tax revenues plummeted.

    Hand in hand with this problem was the loss of Arab soldiers for the king’s armies. Arab soldiers had made up the cream of Markuria’s military forces, both as mercenaries and as conscripts. And not just Arabs from the conquered regions. Soldiers from the interior, beyond Markuria’s realm of control, had signed up for pay as well, but between the suddenly difficult journey to join the army, and the loss of tax revenue with which to pay such soldiers, the capabilities of the Markurian army plummeted as well.

    The kingdom was not quite dead in 1192, but it will not survive the next fifty years.

    Northeast of Arabia is of course the main opponent the Romans faced in the East, Turkic Persia. Originally the great pagan empire that opposed the Romans, by 1192 Eastern Christianity was ascendant in the country. While Zoroastrian paganism endured in a small number of areas, notably Daylam, somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population of the state were now Christian. Note that this number does include the large numbers of inhabitants of Mesopotamia, who were uniformally Christian after what was now close to six centuries of rule under Christian rulers. First the Muslim Arabs, then the Catholic Orthodox Romans, and now the Eastern Turks. As this area represented both a densely populated, and wealthy, region it does rather weight the scales.

    This was an extension of a trend toward Christianity which had been ongoing even under native Persian rule, which the Zoroastrian Shahs had been unable to stem. Eastern Christianity by this point was highly different than either Muslim or Catholic Orthodox. While Muslims added the Book of Muhammad as a supplemental to the Gospel, and the Catholic Orthodox teachings now largely excluded the Jewish books from its own Gospel the Eastern Church did neither, keeping the Bible as it had been before the rise of Islamic Christianity and the Council of Thessalonika.

    I should note here that when I say that the Jewish books were excluded from the Christian Bible I should note that this did not mean they were not acknowledged at this point, that final change would not come until the 1561 Council of Melan. Rather it meant that sermons, teachings, and perhaps most importantly, copies of the Bible simply did not include these books. This was pursued by Jacoboi clerics as simply focusing on the Books of Christ, but Chalcedonians were highly critical of the practice and maintained these books inside their own works. When the Chalcedonians were discredited following the events of the 1240s their practices largely ended, even in their strongholds in Greece.

    But, back to Persia. The Turkic state was heavily focused on building a Roman style bureaucracy, but this effort was at this stage largely a failure. Corruption was rampant, even moreso than its Western neighbor, and the Turks were dependent just as their predecessors had been, on revenues extracted from tolls on the Silk Road.

    This is a critical weakness of the Servet Dynasty, much as it was with Parthia in the early days of the Roman state. While the Sassanids had been able to call on the Seven Houses of Persia and their solid foundations this was not true of the Turks, not least because the Seven Houses are virtually extinct inside Persia itself.

    Rather the Turkic Emperor relied on levied soldiers from tribal or regional groupings inside his empire to supplement his Turk cavalry. As was usual for Persian rulers Daylamites in particular were highly regarded for their infantry forces, but from Mesopotamia came further heavy infantry. These infantry forces were used primarily as garrison troops across the Empire, and would be brought up on campaign to support the Turk horse archers as needed.

    And over the past century they had been badly needed in the East. A general period of warfare had defined the Eastern steppe during the 1000s. We will discuss the far eastern steppe later, but north of Persia a government called the Western Liao Empire had attempted to subjugate the region. The Liao were a peoples from much further East, north of Daquin, but in the early 1100s an alliance of Hunnic tribes and two northern Qin kingdoms had formed, and driven them from their homeland. The Liao had thus fled West, to form this new state.

    In 1126 the Liao had defeated the Turkic Emperor, and captured him at the battle of Merv, forcing him to sign a humiliating peace treaty that effectively vassalized the Turkic Empire to the Liao. The Turkic Emperor was made to pay a large tribute of gold, slaves, and horses to the Liao. He died a broken man the next year.

    The Emperor’s death sparked a dynastic war between his oldest son and younger brother, eventually leading to the son, Arslan, to become Emperor. Arslan was a young and dynamic ruler, who began his reign by murdering all of his own siblings. But he then began an ambitious reform project to adopt a more Roman governing style to his realm, and solidified a tax collection system in Mesopotamia. The system was highly inefficient, but did bring much needed additional cash into the Empire. Finally in 1136 he felt the time was right to reclaim Turkic independence from the Liao.

    He gathered a large army and marched on Nishapur, taking the city and brutally sacking it. The Liao Khagan marched his own army south, out of his capital at Gurgani, meeting the advancing Turks. The battle which followed was bloody, but indecisive. In the end however the Liao Khagan was forced to retreat from the field, leaving Arslan standing victorious. The Turk Emperor marched on, and in 1138 he entered Merv and reclaimed it for the Turkic Empire.

    From Merv Arslan continued north in 1139, and met the Liao khagan once again outside Gurgani. This time the bloody battle that followed was a solid Turk victory, and the Liao were forced to retreat to the East, leaving all territory once under Turkish hands back in the Emperor’s control. Arslan died in 1141 while on campaign, and his successor Togrul was unable to maintain initiative against the Liao, being killed himself in 1144 during a battle near Samarkand. His successor, Solomon, was able to negotiate a peace in 1148 that saw Turkic tribute significantly reduced, though no eliminated.

    The truce lasted for nine years, but in 1157 the Liao struck once again, and in a series of successful campaigns drove the Turks back, retaking Samarkand and eventually Merv. Steady progress south was made for the next four years, with the two sides not being to force, or being unable to do so, a decisive battle. Solomon was eventually able to halt the advance in Kwarzem, but another decade of inconclusive fighting followed. Another truce was signed, this one for ten years, and required a far larger tribute be paid.

    Solomon died in 1173, four years into his peace, and his own son, also named Arslan, continued the truce for the entire period. But in 1179 he struck, and this time would not be turned back. Over the course of the next several years Arslan pressed the Liao across the steppe. Utilizing mercenaries from further north Arslan retook all of the lost Turkish territory once again in 1181, and pressed the Liao for a major battle on his terms. This finally occurred in 1183, and was a major loss for the steppe empire. The Liao were badly bloodied and forced to sign a new treaty. Many of their people were taken as slaves and forced to work on large fortifications on the frontier, designed to keep the Turks from having to fight such a long and costly series of wars again.

    More fighting followed naturally, as Arslan was forced to contend with his former mercenaries, but in 1190 he was once again victorious. Only to then die of sickness later that year. His brother took power, as Solomon III, the previous Solomon we discussed was Solomon II, and he continued the focus on the East, securing the northern border for the next several years. He did not return to the capital in Persia proper until 1196, and only then learned of the Roman encroachment onto Turk territory to the West. In a rage he sent orders to mobilize for war with Rome, but was talked down. The Romans would wait until the Turkic Empire had had time to catch its breath, rebuild its shattered treasury, and regather armies. But very soon, Solomon knew, he would do to the West what he had done to the East.

    And now for the first time we turn our attention even further east, the land of Daqin. We’ve very briefly touched on this land before, but never in any detail. This is primarily because getting into the long history of the Republics would be far too distracting from the primary Roman narrative, and because until many centuries in the future the two might as well have lived on different planets apart from trade connections.

    But of course, this century is the exception. For the first time in recorded history a war will be fought between East and West, Rome against Daqin. Or rather Rome against the Huns who happened to have conquered the place. Now steppe empires are nothing new. Going all the way back to the Scythians such organizations have existed, and the Huns of Attila were a devastating force in their day. But the Huns of the steppe north of Daqin were different. Highly organized, skilled at all manner of warfare, and adaptive to their enemy technology they would build an empire stretching from the islands of Ilbon off the coast of the Asian mainland of Samhan all the way to the border of Syria, and came so close to adding all Roman lands as well. It was the largest Empire the world has ever seen.

    Though the Hunnic Empire of the 13th century will be short-lived its impact was enormous.

    In 1190 Daqin was divided into four kingdoms, roughly aligning to old boundaries set by the Tang Empire. These borders are not exact, but will give a solid approximation. First, in the north was the Kingdom of Guinnei. This corresponded to the three northernmost districts of the Tang Dynasty, these being Hebei, Hedong, and Guanzhong. The capital of Guinnei was at Beijing, which was and is one of the foremost cities of the regions.

    Second was the Kingdom of Huainan which consisted of Henan, Shannan, Huianan, and southern Longyou. Huainan was the largest of the kingdoms, and had the largest army. The capital was at Zhongzhou, which you will not find on a modern map. The city was destroyed in the failed unification wars of the 1800s.

    Third was the Kingdom of Jiangnaxi which consisted of most of Jiangnan, and eastern portions of Lingnan. The capital was at Jiangzhou.

    Finally there was Lingan, which controlled the remainder of Lingnan, and most of Jiannan. Capital was at Guangzhou.

    The individual policies of the kingdoms don’t really matter to our narrative, except for the external policies of Guinnei. Bordering directly with Huainan, its larger and more powerful southern neighbor Guinnei had been forced to rely on northern mercenaries to retain independence. In the periods of peace the two kingdoms had been able to put aside their differences in order to wage war further north, and one such period had resulted in the destruction of the original Liao Empire north of Daqin proper. Afterward however hostility had resumed, culminating in a major war in 1157 that lasted for twelve years, and ultimately resulting in a Guinnei victory, but both sides were exhausted and short of funds.

    As a result Guinnei was forced to disband much of their mercenary army, and these soldiers returned to the steppes with a large amount of knowledge both about the kingdom they had served, and crucially experience in fighting sieges.

    In the steppe itself a power vacuum had opened up with the fall of the Liao. Into this void stepped a group called the Khamad Mongol. The Khamad Mongol had been the primary allies of the Daquinese in their wars against the Liao, and had used the victory to expand eastward into lands formerly occupied by the now removed lords. In subsequent years Khamad Mongol waged numerous wars against other steppe confederations, in particular the Tantans to their south, culminating in a decisive Tantan defeat in 1141. This victory left the Mongols with control over a vast territory of fertile land and large population.

    However the Khamad Mongols were far from unified, and this new power left them divided as lower ranking chieftains tried to secure more land and power for themselves and their group than for the whole. As such the chances of consolidation seemed lost. But, in 1151 a young man named Jochi of the Keraites, another steppe tribe, was driven from his homeland and came to the Khamad Mongol territory, offering himself and his followers as allies. He proved himself a capable and adept warrior, and soon had amassed more followers for himself. When war broke out in Daqin in 1157 Jochi traveled south with five hundred men that followed him, and fought on the fields of Daqin for the first time. Once again he proved adept at the task, and came to command a group of thousands during the war. When the fighting was over he took his pay and departed for home.

    And if you are having a case of déjà vu and thinking of the case of Servet after the First Nubian War then congratulations, you aren’t alone. There has been a large amount of suspicion about the early life of Jochi in recent years on this front. There are no actual records of him serving in the war between Guinnei and Huainan. That said, its fairly likely he did fight, but was not as important as later stories would have us believe. These stories are all from oral traditions after all, and ones passed down after he became the Genghis Khan.

    Regardless, using some newfound status Jochi was able to usurp control of the Khamad Mongol for himself and promised spoils to those who would follow him. Winning followers Jochi launched assaults on the other tribes, defeating each in turn. He abandoned the old ways of killing or exiling the soldiers and instead incorporated each tribe into his own, and bringing men who showed talent into his confidence. Using this network of followers Jochi did what no other Khamad Mongol had ever done, conquer his neighbors and unite the tribes. We remember this united steppe force as the Huns.

    But a merely unified state meant nothing if he could not provide the promised rewards. And the reward he had promised were great indeed. And so Jochi turned to the greatest source of wealth he could find, Daqin itself.

    At this stage northern Daqin was defended by a massive wall, built by the Qin dynasty in the 300s before the Christ. This was an enormous undertaking. Greater than Hadrian’s more famous fortification in both scope and ambition. It was also a complete and utter waste of money. Unlike the wall of Hadrian which could act as a fortification, control commerce on the island of Brittania, and divided up the land of a powerful tribe, the Wall of Qin was a fortification primarily, and one which was utterly unsuited to any job whatsoever. It was too long, required too many men to garrison it, and didn’t act as enough of a barrier regardless.

    Maybe if Daqin had been a place that was known for unity it might have fared better, but as it stands it really is difficult to label the wall anything but a failure. Later phrourions built on the frontier would far better serve the defensive needs of future states, and the Wall will decline in both importance and repair. Today little remains other than the foundations, the stone either removed as building material for other fortifications, or simply worn down by a thousand years of neglect. There is an effort underway to rebuild parts of it, but the project hasn’t met the large funding requirements that would be necessary.

    The ineffectiveness of the Wall was demonstrated when Jochi penetrated it at a point he knew to be undergarrisoned, and led an army of thirty thousand south toward Beijing. The Hunnic conquest of Daqin was on. Guinnen’s king quickly raced out to try and meet the threat with sixty thousand men, but in a battle near Xuanfu his army was completely annihilated and the king was killed. Among the lost were the artillery pieces of the army, which were quickly turned on Bejing, and the city fell after several weeks of bombardment. Jochi let his army loose to pillage the city, killing tens of thousands and capturing vast amounts of wealth. Surviving officals were forced to bow before the Khagan, and swear fealty to him.

    And that’s where we’re going to leave Jochi. He has just begun his conquest of Daqin, and the remaining states are going to have to scramble to figure how to respond. We will of course be meeting his empire once again in fifty years after Romanos III’s assassination, as his descendants turn their eyes west to Constantinople, and revenge.

    Next time we’ll be back on track with the reign of the next Roman Emperor, and the beginning of the Turkic Wars which will occupy most of the next thirty years of Roman history.
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    The Mediterranean in 1192
  • 1192.png
    Part 82: War in the East
  • Part LXXXII: War in the East​

    Andronikos III was crowned Basileos Augustos in 1192, at the age of forty, making him already well into middle age when he took full power, and he will remain there for over three decades. As such Andronico’s already had children of his own, a daughter name Sophia, and a young son named Nikephorus. On his ascension his wife was also pregnant, leaving the line of succession quite secure.

    His first year in power was highly tumultuous, as disease had hit the capital particularly hard in 1192. Curfews were put into effect, and homes of the sick were cordoned off, the inhabitants needed to go out at night, if at all. As plague died down the next year Andronikos likely hoped the worst of his reign was behind him. But it wasn’t to be. Indeed, looking back it seems likely that the first two years were the high points of Andronikos’s rule.

    In 1195 the Turkic Emperor sent a message to the Romans, evacuate the towns along the Euphrates, or face war. Andronikos refused, and sent orders for the Syrian army to undertake raids against Turkish border settlements as retaliation. This may sound like an overreaction, but do understand that these skirmishes were nothing unusual on the Syrian frontier. They happened every year, and were usually quite perfunctory. But of course, this time the consequences would be dire.

    As a Syrian force was returning to their base they were ambushed, and destroyed. News soon came that Emperor Solomon was gathering his army, and preparing to march over the Zagros. Markos, the Exarch of Syria (or rather his generals with Markos as the visual head of the army) prepared to meet him, gathering a full thirty thousand men from his command and moved into Assyria, capturing the city of Nineveh before the end of the year. The city was sacked, and Markos withdrew early the next year. The point however had been made.

    Solomon, marched into Syria himself in May 1196. He laid siege to Nisibis, and waited for Roman reinforcements to arrive. Markos responded quickly, leading out thirty thousand men to oppose the Turks. The two armies met a few miles from the border fortresses. Markos had his six tagmas, while opposing him was Solomon’s force of fifteen thousand Turks and twelve thousand Persians. The Romans formed had set up a fortified camp nearby, and were content to let Solomon come at them. The Turkic Emperor was put into a bad position by this move. He knew that the Roman infantry army was extremely dangerous when attacked by his horsemen, but at the same time he couldn’t simply ignore them. The defenders of Nisibis were well provisioned, and small quantities of supplies were snuck into the city under cover of darkness from Dara, as the Turks simply were not able to cover the entire perimeter with enough men to stop small bands.

    These supplies were not enough to stop the siege from wearing down the defenders by any means, but it did represent additional time Solomon was going to have to spend investing this fortress, and then he would have to turn around and repeat the same feat at Dara. All of this was doable, but not with a large Roman army at his rear. From Markos’s position the exarchate army could raid existing Turkic supplies or intercept new ones.

    Therefore, despite knowing it was a dangerous proposition Solomon was forced to give battle. Despite his predilection to using cavalry however Solomon actually had his men fight on foot in the subsequent battle. Against the Roman pikes, and facing minimal Roman cavalry he had no need of the horsemen’s maneuverability. And firing bows on foot gave his men a possible edge over their opponents.

    The two armies lined up on June 11, 1196. Leading Solomon’s army were the Persians, primarily a force of six thousand Daylamite heavy infantry, still some of the best soldiers a Persian ruler could ask for. On his flanks he placed the dismounted archers, and he spread this line thing, and curved it forward to partially envelop the Romans. In this way Solomon accidentally exploited a major flaw in the late Thalassan army, its complete lack of offensive motion.

    When the Romans had used this army to fight horse archer-based armies in the past they had done so using primarily crossbows, using spears to ward off any close attacks on those men. But on foot the Turkic bowmen suddenly had a major advantage over their foes in range, and were able to rain arrows down on the Roman lines, and in particular on the less well guarded flanks.

    The flanks were not undefended of course, but the light Roman cavalry were unable to advance on the Turkic lines without additional support. Support that without the Tagmata there simply didn’t exist. The days exchange was light, but decisive. Seeing that his position really was hopeless without additional Imperial support Markos withdrew after nightfall. The battle had left about one thousand Romans dead in exchange for only four hundred Turks. As noted, a very light battle compared to many Roman defeats.

    Yet for Solomon the victory was pointless. While his main army had been occupied with the Syrians the garrison of Nisibis had sallied, slaughtered the men he had left behind, and then used liquid fire to destroy his siege engines. Worse, they had partially overrun the Emperor’s camp before being driven off by the Turkic rearguard, in the process capturing or killing much of the livestock the Turks had brought with them on campaign.

    In frustration the Turkic Emperor was forced to withdraw, leaving Nisibis untaken. But the implication of the battle was clear. The Syrian army could not defeat the Turks without direct Imperial support. Andronico’s however refused to fully commit at this stage, and instead ordered the Armenian army to launch raids into Daylam, and establish supply lines from the north to the twin border fortresses.

    Turkish raiding parties however began to strike the Euphrates settlements at the heart of the dispute. Many were burned, but the population survived inside the citadels.

    The year closed out with neither side holding an advantage.

    As 1197 dawned the Turks launched a major assault on settlements, bringing siege engines and a large army. One by one the settlements fell, and the population were driven back into Roman Syria. Once again Markos marched out of Antioch with his army, and met the Turks, this time near Edessa. The battle was once again a stalemate, as the unwieldy Roman formation proved unable to force the Turks into spear range.

    As the exarch retreated once again Edessa’s garrison attempted the same trick that Nisibis’s had performed. But their effort failed, and the city remained under siege. After three months of skirmishing with the Syrian army the Turks negotiated the city’s surrender. This was finally the point at which Andronikos took the war seriously, and in 1198 he ordered half the Tagmata to Antioch to reinforce the beleaguered Syrian army.

    Their arrival later that year was a godsend to Markos’s fortunes, as the Turks had begun moving on Antioch itself. When the armies faced one another again the Romans had a major cavalry advantage, and used it to good effect. The Turkish supporting cavalry was driven off, and the Roman knights prepared to annihilate the weakened flanks of the Turkic army, but a lucky shot struck Markos as he gave orders at the front of their lines, and he fell dead.

    The suddenly spooked army lost heart, and the Turks rallied. The reorganized Turkic cavalry swept down on the Roman lines, and the army fled. The more hardened Tagmata fought on for a time, but the Turks moved to surround them, and the commander signaled a retreat, pulling the army out of a possible encirclement. Unfortunately for the Romans the situation did not improve following the battle. Antioch held out, but the army which the Turks had been fighting was now cut in two, the Tagmata pulling back toward Tarsus, while the Syrians retreated south, but many had deserted following the battle.

    With more soldiers coming out of Persia the two sides forces were unable to hold their position, until the Tagmata was forced back behind the Cilician Gates, where the local garrison was able to hold a defensive line.

    Things were very much going Solomon’s way. He had driven the Syrian army from the surroundings of Antioch, and achieved his immediate war aims but this was nowhere near over. Antioch itself stubbornly refused to surrender, with its large garrison and formidable defenses something the Turkic Emperor did not want to test, not yet at any rate. Instead, he left a token force to continue a loose siege and marched south, extracting tribute from the locals. Then near the ruins of old Damascus he caught up to the Syrian army. Now badly low on men after desertion, and with their confidence nonexistent Solomon attacked the Romans. A battle ensued, but the Romans broke and fled, scattering across the region, and in many cases returning to their homes.

    Losses were light, but the army itself had disintegrated.

    So why were the Romans doing so badly now? Quite simply because Syria hadn’t seen major fighting since Manuel II. There had been border skirmishes, but the men involved were still mostly uninvolved in the current fighting, being the soldiers of Nisibis and Dara, or their supporting units from the lands between Edessa and the fortresses Had the Syrian army been veterans the war would almost certainly have been over by now. But as it was, the fighting had only just begun. The Turks by contrast had an army that had spend the last century fighting wars in the East.

    In 1199 Andronikos sent orders for the Egyptian army to send reinforcements into Palaestina to hold off any Turkic advance, while he brought an army into Anatolia to drive the Turks back out of Syria. After decades of leaving the job behind the Emperor was once again leading troops. It was just a shame then that Andronikos was the commander in question. Andronikos was a forgettable peacetime Emperor, but he was a terrible military leader. He very clearly had no idea what he was doing, and it showed. His advance across Anatolia was poorly planned and supplied, with a dysentery outbreak partway though slowing his army to a crawl. Still, a large force of Danube soldiers was a formidable force, and Solomon’s rearguard commander was unable to maintain the siege of Antioch when the Emperor’s army emerged from the Cilician Gates. A short engagement was fought, but the Turkic soldiers knew when they were outmatched and withdrew in good order. Upon hearing this Solomon was forced to withdraw from his southern thrust, retreating east toward the Euphrates.

    In 1200 Andronikos planned a major three-pronged invasion of Turkic territory. He would lead a major column down the Tigris river, retaking the old Roman themes in the region. In conjuction with this a second force would march down the Euphrates, and a final diversionary force would invade Persia itself through Armenia. An extremely ambitious plan, but also a truly foolish one. By now Soloman had nearly fifty thousand men in Mesopotamia, while Andronikos had a total of about the same in Syria. Any division of the Roman force would be outnumbered by the United Turks. But Andronikos was unaware of just how badly he had underestimated Turkic organization, which let’s remember was very much the descendant of that of the old Persian Empires. The two Syrian armies set off in April, and at first made decent progress. Along the Euphrates several of the settlements were retaken easily, but on May 2 Solomon brought his entire army down on the fifteen thousand men, most of them Danube troops, on the river.

    The result was a disaster for the Romans. Twelve thousand killed, and the remainder forced to surrender to the Turks, and brought away as captives to Persia, where they would be settled in the East. None of the army ever returned home. But a worse defeat was still to come. Andronikos was completely unaware of the destruction of his second army and as he approached Babylon his army was set upon by Solomon, who now outnumbered the Emperor badly. The Roman force fought valiantly, but were overwhelmed by Turk numbers. The Tagmata with the Emperor defeated the Turkic cavalry, but in the process were lured far away from the main battle, leaving the infantry, and the Emperor with no retreat. Andronikos was captured, as was his camp and ten thousand of his men.

    Solomon forced a humiliating peace treaty on the Emperor, extracting an annual tribuate of a million nomismata, effectively doubling the Turkic Emperor’s revenues, ceding all territory along the Euphrates, and a number of forts in the Caucuses that bordered Daylam.

    The third Armenian force never even set out.

    The first round of Eastern fighting was over, but the war between the Romans and the Turks had only just begun.
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    Part 83: The Short Peace
  • Part LXXXIII: The Short Peace​

    Andronikos was utterly humiliated by his capture and subsequent peace agreement. Almost immediately upon his return to Antioch the surviving soldiers deserted, returning to either their Danube bases, or simply going home. His officials shunned him, and he knew they whispered behind his back that maybe the Emperor should abdicate in favor of his eldest son, who while still a minor also hadn’t had his name blackened by the failed campaign.

    The defeat immediately brought consequences in domestic strife as well, as just six months later a large Jewish revolt broke out in Palaestina. Jews had begun concentrating in the region over the past century since the Thessalonika Council stripped them of any protected status, and now with their numbers at a high unseen since Hadrian, and Roman power seemingly on the decline they thought to break away. But the revolt was a dismal failure. Egyptian troops were brought in rapidly, and Jerusalem itself held out against the rebels.

    Inside of a year the fighting was over, and Jews were once again expelled from their ancestral homeland, and would never return. Most fled north to Anatolia, or West to Africa, as the European kingdoms were little more accomadating, and the Turks actively blocked any attempts to cross the border. Those who did leave the Empire thus mostly went south, either to Arabia or to Markuria, which remained less hostile than the Thessalonikans were.

    The ease with which the revolt was put down did a little to ease Andronikos’s disgrace, but he returned to the palace at Chalcedon an almost broken man, shutting himself away for days at a time and seeing no one. He fasted, prayed, and performed penance which included flogging himself to purge whatever sin he was being punished for. To say that the household was not healthy would be an understatement. His two sons saw their father rarely, and grew up distant from one another. The older boy, who will one day grow up to be Nikephoros II, threw himself into his religious studies, believing like his father that some great sin of the family had led to the military defeats.

    The younger, the future Golden Prince, saw things differently. As he aged he saw little in his father’s failure other than stupidity and pride. He had believed he could never be beaten, and therefore had been with an almost contemptuous ease. It was a mistake the prince would not forget. In 1206, at the age of 14 the Prince enrolled himself in the Tagmata, quickly earning himself a reputation as an excellent rider, and mastering the use of bow, lance, sword, and mace. He rose through the ranks quickly, thanks both to his excellent education, natural ability, and nepotism, becoming a centurion at the age of 17, technically an illegal appointment, but no one much cared.

    Before that however, the Empire itself was not in less than great shape. The annual tribute required to be paid to the Turks was straining the state budget, draining money away from infrastructure and other important projects. It likely wouldn’t have had Andronikos been able to reduce spending in less essential areas, but he felt trapped by his humiliation. Public games not only weren’t reduced, they were increased, to try and build a measure of popularity with the people which had been so badly lost.

    Additionally, he had to increase both the pay offered to his men, and also the annual bonuses as he feared the effects of the defeat would encourage mutiny among both the officers and men. This was an increase the state could ill afford while all other expenses were also increasing. And the increased annual military spending had to be matched by the raising of nearly fifty thousand new soldiers, to replace those lost in Syria. Training and equipping these men was yet another drain on Imperial funds.

    This was when Andronikos began auctioning off land owned by the Emperor, and worked by his clients, to wealthy men looking to expand their holdings. While these sails brought short-term cash they also decreased overall tax revenues, as the new landlords were more effective at tax dodges than the old clients had been.

    Revenue fell below ten million nomismata in 1203, and would continue to decline for the remainder of the decade.

    Thus was the fundamental and fatal flaw of the entire Imperial system revealed. While times were good a weak Emperor could do little harm, now when times were bad a weak Emperor could wreak havoc even without meaning to. Andronikos’s policies in all these areas were abject failures, and all worsened the situation the state now found itself in. He simply did not have the confidence to assert any good policies, out of fear that he would once again fail utterly and be humiliated, and was left with only ineffective ones that did far more harm than good.

    But it was in 1211 that revealed how bad the situation really was. As was common the Cumans raided south that year, but with the Danube defenses still not wholly up to their old strength they were able to break through the outer defenses and ravage Moesia for the first time in over a decade. Andronikos however imagined nomad horsemen around every corner and could not be convinced to send aid to the region. Instead he wanted to negotiate a truce with the Cumans, and pay them a tribute to leave the Roman border alone. His negotiators were dispatched, but the Golden Prince wasn’t having it. Against orders, and the law, he led five thousand men of the Tagmata north, and met the Cumans alongside local Moesians near the river. In the ensuing battle the Prince successfully defeated the Cumans, and killed a khan in single combat, if the accounts are to be believed.

    He extracted concessions from them and nomads returned across the border with none of their treasure. Andronikos was furious at his son’s disobedience, but once again his weak indecisiveness reared its head. He was unwilling to risk mutiny among the Tagmata, against himself or his heir, by killing his youngest child. Nikephoros for his part viewed his brother’s success with elation, believing that his prayer and self-sacrifice had done the job. This did not impress his younger sibling.

    However, 1211 also brought happier tidings when the Princess Sophia married a Syrian magnate. The marriage was a happy one on both sides, and Sophia would bear an eventual six children, though only the youngest would survive her. The next year Prince Nikephoros himself married a Greek girl, and she would soon bear him a son, Romanos, named for a relative the crown prince was very fond of.

    As the year wore on however the Golden Prince began agitating for a return to war with the Turks, but his father refused to consider it. But war was still brewing once again, this time in Arabia.

    You will recall that by now the Second Caliphate had begun to establish itself in the old Kingdom of Hejaz, as well as Arabia Felix after the successful war of independence against Markuria. This kingdom sought to ally itself with the Romans as their predecessor in the region had done, an alliance which was signed by Manuel III shortly before his death. The powerful kingdom now looked toward expansion into the rest of the peninsula, and particularly against the peoples on the eastern coast, who were allied with the Turks.

    These two sides had erupted into open fighting when the Turks and Romans began their own war in the 1190s, and that war was still ongoing almost two decades later. The Caliph was on the advance however and had taken much of the southeastern coast of the peninsula, threatening to extinguish Turk allies in the region entirely. As it had been the fighting in the south that allowed the Turks to fight without worrying about their own southern flank this was deeply discouraging to Soloman, who began sending additional money and supplies to his Arab allies in 1207.

    In response to the sudden reversal the Caliph appealed to Constantinople for aid, and it was duly sent. Yet another drain on the Imperial treasury. By 1211 however the situation had grown untenable for the Turk allies, and Solomon officially entered the war that same year, marching an army down to drive the Caliph’s armies back. This was a blatant violation of the treaty between the Romans and the Turks, and the Caliph appealed to Constnantinople for war. Andronikos refused, but his message was intercepted by high ranking commanders, among them his younger son, and it was destroyed. Instead a new message was sent to Solomon, ordering him to stand down his army, or face renewed war.

    Solomon balked at the Roman command, demanding to know what a state which paid tribute to the Turkic Emperor was doing trying to issue him commands. He declared that if the Romans wished to once against feel his wrath then they could test him, and he was wrest all of the East from their hands.

    Not even waiting for a response Solomon ordered an invasion of Syria in 1212. The war was, once again, on.
    Part 84: War in the East Part II
  • Part LXXXIV: War in the East Part II​

    We’re now getting into events that even those with an extreme passing interest in the subject should be familiar with. I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the King of the City. It is here that the first membri of that series begins, with the Golden Prince deliberately provoking a war with the Turks in order to win glory for himself, and restore his father’s honor. Or at least the first one, as every indication is that the prince held his father in contempt by this stage in his life. And as a side-note, I am aware that this whole section is more or less just the early life story of the Golden Prince, but as he is a far more fascinating figure than his father or brother, I do beg pardon for that.

    In Persia, Solomon himself however would not live to see the resumption of war properly, as he died of natural causes shortly after ordering an invasion force prepared. His son Arslan IV rapidly silenced dissent among his relatives, that is to say he killed most of them, and took the throne as Emperor.

    The war was still on however, and Arslan believe he could be just as successful on the field as his father had been, and to be fair he was entirely right. Up until he wasn’t. Before he had died Solomon had carefully moved supplies of sheep and grain up the Euphrates to be collected on his advance, and Arslan took full advantage of this. Bypassing the main Roman fortresses he ravaged northern Syria, and launched a quick campaign across the desert to strike toward the southern portion of the exarchate.

    Local troops melted away before the Turkic assault, not confident of victory after their defeats in the 1190s. The exarch meanwhile sent desperate calls to Constantinople for reinforcements. But those reinforcements did not come. With the moment of renewed war upon him Andronikos suffered a nervous breakdown, unable to make decisions at all, even indecisive ones. He was terrified of what would happen if he screwed up yet again. So his son Nikephoros quietly assumed the reins of power, and began to more or less make the same mistakes his father had.

    He first attempted to pull soldiers off the Danube, but his messengers encountered extremely unwilling soldiers, who knew what had happened the last time they’d been marched off to Syria. After his envoys were beaten by the men it was made clear by the Moesian commanders that any attempt to force their men across the Empire would end in mutiny, and it would be all to easy from there to slip into civil war.

    The Golden Prince offered to rally the men himself, as they were loyal to him after his successes the previous decade, but the offer was refused. Nikephoros respected his brother, but faced with the possibility of rebellious troops he couldn’t dare send them a possible claimant to the throne. Such a situation might well lead to the shaky position of the Imperial court to be thrown into civil war despite his best efforts. Instead the Prince was sent into Anatolia to train new soldiers to send to Syria, a process that would take at least a couple of years before the men were ready for real battle.

    It was at this time that the prince really acquired his nickname, taken from the armor that he and his guards wore, which was embossed with goldleaf, and their purple banners were embroidered using silk woven with gold thread. All of this was to ensure that wherever the prince was all of the army could see him and his guard. As they were always in the thick of the fighting his soldiers would know that their prince had not abandoned them, that he was always confident of victory.

    While the Prince raised reinforcements in Anatolia, the war in Syria was going badly. Both Edessa and Amida fell in 1214, giving the Turks solid bases in the East. But worse was still to come. With Imperial reinforcements still scarce following the failure to raise troops from the Danube border, and with Egyptian forces engaged in fighting against Arab tribes in Palaestina, the Turks were able to drive the Syrians back throughout the remainder of the year, until they besieged Antioch itself at the end of 1214. The city was strong and its garrison large, but it wasn’t enough. After a nine-month siege the city gave up, surrendering to the Turks in 1215. When the city fell four full tagmas were forced to surrender, taking from the Romans 20,000 men. And Antioch itself was one of the most populous cities in Syria. Its fall was a devastating blow.

    Arslan was under no delusions he could hold the city from an inevitable counterattack, so after demolishing the city’s walls and carting his prisoners away he withdrew. Antioch however had been hit hard by the siege. Some ten thousand people had died, and another twenty thousand had fled. The population had shrunk by nearly a third in total. What was worse the ruin of the citadel and walls rendered its strategic value virtually nonexistent.

    Things went less well the next year when the army of Armenia dealt a major blow to a force invading out of Daylam, driving them back across the border and seizing the fortresses in the region. But in Syria the Turks were once again on the offensive. They met the Egyptian army near the ruins of Damascus, the outnumbered Egyptians were defeated in battle, forcing them to retreat to positions in Palaestina rather than continue the fight in Syria itself. By the end of 1217 all of Syria was in Turkic hands, save the lands west of Antioch, and the region around Dara and Nisibis, which stubbornly held out against Turkic sieges.

    In 1218 the Turks approached the Romans and offered peace terms. The old tribute would be reinstated, but the Romans would be forced to cede large parts of Syria to the Turkic Emperor, and agree to hand over Nisibis as well. Nikephoros, now terrified that despite all the penance done by himself and his father was tempted, but talked out of accepting by his brother. The Prince now also convinced Nikephoros to let him go to Syria and try to salvage the situation. Nikephoros again refused, now believing more than ever that his brother would be declared Emperor by his men if he was successful. Instead the Prince was sent to Italy to raise funds and men to be shipped East.

    This was a mistake.

    The level of the mistake was revealed in 1219 when Arslan once again was able to lay siege to Antioch, and was attacked by an Imperial army coming out of Anatolia of some twenty-five thousand. In the fighting that followed the Romans were badly beaten by the now entirely veteran, and highly confident Turkish force, and forced to retreat. Antioch, its defenses so newly patched, was once again forced to surrender. This time Arslan did not withdraw, but settled into the city and prepared to annex all of Syria to the Turkic Empire.

    Something had to give and everyone knew it. The Romans had lost battle after battle, but they simply would not quit fighting, as the Imperial heir tried desperately to determine what would please God enough to spare him further defeats. Whatever it was that God wanted was not revealed, as the next year Arslan, now with even more reinforcments from Persia attacked south into Palaestina, defeating the Egyptians once again and occupying the northern parts of the region.

    But this was at least the Turk highwater mark. Arslan had spread his forces too thing, and he was forced back by a combined Caliphate-Egyptian army in mid-1221. More importantly however, in 1221 Andronikos III died. He was seventy years old, and had been Emperor for 29 years.

    Andronikos was a terrible Emperor. He was thoroughly forgettable in peace, but in war he proved a complete disaster. And after walking into that disaster what good qualities he had in peace disappeared. He was indecisive, weak, and ultimately was removed from power by a son who should also have been a weak ruler, but by comparison comes off as strong and decisive, if nowhere near as strong and decisive as his own successor. Andronikos III only misses out on being the worst Emperor of this century, of this entire time period, by the one who would come not long after his own death. And it was in large part Andronikos’s personal failing that brought the mad Emperor to power. Perhaps if he had been a better patriarch of the Imperial family things would have turned out differently. But they didn’t, and his oldest son neglected his own familial ties in pursuit of some imagined pietal purity that would restore Roman greatness, when what was actually needed was just strong leadership.

    He is rightly confined to the dustbin of history.

    But his death was a critical moment in the Turkic War. It meant that Nikephoros was no longer just another Prince, if the one in line for the throne. It meant he was now the Emperor, and his brother no longer a threat in his mind. The Golden Prince received his orders just a week after word of his father’s death. Take the Tagmata, raise what reinforcements he could, go to Syria, and crush the Turks.

    The Prince did so without hestitation. Now firmly in charge of the entire war effort he immediately raised the entire Tagmata, and successfully convinced five thousand men from the Danube to follow him to Syria, with promises of loot and glory, the sort their predecessors had earned under him against the Cumans in the first decade of the century. As he marched across Anatolia more soldiers were gathered from garrisons, all with promises of glory and plunder.

    Crossing the Silician Gates the Prince met his first challenge by a small Turk army that was blocking passage to Antioch, and in a short battle he crushed and scattered them, his decisive use of heavy cavalry overwhelming the smaller Turkic force. He entered Antioch before the end of the year without a fight.

    In Antioch the officers under the Golden Prince offered a number of plans to retake Imperial territory, but the Prince rejected them all. No, he wasn’t interested in a long slow war of sieges, not when he could end the war by going after the source, the Turkic Emperor himself. Defeat him, destroy his army, and the war was over.

    When 1222 began the Prince immediately marched out to fulfill his plans. Bringing along an army that now included some ten thousand Syrian soldiers who had survived the war to this point, he tracked down Arslan’s main army as it returned toward Dara, and engaged them in battle near Amida. The battle went well initially, but after a few hours of fighting a Turkic charge spooked the Syrians, and thinking the battle lost they broke and fled. The now badly outnumbered Imperial army was forced to withdraw to avoid a collapse of the entire flank.

    The Prince was furious at the cowardice of the Syrians, and he gave a speech haranguing them for their flight. But he told them, they would get a chance to redeem themselves. Any hope of the men however was dashed when the prince ordered the Syrians decimated. They were shocked and appalled. Decimation had been illegal for six hundred years, but the Prince was deadly serious. The Syrians clearly had no stomach for fighting, and so he would force it on them. They would now either obey his orders, or he would drive them out of the camp and into the waiting Turkic army.

    The men did as they were ordered, at spearpoint of the Tagmata and Danube troops, who had seen the Prince be the first into and the last out of the battle. Even after the decimation harsh discipline was enforced on the Syrians, to force them to adapt and become better, or at least harder, soldiers. Punishments for infractions were swift and brutal, with at least five men executed over the next month for various misdeeds.

    But, for the Prince’s purposes it worked. The Syrians now feared him more than they feared Arslan, and when they next met in battle the Syrians would not flee. But nor would they forget the brutal treatment by the Imperial Prince, and in time will be one of the first to rise in rebellion when the Emperor’s madness grew too much to bear.

    Getting the Syrians into shape took the remainder of 1222, during which time the Prince returned to Antioch so he could receive supplies through the nearby ports, and raise more soldiers for the coming battle. That battle came in 1223, and was the end of the Eastern War. The two sides met in the Syrian desert, and Arslan was well prepared for the Imperial onslaught. Knowing that his horsemen were unlikely to withstand the onslaught of the Imperial heavy cavalry, who actually outnumbered his own horse, he dipped into old tactics and dug a ditch across the battlefield, and trained his men to ride across the solid portions while pretending to flee.

    But the Prince noticed something was amiss, and as the two armies faced off with one another over a period of several days he took a force out at night to scout near the Turkic camp. There they discovered the ditch, and the Prince had a wonderful idea. The night before the battle he concealed a force of men armed with axes, crossbows, and shovels behind a dune near one side of the trench, and placed most of his cavalry upon that side of his lines.

    Arslan seeing this believed his plan was working perfectly, and so positioned his own cavalry opposite their Imperial brethren. The two sides began to skirmish, and unnoticed by the Turks who were focused on the fighting in front of them the concealed Imperials emerged and entered the ditch, moving stealthily along until they came to the crossings. Working as fast as they could these were lowered, not to the bottom of the trench as that would have taken too long, but enough that the Turkic horsemen would not be able to cross without falling to their doom.

    It was only done in a few spots, but they didn’t need to close off all of the crossings anyway, just enough that the men themselves could cover the rest. As the morning wore on the Prince noticed a brief signal sent by one of the men in the ditch, and ordered his army forward. The Tagmatic cavalry bore down on their Turkish opposites, and battle was joined, while the Imperial infantry began advancing on their Turkic foes as well. After a brief fight the Turkic cavalry seemingly broke and ran, fleeing back toward the ditch as planned.

    But to their shock the crossing that was meant to be their salvation was gone, and men and horses plunged into the ditch to their deaths, while the two crossings that remained intact were suddenly blocked by Roman soldiers firing crossbows, or formed up in close formation. Pressed against their own ditch and the Romans the Turkic cavalry was slaughtered to the last man.

    Arslan from his own position could only watch in horror as the Roman cavalry slowly turned, leveled their spears at the back of the Turkic infantry, now hemmed in by Roman infantry, and began to trot forward. On and on they came, slowly at first, but picking up speed. At their head was the Golden Prince himself, immediately recognizable from his banner and armor. His men cheered and sang a hymn as they plowed into the Turkic rear, raising and lowering their spears as they slaughtered anyone who came across them.

    The Turks broke and fled, but the Romans pursued and showed no mercy. Of the thirty-five thousand men Arslan had begun the day with, it is estimated that between the slaughter and subsequent desertion he was left with under two thousand when the Prince overran his camp and captured the fleeing Emperor that evening.

    The tables had indeed turned. Arslan was informed coldly that he could either agree to an Imperial peace, or be executed and a peace would be enforced on his successor. Knowing that the political situation in Persia would be terrible with the defeat and slaughter of his army, which included his most powerful supporters, Arslan saw the writing on the wall, and could only hope that the peace offered was reasonable.

    He was disappointed. The peace offered was both harsh and humiliating. All territory would be returned, and all alliances between the Turks and the Arabs were to be immediately dissolved. Fortresses in Daylam facing Armenia would be dismantled, and the revenues of Assyria would be given as gifts to the Roman Emperor for the next twenty Years. As an additional indemnity all payments made to the Turks since Andronikos’s defeat were to be repaid, with interest. But just to rub salt in the wound Arslan wasn’t even to be immediately allowed to sign. First he would have to pay a ransom simply for that privilege of signing so magnanimous a document.

    With the army of Persia literally in pieces around him Arslan was forced to accept, and immediately paid his weight in gold to the Prince. According to the stories, the Golden Prince told him coldly that if the Turkic Emperor was unhappy with the terms he could try again, and see how much harsher terms could get when his army was defeated once again. Then, after the signing was complete the Prince cut the right hand off of the Turkic Emperor, telling him that if there was a next time, then Arslan would not be signing whatever terms were offered. A sensationalist, and almost certainly false account.

    But what happened next was not. Throwing the Turkic Emperor from the Roman camp in humiliation the Golden Prince returned to his victorious troops, who were splitting the booty captured during the battle among themselves. He stood before them in triumph, hoisting his banner aloft for all to see. aAs one they hailed him for his magnificent victory. “Hail Imperator. Hail Basileos. Hail Romanos.”

    Because the son of Nikephoros was named for his brother. The Golden Prince, himself. Romanos the Mad.
    Part 85: Romanos the Conqueror
  • Part LXXXV: Romanos the Conqueror​

    Before we begin, I will note that the end of the Turkic war is typically where historians cease to refer to Romanos as the Golden Prince, the nickname he was given in the chronicles at this point, and refer to him as Romanos III from here on out. I will be following this, but do recall as we move forward that we are still talking about the same man. Because everything that Romanos is going to do as Emperor was completely in keeping with his younger years. The sadism, the refusal to show mercy, the aggression, the martial obsession. All of it is exactly the same as it was when he was just a prince, only now on a much grander scale.

    He wintered in Antioch, preparing more men for the coming campaign. His men returned to Antioch for the remainder of 1223, performing cleanup of the region, retaking any towns still under Turkic control and smashing any Turkic raiding parties that remained. Word was sent to Constantinople of the victory, but nothing was yet said of the brewing rebellion. But even as Nikephoros prayed daily in thanks for being spared the Turkic threat, Romanos was working behind the scenes. He either assassinated the exarch of Syria or got extraordinarily lucky with the man’s death, before taking the wife and young son of the leader under his protection.

    When 1224 began however the secrecy was cast aside, and Romanos declared himself Emperor on March 1, 1224 and began his march into Anatolia. No one stood in his way, the local Anatolian troops either were already in his army, or were unwilling to stand before the victorious soldiers. Their commanders didn’t try to make them, as in a contest between the Golden Prince and his brother no one had any illusions of which commander would win out.

    Nikephorus found out about the rebellion on March 12, and rapidly sent out messengers to try and rally support. The African and Egyptian Exarchs both received the messages, and might have been willing to back him, but they were too far away. Instead their replies were non-committal. In Italy however Gaius Caesarus sent a fleet of ships to reinforce the fleet of Constantinople, and began preparations with the Exarch of Ravenna to send forces to defend the capital, but they would arrive too late.

    Romanos reached the Bosphorus in July 1224 and had his army camp within sight of the city, and even captured the main Imperial residence outside Chalcedon. But with the Italian fleet now firmly in place between the usurper and the Emperor it seemed a stalemate might ensue. But the Prince was having none of that. In another daring move he crossed the strait at night, alone, and traveled north through the Hemus Mountains, and rallied a force of Danube troops behind him, returning south, surrounding the city.

    Nikephorus, surrounded and with the Italian army too far away decided to avert civil war and sent out messengers to surrender, and a deal was worked out. The Emperor would abdicate for a monastery, and his son would be adopted as Romanos’s heir. The Golden Prince entered the city to cheers of the population, the great war hero returning to claim his prize as ruler of the Empire he had saved.

    Nikephorus departed the city the same day, settling in a monastery in Anatolia. Romanos basked in the public adoration, made a great showing of sparing his brother, and adopting the man’s son as his own.

    A week later the order was sent, and Nikephorus was executed. He was 35 years old, and had been Emperor for three years. Nikephorus was a bad Emperor, no doubt about it. He was weak and cowardly, and generally an abject failure as a leader. But it is rather difficult to judge him too harshly. No matter what he might not have been, Nikephorus II was not Romanos III.

    The day after word that the former Emperor had died, put down to natural causes, was announced it was announced that the young prince had grown sick with grief, and was going into seclusion to recover. A week into the boy’s imprisonment he was smothered by his uncle’s agents. To tie up any loose ends his mother, the former Empress, was thrown from a ship in the Black Sea, and drowned.

    That would not be the end of Romanos’s fratricidal campaign, as his sister was still alive and nearby, and her son Nikephorus represented an existential threat to the Emperor’s rule if a revolt were ever to break out and the boy was not in custody. Sophia and her husband were duly charged with treason barely six months into Romanos’s reign, found guilty, and the husband was put to death. Sophia was exiled to a convent in Syria, but on the way there she was dragged off the road and executed. Only her son was spare, but the boy was placed under house arrest in the Imperial Palace, and would not see the outside world again until Romanos himself was killed.

    The populace of Constantinople were shocked by this series of events, and there were dark mutterings against the Emperor, but for now they did not erupt into open revolt. This was in part because Imperial attention was rapidly drawn away north to the steppe, where the Cumans had taken advantage of the weakened Danube to break through the outer defenses and now were loose in Moesia once again. Romanos called up more soldiers, and set out for the frontier in April 1226. He had the entire tagmata, and twenty thousand local soldiers, primarily infantry.

    A battle was sought, but the Cumans withdrew back across the Danube, then the Tyras without Romanos being able to force a confrontation. Now in early May Romanos decided to do something nearly without precedent, he was going to lead an army onto the steppe.

    This was not met with cheer by the men, but with the loyalty of the Tagmatic troops assured Romanos told his less loyal men that they would not be required to lead the invasion, but would instead act as his rearguard. This was a force of about ten thousand, a quarter of the entire Roman army that the Emperor was leading.

    They agreed, along with promises of bonuses upon their return, and Romanos crossed the Tyras into Cuman territory.

    At the beginning the Romans pillaged what they could, their cavalry capturing flocks of sheep and a hundred horses before the Cumans began to react, but that reaction was swift. Horse archers descended upon the Emperor’s force and began to harass them. Irritation seemingly overcoming better judgement Romanos led his best troops in fruitless chases against the Cumans, drawing his lines out further and further, until the rearguard was nearly left behind.

    That was what the Cumans were hoping for, and their khagan fell in force upon them, slaughtering the entire guard and capturing their camp, along with vast quantities of Imperial treasure. Hauling their booty away the Cumans were significantly slowed, and it was then that the trap was sprung. Romanos had not in fact scattered his forces, but had arranged them to appear scattered, and then had left men who would not follow him as bait.

    The Cumans had taken that bait exactly as he’d hoped, and now the remainder of the Roman army fell upon them. Thirty thousand Romans against twenty-five thousand nomads. Not a perfect ratio, but the Emperor felt it was good enough. The khagan was forced into battle on the ninth of July, 1226, and the ensuing battle was a complete disaster. The day began cloudy and dark, and only grew moreso as the skirmishing began. Then, maybe half an hour into the fighting the sky opened up, and rain poured down on the field.

    Bows on both sides were suddenly rendered useless. Know just how much fortune was smiling upon him Romanos led his men forward, pressing down upon the Cumans, who now tried to retreat through the rapidly forming mud that lay behind them.

    The fighting was long, hard, and filthy as both sides slogged through the field, but Roman victory was clearly inevitable. The khagan tried to flee, but was run down by Roman light horsemen as the rain began to slacken. The day closed, and on the muddy field of twisted corpses lay the Cuman Khaganate.

    Casualties are, as always in these battles, hard to determine, but Roman chronicles list four thousand Roman dead, against nearly twenty thousand nomads, and another two thousand captured. The Cuman military had effectively been destroyed. Captured leaders were brought before the Emperor, who forced them to grovel before him, and he stepped on them to remount his horse, then ordered the khans and khagan to be impaled on the Tyras River crossings as a warning to the steppe nomads.

    The remaining prisoners were taken south and sold into slavery.

    The exact location of the Battle of the steppe is uncertain, but its impact is not. In a single day the power of the Cuman Khanate, one of the greatest steppe empires to exist in the north was broken forever. While there will be more nomads who dominate the steppe the Cumans are the last who will be an ongoing threat to the Roman north. The khans who rose to power in the immediate aftermath constantly looked to Constantinople for backing in their squabbles with their rivals, and it will ultimately be one of these khans who sets in motion the events that will end with Anatolia and Moesia devastated, Constantinople in flames, the Theodosian Walls broken, and the Thalassans dead and buried.
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    Part 86: The Mask Slips
  • Part LXXXVI: The Mask Slips​

    Romanos’s triumph over the Cumans quickly silenced the dark mutters directed at him due to the coup and subsequent murder of his relatives. If there was one thing the populace of Constantinople loved it was great victories, and Romanos had spectacularly delivered not once but twice. He held a massive triumph for himself, which lasted for a full week, and featured every novelty that he could think of.

    The people ate it up, and soon the Emperor was reaching incredible heights of popularity in the capital. Riding this wave of public support the Emperor began putting into place his wider vision for the Empire. Civil administrators were dismissed, or outright executed, for what he perceived as disloyalty or corruption, and replaced with military officers personally loyal to the Emperor. This shift of the administration of the Empire to a more martial focus coincided with a large expansion of the army, with Romanos deciding to add a full ten tagmas, fifty thousand men, to the ranks.

    These soldiers typically were recruited from the region they were stationed in, and commanded by local officers, often former soldiers pulled back to service by offers of bonuses and better pay. To fulfill that promise the Emperor raised the pay of every soldier in the Empire by a third. Upper level, officers, that is to say Romanos’s officers, received an increase of at least half, in addition to whatever salary their new civil positions drew.

    If the idea of replacing experienced and reasonably competent, if usually corrupt, men with inexperienced, and also corrupt, men sounds like a terrible idea, then you would be absolutely correct. Revenues began a slow decline, dipping below nine million in 1028. The treasury couldn’t sustain the cost of Romanos’s extra soldiers, and so a vast array of new taxes were introduced, and infrastructure spending was significantly decreased.

    Resentment among the exarchates began to rise, and nowhere was it worse than in Africa. Africa was far from Constantinople, but governed far more strictly than the even more distant Hispani. The Berbers had begun to chafe under Roman rule once again, and in 1230 they erupted into a revolt that rapidly spiraled out of control as local soldiers, many of them Berbers, deserted to the rebels.

    The causes of the revolt were numerous, but primarily the Berbers absolutely hated the exarch in Carthage who merciless in his enforcement of Roman law and tax collection, while simultaneously being horribly corrupt. Now this was true of basically every exarch to some extent, but the Manuel of Carthage took it to extreme levels. A petitioner had to pay a fee simply to be put on a list of possible people who might appeal for the Exarch’s justice, and they had to be present from then onward whenever he might hold court, which was erratic and unpredictable. If they were not present their names would be stricken from the list. But just because they were present did not mean they would actually be called, and indeed Manuel infamously saw only a handful of petitioners at a time, while others were forced to wait outside his court simply to see if they would be selected that day.

    And of course meticulous records were kept about everyone there, so a petitioner could not simply hope to be overlooked if not present. If their name was removed from the list the entire process started over. To make matters worse, Manuel was also deeply self-indulgent, living in luxury even by the standards of an exarch, while around him Africa had begun to decline once again. Money needed to be spent, but simply vanished into either the palace, or onto the ships carrying taxes off to the capital. A local Berber leader named Alexios finally had enough, and demanded to speak to the Exarch during one of his days of holding court, but was kept out by the guard.

    Stubbornly refusing to give up Alexios darted past the guards, and burst in, to find the exarch in the middle of a sexual act with a female petitioner. Alexios was dragged out, publicly flogged, and then thrown out of the city gates. He was found by his countrymen, and taken away from Carthage. Two weeks later Alexios led his men into Caesarea on the north coast, and declared himself the new Exarch of the region.

    Manuel sent soldiers to put down the revolt, but many among them turned traitor and joined the rebels, and soon Alexios force numbered 20,000 and was taking towns across Africa. Away in Constantinople Romanos, already growing bored by his hard-won peace lept at the chance to put down the revolt, and immediately ordered the Tagmata onto transport ships and sailed for Africa, gathering infantry as he went. The Emperor arrived in Carthage in early 1231, and immediately had the exarch and his adult family put to death, ostensibly to punish them for the situation which had led to the revolt.

    When word reached Alexios that the Emperor had arrived and had executed the exarch he immediately sent peace envoys, stating his loyalty to the Emperor and declaring himself a law-abiding Roman simply objecting to the misuse of the Emperor’s authority.

    Romanos had Alexios’s envoys thrown from Carthage’s walls. There would be no negotiation. The Imperial army drove west from Carthage rapidly, retaking towns and villages that had been captured by the Berber rebellion. Behind the army came courts, looking for anyone who had collaborated with the rebels. Dozens of men and women were executed based on flimsy or sometimes even non-existent accusations, simply to make the point that the Emperor did not tolerate treason of any sort.

    Yet it was a mere harbinger of what was to come. As Alexios withdrew further west he abandoned Berber towns and villages for the Emperor, hoping to draw out the campaign until disease and attrition had weakened the larger and more powerful force that Romanos had with him. The Emperor however had little interest a long chase however, and so set about forcing a battle. He did so by destroying every single town and village inside what had once been the Berber kingdom that Alexios left behind. Hundreds were killed, and thousands more left with nothing but the smoking wreck of what had once been their lives. Crops were stolen or burned, animals slaughtered for the army, and anything of value stolen.

    Alexios’s army soon learned of the depredations, and pressure mounted on him to seek a battle. That was absolutely something the rebel did not want to do, but word came in April that his family had been captured fleeing Caesarea, and had all been executed, by burning at the stake. In a fury the rebel leader gave in, and turned his army on the Emperor.

    The subsequent battle was slaughter. The rebels were armed relatively well-armed from their early conquests, but when the Tagmata charged their own cavalry broke and fled, leaving the infantry to be surrounded and slaughtered to the last. Alexios himself was captured, dragged into Caesarea, and burned alive. What Berber leaders remained begged Romanos for mercy, and the Emperor at long last granted it. The leaders would surrender themselves to him, along with their families, and the taxes on Berber lands would be tripled for the next twenty years. What was more, an immediate payment of cash would be required simply to let this peace go into place. Seeing no alternative his opponents agreed.

    They would all be dead by the end of the year, and their children would live on as hostages until the depredations of Romanos’s government sent Africa once again into revolt in the 1240s, but by then Constantinople would have far bigger problems.

    On the Emperor’s return to Carthage he put in place a cousin of the former exarch, just a small child, and left behind a number of trusted officers to administer the province. Their orders were to keep the taxes flowing, and the Berbers under control. He then departed for the capital once again.

    In Constantinople Romanos threw himself another Triumph, glorifying himself for his victory over yet another foe. But while his previous victories had been heartily welcomed by the people of Constantinople this one left them far less cheered. The Africans were Romans too after all, and should the Emperor really be publicly boasting about the slaughter and destruction he had leveled on them? Especially for a revolt which the upper classes felt some degree of sympathy for.

    But still, he had the army behind him, and Constantinople itself had little say in Imperial administration at this point, so Romanos was quite secure in his position. From this position he doubled down on the program of replacing civil administrators with army officers. This time the policy extended out into the exarchates, and men who had local knowledge and connections were thrown out to be replaced by Imperial appointed men. Now this wasn’t inherently a bad thing, since local connections cut both ways, as they had local biases which led to corruption.

    But that had been kept in check by central auditors among the epikroi. Now the epikroi were gutted and replaced with men from the same source as the new administrators, the army. Corruption soared, and what had been local connections from the local administrators and their populace were replaced with connections between the administrators and the men who were supposed to be keeping them honest.

    Revenues plummeted again, falling below nine million nomismata once again in 1235. And this time it would be a century before they reached that level again. Romanos was furious at the loss of revenue, as his wider ambitions for military glory simply could not be paid for. But he did hit upon what he believed was a solution. In 1236 Pope Pius VII died, and as usual the Cardinals met and elected one of their own to replace him, then sent the man off to Constantinople to meet the Emperor and be confirmed to the position.

    This system was typically fairly smooth, as the man elected was always well respected among the Western clergy, a solid Thessalonikan, and had no standing quarrels with Imperial officials. And of course he came from Italy, so the possibility of foreign loyalty was nonexistent. And he was always old, so if he turned out to be a dud…well they’d get another chance soon enough. Romanos though had already selected a replacement by the time the Cardinals met, and sent him off to take up the position of pope in Rome, and in a rather shocking turn he also selected a separate Patriarch of Constantinople.

    That set alarm bells ringing in Rome before the new pope had even arrived. Both because their elected authority had been subverted, and because in separating the offices once again Romanos was bringing to bear the very real possibility of a supremacy dispute within the Church. But when Pope Julian III arrived in Rome the news turned out to be far worse than anyone had expected.

    He was a Chalcedonian. And so was the new Patriarch. Romanos had decided to begin fixing his financial difficulties by bringing back the ancient art of proscription trials, but this time using heresy as the charge. And Julian brought with him a list of Thessalonikan bishops who were particularly wealthy, and a group of soldiers ready to enforce his rulings. The First Imperial Inquisition was about to begin.

    And that’s where we’ll leave it for now. Next time, we’ll cover the final decade of Romanos III’s rule, as what had been a promising, if sadistic, Imperial regime degenerated into terror, tyranny, madness, and ultimately with two-thirds of the Empire rising in revolt.
    Part 87: Romanos the Mad
  • Part LXVII: Romanos the Mad​

    The Persecutions of Romanos began in earnest in 1237, as the Emperor set about putting the Church in order as he saw it. Unlike his predecessors Romanos saw no reason that the Central Church authority in Greece should be subservient to the heretics of Italy and Syria, that is to say the Thessalonikans. He did not recognize that council’s authority, and indeed wanted to reverse all of its actions at the first opportunity. But it was clear by now that the wider Christian world would not support these policies. Indeed, with the Cathari rising in Franki, and the entrenchment of Italian-educated, and therefore Thessalonikan, clerics across the West there was a very real chance that if Romanos called a full Ecumenical Coouncil it could go even further against his own Chalcedonian views.

    He therefore was going to have to lay the groundwork for a full Imperial reversal, and from there use his influence as Roman Emperor to reverse it in the wider Christian world. To give a look ahead, Romanos’s efforts in this area will not only fail, but backfire spectacularly. So hated will he be in future generations that the church policies he supported would be completely discredited. And thus, this serves as the last time that we will be seeing the Chalcedonians in power.

    Heresy trials were instituted in Italy first, and were primarily aimed at the wealthy and prosperous church officials. In normal times the Exarch almost certainly would have strongly objected to such moves, but the young Julius was only fifteen following the death of his father earlier in the year, and when the Emperor’s men told him to do something he obeyed.

    Seven cardinals were convicted during 1237 alone, and significant wealth and property was seized from their churches, all of which was either sold or sent back to Constantinople to pay for the Emperor’s increasing military expenditures.

    Not content with his prior expansions of the Imperial army Romanos III was determined to add another fifty thousand men to the military, as well as build a number of new fortresses in northern Italy and on the Danube. This even as revenues continued to decline. Taxes were thus raised, and the once abandoned practice of tax farming reintroduced, but with Romanos’s beloved officer corps now doing the reaping. Corruption as you might expect was rampant, but the Emperor would hear not a word against his men, and instead punished anyone who reported wrongdoing.

    One of the positions opened up was the head of the Excubatores, the Emperor’s bodyguard, and into this position was placed an officer named Constantine, a Taxidia in his mid-forties, and who had a son, also named Constantine, who I’ll be referring to for this part as Constantine the Younger who was elevated to high rank within the Emperor’s guard. Both Constantines were from Germanni, but were noted to be fluent in Greek, a rare trait among the German Taxiia, as well as Latin, their preferred language in Imperial service. Constantine the Younger, was a popular, charismatic, and talented officer. All traits that would serve him well during his short time wearing the Imperial purple.

    The elder Constantine seems to have been something of a check on Romanos’s darker instincts, and is claimed by the records to have talked the Emperor down from some new mad scheme. The fact that these records were all written either during his son’s reign, or during the reign of Julius II and his son, who was married to the younger Constantine’s daughter, probably cautions against some of the wilder tales. Romanos probably didn’t propose to seize one tenth of all persons inside the Empire and sell them into slavery.

    But there is an unfortunate nugget of truth in it, as in 1239 Romanos unveiled a project based on the labor requirements in the West. No longer would Imperial subjects just be required to pay their taxes in cash or kind, no now they would also be paying additional amounts in forced labor. As infrastructure spending declined in the midst of Romanos’s tax shortfalls and ballooning army the Emperor decided to simply force his subjects to work on maintaining of roads, aqueducts, irrigation systems, and whatever else happened to need oversight.

    This declaration was met with immediate, and massive backlash. Across the Empire riots broke out as citizens refused to be treated like slaves by the central administration, and in Egypt the Exarchs tried to refuse to even implement it. Romanos responded by dispatching soldiers to put down the revolts, and he had the Exarch’s families, who were required to live in Constantinople during the terms, charged with treason, declared them guilty, and had them burned alive.

    This move was utterly shocking to both the populace of the capital, and even many of Romanos’s own inner circle, with the younger Constantine noted as refusing to watch the flames be lit, but also being careful to not let the Emperor see him do so. It was here, in 1239 that Romanos probably could have been stopped had the will been there, had there been anyone in the Empire who could challenge the authority of the Emperor. But there wasn’t.

    This series of events seems to have driven Romanos deeper into his monstrous conduct. Before this incident the number of people Romanos ordered executed by burning at the stake was somewhere under one hundred, more or less reasonable for an Emperor of his time who had reigned for nearly twenty years. In the next five years that number will climb to nearly ten thousand.

    The exarchs were dragged back to the capital by their own men in chains, the authority of the Emperor on full display, and were also burned alive. Their replacements were picked by the Emperor for loyalty, and immediately went about putting the Imperial order into effect. Shortly thereafter a conspiracy against the Emperor was uncovered among a number of Greek officers among Romanos’s guard. They and their families were charged with treason, and soon were executed in Romanos’s new favorite punishment.

    Thus did the final six years of Romanos the Mad’s reign begin. I will not recount all that happened, as any number of documenti have been published on the topic, as well as various cycli set in the period. Heresy and treason trials became commonplace once again, and property confiscations were the new normal. Between 1240 and 1245 thousands were charged with a litany of crimes and either executed or exiled for those who “only” were charged with lesser heresies.

    And all of it was conducted under the careful eye of Romanos and the Chalcedonian clergy which he supported. As time went on this clergy were grouped in with the worst of Romanos’s excesses, though to be fair to them the evidence we have does indicated that they often opposed the overly harsh sentences and argued for mercy rather than callous destruction. Julian himself wrote despairingly to a Thessalonikan colleague who carefully kept his head down that, “we have doomed ourselves by tying our fortunes to this cruelty. I beg when you have won and are writing of us, do remember that we were dragged along by the cart which we had attached ourselves to. But being so attached we find we cannot now remove ourselves.”

    As Julian’s memory was damned as soon as Julius II had him executed this plea was not heeded.

    Which does lead us to the year 1245, when the exarchs of Africa and Ravenna quietly sent word to Julius II, now a fully grown man and the most powerful man in the Western Empire that if he declared himself against Constantinople then they would back him, and accept the personal consequences if they did so.

    Julius took their correspondence and began to consider, but events overtook him.

    It started in Hispani, where Roman control had been loose ever since Manuel had reconquered the peninsula. The lords of the peninsula outside the exarchate declared that they no longer recognized the authority of Constantinople. They then raised their soldiers and waited for the inevitable attack to try and put their rebellion down. It never came.

    Instead the Exarch, who was not married and had no children, threw his lot in with the rebels, and soon brought their soldiers in to help him put down the Imperial troops still loyal to Romanos.

    The Hispani rebellion it turned out was the first leak in a dam that was about to collapse. Without waiting for word from Julius the exarch of Africa declared himself separated from the authority of Constantinople, but declared that he would serve the exarch of Italy if Julius would declared himself Imperator of the West.

    Syria was next, where the imprisoned son of the old exarch was freed by his father’s supporters, and put into position as a figurehead leader of local Syrian troops who declared themselves out from under Constantinople’s control. A short civil war followed, and Imperial troops were thrown back behind the Taurus Mountains. On their victory the man was hailed as Basileus, but he commented that he was quite tired of that title, and would style himself as a simple Rex, king of Syria. That would not be all however, as local Egyptians threw out their Imperial garrison as 1245 drew to a close, and without an exarch separate from Constantinople they declared themselves subjects of the new kingdom setting itself up in Syria.

    He was joined by the exarch of Armenia, who committed suicide shortly thereafter to prevent himself hearing about the fates of his wife and two daughters who were in Romanos’s custody. His younger brother then took power in Armenia, this was Michael Guaramoi.

    Julius II finally made his own decision near the end of 1245 as well, he accepted the pledges from both North Africa and Ravenna, and in a ceremony on Christmas Day, December 25 1245 he had Julian III seized, deposed, and set to be tried. The Chalcedonian cardinals were expelled and those Thessalonikans inside the city of Rome were called to a hurried session, and elected Pope Paul VI, who promptly produced a gold circlet that had been secured from somewhere in the city, and crowned Julius Caesari to be Emperor of the West.

    The lines were drawn, and the entire Empire outside the Balkans and Anatolia were now in full revolt. And this revolt was unlike those in the past. They sought not to take the central throne for themselves, but simply to be rid of it entirely. Twenty years of Romanos III was quite enough.

    It wasn’t quite that simple of course. Other than Spain, where Imperial forces had been easily beaten, Imperial troops remained in several camps, and over the next year multiple major battles will be fought as the rebelling lands fight to establish independence for the first time in over a thousand years. Had he lived it is almost certain that Romanos would have crushed them all given a chance, and given his military skill it seems likely he would have succeeded. But we will get to that in just a moment.

    First, there was an incident which, at the time, seemed barely noticeable, but which was to have enormous consequences in a very short time. In 1244 the last Cuman khagan had shown up at the Tyras River begging to be protected behind the Roman defenses. His army, such as it was, had been crushed once again by some new steppe tribe in the east. And now that tribe wanted his head. His request was granted, but a short time later representatives of this tribe arrived, saying that they came from the Universal Ruler. The men were dutifully sent to Constantinople, where they appeared before Romanos and demanded that the Cuman khagan be handed over to them, and threatened annihilation if they were refused.

    Romanos laughed in their faces, and informed them in no uncertain terms what he thought of their barbarian king, his kingdom, and all his men. The messengers grew angry, and repeated their threats. Romanos grew angry as well, and ordered that the most insolent have their tongues cut out, and then had all but one of the messengers burned at the stake to send a pointed message to the last, who was beaten, had his nose slit, and then was dumped naked on the steppe to die or find his own way home.

    Romanos however would never learn the consequences of what he had done, because the massive revolt across the Empire had finally prompted action among the men he trusted most, the two Constantines. The elder was the ringleader, and organized the conspiracy, while the younger was sent to Constantinople to lay the groundwork for what would come after. In the Chalcedon palace a squad of men were gathered whom the elder Constantine knew were sympathetic to him, and they agreed to assassinate the made Emperor.

    Constantine’s squad moved quick and decisively. He was one of the last men the Emperor still trusted with entry into the Imperial palace without requiring an extensive search. This time it would be Romanos’s undoing. Constantine had a number of daggers concealed on his person, and he met the other conspirators in a small, out of the way room and distributed them. As Romanos held court, ordering executions and confiscations Constantine approached, ostensibly report of a conspiracy against the Emperor.

    Romanos was always eager to hear of such things, and bade Constantine give him the information. Constantine came closer, and informed the Emperor that it was one of his closest confidants. Then, he drew his dagger and lunged. Romanos was always quick, and even in his now advanced age he managed to throw himself from the throne, only being grazed on the side by the dagger. He rose and drew his sword, but other conspirators rushed on him, even as the guard moved to stop them. A dozen blows were landed, and the Romanos the Mad was dead.

    The entire room was in shock, the guards furious, but before they could exact vengeance upon the conspirators the appointed time came, and a dozen fully armored Taxidia who were loyal to Constantine were in the room, ready to put down any resistance to the coup.

    Constantine denounced Romanos to the court, dubbing him the mad emperor. He then proclaimed Nikephorus, the Emperor’s nephew, imprisoned these many years, as the new ruler of the Romans.

    Romanos III was 55 years old, and had been Emperor for 23 years. Romanos, as I think I’ve made clear, was the worst Emperor in Roman history. His administration was a colossal failure, his choice of bureaucrats fatally weakened the Roman state, he reignited religious persecution in an era where that was largely in the past, he showed cruelty and sadism at times a wiser Emperor would have shown clemency. And all of that we could maybe, maybe overlook. He did after all destroy the Cumans, and drive the Turks back across their border in a war that seemed all but lost. He still wouldn’t be remembered fondly, but tyrannical Emperors have had their most brutal actions overlooked before.

    But, Romanos didn’t stop there. No, he provoked the wrath of the Great Khan of the East, the self-proclaimed universal ruler. The man who ruled an empire stretching from the Samhan islands to the Eastern border of Turkic Persia in the south, and deep into the steppe in the north, learned of the cruel and vicious treatment of his envoys. We don’t know exactly how. Perhaps the messenger left to die made it back. Maybe a traveling merchant heard the stories and told the Khan for what he knew would be a large reward.

    However it happened, the most powerful man in the world had been insulted, belittled, and his men had been murdered. He would not stand for this treatment by some ruler on the far side of the continent. No, this would not stand even a little.

    But that will have to wait. Next time we will be once again turning our attention to the wider world as we catch up on just what’s happened in the past fifty years in Europe and beyond to lay the groundwork for the Siege of 1248.
    Part 88: The West in 1246
  • Part XLVIII: The West in 1246​

    Since our last look at the situation in the West little has changed in much of the region. The distant settlers of Transmere have been driven from their initial dwellings in the north by a combination of climate change and declining trade with Gronland, and have now settled to the south, and also severing the last links they had to Europe. The results of this are quite tragic, as an outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1241, and rapidly spread to the indigenous population. This was the first of a series of massive outbreaks that will sweep across the entire continent over the next two hundred years, killing close to half of the entire population.

    These people, who will soon enough redub themselves the Kingdom of Nyttland, as well as the ravages of plague that swept south from their holdings will be covered later however.

    Our attention instead will briefly turn to the island of Brittania and Hibernia, where Brittani control over Saxeland is solidifying. The Caledonians meanwhile in the north have been pulled away by an internal struggle between the Highlands and the Lowlands, which has resulted in a major civil war that was waged from 1215 all the way until the late 1230s. The upshot of this civil war was that it was a major victory for the king, based in the lowlands. And it effectively ended resistance to the king’s reign over the entire country, for a few decades at least.

    Hibernia meanwhile had reunified for a short time in the late 1100s, but weak successors reversed virtually all gains he had made. In other words, the islands remain about as stable as they ever have been.

    It is of course in the old lands of the Franks that the majority of our interest lies, as they will provide most of the resources which will eventually be called on by Rome. In the middle of all this of course was the Frankish kingdom, still at this stage the whipping boy of the West. Since the successful military campaigns of the past century the kingdom of Franki has been on a downward spiral. Two less than successful kings led armies to major defeats, with the worst being in 1198, 1205, and finally in 1222 which basically destroyed the confidence of the Frankish Senate in their king to wage war. All of that paled in comparison to their own efforts though, as in 1231 a major battle was fought at Aachen itself against a force of Marcher lords from Gael. And the Franks lost. Badly.

    The capital city itself was captured and briefly turned into a duchy of the Gaelic Kingdom. It was looking for all the world like that was it, 1231. The end of Franki. But the coastal regions held on. And in 1234 a new king, Philip II, maternal nephew to one of the two disasters that had gotten the kingdom into this mess, was able to win a decisive victory over a combined German-Gaelic army at the Battle of the Golden River. So called because in this battle the German king was killed, as were all of his personal guard. And the gilded armor of the king and his closest knights fell into the Rhine, where soldiers spent two days after the battle trying to find pieces of it to take as booty.

    The tactics used in this battle were a testament to the Frankish focus on infantry in the coastal regions, as well as their resilience which will be demonstrated over and over again. Basically what happened was that Phillip lured nearly seven thousand knights and another ten thousand men at arms onto a low-lying plain, and then he broke the levees keeping the plain dry, flooding it. This immediate flash flood in the middle of the knight swamped the allied camp, and it was here that the German king drowned. Over the next three days Philip launched multiple strikes at isolated sections of the enemy army and slaughtered them. When the campaign season ended Philip was able to resecure the entire coast and significant portions of the Rhine river, successfully retaking Aachen in September. But he was able to do little to retake the upper rhine, which would remain out of Frankish hands for the remainder of the century.

    But who cares about that, because we now get to talk about my favorite person in all of Frankish history, Heloise the Great, first female bishop of Aachen, who is just a joy to read about. Heloise was born in 1196, and she actually came from Gael rather thank Franki. The daughter of a minor Soissons lord Helois impressed all of her tutors growing up, but none moreso than Paul of Troyes, a traveling scholar hired by Helois’s wealthy uncle to teach the precocious girl Latin and rhetoric. The pair quickly became inseperable, and by her own admission Heloise seduced her tutor and convinced him to marry her.

    This they did, and promptly ran away together. But there was to be no happy ending. Her uncle caught up with them short of the Frankish border, and had her would-be husband beaten, and he subsequently died of his wounds. Furious over this treatment Heloise promptly escaped and made it into the relative safety of Franki, where she was taken in by a Cathari community just across the border. Her uncle pursued, but came into conflict with the locals, and was killed.

    Now safe from further pursuit Heloise entered a convent in 1213, still only 17 years old. In this position she rapidly adopted the Cathari positions, and quickly became one of the movement’s staunchest defenders, writing numerous letters to lords and city leaders defending her branch of Christianity eloquently. Seriously, if you haven’t read any of the letters of Heloise go and do that now,

    In 1218 the abbess of the convent, seeing Heloise primarily as a troublemaker for all the writing sent her off to Aachen to aid the bishop there. He promptly sent her off to another church to help the priest, a woman, and in a stroke of fortune, at least for Heloise, that priest promptly died of a fever just before she arrived. Suddenly the most senior church official in the area, despite being a grand total of 22, Heloise took up the position of priest with the authority of precisely no one. But she impressed the congregation with her rhetoric, Paul had in fact been quite good in his own right after all, and gained a following across the local area.

    An attempt to replace her in 1220 led to the congregation actually threatening to try and vote out the bishop, and he was forced, at least temporarily to back down. He tried again in 1221, but this time his selected replacement died on the way. A third attempt in 1223 backfired even more spectacularly when, not able to force the issue this time, the local lord, who was himself a Cathari sympathizer, went to the king and got the decision overturned.

    At this point the bishop threw up his hands and decided that so long as Heloise didn’t cause too much trouble she could stay. To say that Heloise promptly caused trouble would be an understatement. She launched into a full-blown letter-writing campaign to every congregation she could think of, making a variety of arguments and points which were always well thought out, well written, and well argued, and also irritated pretty much everyone who got them.

    The king finally ordered her to knock it off in 1230, only then guess what? He lost control of Aachen just six months later. The new lord of the region was in absolutely no mood to put up with this irritating woman, and he had Heloise thrown out of her church and sent her back to the convent. Undettered Heloise ditched the convent, went back to Aachen and began preaching underground. Attempts by the lord to once again arrest her failed, and in 1234 King Philip recaptured the city. Waiting for him were the Cathari, eager to return to legal status, and at their head was Heloise.

    The king was magnanimous and returned to the Cathari their old status, and restored Heloise to her position as priest. And that is where she stayed for the next ten years. But then in 1244 the bishop died, and elections were set to be held to put a new one in place. The subsequent election took place over the next six months, overseen by the papal legate and the king. To their shock Heloise won an outright majority, which was absolutely not allowed. They ran the election again, and got the same result.

    These elections I should note were public, so short of threats and bribery there was little that could be done to overturn the results. And both of those worked quite badly against a group as zealous as the Cathari. At least at this point. Frustrated the papal legate put everything in limbo and sent off word to Rome to find out what Julian had to say on the subject. But when the messenger got to Rome he found the city currently gripped by the ongoing near rebellion that marked the end of Romanos’s reign. Julian had no help to give, and the messenger returned empty handed.

    The legate now returned himself, but he got there just before Julius’s coup, and had not yet departed when that coup took place. As one of Julian’s advisors he was promptly locked by by the exarch, now self-proclaimed Imperator, and would be executed two weeks later. Still no answer had been given. The king, starting to get nervous about not having a bishop and with the local choice made very clear finally just said that Heloise was the bishop, at least until he got countermanding orders from Rome.

    Those orders would never come, because in 1247 word came out of the East. The Emperor was dead. The armies of Syria, Moesia, and Anatolia were destroyed and Julius had turned his full attention in that direction. And then messengers arrived making it very clear barbarians were on the way, the Romans could not stop them, and soldiers were needed to save Christendom. And they were needed quite literally right NOW. Whatever issue the locals had wanted dealt with in their letters to Rome, find it was done. The pope would give them literally anything, so long as the new bishop gave support to their endeavor. Heloise agreed, and so on November 12, 1247 the new papal legate gave Heloise the official position of bishop of Aachen.

    Heloise would go on to reign as bishop of Aachen for the next thirty years, and her writings continued until her death, but now with significantly more weight behind them. She was instrumental in making the Cathari not just a significant force in Frankish Christianity, but in pushing it to the forefront, though its eventual position as dominant faith in the West was still many centuries away.

    And again, if you have not read the collected writings of Heloise then go and do that. The woman was a genius with words and was incredibly influential across the centuries since her death.

    But I unfortunately can’t devote any more time to her now. So, we will instead look East, to Germani. There little has overall changed, but one key development has occurred. The kingdom is currently going through a significnat high point in central power under the rule of its king, Henry. Yes, that Henry. The Western Imperator, supreme military authority granted unto him by the pope and with all the armies of non-Roman Christendom at his command. But he had not begun that way. Henry had been a young man, in his mid twenties when his uncle a marcher lord along the western border with the Franki had ridden forth to battle the Franks under the German king, and been slain alongside his lord. Suddenly finding himself inheriting his relative's lands Henry had set about jockeying for additional power, before managing to use the significant wealth and power under his command as greatest of the border lords to achieve election as King of the Germans in 1238, just before the age of 30. But his election was marred by accusations of fraud, threats, blackmail, and other problems which led the Eastern marches to declare a seperate king.

    These accusations I should note were probably absolutely true, and this situation was not exactly unprecedented in Germani history. But Henry called his own lords and waged a four year war against his rebellious vassals. In that war he crushed them all, and brought the kingdom more fully under the central government's control than anyone in Germani history had ever managed before, or would again before the kingdom was swallowed by its stronger and more united neighbors. Not wanting to risk a full war with Philip at this stage Henry turned his attention east, and briefly warred against the Moravi, securing some measure of fealty from them before returning home once more. Now more fully confident in his realm he set about laying preparations for his ultimate war against Philip, and possibly against Gael beyond. But that war would never come. Even as both sides readied themselves for a struggle the same word came to Henry as had come to Heloise. And unlike my favorite bishop Henry will be playing one of the most pivotal roles in all of European history during what is to come.

    Past Germani we move to the Polani. Now last time we focused on the West we briefly focused on the Polani conversion to Christianity and subsequent Westernization. Little has changed in that regard except in one key way, the king who commanded it has died, and his kingdom was subsequently divided between all his sons, rendering the position of king far weaker than it had been back then. The land is still unified, and will remain so, but the dominant position achieved in the early days by the king is no more.

    Notably however, while the division process continued after his successors deaths a number of reform enacted put forward a primogeniture succession system in much of the kingdom in 1235, over strenuous objections that lasted the next four years (that is to say, civil war). In that time period the Baltic pagans also took advantage of the division and seized a number of border regions from Polani lords distracted by internal affairs. By 1246 however that period of instability is over and the country is relatively united once again, looking outward for more land to give to noble sons who suddenly have few prospects at home. Primarily of course the Polani will look north, for now at least.

    South of Polani are the Bulgari, whose civil war is now officially over and who are now unified under Barba, a descendant of Roman settlers in the region during the time of Trajan, called a Vlach by locals at this time. The Vlach period of rule will last for the next one hundred-twenty years in Bulgari, and will oversee the final shift of the Bulgari military from a mixture of cavalry forces into almost pure heavy infantry forces that will define them until heavy infantry itself became obsolete in the 18th century.

    That concludes our look at the West in 1246. As I noted, not a significant amount has changed politically at this time, but the same is absolutely not true of the place we will be looking next, the Far East.
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    Part 89: The East in 1246
  • Part LXXXIX: The East in 1246​

    In an inverse of our usual pattern of going from West to East we will instead start in Syrica this time. Last time you will recall the Hunnic Khante had overrun the local Syrican Kingdom of Guinnen, destroying a large army sent against them and then seizing control of the capital. Rather than destroying the state however Jochi decided to turn the resources and state apparatus to his own use, much as the Goths had done when they had overrun Roman Italy in the late 400s.

    Before Jochi could solidify his control however the southern Syrican kingdoms were already on the move. Huainan was the most active, immediately sending an army of over one hundred thousand men directly for Beijing, where Jochi and his army were sitting. But the Huns had not been idle during this time, and even as challengers from the south came north more Huns came south, until Jochi commanded an army of nearly seventy-thousand steppe warriors, and he also had a force of nearly twenty thousand Syrican infantry and engineers. The infantry were levied from the vast population of peasants in Syrica, a consequence of the intensive rice farming which allowed (and required) greater population density than the grain grown in Europe. The engineers had for the most part been captured during the conquest of Beijing, or indeed in the previous battle where the Guinnen artillery was captured.

    The two armies met south of Beijing in early 1195, and in the subsequent battle Jochi staged a feigned retreat which drew the Huinan cavalry out of position, where they were promptly annihilated by a sudden rally and coutnercharge by the Huns. The infantry now totally unprotected Huianan’s army was completely wiped out attempting to withdraw. The end of the battle saw the addition of nearly one hundred canna to the Hunnic armory.

    Over the next two years the Huns proceeded to overrun most of Huinnan, extracting surrenders from cities that could not be defended. New garrisons, almost all of them from Guinnen ironically, were put in place and the Syrican bureacrats set about hammering in place a new administrative system to support their foreign overlords. In three more major battles the Huns fought the rallying Huinnanese army, until in 1197 in a battle near Zhongzhou the full Huinnanese army met the forces of Jochi, and were destroyed. This defeat left the king of Huinnan with no powerbase, and he was captured by his own surviving men and given to the Huns in exchange for their own lives.

    By now however the third Syrican kingdom was entering the fray in force. Jiangnaxi was weaker than Huiannan, but its army was heavily reliant on firepowder weapons. Firepowder was an invention sometime before the four kingdoms had come into existence, but had only really begun to be weaponized during the wars that led to the formation of the kingdoms. It was primarily used in canna to begin, but the Jiangnaxi had adapted it for other purposes, primarily to make up for their deficiencies in other areas compared to their neighbors, especially their lack of good, that is to say steppe, cavalry. The two primary personal weapons used by the Jiangnaxi were the fire lance, and the fire arrow. And yes, I know those are both mostly associated with the armies of the Caesari, but they were invented in here first.

    The fire lance was basically a spear that had a bamboo tube attached to one side (the more famous Roman examples typically used metal). During a cavalry charge the tube would be ignited and then would blast forward at whatever the wielder was aiming, resulting in a jet of flame that panicked horses and men, and was of course extremely dangerous for anyone it happened to be pointed at. And sometimes the user. Later additions such as the addition of iron or clay spikes had not been added yet.

    Fire arrows were more or less what the name implied, an arrow that had a charge of firepowder tied to one end that was lit before the archer loosed the weapon. In future we will see these being adapted for use on crossbows, where they will remain until the moscet in the 1600s supercedes the crossbow entirely. Both weapons were rather questionable in terms of effectiveness at this point, but against soldiers who had never encountered them, as the northern kingdoms had not adopted either weapon in great numbers, they were devastating simply due to the impact on morale.

    At the battle of Luzhou in 1199 this was put into practice, as the Jiangnaxi cavalry deployed fire lances against the attempted feigned retreat of the Hunnic cavalry, and very rapidly the feigned retreat became a very real rout. This was the single worst defeat of Jochi’s career, and would likely have resulted in his empire collapsing had fate not intervened. During the pursuit of the Hunnic army the Jiangnaxi king’s horse stumbled and threw the king from the saddle, killing him.

    Hesitation set in among his men, and enough of a break was given to the Huns that they rallied, and six weeks after Luzhou the two armies met again, this time near Chenzhou. This battle was a tactical draw, but the Jiangnaxi were forced to retreat at their powder reserves were now basically gone. So were those of the Huns, but they were far less reliant on such weapons at this stage. Eventually a treaty was signed acknowledging Jochi as lord of northern Syrica, and promising a Syrica bride to his heir in exchange for peace and friendship between the two lords.

    Jochi had very little interest in such a peace, but word had come from the north that his far border was being harassed by Joseon. Over the next three years Jochi waged a campaign in the north, which ended in the Joseon king swearing allegiance to the Hunnic khagan, and agreeing to pay a large annual tribute to stop the fighting.

    His northern border secure Jochi returned to his capital at Beijing and started looking for an excuse to start a war once again with his southern neighbor. In 1201 he finally got his cassus belli. The bride he had been promised still had not been sent. And more to the point, the gold he’d been promised as her dowry had not been sent.

    Jochi invaded in 1205, and this time the improved Hunnic army was able to match their opponents fully on the field, and drove the main army of Jiangnaxi out of southern Huinnan. However, the border fortresses of Jiangnaxi proved harder to crack, and conquered Syrican troops were deployed to break through the positions over the next three years. Finally a segment of six fortresses north of Jungzhou were shattered in 1208, leaving the Huns free to invade without fear of being cut off. Two more years of fighting followed, but ultimately at the battle of Jizhou the last Jiangnaxi army was defeated, but notably not destroyed. The commander could tell when he was beaten, and so surrendered his army to the Huns as they moved to surround him. For his surrender he was granted his life, and the troops were sent north to garrison Guinnen, while Huinnan troops garrisoned Jiangnaxi. In this way Jochi looked to isolate his soldiers of questionable loyalty from possible bases of support in their homelands. When combined with the large contigents of Huns also moving into the regions to act as rulers he looked to fully secure his new empire.

    And that empire was fully formed when the king of Lingnan had absolutely no desire to fight the Huns by this stage, having watched his three northern neighbors, at least two of whom were significantly more powerful, be overrun in the past twenty years. Instead he offered the same deal that his neighbor in Jiangnaxi had gotten, and also swore to serve Jochi as the supreme ruler of Syrica. To help the khan make up his mind he also sent along a large tribute.

    This was accepted, and in 1212 Jochi was officially declared the first Emperor of all Syrica in over two hundred years. His dynasty would also mark the last time such union was achieved.

    Now, just because this title had been achieved did not mean that Jochi’s wars were over, far from it. He would spend the remainder of his life extending real control over his conquests, and would fighting in a large number of battles, but on his death in 1217 Syrica really was under his personal control. He had three sons, and the oldest was named Yesugai took power as the Great Khan, and looked to secure his realm by looking east, where Ilbonese pirates had taken advantage of the trouble in Syrica to raid and loot his coastline.

    Now as a Hun Yesugai naturally had no objections to raiding and looting. He did however greatly object to raiding and looting of his property. A large fleet was assembled, and in 1219 the Huns invaded Ilbon. They soon realized their mistake. Ilbon was mountainous and heavily fortified, which negated the most significant advantage they had in cavalry. Instead large numbers of Syrican infantry had to be deployed, leading to mutinies and rebellions back on the mainland. Due to all of this the first invasion was a failure, with the southernmost island of Ilbon devastated by the fighting, but with the locals holding out along the eastern coast by the time of the Hunnic withdrawal in 1222. In 1226 however another attempt was launched, this time with significantly higher numbers of Syrican infantry, who by this time were being paid far better for their loyalty, as well as a number of Joseon ships and men as well.

    The campaign lasted for nine years, and saw Ilbon hit hard by the Hunnic soldiers. We had little idea just how many died, but most of the cities on the island were destroyed by the fighting, and somewhere close to half the population was dead either from the fighting or from the epidemics that always follow such warfare. But at the end Yesugai was ruler of the islands, little good it did him.

    On his departure back to his Syrican capital a storm struck his ship, and the khan was drowned. Bitter Ilbonese historians look back on this as a divine storm sent against the butcher of their islands.

    Yesugai was followed by his brother Kublai, Tolui, who set about a campaign of conquest on the steppe itself, pushing the border of the empire far to the west, until he conquered what remained of the Western Liao kingdom in 1239. His army then split, part of it pushing north around the Caspian Sea to come into conflict with the Cumans, and the other south into the steppe bordering Persia.

    Here they met the Turks.

    After Romanos’s defeat and mutilation of the Turkic Emperor the state which had been building in Persia more or less collapsed. So many casualties had been suffered that the native Persians felt the time was right to turn on their overlords and try to throw the Turks out. The Turks probably could have easily crushed such an uprising, but they were distracted by a civil war between the former Emperor’s oldest son and brother. Three successor kingdom arose by 1230, one in Mesopotamia ruled by Osman, the son, one in the northest ruled by Selim, the brother, and one in the center ruled by a native Persian noble.

    A stalemate quickly developed, but in 1240 it was broken when Selim asked the Hun khan to intervene on his behalf. In exchange for soldiers to use against the Persian kingdom Selim would pledge himself as a vassal king under the Hun khan. Tolui agreed, and twenty thousand Hun cavalry, and ten thousand Syrican mounted infantry were dispatched to aid in the assault. They brought firepowder weapons with them of course.

    Over the next three years Persia was steadily overrun, with the Huns destroying the ragtag royal army in a pair of engagements, before capturing and sacking Esfahan in 1243. With its fall all of Persia lay open to final conquest. Selim was ecstatic, and began planning the conquest of Mesopotamia with his new allies as well, but other events intervened.

    In the north the Huns had advanced all the way around the Caspian Sea, and had defeated the Cumans in battle, driving the khan and his surviving people west and south. The khan had, as we’ve previously discussed, fled to the only man he felt could give him sanctuary, the Roman Emperor. The Hun envoys sent to collect the khan so they could send him back to Beijing to pay tribute to their own ruler were then brutally treated by the mad Emperor.

    Tolui learned of the treatment, and so came east himself at the head of an additional sixty thousand men, both Hun cavalry and Syrican mounted infantry, and he set about laying the groundwork for his campaign of vengeance.

    He met with Selim first, and discussed exactly what the Romans would send against them, and learned of the great defenses of Roman fortresses, and the mythically impregnable defenses of Constantinople itself. The description however was critically wrong in one respect. Selim had never seen the city, and so he mistakenly informed the khan that the Roman capital bestrode two continents, not realizing that Chalcedon was a different city, and not technically part of the Roman capital. This led to Tolui making the first of the two major Hun blunders during the invasion, both of which were basically the same mistake made for different reasons, he split his army. Forty thousand would invade Mesopotamia under his son Temujin, and would push through Roman Syria, into Anatolia, and so come at the eastern half of what he though was Constantinople. His own force would advance north, around the Caspian Sea, then around the Black Sea, and so come at the western half from the north.

    Having made this decision however Tolui set about giving himself the best chance he could. Vast herds of sheep were gathered and moved onto the steppe north of the Black Sea to ensure they would be present when the army came through. What was more, a large quantity of rice was moved west through the northern Silk Road routes, and grain was gathered from Persia, with large quantities planted in steppe lands to grow over the next year and be ready for harvest when his army marched.

    All these preparations took two years to finish, but in 1246 he was ready, and departed Samarkand heading north in early April. His son went south at the same time. The Romano-Hunnic War had begun.
    Part 90: The Last Thalassan
  • Part XC: The Last Thalassan​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And then, everything changed.

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

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

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

    And with them the best infantry in the empire.

    And they were about to be wiped out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Only, no one was really listening.

    Well, almost no one. In Italy Julius II was eyeing the situation, and he thought he saw a once in a lifetime opportunity. Maybe once in a millennium. But to accomplish it he was going to need help. A lot of help.
    Part 91: The Siege of Constantinople
  • Part XCI: The Siege of Constantinople​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Julius accepted.

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

    Tolui gave his army several days to rest, then renewed his bombardment of the Constantinian Walls. Fire arrows streaked over the walls as well, setting fire to the inner city, with the defenders forced to fight the blaze as well as defend the remaining walls. On July 9th, as things looked completely hopeless for the defenders, and Julius himself seems to have been considering simply abandoning the city and trying to meet up with his army somewhere off in Greece however everything changed. In the distance trumpets were heard, and banners were spotted far off, outside the Theodosian Walls. The combined army of Christendom had arrived.
    Part 92: Crusade
  • Part XCII: Crusade​

    To understand the course of events which occurred leading to the march on Constantinople we must introduce a figure I had hoped to ignore, Leo Caesari, Julius’s younger brother. He had bought completely into Julius’s ideas, and so when the exarch of Italy began mustering an army and fleet to sail to Constantinople Leo went north, readying the remainder of Italy’s twenty thousand men, and then went beyond the Alps to Aachen to meet with the kings of the former Frankish Empire.

    Also present was the Archbishop of Cantware, Archbishop Heloise, and representatives of the kings of Polani, Bulgari, Alba, Brittani, Caledonia, Pedinia, Svear, and Norvegia. As agreed Heloise was a dedicated defender of the Roman plea, and she was an invaluable asset as Leo made his case, as most of the present were far more willing to talk openly in the presence of a woman, even one as openly partisan and high-ranking as Heloise, than they were with Leo. Over the course of December Leo got offers of assistance from Henry, king of Germani personally, as well as troops from his fellow kings. Messengers were sent out to raise banners and call knights to the kingdom capitals as soon as spring arrived.

    The upside of these agreements were promises of large sums of cash for the men who came to the defense of Constantinople, partially paid up front with Italian gold, and including gold stripped from the Churches of Rome itself, and promises of the forgiveness of sins before the Crusade began. That last was a key point in getting many knights to go to Constantinople. Heloise deliberately sold the endeavor as a pilgrimage that just happened to be armed and going to fight rather than a proper war, even though that was exactly what it was.

    Leo remained in Aachen through the end of winter, and was back down the Italian passes in March, as soon as they were clear. He now had more work cut out for him, as he organized the Italian army fully, and laid out marching instructions before racing off into the Balkans with messengers and trusted lieutenants to lay the groundwork for the massive undertaking.

    The entire march had to be carefully timed, as moving too early would leave the soldiers starving and liable to begin looting the countryside, which would make an already bad situation worse. Italian ships raced up and down the Adriatic, delivering food from the granaries of Italy, Africa, and Sicily to every port along the way, and leaving behind administrators with chests of copper coins to be used to purchase more supplies if needed.

    The first contingents of Western troops did not set out until late March, these coming from Albion, Caledonia, and Brittani. Their route took them by Frankish ships from preselected ports to the Rhine, then down that great river to the Alps, where they crossed over into northern Italy, where they linked up with soldiers from Franki and Gael who had departed slightly later. These forces then moved into Illyricum, down the coast to Dyrrachium, and from there across the peninsula to Thessalonika where they met a local Roman force of Italians, who extracted oaths of fealty to Julius, and placed them all under the overall local command of Henry, who had been designated as Imperator (in the old sense of supreme commander rather than Emperor), of the Crusade.

    The arrival occurred in early-June, with some early crops becoming available for harvest, and more grain shipped into the Thessalonikan port, left the men mostly satisfied with the trip. The gifts given by Leo to every major lord who arrived also mollified anyone who was starting to regret coming this far.

    After the far western forces arrived the Germans, Danes, Norvegi, Sveari, Polani, and Bulgari arrived coming from the north. These forces come down along the Danube, then through Dacia and through the Hemus Mountains to the city. The normal total given for the combined army that massed at Thessalonika was one hundred thousand, and I referenced it earlier in the narrative. This number though is somewhat misleading. It is true that there were one hundred thousand people who marched the Thessalonika in 1248, but not one hundred thousand Western soldiers. To start off, some fifteen to twenty thousand were Italian soldiers, who were coming to the defense of their countrymen, and to put their own ruler on the Imperial throne.

    Furthermore, each Western knight had at least one servant, and often two who accompanied him. Some of these men were also soldiers, but many were not. Also with the army were priests, guides, interpreters, women of various professions, and others. In total the number of actual Western soldiers was somewhere between forty and fifty thousand, with about forty-four thousand being the normal estimate. Of these about twenty thousand were knights, with the rest being either peasants raised to fight for their lords, or men at arms, a type of semi-professional soldier beginning to be utilized widely in the West. And since they don’t fit quite so neatly into any of these groups there were also some ten thousand Frankish militia from the Rhine cities.

    Notably this contingent of militia was the primary addition to the army by Franki, a sign of the sort of military that would be fielded traditionally by that kingdom. Henry led his army out of Thessalonika on June 25th, headed for Constantinople.

    Pushing his men on the German king’s scouts sighted the city on July 3rd, and raced back with the news that the city’s outer wall had been breached, and smoke billowed from inside, but that it seemed to still be holding. Henry pushed his army harder, and on the night of the 8th he gathered a force of Normans, Germans, and Poles to push ahead with him under darkness to try and reach the city early the next morning. Four thousand horsemen went with him, and the rest of the army set off early in the morning to catch up.

    Henry’s force arrived at dawn, and he ordered his trumpets blasted, and his banners flown to tell friend and foe alike that he had arrived. Inside both the Roman controlled inner city and the Hun controlled outer city confusion reigned at first, as neither side had any idea just who had suddenly appeared. The battered and beleaguered defenders initially panicked at the idea that yet more nomadic reinforcements were on the way, but as Hunnic troops pulled back rumor began to spread that salvation as at hand. Some said that Christ himself was leading an army of angels to defend His city.

    That was close enough, as the defenders watched a force of four thousand knights suddenly burst through the holes in the Theodosian Walls and charge into the regrouping Huns. Henry led the first charge personally, his gilded armor gleaming in the light of dawn, and he slammed directly into the line of Hunnic horsemen moving out to meet him. But without warning the pagan cavalry had been unable to properly arm themselves with fire lances, and so instead were armed instead with swords, useless against the armor of Henry and his leading knights.

    The first wave of Hunnic horsemen broke and fled back to their reforming army, and Henry drove on, looking to break the entire enemy force right away if possible, but Tolui was reacting quickly. He had ten thousand of his men already fully prepared to assault the city the next day, and as the Westerners came on this force had turned and withdrawn from their positions, now meeting Henry and his knights. Fire lances roared, and the Western charge was blunted, then broken under the flames. Henry though was a long-time veteran, and he had the strength of a fanatic behind him, and so even as he withdrew he rallied his men to stand against the fires of the devil which the pagans wielded. He and his household guard rode back and forth like angels, rallying fleeing men and coming down upon pagans who had not expected such a rally.

    More Huns however were now coming into the fight, leaving the siegeworks only lighly manned, almost entirely by the Syricans. Those men dutifully rotated the remaining canna to face the fighting, but held off on actually joining themselves. For now their commander, Huizong Fei, planned to watch what was happening in this new ongoing fight.

    Henry was forced to gather his remaining knights, some 3000 men, into a circle, with shields and lances outward to hold off the Huns, their horses remained in the center. Inside the city Julius and Constantine watched with anticipation as the hours dragged on, until near ten in the morning more trumpets were heard, and another wave of Western cavalry came through the walls, followed minutes later by the Italian infantry, and then the Western infantry. The Huns were beaten back from Henry’s position, and the German king once again mounted his horse and led the assault on the pagan lines.

    As he did so there were signals inside the city, and the main gates open, letting forth the defenders, who saw their last chance to survive the siege and seized it. At the head of the Imperial army were Julius and Constantine, the latter quite literally tied to his horse. And finally, in the last significant surprise of the day the Syricans rejoined the fight. On the Roman side.

    Huizong and his men had little love for their Hunnic masters, who had conquered their homeland only a few decades before, and now saw a chance to at least survive the battle. The canna roared, blowing into the Hunnic lines as the horsemen retreated, and sowing even more confusion and panic among their ranks. At this point the battle was effectively won, but the Huns fought on, inflicting heavy casualties on the Crusaders, the Romans, and especially the Syricans, who were targeted specifically as traitors, with Tolui supposedly saying that their treason would be punished with devastation to their homelands, which is probably false, not least because it was so prescient.

    The Western army was the force which fully won the battle however, with Henry driving his guards through the Hunnic lines to Tolui himself, and the pair battled one another on horseback, until the Hunnic khagan fell from his horse, dead.

    Henry raised his sword in triumph, letting all see that he was victorious. And as all around looked on in horror the great king of Germanni, swayed in his saddle, looked on the setting sun, and fell from his horse as well. He was probably dead before he hit the ground.

    Henry’s death is dramatically portrayed as the end of the battle in most depictions, including in The Charge of the West membri. But reality is of course more complicated. Certainly the death of both Tolui and Henry in combat with one another marked the disintegration of the Hunnic army, but even as many attempted to flee or threw down their arms killing and fighting continued. With the breaches in the wall covered by soldiers, and in particular by Britanni archers whose powerful bows could punch through the armor worn by even the heaviest Hunnic cavalry, none were able to break out of the Theodosian Walls. As the sun went down the last contingents of Hunnic troops were surrounded and either disarmed or killed.

    The Westerners took shelter in surviving buildings of the outer city, and the day of battle was finally over.

    But there were still many things left to do. To begin Julius and Constantine marched the prisoners through the streets in chains, unil all Hunnic prisoners, some five thousand in total, were brought to the Hagia Sophia for the crowd to jeer at, and in full view of the entire populace Constantine ordered that nine in ten be blinded, and to have their right hands cut off.

    This order was probably a means of terrorizing the prisoners, as actually carrying out such an order would have been nigh-impossible, but the people cheered in support for the Emperor who was mostly held responsible for the city holding. This duty done Constantine retired, and would die of his injuried before the end of the day.

    Julius was the one who actually set about dealing with the prisoners in actuality, and he immediately had all identified leaders, mostly pointed out by the surviving Syricans, blinded, and then executed. The men were given a kinder fate, they were simply sold into slavery and put to work repairing the Theodosian Wall.

    The Syricans themselves were publicly welcomed by Julius, but privately held in considerable suspicion, as the Romans could tell little difference between them and the Huns, regardless of explanations. However, Huizong brought with him the ultimate decider, many of his surviving men were engineers, and they could bring to the Roman Emperor the secrets of firepowder, which Julius desperately wanted. So regardless of his suspicions the Roman Emperor needed them.

    The Emperor’s brother Leo, so critical in organizing the Crusade and winning the battle had died in the fighting.

    The Westerners were greeted in the capital as heroes, and the pope in Rome arrived days after the victory, having been en route at the request of Leo before the battle was fought. He, his priests, and several bishops blessed each of the men who had come on Crusade, and assured them that all sins they might have committed before the Crusade was forgiven. Masses and celebrations were held, but it rapidly became clear the Westerners really needed to leave. The devastated Roman capital could not hold them long-term. Men departed on ships or in groups overland, with guides provided, and everyone was given gifts as rich as Julius could afford to hand out. And indeed more than he could afford, because when the last Western lord departed the new Emperor looked at an analysis of the Imperial treasury, and found that even with Italy he was broke.

    Henry’s body was taken back by ship to Venice, to be transported north to his homes in northern Germani to be buried. Most of the other soldiers were buried in Constantinople itself. In total of the forty-four or so thousand Westerners who had come to save the Roman Empire nearly fifteen thousand were dead, as were five thousand of the Italian reinforcements. In total the Hunnic invasion had cost the Romans almost three million dead, over one tenth of the entire population of the Empire, and had virtually annihilated the Roman army. Julius had a grand total of forty thousand men in all of Africa, Italy, Greece, and the coast of Anatolia.

    Worse news was to come though. The Bulgari had liberated Dacia and Moesia from the Huns, and now were refusing to withdraw from those regions, under the claim that the liberation of Constantinople had ended whatever oaths they had taken to defend the Empire. The Roman border in the north had effectively been pushed south the Hemus Mountains, and Julius could do nothing about it.

    But for now, Constantine X had been in late twenties, and had been Emperor for just under a year. And yet despite his short reign he is often considered among the great leaders of the Empire. In part this is because he had the good sense to die during the siege, which cemented both his reputation among people of the time, and ensured he was absolutely no threat to the Caesari as Julius set about consolidating his reign. Given how difficult the next century would be, a potential challenger could never have been acceptable. But Constantine had only a single young daughter, who would be bound by marriage to the new Emperor’s family.

    And that is where we will leave off. The Roman Empire is in shambles, the East remains effectively in revolt, the north is lost, Hispani has broken away, and the treasury empty. To put things right Julius had his work cut out for him.
    Part 93: A New Dynasty
  • Part XCIII: New Dynasty​

    Julius began his reign after the siege was over by beginning to reshape the Imperial government. To begin, the entire old Senate, or what remained of it at least, were dismissed from their positions and shuffled off into dusty irrelvance. In their place he sent word back to Italy that each of the electoral regions set up within the Exarchate should elect representatives and send them to Thessalonika, similar to what they’d done before in Rome itself. Julius had not yet decided whether to keep the capital at Constantinople, as the city was quite devastated at this stage and would require years of rebuilding to return to its former state, if it ever did.

    Over the course of his reign Julius will consider Thessalonika, Athens, Nicaea, Rome, Ravenna, and Syracuze before ultimately deciding to retain Constantinople, in part due to its symbolic importance in beginning his reign. The fact that as so often happened with even westward looking Emperors events in the East drew him back again and again was helpful in this regard as well.

    For the first few years of his reign Julius will retain this purely Italian Senate in Thessalonika, but will in due course add representatives of Thessalonika itself for obvious reasons, and Athens. Constantinople itself was for now neglected as the Emperor tried to put something of a government back together. Gaining declarations of allegiance from the cities of the Anatolian Coast was not particularly difficult, especially as both the Italian and Athenian fleets were completely intact, giving him the ability to storm any port in the Aegean if necessary. Any cities that were reluctant to pledge their loyalty were bound to wake up one morning with an Italian admiral waiting outside their harbor looking for…clarification of their pledges if something had been misworded in their initial pledges. Any deeper into the peninsula than Nicaea though, which was terrified another steppe army was going to come through any day, and maybe this time not ignore them, was more or less unreachable to Imperial control.

    But Julius couldn’t act on that yet, because he had to first act to resecure the Balkans. While the lands between the Hemus Mountains and the Danube were now lost to the Bulgari, Julius couldn’t afford to pick a fight with that kingdom. Instead he was forced to turn south of them, as the countryside of Makedon and Greece had fallen into near anarchy over the past several years. As word of what was happening in the capital spread the rule of law had broken down outside the major cities, primarily Athens, Thessalonika, and Corinth.

    The problem probably wouldn’t have been as bad if the huge population displacements not occurred. But tens of thousands had fled both Dacia and Moesia, looking for shelter deeper in the Empire. These people had been joined by the flood forced out of Constantinople by Constantine as he readied the Imperial capital for siege. To compound the problem even more, the Western Army had stripped much of the countryside of food and supplies, even if they had paid for them for the most part. Food eaten by a massive army moving through Imperial territory was still gone. Winter of 1248 was hard for the people of Greece, killing an unknown number of people.

    All told there was therefore a severe problem of lawlessness beyond the cities of Greece. Julius thus was forced to begin his proper reign by waging a military campaign against people who were, theoretically his own subjects. To call what followed a war would be overselling it however. By and large these bandits weren’t real criminals, just desperate people terrified of starving or Imperial recriminations. Julius therefore set for highly generous terms of surrender for rebels who gave themselves up, which many availed themselves of. Over the course of 1249 Imperial control was re-exerted over the interior of Greece, and a semblance of normality began to return.

    The pacification of Greece brought desperately needed income to the treasury as well, allowing Julius to expand his field army which was down to only about ten thousand men, to some twenty thousand. These weren’t all the men he had under arms, but the remainder were needed in garrisons across Greece, to retain control of Italy, and keep Africa sending tax revenue East.

    It wasn’t until 1251 that Julius felt ready to march into Anatolia and attempt to reexert Imperial control. If Greece had been in near-anarchy, Interior Anatolia was outright chaos. When the Huns had blazed through they had leveled cities, destroyed farms, killed vast numbers of people, and left virtually no administration in place.

    The eastern half was held by a number of local Turk leaders, but there was no central leader, while in the western half authority had degenerated to either some local leader who had survived, or more often just some small group huddling on their land and hoping to avoid another scourge. In anticipation of the return to Anatolia the Roman fleet had moved through the Strait, and begun making contact with cities along the northern coast of Anatolia, with Sinope and Trebizond as the primary points of entry. These cities had weathered the previous four years well, and after initial talks with the emissaries from Constantinople were brought back into the Roman fold with minimal difficulty.

    Julius himself led fifteen thousand men into the Anatolian plateau in March 1251, and made directly outh for Pessinius, the most important city in Western Anatolia, and which had been south of the primary Hunnic thrust. As such the settlement had served as a beacon for refugees trying to escape destruction. However, Hun raiding parties had hit the surrounding countryside, and the city was in deep trouble when Julius arrived. They had little food or shelter, which the Emperor tried to remedy as best he could, but in the end the best he could do was just parcel out land to displaced farmers and put them to work, hoping that the harvest would improve the situation. Administrators were put in place, but Julius left without garrisoning the city. He had too few men, and the region was already in danger of famine before the year was out. Rather than march East Julius returned north to the more secure portions of the peninsula to gather supplies, and then set out along the northern coast, heading for Trebizond. Parties were sent out into the heart of the peninsula to restore what order they could, but the full Imperial army, what they had at least, couldn’t be supplied sufficiently for such a venture. Instead Julius march south from Trebizond to Theodosiopolis, and from there secured the loyalty of the Turkic strongmen who had risen to power after the fall of Caesarea.

    With their aid 1251 was closed out with Roman control at least nominally restored to Anatolia, but the peninsula was horribly damaged. Much of the population had been killed or displaced, and the system of farms and pastures which had been so valuable to the Imperial treasury and army were just gone, and rebuilding them would be the work of decades. 1252 was spent continuing to restore proper governance and garrisons to Anatolia, but as always Julius worked on a shoestring budget and a comparatively tiny number of men. He had raised more men and money from Italy, but his supporters back home were beginning to grumble about the costs, and lack of returns on their investment. The first full meeting of the Imperial Senate was convened in July of that year, complete with both Greek and Turkic Senators selected from among their peers, and Julius pledged to bring Syria and Armenia back into the Imperial fold during the next year.

    This would be achieved, but only at significant cost. In August 1252 a joint army of Syrians and Armenians attempted to secure the old southern border by taking a number of fortress towns from the Arabs, with the Syricans looking to retake Edessa, and the Armenians looking to Dara, now partially restored by Arab work. This expedition was a dismal failure. The Syrians in particular were too green, and too few in number, and were routed easily by the Caliphate’s army, leaving Armenia to face them alone. The Armenian army was badly beaten at Dara in October, and driven back up into the mountains.

    Another army of Arabs meanwhile marched through southern Syria, taking territory all the way to the coast, and then turning south and overrunning Palaestina.

    Here things could have gone one of two ways. It is possibly the Arab army could have gone north united with the army now moving out of the east, and taken Antioch, once again depriving the Romans of all of Syria. But instead the Egyptians decided to take their shot, and invaded Palaestina in late September as well. This force was better than the Syrians, but after a major blunder from their commander the main body of the Egyptian army was surrounded near Jerusalem, and forced to surrender. There were few actual casualties, but thirty thousand Egyptians were now captives of the Caliph. And while he would not enslave Christians, neither would he allow them to return home and fight on as soldiers. These men were put to work, for pay, in the Arab war effort, to be released when hostilities ended.

    The northern army then was called off, and united with the Arab army in Palaestina, and in January 1253 the Arabs invaded Egypt. With much of his army lost the self-styled Egyptian king was unable to rally a defense, and by April Babylon had fallen, and with it the Nile Delta. Alexandria would fall by year’s end, and with it Egypt, that great breadbasket and tax spinner of the Empire was lost.

    Julius will never have the resources to reclaim Roman Egypt, and it will remain in Arab hands for the next one hundred and fifty years. Julius was not aware of this yet however, and instead he would learn only of Syria’s state in early 1253, and immediately rushed across the peninsula, looking to retake the province while it was weak. To ensure a better welcome Julius issued his self-described Great Charter was issued across the Empire, and messengers were sent to both Syria and Armenia carrying word of it.

    The Charter was, in theory, nothing less than a Constitutional rewind to the days of the Principate, where Julius was first citizen rather than the supreme lord and authority of all he surveyed. I mean, he still was, but he would at least make an appearance of sharing power.

    Slight exaggeration, but even though the new Imperial Senate would have increased authority this was still very much an Imperial monarchy, one in which the Emperor did hold final say over most matters. But Julius was aware that he didn’t have the actual capability of mustering the sort of resources that his predecessors had managed, not with the heart of the Empire in ruins. The primary point of the Charter was that the Emperor would be specifically giving up certain authorities which Romanos had abused so thoroughly. First, matters of heresy would no longer be handled by the Emperor, in any capacity. Church courts would deal with all such matters, and sentences would be carried out by local authorities. Notably, in Julius’s formulation both death and property confiscation were outright abolished. Indeed, he made it illegal for any state seizure of property to go into the Emperor’s pocket, requiring those funds to be spent by the Senate, and specified what items the proceeds could be spent on, mostly related to religious infrastructure.

    Second, any taxation beyond the primary land tax levied by the Emperor would have to be approved by the Senate, and would be subject to further oversight, an effort to both bolster and streamline the now drastically shrunken Imperial treasury. To further strengthen oversight Julius also required the Senate to ratify his choices for high office, though only in that they received a veto if two-thirds of all Senators objected.

    The basic point was that Julius was explicitly acknowledging that the Emperor himself was no more above the law than anyone else. Although this is slightly diminished by the fact that the law was in his case placed significantly higher. But, this was a key step in establishing the modern Imperial Charter with the legislature and Emperor sharing power, and the first step back from the autocracy that had reigned for the past thousand years.

    And while Julius certainly had ulterior motives for his Charter, namely his coming reconquest of Syria, but from his own writings it does seem that he did legimitately believe in the basic ideas of the Charter, and he will respect it, as will his immediate descendants. That’s for later however.

    For now, Charter announced and messengers sent ahead Julius II invaded Syria. His immediate advance through the Silician Gates blew the light Syrian garrison out of his path, and with a quick move Julius advanced toward Antioch. Local towns gave way without a fight until Antioch itself was within sight. Julius however ignored it for the present, instead turning south and marching down to Laodicea, securing for himself a port through which more supplies could be shipped in. Concurrently with the invasion of Syria the Athenian fleet launched a landed on Cyprus, taking the local soldiers completely by surprise and securing the island in just a few days.

    The garrison promptly switched sides when they realized what was going on, as they had no illusions about their strength against the fleet. Cyprus’s capture ensured that Julius would have only the normal difficulties associated with supplying a large army far from home, rather than being forced to transport through hostile waters in addition.

    With the Syrian army still recovering from the defeats suffered over the past several years the self-styled Rex had no illusions about being able to resist without Cyrprus under his control, and he fled. But Syrians eager to prove their loyalty caught up with him, and the king was killed, his head presented to Julius, who made a very public show of grief and ordered him buried for his efforts in defending the Roman East. What his true feelings were wasn’t relevant.

    This marked the end of Syria’s brief flirtation with independence, Julius settled into Antioch for the winter of 1253 looking north, east, and south. His forces were reaching the end of their manpower here, and he could either try launching an attack on the Arabs, to reclaim the rich lands of Palaestina and Egypt, or go north to retake Armenia, resecure the Eastern border, and hope that the Empire could once again weather the era. In the end of course, there was no choice at all. Arabia was too strong for the Romans to wage a full-scale war against now. Armenia it would have to be.

    A/N: The in-universe author is giving the Egyptians too little credit. They hold out in southern Egypt for another ten or so years after the events here. The north fell so quickly because it was relatively lightly fortified, with only Alexandria and Babylon having any significant defenses in place. Otherwise all the fortresses were along the Upper Nile, which is where the Roman authorities flee and set up a sort of miniature kingdom that holds out against Arab invasion for a time. But he is deliberately not talking about that for political reasons of his own time.